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Should We Be On the Mental List?

By Ian Macdonald :  13/10/2007 :  Comments (23) :

A few weeks ago I, like many Evertonians, was looking forward to our club being back in Europe where we belong. We were like kids at Christmas waiting to see what the draw would bring us. I rang Stephen Hawking regarding the formula of who we could play; he said it was easier to work out the Black hole and its meaning. Right then, Steve, I'll look at the basic possibilities from our other fountain of Knowledge, the Everton forums.

The list that came up included Standard Liege and, after visiting one pre-season a few years ago, I never wanted to return there. It's bleak and has a massive iron ore industry next to the ground, plus the locals after the game wanted us to go back to the hooligan days with "Welcome to hell" messages painted on the walls around the ground. The funny thing at that match was that thirty of us gained entry by showing our Independent Blue membership card; honestly, and we won the three-team tournament!

The other teams names reminded me of the recent transformer film. One name jumped out at me, "Metalist", I just knew then we were getting them. Should have had a bet on it...

My hunch of who we will play was confirmed. "Easy," was my initial thought, "to beat but not to get to." The Google map of Europe came out ? thought it was a world map but, no, it was just Europe ? Kharkov or Kharkov was bloody miles away in an old iron-curtain country (would it be curtains for us getting there cheaply?) ,the furthest we could get except for Moscow but Moscow would have been easier logistically.

I then started looking after my group of fellow travelers and enquired about hiring a plane. After many phone calls and the crystal maze we acquired one from Monarch. A 235-seater, with the names who we were wishing to go with us we had it nearly filled. Hotels were a nightmare as well as the prices rocketed like one of Gorbals cold war missiles. Westerners were coming with millions to spend, seemed to be the message the locals were getting. After negotiations and promises of letting them also in the ECC, we got the rooms we needed for a one-night stay including coach transfers from their 'international? airport.

Then the Evertonian luck kicked in. Everton, our club, advised us against landing on this airstrip as it did not come up to EU standards. I don't know how but Monarch got wind of this adverse publicity and a couple of other independent travel companies also pulled the plug on this trip to the furthest side of Eastern Europe.

When the plug was pulled on our plane, the cost of flights had quadrupled. It was becoming a nightmare to try and find any cheap plane deals as our fellow intrepid fans had snapped up all the existing places from Liverpool, London, Birmingham and Manchester.

Our fans have turned into route finders of Europe. I believe many holiday firms are now employing Everton fans as cost-effective route planners for near and far afield holidays, so is the AA and RAC. I reckon Evertonians could have stopped the war two years earlier if employed in high places at the war office by stealing the march on the Germans!

So I rang my mate Stephen Hawkins again to see what was now the best way of us traveling. He was engaged ? apparently Wyness is wanting to know how the Kirkby deal can stack up! So I ask my mate Tony about his trip to Krakow in Poland and picking a mini bus up and on to Kharkov. Tony's crew had booked cheap flights with EasyJet earlier in a 15-strong party with two Polish drivers employed. They were told it would take 14-16 hours and they were leaving on the Tuesday. Hmmm... mini-buses, eh? I put it to our group: do we hire mini-buses ourselves and drive or get them to drive us?

Meanwhile the Everton extended family drums went out. Another group of lads were flying in on the Wednesday to Krakow. Blue alarms went off in my head adding up how many would be in one party large enough to hire a coach together. I contacted the Polish coach firm and dealt with a girl called Agnes, I kid you not. We agreed a price overall but the snag was we were flying into Katowice with Wizz air (yep, that's a real budget plane company's name) as their prices were half of EasyJet's at the time. No problem for Agnes; we would be ferried to Krakow to meet our fellow Blues.

Now in all my fact-finding and conversations with Agnes and the trip to Kharkov, we were led to believe the trip would take 14-16 hours for an 800-mile journey, but on the night of departure the trip duration went up another six hours due to the time difference of one hour with Ukraine time and border stops. Hmmm... ah, well, many holiday-makers going to Spain have similar timescales but they're not with forty-odd thirsty, mad Scousers.

Before we set off to the Ukraine I made a sheet of information regarding important matters: the cost of pints in Poland and Ukraine... oh, and don't forget your passport. I thought we were reps of Thomas Cook; we had four different currencies in our pockets: the Pound, Zolti, Euro and Dollar.

We flew out of Speke an hour delayed ? just more drinking time to us. At three pound a pint discussing the price we'll pay in Eastern Europe, Graham said he'd get the next round in in Poland. We wished the Marseilles fans in the airport good luck for the game against the dark side that night. When I boarded the pink Wizz Air plane I sat next to a young Polish girl, Katrina, who was taking her daughter Victoria back home. Katrina worked in one of our city's top hotels. It hit home that the Polish workers here were just like us back in the eighties working in Germany, but through getting better pay there come many personal hardships.

As we landed in Katowice, the home of the late Pope John Paul II, all the passengers clapped. I thought was it unusual to have a safe landing or was it that they were getting away finally from being the captive audience of Scousers in high spirits? Anyway, as promised, our lift to Krakow arrived and took us to Krakow airport.

Now picture the scene outside Krakow airport at nine o'clock at night: forty-odd Evertonians looking forward to seeing our team in the Ukraine like kids on our day out. We had lads who travelled over from the Isle of Man earlier in the day by boat and a lad from Blackpool. Not everyone knew each other which gave me initial concerns over any friction later on ? let's face it, you argue with your wife on holiday, you're not used to being together all day and drink affects people in different ways. Shall I tell them no alcohol allowed? Nah, they have had enough martyrs in Poland.

Krakow bar

So, off we went with our two Polish drivers whom we christened 'Two Hours' and 'Five Minutes'. That was all the English they knew. First stop was refreshments out of the kitty. Three hours and the whole Everton song book repertoire later we hit the Ukraine border. We were told to expect to bribe the police for a quick passage. A ?100 and two hours later we were let into Kanchelskis' homeland.

It was cold like the border police ? I swear they have their mouths stitched up at the side at birth ? not a smile between them all, just a look of distain or unbelief someone would want to visit their country for football in a coach. I just wished someone would have warned us about the toilets at border control.

Now, the coach was fitted out with air conditioning (thankfully), toilet and DVD, we were a traveling education of Everton past glories on the silver screen. Could our European exploits this season be added to our DVD collection, a home score draw never helped.

I asked Two Hours if we could we stop off for a proper toilet, he just nodded and said, "two hours". Hmmm... I know, let's communicate by gesturing actions. Two Hours thought I wanted to go parachuting with a pig's tail. The drawing book came out then, not a nice picture I can tell you!

As we discussed the world?s troubles and sorted them out I glanced outside the coach window. I thought, "this vodka's good," everything seems the same as we go past. Graham said, "Ian, it is the same scene every bloody mile?! A flat, uncharacteristic landscape with roads bettered in Iraq. Every road lined with trees painted at the bottom as light reflectors. Every so often a tree would be filled with blue and white ribbons. I thought, "that's a nice gesture, they knew we were coming." I never found out why they were there.

Unsurprisingly, there were wooden crosses by the roadside everywhere of were people who were killed in a road traffic accident. Some of the locals I saw walked along the road leading a cow or a goat (I think the sheep were in bed) in the middle of the night. This country on the outskirts was bordering a third-world country; the people were very poor trying to eke out a living, it made you feel just how lucky we are and why so many people want to come to our land of hope and glory.

Five Minutes was driving now, he was even harder to communicate with as the way he drove I thought he was Stevie Wonder. I drew pictures but to no avail with him. A watch I drew about how long to Kiev drew a smile from him as he showed us his brand new digital watch with pride. One of the lads shouted, "Ian, I need a stretch!" Someone piped up "how about 2-5 in Walton?!" It was that type of atmosphere all the way through.

Time was passing then Steve, who works in the Isle of Man, suggested we ring one of his Polish doormen up. It worked a treat, we thought until we stopped two hours later at a place where they would not take any of our currencies as only a major town could exchange our dollars. At the transport cafe we sat and looked at the other diners willing them to leave their beetroot and goat cheese dinners. It never worked. Back to the sixty-five flavours of crisps we'd bought in Poland and a quick wash. We put Borat on, a very apt film for the journey ahead.

We sailed through Kiev which looked impressive in its setting. I knew many of our lads were staying there Wednesday before the overnight train which was in party mood, I believe, until they heard of Marseilles' win over the dark side. Then it was the fourth of July and fireworks.

Kiev, Ukraine
The view of Kiev across the Dnieper

The Isle of Man's Polish translator was called up again as the game was five hours away and we needed to know what the score was on getting there on time. Where we would stay and how long for before setting off? The reply was that time was tight for the game and the drivers would be setting off back home after the game.WHAT?!

Now these drivers have just driven for twenty three hours alternatively by the time we get to Kharkov. I looked for signs of wires on their bodies or where the batteries go; they must be robots. It would explain a lot ? the night vision, we never saw them eat or use a toilet, never blinked and just had manic smiles. Surely no human could drive another 24 hours safely, but some lads had to catch a flight home at 7 pm Friday from Krakow. Some of the lads were panicking but I'm not sure whether was it the thought of missing the match or the fifty pence pints.

Hmm.... we were getting texts from concerned fellow Blues to see if we would make it . Tales of our coach being impounded at the border due to too much smiling, laughing and joking which may spark a revolution in this country were unfounded ? even the tale that Barry Murray had offensive tattoos of our Lady and Donny Osmond (who was currently no 1 in the Ukraine with Puppy Love) on the same arm and was turned back. I must admit Barry's tattoo of Duncan McKenzie does look like Donny Osmond.

Eventually we arrive at the edge of Kharkov and Five Minutes asks a local policeman for directions. This confused me a bit as the coach had satellite navigation but maybe the AA have never got this far. Papers were asked for and a gift was given to the policeman... enough to get his kids through college. Then we saw lights of the stadium in the distance greeted like the second coming of Dixie and the thought of talking to fellow Evertonians who nearly all had trekked like King Arthur for the Holy Grail that was to get to see Everton and support them in a place that was harder to get to than the moon for the Russians. Let's face it, after 24 hours on this coach we were on the moon. Like I said, Michael Palin never even fancied this trek. We got off the coach best described by a witnessing fellow Blue, "like werewolves."

When we got into the stadium with just 15 minutes to spare we saw all the old guard and the new of travelling Blues. There was at least 1,800 of us, a magnificent statement of passion and loyalty to this great club of ours. It seemed everyone brought a flag and hung it on every available bar. The locals were right up for the game from the off creating a great atmosphere ? let's face it, it was their biggest game ever and they wanted to savor every minute under the floodlights.

When Metalist went 1-0 up I turned to Mick and said, it never changes anything as we have to score anyway, don?t worry.

Kiev, Ukraine
The home fans were determined to enjoy the occasion

At half time many of the traveling Everton ambassadors wanted to kill Moyes, followed by Yakubu. The team Moyes picked baffled many of us and we were overrun in midefield like the chickens I saw on the road to Kiev. The whole Evertonian experience was encapsulated during this game, despair, hope followed by pure elation of the win.

Victor did us proud with the third goal. We could relax for the first time in 26 hours. We were through, happy days. Made up for everyone who had ventured this far and was rewarded with a second half display to pay back a bit for this remarkable support. I honestly thought that this team Metalist at home was not as bad as some people made out.

Kiev, Ukraine
Fantastic support hundreds of miles from home

The Metalist fans forgave us at the end for not joining in their Mexican waves and clapped us as we got kept behind throwing their scarves at us. I turned to Mick and said, "I'll bet some of them, though, will want a go at us after the game." How right I was, there were a few skirmishes and the local hooligans throwing bottles and posturing. I just hoped one wouldn't smash our window in the coach ? imagine sitting 24 hours with no window!

The police were backed by the whole Ukraine army, it seemed, but they never had a clue what to do to control the situation at first. Anyway, we told any Evertonian left outside the ground to get on our coach for safety and we dropped them off near the city centre, away from the wannabe hooligans who, to be fair, were not a real reflection of the Metalist fans who just wanted to exchange tops, scarves and lives. The coach, as it drove off away from the ground, must have looked like one of those Japanese subway trains ? jam packed.

Kiev, Ukraine
Foreign relations, Uefa Cup-style

Whilst we got kept behind in the ground I had the good sense to change some of our remaining kitty with the local Gyrany so we could get more provisions. A big thank you to those fellow Blues who helped out, you know who you are. The communication battle carried on with Two Hours to get us to stop at a shop. It eventually sunk in with threats that we would take his oil or batteries away.

Eldora do was found. Have you ever wished as a kid that you could go into a shop and buy everything you wanted? Well this wish was fulfilled. The locust-like passengers of our coach now were told to pick anything they wanted, I'll pay as it went. Well the shopkeeper could not believe it. I kept giving him hundreds of the local currency until it ran out, then good old ?green back? came into play. It was an amazing situation, but an indictment, yet again, of just how poor this country is.

Enough ale and crisps were carried on board for the journey ahead. The party began after a lull of reflection of the game.
The return journey never dragged like I thought it would, back at the border they kept us for three hours ? no bribe this time just questions of were we right in the head and, "stop bloody smiling".

Once we stopped smiling we were allowed through and back into Poland. There is such a marked difference between these two countries. I said to John, "you don't need colour film in the Ukraine." It summed it up. It's a common theme of many of the former Eastern Bloc countries I've visited away from the tourist area, very bleak, even in the summer. Just my opinion, for what its worth: one Premier League player's wages in a week would pay for a lifetime in many of these ex-Iron Curtain countries. I don't think Communism really worked for the masses, it just oppressed its people. But, boy, did they like building statues to their red heroes!

Constant discussions in the Ukraine of KFC bargain buckets pandering were rewarded by the vision of a McDonalds as a substitute ? after all we can't have everything after a win in Kharkov and no arrests. A scene of Shaun of the Dead was re-enacted at the counter. Hot food at last. A new burger sale record was made that night and a new Macdonalds line: 50 chicken nuggets in one box.

Even right at the death of the return journey Five Minute and Two Hours got it wrong. We asked to go to Krakow centre, not the airport. Guess where we ended up? The bloody airport! An extra twenty-five minute journey back to the City centre made interesting only by reading the hooligan slogans on the motorway bridges.

We all found a hotel and bed  in Krakow by using our master plan: just go into the foyer of the hotel and ask for a room for one night. If they say, "sorry, we're full up," start crying! It works, only this time we meant it. We just wanted a basic need after three days: a bed and shower.

Next morning we ventured into Krakow centre and had a good drink in company of fellow Blues who were not just a credit to the club but each other. Not a cross word between us on a journey that would have tested many. Fourteen of the lads missed their Friday night flights home, their to the Isle of Man boat home for five of them. They took it on the chin and went on to Newcastle the next day without tickets. I hope our club appreciates the following and the tasks and tribulations that ensued to many to give the fantastic support in Kharkov. If you get a couple of minutes, get a map out of Europe and trace their treks to this far-flung destination from their homes in Copenhagen, Stockholm, Belfast, Dublin, Plymouth, Scotland, Wales, London, Northampton, Merseyside etc. Big club are we? You betcha!

Kiev, Ukraine
What's our name?

It would be nice if the club made a gesture to those that have a Metalist away ticket to be treated to a free game against St Petersburg and guaranteed a ticket at Alkmaar if there's enough. I?ve watched Everton at the old Alkmaar ground and that was small. I believe the new ground only holds 17,500 so maybe that letter I got off the Pope in Katowice might come in handy for this away tie.

For the Nuremburg game we're flying direct. As great as the company was on our coach I would not repeat it again so soon. It was an experience to tell the grandchildren. I was in Nuremburg last World Cup, it?s a great City with a stone walled tower reminiscent of Rupert?s Tower after ten Stellas. It?s an omen, I tell yer. Tell me ma, me ma, I don?t want no tea, no tea. We're going to City twice, tell me ma, me ma!

What of Five Minutes and Two Hours, our Polish drivers? Well they were last seen driving towards Oslo after taking on board some Duracell batteries and WD 40.

Ian Macdonald, EISA

Reader Comments

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Dick Fearon
1   Posted 13/10/2007 at 22:42:34

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Many Thanks Ian for a smashing read, it evoked sweet nostalgic memories of olden days on corridor less Football Specials, forced to relieve oneself out of carriage windows, an unsophisticated mob, unable to explain our passionate love of the club.
Many years later and I still cannot understand let alone explain that deeply emotional bond. Why does the result of a game send my spirits soaring heaven ward or descending to the depths?
I wish it were possible to have travelled with you and your band of true blue Evertonains.
It shines a light on petty whinging and moaning we have to put up with from some on this site.
Gerard Madden
2   Posted 14/10/2007 at 01:09:56

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Love reading these stories from those who’ve been on a European adventure and hopefully there’ll be more to come until late February at least - and you never know we may yet go further than that.

Nice change too from the whingy and whiney (and even bitter) articles the ed’s on here love to put up, in speaking to loads of fellow blues i’ve come to the conclusion the fanbase is buzzing at the moment and it’s good to see that the site is beginning (just beginning mind) to cotton onto it.
Lyndon Lloyd
Editorial Team
3   Posted 14/10/2007 at 02:33:28

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"Nice change too from the whingy and whiney (and even bitter) articles the ed?s on here love to put up." (sic)

Yes, Gerard, you keep peddling that line (we still wait with bated breath for your glowing, all-optimism article, by the way). Remind me why you keep visiting this site if it runs so contrary to everything you feel about Everton...?
Dave wilson
4   Posted 14/10/2007 at 05:36:39

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Nice one Ian lad, couldnt get there meself, so really enjoyed your post
Sid Logan
5   Posted 14/10/2007 at 08:48:14

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Great read Ian and as Lyndon says a refreshing change from the depressing negative stuff we read so often. A real supporters tale. Thanks.
Peter Singer
6   Posted 14/10/2007 at 09:19:20

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A very good read indeed, but for one thing. "Hell of Sclessin" or "Cauldron of Sclessin" is the semi-official name of Standard’s stadium, it has nothing to do with hooliganism. (You can even buy official "Hell of Sclessin" scarves.)

And Liege is a fine city apart from the part their stadium is in.
Arthur jones
7   Posted 14/10/2007 at 09:44:41

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Great read Ian , another adventure to look back on , incidentaly a friend of mine (Cheryl) received a phone call on Saturday night from Barry Murray telling her he’d been home 10 minutes and checking if she was on the coach for Newcastle , apparently he was doing this to all who said they were going , and did the club give this man a vote ??????
When I’ve worked outside the city , people ask me why I don’t support the RS , they’d just have to read a post like yours to find out
David Shankland
8   Posted 14/10/2007 at 12:12:16

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Fantastic article Ian.

With 2 young kids Metalist was never really an option, though reading this I wished I bothered now.
Fingers were crossed for a decent away draw and Nuremberg provided this - I get the impression there will be more there than in Villareal.
Curious to know how much your trip cost?
Andy Mckenzie
9   Posted 14/10/2007 at 12:34:34

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That was an excellent read ian, fantastic, gives us a little insight into the journeys some evertonians made to watch the game.

You did the club and the city proud and it sounded like you had a great time, the support out there was nothing short of superb and well done to all that made it, thankfully we’ve now got some easy games to get too so i expect the blue army to travel en masse to germany and holland.
Steve Lyth
10   Posted 14/10/2007 at 13:14:36

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Crackin read that Ian, many thanks, the Old Gaurd were indeed there in big numbers, great to see, catch you in Nuremburg mate.
11   Posted 14/10/2007 at 22:15:19

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Great read ... thanks a lot.
Mike Atherton
12   Posted 15/10/2007 at 10:08:46

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Why did’nt Barry Murray get a vote? i thought all season ticket holders got one?
Shaun Brennan
13   Posted 15/10/2007 at 13:03:33

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Cracking Read.

Your indeed right about the Menatlist fans.

All day drinking with them and enjoying eachothers company. When trouble was brewing outside. A rather large bruiser of a type fella. Shouted to the younger blues to get on the coach. We are not liverpool fans. Summed it up. We are not and we’ll sure be welcome back in Kharkiv nextyear. Except int he champions leagues.

Bring it on.

See you all in Nuremberg. COYB
14   Posted 15/10/2007 at 13:23:29

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thanks Ian I enjoyed the article, i’m glad we can talk about what we love and not the move to Kirkby. I have just booked my flight to Germany via Stansted and Dusseldorf but looking forward to two nights of German beer!!
All The Best
Andy Nicks
15   Posted 15/10/2007 at 14:41:08

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Great read mate, what a pity that we were not allowed to land on that unsafe runway, in the same plane that the club snatched from us?
By the way "Tell me ma, me ma, I don?t want no tea, no tea. We’re going to City twice, tell me ma, me ma!" dont rhyme!
Tommy Roberts
16   Posted 15/10/2007 at 17:22:46

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Reminded me of a minibus I drove in mid 70’s from Crosby to the San Siro.. a few nightmares en route but was all worth it for the love of our great club...
Well done lads..will look out for you in Nuremberg and The Dam, where I bumped into Ian on his way home from the world cup...
2 hours 20
17   Posted 16/10/2007 at 16:17:44

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nice words Ian, i was on the coach and didnt fly over.. almost several aminals and their owners. its great to see that although food and toilets for the drivers went out the windows.. clearly cheap amphemine has not.. its crazy to think that after 50 plus hours stuck on a coach without a hot meal or a proper wash.. i’d be reluctant to go again.. but i’m ready to for the next one. i see you never mentioned the toilet on the bus which was horrfic. nice one for a top trip lads, its great being a blue in it. L (2hours20)
Sack the Juggler
18   Posted 17/10/2007 at 18:21:20

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We were wondering what happened to the Isle of Man crew who went through Poland, we didn’t see them in Freedom Square and we were worried they wouldn’t make it - well done lads, a great time was had by one and all, but I’m still flying direct to the next one as well!!!!
19   Posted 18/10/2007 at 08:58:27

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Thats a class read, really funny could well be turned into short film...
chris hannon
20   Posted 18/10/2007 at 13:38:01

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any1 know anyfing about the ticket situation for alkmaar and has any1 got any decent flights prices.
Gary Clarke
21   Posted 18/10/2007 at 21:14:33

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Quality Reading really enjoyed it.
Hope we go all the way
22   Posted 19/10/2007 at 01:26:10

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Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Very enjoyable reading, but I wanted to point out a few incorrections:

1) It’s not "the Ukraine", its Ukraine. Many Ukrainians take offense to this. This was a Soviet Term used as propaganda after WWII to make Ukraine seem like a territory or part of "Mother Russia". Also, Kharkov is the Russian spelling. The correct Ukrainian spelling is Kharkiv.

2)Not all of Ukraine is as bleak as you make it seem. The part that you travelled was through one of the most fertile lands in all of Europe (the breadbasket of Europe) thus being a flat landscape.

3) I don’t completely agree with you that all of Ukraine is poor. There are definitely areas that are third world. These are typically villages hundreds of miles away from a metropolitan area. Kyiv (the correct, Ukrainian spelling) is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Talk to some of our fellow Evertonians that spent some time there. I’m sure that they will reaffirm my statement.

This post was merely to inform you and in no way meant to belittle you or your article.
2 hours 20
23   Posted 19/10/2007 at 16:33:59

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re: yankee blue.

point 1) we call the asda ’the asda’ so i hope the ukrainians didnt take too much offence. Really its part of our lanuage to vocalize an area, district or even a ’shopping mall’ etcetc with the word ’the’ beforehand. granted its poor english but nevertheless part of merseysides structured vocab. in many ways i take offence here that you have tried to make something out of nothing.

point 2) as for the spelling, if you check your plane ticket (if you went that is) or try to book a flight to Kharkiv it is dificult to do so. this is because the other spelling appears to be more popular internationally. this as far as i’m aware isnt Ian’s fault.

point 3) as for the breadbasket - do you refer to the same country that the home office advises that you shouldnt eat certain veg in ? due to the nuclear fallout. By all accounts - Cherynobl had a major widespread impact on the landscape due to flatness of the region - but i wouldn eat certain foods here, even if you could buy them!

point4) i dont really care if Kiev is the most expensive place in the world. however is this due to the pay offs that you have to make to the police, army or the imgration... as i’m sure many fellow Evertonians ’who spent time there’ would testify.

point 5) i do actually take offence at your snipe at Ian. i know Ian, he’s not a mate but just someone who i happened to be on a coach with for the best part of 50 hours in ’the ukraine’. his words were mearly a story with good intent for all of us to share. personally i think your lesson in the eastern block is just a cheap shot maybe because your board at work or something.

point 6) after travelling the world, from south america, africa, middle east, far east etcetc... hear this ’the ukraine’ is a dump and you can stick your bent coppers and offical’s were the sun dont shine.

its about us, everton, not ’the ukraine’ try reading it again

L. fr. Hollywood.

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