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Cold Turkey (Future Cup Match) - Antalya, Turkey, February 2003

Part One – Istanbul (& Hell freezing over)

With the worsening situation in the middle-east, and the belief that if anything did kick-off, the Turkey v Scotland B match would be one of the first things to be pulled, we waited and waited before booking, watching the flight prices rise as we did. With less than a fortnight to go to kick-off, Helen and I decided that the game was a goer, and picked up relatively cheap (£250) flights to Antalya with Turkish Airlines, with a 3-day stopover in Istanbul on the way.

The flight was delayed an hour from Heathrow Terminal 3, which had all the charm of a refugee camp as ever, however the service on board was impeccable. The flight was full, with at least 30 mechanics heading out to prepare for the Rally (that was starting in Antalya the day after the match), and I found myself sitting next to a chatty Belfast girl – this was good news for Helen as it meant she could read her book in peace! The plane passed over the snow-covered Alps, and then the snow-covered rest of Europe, before coming in to land at the snow-covered Istanbul airport. On landing, we could see where the delays had been coming from, as the snow that had been swept from the runways was piled up six-foot high at the sides. After a quick queue to pay £10 for our visa, it was through customs and on to the bus – this took us straight to Taksim Square, where we were staying. The 150-yard walk from the bus stop to the Divan Hotel front door merely confirmed that the Turks weren’t used to gritting the pavements.

Astounded at the weather - after all, we hadn’t really associated blizzards with Istanbul – we made plans for the night and headed across the square to the Marmaris Hotel, which boasted a roof-level bar. After a couple of drinks and a great view of the blizzard wreaking havoc on the streets below, we headed for the Istiklal Caddesi, the main drag where the majority of nightlife options lay. After an abortive attempt to go into the North Shield pub (the booming techno drove us back from the door), we went round the corner and found a local bar called “Dad”. We had agreed on an early-ish night, as we wanted to get some stuff done in the morning.

Of course, that was easier said than done, and we made it out just after midday. The blizzard was still in full flow, although the advantage was that Istiklal Caddesi (also the main shopping street) was deserted. We located the Galatasary club shop (which was shut) and found out that Gala were at home the following evening (although I sincerely doubted this game would go ahead), before finding an Adidas shop and getting hold of a Turkey shirt (a bargain at only £20). The poor shop assistant thought he was being helpful by rushing over with an XXL after I came out of the changing rooms with the shirt straining at the seams, only to find out that I was trying on the same size at the time! A short trip down the Tunel underground system, a walk across the Golden Horn and a taxi ride under an ancient viaduct later and we were at the Kapali Carsi: Istanbul’s infamous Grand Bazaar. We then spent at least the next 4 hours wandering around half-lost, buying stuff we wanted before we went in (a Gala shirt for £16), stuff we thought looked good when we were in there (an ornate copper drum), and stuff we still don’t know why we have it (a sultan hat). The stall-holders are real Arthur Daley types, and try anything to win you around – whilst in markets at Turkey I was asked if I was: Danish, Norwegian, Irish, German, French, Spanish and Mexican (maybe he thought the kilt was a poncho!). Helen was a bit putout that all she got was Russian (Russian girls in Turkey are associated with one thing!).

Back to the hotel in a taxi with all the purchases for a quick siesta, and then out on the town. The weather was improving slightly and we made our way down towards the famous Pera Palas hotel (built for Oriental Express customers, and patronised by Agatha Christie) for a cocktail in the bar. On the way back up we were in such diverse places as a restaurant with a drug-crazed waiter (“You come back tomorrow and we smoke! You like smoke?”), the Caravan rock club (where someone head-butted me in friendship – less worrying than it sounds) and a Turkish bar for Raki. We decided to pop into the James Joyce “just for one”, and ended up leaving three-and-a-half hours later after a lock-in that involved a Turkish girl showing me her stockings and an Irish girl practically propositioning me in front of Helen. Back out into the blizzard (again) and it seemed that the whole of the youth of Istanbul was on the streets and heading for Taksim Square.

After a lengthy lie-in, and a trip to the hotel patisserie in an attempt to get food (and ending up with coconut chocolates), we eventually made it out the door just before 3pm. We were desperate to see the Aya Sofia and Blue Mosque, so it was straight in a taxi across the town. Just wearing my Turkey shirt got us an impromptu discount at Aya Sofia (a big 5th century church that became a mosque and then a museum), and we killed time in the sunken cistern whilst waiting for the end of prayer time at the Blue Mosque. The building is breathtaking, and we approached across a snow-covered park to see it in all its splendour. This was also the only time during my six days in Turkey I wore trousers (underneath my kilt), as a sign of respect, and Helen also covered up with a pashmina. An omelette in the café next door later, and it was into a cab and off to Ali Sami Yen stadium to see if the game was on.

Given the blizzard conditions that had persisted all weekend, we were convinced that the game would be unplayable, not least because of spectator safety. How wrong could we be? The pavement around the ground was throbbing with fans, and the “helpful” taxi driver offered to sort us out with a ticket. I’m still fuming about this, as this was the only occasion I was ripped off all the time I was there, as we paid the equivalent of £20 each for tickets. Given Premiership prices, £20 is not too bad, but when I tell you the face value was 40p, you can understand my frustration! It seems that this is the going mark-up for foreigners, as Tom from Glasgow (who we met the next day) paid £40 for an 80p ticket! On making our way around the ground, past queues of bouncing lunatics and across the sheet ice of the car park, we were instantly shepherded to the front of the queue when the kilt was spotted. For all the Gala fans reputation as headcases, I found them to be very friendly and helpful. The ticket turned out to be for the uncovered seats behind the goal. Except they were covered… by around 3 foot of snow! We edged along the row that the stairs led to, up towards where the riot police had cordoned off a good 30 yards from the caged Malatyaspor fans, and tried to find steady footing. At this stage the blizzard was so severe we could barely see the other goal, let alone the stand behind it, despite the brightness of the floodlights.

After initial concern that the ref had changed his mind, the game kicked off with an orange ball at 7pm, to the sight of around 20 yellow balaclava-clad Malatyaspor fans letting off a flare and starting a bouncy. Over to our right, the police were standing back to allow fans scaling the 10-foot fence into unoccupied covered seats by the touchline, whilst immediately to our left, armed police were bouncing down 10 rows at a time after losing their footing, only to be pelted by snowballs from their colleagues when they hit the deck. It was to this chaotic background that Gala took the lead from a goalkeeping mistake from an innocuous free kick, shortly before the whistle went (around 15 minutes in) to allow a team of groundsmen to rush on and sweep the fresh snow off the lines (that had been painted black). For reasons of health (we were in Turkey until Thursday so we didn’t want to catch colds now) and safety (2,000 fans leaving our end at the final whistle would not be a walk in the park), we elected to bow out early at half-time. Again, as we passed, we were smiled at, waved at and patted on the back by most of the fans in our row. This was obviously the day that “hell” had frozen over!

After a meal and a drink in the Inter-Continental’s roof bar (complete with a view over Besiktas’ Inonu Stadium) it was back for an early night to pack the bags for the next day’s flight to Antalya.

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Part Two - Antalya

The domestic terminal at Ataturk airport is very spacious and empty, which is a pleasant change from the feeling around the rest of Istanbul. There is even a North Shield bar, which is where we waited for our flight. It turned out we were on the same flight as the Turkey B Squad, and a surlier bunch of miserable individuals you have never seen. We also met Tom from Pollokshaws, who had been in Istanbul the same time as us, but elected to stay in Sultanahmet (for the sights), whilst in Taksim we had been closer to the nightlife. After a delay of around an hour (snow again!) it was off for the 1-hour journey to Antalya. As we neared the coast the cloud cover began to clear, and we touched down under a beautiful blue sky (and a gale force wind). We mentioned to Tom that we would try and look out the Antalya North Shield pub (I know it makes little sense for a group of Scots abroad to search out an English pub, but it’s just a handy place to meet!).

After getting lost straight after getting off the bus, we admitted defeat and took a cab to our hotel – the Marina Residence right above the harbour. We were lucky to be given the best room at the very front of the hotel with a view right over the harbour to the mountains, and after the dumping the bags we took a wee walk along the cliffs to the stadium. The area around the stadium was pretty quiet, and the outside of the ground was quite dilapidated, but no sign of an elusive club shop. Through the gaps we could just make out the Scotland squad in training. Continuing my quest for an Antalya shirt or similar, we grabbed a taxi (there seemed to be ranks everywhere) and asked for the bazaar. It turned out (after a good hour of being lost) that we had been taken to the Fruit & Veg bazaar (which has loads of normal stalls) and not the tourist bazaar on my map, but nonetheless I was at least successful in getting hold of a scarf.

A long and winding walk eventually led us to Kebab Street where we grabbed something to eat, before heading over the road to a blue-lit bar inside a shopping centre. Although this place did provide us with the cheapest beer of the trip (60p a pint), it was not the most comfortable – imagine a bar in an old shopping centre (like the Savoy centre), with no toilets and the only women in there are serving, apart from Helen. After dropping off our purchases (Helen picked up four knock-off t-shirts at the market as well), a cab took us to North Shields, where we thought we might find any fellow Scottish stragglers. It was not to be, however, and after around an hour we strolled back into the centre. Needing to “freshen up”, we did the logical thing and popped into the Best Western, and even drank in both bars, but still no sign of anyone! Resigned, we headed back into Kaleci (the old walled town leading down to the hotel and harbour), and still found time for a few in the Kardelen bar (complete with folk music) and the Rock Bar (where I met a Man Utd supporting Turk).

With tickets on our mind we were up for breakfast the next day, and caught a tram out towards the Sheraton hotel where the SFA were staying. Actually getting in the door was easier said than done – we spent around 20 minutes negotiating the gardens after coming through the back entrance to the grounds. When we did find our way in, an apologetic Willie MacDougall was on hand to tell us that there were no actual tickets for the game, as admission was entirely free. He did, however, buy us a drink for our trouble of getting all the way out to the hotel, along with Tom, Jock from Fife and Lorraine McDonald, along with Gordon and Morag who were staying at the Sheraton itself. After a few (expensive) drinks in the hotel, we decided on Amor for lunch, and we shared a cab to the restaurant, which overlooked the harbour from the other side. Lorraine, Jock and Tom turned up later after checking Lorraine in, and after the meal we did the logical thing and headed for the North Shield (conveniently right next to the ground).

(The next paragraph was catastrophically omitted from the original version, and only noticed by Keith Rowley, Worthing's Assistant Manager!)
After a quick bevvy, we headed out the pub for the ground, only to bump into Willie MacDougall - "quick, come on lads, you'll miss the kick-off". With that, he led us around the ground to the VIP entrance, up the stairs and straight into the directors box (complete with 2 armed guards - see photos). We were in time for the teams running out, and were happy to watch Scotland give a decent account of themselves in a creditable 1-1 draw (Turkey had beaten Germany away in their previous match). Of particular note was the blonde midfielder David Noble, who had a commanding effect on the game after coming on in the second half. The only real downside (apart from the Turkish equaliser, and a spot of play-actiong) was the the fact that the team made no effort whatsoever to applaud the fans (okay, they probably never heard us, but still, we were there!).

Back to the North Shield, and we were surprised to see two Scots already in there, obviously some way down their pints – it turned out that Andrew and Ian were ex-pats and had been in the Antalya area for some time (Ian – “tell me, do you always manage to find ex-pat Scots wherever you go?” YES!). At this point we were asked why we were in an English pub rather than the city’s Scottish pub, The Highlander? Of course, this led them being press-ganged into taking us there, and along with a Turkish friend they roped in, we headed off down the steep cobbled streets of Kaleci towards the promised land.

As is so often the case with Scottish theme pubs, they bear little resemblance to the real thing (i.e. the floor and walls aren’t covered in lino, there’s more than one beer pump, no jug of stagnant water on the bar and a there’s actually a ladies toilet). Nonetheless, the Highlander was big and comfortable enough (with big leather sofas), even if it was a bit empty. The bar staff put in a quick call, and within 30 minutes we had a singer to serenade us, who was later joined by either (a) a gorgeous Tori Amos look-alike, or (b) a girl who had a face like a monkey, depending on whether you are Paul or Helen. To the bars credit, they did have superb (as in “wind-up material”) embroidered polo shirts, although the marked price was a somewhat steep 27 US$. Step forward the arch-negotiating team – remember, Turkish prices are only a suggestion - and 3 hours later a deal had been struck at 20 dollars a piece. After an evening of food, beer and discussion, not to mention two very drunk ex-pats who were supposed to be at home with their wives ready to get up for work in a few hours, we staggered back to the hotel in the early hours more than a little worse for wear.

We had agreed to meet up at Amor on the Wednesday for lunch, however given the strength of the hangover this was more like breakfast to us. After lunch Helen and I wandered down to the harbour and ended up chartering a boat to go and see the Lower Duden Falls – 2 hours for £40 (but don’t tell him I told you – it should have been £60, apparently). After a wee rest back at the room, we headed out to the North Shield where we had a loose agreement to meet up with Ian and his wife (made in a drunken haze), but there was no sign – after a coffee we headed across to Stella’s Bistro for the poshest meal of the trip (complete with some pretty decent Turkish wine). Still shattered from the previous day’s endurance drinking, and with a day’s travelling ahead of us, we strolled back to the hotel (via the bar overlooking the harbour for a night-cap), packed and had an early night.

This enabled us to get up bright and early the next day, and after breakfast we checked out and stashed our bags behind the reception desk for a couple of hours so we could go out for a walk around the centre. I was still hoping to track down an Antalyaspor shirt, but a search of several sports shops in the centre proved fruitless, although we did have tea with a friendly Fenerbahce fan. With an hour left, I persuaded Helen we could walk to the stadium, and then have a coffee on the cliff on the way back for the bags. The front was silent again, and the door to the restaurant/office firmly locked with no signs of life. Out of frustration, I tried the directors box entrance and poked my head in an office door where two men were chain-smoking furiously. They beckoned us in, and with the tried and tested language of pointing at my shirt and saying “Antalyaspor” the guy behind the desk picked up the phone book and made some calls. The third or fourth call struck gold and he leapt up, indicating we should stay and have a look round – by now it was 15 minutes until we were supposed to be back at the hotel and Helen was getting a wee bit frantic. We had a wee wander around the pitch side, and then he returned with an English-speaking sports shop owner who proceeded to drive us through the back streets towards the fruit market. My luck was in – a red Puma Antalyaspor shirt with “36 Faruk” on the back for the bargain price of £16 (which is pretty much the going rate). A breakneck taxi journey back to the hotel and on to the airport then followed.

The football shirt frenzy didn’t stop there either – three hours to kill in Istanbul airport led to the acquisition of a Besitkas and a Trabzonspor shirt as well.

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Turkey '03 Gallery 1

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Down the Boozer in Lietuva (& Latvia), April 2003

Preface – Hotels and Hampden (Iceland Home Match Photos)

No sooner had the qualifying draw been made than Helen and I began discussing the pros and cons of each destination. We were both agreed that Lithuania was probably our most eagerly anticipated, as the Baltics is one of our favourite parts of the world, and we began talking about the best ways to get there. By the time it was close enough to book flights (which we did in June 2002!), we had opted to travel via Riga (which I preferred to Tallinn) Sunday-Sunday, with 4 nights in Vilnius during the week (and a stand-by hotel in Kaunas). Everything was booked and guaranteed with cards in June, including the Vilnius hotel (the Best Western Anabasis Vilnius) through Expedia.

So you can imagine my surprise when I got home on the Wednesday the week before the game (in other words, 2 days before I left for Glasgow) to an answer machine message from Vilnius explaining that due to a “computer error” my booking had been erased, and they were now fully booked. After several heated telephone calls, where they explained they had sourced alternative accommodation (which the internet showed to be little more than a hotel on the very outskirts of the city), and after being asked “if you lost my booking, how did you find my telephone number?” they eventually confessed that pressure from a tour operator (Passport Travel) had led to me being “gazumped” for a hotel room. Expedia were none too happy, but unable to guarantee me the room I had booked until taking up with the manager the next day, so I took matters into my own hands and booked an alternative room, at the City Gate hotel, again with Expedia.

Come Thursday morning, after very little sleep, I was so worried about not getting a bed that I rang the new hotel just to double check. Of course, they had never heard of me and advised that they were also full up. Now at my wits end, I telephone Expedia to advise, and after 20 minutes on hold while some serious negotiations ensued between Expedia and Vilnius, I was told that a room at the City Gate hotel had been found.

So, this is the background to our departure to Glasgow on the Friday afternoon – we stashed our main luggage at Heathrow’s left baggage area and made our way through to the Domestic departure lounge for the Glasgow flight. As usual, Heathrow’s domestic area has all the charm of a busy bus station – even worse now the main bar/café area has been shrunk. We did bump into the Scottish Women’s team on their way back from a hammering in Germany, and they were all very friendly, particularly the two we were chatting to.

Saturday morning saw an early start in the Iron Horse, after meeting Ally & Sue on the train through from Dumbarton. The customary visit to the Scotia, where we met up with the Nottingham and London contingents, was sandwiched between trips to the Bay Horse, with Craig in tow, and the Queens Park Café, where three of the Milngavie boys joined the fray. Although we made it to the ground in earlier than ever, we missed the anthems due to the pie queue.

After our fortuitous 2-1 win we met up with Icelandic Bragi and three of his pals, but we were so shattered, and cautious of burning ourselves out, that we made our excuses and left the Iron Horse in time for the 7.30pm train!

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Part 1 - Sunday & Monday - Riga

The early night meant we up bright and early, and free of any fuzzy-headiness, and it was back to the airport (with the same cabbie!). The airport was relatively quiet of TA travellers, although we did stop for a chat with Jimmy Black, who was waiting outside the still-closed bar at 12:15pm. We strolled around and Helen was able to pick up a travel rug-ish tartan shawl in preparation for the Baltic chill.

After picking up our bags and checking in for the Riga leg of the flight, we made our way airside where we bumped into the Inverness Boys (David, Allan and Scott had flown down on the earlier flight), and David was able to fill us in on the details of Scott’s misadventures the previous night. Clarkston Chris soon joined the fray in the upstairs Tap & Spile bar at Heathrow, followed by around 30 from the Heb Bar TA, including Buenos, Richie and TA Ealing (Colin). This all made for quite a lively flight, but the BA stewardesses took it all in very good spirits.

The Inverness Boys never made it quite as far the agreed meeting point (The Amsterdama), but Chris, Helen and I met up with the Heb party in Dickens. A parting of the ways came around 1am closing time, where quite a few of the Heb guys set off in search of a strip joint, whilst another few tagged along with us to A La – still going strong and still accessed through an innocuous glass door. After a chat about Bristol with Rob, it was back to our massive room at the Konventa Seta and some sleep.

We had decided that in order to not waste the day, we would take a bus tour of the city at midday – so it was up for breakfast and then off to the bus station to get the tickets and stash the bags in left luggage. Although I had been out the previous night in just a ghillie and felt fine, Monday morning saw a fully-fledged blizzard hit Riga, so the bus tour was even more attractive. We were back in town in time for lunch in Tim McShane’s and a quick beer next door in Alus Seta (where I managed to order something with a load of lemon pith in. Well, either lemon pith, or an excited barman), before heading back to the bus station where we met the Inverness Boys and waited for the bus to set off.

The journey was uneventful enough, save for Paul managing to break Chris’ phone before we had even reached the Riga city limits. There was plenty of space, so Chris managed to get his seat to himself, and we arrived in Riga around 9pm.

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Part 2 - Monday night & Tuesday – Down the Boozer in Lietuva

I must have rang the City Gate hotel at least three times whilst I was in Riga, just to remind them I would be arriving late so they didn’t give my room away. When we arrived at Reception and checked in, we were handed the key to Room 9. Five minutes later we were back at reception – the rooms on the ground floor were labelled 1-8, and the first floor started at 21. The Receptionist looked at us like we were mad, and led us to a large, unmarked wooden door halfway up the stairs – this opened up into what can only be described as a suite, with a separate living and TV area, and a huge bathroom. The room was not without flaws – it lacked a toilet roll holder, a shower curtain (although, unlike every other room in the hotel, we had an actual bath) and one of the blinds was missing (this didn’t affect us as it was in the TV area). The general consensus was that we were in the Manager’s room – they had obviously moved heaven and earth to get us in!

We had a text message-arranged meet at Naktinis Vilkas planned with Ally & Sue, who had also briefed Rich, but when we caught a taxi out there all we could see was a sign for a “Sauna” and a woman who wanted to charge us to get in. Given the name had also changed, we reasoned this was out-of-date info and made our way round to the Prie Parlamento (home to Ministerija in it’s basement) for some pub-grub. A few text messages later, it turned out we had been in the right place originally, so back round the corner we went. The club was a bit of revelation, empty, but a revelation nonetheless. The DJ was spinning heavy house tunes from the cockpit of a MIG jet that had crashed into the dance floor, but the quieter bar area had big velvet seats with lots of soviet imagery, and there were mannequins of Lenin and “Uncle Joe” behind the bar (and the staff were more than happy to let us climb over for photos). A taxi then took us (less Rich and Chris) back into the centre of town to The PUB, where the bedraggled remnants of the TA that night were strewn throughout the back bar. After meeting Wee Davie’s Shannon, Helen and I left at closing time and popped into Brodvejus (aka “Broadway”) on the way back to the hotel, where we were reunited with a dancing Chris and a “tired and emotional” Rich.

The next day we were up pretty late, and rendezvoused with Ally & Sue, and several of the London boys, back at the PUB for a pizza lunch. Ewan was one of many on the CSA flights via Prague that had arrived luggage-less, so he had got hold of a Soviet army coat from a market to ward off the Baltic chill. A wee visit to the Avilys brew pub (with it’s superb honey beer) and then Helen and I were off over the river towards the Zalgiris stadium for the U21 game. A busload from Kaunas included a substantial amount of the Loony Alba contingent, and we met up with Craig and Kevin in the spookily-named Antalya Bar on the outside wall of the stadium (spooky, because I was wearing my “Highlander Bar, Antalya” t-shirt at the time), before being turned out at 5pm (an hour before kick-off) and heading to Po Grin Dis over the road. Despite leaving in time for kick off, and despite Kevin having sorted out tickets (even though this was an U21 game, some Scots didn’t get in until half-time due to the queues at the ticket office!), the police seemed determined to misdirect us, and we missed Kyle’s opener. We managed to find each other in the stand – the last person on the scene was Craig, who contrived to break a seat by stubbing his toe. The game finished 2-1 in favour of Lithuania, including a starring performance from a cheeky number 10 who stood and goaded the Scotland fans after his equaliser, and a shamble refereeing performance, and afterwards, the Kaunas contingent made their way back by bus and taxi (Kellas had thought Kevin’s text message that morning had been an April Fools joke!).

We got split up from the Nottingham boys, so headed back over the road to the Po Na Gim with Peter from Welling, and after meeting the Lithuanian Steven Pressley, we headed back to Avilys for more honey beer and some food. A rendezvous with Gavin and Dave, and some cherry beer (aka lager with red syrup). The PUB was too busy, and Broadway was charging (only £2, but that’s 2 pints!), so we found Bix, a rockers bar behind the Radisson SAS hotel. On walking up to the bar, I was slapped heartily on the back by an ageing skinhead rocker and handed a glass of Lithuanian “champagne” to help celebrate the birthday of one of his friends. My next visit to the bar brought another treat – a 75% ABV-strong double shot of Lithuanian mead, served flaming on a silver platter with the barmaid ringing a bicycle bell, much to the amusement of the other customers. I only managed half of it before the straw melted (because of the flames, obviously).

We did make it back into Broadway, where we witnessed Adam (aka Winnie the Pooh) in full sharking mode, and bumped into Cary from ETA, however the mead had well and truly kicked in by now, and whatever remained of the evening swiftly became a blur.

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Part 3 - Wednesday & Thursday – Kaunas and Vilnius

It was over to Gordon and Morag’s hotel (The Business Guest House) for midday on Matchday. Despite getting a cab, he got lost and we had to get dropped off 500 yards (and across a 6 lane highway) away from our intended destination. Gordon had mentioned the possibility of sharing a people carrier to Kaunas over lunch in Antalya, and there was space for Ally & Sue on board as well. For “people-carrier”, read “A-Team Van”, complete with blacked out windows (Note to the conspiracy theorists – the REAL elite don’t have email lists or ATAC clubs – you wouldn’t even know we were there!). So, along with Dave C, a mad Georgian driver and an Armenian navigator who later got us lost on the way to the ground, we set off on the long, very straight, road to Kaunas.

Our journey was pretty uneventful – this was a good thing considering Lithuanian drivers. A minibus organised by Scott Kelly (who missed the trip due to a bad back) crashed en route (no serious injuries, thankfully, but a few minor carry-out spillages!) – Ewan, who had only just been reunited with his missing luggage, then had to spend a couple of hours with the driver and the police. Ewan’s trio of bad luck was when he arrived at his hotel in Kaunas (that he had booked for himself and three others) only to find out they had never heard of him. Thankfully, his bad luck ran out when he rang me and I explained that Ally and I both had rooms booked at the Best Western that we would not be using.

We were dropped in Kaunas’ Old Town square (which is pretty much a long way from where everyone else was – Metropolis bar, halfway up the biggest precinct any of us had ever seen), and after a lunch stop in a Cowboy themed bar, we made our way down the precinct. Metropolis was hoaching, but we found a seat in an alcove and somehow ended up with three times as much beer as we needed. A series of conversations with Kaunas-based LA members and bedraggled Battlebus troops followed, before we elected to head back down the way. We became spilt from Ally & Sue, and headed off to a backstreet boozer (more of a café), where Joan, Norrie and a few other reprobates had set up camp, along with an industrial quantity of face-paint.

Back on the main road, and we popped in to Avilys (Kaunas branch) for some sustenance, as I was worried that the potato pancakes I’d “enjoyed” earlier (there’s a limit to how many potato pancakes one man, even this man, can take) would fail to keep me satisfied. Ally & Sue then joined us, and a few honey beers later we headed back to the rendezvous point with the A-Team van. A slow journey to the ground followed, not helped by the driver and navigator not having a clue where to go (and obviously experiencing difficulties in making themselves understood with the locals). After parking up, we headed straight across to a very small bar, where we secured a seat upstairs and I tucked into my cigar (previously, Scotland had never lost when I had smoked a cigar). A few rocket balloons out the window later (which confused the drunks below no end), and it was off to the turnstiles around 45 minutes before kick-off. Thankfully we negotiated the entrance without too much worry, but horror stories later reached me of big difficulties befalling a large number of supporters. Thankfully, I had already learned the hard way, in Brussels and Riga, that an early arrival is often a recipe for success!

The spartan turnstile facilities aside, the ground was pretty smart by Eastern European standards, although a wee bit lopsided – very similar to the Daugava stadium in Riga, but with an “end” as well as a side stand, all in trademark Soviet architecture. What were chronically lacking were toilet facilities – there was a massive queue out of the back gate of the stadium leading down stairs to a cluster of unlit portaloos, and the police were clamping down on any al fresco relief. The brass band were on the concourse playing rock’n’roll classics to an appreciative Tartan army audience as I spotted Kevin high in the stands and we made our way up, soon joined by Craig. The stand filled up as kick-off approached, including one particular member of the TAMB community who continually called Kevin “Tam” to his face, much to his annoyance and our amusement. As the temperatures plummeted, Helen became even more grateful for her wraparound travel rug, and after a forgettable rendition of the anthem, kick-off, and a feast of football was upon us.

The match was dire, rivalling the previous performance in Lithuania in 1998 for lack of entertainment. It was pretty obvious that Vogts, content to aim for the 4 points out of 6 that he had set as a target, was playing for the draw – in light of the Lithuanians’ superb 1-1 result away to Germany a few days previous, this may have seemed a sensible strategy to the more cautious. The plan came unstuck in the final quarter of the game, when a Lithuanian striker tumbled in the box from a seemingly innocuous challenge from Naysmith – I was 150 yards away at the time, and despite writing this 2 months after the event, I have still not seen the incident on TV. Lithuania duly scored from the spot, and despite a couple of half-chances, the game was lost.

A strange atmosphere followed at the end of the match, as the police kept us in our section for around 30 minutes, ostensibly for our own protection. We milled around the concourse for a while with some of the Loony Alba and Nottingham boys, in turns joking and commiserating (with Norton I had to commiserate both on the result, and on his trousers), but the atmosphere at the head of the crush was turning a wee bit unsavoury, as a few fans took exception to what most of us as a reasonable police decision. Anyway, after a while we were on our way back to where the minibus was parked, and then it was back to the privacy of our tinted glass transport, as the streets teemed with celebrating locals waving flags out of car windows. The journey back passed quite quickly, as we dozed for most of it, and after being dropped off in front of the cathedral none of us felt like going out (it was 2am already), so we all headed back to our hotels.

After a substantial lie-in, and another close look at my badly injured foot (I’ve never seen a blister pus so much is so many directions!), we walked up Pylimo (named after the old city wall) towards the KGB Museum, where we bumped into Peter, Davie, Shannon and the rest of the Milngavie boys (Ally Jones, Colin, Sumo and Gary). Inside the museum the reunion continued, with Rich and Chris, Gavin and Dave and the Inverness Boys all knocking around, however by the time we had gone round it was just Helen and I and the Milngavie posse, so we decided to take in a bit of local backstreet colour. The first pub was a strange affair, with a collection of Lithuanian drunks and “The Count” behind the bar – this became even more surreal when a full military band trooped through the pub, instruments and all. Then followed a café, where we were served by what can only be described as a hooker in carpet slippers, the Aeroflot bar, with a Russian barmaid who caused quite a stir, and another unnamed place, where Gary’s “vodka & coke” left no room in the tumbler for any coke.

The rendezvous in the PUB was for 8pm, and we settled in for some food, and some very, very bad beer. With the Milngavie Boys now settled in for the night, and Helen and I in no mood to be left drinking slops, we bid our farewells and we headed off to find some better beer. A brief stop in a recommended pub/pizzeria, where the gift of a pennant was reciprocated with a coolbag, and then off to The Globe – a hotel bar, where a friendly Welshman was deep in conversation with two Scots (who cannily enough were staying in a hostel over the road whilst enjoying the hotel’s facilities!). The night finished off in the civilised surroundings of Avilys (as you’ve probably guessed, I took quite a liking to the honey beer) – this time it was Susan’s turn to receive an unusual gift: a NATA badge was exchanged for a bottle of Lithuanian champagne.

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Part 4 - Friday, Saturday and Sunday – Back to Riga

We were up early on the Friday for the 10am bus to Riga. Davie and Shannon were already at the bus stop, and Shannon had managed to secure a bag of grapes from the bus station grocery shop (sensibly, Davie had declined the chance to eat fresh fruit on a 5 hour coach journey!), and Chris arrived soon after. A few other Scots were on the bus, but the slept for most of the journey. The only occurrence of note was the 90-minute delay at the border, where Shannon grew continually worried that, as an Australian passport holder, she should have had a visa. I had phoned the embassy earlier that morning for her, but as the person who answered the phone didn’t fully speak English, and could have been the cleaner for all I knew, so the future didn’t look too bright. Eventually, a surly border came on the bus clutching a blue passport (same colour as Shannon’s) and called a man off the bus, before we drove onwards to Riga.

Upon alighting at Riga Autotoosta, Davie and Shannon set off to find their hotel room, Chris set off for the Radisson and Helen and I headed back to the Konventa Seta, where we had a “suite” to look forward to (and a bargain at £85 a night). This turned out to be a mini-apartment in a separate building, with a massive living room, and even a fitted kitchen sink and cooker. After a wee nap in our luxurious surroundings, it was out and off to our 7pm rendezvous at the Skyline Bar of the Reval Latvija Hotel.

Chris was already waiting for us, and was complaining about having to pay £4 a pint – I don’t why, as our worked out at £1.40 each (he must have a gullible face!). Davie and Shannon followed soon after, and following a couple of beers it was off to Alus Seta for some food. Alus Seta was packed, even busier than our previous weekend visit when Scotland were in town in 2000. We managed to squeeze onto a table by the door, and filled up on ridiculously cheap Latvian food. A pub-crawl ensued, with a visit to the superb Runcis (like something out of Twin Peaks), the pool bar Klondaika (which has transformed from a dive into a techno bar complete with young, under-dressed Russian teenagers out on the town), Paddy Whelans (opposite Dickens), rounded off with a visit to the incomparable A La.

A well-deserved lie-in followed on the Saturday – so late, we had a knock on the door from the cleaner. After opening the door to see an absolutely stunning girl in a green pinny (a sign of a truly great hotel!), I went back to bed regretting not inviting her in! When we did surface, we only made it as far as the Philharmonic Square before we had laden ourselves down with shopping (pictures and Latvian champagne), so – via a quick trip up St Peter’s church spire – it was back to the hotel room to lighten the load. On the absolute off chance there was a league game on, we took a cab out to the Skonto stadium – no luck, so we popped into FC Barcelona (so named as Skonto wear blue and red) for a drink and a bite to eat. A taxi took us back into central Riga, and we headed for the Zeppelin markets (not really any souvenirs, more for locals), then walked from there along the riverside into the Old Town. After several attempts, we finally found a café that looked open and welcoming down a back street near the Arsenal, and after a warming hot chocolate, it was out into what was now a full-blown blizzard. Walking into the face of the blizzard quickly lost its appeal, so a wee diversion into Rigas Balzams Bars followed, where a couple of cocktails were soon ordered – Helen took the sensible route of a hot Balsam toddy, whilst I plumped for altogether more feminine Balsam Ice Cream. These quickly induced sleepiness, so back to the ranch for another doze before our evening dinner date.

We had agreed to meet up with Davie and Shannon at Staburags, a Latvian restaurant slightly out of the centre, but right next to their hotel. Soon after arriving, we were befriended by a mad Russian tatooist called Alexander (he gave me his card), who insisted on asking Shannon’s permission before speaking to me! Food was soon ordered (yet more potato pancakes!), and Shannon’s knuckle of pork almost tipped the table up on it’s own. The meal was finished off with a glass of neat Balsam for Davie and myself, and then it was back into town, after an abortive attempt to find another traditional place. Chris had already made his excuses for not coming out on the Saturday, and said he would wait for the Inverness Boys arriving, however this turned out to be much later than planned due to some wild texted claims of unspeakable acts with a pizza waitress.

Central Riga was a real winter wonderland when we stepped out of the taxi, and after dodging the snowball throwing neds, we made our way to Melnais Kakis (disappointing) and Zeppelin (a bar on the site of a restaurant Helen and I had been to previously), which brewed it’s own beer. We had heard of a bar called the Pupu Lounge, and asked the Zeppelin barman (Ivor – a very friendly chap) for directions – to his credit he tried to dissuade us, but gave us the info nonetheless. After we found it and paid our £3 to get in, we could see why – the write-up in Riga In Your Pocket was a bit on the rose-coloured side. After sticking it, begrudgingly, for one drink (bottled, of course), we headed down the road to Amsterdama for a last drink before bidding farewell to Davie and Shannon as they continued their world tour of Eastern Europe.

All that now remained was to catch our late-morning flight on the Sunday. A leisurely sit-down in the bathroom that morning was slightly disturbed by the mention of the flight time as 0740 in Riga In Your Pocket, and the rest of the packing and taxi ride out was a little quiet (I hadn’t wanted to terrify Helen!). Of course, this turned out to be just another case of worrying about nothing – everything was fine and the flight was as stated on our booking confirmation. The Inverness Boys and Chris were already airside (and Scott and Allan were already on the beers) – we joined them just as David was changing his boxers for a new pair (for some unexplained reason). We then had to sit patiently on the runway as the plane was literally hosed down (by a wee guy on the back of a truck) from back to front with de-icer fluid, which obviously cheered us up no end, and then we were up, up and away, free to reflect on another 3 points lost.

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Baltics 2003 Gallery 1 (Riga)

Baltics 2003 Gallery 2 (Vilnius & U21s)

Baltics 2003 Gallery 3 (Kaunas, Match & Vilnius)

Baltics 2003 Gallery 4 (Riga)

Fjord Fiesta: Norway, August 2003

Part One: Oslo & The Big Boat

In a departure from our usual holiday planning, when we heard the Norway friendly was a goer, we decided to treat it with caution and, as a damage-limitation exercise, decided on spending only two days in Oslo. Of course, we then ramped up the cost by plumping for spending the subsequent bank holiday weekend in Copenhagen, with a cabin on the boat between the two capitals.

The belated departure led to us sharing a flight with several TA luminaries, including Will, Arthur, Charlie Docherty, Ewan (on his last trip before his round-the-world trip) and the “Club Class Chuckle Brothers”: Kevin and Craig were even more smug than normal at their free upgrade, and Craig even turned up in a blazer, in anticipation of free drinks and canapés in the lounge. Donnelly had other ideas, however, and was in a pair of shorts hawking his Loony Alba rain jackets.

The flight passed without incident, and we touched down in the wood-panelled surrounds of Gardermoen airport – the real Oslo international, linked to the city centre by a 20-minute high-speed train. (Campbell “Two Flights” Burton was one of many who had flown Ryan Air to Torp, and then suffered the near-two-hour bus journey. When he heard of a high-speed train link, he though “just the job”, until he turned up in the wrong airport on the way home and missed his flight, getting home 24 hours later and £200 lighter!).

After some initial confusion outside the railway station, we found our hotel (our bedroom overlooked the platforms!), and after checking in (and having a couple of cheeky ports from our duty free stash) it was off to the SAS Radisson bar to meet Kevin and Craig. After picking up a bemused Jim Brown in the downstairs Irish bar (“I’ve been waiting here for an hour and there’s no sign of the b*stards!”) it was up to the breathtaking top floor bar for a pear cider session. The debate on whether to walk or catch a cab to Tam Coyle’s birthday meal was settled by the rain starting, although we did end up with a mini-tour of the residential backstreets after the cabbie failed to understand what street we wanted.

The meal had been arranged by Don Lawson (of Johnny Foxes’ bar in Inverness), and was in the sister restaurant to The Dubliner pub – mussels and beef (or salad and veggie stuff for Susan and I). We thought we were taking the safe option by taking seats towards the back near Ally and Sue, only to have the tranquillity shattered when the birthday boy pulled up a chair. I continued my dalliance with fish by eating some mussels (“Don’t look at it – just put in your mouth!”), and a round of songs, comedy and speeches followed the food.

We slipped away at an opportune moment and made our way up to Bohemen – a Valerenga fans bar that some of Craig’s Chelsea pals had tipped us off about. Busy, but not too packed, we settled into the museum-like interior. Surely there aren’t many places in the world where you can see Bologna, Sao Paulo and Torquay scarves jostling for space on the same wall? Unfortunately, the bar shut quite quickly, and everyone fell out into the night streets to see what downtown Oslo could offer in the way of after-hours libation on a Tuesday night. A few of us (several London boys, Jim Brown and Sid from ETA) stumbled across So What, a grungey pub/club down an alleyway. We settled in for a drink as a variety of intellectual jakies and punks proceeded to abuse us (“Football is for low class people!”). Home at 3am (the bar was still open) to a cup-a-soup and a warm bed!

A wee lie in on the matchday was followed by a yomp across town to pick up the tickets from the SFA’s hotel (the other Radisson), and a quick chat with Donny, Shambles and Marky Adams. Wanting to minimise beer expenditure (and the fact that Ringnes is probably the worst lager known to man!), we then opted for an open-top bus tour of the city – this only turned out to be a sure-fire way to waste £16 each. A quick port stop at the hotel, followed by a beer in the Cathedral awning and a desperate struggle to by antacid medicine at a Norwegian chemist, and on to Bohemen. Despite a bouncer at the door (stopping people going out with beer, but no control over how many went in!), the place was heaving. We found what was a small enclave near the bar, and got talking to, amongst others, Dave The Bankie, Campbell, Sheffield John and Tam McTurk and Jane, who I would be meeting again in Copenhagen that weekend to go to the Brøndby v FC København derby. As the walls closed in, I made a dive for the door, and after gathering the troops (well, Kellas, Craig, Kevin, Ally, Sue and Yan in a fetching pair of shorts) we headed for the tube to the ground.

A couple of Baileys miniatures were consumed on the tube out (I was playing catch-up here!), and luckily we found that the Dolly Dimples pizzeria at the ground was serving beer. A jug and a table were quickly procured, and there was time for a leisurely couple of pints before strolling round to join the queue for the away end. The police had taken it on themselves to hand-search everyone, and were trying to deny entry to big flags, but the slow-moving queue was kept entertained by a fat Norwegian skinhead who was dancing and pulling his trousers down to a chorus of good-humoured abuse from the Tartan Army. Once inside the ground, we fell in with more of the Loony Alba crew.

The game itself was not much of spectacle – Scotland seemed solid enough at the back (one or two mistakes notwithstanding) to deal with the likes of Carew, however we offered little going forward (and none of us could figure out it was in fact Don Hutchison up front!). Darren Fletcher made an impressive enough debut, but after some of the friendly results we have endured under Berti, it’s hard not to be happy with a 0-0 draw. In fact, the most exciting thing to happen during the game was the rocket balloons.

After the game, the queue for the train station platform was beyond a joke – Kellas suggested we try and see if the pizzeria was still serving beer. Our luck was in, so we settled down for some £5 pints to let the queue die down. As we headed back into town, we opted to try the area by the City Hall for a bevvy, although we lost two of our number when Jenny dragged Grant back to the hotel. We headed for Dr Jekyll’s Sports Bar, an ambitious bar just south of the main street, and this promptly claimed the record for the most expensive bevvy of the trip – 72 Norwegian Kroner for a Guinness (around £6.50). After a couple of drinks, and a bankruptcy declaration, it was back to the ranch for another cup-a-soup and a kip.

The next day Helen was suffering a wee bit, but we rallied to check out of the hotel, stashing the bags in the left luggage room. A quick visit to football shops (one in the shopping centre, and the one opposite Bohemen) and some takeaway pizza slices and it was down to the harbour to join the “Tartan Navy” cruise. This gave us a chance to meet Paul Baker and his son Jamie for the first time – we knew they were on the ferry back with us that night. The cruise itself was pretty basic – pleasant enough but not groundbreaking, and the main entertainment was provided by a bag of salted cod snacks – possibly the fishiest, saltiest thing I’ve ever had in my mouth. A swift visit to Peppes Pizza (and the biggest glass of coke in the world) followed, before panicking about not leaving enough time to check in for the ferry and then jogging back to the hotel.

We checked in for the Copenhagen ferry without a hiccup, and we were well impressed with our “Commodore” cabin – double bed, decent sized window, and free mini bar. We went up on deck to watch the boat sail from the Oslo quayside, and when we had made it back through the gale to our cabin, a chilled bottle of DFDS sparkling wine was waiting for us. We spent the next hour or so polishing this off, before making our way down to the bar. We had reservations about the expense of drinks (captive audience and all that), so I almost fainted when I found out it was only £2.50 a pint (or bottle of pear cider). We settled down and soon ended up in conversation with Gus and Grant from Copenhagen, and Roger from Edinburgh (who was on his way to see his Lithuanian fiancée). As the evening went on, it was becoming more and more obvious that not everyone in the bar had the same level of tolerance (Norwegians aren’t used to drinking due to the high cost), and pretty soon it was a case of stepping over bodies to get to the bar. A Norwegian handball team (both men and women’s sections) were on their way to a game, and whilst the guys engaged us in serious and informed conversation about football (“Are you a Celtic or a Dundee United fan?”), the girls flocked around us because of the kilts (and the remote possibility of being bought a drink). In between all this, we made time to chat to Robbie, Michael and Bob (a Scot, and Irishman and an Icelandic guy) who were staying in Oslo but hitting Copenhagen for the cheaper weekend bevvy. The evening also involved a visit to the nightclub (complete with a John Cleese look-alike getting on down) and the disco (strangely a different place), before we retired to our cabin, leaving Grant and Gus at the bar.

Part Two: Wonderful Copenhagen

We made it up for breakfast, and then sat around for a while as the boat docked, and loads of people filled up the stairways and halls. We quickly got our bearings, and still feeling like we were at sea, we swayed towards a metro station, where we managed to break the ticket machine and had to be helped out by the inspector. Our hotel could scarcely have been closer to Central Station, and we were happy to be able to check into our room at 11am. We planned to take an open-top bus tour of the city, then go and see the Parken Stadium (a spot of reconnaissance) before having a siesta and hitting Copenhagen’s notoriously late nightlife. Well, that was the plan anyway. In contrast to Oslo, the bus tour was genuinely interesting, and took in just about all of the sights. We then made our way out to the eastern part of the city centre and up to Parken. The Danish national stadium (and FCK’s home ground) is Scandinavia’s biggest – similar to Ibrox in it’s box-like structure, and situated in the corner of a large city park, sandwiched between two main roads (Østerallee and Østerbrogade), which are in turn close to a small urban centre (Trianglen) with shops and resturants. We walked up Østerallee, and around the ground (taking in the superb FCK shop) – at the back, across a small car park, is a another stadium belonging to BK Skøjld (and shared by B93) with a small and basic clubhouse. We partook in a small beer here, and then another in Parken’s very swish Stadium Café, before heading round to Osterbrogade, the intention being to check for any decent pubs ahead of any potential Scotland games (spookily, a few weeks later, the DBU announced the 28th April game on it’s website). The only non-restaurant pub we could find was McGrath’s Irish Pub, so I fought my usual impulses, and we headed in, but only for a half, mind! After sitting down with my half of Tuborg, we got talking to the landlady – was I here for the FCK-Rangers game on the Wednesday? I explained how I was on way back from Oslo, and that she may want to take down the tricolour flag and Celtic scarf ahead of Wednesday – and would she like a Scotland France 98 scarf in it’s place? Well, that was it – three hours and many rounds of free drinks (and some “staff” polo shirts later”) and pidgin English conversations (her husband Nils was half-Scottish, but didn’t speak much English at all) later, we staggered out of the place having bid our farewells. We headed for a recommended local restaurant called Parnas, where I had fish and Helen had some kind of pork crackling (against her better judgement). An abortive attempt at another beer followed, before we headed back for that siesta (it was now around 11pm), only to fall comatose and not make it back out...

… which was not necessarily a bad thing, as we had a 1pm rendezvous with Tam and Jane the next day, and somehow had to locate Tam’s flat. After a breakfast stop in a bakery, we sat and ate our cakes on the benches in front of the Town Hall, watching some skinhead Brøndby fans with suspicion (with me glad my FCK scarf was still in my bag). We found Tam’s flat with not too many problems – it’s an absolutely gorgeous medieval merchants house overlooking a peaceful square, and then we were back out to meet with Tam’s pals. I have an old “European Football: A Fans Handbook” rough guide (from around 1999) that details most major European cities, and the Ultra Culture section talks about the notable groups of fans at the big clubs – Tam had been chuckling away when I showed him the bit about FCK and the “Cooligans” – I didn’t realise that he and his mates were members of this crowd, so it was quite humbling to be made so welcome by everyone, including Michael from Greenland, Nick and his girlfriend Tania. We had a couple at the Drop Inn before the Maxi-Taxi pulled up to drive us to the suburb of Brøndby.

We got to the ground a good couple of hours before kick-off, and after a quick browse of the mobile Super-Shoppen, we headed in for a beer. This was the first major difference that struck about Danish league football, and bear in mind we were at the biggest league game there is – there was a choice of full strength beers, and although they were served in the familiar flimsy plastic glasses, they have these great cardboard contraptions that fold up so you can carry 5 pints safely in each hand up on the terrace. We enjoyed several beers before kick-off, and when the inevitable happened and nature took it’s toll, the stewards behind us were on hand to give us help up to the gantry where additional toilets were located. The stewards had also helped some of the FCK fans to put up their banners before the match. The game kicked off to a sea of blue and yellow behind the far goal, and was entertaining enough, with a lot of midfield play. FCK broke the deadlock midway through the first half by springing the Brøndby defence so effectively, and it turned out to be the sole goal of the match. To a constant soundtrack of singing (as had been the case throughout), including TA favourites such as “Everywhere We Go” and “We’ll Be Coming”, and the sublime “We pay for your methadone” (in Danish – had to be translated for us!), the FCK team was cheered off the park and the fans filed out.

There had been some confusion over whether our cabbie would be back for us, as he was a self-confessed Brøndby fan, but he was waiting right where we expected him to be. The road into town seemed much longer, and after a while we arrived at the Cooligan pub – Sohesten. My memories of the place were a wee bit muddled, it was quite dark inside and had a dog the size of a shire horse running about. I was introduced to several more FCK fans, including American Dane Todd, and was shown Tam’s corner, with Thistle memorabilia and some articles about his daughter. By now, Nick, who had been cracking jokes all day, was ribbing Michael and others about missing the recent trip to Ibrox – “Even my imaginary friend Harry was there!” After more than a few bevvies, it was off into town to try and get something to eat, and cabs were hailed to take us to the Dubliner.

The place was stowed out, with a British Navy ship in dock on exercises and a large number of sailors (who, it has to be said, were all surprisingly friendly) out on the town. We were lucky enough to find some tables outside, and were joined by Andy Manson and Estelle, who were also on their way back from Oslo and were staying at Tam’s. After some fish and chips, and another beer inside, where we bumped into the three lads from the ferry (Robbie, Bob and Michael), Helen and I had to admit defeat (my stomach was in agony after several days of pear cider and lager) and made our excuses and left. Thankfully I had taken the FCK scarf off for the walk down Strøget, as we managed to pass by a crowd of Brøndby neds peacefully.

Bolstered by an industrial amount of Rennie and some Zantac, we were up and out to the Carlsberg (and Tuborg) brewery to the west of the centre. The S-Tog (like a German Schnell-Bahn local train) station is the wrong side for the Visitor Centre, but the walk around the wall brought us through the famous ornate Elephant Gate. The tour itself is very well laid out, and unlike the Beck’s Brewery, is self-guided, so you can go at your own pace. Two beers are also included at the end, as well as a visit to the well-stocked (and pretty cheap) souvenir shop. Rather than walk all the way back round (it was a hot day!), we caught a bus straight to Nyhavn, where we took one of the DFDS Canal Tour boats. The cruise was well worth it, but a little scary at times, having to duck to avoid being decapitated by low bridges and the like!

After the boat tour, we had a quick (and pricey) beer in Fisken, before walking round to find the Welsh Pub (well, have you ever been in one? Apart from in Wales) Mick & Blodwyn’s, only to find it closed on Sundays. The Dubliner was yet again too busy (the Arsenal game was on), so we found a pizzeria for an early dinner. Italiano restaurant is a lovely and popular pizzeria just off Strøget opposite a church, and I opted for the anchovy pizza (still weaning myself back on to fish), which was a wee bit on the salty side! We then stumbled across McGinty’s pub in Vester Vølgade – a very pleasant Scottish-owned traditional pub, just a few steps north of City Hall Square, but one that doesn’t make a real song and dance about itself. The pub was only open for the Sky game, so we finished up and headed back out. Unfortunately, my salty guts were now getting a wee bit restless, so a quick pit stop back at the hotel was needed, before heading to Tivoli Gardens – a mini theme park right in the centre of town. We had a wee walk around, and a beer in a wee alley full of little bars and restaurants, before Helen persuaded me to go on some of the more tame rides. The first one – Minen – was a pleasant enough log flume ride through a Dragon’s cave (without getting too wet), however Valhalla Børgen was a different proposition altogether. Coming across as a kind of ghost train, it turns into a mental ride that turns you fully upside down (without actually feeling it). After that, some more liquid refreshment was needed – we were lucky enough to be in town for the Ølfestival in Tivoli. Unfortunately, this seemed mostly to consist of Carlsberg products, and Belgian Trappist beers, neither of which would sooth my once-again painful stomach, so I stuck mostly to the Kriek (Belgian cherry beer – one for the ladies, usually). There was just time to catch the Illuminations show in the Tivoli lake before heading back to pack and get some kip before our flight home the next morning (which ended up 4 hours late anyway!). Spookily enough, I couldn’t help get the feeling that we would be back quite soon with Scotland!

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Gallery 1 (Norway)

Gallery 2 (Norway)

Gallery 3 (Boat & Copenhagen)

Gallery 4 (Copenhagen)

Never mind the Ballacks: Here's the Tartan Army! September 2003

Part One: The Beginning

After the success (holiday-wise, rather than result-wise) of our trip to Lithuania, hot on the heels of the Iceland home match, we decided to mirror this for the trip to Germany. Given our love of Germany, and the fact that the Ruhrgebiet would be (a) full to the brim with Tartan Army, and (b) not the best place in Germany to spend a whole week, we decided on a three-city tour.

This worked in well with our flights to Glasgow on the preceding weekend for the Faroes game: we left the car at Gatwick and flew up on the Friday night, watched Scotland scrape a win against a brave Faeroese side, and took an early night, then Glasgow to Heathrow, followed by Heathrow to Hamburg, where we were a wee bit surprised to be the only Tartan Army on the plane. The plan was to spend two nights in Hamburg, two in Dortmund, and then finish off the trip with three nights in Munich.

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Part Two: Sunday & Monday - Hamburg

We arrived in Hamburg on the Sunday night, and made our way by bus and S-Bahn to the St Pauli Landing station, which was overlooked by our hotel – the imposing Hotel Hafnia. After eventually finding the front door and checking in, we were more than happy to have a harbour view. A quick bite of fish and a couple of beers in the cosy, tavern-like hotel bar, followed by another beer in the eighth-floor tower bar, and then it was out for a stroll on the Reeperbahn. The glitzy, seedy area is not what I was expecting – it seemed far safer, although some of the drunker sailors did add a slight air of menace (not that we felt threatened). I’ve never seen such aggressive working girls, mind – some of them literally had prospective punters by the throat as they propositioned them – I was quite glad to be walking with Helen! A couple of beers followed in a Sports Bar in Grosse Freiheit (the street the Beatles made famous), and around the corner on the Reeperbahn itself, and then it was back to the digs.

We got up at a reasonable time, keen to see some sights, and to get our tickets for the following day’s train to Dortmund. We opted for a combined ticket on the open-top bus and harbour tour, and despite feeling like obvious tourists, really enjoyed it. The harbour isn’t particularly picturesque (it’s not an open sea harbour – Hamburg is several miles inland on the River Elbe), but is very interesting, and is certainly still very busy. We then made our way into the centre of town and spent a good 30 minutes trying to negotiate the queues at the Hauptbanhof ticket office, before heading back out to St Pauli to check out the Millentor.

The Millentor Stadium, home to St Pauli, is pretty central – a mere stone’s throw from the city end of the Reeperbahn across a big dusty car park (used for beer festivals and the like). The ground is pretty run-down, but the commercial operation is very slick, which suited us, but we found out later has started to drive away some of the club’s more alternative fans (towards an even lower league side – Altona ’93). We wanted to get a drink in the clubhouse, and ended up doing our usual – trying a promising looking door, before eventually finding an unlit room with a bar and one old guy drinking coffee. Thankfully, the place was open, so we took up seats at the bar and admired the pennant collection behind the bar: a gift of a NATA pennant was reciprocated with some stickers, and a few minutes later with a St Pauli pennant (freshly obtained from the club shop). We then wandered around the backstreets of the St Pauli/Reeperbahn area for a few hours, and chanced upon a couple of decent bars, before nipping back to the hotel to freshen up and drop off our purchases.

Neither of us were particularly up for a big night, so we ended up just having a quiet few around the Schanzenviertel area, and getting an early night. All went well until 7am the next morning, when we were both woken by the sound of a military brass band. After a little initial confusion (we were on the 5th floor of a posh hotel, looking down a cliff towards the harbour), I looked out of the window and saw a Brazilian Navy boat (we’d seen it on our harbour boat tour the previous day) setting sail to a musical accompaniment.

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Part Three: Tuesday & Wednesday - Dortmund (& Ahlen)

We were at Hamburg Hauptbanhof in good time, and had pizza slices for breakfast before making our way down to the platform. Against all anecdotal evidence, the train was actually late (albeit 10 minutes or so), and we seemed to find ourselves in the midst of dozens of German OAPs. Despite them shouting at everyone else in the carriage to move, somehow they left us alone, and the train set off, first for Bremen and then down to the Ruhr valley. The train eventually pulled in to Dortmund around an hour late, which didn’t leave us too much time to join up with the Loony Alba coach for the trip to the Under-21s game. A swift taxi ride to our hotel, on the outskirts of the city, but very handy for the Westfalenstadion, and another cab back into town shortly after left us time for a quick beer (and to buy a carry out for the bus), and we were off. In addition to most of the LA party, Ally & Sue and a few others were jumping a lift to the game.

The driver found Ahlen quickly enough, but dropped us off around 10 minutes from the ground, and we were left to find somewhere to spend the 3 or so hours until kick-off. The first licensed place we found was a small, white-tiled pizzeria, so a few of us (Ally, Sue, Craig, Gavin, Helen and me) grabbed the last two tables and ordered some beer and food, thinking we could move on somewhere else after that. The relentless stream of fellow fans coming back from the “centre” confirmed that options were pretty thin on the ground, so we opted to stay put (despite the dwindling alcohol supplies in the place). It turned out there were a couple of other options, most strangely a tapas bar that Kevin, Simon and some of the others had found.

We got to the ground in what we thought was good time, only to be confronted by huge queues. Eventually, after brass-necking it in what everyone thought was the “ticket-only” queue, we made it in with no time to spare. The crowd must have been near capacity, and a decent number of Scots (maybe 1,500) had made it in in pretty good voice. It turned out we had chosen to stand next to the Ahlen Ultras, a group of around 20 young lads, one or two of whom looked genuinely scary, whilst the rest looked about 12. All a very genial atmosphere, and few in the ground could believe that Scotland escaped with a 1-0 victory, given the pressure heaped on the defence and goalkeeper right up to the final whistle.

We caught the bus, which had thankfully been moved much closer, in good spirits, and finished the carry out on the journey home. Getting back to Dortmund was a bit of an anti-climax, as many decent looking pubs were shut, and the streets were filled with vomiting, swaying footsoldiers, and those who were trying to get back to neighbouring towns. We eventually found an open, and popular bar, and stayed for a couple, getting a cab back to the hotel around 1am.

The next morning, when we realised just how close we were to the ground when we could see the yellow meccano set stand rising above the surrounding buildings and trees. We had a midday rendezvous with Ally and Sue, and on our way from the hotel to the metro, we spotted a promising looking wee bar just next door. At the main square, just by the tube station in the centre, we spotted the Milngavie Tartan Army’s flag in prime position, and Sumo guarding it whilst the others (Fraser, Colin, Peter and Ally) got hold of a carry out. As we were running slightly late, we let Sumo know where we going (the Hövels Hausbrauerei), and set off for some beer and food. We met Ally and Sue on the way, and were soon joined by Kevin, Gavin and Kev’s Austrian pal Robert (who we had met before in Lithuania). We had managed to get a table in the huge, but ridiculously popular Hövels, but were told it was reserved from 4pm onwards. No problem, we thought – it’s only half-twelve. Three hours later, they’d opened up a new room for us downstairs! In the meantime, Raz, Brian, Helmut and the rest of the extended Worthing Tartan Army came and went, as did Scott Paterson, Tam Coyle and many others. Ally and Sue had made their excuses and left, whereas the Milngavie boys had suffered enough in the rain, and had made their way in, via a 2-mile detour courtesy of Peter’s navigational skills. We’d also been joined Craig, his old University pal Ally Ewan, and Ally’s wife Elaine.

We’d already decided that getting out near the ground early-on was the way forward (we were right by all accounts – just an hour after we left the metro was chaos), so we upped and decamped to that wee bar we’d seen next to our hotel. As the ten or so of us walked in, we must have doubled the clientele and completely filled the place at the same time: we took seats around the bar as Craig made his way hurriedly to the gents. “No, no! Not that way – that is my bedroom” shouted the “mature” barmaid as Craig. “Okay, give me a minute or two and I’ll see you in there” came the reply. It wasn’t long before the Milngavie boys were making full use of the newly fired-up hot dog stand out the front, and we were moving onto the Schnapps. After drinking the bar dry of “Dirty Harrys” (a nice, liquorice flavoured number, weighing in at a mere 20%), there was no option but the dreaded Jagermeister. All the while, we were prevented from having more than one beer in front of us at a time, as the place was already drastically short of glasses, and the already mature barmaid was forced to co-opt her elderly mother into service, as yet more and more people squeezed in, and she waved her hands to indicate there was nothing she could do until people started drinking up! A cracking atmosphere developed, with the whole bar joining in a rendition of “Ein Berti Vogts”, although the barmaid was less than impressed when a stray rocket balloon ended up behind the bar.

After a thoroughly enjoyable few hours (looking back, Germany has to be one of my favourite pre-match warm-ups), we made our way to the ground in what we thought was plenty of time: it was only a 15 minute walk away. When we found our turnstiles, we were confronted by snaking queues for the Scotland end. Things weren’t looking good, but somehow we found ourselves in a much shorter queue at a less used turnstile, and we were in. The trek was far from over, as we climbed and climbed, only to eventually find ourselves in the second-back row of the entire stadium, behind the goal line at the side (i.e. if we looked forward, we looked down on the Scottish fans behind the goal) – one of the strangest views I’ve ever experienced. Ally and Elaine were just the other side of a small fence, and Ally & Sue were 20 yards to our left (they joined us at half-time to escape the moaning of one of their previous neighbouring fans). The game was watched, and lost, and we were blissfully unaware of the media backlash to Christian Dailly’s outburst (although we did start hearing murmurs the next morning) as we made our way out through the crowds. My one abiding memory of the game was the endless trip to the toilet at half-time, someone speaking to me, and me replying “Der fussball paaarrrrttyyyyy! Ist gut, ja?”, only for the guy to turn to his mate, shrug, and say “another German in a kilt – there’s dozens of them!”

After swimming against the human tide for ages, we (Ally & Sue, Ally & Elaine, Helen and me) eventually found our way back to the underpass leading to the wee bar, only to find it shut (probably drank dry!). No problem, we thought, and popped into our hotel – the queue for the bar was almost out of the door! Downhearted, and thirsty, we wandered down the road until we spotted salvation – a pizzeria. A couple of beers and a pizza later, and plans were made to meet up with Ally and Elaine in Munich the following night (they were actually catching a train at 2am that night/Thursday morning). Off to bed for us, only to wake up in a cold sweat around 6am with a burning desire to double-check our flight arrangements – I knew it was at some point that afternoon after 2pm. What I found was actually two times on two separate emails – the first said 2.30pm, the second 3.30pm, along with more detail – basically, “please return your flight tickets to us with 48 hours so they can be reissued with the correct details on. Failure to do this will result in cancellation”. A quick check of the flight tickets revealed they were still for the original times – in fact, the first time I’d read the “small print” about the time change was that very moment, and a dreadful realisation dawned on me. Not what you need for a hangover, really.

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Part Four: Thursday-Saturday - Munich

After a few more hours of bad dreams and cold sweats, we woke up and I broke the news to Helen. Thankfully, there was a clear fall-back option – there were regular fast trains between Dusseldorf Airport and Munich (albeit at three times the price of our Deutsche BA flight), so all was not lost. Anyway, we decided our first strategy would be to simply turn up at the airport for the original flight time and claim that the second email.

There were plenty of Tartan Army milling around Dortmund railway station on their ways to various connections and further adventures (Pete and Mac on their way to Amsterdam, Carey off to Prague), and we caught the next train to Dusseldorf Flughafen. Some trains do this journey in typical Die Bahn comfort and speed – 30 minutes or so with padded seats and plentiful toilet facilities. Unfortunately, ours was a local S-Bahn, clocking in at almost 90 minutes for the journey, by the end of which the uncertainty on what would happen next was beginning to take it’s toll. Thankfully, and unbelievably, the woman at the enquiries desk just apologised for the mix-up and knocked out a new ticket – no problems!

There were a few other Scots on the flight - possibly even the ones who had spoken to me in the stadium toilets, as they tried to engage me in German conversation at one point (despite the kilt), but we didn’t see them again after Munich airport. We made our way into town, and to the Le Meridien Hotel by the Hauptbanhof, with an arrangement to meet Ally and Elaine in the Hofbrauhaus around 8pm. We were out pretty sharp-ish, and were planning on finding something to eat, yet every promising establishment was packed to the gunnels. After a fruitless search, we reasoned the only way to still be on time would be to bite the bullet and try and get fed at the Hofbrauhaus itself. Despite the downstairs hall being rammed with Australian tourists, there was sanctuary upstairs in the wee restaurant bit – ideal for us, given our need for food. Ally and Elaine found us quite easily, and the only drawback of the whole thing was that Masses (1 litre measures) were not available in this civilised section of the beer hall. After eating and several beers, and reasoning the crowds downstairs should have thinned, we resolved to go down and experience the madness (not the first time for Helen and I, after our previous visit in May 2003). We eventually found a table towards the back, next to some older men who claimed to be Schalke fans who had attended the game the night before in Dortmund, and had come down for a weekend on the beer. They’d obviously had quite a few, and were quite taken by Helen and Elaine, whilst Ally and I looked on, him resplendent in his “Escape to Victory” top.

After the Hofbrauhaus drew to a close around midnight, we headed over the road to one of our favourite bars in Germany – the Landhaus, complete with own papier mache tree trunk at one end of the bar. We arranged to text each other the following day, as meeting depending on whether or not Helen and I made it down to the mountains. When Helen was younger and on a German exchange trip, she’d been taken to the Alps and went up in a cable car, and she was keen to repeat this on one of Germany’s most famous mountains, the Zugspitze, accessible from Garmisch-Partenkirchen (around 2 hours south of Munich).

We duly got up early enough for the train, only to be confronted with overcast, grey skies. After a discussion on the pros and cons, we decided that we’d use the day instead to visit the zoo, after picking up tickets for ourselves and Craig (who was arriving on Saturday morning) for the 1860 München v FC Köln game. We made our way down to the old Grünwalder Stadium, on the south side of the city, where my four-year old copy of the Rough Guide to European Football told me there was a ticket office and club shop. We got there to find a perfectly fine, if a little scruffy, ground – it’s still used for reserve, amateur and youth matches – but no ticket office or other signs of life. After peering through an iron gate, someone caught sight of us and allowed us in to take photos – he actually disappeared under the stand and came back with a postcard showing a game that took place in the 1970s as a souvenir. He also helpfully explained that the 1860 headquarters was around 2km south on the main road, past a hospital (thanks to Helen’s translating skills). After a 25 minute walk through the drizzle, wandering how we might spot it, we came across huge sky-blue and white gates and a big sign. The training complex was pretty impressive, with a fair collection of floodlit pitches, and a road leading up to a modern low-rise office complex. Inside, we found a ticket office, and were able to get exactly what we came for – three seat tickets under cover, as near to the north curve (where the home fans congregate for 1860 games) as possible, as well as free match programmes. A trip to the adjacent shop also proved enlightening (and wallet-lightening).

Diagonally opposite the offices was a small building completely out of context with the modern, sporty environment. This small kneipe welcomed us in, and was insanely popular with the locals. Out attempts at German went down very well, as did Helen ordering the sausage, although she did get teased for leaving half of it, and I got quizzed as to why I wasn’t one the eating it.

We tore ourselves away from the pub, as we still had a zoo to see, and caught the tram two stops back to the metro station at the Grünwalder, where we remembered seeing a taxi ride. The taxi took us through some nice suburban (almost rural at times) areas, but seemed confused when confronted with the zoom, eventually depositing us next to the Isar River, where we found the back door to the zoo. Munich zoo is famous for being a geo-zoo, where the animals are grouped from where they come from, although this did lead to us missing a couple of things. The trip was perhaps most memorable for the children’s petting zoo – Helen ran away from the goats, whilst they sniffed around for food (which you could buy from small dispensing machines), whether it be from people hands, a baby’s pram, or up my kilt.

We arranged via text to meet Ally and Elaine at the Löwenbrau Keller – a large, multi-roomed beer hall on the corner of the huge Löwenbrau brewery, just north-east of the station. After initial confusion (we both found seats and ordered drinks, before finding out we were in different corners of the place), we met up and ate and drank the night away. One thing to watch for if in Munich in the autumn are the brutal Festival beers, or Marzenbier (March beer) – this is beer put away in the spring to mature, and comes out a few months later in time for the Octoberfest and the winter, clocking in at around 7-8%. I was promptly served a litre of it, and had to struggle through this before I could get started on the normal, far preferable Löwenbrau. On our way back to the hotel, Helen and I popped into the 24-hour bar at Sendlinger Tor (Ally and Elaine had a flight to catch the next day), which is definitely worth knowing about.

On Saturday morning I popped across to the station to get hold of a copy of Kicker, to double check the kick-off time, and bumped into Craig at reception. After he’d checked in, we caught the tube across to Marienplatz and got seats in the Hofbrauhaus courtyard, thankfully just under the awning as the it started to rain. We caught the tube out to the Olympic Stadium in plenty of time, just one carriage down from a bunch of singing Köln fans, and were thankful that there was a beer garden on our walk, and that it had stopped raining. We got to the ground and round to our seats with a few minutes to spare – we were about two-thirds up the stand, behind the goal at an angle, and next to the terraced North curve (the seats fold away for Bundesliga games, which lets more people stand, and improves the atmosphere), and sat back and enjoyed the game. Watching league football in an environment like this is very civilised – girls walk around carrying trays of salted pretzels and low-alcohol beer (the only type available here, unfortunately), and there was a genuinely good atmosphere. 1860 took the lead, and went into half-time 1-0 ahead, and the fans milled around and chatted. Someone along from me (the ground wasn’t full, so there was space to spread out) asked if I was Scottish, had I been at the game, and why was a Lions fan? I explained, as well as I could, that yes, yes, and that the Scottish lion was very similar to the Bavarian lion (the best excuse I could think of – surely better than “you were the only game on”?). The second-half brought a Köln equaliser, only for 1860 to snatch victory in the last ten minutes. At the end, the players orchestrated a team bow in front of the cheering and flag-waving fans, and I found my face plastered on the jumbotron screen opposite. Then, one of the biggest cheers of the day came when the scoreboard announced that Bayern had lost away to Wolfsburg in the shock of the day. The crowd burst into a familiar song, with even the grandmothers in the crowd joining into sing: “Bayern, Bayern, who the f*ck are Bayern?”

After the game, we strolled back to the tube station and headed for the University area (bottom end of Schwabing) for another beer keller and some food. After suffering again with industrial-strength Löwenbrau, we resolved the best bet was to head for a tried and tested beer at the Hofbrauhaus (for all it’s tourist trappings, it does serve my favourite beer in Munich), and we settled into a side room and let the beer flow. After leaving at chucking out time, we made our way over to the Landhaus, where my 1860 shirt drew approving glances and comments – it turns out a lot of the HBH waiters, who frequent this place when their shift ends, are 1860 fans, and everyone was happy at Bayern’s defeat. After settling the bill (we had to wait for the landlady to finish chatting to some guys towing illegally parked cars) it was back to the hotel (via the wee pizza stall next door), ready for the flight home the next morning.

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Germany Gallery 1

Germany Gallery 2

Germany Gallery 3

Germany Gallery 4

Wham Bam Amsterdam, November 2003

The build-up – Preston, Glasgow and acid indigestion

A weird week, all in all – and it all started on Thursday 13th November. We had always planned to drive up (with Christmas presents), and we were going to leave around 4pm and plough northwards to Burton-in-Kendal services, where we would break the journey. A few weeks before this, Helen was offered free tickets through her team (Upper Beeding) to see England Ladies v Scotland Ladies at Preston that very night, so we secured half-day holidays and set off at midday. We were in Preston a little after 5pm, where we met up with Tam Coyle and Ian Black in Sumners, near the ground, and made it to our seats just in time for kick-off. What followed was a lesson in football, as England coasted to a 5-0 win with ease.

Up to Hampden for 3pm Friday to pick up our home game tickets, where we met Mike and Suzanne and headed off round the museum. Then back in Glasgow for our usual 8.15am start at the Iron Horse. In an attempt to keep my alcohol consumption at sensible levels, I was on bottled Beck’s (i.e. drinking half as much each round) – this was to prove unwise. Over the road to Alfredo’s around 10am, followed by a quick couple in The Vale, and a meeting with Tom and Matty, before cabbing it to The Shed, which was eerily quiet (although busier when we left at 2-ish). Mick from the Wee Midges was able to sort out a ticket for Tom and Matty’s pal, Murray, and the exchange took place in the Hampden car park whilst Helen and I headed in to the South Stand to hit the pie queue. No macaroni (a bad sign), so I made do with cheese and onion.

A very nerve-wracking 90 minutes later, in strange surroundings bereft of kilts and the patter of the more anarchic North Stand, we were celebrating what seemed the most unlikely of victories. We headed for the post-match rendezvous of the Vicky Bar, only to find the doors locked and a substantial queue outside. Round the corner and into Allison Street, then, where several bars clustered (we ended up in the Allison Arms). Another bottle of Beck’s was handed to me, but it was already too late – my stomach was in agony after all the acid I’d been knocking back all day, and the tense match hadn’t helped. Two hours - and less than half of that bottle – later, it was off for the train back into town, and ultimately, home.

The journey back down the road was only eventful for the lack of serious traffic we didn’t encounter. We eventually found out, via text messaging (thanks to Ally & Craig) that the under-21s had gone down 2-0 in Varazdin in the first leg of their play-off. Back in time for Helen to pack, and then off to work for Monday, before escaping at 4pm…

The anticipation – Wham Bam Amsterdam

The airport was quiet… too quiet! We eschewed the lounge in favour of the upstairs bar in the North Terminal and were surprised that there were no fellow TA travellers in there. The flight was late to be announced, and when it was it was at the furthest gate I have ever, ever been to (and I’m there quite a lot). We then had to grapple for hand luggage space with some mental day-tripping shoppers, although we did meet Andy and Linda in the queue (they’d been in the downstairs bar, in case you were wondering).

After 25 minutes taxi-ing to the terminal at Amsterdam (as Andy put it – “I think we landed in Belgium and drove the rest of the way”), we found ourselves pulling up at the same time as Kevin and Craig’s delayed BMI flight. The four of us grabbed a taxi in, and met up in O’Reilly’s Irish Pub just around the corner from Dam Square around 11-ish. We had loosely arranged a rendezvous in a Café near Rembrandtsplein, so we jumped a cab there only to find it was shut. After a consolation beer in a nearby bar, and a meeting with Munich Brian and Helmut (who couldn’t stay awake), we headed back into town towards the Spui area to meet with Ally & Sue. Their bar had just shut (it was around 1.30am by now) and we wandered down Spui Straat looking for some late night salvation. As is so often the case (?), that salvation came in the shape of a lesbian punk café called Café The Minds (a bit unfair – a normal, if anarchic, bar, with a lot of lesbian punks in it – complete with boots hanging from the ceiling. A few (very small – thanks Craig!) beers were enjoyed, before turning in ahead of the big ticket queue the next day.

Ally, Sue and Rich bumped into each other over brunch, and Helen and I met them in front of Centraal Station (where we also bumped into Mick and his pal). The train seemed pretty busy with Scots also heading to get their tickets as early as possible, but thankfully things were pretty organised. We were second in the queue for our number range, and things seemed to move quite quickly. As we were at the Arena, we took in the tour (Rich and I were on it for the second time, having been in April 2000) – money well spent yet again. A late lunch came in the way of a visit to a brewery-pub just off Nieuwmarkt (The Berard Suster or similar), and then I suggested we try a “Tasting House” just around the corner. Tasting Houses are traditional stand-up bars where the Jenever (Dutch gin made with juniper berries) distilleries sell their wares. The Wynand Fockink house (in a small dead-end street leading to the shopping arcade of the Kraspolosky Grand Hotel on Dam Square) is one of the more touristy, given it’s location in the RLD, but well worth a visit! We started on basic jenever, from young up to superior, and were not too impressed – this didn’t put us off trying out some of the more exotic liqeurs on the back shelves. Many shots later (including banana – for Rich, of course – butterscotch, apple tart, after-eight and “lotion of venus”), we staggered out, foolishly agreeing to meet up again after brief hotel stops in another tasting house – “Die Drie Fleisches” in Gravenstraat (just behind Dam Square). We honestly intended to stick to the beer, however we were soon lured on to “Boswandleig” – a house speciality involving vodka, angostura bitters and something else. The thing with these tasting houses is the weird hours – this one shut at 8.30pm, all to do with tradition, apparently – so it was back out onto Gravenstraat and into the Belgian Café a few doors down. Several hours were spent in here, trying out draught Kwak, bottled Gueuze and other such delights, whilst speaking with Marky Adams and his father-in-law (Jim), before we finally tore ourselves away to head for Hoppe.

Hoppe is a traditional brown café (sawdust on the floor, no ladies toilet – it’s next door! – and a convivial atmosphere), but is also a bit of a tourist trap, having been bigged-up in many a guide book. Ally & Susan had headed into the RLD to find Bryan and Trudie, but Chris had joined us with a pal, so the 5 of us headed across Spui Square searching for “Die Pilsener Club”. This wee, out-of-the way café has no bar as such, just pumps under the stairs serving great tasting beer (it’s kept in draughting alcoves, not a cellar, so the beer travels a shorter distance to the pumps). It also has great service, a nice atmosphere, and massive plates of bar snacks (if you ask for them), including raw meat! After several beers and three plates of cheese, it was time for bed.

The horrible reality – Amstel Standing

After waking up in a cold-sweat after suffering gouda-fuelled nightmares, we were up and out of bed in time for a 12.30pm meeting with the Milngavie boys (Colin and Sumo). After a brief exchange, we headed back to O’Reillys with Ally, Sue, Bryan and Trudie for a spot of lunch (fish and chips – I’m enjoying my new-found fish freedom). Helen, me and the Milngavie Two then went for a wee wander around the backstreets, before ending up in a surreally posh shopping centre bar. We were heading back across to the Belgian Café when we felt ourselves being drawn back in Die Drie Fleisches (just for beer), before being led down the Boswandlieg path again. Ally and Elaine Ewan, and then Rich, joined us within a short while, and before long the bar was thronged by Scots, all trying the house speciality. We tore ourselves away and headed for the relative calm of the Belgian Café, where yet more Kwak was consumed.

After a couple hours, we felt fortified enough to brave crossing Dam Square (where we managed to pick up Chris Norton) and into Wynand Fockink for some more sweet, sweet liqueurs. After a good five or six rounds, punctuated by Ally Ewan being escorted from the premises after bombarding the barman with beermats, we thought we better stagger for the tube. We hit Niuewmarkt around 6.00pm, only to find a packed (and immobile) train at the platform, with it’s doors opening and closing like a giant blue metal goldfish (visualise, visualise…). After a few minutes, panic set in that we were not going anywhere, so we swiftly bolted for the exit (only to find that the Milngavie Boys, Rich and Norton were nowhere to be seen). Ally, Elaine, Helen and I searched vainly for a cab, before hitting on a real inspiration – hang about outside a posh hotel and jump in the first one that drops off. This reaped dividends with 5 minutes, and we were heading out to the Arena in comfort.

We got to the ground around 7pm, and simply strolled across the coach park in the company of dozens of Dutch fans and straight through the turnstiles, pausing only to pick up our free programmes. After the mammoth climb to the top of the stairs, and desperate for sustenance after the jenever session, I joined the queue for refreshments armed with my Arena card that I had picked up the previous day (on the tour). With no vegetarian options, and my decreased will-power (and waning commitment to the vegetarian cause), I plumped for a hot dog. Just to make sure, I then followed this with another two. They were quite nice, and no, I am no longer vegetarian! Anyway, after filling up it was up into the stands to take our seats. Like many others, we found people in our seats, but they left without a struggle. It soon became apparent that this was to not to be Scotland’s night – aside from the farcical attempts at both national anthems, the Scottish team was lacking the organisation and discipline that marked Saturday’s triumph, and before long we were a goal down to what looked like a preventable shot. Two headers from set-pieces followed, and we sat and suffered until 70 minutes (2 minutes after the sixth had gone in) – Helen had actually wanted to leave after 4, as had Simon Kellas, who we grabbed back off the stairs and told him to hang on. I gave in to the pressure after weighing up the pros and cons, and the likelihood of public transport difficulties getting back in (given the chaos in getting out to the ground) – the Milngavie two followed us out as well. Anyway, why would I want to stand and applaud the team off after a capitulation like that?

The train back into town was packed with likeminded fans (turned out that the mass exoduses had staggered the journeys back so well there were no real delays). Kellas, Helen and I got off at Nieuwmarkt and had a Framboise each in the posh beer place (with a very sympathetic and understanding waitress), before turning in for the night (Kellas met up with the rest of Loony Alba and was drowning his sorrows until the early hours). We made our way across a depleted, yet still good-natured, Dam Square, pausing briefly to chat to Grant and Yan, before getting into bed before midnight. When my Mum phoned at 1.15am to commiserate, she was shocked that she’d woken me up!

Thursday morning and we were up bright and early (though not early enough!) and out to Schiphol, bumping into Machar and Mirka at the station. When I tried to check in (still 2 hours before take-off), I was told that the flight was already overbooked and we were put on standby. I’m quite philosophical about this – I travel a lot, so it was bound to happen some time, and in any case, I’ve waited longer for no money at all (there’s compensation for being “bumped”). We then volunteered to get bumped again, and eventually made it home on the 18.20 flight (4 hours late), with substantial compensation in our pockets (to be put towards a trip in 2004).

All that’s left now is to look forward to the World Cup qualifying draw in December, and the fixture dates a month or so later.

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Netherlands Gallery 1

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