A Humbling Experience - 14/08/2002
The trip to Sarajevo was incredible. This was far more than the usual European away game and I think all the squad were taken aback by the evidence of incredible suffering. The media picked this up, but apart from the bullet holes in the walls, it was hearing the stories first hand that really brought it home to us. On the night prior to the game we were training in the stadium, one of the staff pointed out a ball boy who was only twelve years old, he’d lost eight members of his family!
We played at Sarajevo’s Olympic Stadium as Zeljeznicar’s ground was deemed unfit by UEFA. In actual fact Zeljeznicar’s ground had been ‘no man’s land’ during the war, and there are turrets built into the ground.
As you’d imagine, when it came to the football they played like warriors. Not that they were dirty, they just played it hard. For the first 60 minutes they never let up, inevitably the pace dropped off in the last half hour and we could have come away with more than a single goal advantage. The fans were also as determined as their players, which made for a great atmosphere.
The morning after the game we had an early breakfast at the UN base. This was home to all sorts of nationalities, Hugo was talking to some Portugese soldiers, whilst we met quite a few Geordies who were based there. Again, listening to the stories it brought it home to me how lucky we are. It was so interesting that we all wished we could have spent some more time there. I know it’s almost a cliché to say it, but on this occasion it really did make you thankful for what we have at home.
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