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Saturday 22nd February v. Cliftonville (away) - Danske Bank Premiership - k.o: 3:00pm

ODENSE BK (Denmark) [2004/2005 - UEFA Intertoto Cup First Round]
Overview | First Leg | Second Leg | "I Was There"

After some fifteen years waiting for his first European trip with Ballymena United, Neil Coleman speaks to Johnny Irwin about his unforgettable trip to Denmark.
What did you make of qualifying for Europe at Distillery's expense?
"It was tough on the Distillery players and supporters, but I have no sympathy at all for their board. They were the architects of their own downfall with their allegedly very 'basic' UEFA Licence application compared to the masterpiece produced by Billy Bell and company at Ballymena. There was also an element of spite from some folk connected with the Whites that if they weren't able to go to Europe then they'd make sure we couldn't either. That was distasteful."
"I can still remember getting the phone call from Iain Black at the High Court to say Distillery had withdrawn their legal action and Ballymena United were going to Europe. A magical moment that I knew I'd be following my team to the continent for the first time ever."
"Fans of other Clubs showed a bit of resentment saying that we had 'stolen' "Distillery's rightful place but at the end of the day it was not our fault and we did nothing wrong. We were the highest team placed with the all the correct licences in place. Every team knew the situation at the start of the season and they knew what they had to do. Not our problem if they did not."
Fans had little time to prepare for the trip how did you find that?
"MAYHEM! My computer, phone and credit card went into meltdown trying to co-ordinate with everyone when and how we were going to get there with only a couple of weeks to sort it. I can remember the supporters had a meeting with Club Officials in the Smithfield Arms to try and make some sense of it. Part of the problem was no one knew for sure what day the game was going to be played - Saturday or Sunday."
"We originally thought it would be a Saturday so flights were booked accordingy with the flights coming back on a Sunday. Then it was suddenly confirmed that it was a Sunday game so it meant all the flights had to be rebooked as we would have missed the game! It was an expensive business but worth every penny!"
"As regards my own personal preparations for the game it was nothing short of a nightmare. At the time we thought the game was going to be on a Saturday I was due to be in Edinburgh for a friends wedding until the Friday evening. As such, I had looked into arrangements into hiring a car from Edinburgh to drive overnight down to either Newcastle or Bristol so I could get a flight to the game! Lucky for me in a way that it was changed to the Sunday."
How did you fancy Ballymena's chances before the first leg in Denmark?
"I thought we'd win by at least three clear goals! Nah, seriously like everyone else I went expecting the worst but hoping we'd put the effort in and come back with a respectable scorline. Odense competed in Europe regularly and had given Real Madrid a game in recent years - I don't think they were prepared for the third biggest team in the world to arrive."
"Lets face it, we were going to face a full time professional team full of internationals, on their own patch whose season had ended only a week or so before while we hadn't played in seven weeks. We were also going to be missing our new star signing Rory Hamill and a number of other players like Boydie who were on holidays."
"The odds were heavily stacked against us but by hell were we going to enjoy the occasion anyway!"
How did you make it to Odense?
"As I said earlier I was in Scotland at a wedding and I only arrived back at the International Airport about 10 pm, within eight hours or so I was back again for our flight to Bristol."
"I travelled up to the airport with Bill Wray and his son Andy and it was fantastic sight to see at the check in. Loads of United fans bedecked in Sky Blue with smiles on their faces like children on Christmas morning. The excitement was building."
"The Lisburn lads had really got into the spirit of things with their viking hats and the axes to match. Surprisingly they weren't allowed them through security! Most folk had a visit to bar for a quick drink - just to settle the nerves you know."
"We arrived at Bristol Airport and met some Sky Blues from the mainland who were joining us for the flight to Kobenhavn. We had a few hours to kill so some more liquid refreshment were called for. We took over a bar upstairs and had all the flags up and were getting many curious looks from other passengers. There was quite a few questions asked to us about who we were and where we going to etc but in general the craic was brilliant. Security gave us a visit but it was ok because one of the security men had lived and worked in Ballymena years ago so knew all about the mighty BUFC."
"The plane eventually got going and it was next stop Denmark. We collected our luggage etc and made for the train station at the airport for our 2 hour journey to Odense. Of course there a shop at the Station that sold bottles of beer. I've never seen a fridge empty as quickly, the shop could have shut for the day with their profits made."
"On the train and of course we all accidently ended up in 1st class before we were quickly shifted on. The Danes were all very friendly and the conductor on the train called us all to go up to the front for this wonderful 'sight' coming up. It turned out to be nothing more than a long tunnel. Now I know we were from a small area in rural Ireland but we didn't all live in thatched cottages with open fires and the horse and cart out the back!"
"So it was off the train in Odense and into taxis for the various hotels the support were staying in. A quick change of clothes and it was out on the town for the 24 hour build up to the game!"