Chew, what a scorcher – Ukraine 1 Wales 1 (2001)


In  the middle of Kyiv, 50 yards away from the Khreshatyk tube station is a restaurant/pub whose name escapes me.

On the menu are listed the usual starters, main courses, desserts, wines and half a page devoted to . . . chewing gums.

Five of them in fact – Airwaves Honey and Menthol (recommended – tastes like honey Lockets), Dirol, Wrigley’s, Orbit and Antipolice.

Yes, soon as we’d got there the first thing we found was a restaurant with a chewing gum on the menu called ‘Antipolice’.

ANTIPOLICE. What a great name for a gum, eh?

Not that this fan’s anti-police. Some close butties are coppers etc etc and there were two among the travelling horde of 125 Taffies.

It’s just an incredible brand name for anything isn’t it? Socks, carpets, tomatoes, Molotov cocktails. But the marketing department of a chewing gum manufacturer got there first. Amazing.

We ordered four chicken Kievs, desserts and every chewing gum on the
menu.

 The chicken Kiev was lovely, the dessert another story in itself (see later) and the chewing gums – well, would you believe it, Antipolice was not there. They’d sold out. Which proves the point about it being a great name.

So I can’t tell you if it was pork flavour (ha,ha). Or came emblazoned with an anti-capitalist or anti-whatevertheymoanaboutinKiev message. Or if it carried an ‘as scoffed by Seattle rioters’ endorsement.

But it would have come in very handy at the match in this elegant, lush metropolis. Unlike the other East European cities visited so far, Kyiv’s lovely, covered in greenery and straddling the gigantic, ravishing River Dnipro.

Anyway, we got to the match, masticating our way furiously through our Dirol (or was it Orbit?), and decided we were very pro-police.

A very charming officer escorted two of us to another equally charming chap and we had a personal escort, cinema usherette-style to our section.

The tone changed slightly as we realised we were mixed in with Ukrainian supporters and, as always when that happens, you wonder if the locals include a nutcase. Cos it only took one idiot to start all the riots I’ve witnessed.20131202-134506.jpg

Early on, after a bit of bare-chested shirt-swirling three hefty coppers swooped to order the offenders to put their shirts back on. East Europeans don’t like bare chests in public.

The ugly trio stomped up, all shark eyes and Labrador breath, and commanded instant obedience. This really was when the Antipolice gum would’ve been handy. We could have offered them a stick as a surreal joke AND halted their halitosis.

Despite that, we warmed up with a glorious Gwyr Harlech for a good 20 minutes. A sterling rendition of ‘Teenage Kicks’ by the Undertones and a committed ‘Vote Grigg’ in aid of Richard Grigg’s Cardiff Central election campaign upped the pressure to fever pitch.

But all the first-half effervescence came to naught. When the Ukraine scored just before half-time I nearly retched up my Wrigley’s.

Why does everyone seem to score before half-time against us?

It sparked impressive celebrations from the home crowd. Underneath the scoreboard on the top tier, two blokes raced down the stand holding the corners of an enormous flag above their heads.

They were unfurling a national banner kept hidden at the back of the tier for goal celebrations. It shimmered impressively over the top of 2,000 fans and was quite a sight.

The chant of ‘Oooh-Kra-Eee-Na’ reverberated around the Republikanski stadium, even though it was half empty. Pre-match fears of a 4-0 drubbing started to play on our minds.

This was the moment the locals cranked up the decibels with their buzzing devices. I know what you’re thinking, filthy-minded people. But Ukrainian buzzing devices involve blowing into a plastic cylinder, with a membrane over one end. It rattles irritatingly and makes a low-pitched droning bee sound.

IMG_3544
This, the current version of the Olimpisky, was built for Euro 2012

Stung by the goal, the sound of the swarm engulfed us and we had to endure the human beehive for the rest of the half. All we could do was pray it would stay 1-0 until half-time

During the break a Ukrainian aged about 30 approached and said: “You have the best fans in the world. You are a small country with not many people and you make more noise than all of us Ukraine.”

I nearly jumped out of my skin. I thought: “This bloke is reading my mind. I left a Johnson’s baby bud in my ear and my inner thoughts have hacked their way through the wax and jumped out while I looked up at the brains of that girl in the front row of the top tier.

“Then they turned into a human being who’s telling me precisely what I’m thinking, using the same phrases that go through my mind.”

It was uncanny. For two years 20 or so of us have chased round the world watching one of the worst teams in Europe. We’ve been to Qatar, Portugal, Belarus, Poland, Armenia and Ukraine for our holidays. We’ve seen every type of concrete architecture in existence.

Five years ago, 2,000 of us sang all through a 7-1 thrashing in Eindhoven, a game that could have been 15-1 and, however immodest it sounds, most of that 20 believe we have proved empirically that we’re the best in the world.

But to have a stranger’s first words confirm your own private thoughts, well that’s unbelievably spooky.

I waited for the bloke to spontaneously combust.

But he went on: “We had 180 people from Norway here on Saturday and they make very little noise. You sing and dance and you have come here. That is why you are so good.”

I felt like kissing him but shook his hand instead, just to confirm he was real flesh and blood and I hadn’t OD’d on the chewing gum (Dirol did taste a bit funny).

The second-half was a belter – for me the best football played under Sparky’s tenure.

What was most striking was that players of the class of Rebrov and Shevchenko didn’t look confident – like us against Poland.

Pembridge’s goal sparked the most manic celebrations of our World Cup campaign so far.

And when Giggs, who else, fluffed a chance late on we were cursing the missed opportunities over the entire campaign. Shortly after, we were glad for the draw as the Ukraine screwed up badly. It could have been 3-3 but a draw was a fair result.

By gum, another great performance by fans and players.

And all for the price of three weeks in the Caribbean! *

*Phrase copyright Mrs Gary Pritchard, Valley, Ynys Mon.

Highlight

Desserts at our chewing-gum trougher include one called ‘Erotic’. With a name like that I’m surprised anyone orders anything else. (“Erotic? Oooh, no, don’t fancy that, I’ll just have the cheeseboard please.”)

Our slavering, depraved minds ordered some and contemplated a voluptuous, sensuous experience that would rival, say, Craig Bellamy’s winner against Denmark.

Five minutes later the waitress came back to tell us: “I’m sorry, we haven’t got any – we’ve run out of bananas.”

My mind’s still boggling.

Lowlight

My flag recovered from pneumonia (see u-21 report) but, immune system flagging, contracted a deep vein thrombosis in the dragon’s tail (all them flights) and went into a coma. The trauma sparked a pulmonary embolism and I revived it with a heart defibrillator I just happened to have handy.

It recovered briefly but succumbed, fatally alas, to secondary emphysema. Its last words (flags talk, see) were: “BastardJoeJordanAlexFergusonPaulBodinIeuanWynEllis.”

I flushed it down the bog and it’s floating down the Dnipro to the Black Sea.

Fan of the day

Are sponsored swearathons a regular occurrence in Llandudno?

Barely a minute into the game and a volcanic torrent of phrases erupted from the fan next to me. So much so, I panicked, thinking I’d not been paying attention and we’d already let in two goals.

I turned, wondering if Robert de Niro had got a ticket for the match, to find Gareth Bailey, aged 15.

If I lived in Llandudno, I’d swear a lot too. Many thanks, Gareth, for teaching me four new and very useful phrases.

He did plenty of singing, mind. More than anyone else, no question. All of it over my right shoulder. A rip-roaring effort from the teen terror. Brought on my tinnitis something chronic, it did.

Best player

Mark Pembridge. Reminded me of a shorter version of Peter Nicholas. Tigerish in both this week’s games, a good passer (Savage please note) and the most underrated of all the underrated players in a very underrated team. The underrated Mark Hughes should be given credit for not underrating him.

Best nightclub

Club 111. Anywhere that plays Elvis Presley, James Brown, Motorhead and ‘Hit the Road Jack‘ in succession and then offers to play The Exploited as recompense for not having any Clash records has to be a clear winner.

Best snog

At Club 111, while standing at the snazzy revolving bar, we turned to find a couple apparently engaged in a contest to eat each other. Looking more closely we saw Wrexham Romeo Stuart locking lips with a Ukrainian belle in what can only be described as the most ferocious kiss we’ve ever seen. It was like two tigers necking.

He explained later: “I kissed her once and she told me she liked it rough so I got stuck in.”

*This piece appeared on the Bobbing Along website in 2001, a few days after the game, on June 6, when I’d sobered up 

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