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Dublin: 9°C Tuesday 26 January 2021
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Letter from Sarajevo: The logistical nightmare of Ireland's Euro 2016 play-off

“This is the fourth country we’ve been in today.”

A panoramic view of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina's capital.
A panoramic view of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina's capital.
Image: AP Photo/Amel Emric

Ben Blake reports from Bosnia-Herzegovina

I’M PRETTY CERTAIN there hasn’t yet been an Irish ballad written which details exactly how many different ways there are get to Zenica, but one just might be penned after the tales of this week’s international trip are told.

In this modern age of budget airlines, when we hop on and off planes like they are buses, it can often feel as if the cities of Europe are no more than a stone’s throw from us.

That hasn’t quite been the case for this writer, a number of my colleagues and many hardcore members of the Boys in Green who have been arriving at the destination ahead of tomorrow’s Euro 2016 play-off, however.

When the draw was made last month, an approximate 2,000km journey (as the crow flies) from Dublin to the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sarajevo, seemed reasonable when you consider the great lengths supporters have gone to in recent years.

To put the distance into perspective, it’s nearly twice that to Tbilisi (3,968 km) and further again to Kazakhstan’s home ground in Astana (5,038km). Unfortunately, those hoping to travel over for the first leg quickly learned that direct flights would be extremely difficult to come by.

For anyone who didn’t manage, or chose not to, book on to the couple of chartered flights run by the two main travel agents, the alternative options were numerous and varied.

A logistical nightmare, Amsterdam right through to Zurich and just about everything in between was explored as possible stopover locations, while others looked into the viability of flying to nearby countries and travelling the rest of the way over land.

Having personally settled to go Dublin-Frankfurt-Vienna-Sarajevo, matters were then further complicated when ongoing Lufthansa strikes in Germany saw two of the three flights cancelled and the whole trip thrown into doubt less than 24 hours out from departure time.

At that late stage in the day, any remaining seats would have cost an arm and a leg, so the final roll of the dice was to show up early and pray we could be squeezed on somewhere else. Thankfully, that proved to be the case and the German leg of our mini-tour of Europe was replaced with a flying visit to Copenhagen before we got back on track in Austria.

IMG_6407 Our man Ben Blake meets the locals at Copenhagen Airport.

There, we met a band of upbeat supporters and two experienced Irish sports photographers who had shelled out an eye-watering amount of money to book a last-minute flight to Bratislava, then bussed it west to where our paths crossed.

“This is the fourth country we’ve been in today,” said one Mullingar-based fan as we landed in Sarajevo. “Everything is going wrong for us, but yet it is all working out. Fingers crossed Friday will be the same,” were his words of encouragement to another passenger in green across the aisle.

They had played it safe and altered their original route after the first sign of strikes early in the week. As we exited the plane, he added: “At least everyone has got their own story about how they got here now!”

Let’s just hope tomorrow night’s result means they will still be worth telling (and singing about) in years to come.

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Ben Blake

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