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Independent.ie

NO greater love for your football team can you have than to travel 5,000 miles into deepest Russia to support them -- all three of you!

As St Patrick's Athletic prepare to face Steaua Bucharest in the second leg of their Europa League tie at the RDS on Thursday, their three top fans are all set to cheer the Saints once again.

And even though Pats are 3-0 down from the first leg, brother and sister Joe and Pam Robinson, and Joan Stapleton will watch the game with the optimism that spurred them to venture to Samara in Russia for the last round.

St Pats won 1-0 at home to Krylia Sovetov and then went 3-0 down before late goals, one an own goal and the other by Declan 'Fabio' O'Brien, gave them a 3-3 aggregate score and victory on the away goals rule.

By then, Joe, Pam, and Joan had become celebrities in the Russian town after local media revealed they were the only three Saints fans who had made the long-haul expedition.

A hurried decision to seek visas and book their travel was sorted out with help from Visa First and Cassidy Travel. Then came the long journey of thousands of miles with the squad to Samara.

On the day before the match, Joan ventured out for a long walk and ended up in a post office in Samara, looking for stamps.

She couldn't speak Russian and the post-mistress couldn't speak English, but when Joan told her she was from Ireland, the post-mistress said "football?" and then "Patrick's?"

ovation

"I couldn't believe it -- a woman in Samara knowing about St Pat's," said Joan.

When they arrived at the ground and took their seats, the Samara fans gave them a standing ovation.

And even though St Pats had snatched the tie, the opposition supporters clapped and cheered Joe, Pam and Joan and gave them scarves and mementoes.

Joe commented: "For the first goal, it went in off one of their defenders, and Alan Cawley turned around and pointed at the three of us and gave the fist in the air.

"When Fabio scored the second one, he ran off the wrong direction, away from us.

"We asked him about it later and he said he was trying to waste time by running into the corner to celebrate!"

Bucharest for the first leg with Steaua was also a strange one.

About 75 Pats fans travelled but it was a behind-closed-doors event to punish the Romanians for previous crowd trouble.
 
"We were kept behind a big glass screen. It was like watching football on telly with the mute button on. We couldn't be heard, so it will be nice to be able to shout for the lads on Thursday," said Joe.

Joe and Pam are life-long Saints fans, while Joan has been a regular follower since 1991.

Yesterday, they were honoured guests at our monthly lunch for the Irish Independent Sportstar of the Week award, in association with the Croke Park Hotel.
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