A win is a win is a win. Ukraina managed to get a minimal victory over Finland, just about brushing off the embarrassing friendly defeat to Malta, to maintain a chance at finishing in the qualification places for the 2018 World Cup. It wasn’t a memorable match by any stretch of the imagination, except for perhaps the debut goal of Artem Besedin, but despite this, and the expensive cost of Finnish beer, we made the trip and it was good.
With unsuccessful Champions League & Europa League campaigns for Ukrainian sides, and only one competitive international in Croatia, which has already been visited, there were no trips for the early part of 2017, so the trip to Finland had been long in the planning and well overdue. What seemed an age since the last ‘away day’, which for many was in fact Euro 2016, a group of 9 strong were soon reunited – this time in Finland’s capital city of Helsinki.
Travelling separately, it was Styopa to arrive first from an uneventful days travelling. The remaining 8 (Andy, Orysia, Petro, Ewhen, Oz, Slawko, Husak and Cyhanko) all flew up from Manchester where they bumped into ex Bolton goalkeeper – Jussi Jaskelinen, who was also on the same flight. With Jussi acquainting himself with Coventry’s famous Zenon Ozula, the flight was bumpy, but arrived safely, late in the evening of Friday. It was a quick taxi to hostels and apartments, before heading out into the Helsinki night life.
Meanwhile, whilst waiting for team North to arrive, Styopa was pondering about Helsinki, checking out what the city had to offer and a few bars around the city. Team Sweden soon arrived, which was good news for Styop, as talking to a random couple and a captain Jack Sparrow wannabe (who was Finnish but claimed to be one of Santa’s helpers and from Lapland) was starting to lose its entertainment value.
It wasn’t along until Team North joined the party, where the drinking as a group really began. Obviously drinking began for the northerners earlier on in the day, and it wasn’t much later that Evhen regained his title of sleeping beauty. Falling asleep in the bar, and being asked to leave by the club bouncers, Petro and Styop were forced to take Evhen back to the hostel. Walking up to the main street to get a taxi, we found ourselves in the lobby of a hotel where Petro was trying to book a taxi. When a taxi eventually arrived, Petro was now outside and apparently Evhens legs were now not working, so Styop (Іван Сила) Luczka carried him to the taxi.
A €20 taxi ride followed and we then told the taxi driver to wait and take us back into the centre. Whilst up in the hostel, Petro got talking to 3 girls that happened to be from Odesa and also staying in the hostel. It turned out they were part of a 30 female strong choir that were performing in Finland. Petro invited them out with us, and they obliged.
Another €20 taxi ride followed and Petro and Styop were now back in town and the drinks continued until the early hours. Food was soon on the agenda and we managed to find a pizza place open, which styop did not follow the strict eating time policy they seemed to have made up and were not best pleased. First night done!
After only a few hours sleep, we were all up, showered, dressed (Some interesting choices of fashion was on show – namely UPS delivery driver trousers from Husak and a complete wardrobe malfunction from Oz, which consisted of suit shorts and a flower shirt. It was his ‘snorkel’/life support machine rucksack that had us all baffled) and ready to go and see Helsinki.
Pondering the streets, the city was buzzing with thousands of people out and about. We walked through a giant outside market where ewhen decided to buy a small fish and kept on putting it in styops pocket, then down his back – not cool! It was whilst in the market we met up with, we bumped into legendary (and now known as) Gembelyn and Harry.
Taking in the sights and trying local delicacies such as reindeer, certainly drew up a thirst, so it wasn’t long until we were back on the beers. Moving from bar to bar, the bantz level began to rise and as this was Slawko’s first trip, he seemed to be the butt of most of them, but was not phased by them. A trip past the Cathedrals of the city and a Brazilian carnival later, it was more pubs and by 7pm, another early night for Evhen, who was keen on regaining his sleeping beauty title, this wasn’t before locking himself in the toilet for 45 minutes.
With Evhen on his way to bed, we decided to find a sports bar to watch England Vs Scotland. We had established that the Finns weren’t keen on football, as they were surprised to hear we were in the country for it, but the fact that sports bars didn’t even show the game was another matter. Resigned to not watching it, we ordered food. This was another disaster as it took an age to come. 45 minutes later, with food not yet arrived, some of the us abandoned the place and the food, while the rest finished off their meals or had more patience. We quickly moved on to another city centre bar, again charging too much for average beer, but hey, when in Helsinki! Here we were joined by Huddersfield boys, Jonny and Mike and by some of the girls from the hostel, hand delivered by Andrik.
We were then surprised that Zen announced he was having a date, waiting in anticipation, the girl arrived and we all speculated as to how it would go. We couldn’t even get the conversation going properly however, as she left within two minutes, much to our amusement. Zen however got over it quickly and we continued the evenings entertainment, aided by multi-millionaire entrepreneur one-man Kozak Husak getting a round in. As the evening progressed and the sun refused to set, we headed to a livelier bar of the nightclub variety. Stumbling on the first place we found, it was alrite. DJ playing, more drinks being drunk, good times happening. These good times were particularly special for Cyhanko, as he found the girl of his dreams dressed in Finnish colours, only to find out it wasn’t a girl at all. Eventually, ahead of the early train, it was time to call it a night and get to the hostel, but not before grabbing a portion of the worlds saltiest chips.
Sunday was an early wake up call as we had a 9.07 train to Tampere, where the match would take place. With many still tired and hungover, it was a quiet train ride of over two hour, arriving in Tampere, shortly before 11. The plan was a quick stop off at the hostel, booked by Stepan and then out to see a little of Tampere, before we got to the pre-match entertainment. Stepan taking the lead, we found the hostel, but couldn’t find a way in. Traversing nearly 6 floors when another person entered the building, a silence appeared from Styop, reminiscent of those when he gets lost. It turned out that we had walked to the entirely wrong hostel and now had to walk a kilometre in the other direction to get to the right one. Well played Styop.
En route to the right hostel, we passed a bar with a couple of Ukrainians in who explained this would be a pre-match fan venue, so we agreed we would join later in the day. Having converged on town, we took a walk to the riverside and got in touch with long term friend Sasha Glyvinskyi, who invited us to the team hotel for a catch up. As we made another u-turn to go there, we bumped into another old friend, Roman Bebekh, with whom we would bump into throughout the day.
As we arrived at the hostel, we got excited by the presence of the Ukrainian players in the foyer, getting themselves coffees and snacks after they had had their morning stroll around town. Zen introduced himself to Yarmolenko, Morozuik, Pyatov, Konoplyanka and Seleznyov, while the rest of us caught up with Sasha. Following a quick video for an FFU fan facebook page, Pavlo and Danylo Pylypchuk turned up as if by magic. After wishing everyone good luck, we went to continue our tour of the city. Which included a walk of about 200m, to another pub, this time on a boat. More beers later and Bodia and Misha arrived, at this time, people wanted to have a chill, more beers or get ready for the game, so we agreed to catch up around 3 and head to the fan pub. At the hostel, the jaegermeister planned for the morning train was opened and swiftly demolished by th group and other Ukrainians staying in the hostel.
And on it was to the fan pub, while at first it was quiet, the atmosphere again built up and more people arrived. A group of Ukrainian ATO veterans, from the charity Переможці, were introduced to the fans to a rousing reception. With more drinks consumed and songs being sang, it was time to head to the match with a fan march.
One fan had a drum so we positioned ourselves at the front f the column and assisted the chanting, it quickly emerged, the drummer struggled with even the basic four drum beat of U-KRA-YI-NA, so he was quickly removed from his position and replaced by a more competent drummer boy. Styopa took the lead of chants at the front, while Petro and some of the other fan club leaders continued the march. We were quickly at the stadium, where we were collecting our tickets. After scrambling through to collect the tickets at the correct gate, we were then directed to the wrong gate by the same people. Much to the annoyance of everyone involved, we had to queue to get in the wrong gate and then queue again to get back into the right one.
Eventually we all squeezed into the stadium and made our way to the top rows, we hung the banner up and sang the hymn, and quickly enough Stepan was again repeating his Euro 2012 tricks, and challenging Evhen’s sleeping beauty title by having a nap. Petro made his way to the front to join the Ultras and join the atmosphere and the chanting.
Many of you have watched the game and know what happened, so there is no need to go over this ground. For those that want a match report – Ukraina won 2:1. They didn’t play well, it was a game to forget. Yevhen Konoplyanka scored first and we thought that would do, but Ukraina had other ideas and conceded an equaliser, only for Artem Besedin to win the game only the length of Zen’s date later. Job done, Ukraina won 2:1. Despite winning, the result sees Ukraina drop a place due to goal difference, but Iceland’s last gasp win really sets the group up nicely, with only two points separating the top four, with four games to go.
At the end of the game, there was a bit of a scrap at the front. The players ahd made their way over to say thanks for the support, but some had got over excited and jumped the barrier onto the running track. The riot police were heavy handed and came straight over. Some of the players stayed to calm the situation but they themselves got into a pushing and shoving match and it was only the intervention of Andriy Shevchenko which calmed matters down.
After the game it was back to the pre-match pub where we celebrated a victory. After the disappointment of Euro 2016, it was nice to be back at an Ukraina game celebrating rather than questioning why we bother. With more beers, mintos and pizza, we celebrated late. Next door, there was an evening disco, so we quickly made our way there. Petro was straight on the dance floor, showing off his moves, whilst more drinks and conversations followed for the rest of us. One by one we slowly made our was back to the hostel, having celebrated the victory hard into the morning.
For Zen, Evhen, Petro and Slawko, it was an early start with a train back to Helsinki, while Marko, Simon and Styop enjoyed a lie in before going to the airport. Evhen had an extra day in Helsinki, while the other three all took out another mortgage and had two nights in Tallinn and another in Helsinki, with the partying continuing.
Next on the list for Ukraina is the September double header, at home to Turkey in Kharkiv and away to Iceland in Rekjavik. Hopefully at least one of us will be heading to Iceland, so wait for another blog there – unless there is a cheeky European Club Qualifying game before then that we could visit. Until then however – З Перемогою and Kiitos Suomesta!