The Day We Nearly Went to Poltava
Friday 30th November 2018
Yes there has been bits of this trip that have been costly and inconvenient. And personally it is disappointing that we didn’t actually get to stay in our intended destination of Poltava. But everything has been listened to, digested and plans adjusted accordingly. And all with a smile and that sense of adventure. We all follow the Arsenal, over land and sea (and warzones!)
Our flight out was a bit odd. We should have perhaps seen it coming on this one as soon as our original flight was cancelled a few weeks before the trip! But overall it meant we departed 24 hours earlier so although a little inconvenient, not exactly problematic.
But, being at Gatwick Airport during the early hours of the morning when it is pretty much closed was strange nonetheless, our 3am Tuesday departure for Kiev (bearing in mind at this stage we had no idea the game was going to be moved) dictating us being there. And I simply cannot sleep on aeroplanes. So after we changed planes in the Ukrainian capital and arrived at our final destination of Kharkiv, the taxi drive through the freezing streets of snow and ice was taken with considerable weariness.
We’ve all been there though, when bed is probably the sensible option, “We’ll meet in the hotel bar and see how we go from there.”
So instead, we enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of our hotel staff and an excellent bar and grill, eventually turning in a full 42 hours after last waking up. And about 20 quid lighter after a 3 course meal and about 20 beers! Kharkiv is no Basel on the costs front believe me!
Late on that Tuesday night in the bar was when the rumours regarding the game started. And in the world of social media we live in, rumours were exactly what they were initially. But, very quickly, confirmation was received and our plans were in tatters.
Kharkiv is around 2 hours drive from Poltava and our group had a minibus transfer booked for Wednesday morning, 3 nights in a hotel, before returning to Kharkiv for our flight back to Luton on Saturday. But we needed to get to Kiev. During that next hour we looked at our options. Flights maybe, trains or a road trip. And of course, how we got back to the UK, especially as Kharkiv was now a city where the Ukrainian government had declared martial law.
Flights were out of the question although other Gooners we know chose this option, 10 hour (with potentially no seat) or overnight trains looked nothing short of painful. So we opted for a 6 hour plus road trip. Not ideal of course but it meant we would arrive in Kiev in good time to enjoy a night out and in plenty of time for the match.
So, with that booked, our Poltava plans scrapped, a new hotel secured in Kiev and flights found for Friday evening back to London we were back in the game. Bed was very welcome.
Alexandr our minibus driver was a friendly chap. And if you can describe overtaking juggernauts through the snow and ice whilst sending a text ‘confident’ I’ll give him that too. And by the time we arrived at our destination, having passed through Poltava on route, nobody had died. So that’s fine.
My 4th time in Kiev to see the Arsenal, it felt a bit strange to be back, especially when we never intended to be there! But it is a good city with plenty to offer anyone in search of entertainment. So a degree of normality had returned when following our team overseas. And thoroughly enjoyable it has been too.
But it’s been cold. Very very cold. And the long johns and thermals were a fantastic decision as we took our places in the Olympic Stadium for arguably the most surreal setting we have ever witnessed as a travelling Gooner. More police and security staff than people attending the match, at least 4 full body searches before and after the turnstiles and being given just one small section of the ground felt all a little unnecessary given there was hardly anybody there.
With the tough schedule we have ahead I think every Gooner hoped we wouldn’t be bringing our strongest squad out so the decision to do just that was welcomed. But it was still a tidy looking line up that started the game in the freezing temperatures.
And a couple of hours later, with numb toes and stinging cheeks, all us Gooners present were very proud of the professional, clinical and winning performance we had just witnessed. Top of the group and job done.
Post match back in the pub it was wonderfully warm and it felt like what has been quite an adventure was coming to a close. And plans to enjoy a typically Ukrainian lunch today before heading home will bring it to its conclusion.
Football fans are hardy and loyal to the core and us Gooners very much fall into that category. And this is an away game that demonstrates that more than ever.
See you Sunday as we take on that lot from Middlesex.