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Handle Caerphilly - Wales, February 2004

The main saving grace of the Wales trip was the low cost, and the small amount of annual leave needed. Working in Brighton, Helen and I were able to take a 4pm finish, and still be in a pub in Cardiff by 8pm, even allowing for a Burger King stop at Leigh Delamere services! After parking behind the hotel (the St Mary’s Street Travelodge, overlooking Central Station), we ditched our bags, changed out of our work clothes and hit the town. After a brief mis-understanding on the phone with Ally – he said “The Goat Major”, I head “Admiral Napier”, we rendezvoused in the said pub, just near Cardiff Castle, with Ally, Sue and a sizeable Nottingham TA contingent, headed up by professional Jim Carver-a-like Chris Norton.

Chucking out time at 11pm led to a debate as to where to go next, and whilst Ally & Sue made for their hotel, Chris, Neil, Helen and me ended up in a cab, travelling all of 400 yards, to Callaghans “Irish” Bar on the ground floor of the Holiday Inn. Open until 2 it may have been, but not only was there no Guinness, but there were salsa-dancing poseurs on the dance floor. Deciding to leave in search of the Yard after just one pint of Caffreys (and nothing to do with me falling squarely on my arse after a bit of my own sexy salsa grooving), we bumped into the likes of Ian Gillan, Lee Cargill, Vodka and Akie holding court at the bar there. Happily re-united with Brains SA, we then headed en masse to the nearby Charlestons for some late night gammon and beer action – just one was enough for me, as I wanted to make an early start on matchday.

Cardiff may have a proliferation of late-night bars, but just try finding one at 11am on a Wednesday morning. After several false dawns (the place we’d agreed to meet Ally and Sue looked closed down), and a soft drink in a hideous corner pub (with a nice manager), we settled on the Toad for lunch, before joining the throng in an old-style pub on St Mary’s Street (possibly called The Albert). After meeting up with Ally and Elaine Ewan and Munich Brian, and managing to get lucky with a seat in the narrow crowded bar (which partly made up for Helen’s coat being stolen on the way there), we decided on a plan of action and headed for pastures new.

We moved over the road, and had a quick pint in a tiled green pub overlooking the ground, marked by a big removal van out the front and people making off with the pub furniture. We also discovered the joys of “Vodka Streamers”, 20% strong fruit flavoured schnapps type arrangements, which at £1.20 each, went down a treat, and brought memories of Dortmund. On to The Model Inn, which looked dubious choice given the façade, however once inside we were pleasantly surprised by the space in the back. Tearing ourselves away was difficult, but we made to all of next door – the much busier City Arms, where Rich eventually joined us (having done a morning's work in Southampton). Predominantly full of Welsh fans, but very good humoured and friendly, and the barmaid was nice enough to show me to our next destination – Clwb Ifor Bach (or “the Welsh Club”) in the street outside. In the club we met up with Welsh Steve and his pals – Steve went to his first away international game with Scotland (in Prague), and obviously got a taste for it, as he’s now a regular at Wales away games (including “the most expensive day trip I’ve ever done – Azerbaijan”). Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay long, as we were off to Barfly to meet up with some of the Loony Alba contingent at a pre and post-match swally session being organised by the Tartan Army’s favourite entrepreneur, up-and-coming Glasgow DJ, Mr Tam Coyle.

Barfly was a wee trek back away from the ground, but the beauty of having a top-notch stadium right in the city centre is you’re only ever a beer away! A nightclub during daylight hours is strange enough at the best of times (The Shed, anyone?), however a near-empty one is even weirder. At least there were plenty of bar staff on hand to keep the 20 or so of us well stocked with beer and the obligatory Aftershocks, including Steve and his TV-presenter friend (Steve moves in “media circle”) who also joined us pre-match.

On to the ground, and in with 20 minutes or so to spare, which was just as well as we were all gasping for breath after all those stairs! The facilities in the top corner were extremely cramped – far worse than on the lower tier we had been in for the FA Cup Final – but at least the few from the seats was superb. Too good, in fact, as we found ourselves one-down in less than a minute. The pre-match atmosphere had been pretty confident – surely we could beat the Welsh? After all, we had both gone out at the play-off stage, and we had at least been bettered by far superior team (Netherlands as opposed to Russia). The pre-match banter had all been good (where we were, anyway, away from the mainstream chain pubs and the Burberry minority), and the Tartan Army ranks were swollen with many first-time trippers, or those returning to the fray after many years, buoyed by the accessibility of the venue and the easy availability of tickets. How many of the more fair-weather supporters will be encouraged to return after witnessing such a half-hearted capitulation is anyone’s guess.

This is not to take anything from Wales – they were devastating moving forwards, and in Earnshaw they had a young, talented striker eager to prove himself as a first choice. And no matter how poor Scotland were, and make no mistake, we were woeful, Wales could only beat what was put in front of them, and they did that convincingly.

Unlike the six-goal drubbing in Amsterdam, we felt no pressure to leave early (though plenty did); after all, nothing was at stake here, and crucially, there would be no public transport worries after the game. Instead, we slunk out the away end with the remainder of the Tartan Army, turning into the street full of jubilant Welsh fans. To Wales’ eternal credit, their fans certainly know how to win with grace, and the good atmosphere prevailed after the game as well. We even had to rely on the bouncers’ good nature (not sucking up here, but Cardiff does seem to have some of the nicest bouncers in Europe) to get into The Yard after the game, where we had time for one before I had to see Helen back to the Car Park (she was driving straight home after the game; I was staying on for a job interview – ultimately unsuccessfully – in Bristol). After a minor drama when Helen realised the coat that was stolen earlier contained the Car Park ticket, the Car Park Attendant managed to sort everything out (for a couple of pound cheaper than it would have been), and Helen duly dropped me at the door of Barfly on her way past.

Barfly was much busier by now (around 10.30pm), and I was reunited with Rich, Munich Brian and Welsh Steve for a spot of catching up. People started drifting away after midnight, including Steve, who has a job to get up for, and Brian who was on a midnight train back to London – part of journey that would get him back to Worthing at 7am on Thursday morning. The atmosphere drifted into something like a wake, as a few drowned their sorrows with abandon and others became increasingly confident that this is “just a phase”. “Do you realise that the last two away games have been ten against and none for?” went one conversation… “Oh don’t so negative” came the reply, “if you count the last three it’s only been twelve-one!”

As the evening wound down before the 2am closing time, I fended off yet more jokes about where Helen was, and a few of us wandered down St Mary’s Street in search of Charleston’s. By the time we got there, it had petered out to just me and Rich, but after 20 minutes of sitting waiting to get served in Charleston’s, we decided that (a) we didn’t really need another drink, and (b) why pay £12 for a steak, when we could chips round the corner for a nugget? Down to Chip Pan Alley (Caroline Street) we went, where we bumped into Gomo and Shambles, dozens of Welsh fans – still celebrating, and still friendly – and some lassie dressed in the skimpiest nurses uniform you’ve ever seen.

Thursday lunchtime saw enough time for a drink and quick bite to eat with Ally and Sue, back in the Albert, before I headed over to poke around the Millennium Stadium before catching my train to Bristol. The staff in the stadium shop (mostly Rugby gear) pointed me to the Welsh FA offices over the road, and I brass-necked it at reception to see if they had any FAW badges available. I was lucky enough to get one gratis from the kind lady on the door, and this pretty much summed up the whole trip – beaten comprehensively, but by just about the nicest nation I’ve ever met!

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Wales Gallery

Let's Dansk - Denmark, April 2004

Hot on the heels of last year’s visit to Copenhagen (following the August friendly in Oslo), and falling right before American Dave’s wedding in Washington DC, Helen and I opted for a flying visit from Tuesday to Thursday morning (fitting in with a Thursday afternoon connection to DC). We arrived mid-afternoon on the Tuesday, having flown in on a BA flight with a healthy (and friendly) TA contingent, including the familiar faces of Ian Gillan and Darren from Loony Alba, and made our way towards our hotel near Nyhavn. We bumped into Rich en route to the hotel (ahead of our planned rendezvous) and swiftly met up again in Fremtiden, a small and friendly nautical-themed pub next to the hotel itself. After a crash course in saying “two beers, please” in Danish, we headed round to Nyhavn and into McJoys (allegedly a Scottish pub!) on the corner for a quick (and very expensive) one. The barman kindly phoned around to check if Mick & Blodwyn’s Welsh pub was still open, and off we set to try for the second time (once in August) to have a beer in the only Welsh theme pub I’d ever heard of – no luck: closed again!

By now, we had arrangements to meet up with Brian and Helmut (Worthing Tartan Army, even though Helmut’s from Hanover) and Craig McD; we’d chosen the big landmark pub Nyhavn 17 – a large yellow corner pub impossible to miss. On the way in we bumped into Mick Lawson and his wife (whose name I always manage to forget!), and settled into comfortable corner seats. Not too comfortable, thankfully, as Helmut managed to stay awake for the couple of hours he was with us! After a few, Brian and Helmut headed off for an early night (see the Amsterdam photos for the evidence of Helmut’s staying power!), and Craig, Rich and ourselves made tracks for the Dubliner, stopping via “Hvids”, a cosy Danish pub on the corner of Kongens Nytorv. The Dubliner was understandably stowed out, and we arrived just as Ally and Sue had made it back from the U21’s 2-2 draw out in Helsingor. Rich did the honours with the kitty at the bar, and I took a seat outside in the balmy evening for a chat with Norrie and Joan from Dunfermline, and Freda. For some reason, I seemed to take an unhealthy interest in Freda’s fetching combination of purple Cats, purple football socks and sparkly tights, and she satisfied my curiosity by pulling a spare out of her bag for me to play with.

Cheap beer was now firmly at the top of the agenda, and a visit to The Moose (all night happy hour on a Tuesday) was called for. Thankfully, the TA’s own Copenhagen anarchist-in-residence Tam McTurk had just turned up, and agreeing to leave Jane and Elise at the Dubliner, took us (Jim Brown and Kevin were also in attendance by now) on a quick tour. The Moose was packed – we couldn’t all fit in the door, let alone get near the bar, and a pub around the corner was inexplicably shut, so it was off to Charlies Bar for some real ale. I was in heaven here – Youngs Double Chocolate stout, and on draught! A strange place, but lots of fun, with a lot of eclectic customers, including a couple of local stoners who explained all about the traditions of toasting “Skøl” (to do with skulls and women on top, apparently – must be a Viking thing!). After time was called around 1.30am, it was back out and round to the Dubliner, along with Shakey and Annali – much quieter this time, and we were able to get a seat in the lower bar area with Tam, Jane and Elise, as well as Grant (who we’d met on the Oslo boat back in August) and young, upcoming Glasgow DJ, Tam Coyle. From here, the night became a wee bit fuzzy – I remember having a great conversation with Elise (none of which I can now remember!), and vaguely remember seeing David Taylor come in the bar around 2am. After closing time at 3am, we staggered off to the hotel (no recollection of getting back!), Rich went for a nightcap near his hotel (in the red light district), and several others headed off to Tam McT’s. Tam Coyle told me the next day that they all knew it was time to call it a night when the gracious host’s son got up for school!

Matchday started slowly – I had every intention of making breakfast, but woke up two full hours after my alarm. My only consolation was Helen was in far worse shape than me – several people told us later on they had never seen her in such a state before! We eventually left the hotel just after midday, and after seeing a fair few people eating and drinking in the sun on Nyhavn it was off down Strøget. Ally and Sue were in The Dubliner, which was already pretty full at the tables (and onto plastic glasses) – Helen was in no shape just yet to stay in a pub, and I was starving, so the agreement was to rendezvous in the Hard Rock Café down by Tivoli Gardens. A slow walk up the rest Strøget followed, and as we bumped into Akie Green and then Big Greg, we had to wait as Helen went from fast food restaurant to fast food restaurant to throw up in the toilets! Ally and Sue caught up with us at the edge of Radhus square, and it was on to the restaurant with Helen looking distinctly green around the gills.

After lunch, and a brief stop for t-shirts in the mall next to Tivoli, we headed back into the centre, looking for the Oz Bar (to try and meet up with Akie and Greg, as the first choice of McGinty’s was shut). We managed to miss it by a street, but ended up in the Drop Inn anyway. Another beer was enjoyed in the very pleasant surrounds of Sørens Værtshus, before a taxi was ordered back to the hotel (to drop off the t-shirts, and to, ahem, “freshen up”).

Fremtiden served as the rendezvous again, and Helen and I arrived in there to see Ally enjoying a vase of beer, whilst reminding a local that they only won Euro 92 by default! The friendly Dane got his revenge when he treated us to the Danish squad’s song on the jukebox. We only had time for one (which was handy for Ally, as he had the equivalent of 3 in his glass), then it was off up to the top of Nyhavn for a hot dog and a taxi – even though we still had over 2 hours to kick off, we wanted to be in the neighbourhood of the ground early on. As the cab neared the ground, the traffic jams kicked in, so we hopped off and walked the last ten or so minutes to McGrath’s Irish pub. Loath as I always am to recommend, let alone drink in, fake Irish pubs, the owners of this place had been very good us last August, and I was proudly wearing my “staff” t-shirt all day (much to the bar man’s annoyance!). Just as we arrived, a substantial Loony Alba contingent pulled up in taxis, but at Donnelly’s insistence they turned back at the door as it “looked too busy”. As they headed for trendier and more expensive surrounds over the road, we settled into comfy seats at the back of McGraths, and Ally and Sue set about demolishing a DIY cheese roll picnic (should have had that hot dog!).

A leisurely stroll around the ground, past a B93 match in full swing on the ground next door to Parken, got us into the stadium in plenty of time for a hot dog and to be in our seats ahead of the anthems. Rich finally made an appearance 15 minutes before kick-off, having got of bed less than hour earlier. We were sitting in the back row bar one, pretty close to the hot dogs and toilets (thankfully not sniffing distance), and had to contend with the overhang of the upper tier, but still had good a view nonetheless. We were joined after 15 minutes or so by a jovial Craig McD, who had spent the day in the company of friends taking in both extremes of the Copenhagen social scene, and due to our commanding position next to the aisle were able to catch up with quite a few passers-by.

The game itself was very encouraging, with Kyle giving his best display in a Scotland shirt, and McFadden looking lively alongside him. Although we recorded a 1-0 loss, and the defeat may have been heavier but for some poor Danish finishing and an inspired Paul Gallacher in goal. On the positive side, Scotland looked much more promising moving forward, with Kyle playing the target man role well, and McFadden working some useful openings. Fletcher also had a good game in the middle of the park.

One incident that cannot go unmentioned is the stench that developed in the gents during the first half – by half-time, grown men had taken to carrying empty plastic beer glasses to the loo just so they could breathe easier! Somebody, somewhere had missed the target in trap one – if that was the state of the toilet floor (and wall!), I’d hate to think of the state of the guilty party’s kilt, let alone having to sit next to him for the rest of the game! None of us could believe it when the trap in question was actually occupied later on – obviously someone with no sense of smell whatsoever.

After the game we started waiting opposite the exit, and ended up with Bruce and Sharon as well as Rich, Ally and Sue, whilst trying to spot Donnelly and the rest of LA. Craig then called from a traffic light – he’d lost them as well. There then followed a good 10 minutes of Craig bouncing down the road, conversing with old ladies, abusing Helen for taking the mickey out of him, and him trying to take us in a big circle whilst looking for a railway station, until we successfully found a lakeside bar. The mistake we then made was sending Ally up for a beer – half-an-hour later, after most of the bar had been served twice, Mr M finally caught the barman’s eye and the beer was on the table. After a long walk, that took us within 50 yards of Østerpoort station, we opted for taxis and a rendezvous at Fisken, a quaint (and very expensive) bar on Nyhavn. After an argument with Rich over coke, and a conversation with an American singer and a glamorous older Danish lady, it was getting late, and with a transatlantic flight looming for Helen and I, we made our excuses and retired for the night. Ally filled me in later on some of the missing details – after an amorous Danish gentleman made several grabs of Ally’s rear (apparently, “he just wouldn’t take f*ck off for an answer”), they left, only to end up with Craig measuring up against a well-built Dane at the hot dog stand, before another all-nighter at the Dubliner.

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Post-script from Rich (here’s an extract from an email he sent after his extended stay):

Some weird stuff went on over the weekend but all good stuff. You're probably not interested but I'm going to tell you about it anyway.

Went back to the Parken Stadion at lunchtime on Saturday to get my FCK shirt. You know that right next door there is another ground which Boldklubben Skjold (1st div) and B93 (2nd div) share. I went for a look at that and they were setting up the goals. Turns out Skjold were to play Veijle at 3pm. Walked in to the clubhouse and met some Danish lads - one in a Saints shirt! He explained that everyone at Skjold liked Southampton (I had my doubts about that statement – doubts that would later be kicked into touch!) and we had a pint and talked everything Saints and Scotland before I went over to a festival in the park opposite the FCK shop (1st May apparently being a big celebration for Danish 'workers' - basically an excuse for food and bevvy with thousands of people and music... and a sprinkling of politics.). Left there and went back to the Skjold ground in time for kick-off (bought a shirt: Puma, red and white halves – bit of a Slavia Prague effort) and then the players ran out to Scottish pipe music! I was stood behind the 15 or 20 'Hardcore' who were very vocal throughout and though I never saw the guy in the Saints' shirt amongst them, the 'Hardcore' were all chanting "SOUTHAMPTON! SOUTHAMPTON! SOUTHAMPTON!". At half time when they saw me kilted and then learnt that I was a Saints fan? Well you can imagine... I was promptly invited to share not a case but CASES of Tuborg with them after the game - beer that the PLAYERS donate to this group of supporters for their vocal support!!! Can you believe that?

Asked why they 'supported' Southampton, they said how a few years ago they decided that they would pick an English team to support, it would not be a 'big' team but the deciding factor was... Matthew Le Tissier! - "He was the greatest!" one proclaimed!

Boldklubben Skjold won 2-1 with a player sent off in the process. About 400+ saw it.

Saturday night I went to the bars Konrad and NASA and despite the scare stories of how rigid the door policies were (and they are) I was welcomed with open arms by both. At Konrad, no sooner had I joined the queue of beautiful people (whilst the guestlists were studied) and a doorman immediately approached and I thought "Well, this is going to be no go." He asked "Are you on your own?" I said my friends had already left. He then asked "You want to go to Konrad?" and "How do you know about this place" I explained that I saw it on the internet before I came to Denmark at which point he said "Well, you're dressed so well, please come in" and marched me past everyone else and straight in! Being sober and polite gets you far I guess. Stayed there till 02:30 and then moved round to NASA. I was actually on the guest list there (e-mailed them 2 weeks ago) but they of course did not know I would be kilted up. Before I even said "I'm on the list", again I was welcomed with open arms and with a "Ah my Scottish friend, how are you". When anyone famous is in Copenhagen they go to NASA apparently. I was told how Robbie Williams was there a few weeks back (“oh-wow” I said, trying to appear impressed - like I care!) It was a bit like the Death Star or the place where Superman was from with white walls, seats, tables, columns, bar, ceilings, just... WHITE! WHITE! WHITE! - Really cool - You guys would have loved it!!!

Got to Brondby on Sunday. They beat AGF 2-0. Nice stadium, an entertaining game and a great atmosphere (on terrace behind goal, lots of yellow, lots of noise - very mental!!! - they were waving their trainers in the air for the last 15 minutes of the game!!!) - very odd.

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Denmark Gallery 1

Denmark Gallery 2

Pissed as a Finn in Tallinn - Estonia, May 2004


With the game being on a Thursday, and wanting to take advantage of the full week, we opted to fly out early on the Saturday for a weekend in the Baltic resort of Pärnu, before spending the rest of the time (until the following Sunday) in Tallinn itself.

Despite Gatwick being my local airport, I can only have been in the South Terminal a handful of times over the past 10 years, yet our visit was still cut short due to a fire alarm. After all the drama subsided, we were on the flight with a small number of fellow Scots making an early start. Straight from Tallinn airport to the bus station saw us in perfect time to catch a luxury bus to Pärnu, where we found ourselves sitting behind some bird-spotting Americans who took numerous pictures of the very, very repetitive landscape.

Our hotel in Pärnu was right on the beach, and was historically one of the poshest in the town – a 1930’s art deco landmark near the mud baths. Our room even had a wee balcony overlooking the beach, but the wind (and on occasion rain) didn’t really make for sun-soaking weather. Armed with a trusty “In Your Pocket” guide, we made our way into the town, stopping for food in Vaike Klaus, and beer in Ruutlihoov (okay) and in Baar Tallinn (built into the roof of a medieval gate), before popping into Postpoiss. This place was a real eye-opener – popular with a mid-30’s plus crowd, it featured couples dancing formally to a Dire Straits cover band whilst others sat and ate full restaurant dinners. Helen still wasn’t feeling great (same virus as in Denmark, as well as our Easter trip to Bratislava), so we beat an early retreat to the hotel around midnight. The taxi back took us past a hive of nightlife only a few minutes walk from the hotel, and Helen suggested that if I liked, I could go out and catch a late beer… and that’s how I came to find myself watching Kool and the Gang performing live in Estonia! With no-one else seemingly able to speak English, I had to get by with my rudimentary Russian and even more basic Estonian, even when ensconced in rounds with a Sting look-alike (having already accosted a bemused drunk guy in a Middlesbrough shirt for a photo). A late drink in an all night dive in the centre followed, before a dawn-lit taxi ride back to the hotel.

An understandably late start followed on the Sunday, when we had a late breakfast (around 5pm) of pizza in the town centre. Pärnu’s landmark “red tower” was viewed from afar – it’s actually white, and was behind a fence, before we stumbled across central Pärnu’s cheapest bar – the subterranean Laterna. Cheap, possibly, because it reeked of sewage! A stroll across the river to the north side, to find Alexandrii’s pub, saw disaster narrowly averted by the quick ingestion of some Imodium Instants, however it was to be only a temporary reprieve, as one drink later we sped away from Pärnu’s second best pub in a buttock-clenching taxi ride back to the hotel the sanctuary of the bathroom! After the necessary stop, a leisurely game of pool (a full size table was on the landing down from our floor) was followed by a Baileys on ice in the hotel bar area (gentle on the stomach, see?) as a nightcap.

Monday started with good intentions of walking down the peninsula at the head of the Pärnu River, however the dodgy weather and the “women only” (albeit deserted) stretch of beach put paid to that – we tried to go the inland way but got bogged down, so ended up only getting as far as the MV Estonia monument. We then headed back toward the centre, past the old windmill, and after a brunch at the Café Teater Endla we found the “Mini Zoo”. “Mini” really is quite generous – the zoo consists of two rooms with snakes in small fish tanks, and even a Nile crocodile in a tank it couldn’t turn around in (in fairness, I think they were fixing his normal habitat). Our visit coincided with that of a film crew, who seemed to think it was a good idea to get the keeper to open up the croc’s tank and poke it until it started thrashing around. At the juncture, and in the style of all good Sunday People reporters, we made our excuses and left.

A couple of drinks followed, in V6 and the Jazz Café, followed by another pizza lunch and a wee siesta. The evening’s drinking started at the brand new Tervise Paradis hotel’s 8th Floor Romantik bar, and continued in the city centre, as we carried on working our way through the bars in the In Your Pocket guide. Nikolai Lehtla was a disappointment, and Vies Villem did it’s best to be an Irish pub (complete with jakey woman who wanted to lift my kilt up), but the real gem of Pärnu’s bar scene is Veerev Olu, a Swedish owned shack off the road, but very cosy and friendly. Knowing we had a bus journey to Tallinn the next day, and it being a Monday night (and therefore far from kicking!), we retired to the hotel at a sensible time. Around an hour later (1am-ish), it all kicked off next door. Oh, the irony! A nigh-empty hotel and a conference-load of drunken Finns decided to throw a party in the room (and balcony) right through the wall from us, complete with singing and dancing, accompanied by wall banging. After a polite call to reception bore no improvement, and around an hour after it had first kicked off, I resulted to the ultimate sanction – wading out into the corridor stripped to the waist (think Giant Haystacks), thumping on the door and bellowing threats in my best Glaswegian. The change in behaviour was nearly instantaneous, and within a few minutes the party had decamped to the other side of the hotel… little did I know, this would not be the last run-in we were to have with drunken Finns on this trip.


Tuesday morning came with our first hotel breakfast of the trip – with some definite lack of eye contact from the Finnish conference delegates. A busy lunchtime bus back to the capital saw us appreciate the weirdness of Estonian roadworks – stop/go boards spaced several kilometres apart on what is supposedly a main highway. A smattering of Russian to a bent taxi driver later (to keep the rip-off fare to a respectable level) and we were standing in a tiny room in the City Hotel, unable to open our window for the scaffolding directly outside. A quick trip back to reception was able to secure a room in the more modern wing, and then it was out on to the sunny streets of Tallinn. After a quick drink on Viru Street, and a game kebab in the excellent medieval Peppersack restaurant, we met up with Ally and Sue mid-afternoon in a basement bar just off the Town Hall square.

Following the ever trusty “Tallinn In Your Pocket” led us to the Soti Klubi, a bizarre private Scottish club (that let us in, no questions asked), where we supped Belhaven and I tried (for the first and only time) Glasgow’s only malt – Auchentoshan (from Dalmuir, no less!). Back up through the winding streets led us to Hell Hunt, which was still pretty calm at this point, before Ally & Susan went off in search of sensible vegetarian sustenance (I remember those days well!). We reconvened in the excellent Beer House German-style brewpub, before finally making our way around to the Nimeta Bar, a long-established Tartan Army favourite. Whilst not one of my personal preferences, it did provide a good rendezvous for everyone who had arrived in Tallinn by then, including the panda-like Campbell Burton, sporting the scars of war from his tenure as a pub manager in one of Nottinghamshire’s less tolerant communities.

The combination of a late night and lots of pear cider duly took their toll, and breakfast was a midday meal of savoury pancakes at a small underground restaurant next to the Viru Hotel. We arranged to meet Ally and Sue at the small square at the foot of Toompea Hill, and slowly made our way up, taking in the Kiek in de Kok tower, the Cathedral and various backstreets, punctuated by a quick coke on the terrace of a Greek restaurant and a chat with Paul Smith and Arthur. Whilst wandering the backstreets of the hill, we were accosted by various misfits; most notably a limping elderly man trying to sell Soviet Interior Ministry passports and gas masks, and a lithe young Russian junkie who threw her arms around me and groped my ample bosom whilst her boyfriend took our photo. After wandering down the hill and taking in the new (and still pretty sparse) Occupation Museum, we made our way back to base to change for dinner (how terribly bourgeois!). Luckily, we’d opted to head for an early meal – the excellent Controvento restaurant was fully booked from 8pm, but as we’d turned up at six, we were in and out with no problems.

Treffi, just off the Town Hall Square, was a bit of a disappointment – it had been billed as the cheapest pub in town, but had recently doubled it’s prices – but Troika, the bar of a Russian restaurant on the square itself, fitted the bill perfectly. Dimly lit, staffed by Russian speaking staff, and complete with wailing Russian folk music, I really had found my perfect bar! Munich Brian and Helmut from Hannover joined us before setting off for Hell Hunt, where the rest of Loony Alba had convened to watch the Champions League final. We settled into the back bar, soon to be joined by all manner of miscreants, including Steff, Emma, Colin and Linda from the Prestwick TA. Things went from drunk to drunker, and in between managing to mortally offend several people, pull Freda’s tights over my head and enter into various strange conversations with the locals in the toilet, a great night was had by all.

Such a great night for Helen and I, in fact, that a late rise was on the cards again on Thursday. After a quiet midday drink in the cavernous Scotland Yard bar near the hotel, it was on to the centre of town to get something to eat. We settled for a pizza in Fellinis, where I had the house “Fellini” size – appropriate, as it was the size of a small house. On our way to our rendezvous in the Beer House we bumped into Tam C and Jim Brown and they joined us on our quest. Tam and Jim met Brian and Helmut in the Beer House, and were as bemused as we all are to hear of Helmut’s beer can expression, before Tam regaled them both with the Hong Kong Chicken story. After a few litres of beer we struck out for the Soti Klubi, picking up Campbell Burton en route, only to find it closed for some kind of slide-show presentation (which Jim and I came crashing through the door in the middle of). Undeterred, it was back to Scotland Yard to marvel at the waitresses with handcuffs and the pistol collection on the wall, not to mention the cigar bar where Jim and I partook (okay, mine was a bit smaller, but still…). As kick-off drew nearer, the six of us (Helen and I, Ally, Susan, Tam and Jim – Campbell had since departed) wandered around the corner and found the Baar Tallinn, which seemed to cater to the Finnish jakey crowd. After a stuttering conversation with one such patron, whilst Tam tried to charm the 50-something barmaid with a smattering of Estonian I had briefed him with, we hailed a couple of cabs from in front of the adjacent Viru Hotel.

We arrived at the ground in pretty good time, having passed many fans on the long road to the ground, and made our way inside past the massed ranks of the riot police. The A Le Coq Arena, named after the local beer, is a vast improvement on the Kadriorg, but is still only half-complete, and has the aura of a large meccano set. After an abortive attempt to buy an Estonian shirt, and having Alan Duncan throw his arms around Steff’s girlfriend (thinking she was Helen – probably scarred the poor girl for life!), before kick-off, we made our way up to the area behind the goal, where we found ourselves with Bruce and Sharon from Loony Alba, amongst others (including the Helsinki Two from the TAMB). The game was a satisfactory 1-0 win for Scotland, after we had missed a hatful of other chances, but far from high-tailing back into town to celebrate, we were kept in for at least 30 minutes by the over-eager riot police. Whilst certain travelling TA members managed to find ways to entertain themselves in the portaloo, we headed back up to the seats to watch the team warm down.

After being allowed out, we (still with Ally and Susan, as well as Bruce and Sharon) made our way back towards the city centre only to be accosted crossing the railway tracks by Andy McCabe, Roger, Andy’s parents and a very “tired and emotional” Scott Kelly. Scott recounted the story of how he’d been thrown out of the ground in the final few minutes, before abruptly disappearing as we crossed the main road. Undeterred, we headed to the Bamba pool hall, a shady dive populated by the local Russian speaking ned community. A couple of beers later and most of us headed for the centre, walking the couple of miles back and then threading through the old town towards Hell Hunt. By now, my stomach had gone into acid meltdown, so after a pathetic attempt to drink a single beer, Helen and I bear our retreat back to the hotel at a relatively early hour (1.30am-ish), leaving the party in full swing, as it would stay until dawn.

One reason for us wanting a sensible night was our impending helicopter flight across the Gulf of Helsinki at midday on Friday. We had just about managed to book this online for the bargain price of £50 each one-way (we were coming back by fast ferry), so passports in sporran, we set off for a day trip to another country. At the small Copterline terminal we got talking to a guy from the UK Embassy in Helsinki, who had managed to swing an official trip over to assist the tiny Estonian consulate. On arrival at Helsinki, he whisked us off for a quick tour of the embassy (which was good, as I’d never been in one before), before pointing us in the right direction for the city centre. After catching the pub tram for an hour’s ride around the city, we headed out to the Olympic Stadium, only to find the Tower closed due to a Metallica concert that very evening. As we wandered around the complex, we stumbled across the brand new soccer stadium, and were even able to enjoy a beer at the back of the stand courtesy of the American themed restaurant built in. Another couple of pear ciders back in the city centre, and then it was on to the fast ferry for the 90 minute ride back to Tallinn, accompanied by a couple of English stag parties.

A taxi back to the hotel from the port (and another row in pidgin Russian with a dodgy cabbie) saw us meet up with Ally and Sue, and we headed for Troika in the Old Town Square via the disappointing Kower Korts. Troika was crowded, and not willing to serve me any herring pieces with my vodka, so after the one it was back to Hell Hunt. Helen and I left in time to get to the Finnish Hesburger takeaway on Viru Street before it closed at 3am. It was chaos inside, as the drunken Finns who converge on Tallinn each weekend all jostled for prime position, and I found myself in the middle of a shoving match with one such jakey who had insisted on elbowing me in the stomach (thankfully, that area is quite well padded). Annoyed, we made our way back to the hotel to finish our burgers in peace.

Another late start on the Saturday saw us make our way leisurely to the legendary Olde Hanse medieval restaurant, where I had bear sausages amongst other delicacies. A bout of text messaging with Andy McCabe led us to the bank-like McCools, where the Palace v West Ham play-off final was concluding on the telly. A pub crawl of sorts ensued – ourselves, Grant McDonald, Yan, Gerry, Roger, Andy and Andy’s parents made our way to a downstairs place with food, and then (minus Andy’s parents) across to the Beer House. Here we were treated to the sight and sound of two “entertainers” performing a number of classics (most notably “Una paloma blanca”) on the small stage as we obliterated several of the litre glasses and the accompanying plates of cheese. The music served well as an appetiser, as the next pub we found ourselves in was the out of the way Depeche Mode – and yes, it really was all I ever wanted; all I ever needed! The downstairs bar area was supplemented by a disco, and for long periods we were the only patrons, throwing ourselves around with gay abandon to a veritable feast of electronica. It would be unfair to suggest that every song was by Depeche Mode… far from being a one-trick pony, the DJ masterfully alternated DM with Erasure and the Pet Shop Boys. Having heard every song at least twice, and hungry for burgers, Helen and I made our excuses in time for a late pass at the notorious Hesburger. Also craving crap in a bap, Andy and Roger decided to join us on our quest, and true to form, we were witnesses to yet another scuffle – oh, the joys of drunken Finns!

Sunday was departure day, and knowing this we wandered sedately around the old town, buying our usual souvenir tat and using up our spare kroons. The taxi to the airport was refreshingly honest and metered, so we tipped him over the odds, thus negating any saving we would have made, but feeling good about it nonetheless. In the queue for check-in, we bumped into Munich Brian, looking a little worse for wear having been caught up drinking with some Finnish dog contest owners or the like at their hotel. The hour or so before departure was spent with a number of other Scots, including Jonny Morrison and pals, reading texts detailing the quick four-goal lead Scotland were running up at home to Trinidad & Tobago, and cursing ourselves for not being there.

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Estonia Gallery 1

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'Mon the bulls! - Spain, September 2004


A weird one, this, coming straight after an English Bank Holiday weekend. For several years, Helen and I have done our best to book cheap flights out of Gatwick to a relatively unusual city-break destination (to avoid the crowds) – this year it was Strasbourg that we booked back in February. When the Spain game was announced the following Friday, and with the necessity to sort out Moldovan visas at the Brussels embassy, a cunning plan was hatched…

We decided to forego our return flight on the Monday – risky, as this can get you blacklisted with airlines, but what the hell, it’s only Air France? Instead, we booked a one-way ticket on the direct 5-hour train to Brussels on the Monday, then had a choice of cheap flights from Brussels to Valencia (£90 Weds-Sun). The real coup de grace was the one-way flight from Brussels to Gatwick, clocking in at £30 including taxes! So that was the plan, now hear the reality…

We arrived at Gatwick on the Friday around 5pm, ahead of our 7.15pm flight to Strasbourg, only to find the flight had been cancelled. After queuing to find out our fate, it was onto a bus to Heathrow, a flight to Paris, a night in the Charles de Gaulle Sofitel (after waiting 90 minutes for a bus, and then having to persuade a rival bus driver to drop us off!) and then on to Strasbourg the next day. We figured you have to be philosophical about these matters – this was the first time this had really happened to us, and in any case, we weren’t about to miss anything crucial. It also had the effect of upping the flights/airport ante on this trip – 7 flights involving no less than 8 different airports (Heathrow, Paris CDG, Strasbourg, Brussels, Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid, Gatwick – beat that, plane-spotters!) in a 9–day period.

Strasbourg was a great wee place, with some seriously heavy cuisine and a decent bunch of football fans (shame about the team – they could only draw 1-1 with Istres). Lots of places to drink, but some of the surliest Gallic service I’ve ever had to suffer. The train journey on the Monday to Brussels was a bit of a disappointment – I’d promised Helen a posh French train, maybe even a double-decker, when some dilapidated Italian wreck pulled in, packed to the gunnels. Still, we did get to see Luxembourg!

Brussels itself was it’s usual beer paradise. The Tuesday morning embassy trip was extremely painless – we turned up at 10am, and after a brief trip to the post office to pay the bill, we walked back out with the visas in our passports at 10.30am. The kilt and Russian-language t-shirt certainly seemed to help! A day of drinking in the excellent Marolles area followed, however the night was curtailed after a combination of oysters (as a starter) and mussels (in a main-dish casserole) left me shivering and cold-sweating, collapsing into bed at 9pm and sleeping for 13 hours. A trip around Mini Europe, and a quick stop in A La Mort Subite, and it was time for the next leg of our trip…


We got in to Valencia Airport just after 11pm on the Wednesday, and met up with Ally and Susan in the baggage hall ten minutes later when their flight arrived. We were able to cram all the luggage into a small taxi, and head it to the “High Tech Hotel” near the main square. We checked in at the same time, but had to go up in the lift in shifts. It certainly wasn’t high-tech, taking around 5 minutes to climb to the fifth floor, where it juddered to halt before slowly opening the doors. The room itself was tiny, with few options for laying a kilt out overnight (and with no sign of the exercise bike that had been promised on the booking), although we did have a large balcony area. The most disturbing aspect of the room was the windowed toilet door – in a perfect place to give a voyeurs view of the pan from the bed itself – although this was remedied by stretching a t-shirt from the door handle to the hinges.

We headed over the road for a couple of beers in the Café Madrid, which thankfully stayed open until late, then headed round to the main square to get our bearings. On the way we bumped into Ian Carden and John Scott – John had been pick-pocketed on a Madrid metro earlier that day, and as well as his match ticket being lifted, he also lost his passport complete with the all-important Moldovan visa.

Helen and I got up around midday on the Thursday, and promptly received texts from Bruce Cairns suggesting a paella lunch down by the beach, and from Ally saying he was already lunching in the main square. Nonetheless, a rendezvous was agreed in the hotel reception, and the six of us (Bruce & Sharon, Ally & Sue, Helen & Me) headed down to the beach by tube and tram, with Bruce and Sharon (who’d been here since Monday) leading the way. The Casa Pepe restaurant was furthest along the promenade, and we managed to get a table for six, tucking into a full three-course lunch (with Ally & Susan both having side dishes, having already eaten). Calamari, prawns (big, whole ones) and “small fried fish” were ordered up for starters – small, fried fish literally being the whole goldfish fried in batter: Ally was less than impressed, opining that if he had to eat anything on the table right then, it would be the slice of lemon. The paella was great, although the traditional Valencian paella (with chicken and rabbit) was overshadowed by the touristy seafood version. After dessert, we headed back towards the tram stop and a small roadside bar proudly displaying a CD Levante flag.

The plan of action was now decided upon – we’d head up to Levante’s ground to recce the surroundings for bars and other facilities, then head to Manolos bar for a rendezvous with most of the Loony Alba contingent. After receiving some helpful directions from Machado tube station, we were able to wander into an open gate and into the ground itself for photos. We strolled freely through the concourse to the main stand, and were at the directors’ box when the Scotland squad jogged out for a warm up, some of them looking quizzically up at the six of us in the stand (we even got a friendly wave off Berti!). Sensing it was time to go, we made our way down the stairs and tried to find a way out, eventually brass-necking it by leaving through the official players entrance past an armed policemen. The six of us burst back out into the sunshine to find ourselves surrounded by autograph hunting kids (none of whom believed we were squad members!), and wandered back towards the tube station, disappointed by the apparent lack of drinking options. The small square by the other tube exit was more promising, however – Ally was first to spot the Café Pub Ayahuaska. This place turned out to be quite a find, and a real enigma – a Red Indian theme pub in the middle of a Spanish housing scheme on the outskirts of Valencia (a bit like Samoan Joe’s in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels!). Much beer was had, and we resolved to return the following day before the game. We also checked out Cerveceria Richard by the tube entrance itself – a great, friendly wee local tapas bar, spoiled for Susan by the large, aromatic pig leg hanging over the bar. Thankfully it was dry enough for us to sit out front and enjoy some tortilla with our beers.

Back by metro to the Mestalla (Valencia’s huge ground), and Manolo’s Bar. Manolo is a self-made celebrity in Spanish football circles – he’s the guy with the comedy hat and big drum who always gets himself on camera. The bar itself struck me as pretty ordinary, but in a real testimony to the guy’s ego, every inch of wall space was covered by photos of himself, usually with an attractive female wherever possible. On the plus side, they served good, cheap tapas (be sure to ask for the cuttlefish!), there were around half-dozen tellies showing the U21 game, and there were two gorgeous Romanian barmaids on duty.

After the game finished on the telly, it was a scramble for taxis back to the centre, and despite being dropped off in front of Finnegans bar, we opted for a more sedate drink at a pavement café 50 yards up the road. After around 15 minutes, the temperature dropped noticeably and the waiter started running around gathering up the chairs and tables – the six of us decided finishing our beers inside would probably be wise, and we just made it to the door to the tiny interior when the heavens opened. Within less than a minute, the rain was bouncing off the pavement, and other passers-by had gathered under the canopy, but the rain showed few signs of easing off. Around 45 minutes later, the owner decided enough was enough, and decided he did want to go home that night, but not before graciously donating a catering-size roll of cling film, which Ally, Malcolm (a CODTA passer-by caught in the downpour) and myself carefully wrapped around our lower bodies, protecting kilts and sporrans from the soaking that would accompany even the shortest journey in the open air. All the while, non-kilted (i.e. sensible) Bruce danced around taking photos and the proverbial. We inevitably became separated on the 5 minute journey back to the hotel (where Bruce and Sharon planned to ring for a taxi from), and after creating quite a puddle on the foyer floor when taking my cling film off, Helen and I headed up to the room to dry off and call it a night (it was around 1am). No sooner had I finished towelling myself off when Ally called to say that they had regrouped in the Madrid over the road. After originally eschewing an invitation to join them, I pulled on my old Scotland shorts and we headed back over the road. Our resurgence was short-lived, however, as the bar was forced to close around half-an-hour later when it started to flood.

Another lunchtime start on the Friday for Helen and I saw us heading in to the Barrio Carmen for some old architecture and some food, and we literally bumped into Ally and Susan on their way back from the old riverbed gardens (Bruce and Sharon were suffering from suspected food poisoning and staying close to the facilities of their hotel). A quick jaunt up to the big gate, and then it was down a side-street to an insanely popular Spanish restaurant, where we were later joined at an adjacent table by an odd English couple: her as posh as Tara Palmer-la-la-Tompkinson, and him as gay as a lamp. They found it “rather quaint” that the Tartan Army were in town, but seemed confused that not all of us were there for the celebrated club scene! A few beers on the way back into town, and it was another rendezvous in the hotel foyer: I’d checked the hour-by-hour forecast, and as more rain was due around 8pm, I’d taken the decision to forego my kilt for the first time in 4 years; Ally decided to do the same, and changed into a fetching pair of shorts before we headed off in the general direction of the ground around 4.30pm.

After a couple of pub stops, we made it to the Ayahuaska just before 6pm, and were the first paying customers in the door, to a welcome from the landlady and the cute barmaid who had obviously remembered us from the previous day. We had wanted to get there earl to make sure of seats and being able to get served with ease, but the expected rush never materialised. Even when two Irishmen in Spain shirts walked in and tried to communicate by shouting in English at the barmaid and ending every word in an “o” – hence revealing that they had just stepped off a bus from Benidorm filled with Tartan Army – the rest of the bus seemed to have found somewhere else to drink. Munich Brian (from Worthing, but now living in Barcelona) soon joined us, followed by a drained Sharon and Bruce, both of whom were sensibly sticking to “agua sin gas” for the evening. The evening took a turn for the worse when Brian spotted a sign offering jugs of sangria for 6 euros – a temporary reprieve was thwarted when Brian convinced the initially hesitant bar staff to give it a go, and from that point on the sangria flowed freely.

Our initial plans to set off early to the ground drowned in another jug of sangria, so around 9.30pm we made the short journey to the stadium, walking around the back to where the indicated turnstiles were, only to be redirected to Gate 2. We were lucky in that we joined a second queue considerably shorter the main one, and were right near the front when a second gate was opened – I was propelled through by the sheer force of numbers behind me, and we made it up the stairs and into our seats in good time for the anthems. Unfortunately the chaotic and third world approach to stadium security resulted in a lot of fans missing the first 5-10 minutes. We found ourselves in the second-back row of the ground with Reeky Sporran and Fiona, and a substantial amount of the Loony Alba usual suspects, as well as two unsuspecting English tourists (also from Sussex) who had come down on a bus trip from Salou. As a veteran of Dortmund, I wasn’t too worried when the lights went out with us drawing 1-1 (we had been drawing 0-0 with Germany when the same happened), although it did come suspiciously quickly after the Spaniards had equalised through a penalty. However, we knew we were in trouble when the temperature plummeted and all the Spanish fans rushed for the exits. Bruce made a dive for the Loony Alba flag he had been saddled with, but by the time we’d all made it down to concourse we were already soaked. But then, the concourse offered little respite, as the rain swept in through the gaps in the stand and the outer wall. After around 15 minutes of standing around in this biblical squall, we decided there would be no let-up and made a run for the pub.

After wading through the flooded wasteland outside the stadium, clambering up muddy banks and dodging the Scots swimming in the puddles, we made it back to a now much busier Ayahuaska. Sangria continued to be the order of the day, with Craig taking the now-missing Brian’s place. The locals, many of whom seemed to be leaving the toilets with runny noses and a spring in their step, seemed a little bemused to see us – even more so when Helen and Craig took part in a doubles pool match that Helen’s team won (much to Craig’s disdain). Everything went a bit hazy, but we finally left around 3.15am (Ally and Susan had left half-an-hour before, after Ally had drifted off in his seat) and walked for around a mile until we managed to flag down some cabs.

Although we were both getting used to taking our siestas early (by not leaving the hotel until after midday), Saturday set a new record for this trip – we finally made it out into daylight around 3pm. A bus trip down to the Albufera lagoon beckoned, and Ally and Susan joined us by the skin of their teeth off the city open-top bus. After popping back to the hotel to pack ahead of our early Sunday start, we headed back out in the evening for some tapas. We had planned on going back to the Barrio Carmen area, but ended up in the place next to Finnegans with Disco Keith – Ally, Susan, Bruce and Sharon joined us in due course, but for some reason everyone stayed off the cuttlefish. As I’d been feeling a little on the fragile side, I opted to stay on the coke, so was relatively unfussy about what happened next – the consensus was for the wee pavement café again, the logic being that if Grant’s stag party passed by it would be easy for the lads to jump on it. I had long suspected that day that I would be in no fit state, and sure enough I was drawn back to the hotel after not long. Reasoning that as I was off the bevvy for the night anyway, I may as well cut my losses and aim for an early night, I bid farewell to everyone and left Helen to carry on drinking.

Sunday morning meant a very early start – we were at the airport before daybreak ready to check in our mammoth trip home. Thankfully all the flights were on One World airlines, so we got rid of the bags at Valencia and were checked in to our 3 flights (to Madrid, then Brussels, then Gatwick. Helen was due back at work on the Monday, however I was due to fly straight up to Scotland for the second week of my leave – by the time I got to Gatwick I was shattered and feeling very ill. With this in mind, I decided to cut my losses and bought a new, shorter flight up for the Slovenia game later on in the week, so I could go home and sleep!

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They Think It's Moldova, October 2004

Prologue – getting booked

The preparations for Scotland’s first away game of the campaign were made well in advance – on the day the fixtures were announced, in fact! Despite taking the whole day off work on 16th January, the fixtures themselves were not announced until mid-afternoon. Quick as a flash, four of us (Ally, Susan, Helen and me) booked the posh-looking Grand Dedeman Hotel on Expedia for the Monday-Thursday, then plumped for a Moldavian Airlines flight from Budapest to Chisinau (saving £100 each by staying until the Thursday). Flights to Budapest were booked separately, out on the Monday morning (5 hour wait at Budapest airport) and back on the Wednesday afternoon, allowing for a couple of days re-acclimatisation on the way home.

Crucially, I decided to book the Friday and Saturday nights in Helen’s name (with a different surname), whilst Ally decided to plough ahead and book on the same Expedia account.

Months passed, visas were acquired (via a side trip to Brussels on the way to the Spain friendly), and being paranoid after the Vilnius hotel incident, I gave the hotel a ring directly, primarily to check that they would hold the room for our late arrival on the first night. Yes they had heard of me, and yes the late arrival was fine… could they check my friend’s reservation? Yes, Mr Maciver is booked for the Friday and Saturday… not the Monday to Thursday? No, he cancelled this when he made the new booking. Cue a panicked phone call to Ally in Aberdeen and after a few calls between him and the hotel, we were assured all was sorted.

Nonetheless, the whole uncertainty was enough to set Susan and myself, two of the most neurotic travellers at the best of times, uncomfortably on edge ahead of the journey into the unknown.

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Part One : Monday 11th Oct - the journey

Hot on the heels of our lame defeat to Norway on the Saturday, we had flown down on the Sunday evening and driven to Heathrow where we spent the night in digs, meeting up with Ally and Susan the next morning airside at Heathrow. Onwards to Budapest, and out to the café in arrivals where we shared a few beers with Carey, out for a day’s work before heading onwards to Chisnau the next day. By this point, the simmering fear that we would have no beds for the night (yes, the hotel had been called again, from Heathrow before we stepped on the plane) had been replaced by the fact that the Moldavian flight time had changed, yet we had no new tickets. A polite enquiry turned up the desk number for check-in, so we started a queue, soon to be joined by Tartan Teddy and his Macgregor kilted friend.

Additional Tartan Army footsoldiers seemed to appear from nowhere, and the airside boarding announcement actually mentioned all the Scots and wished us good luck. Upon getting off the transfer bus on the tarmac and looking at the plane, a few people commented the bus looked more airworthy. Despite all this, and a few very pale looking people with twitchy sphincters, the flight was fine, although I did notice the small chocolate bar with the meal (cold chicken in breadcrumbs) was 3 weeks out of date – this was to be a sign of things to come.

The airport itself proved quite chaotic, although with only 70 or so on the full flight, everyone seemed to get through in one piece relatively quickly (later accounts of huge delays when two much larger chartered planes arrived at the same time reached us over the next days, partly to do with the stairs that could only support 8 people at any one time!). TT had arranged several groups’ transfers into town, including ours, and it turned out that we were all in the same minibus, met by a guy who looked 12 years old clutching a sign that read “Fernando Maciver” (in tribute to Ally’s favourite SPL player).

The long and tiring journey, coupled with the beers at Budapest airport and the wine on the plane, had fairly taken it’s toll, and we were all very relieved that the hotel had our key cards waiting. Whilst completing the formalities, a very disgruntled-looking Kevin Donnelly walked in, along with Shakey and Annali, and after dumping the bags it was down to “Apty’s Irish Pub” (oh joy) in the hotel. Unfortunately we were just too late for Bouziki Tombico, the pub’s star performer and professional Craig McDowall look-alike. Ally and Susan retired after one, Kevin and the rest disappeared off round the corner to the 24 hour Café Mon, and Helen and I went up after our second drink as the place was closing up. A very tiring day, but very relieved to have both got here in one piece and have somewhere very clean and safe to spend the night.

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Part Two: Tues 12th-Wed 13th Oct – Two days, two games, two draws

Looking out of the windows after waking on Tuesday morning, we were greeted by a stunningly bright blue sky. Outside the air proved very crisp but very, very cold. A quick currency stop was made, when I was let into a tiny room with two cubicles and an armed guard on the door – this is what counts as a bank. We had opted to bring dollars as hard currency (for tips as well as exchanging), and due to the great rate of exchange we were able to make quite a saving this way – the Moldovan currency was not affected by the £-$-€ rate, so the rate was balanced in our favour! After strolling through the park we met up with Chris and Rich (who was luggage-less; his bag somewhere between London, Budapest and Moldova), but after a dispute about where to go for food and drink ahead of the Under 21s game, they headed away from the ground and we made our way past it to a small hotel bar. When we did get to the ground, 15 minutes ahead of kick off, we inadvertently made our way in through a side gate for free, the steward waving us in when the police dog started barking at us. The U21 game was pretty dull, finishing 0-0, and the only highlights were swapping a scarf for a Zimbru Chisinau one and watching the unfortunate few who needed the toilet have to traipse around 2 sides of the pitch to get there.

After negotiating the potholes outside the ground, and an abortive attempt to find a bar in the Hotel Dacia, we found ourselves in an unnamed wine bar already patronised by Tom Small, Artour and a few others. By this point we were reunited with Rich and Chris, and between the six of us, 4 opted for the 4 month out-of-date bottled beer and two for the draught red wine (served in grubby half-pint tumblers). A few random conversations with drunk locals followed, and after pointing out the hotel 75 yards up the road to Scots girls wanting the toilet (the facilities in the bar falling below standard!), Tom Small called me to the bar to “speak the lingo” – two minutes later he was the proud purchaser of a litre of red wine served in a chamber pot! Moving on reluctantly from this goldmine, but conscious of the need to get to the Jolly Alon hotel to pick up our tickets for the full game, we stopped again at the corner where the Vitanta bar stood. Upstairs the party was in full flow, with a number of other Scots mixing happily with the locals (including Andrew – more about him later) and the Chisinau branch of the Spartak Moscow supporters club, who I stupidly ended up drinking vodka with (this is vodka that comes in 100ml shots!). After a few drinks we left, just as the vodka was kicking in (leaving the rest of the night a bit of a blur), but only made it as far the downstairs bar. Finally dragging ourselves away in time to get the briefs we made our way round the corner to the Jolly Alon, where we also grabbed some food and local wine in the so-so restaurant.

By this point, my head was spinning pretty badly, and I only managed one more pub before heading back to the hotel early doors (around 11pm, to my shame!). The others went on, stopping off at Café Mon which had rapidly become TA HQ.

One benefit of the early night was a clear head in the morning, so after breakfast (no harpist, unfortunately) down it was to meet up with Rich, Ally and Susan in Apty’s, along with a few other stragglers. Most of us opted to head down to the Beer House, a large brewpub near the ground, but Rich had other things to do, not least of which having to head out to the airport to get his bag (which he had last seen on the Sunday morning). After a brief sojourn to the basement of the Ialoveni sherry shop, home to a dingy, smelly drinking hole (my kind of place!), where both Susan and Craig refused to stay for a drink, we made it to the promised land of the Beer House, where a giraffe of house lager was promptly ordered. Unusually for us, we spent the entire day leading up to the game in the one place, from around 1pm until 8pm (a full day’s shift!), racking up two meal orders and a huge drinks bill as the kitty took a real battering, whilst meeting and greeting as the pub filled up. The Milngavie Boys (well, four of them anyway – Pete, Sumo, Colin and Russell) managed to grab the table behind us and passed on a “recommendation” for the Abba Bar. Around 7pm, Scott Kelly’s tour bus arrived, full of stories of Soctt having accidentally signed a 700 year-old prayer book on the assumption it was a monastery guest book!

We rallied our troops and left just before 8pm, heading up to the ground and then being sent around the houses. The car park gates we were expected to enter through were besieged, with a line of riot police barging the queuing fans out of the way every time a vehicle approached. Helen made it in with Mike and Suzanne, and only my Russian words “my wife, my wife” managed to get me past the police line as one took pity on me – and not one look at my ticket! For once, it turns out we would have been better staying in the pub for longer, as those arriving after us pretty much got admitted without incident. However, at least we did get some excitement – more than the horrific Scotland performance in the 1-1 draw could provide.

So back to the hotel along unlit potholed streets – when we got there I headed up to the room to drop off my bag and freshen up, only to find myself sharing the lift with Berti (who came up to my shoulder), Tommy Burns (who did say hello) and one of the kit guys. There wasn’t much I could do or say, other than try and look sympathetic, and Berti, looking every inch the condemned man, did pat me on the shoulder as I got out. Back down in the bar, as Tombico strummed his instrument, people were trying to make a stab at lifting each other, but like most of the Tartan Army at the end of that night, the man’s bouziki skills were scant comfort after such an inept performance.

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Part Three: Thurs 14th-Sat 16th Oct – the days after

Moldova was a mixed bag for many people – some people loved it, whilst others couldn’t wait to get home. Thankfully, for the most part, we were in the former group – just as well really; we were staying for another three full days after the game! The Thursday daytime was taken up with a tour to the Milesti Mici Wine Cellars, organised by Reeky Sporran and Andrew, a Muscovite living and working in Chisinau. Andrew had been a regular on the TAMB since the fixtures were announced and had been an invaluable source of information and assistance for the online Tartan Army, from sourcing buses (when the game was planned for Tiraspol) to checking hotels for people. Despite some initial cynicism speculating on his motives, Andrew turned out to be nothing but a genuinely helpful and friendly individual, who along with his Moldovan girlfriend Valentina and her younger sister Marina, made a lot of friends among the Tartan Army.

The three of them accompanied us on the trip to Milesti Mici, which was taken in two minibuses; the reason for this became clear as they drove into the tunnels in the hill side that made up the complex. After a drive around, a look at a waterfall and a walk through some of the cellars, we stopped off at a very plush visitors centre expecting a few taster glasses of wine. What followed was a full-on three-course meal with around a bottle’s worth of wine each, plus a two-bottle gift-pack – this game to an abrupt end when the singing started!

On returning to the Hotel National, Reeky Sporran, “Reeky’s Burd” (Fiona), the NATA contingent and Andrew, Valentina and Marina made our way along the crowded main street (Thursday was the National Day holiday), popping into Ialoveni along the way (Susan’s senses apparently dulled by the earlier wine). After buying a full round of sherries, plus some unidentified soft drink that tasted just like flat Irn Bru, we perched on a table by the door where we proved a target for any passing jakies and accordion players. Marina and Valentina had sensibly made their excuses and retired to a quieter, cleaner bar around the corner, and after Helen and Susan complained about the house sherry (too salty, apparently), Andrew popped upstairs to get hold of some of the posh stuff from the shop itself, which Susan proceeded to neck from the bottle. Andrew’s mate Anatoly (a dead ringer for Dexter Fletcher) joined us, and after around 45 minutes of lunacy, including a marriage proposal from a besotted local, we stumbled back up to the surface and headed around the corner to Café Kito, where the waitresses were decked out like Thunderbird puppets.

An evening rendezvous was agreed in the Robin Pub, after Reeky had sung it’s praises earlier in the day – it had already been awarded the Sporran Legion certificate of honour earlier on the trip, with it given pride of place on the wall next to the toilets. Like us, Rich had nipped back to his hotel to freshen up, but was delayed getting back out by having to bribe a group of thirsty policemen. We made the fatal mistake of ordering food after another group, which resulted in a 2 hour wait for the food to arrive, torpedoing any faint hopes we may have harboured to go and join the celebrating crowds on the main drag for the National Day’s closing festivities. Having said that, a good 45 minutes were filled by Valentina trying to steer Andrew towards the door, and him managing to drop his shoulder and get back to the table to finish more of the beer he was being told to leave!

On the way to the Beer House on the Wednesday I’d popped in to the Hotel National to book a tour to Orhei Vechi (at half the price our hotel would have charged), with a pick-up in our hotel foyer. All six of us turned up on time – unusual for Rich given his track record from Romania! The glamorous Polina was our guide, and she was firing off facts before we were out of the city limits (she tested us on these later as well!). The tour took in the old village, including a 19th century house, and a walk up to the cave monastery on the hilltop. Not surprisingly, the chief monk didn’t offer to show us the prayer book after the mishap earlier in the week!

On our return to Chisinau we headed for food and beer at the Cactus Saloon, with Polina in tow as well (we said we’d buy her lunch). Over the food she implored us to stay out the pubs long enough to go and look at the Greek Orthodox church round the corner, and afterwards, fearing she may somehow find out, we went to give it a go only to find a christening ceremony in full swing; what can you do? Well, we could go the pub, so we did. After no joy in the strange looking “Nail Bar” (and no, it wasn’t a manicure salon), we popped into the 1-2-3 Bar next to the Dedeman, then on to the unbelievably posh New York bowling centre’s restaurant for beer and burgers. We wandered up the street to the improbably gay Abba Bar – the only connection being a soft focus poster of the famous foursome on the wall, before heading back to Apty’s for a cocktail nightcap.

Saturday was to be our last full day, and we had promised to meet Andrew at the FC Dacia game against Nistru Otaci, way out at Zimbru’s ground, halfway out to the airport. After a morning shopping visit for some of the famous red champagne and some Russian rock CD’s (Spleen and Alexander Vasiliyev, if anyone’s interested – Ally went for some O-Zone and Zdlob zi Zlobd as well), we all met in the hotel bar over beer and toasted sandwiches. Chris had headed out to the airport for his flight home, so the five of us somehow squeezed into the one taxi for the ride out to the ground. We met up with Andrew and the girls inside the stadium, and watched Dacia to take an early lead from a good goal, only to capitulate and lose 3-1.

After the game it was off to Andrew’s local, the Time Out sports bar in the Botanica district, a short walk from the ground. Sports Bar is possibly a little generous, as the décor only stretched to a few Serie A flags and some scarves (Worthing and Scotland ones were duly donated), but in fairness there was a big pull down screen and a small red shed in the corner housing a bookies office. We all kicked back with a few beers, including a lethal looking can of “Doktor Diesel” enjoyed by Andrew, and watched as Manchester City beat Chelsea on the telly. The need for food eventually forced us to head back to town, and a taxi was called to pick us up – again everyone piled in, and we headed to the highly recommended Orasull Vechi restaurant for some quality local food, with the night rounded off off by cocktails (even Rich had one!).

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Part Four: Sun 17th-Wed 20th Oct – the way home

Rich had agreed to make his own way to the airport, given the tight squeeze in the cabs the day before without any luggage, and to our surprise he made it out there before us. Whilst waiting for the plane we got talking to an entertaining retired American called Bob who was taking in most of Europe several countries at a time. At Budapest we bade farewell to Rich who was heading straight home and caught the transfer minibus to the Ibis in Raday Utca, where Bob had managed to get himself booked in – we promised to take him out for a drink that evening.

The five of us headed around to the 6-3 Wine Bar, named in honour of Hungary’s ground-breaking win at Wembley in the 1950’s, before heading back for a pizza in Raday Utca itself and some beer in one of the least authentic “Scottish” pubs (Sir William).

A stroll through the shopping area of Pest was the first thing on Monday’s agenda, then over the chain bridge and up to Buda’s palace. After a tactical coffee in the Hilton, we headed across to the day’s main attraction: the excellent House of Hungarian Wines. Having been here before, Helen and I knew the score – pay a tenner and get two hours in an interactive exhibition on Hungarian wines. The interactive bit comes with the glass included in the price used to taste the 50 or so open bottles of wine. After falling into conversation with a BA aircrew on downtime, we ended up overstaying (by an extra hour!), but made up for it by buying loads of wine on the way out. As our purchases were being wrapped, three women from Portsmouth were heading in only to be told it was closing in one hour, and they wouldn’t get their money’s worth – instead, they opted to come over the road to the Hilton’s own wine bar, set deep into the hillside in a cave. A couple of bottles later and it was time for food (and to stash our purchases back at the hotel) – we fortuitously stumbled across an honest taxi driver (very rare in Budapest!) and headed back to Raday Utca. Helen was a little tired and emotional at this stage, so after seeing her back to the hotel (over the road) and finishing my food, it was back to the room to make sure Helen didn’t get up and start wandering about in her stupor.

With people feeling a little peaky on Tuesday morning after all that wine the day before, a comfortable tour bus was seen as a good choice. We started the day with a visit to the Basilica, with a lift up to the dome and then a saunter through to see St Stephen’s mummified hand. Then it was 2 hours on tour bus around the town, including a drive up Gellert Hill for a great view of the town, followed finally by a trip across to West Station and up the hot air balloon. Beer in the Crazy Café and some food up near Oktagon followed before all the excitement caught up with my insides and, following a facilities stop at one of the posh hotels, it a hasty retreat (albeit one with very small steps!) back to our own hotel.

Again, the strategy worked well, as we were up early on the Wednesday morning, with time to pop down to the market hall to stock up on paprika before leaving at a leisurely rate for our flights home, no less than a week after the match.

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Moldova Gallery 1

Moldova Gallery 2

Moldova Gallery 3

Moldova Gallery 4

Moldova Gallery 5

What's the Würst that could happen? Germany Future Team, December 2004

The news of a December Future Cup away game in Germany was met with glee at NATA HQ. The whistle-stop trip to Mainz in 2002 allowed Helen to realise a long held ambition to visit a German Christmas market, and introduced Paul to the joys of gluhwein. When the game was confirmed on the DFB website for Aalen (a small town between Stuttgart and Nuremburg), flights from Stansted to Stuttgart Sat-Wed were swiftly booked. A late venue change to industrial Mannheim meant a change in itinerary, but as it happened, turned out helping many of the travelling Tartan Army. Read on to find out how…

Saturday 4th December 2004

Our early flight from Stansted to Stuttgart airport allowed just over an hour at Stuttgart station before our train to Frankfurt, which we whiled away in a small bar/restaurant underneath the main entrance. The train itself was our first experience of a German ICE (InterCity Express), and from our booked seats (just as well – it was packed) I could see the computerised display showing us clocking up speeds of 200km per hour plus.

Our hotel for our single night in Frankfurt was right outside the station, so we stashed our bags and went out in search of four tickets for Eintracht Frankfurt against Energie Cottbus on the Sunday – Craig and Gavin were flying over separately early Sunday morning, to Stuttgart and Hahn respectively. The ticket office we found was in a very confusing shopping centre built on the principal of a spiral staircase, but after successfully making the purchase and finding our way back out onto the street, we hit the Weihnachtsmarkt with gay abandon. After sampling Gluhwein, hot Apfelwein and even some cherry wine (we don’t have to take our clo-thes off, to have a good time, oh no…) in the thronging crowds, we managed to find some brief respite in a Wienstube on the main Romerplatz square. After a few more cheeky gluhweins in the shadow of the merry-go-round it was on the metro down to the Alt Sachsenhausen area for some traditional “ebbelwoi” (apple wine – a bit like scrumpy) and “handkase mit musik” (smelly cheese with onions, the cause of the “musik” that follows!). We managed to squeeze on to a crowded table and were instantly befriended by two fellow drinkers who took as on to a peanut-themed and then a Christmas tree-themed pub (two places – yes, but this is Germany!). We bade them farewell and headed to the famous but out of the way Babushka for a nightcap before staggering to a taxi rank and somehow getting back to the hotel before passing out.

Sunday 5th December 2004

I was awoken from my drunken slumber in the early hours (9am) by a call from Craig’s home number. The fact that Craig should actually have been somewhere over Belgium at the time was percolating through my dulled consciousness as Craig explained his woe – he’d turned up at the airport with Gav (their flights were scheduled to depart within 10 minutes of each other; well almost…) only to find no flight to Stuttgart on the departure board. Closer inspection of his booking confirmation showed that the flight had actually left 24 hours earlier (i.e. the one Helen and I were on), so he’d been sent homeward to think again. Gav was still en route, nonetheless, and our midday pre-Eintracht match rendezvous in “that big Irish pub opposite the station” was still a goer.

As it happened we bumped into Gav whilst walking through the station – he’d successfully negotiated the left luggage lockers. A round of sensible drinks and Irish breakfasts were swiftly rustled up and despatched, and we were joined by Kevin’s old pal and Eintracht fan (and Fan Projekt organiser) Michael. Somehow Michael managed to outpace the tram on his pushbike, and we met again at the Waldstadion tram halt for some beers from the kiosk. Refreshingly the Cottbus and Eintracht fans were mixing freely and in good spirit in what seemed like a blur of scarves (some worn in a fetching “hula skirt” fashion all around the belt). True to its name, the Waldstadion is set in a Wald (forest), and the turnstiles are set well back from the actual stadium. Our tickets were for the upper corner overlooking the Cottbus fans – three sides of the ground were complete in readiness for the 2005 Confederations Cup – the shell of the main stand was there but not complete. Eintracht started slowly but ran out 3-1 winners in an entertaining game that may still prove pivotal in their late challenge for promotion.

After the game we headed back into town on the tram (we couldn’t find the S-Bahn station!) and then deliberated whether to head down to Alt Sachsenhausen for the post-match party. Gav’s casting vote was to visit the market, so a more restrained version of the previous night followed before heading for a Heidelburg train around 8pm. By now we knew that Craig was heading out on a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt the next morning, but Gavin was concerned that his Ibis reservation was in Craig’s name. For some unknown reason Craig had booked two rooms, but the hotel were happy to sort and Gav had no problem getting the keys. No sooner had we stepped out onto the street 20 minutes later than Rich appeared, fresh from his flight in from Berlin and train down from Frankfurt. The four of us bundled into a taxi and asked to be taken to an open bar (11pm on a Sunday in sleepy Heidelberg is not necessarily “where it’s at”), and we were duly deposited outside the excellent Palmbraü Gasse brewpub. Closing time saw us head round to the eccentric, but still empty, Ecksteins student bar, where the barman/owner/magician-in-residence entertained us with an array of confusing foam ball tricks.

Monday 6th December 2004

Safe in the knowledge that Craig would be arriving later that day, one day later than planned, it was now Bruce’s turn to wake me. Bruce had been booked on the early Stansted-Stuttgart GermanWings flight but had arrived minutes too late, and was quoted astronomical rates at the airport for alternative routes. At the time of the call he was maintaining a philosophical outlook, and texted soon after to say he was now booked on a Ryanair flight to Hahn on Tuesday morning.

After getting up properly, and painstakingly explaining to reception that Bruce would only need the second night of his two-night booking, Helen and I caught the bus into town and wandered around the Old Bridge, souvenir shops and the Christmas market that was just opening up for the quiet lunchtime trade. All of our good tourist intentions came off the rails when we stopped for lunch in the posh Kulturbrauerei brewpub, then headed back towards the hotel along the river bank, taking in the smallest pub I have ever seen. Despite initially mistaking my Worthing scarf for a Bayern one, the locals proved very friendly and it was a real chore to pull ourselves away, however we had an evening rendezvous in mind with Gav and Rich, as well as Craig and Kevin (who managed to get to the country without mishap).

The others had headed out already and had met up with three fellow Scots who had taxied down from Mannheim in search of some culture, and with Rich in tow we all met up briefly at Vetters before splitting up again. In addition to our litre steins of the normal brew, we also opted for the home-brewed “strongest beer in the world”, which despite my protests about barley wines, clocked in at a sickly-sweet, tar-like 33% (that’s thirty three percent) – mercifully these were only served in 20cl measures. After polishing these off it was out into the Weihnachtsmarkt proper for sausages and more gluhwein. After finding a suitable perch, and successfully politely deflecting the attention of a number of curious, amorous and downright disturbed locals, we made our way back towards the olde worlde student pubs – first the dark and empty Zum Sepp’l, then the much busier and friendlier Zum Roten Ochsen next door, where we were reunited with the rest of the Tartan Army at large in Heidelberg that night – all six of them. No sooner had we made through the door than Rich had struck up a unique “free beer for pert young Scottish ass” deal, whereby he and I had to prove (in a non-obscene way) to the owner’s mother we were indeed kilted in the traditional manner. Several hours later, after friendly conversations with landlords Phillip and Ann, and a tour of the pub’s photos (how many signed photos of Mark Twain have you seen?), we made our way out into the cold night air, and the sobering thought that Heidelberg really doesn’t have much to offer in the way of raucous midweek nightlife – huh, call yourself a student town!? So, back to Ecksteins it was, where Gavin and I quaffed cocktails to a soundtrack of Herbert Grönemeyer (the German Sting), before an ill-fated taxi ride back to the hotel (price: one lost glengarry, complete with German-coloured hackle).

Tuesday 7th December 2004

Somehow everyone managed to drag themselves up and onto an ICE for the short train trip to Mannheim. No sooner had we left the station to spot an Irish pub (Murphy’s Law) immediately on the right, already bedecked with a huge saltire. Jim Brown was already there, and it proved a handy landmark to talk Bruce into. Once he arrived, it was off into the grid-like maze of Mannheim’s streets to find somewhere a little more local, which we did in the form of Alter Simpl’, which provided some good food as well as decent beer (and less decent local wine), and the bar became steadily busier with fellow Tartan Army footsoldiers.

After a couple of hours we headed off to meet up again with Kev and Tam McGhee, who had stumbled across a great wee local in a shopping side street opposite the huge Kaufhof store. The bar was staffed by an excitable short barmaid, who, on closer inspection, turned out to be pictured on the wall in various states of undress including belly dancing, and sporting a sexy PVC nurses uniform. Despite being the wrong side of 40, she had caught the attention of the entire contingent, and when she started pulling her tights off her thighs and pinging them back there were at least a couple of sporrans at “jaunty angles”. Anyway, after taking a few deep breaths, we moved on to the tram stop, resigned to the fact we wouldn’t be back in for more as it shut at the daft hour of 8pm.

The tram dropped us straight at the ground, and after the usual laborious searches, a few of us made our way to the club shop – the bright orange away shirt going down very well with some members of the party. After a quick bratwurst – the caterers were to drastically underestimate the sausage-eating abilities of the Scots and tragically ran out of buns before half-time (could this be the wurst that could happen?) – it was up to take our seats. Having seen the 3-3 thriller in Mainz two years previously, I was quietly confident of another entertaining and evenly matched game. This optimism didn’t last long – not only was there a confirmed sighting of Berti Vogts, but we capitulated to a 3-0 defeat and failed to show any signs of encouragement. In fact, the best entertainment revolved around the banter between some of the 109 (yes, Helen counted!) Scotland fans and some of the German kids. With temperatures plunging to the wrong side of freezing, I took to wearing my hat in quite an unorthodox fashion (under the kilt), and we were all glad to squeeze onto a tram within minutes of the final whistle.

Back in the town centre, both Gavin and I had the usual objections around Irish pubs (and let’s face it, no-one was arguing), although by all accounts we missed out on a quiz night, so we ended up in a narrow locals boozer by the name of Schmuckerstube. We could all tell it was a class joint by the framed Microsoft clip art graphics on the wall, but as it had another fit mature barmaid, none of us were complaining. After enjoying the Valencia - Werder Bremen game on the telly it was down to the station for an eventual S-Bahn back to Heidelberg.

Bruce’s travel fun was not yet over, however, as he was informed by the German Basil Fawlty at the Ibis reception that his room had been cancelled due to his non-appearance the previous night (despite me informing the reception). After a heated argument, the Ibis grudgingly agreed to put him up in alternative digs (better, and much nearer the town centre, as it turned out), but by the time the dust had settled Craig, Helen and I were agreed that we didn’t fancy heading out into the drinking desert that post-Tuesday midnight Heidelberg was sure to be. Bruce, Gav and Rich went bravely on, nonetheless, and were rewarded with a Northern Soul night at a small club in the company of a dwarf, an obnoxious English student and a gay man who tried to follow one of them into the gents. Evidently our loss was their gain.

Wednesday 8th December 2004

With Craig heading back to Frankfurt airport and Rich Berlin-bound, Bruce, Gavin, Helen and I headed down to Stuttgart, the wait for the train passed being regaled by stories of the previous nights fun and games. A wander around Stuttgart’s Weihnachtsmarkt killed some time – Helen had a 3D keyring made up (of her head) and Bruce bought the candle to end all candles – as did a fruitless search for a pub (for the toilet rather than beer). We settled for a Spanish tapas bar, where a 50+ lush made a beeline for me – at one point I thought the waiter was going to have to hold her back. We did meet a few other Scots at the airport that evening, but Lorraine, Moira and John from Sheffield were refused service until they went and sat at the other end of the bar from us! All in all, a good trip to end the year with, but yet another disappointing performance.

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Germany B Gallery 1

Germany B Gallery 2

Germany B Gallery 3




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