The "GAWA Name and Shame Campaign" goes international (well Belgium at least)

OK Folks,

Soap box time.

The text that follows was something that I placed on the Northern Ireland supporters forum on the "" website. On this forum many intellectual debates are had by those proud soldiers of the Green And White Army (GAWA) on a whole range of topics.

Recently there has been a long discussion where supporters are naming and shaming bars in Belfast city centre which turn away fellow soldiers whose only crime it is to wear the football colours of their national team - in their homeland's capital city on match day. And this whilst other supporters sporting their own colours are allowed in. Absolutely disgraceful displays of prejudice which cannot go on any longer.

Supporters are naming these bars and our fellow comrades are boycotting these premises on match day or any other day for that matter. And fair play to them, for we will not be treated like lepers in our own country. The GAWA has had enough!

But then it occurred to me - why keep it local? I have experienced my own prejudices whilst I've been on my travels and one such incident occurred only a couple of weeks ago here in Belgium that I felt had to be shared my fellow comrades.

Friends, I give you - "The GAWA Name and Shame Campaign goes International" (well Belgium at least)

Picture the scene:

It’s a lovely, warm, Saturday lunchtime in September as I make my way to Antwerp’s historic Grote Markt.

The weather is unseasonably warm by Belgian standards and it provides me with a wonderful opportunity to show off my GAWA colours as I walk tall, proud and bristling with excitement that the European qualifiers had finally come around after the long summer’s wait spent watching those World Cup finals that we didn’t fancy going to.

As I walk the narrow cobbled streets of Antwerp’s Oude Stad I look around me at the spectacular architecture, the wonderful medieval guildhalls with their gold-plated statues at the peak of each roof, the impressive Stadhuis, the beautiful Brabo fountain and of course, the quite simply stunning Cathedral of Our Lady.

After living in Belgium for almost 7 years I know this part of town like the back of my hand but even so, familiarity does not dull my sense of marvel at the picture-postcard perfect scene which never ceases to take my breath away.

On this occasion however, I am not here to gawk and pose for photos like so many around me, instead choosing to politely make my way through the throngs of tourists, intent on reaching my destination as quickly as the crowds will allow me.

For I have important business to cake care of: that is the Very Important Business of getting well-oiled and into the mood for The Big Game. Norn Iron v Iceland – surely a three pointer and a great start to our qualifying campaign (well – at least that’s what I thought at the time)

Having arranged to meet a couple of Canadian friends in one of the several Irish bars in town - yes they’re bloody everywhere – even in this most historic of locations are you unable to avoid being greeted by the ubiquitous Guinness sign – I made my way to a pub called The Irish Times.

Despite the fact that I had worked the night shift and not reached my bed until 08:00 in the morning, I was keen for the festivities to get under way and had coerced them into meeting me at 12:00.

Arriving there at 11:55, I walked into the dim light of the bar, the only people sharing the place with me being three Hells Angels sitting on the terrace outside conversing in Afrikaans (of course) and the guy working behind the bar, who was chatting on the phone as I walked in.

Clocking me and more importantly clocking the Norn Iron top that I was wearing – a rather impressive number 14 shirt as worn by Sir Gerry Armstrong in the 1986 World Cup Finals that my mother had won in a raffle – the barman promptly turned around from me and continued with his conversation on the phone.

I waited patiently as he continued talking to his mate about how “wrecked” he was the night before and how many beers he’d had and so on and so forth.

All interesting stuff I’m sure but nothing could surely have been as pressing at that moment in time than serving the one and only customer in the pub? Or so you would think.

A customer, who I might add, after 5 nights on the night shift had worked up quite an insatiable thirst and who was in dire need for skulling a few pints of The Black Stuff. And pronto.

5 minutes I waited patiently listening to one of the most inane conversation until he eventually finished. Already annoyed by his ignoring of me, I was not impressed when he proceeded to dial another number.

“Er, excuse me – any chance of a pint of Guinness please?”

“Aye – sure no problem” came the thick Dublin-accented reply as he made it sound as if it was the BIGGEST PROBLEM EVER to pour a pint of the aforementioned Black Stuff for me. Once again he clocked the Norn Iron shirt (did I mention it was worn by Sir Gerry Armstrong at the Mex – oh aye, I did – sorry about that)

My grandmother should be proud of the way she instilled good manners in me as a child and I’ll always say my pleases and thank-yous but just to show the guy that I was not impressed at him at all, I went and sat on the terrace waiting for my pint.

That will teach him for treating me like a leper, I thought to myself. (In Belgium, terrace service is a more or less given in every bar – no matter how small or how busy they may be. The Irish Times, however has a sign behind the bar announcing “No Waiter Service” almost like they’re proud of it.)

After at least another 5 minutes, Surly Barman appeared with quite possibly one of The Worst Pints of Guinness Ever. The head too big and spilling down the side of the glass, he placed it on the table without do much as a word to me, although I think he may have grunted, no doubt all talked out from his two conversations about how “wrecked” he was and how “mental” the night before had been.

I used my beer mat to scrape off some of the foam, having already decided to watch the football back in my local (but more about that place in a wee bit).

Halfway through The Worst Pint Ever, the barman came out onto the terrace and not content with showing how extremely talented he was in being rude, getting wrecked and pouring shocking pints of Guinness; he then proceeded to employ his artistic abilities as he started to write on the advertising board.

“ALL THE HOME NATIONS MATCHES LIVE ON BIG SCREEN TODAY” came the proud declaration by way of the barman’s scrawl.

He then proceeded to write the matches that would BE SHOWN LIVE ON BIG SCREEN TODAY:

First up: Germany v Republic of Ireland

Yes quite. A Home Nation? Mmm – not sure too many Republic of Ireland supporters would go along with that observation.

And then the rest of the matches complete with kick off times:

Scotland Faroe Islands

England Andorra

Czech Rep. Wales

And then of course….nothing.

Just as I was watching this little performance with interest but with no surprise, it’s a lonely thing to be a soldier of the GAWA in foreign lands, my Canadian friends arrived.

“Like the shirt – where did you get that?” my mate asked.

I explained to my friends that is worn by Sir Gerry Armstrong…well you know the rest, with the barman in ear shot still beavering away next to me with his artwork.

“Shouldn’t that be behind a frame somewhere?” my mate’s wife responded.

“Not at all – the Green and White Army’s colours need to be flown loud and proud, although there’s not much point flying them here seeing as they’re not even showing the bloody match. Let’s go to Laundry Day” (which I have to admit had always been the plan – I never drink in The Irish Times because this sort of thing has been going on for years)

After spending 3 hours at laundry day – not some clothes-washing marathon as you may think – but in fact a 12-hour dance fest, where I got my freak on in true GAWA ambassador style; we then indeed did go to our local - a fantastic football bar 2 minutes walk from where I live and only 5 minutes from The Irish Times.

Owned by an English guy and his Flemish wife and despite the rather dubious name of Café Old Trafford and ignoring all the ManYoo memorabilia inside, it’s where we go to watch all our football matches - a place where supporters of all colours and creed can always be sure of a warm welcome, along with the rather unfortunate waxing lyrical by the owners about how fantastic ManYoo are.

So to finish this rather long-winded rant and rave (it obviously wasn’t too busy this night shift, was it?):

Café Old Trafford, Lepoldsplaats, Antwerp - GOOD

The Irish Times, Grote Markt, Antwerp – MOST DEFINTELY BAD!

Having said all that, Antwerp is a fantastic place for a few bevvies and some craic. If you’re ever in town – look me up – I’ll be sat at the bar of the Old Trafford proudly wearing my Norn Iron shirt. The one worn by Sir Gerry Armstrong at…

So who’s with me? Anyone else out there with similar experiences on their travels?

Err, PS – I’ve just found out that I can make it to the Denmark match but I need a ticket. Anyone out there with a spare?

Thanks for listening.