Northern Ireland – Kosovo
24 September 2022
National Stadium at Windsor Park
Before the game, we went on a Belfast tour with a visit to the famous murals, crisscrossing through different parts of the city and passing sights. Also on board was Andy from the Irish Football Association Foundation, who kept providing us with additional information about the Northern Ireland association’s efforts to unite the religious divisions of the population groups in soccer and break down barriers. Many of the painted walls also show reference to football. In addition to insignia from Glasgow Rangers and Celtic, we also passed those of George Best, who we would later encounter elsewhere.
Last September, the IFA Foundation organized a meeting of the “Sport Together” project, which is coordinated by the fairplay initiative. The Northern Ireland Football Association, the Irish Football Association and a sports organization from Donegal, which does cross-community work, exchanged information with Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian partners about their work in post-conflict regions.
On the way to the stadium, the group of about 18 got bogged down at a chicken takeaway, which meant that the pre-match beer in a Belfast pub on the way to the stadium unfortunately had to be cancelled, as the queues outside the pubs on the way to the stadium were endless. It is one of the few days when it is possible to drink a beer in public in Belfast. The Queen, who had died shortly before the match, was commemorated at many houses along the streets, and before the match began there was a minute of mourning and inserts on the video wall. For the first time in 70 years, the fans sang “God save the King” loudly.
During the second half, Danny Lynch, the IFA’s press officer, stopped by in the stands and told us that in the week leading up to the Kosovo match, two team players had been suspended by the association for discriminatory postings. The IFA has strict guidelines in this regard, and the two players are obviously not allowed to have followed the UEFA campaign “No to online abuse”, which is also running on the stadium boards.
The beer in the pub was served after the loudly celebrated last-minute victory of the Northern Irish, but only after we had said goodbye with inevitable selfies of George Best with his statue in front of the stadium.
You can find the article in the current ballesterer #177.
Text & photos: Markus Pinter