Sunday 22 April 2018

Fans must dig deep to follow team's Euro 2012 qualifying odyssey

Fiach Kelly

IT'S eastern promise -- or banishment to the gulags, depending on your view.

The Boys in Green face a hopscotch around eastern Europe if they are to qualify for Euro 2012 in Poland and the Ukraine.

So chalk down our opponents and search for flights. Away trips to Russia, Slovakia, FYR Macedonia, Armenia and Andorra mean the Green Army have to dig deep in their pockets to support Trap's team.

The travel tactics were already being schemed last night, even though the fixtures were not expected to be announced for another month.

Fans are cautiously optimistic, while hoping that the qualifiers will not mirror recent instalments of that other Europe-wide spectacle, the Eurovision, where the former Soviet states help each other out and block the western nations.

The qualifying campaign will get under way on the weekend of September 3 and 4 this year and finishes on October 11, 2011, with the play-offs taking place a month later.

It is time to move on from that night in Stade de France, even if it is still sore. Forget Paris, it's all about Yerevan now.

Yer wha'?

That's the Armenian capital, for those of us a little rusty on our geography of the Middle East and it has a population of 1.1 million people.

Don't worry, there's an Irish bar called Emile's, apparently one of the liveliest spots in town, and another called The Shamrock Tavern.

Already, for the hardcore support, the far-flung destination (it's 4,000km from Dublin) has become the unmissable game of the campaign.

Ireland's under-21 team has already played there, going down 4-1 to their Armenian counterparts last November.

"The real hard one looks like Armenia," said Del Harte (25), from Baldoyle in Dublin, a prominent member of You Boys in Green (YBIG), the Ireland supporter's club.

"But it's the hardest ones to get to that can be the most enjoyable. It's not a place you'd usually go to and if there are only 1,500 or 2,000 fans, then everybody's together in one place and there's no hassle."

Yerevan can be reached from Dublin for about €500. There are no direct flights, but connections can be made in London, Frankfurt and Paris.

Skopje in Macedonia would cost about €600 to fly to, but there are alternatives. YBIG members are pondering flying to Sofia in Bulgaria, then getting the train to Skopje.

"The lads are already looking for stuff," said Del. "But the majority would not be fans of Bratislava in Slovakia."

Memories

Some Irish fans have bad memories of a previous away trip to Bratislava, where Ireland drew 2-2 in 2007. "The people don't want you to be there," said Del.

Those with longer memories also remember the disastrous trip to Skopje in 1997, when Mick McCarthy's team lost 3-2.

The away leg in Russia is the fixture expected to be the least attractive to fans. Last time -- a 4-2 defeat in 2002 -- saw Irish supporters constantly hassled about visas. Violence also flared up, with Russian skinheads attacking some fans and there were numerous reports of policemen seeking bribes.

Visas could be a problem again in this campaign, especially in Russia and Armenia.

The away game against Andorra is likely to be held in Barcelona, as it was when the two teams played in 2001.

That game was held in the 16,000-seater mini-Nou Camp beside Barcelona's famous stadium. The expected Barcelona fixture is tipped to draw the biggest Irish crowd.

A new campaign, a new stadium for home games -- with the possibility of Friday night games at Lansdowne Road -- and a few daring raids behind the Iron Curtain.

Thierry who? Come on, You Boys in Green.

See sport for more

Irish Independent

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