After a weekend in Munich, myself and Zenon Ozula arrived in Warsaw late on Monday evening. Both of us were excited by the sense of anticipation ahead of the biggest game in FC Dnipro’s history, the 2015 UEFA Europa League Final against 2014 Champions Seville from Spain.
After a stoll to some local bars and a good rest we awoke on Tuesday, the day before the final and took a walk around Warsaws “Old Town” and some of its other attractions. Early in the day there weren’t many colours of the blue of Dnipro or the Red of Seville but as the day went on it became clear that the atmosphere in the city was building.
In the cities Plac Zamkowy in the heart of the old town, there was a festival of football, with sponsors having stores around, a 5-a-side football pitch showcasing the talents of younger footballers and the polish national amputee team playing an exhibition match. The highlight was the trophy, the “Coupe UEFA” being on display. After a short queue, me and Zenon had our photos taken with the trophy, dreaming that later it would be Ruslan Rotan with his hands on the 15kg silverware.
More and more fans of both Seville and Dnipro were arriving, as many neutrals including disappointed Napoli and Everton fans who had anticipated their teams making it all the way, but had come to celebrate the festival of football regardless. Later in the evening after enjoying the local cuisine, it was out to meet our friends from the Swedish Ukrainian Supporters Club and again sample some more of the Warsaw nightlife.
The next morning the excitement was really building, after a quick change of hostel it was time to meet up with Stepan and Andriy Luczka and get in the mood for the game. In the city centre the atmosphere was building nicely with thousands of people enjoying the festivities. We positioned ourselves in a bar on Plac Zamkowy and enjoyed an afternoon of singing and drinking as well as meeting more of our friends, including Vasyl and Pavlo from Lviv and Viktor from Belgium and making new friends such as Marko from Canada. Some other old friends managed to locate us including Sasho Glavinskyi, Roman Bebekh and Pavlo Pylypchuk. Our banner proved popular too as plenty of people stopped to take a photograph, including the BBC cameras. Jerzy Dudek, UEFAs ambassador for the final was also in town to help promote the city and the final itself.
After a really enjoyable afternoon, it was time for the game. The Dnipro fans had organised a march to the stadium and naturally we took our places in the crowd and it was off to the stadium. It was a surreal experience marching through the Polish capitol with thousands of other Ukrainians, but we were warmly received, particularly with the famous chants about the R*ssian President. Flares were released on the streets as Dnipro fans made some serious noise and certainly made their presence felt.
After being separated during the march, we all met up outside the stadium and headed in together. Zenon and Marko had tickets in a different sector but me, Stepan and Andriy made our way to the Dnipro Ultras sector and continued the support for Dnipro.
Kicked off finally arrived as the Dnipro fans urged their side on. Dnipro were never expected to have reached the final but the belief was there that they could go one step further on their Road to History and win the thing! This belief was further evident when Nikola Kalinic rose to head Dnipro in front early on. Among scenes of wild jubilation and even shock the Dnipro fans lit up the Stadion Narodniy and Dnipro were in pole position. It was not to last however, as Seville soon enough levelled proceedings. Things then got worse as Seville took control and the lead of the game. It was worrying times but hope was not lost. When in need Ruslan Rotan stood up to be counted and found the net with a free-kick to level right before half-time. Again amongst scenes of amazing celebrations the belief was there that Dnipro may well be able to push on and take the game to Dnipro in the second half and win the game and with it the Europa League.
The second half proved a nervy affair with time seemingly stood still for long periods. The belief was there that Dnipro would be able to have another chance and get the goal, but unfortunately it went the other way and it was Seville who managed to get the games fifth and ultimately decisive goal. In the closing stages Dnipro upped the ante with the introductions of Roman Bezus and the hero of the semi-final, Yevhen Seleznyov. Despite a flurry of corners late on, Dnipro could not find a way through and in the end fell just short of achieving the dream and becoming the UEFA Europa League Champions. Congratulations to Seville on winning their 4th Europa League Title in nine years and retaining their title.
Despite the obvious disappointment of the result, the Dnipro fans stayed in large numbers to salute the heroes of the Dnipro team who have achieved so much in making their way to the final, which is itself an achievement given the situation in Ukraine. This fact was not lost on any of the fans, many of who were not Dnipro fans but had been so proud and united by Dnipros achievements that they travelled to support the team. The players spoke after of how proud they were of the team and for the country to have one of its team on the elite stage in European Competition.
Dnipro can now look to build on this season and have another crack at the europa League next season as well as pushing for their first ever Ukrainian Premier League title. Myron Markevych has proved himself to be one of the top Ukrainian managers and he may well go onto to win his first silverware next season if he keeps the team of heroes together.
For us it was disappointment that Shakhtars achievements of 2009 could not be matched but again a feeling of immense proud of the team’s achievements and the unifying effect it has had on Ukraine.
After a short wait at the end of the game admiring the stadium, it was back into the city centre to celebrate the achievements of Dnipro, rather than dwelling on the obvious disappointment. We followed hundreds of Dnipro fans into the city centre and continued to party until the sun was shining over the Polish capital.
With weary heads on Thursday we made our way back to England and are now looking forward to a new season which will bring along more opportunities for our Ukrainian club sides in European competition as well as seeing Zbirna Ukraina try and seal a place at Euro 2016.
Article by Peter Chymera, Vice-President of the UK Ukrainian Sports Supporters Club and co-founder of the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame. Follow Peter on twitter – @PMChymera89