St Pat's Magical Mystery Story - the inside track

Article Posted: Sunday 9th August, 2009

Here is St Pat's chairman Richard Sadlier's take on the club's famous result in Russia last week - "the most astonishing match I have ever seen".

Saints' magical mystery tour produces a miracle

Richard Sadlier looks back on the most astonishing game he's ever seen

Jeff Kenna has faced many a reporter over the years, but when he was asked this question on Russian television after the final whistle, he just couldn't keep a straight face.

Much was made in the build-up of the logistical difficulties of getting St Patrick's Athletic out there, but it was relatively straightforward in the end. Unable to do the journey in two flights at times that suited, and without enough travelling support to fill a chartered flight, we opted for a three-flight route.

The journey began Monday evening to London Heathrow, with everyone spending the night in a nearby hotel. Journeys to London are no test to anyone's endurance levels, so Tuesday's two flights were handy enough.

Prior to the first leg we had been advised that if we got any kind of a result in Inchicore we could expect a very difficult trip for the second leg. We were warned we would face a sustained effort from our hosts to disrupt our preparations as best they could. We were led to believe buses would not be there to collect us as agreed, alarms would ring throughout the night in the hotel, prostitutes would be contacting the players at all hours, and even the food in the hotel would be tampered with. It would be a throwback to how things supposedly used to be.

Having not received written confirmation that our bus would be there to pick us up on arrival, we feared the worst as we left Dublin. Contingency plans were made just in case, but in the end it wasn't necessary. Our hosts were helpful and respectful towards us from the moment we arrived. This was particularly evident in the pre-match lunch we were invited to attend.

It is protocol on these occasions for the home club to host a lunch for representatives of both national associations, the UEFA delegate and the visiting club's officials. Not an aspect of my job I have a lot of enthusiasm for, but an important one all the same. The presence of two interpreters did not allow for much free-flowing banter, but it was an enjoyable afternoon nonetheless.

On the morning of the game, I mentioned in a radio interview that only three of our supporters had made the trip -- Big Joey, his sister Pamela, and Joan. The previous afternoon at the team's training session, they were being interviewed on Russian television, and prior to kick-off newspapers were looking for their phone numbers. Though we didn't know it at the time, Big Joey was about to become a lot bigger.

Pre-match talk focused on whether Jan Koller and Jiri Jarosik would play for Krylia as both were absent from their line-up over the weekend. Koller had apparently requested a transfer, and not wanting to cup-tie him for European games, the decision was made not to play him. Jarosik was to play no part either. Small consolation given the quality of their replacements, but cause for hope all the same.

The game itself was one of the most astonishing I've ever seen. The first half was a spell of sustained pressure from Krylia, good defending by us, very good goalkeeping by Gary Rogers, and the feeling that there was a goal in this game for us somewhere. Though we went in 1-0 down at half-time, we were holding our own.

Whatever happened during the half-time break, they came out a different side. They scored two more immediately, and looked likely to score several more.

Jeff made the bold decision to add a second striker to our attack, and what happened next is difficult to explain. The Mexican waves in the crowd stopped, we played with a staggering level of confidence given the gulf in standing of the two clubs, and the directors next to me began to look terrified.

We put ourselves to within ten minutes of qualification by deservedly scoring twice. As they were unable to see footage anywhere back in Dublin, I was texting updates to the supporters' club back in Inchicore. Not the most enjoyable ten minutes I've ever had by any means, but absolute euphoria upon hearing the final whistle. Krylia's website called it 'a catastrophe'.

At this point it was time for Big Joey to shine. Pitch-side photographers surrounded him, newspapers began calling him, and he made the first of several live radio interviews with stations back home. His face would feature in all the following day's newspapers at home, and just to show he hadn't forgotten his roots, he even made time to do a piece with the Russian TV station that gave him his big break the day before.

The usual monotony of waiting in airports for connecting flights home was replaced with constant phone calls about the draw for the next round, preparations to move to the RDS, and congratulatory calls from everyone at home.

The step up from that round to this is considerable; the month ahead will be the busiest we've ever had. We'll need assistance from the FAI and several others, while Big Joey will no doubt be hiring Max Clifford.

It's Steaua Bucharest up next. Our total of three travelling supporters will be down to none due to sanctions placed by UEFA following crowd trouble by their fans, so once again we'll have to do it the hard way. But, as we found out last week, sometimes the mystery adds to the magic in the end.

(Sunday Independent)