Before I begin telling you these tales from a distant land, medicine I have a confession to make. Before last Friday, drugstore I was an away match virgin. I wasn’t under the Eiffel Tower sitting down and standing up for the boys in green, health I didn’t get free cans of Carlsberg from John Delaney on a train somewhere in Slovenia and I definitely have never got a bus up to the mountaintops of Andorra. This first trip would also be a trip which I decided to make without ticket in hand. But what a trip to make it my first time!
Eight hours, that immediately became ten hours thanks to those pesky time zones, were spent on Thursday between Dublin Airport and Molly Malone’s of Tallinn, mostly courtesy of a four-hour stop over in Stockholm. Quick bit of advice for those of you maybe considering travelling to Stockholm for when we play the Swedes in the next qualification campaign: don’t go there. With a pint costing a earth-shattering €9.25, it’s hard to see how any Irish fan could conceivably spend a few days there. Nonetheless, the interesting pricing strategy of Molly Malone’s later on that evening made up for the disgust felt in the Swedish capital. Not once, not twice, but thrice I ended up breaking even or making a profit on the round of drinks I had paid for. A payment of €50 for four pints saw a return of €52, €30 became €31 and so on. And this was before the happy hour came on Friday. Incompetency can sometimes be beautiful.
Overall, I’d say about half of the fans I had talked to on Thursday night actually had tickets for the match on Friday. People had travelled ridiculous ways to get to Tallinn, and with the lack of tickets amongst these fan, it makes their journeys all the more remarkable. Flight transfers from Stockholm, Copenhagen and London were the most conventional methods of travel used, however, several others mentioned buses from Riga and “party ferries” from Helsinki. Bonkers. Thursday still had the giddiness that a Irish trip abroad brings with it. Friday was when the real work would begin.
Quick bit of advice number two: if you find yourself with a heavy head and a stomach turned upside-down due to a high level of alcohol intake, find the nearest place that sells elk soup and elk pies. For €4, a bowl of this magical soup, a delicious pie and a pint of light or dark beer could be yours, and all served to you be some nice Estonian women dressed as medieval maids. There’s nothing an Irishman loves more than a good bowl of soup, thus this place probably made record profits for the weekend that was in it. Stories bounced around the room on Friday morning about John Delaney apparently having left €2,000 behind a bar for the Irish fans to make the most of before conducting a raffle for tickets. A raffle for tickets also apparently took place in the team hotel that morning. And we had missed them both. The search for tickets had begun badly.
Despondently, we left the Old Town of Tallinn to a slightly more remote and pretty much empty Irish bar. Joined by three lads munching into their pre-evening meal and two other seasoned campaigners (one of which was one of the first women to have ever gone to a football match in Tehran in 2001). Little hope here, or so we thought. The three lads had a precious number of a mysterious Estonian tout by the name of Dmitri who had to distribute to us, and any other Irish fans who were willing. Thirty minutes later, Dmitri handed us two golden tickets, making a nice €76 profit per ticket. We had our tickets, Dmitri was in the money, we were all happy.
After several hours taking advantage of the aforementioned happy hour, standing up and sitting down for the boys in green, singing more Depeche Mode than I had anticipated and booting a cheap football around the Town Hall Square, the march towards our seats in the A Le Coq Arena began. Before I knew it, mine was abruptly stopped. The murmured warnings of Estonian security banning Irish fans from sitting in Estonian sections materialized. Only a glimpse of the pitch was had before a security man of considerable size marched me back down the steps and out of the stadium. Disaster. Only my best impression of an Estonian would get me back in, which would prove difficult considering I literally knew no words of their language.
A different section was tried. Failure. A re-entry through the section I had previously attempted was tried. Failure again. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed about a dozen or so Irish fans being led around the stadium by two or three of those fearsome security people. Suddenly directed towards the stadium, these guards gave us one last hope as only one other set of Estonia’s finest security men stood between us and the match. I didn’t take the chance this time as I barged my way through the security while they frisked other Irish fans. A quick run around the back of the stand and a jump over a fence and suddenly I had found myself in the middle of the travelling horde of Irish fans. Take that, Estonia!
The match, unfortunately, is a bit of a blur. The early goal seemed to put all Irish fans at an ease to the extent that nothing that followed seemed to create any level of anxiety whatsoever. The game had a flow to it that it had seemed incomprehensible that Ireland could throw away their lead. Estonia were blunt in attack, and then decided to self-implode with spectacular style. Cries of “que sera sera/ whatever will be, will be/ we’re going to qualify/ que sera sera” slowly grew louder and louder. Inflatable bananas were thrown higher and higher. Preparations could start in Poland and Ukraine for the Irish invasion they will surely see next summer. Indescribable ecstasy was felt by all.
The party went on until the late hours of Saturday morning. Estonians had taken their defeat well, but they had little choice to be honest. It’s hard to be bitter when your team has been beaten so comprehensively, despite the help we might have had from the Hungarian referee. Having disbanded to the different nightclubs that Tallinn has to offer, more stories emerged the next day of the ridiculous celebratory exploits that were had. My own night was cut short on the stage of Club Hollywood as, in a brave attempt to teach the Estonians how to dance, my ankle decided it had enough and my final jump would be a most painful one. Of course, the extent of the pain wasn’t truly felt until the next afternoon, but a sprained ankle seemed an appropriate way to start winding down the weekend in an odd way.
I cannot recommend highly enough going away with the Irish football team. There is a togetherness and good nature to Irish fans that surely must be hard to replicate for any other group of fans. The thirty-two counties were well represented, however, there was a surprising amount of fans over from England, mainland Europe and even further afield. The sense of solidarity and the good-humoured shenanigans from everyone made for a truly brilliant weekend. Oh, and the 4-0 win wasn’t too bad either.