Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Bucharest in ‘85 is our inspiration

Northern Ireland very much enter the 'Lions' Den' on Saturday night faced with perhaps their biggest and toughest task away from home since Bucharest in 1985. Why Bucharest and not the following game at Wembley against mighty England when a draw took us through to Mexico?

Well, while taking nothing away from the performance at Wembley that night, many argue that England had already qualified for the finals and didn't go into the game with all the gusto of a side needing a win to secure World Cup qualification.

Rumania, as they were in those days under the old Ceausescu regime, had all to play for when Northern Ireland travelled there in October 1985, and Billy Bingham considered the subsequent victory as the most hard-earned of all the famous wins during that wonderful run in the 1980s.

It may well take a similar effort to come away from the Slaski Stadium with the three points which would give us a tremendous chance of making it through to next year's World Cup Finals in South Africa, but it is not beyond us.

I always feel that Northern Ireland have at least one good away performance and result in them during every campaign. Poland could be another chapter in our magnificent footballing history. But what will we need to do in order to achieve that?

Well, first of all we need Maik Taylor to produce one of those world-class performances of which he is more than capable. A solid display from him could well inspire his team-mates during what I feel will be a tough 90 minutes, as they attempt to cover every blade of grass on the huge pitch.

I also believe that we need someone who at some stage can run at the Poles, put them on the back foot and give them something to think about. Niall McGinn impressed during his substitute appearance against Israel last month, and although he is unlikely to start on Saturday, he could well produce the release required in the latter stages.

Whilst much of the focus has been on the game itself, a lot of preparation has been required for the 800 or so Northern Ireland fans travelling to Chorzow.

The problems in and around the home game in March are well documented and I gave you my thoughts on that last month, but nonetheless they cannot be overlooked.

A lot of time and effort has had to be put into security and travel arrangements, the IFA and PSNI have worked very closely with the Amalgamation of Official NISC, with the provision of bus transfers to the game from Krakow and Berlin, as well as secure, segregated fan-zones and a mobile phone network has been put in place should fans require assistance or advice during the away trip.

I have often been critical of the IFA, but on this occasion I must acknowledge all the work that has been put into the well-being of fans for this game.

I will be one of more than 200 fans who will make a 14-hour round trip by road from Berlin to the game, but I do so in the belief that Aaron Hughes, Damien Johnson and the rest of the squad will not disappoint.

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Five Committee Members from the Amalgamation have been provided with mobile phones, which fans can contact in the case of an emergency; they can also register for Information Texts.

The Network will liaise with the IFA, PSNI and the Polish authorities during the course of the away trip. This is a pilot scheme and has been made possible by funding from O2.

To register for the service, fans should email aonisc@yahoo.co.uk.

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