A heavy police presence ensured Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifier with Poland last night passed off peacefully. The grey skies over Katowice were in stark contrast to the mood on the ground where more than 1,000 fans had a great time as they watched Northern Ireland secure a valuable 1-1 draw.
Supporters made their way to a dedicated Fanzone at Silesia shopping mall, a five-minute drive from Silesian Stadium in Chorzow, where they sang the day away.
Around 250 members of the green and white army stayed in Katowice and the surrounding region, while another 750 travelled from Berlin.
To ensure safety, the IFA organised buses to take fans from the Fanzone to the match.
They then passed through a fenced-off section of the stadium and into Section 19 where they watched the game.
As an extra security precaution, supporters remained in the ground for an hour afterwards.
Donaghadee man Alan McAleer was just one of the fans soaking up the atmosphere.
The 45-year-old has not missed a competitive Northern Ireland game in seven years and said he felt as safe in Poland as anywhere else he has been.
“My first game was at Windsor Park in 1970,” he said.
“I’ve been all over Europe following Northern Ireland – places like Latvia, Iceland and Denmark,” he said.
“I feel as safe in Poland as anywhere else.”
Alan is chairman of the Portavogie Northern Ireland Supporters Club, which brought 16 fans over to the game.
When Polish hooligans attacked police outside Windsor Park in Belfast in March, the Co Down man was one of the first to rush to officers’ aid.
“Those Polish thugs were the real deal, proper organised hooligans,” he added.
Fearing trouble, Polish police put on a dramatic show of strength at Silesian Stadium.
Around 50 officers dressed in full riot gear fired blanks from plastic-bullet guns on Friday.
The images, which were beamed around Poland, sent a clear message to the hooligans who had threatened mayhem.
Poland’s hooligans are among the most notorious in Europe but the thugs took the hint and the day stayed trouble-free.
The Polish cops were determined to protect visiting fans and to prevent a repeat of the ugly scenes that marred the game between the teams in Belfast in March when 11 police officers were injured during clashes.
A spokesman for the Polish
police said officers were “prepared” ahead of the game.
“Our duty was to ensure first entrance to the ground. We were confident all would be safe,” said the spokesman.
IFA President Raymond Kennedy said he was “delighted” with how everything went.
Sunday Life mistakenly reported last week that the majority of Northern Ireland’s fans were staying in Berlin due to the fears of violence. The game was originally to be played in Szczecin, near Berlin, and most travelling fans had already made bookings before the Polish FA switched venues to Chorzow. We are happy to correct the error.