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From Tallaght to Tallinn

Published on the Rovers Rambling blog: http://roversramblings.webnode.com/

The trip from Tallaght to Tallinn for this Rovers fan began with an early Sunday morning flight out of Dublin. With various routes via Edinburgh, Liverpool, Copenhagen and Oslo, we chose the route with an eight-hour stop in Luton Airport. There were a dozen or so Rovers fans taking this flight option to Tallinn. With the 20-minute high-speed rail link into London closed for maintenance works, we didn’t bother with the 90-minute bus ride into London but settled for a five-minute taxi ride into Luton. As a self-confessed ground hopper, we took a stroll out to Kenilworth Road home to Luton Town FC. I’m old enough to remember Luton playing in the top flight of English football, with their plastic pitch and their ban on travelling fans. Let us just say that Luton, the town, the club and their ground, has seen better days as they currently ply their trade in the Blue Square Conference. The ground on one side is like Richmond Park with the entrance through a gap in a terraced row of houses.

A short stroll and a Sunday roast later, we were back in Luton Airport for our Ryanair flight to Tallinn. We got the chance that evening to sample the atmosphere of the main square in a quiet condition before the travelling hoards of Hoop fans descended on the square in the coming days. The Molly Malone bar was the venue for those Rovers fans that had made the early trip out and there were some quiet Sunday evening drinks for the Rovers fans, Rovers management and backroom team in attendance.

Monday was an opportunity to see the wonderful Old Town in Tallinn, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Rather than any one particular church, building or site, the best bit about the Old Town is to stroll around the cobbled streets in what is one of the best preserved medieval towns in northern Europe (well so says the Rough Guide to Estonia). The Shamrock Rovers team were also taking in the sights. With the temperatures up around 25 degrees, each had a bottle of water to keep hydrated. Speaking to Stephen Rice and Pat Sullivan that morning, Ricer was saying that the heat might be a factor “The only other kit we have is black, the cotton one we wore in the Setanta Cup final,” said Rice, “we’ll be baking.” Sullivan was looking forward to the change of playing in Europe. “It’s good to have a break. In league games you know the teams and what systems you’re going to play. When you’re playing higher level teams in Europe, you raise your game. The more we raise our game, it makes the club and us look better. They are good games to play in.”

The team had their pre-match training session at 18:45 on Monday evening to match the kick off time of the match on Tuesday. A handful of Rovers fans made their way to the A Le Coq Arena that was a half an hour stroll from the old town. While Jim Magilton started the session, Michael O’Neill spent 15 minutes chatting with the Irish media, including SRTV ahead of the game. He was quite upbeat about Rovers’ prospects. “I think we are well capable of scoring, that’s the main thing,” said O’Neill. “We created a lot of chances last week and we would like to start in a similar vein this time. “Obviously if we score it puts us in a very strong position and that’s what we will be hoping for.”

Photo from George Kelly

Coming back into the old the town, we were drawn into the main square by the siren call of Shamrock Rovers fans singing. The arrival of more fans swelled the numbers in the square and swelled the coffers of the surrounding bars and restaurants.

Fans arising on match day when they opened their curtains in the morning, or some in the afternoon, were greeted by rain outside. All the fans were hoping for the rain to stop ahead of the game, as there was no roof over the away section. The players were certainly hoping for cooler conditions that the previous day but maybe some rain. “If it rains it will be a bonus!” said Pat Sullivan. In the main square they had kindly erected some fences for Rovers fans to hang their flags on and also probably for the European Young Movement forum that was setting up a stage in the square. Tallinn locals and tourists alike were taking photos of the colourful Rovers supporters singing in the main square.

There was no Modena style march to the stadium given the distance from the main square so most fans used the local taxi service or tram to get to the ground. Just over 400 Rovers fans made the trip from Tallaght to Tallinn and they almost filled the bottom tier of one end of the ground. The sun had emerged but thankfully for the Rovers players the temperature wasn’t too uncomfortable helped by the shadows across the pitch. As usual, the Hoops fans had brought a massive number of flags and these were draped over the fence at the front. It attendance on the night was close to 2,000 football fans which Flora would have been delighted with given their average crowds are usually only a tenth of that.

Alan Mannus, making his last appearance for the Hoops before moving to SPL side St. Johnstone, was given a great reception by the Rovers fans as he took up his position in the first half defending the goal in front of the Rovers fans. As it turned out, Mannus had very little to do in a game that Rovers pretty much dominated. Flora created very little and with Conor McCormack patrolling in front of his back four it allowed Chris Turner and Ronan Finn get forward to support Dean Kelly, Billy Dennehy and Rovers captain Gary Twigg.

0-0 at half time and Rovers controlled the second half creating a succession of corners and scoring opportunities. Kelly got in a number of shots and Oman and Dennehy headers were probably the two best chances in the game. Besides not scoring a deserved goal, the only other disappointment on the night was the fact that Turner picked up a yellow card meaning he will miss next Wednesday’s away leg in Copenhagen. This was something Manager Michael O’Neill picked up on when talking on the touchline after the game. “It’s disappointing for Chris to miss the first leg. It’s a blow to us because he’s powerful in there and in the system he gets forward a lot.”

No surprise that the Rovers fans were in full voice during the game and their singing reached a crescendo at the full time whistle. Players and fans celebrated together with many players throwing their jerseys into the crowd and happiest was the fan that Alan Mannus carefully threw his jersey to before his teammates jumped on top of him in celebration.

As the stadium emptied, Michael O’Neill spoke about the win. “I’m delighted to get through. I thought we played excellently; to a man we were excellent. The objective was to get through to Copenhagen and we’ve managed to do that. It’s great for the club, it gives us four more European games, the financial implications of that as well, everything is positive about tonight.”

Rovers fans returned to the square post match for some local beer and with some heading to taste some local food such as Wild boar. The players also made an appearance. A group of us headed to the Depeche Mode bar off the main square that had been mentioned on the Rovers forum. The music was quite appropriate from a band with albums such as “Ultra” and “Songs of Faith & Devotion”. We couldn’t decide if “Personal Jesus” was a song about Gary Twigg or Chris(t) Turner.

Fans are now turning their attention to trying to get the time off work and get the money together to get to Copenhagen for next week. With the Rovers team flying home through there, Michael O’Neill and Jim Magilton stayed on to see their opposition lose 1-0 to West Ham in a friendly before getting back to Dublin to help prepare the Hoops for their next big challenge.

See you in Copenhagen.

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