It’s 7pm and I’m at Gatwick Airport waiting for my friend Matty.
We have just lost to West Brom, I’m dying for the toilet and, to make matters worse, some annoying couple are kissing each other’s faces of on my last train journey – just what you don’t need.
A while later, I meet Matty and we set up camp in the airport Wetherspoons before getting on the flight to Kiev with two others reds, Chris and Oli.
The flight was decent – we even got a chicken dinner which was pretty good as far as airline food goods.
Usually on Euro aways, I book on some budget airline that’s so cramped your knees are parallel to your ears and the airline staff treat you worse than cattle. But we grin and bear it for the love of United.
We arrive in Kiev at just after 5am and have six hours before our connecting flight to Donetsk and have to take a shed on wheels to get between terminals.
The first thing that hits me is the cold…and I’m not impressed by the angry-looking Soviet-style policemen.
After a couple of hours sleep on the plane to Donetsk, we arrive and make out way into town on the bus.
My first impression of Donetsk is that it’s pretty rough, with lots of dilapidated buildings.
The roads are full of beat-down transit vans and ladas, but, as we get closer to the city centre, you can see the new buildings and it becomes a lot more pleasing on the eye.
But we obviously aren’t paying enough attention to where we are, and we stay on the bus for too long and it resembles a third-world shanty town.
We get our first taste of Donetsk hospitality as the bus driver takes us to another bus and explains to the driver where we need to go, despite some strange looks from the locals.
At last – I’m at my hotel and settle into the room after a confusing conversation with the receptionist about breakfast (more of that later).
Matty and I then go to find some food and end up tucking into beef goulash and fried potatoes at a cafe.
The price of things is unreal – £5 for a few beers and a decent meal. I could get used to this.
That evening, we bump into a few reds who travelled in on the lunchtime flight from Gatwick.
I also meet a lad called Webby, who has been doing Euro aways for 28 years. You’ve got to love that enthusiasm.
|Irah with two United fans outside the team hotel|
It’s not even 7am and we’re shit scared by a knock at the door.
I stumble out of bed, hungover and it’s the hotel staff – with two cooked breakfasts.
It’s too early and it looks terrible so I leave it and go back to bed.
Saying that, it could be worse: My friend put his United flag out on the balcony and got a knock at the door from the police, who thought it was some kind of Communist slogan and demanded to know exactly what it said.
Luckily, it ended amicably.
Later on, Matty tells me a few more reds have checked in, including veteran fan Peter Bolton.
We spend the rest of the day sightseeing around the city centre, before heading to The Golden Lion pub (a haunt for ex pats in Lenin Square) in the evening for a few drinks.
A beer or two later, we walk past the Donbass Palace Hotel where United were staying, and fans are waiting outside having just got autographs as the first time arrived.
It’s a big place and it is said that the guy who owns it is so rich he makes Roman Abramovich look like a tramp.
A Cuban-themed bar is our next stop and two local women asks if I could have a picture with them and I gladly oblige.
One asks me if I have any English currency. I gave her £2 and her face lights up. Anyone would think I just proposed.
|The five-a-side game|
We end up drinking vodka til 5am in a club called Litsa after a few more at the Golden Lion. What a night!
Earlier, Matty had got a stunning girl’s number and had arranged to meet her in Golden Lion.
She turned up, took one look at the United mob and made her excuses and left.
It’s now matchday and we shake of the hangover before meeting up with other reds who are on a day trip and want to store their bags at our hotel.
We get our tickets, put up with the rain to watch United’s under 19s side lose 2-1 in the Olympic Stadium opposite the Donbass Arena – and then it’s time for the real action.
Matty and I join three others including redsaway.com editor Dale for a five-a-side game against a group of Shakhtar fans at an indoor arena on the edge of town.
A minibus takes us there and my first thought on seeing our opponents is “these guys are prepared”.
|Irah’s first international cap|
They are in full Shakhtar kit and doing a pre-match warm up.
The game starts badly and we go a few goals down but pull it back.
Our opponents have played together for a decade and it showed.
In the second half they tired and we drew back to 10-7 before the ref shouts ‘next goal wins’.
Our teammate Ryan grabs the winner and we can see we’ve won an international game away.
I had a great time and all the lads I played with and against we sound. It is an experience I’ll look back on with awe.
Afterwards, it’s back to the Golden Lion with a few beers on the minibus and then time for the game.
Outside the ground, there are multiple ticket checks as the rain beats down.
I’m not a fan of modern stadiums, but this one has a certain warmth to it and I’m not just talking about the heaters attached to the roof.
I thought we played quite well but Moyes was far too defensive towards the end.
Even after Taison scored, I wasn’t too worried because we were playing well until that point and still thought we could go for the win.
Maybe things would be different if Rooney had played,with that said I’d have taken a draw before the game.
After the game we head back to town and drank in a German 24-hour karaoke bar called Tirol. It was open 24 hours and we left about 5am.
The next day is a quiet one and we buy some souvenirs before spending another long night in the karaoke bar.
I meet a guy called Geoff a Mancunian living in Kiev.
He and I challenged two Donetsk fans to a game of table football. we beat them 10-5!
At 5am on the final day we return to the airport and fly back to Kiev after bumping into some Fiorentina fans on their way back from Dnipro.
Matty and I meet with Russian-based red Jenny, who is also is in Kiev for the day waiting to head to London in preparation for Sunderland away. She shows around the city.
Our trip ends with a frantic dash to the departure lounge after he we got stuck in traffic on the way back to Kiev airport.
All in all, it was a fantastic trip.
There were concerns about trouble before we got there and about racism, but I didn’t see any at all.
Every shop, restaurant, bar and taxi I went in I was treated with the utmost respect by the locals.
Ukraine is a nice place full of cheap beer lots of sights to see, beautiful women and friendly people. I will definitely be returning.