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If there's Graz on the pitch... - Austria, August 2005


Like many friendlies, the opposition and date bubbled away as a rumour for many weeks before being confirmed, with the venue following much later. With the school holidays in mind, mine and Helen’s nerve buckled and we opted to go in via Brno in the east of the Czech Republic (which had just started as a Ryanair route) and out via Bratislava, figuring that this would do for three of the likely four venues. Salzburg, Vienna or Graz would all be in easy striking distance, and even the prospect of an all day train journey to Innsbruck was tempered by the fact that the track cuts through alpine valleys, and some carriages even boast extended windows.

When the game was confirmed as Graz, interest from other NATA members increased, and soon a plan was hatched to meet up with Ally and Susan in Vienna on the Tuesday, followed by Bruce and Sharon in Graz on matchday, with all six of us heading back via Bratislava.

Part 1 – Know what I mean, 'Arry? (Brno, Saturday - Monday)

Our first (and to date, only) Ryanair flight went without a hitch. I’d even go as far to say “pleasant”! It landed on a grey day in Brno’s grey airport, from which we caught a grey bus into town along a road completely full of car showrooms. The olde worlde Grand Hotel was right over the road from the station and easy to find, and soon it was out into the wide cobbled streets of the old town centre for a few beers at the Adria café and the packed brew pub Pegas. Pegas turned out to be the only pub in the whole city with anything like a crowd on a Saturday night – even Alterna, described as a rock and punk bar, was only half-full at best, but we did have the pleasure of speaking to Lukaš (who had spent the summer in Dundee), Martina and Andreas before heading home for the night.

Sunday morning saw a visit to the Capuchin Monastery and its mummified monks, before a walk up to the cathedral towering over the city centre. After a quiet day soaking up the sights and a bottle of Moravian wine over a pizza (at U cisare Leopolda), and a few low-key beers in Elektra, it was back to the hotel in torrential rain.

The rain continued through the night, and come Monday there was no sign of it letting up. After somehow managing to buy train tickets to Vienna for the next day (using a mix of poor German and poorer Czech), a tram journey took us round to the excellent Stare Brno brewery. After working our way through the beers in the cosy brewery tap pub (including the excellent dark cernoška), we reluctantly tore ourselves away to head up towards the football stadium. Strangely, and solely for the benefit of Czech television, 1 FC Brno were to kick off against Slovan Liberec at 4.40pm – we hadn’t believed this, but thanks to the help of Chris Norton and Worthing Ian we were able to both locate the right stadium and make sure we were there in good time. After splashing out all of £2 on the best covered seats (the rain still hadn’t let up), we had time for a quick pint in the Spartak Restaurace right next to the turnstile (and had the bizarre experience of seeing outside of the pub on the telly in the pub during the warm up programme!).

Brno lost the game 1-0, having missed a penalty, and after “jeden do ulice” back in the Spartak it was into town for beer and nachos in the pretentious Potrefena Husa (a chain of Lloyds No 1 style pubs that has sprung up in recent years). By now, my kilt was stiff as a board thanks to the constant rain – a texted plea to Bruce for emergency Febreze yielded results on Wednesday – so it was back to the hotel to pack in anticipation of an early-ish train journey the next day.

Part 2 - If There's Graz On The Pitch (Tuesday - Thursday)

Tuesday morning and still raining (36 hours and counting!) – the wait at the station only brightened up by the sexiest train guard I’ve ever seen (short, curvy, brunette, micro skirt!) The train was pretty modern, and thankfully not too crowded, and took us directly to Vienna’s Sudbahnhof where we had arranged to meet Ally and Susan for the onward connection to Graz. After a spot of confusion over where the real station and the subway were, we got hold of some rolls for the train and boarded at leisure. En route, I explained how bad my kilt was and the Febreze solution, and Ally offered the use of his iron – after the customary mickey taking, he assured me he was serious, and later produced said iron once we’d checked into the Hotel Weitzer (where it turned out the team were also staying).

After Helen had done the honours with the iron, making the kilt a little more presentable and a lot more comfortable to wear, it was out and about, walking the long way past the bizarre "Friendly Alien" art gallery (which has to be seen to be believed) and over the fast flowing Mur river via the brilliantly weird Murinsel, a steel and glass “island” in the middle of the stream. We rendezvoused with Ally and Susan in Flann O’Briens, which by early evening Tuesday had already been firmly established as TA HQ. After a beer and a bite to eat, it was off to find another couple of pubs before heading back for the up-and-coming Glasgow DJ’s set later that night. We passed the older, wiser and more bitter TA members (the Chuckle Brothers, Tam C, Captain Vodka and Ali Smith) by a pavement café and we headed into a small wine tavern for a quick one. After several hours, and having been joined by the others, as well as a couple of East German TA passing through, we finally dragged ourselves away from the friendly but mad locals and headed out en masse, finding ourselves in an over-40s singles bar called Café Jeton.

Several hours of absolute bedlam followed, including lots of beer (several freebies), the “mi-ah-hee” O-Zone song (Dragostea – which became the anthem of the trip!), dances with the busty, mature Norwegian barmaid on the street and much more drunken lunacy. Ali Smith had stayed on to make the most of this as the others escorted Tam back to the pub for his set, and it’s fair to say that Ally and Susan had imbibed a fair amount of the party spirit! Time was getting on, and we headed back to Flann’s, which was bouncing. Dicko, an exiled Scot living in Graz who we’d met at the Future Team game a few months previous, was outside ushering people in (to avoid complaints from the neighbours – it’s his mate’s pub.

Inside the place was bouncing, as was Helen with Craig and Pete, to a number of punk favourites, whilst I sat and chatted to Coullzer and pals and Tam Ritchie over a couple of Guinnesses. Helen sensibly stopped drinking at this stage, and combined with her dancing, thankfully managed to burn off most of the alcohol and avoid a hangover the next day. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for all the ladies in the company, as one felt rather delicate the next day, having momentarily lost her balance in Flann’s! The night ended with Helen and I on a fruitless search for water (ended up with some fizzy stuff from a closing Turkish takeaway), whilst Ally, who made it back to the hotel slightly earlier, managed to call McCoist a cheat in front of the late night card school in the lobby.

Helen and I walked off a mild hangover on Wednesday morning around the old town and up the hill to the cathedral and some other old buildings (an apothecary, a town hall, a zzzz…) Architecture was not the sole motivation here, as we were tracking down Dom Brau, a brewpub with a life sized mural of Arnie on the wall. From here we were able to direct Ally and Susan, and then Bruce and Sharon (fresh off the direct flight from Stansted), whilst eating pretzels and drinking lots of banana-tasting wheat beer.

As pretzels were the only food on offer, we decamped to the Stryian Highlander pub down the hill and around the corner, where we had what can only be described as Austrian Tapas. For some unknown and foolhardy reason (the old “must try the local bevvy” argument), Ally and I opted for the ominously named “Turbo Most”. This fuel-injected jakey juice turned out to be mega-strong cider of some description; whilst we were swilling this, Bruce – sensibly eschewing the cider, excused himself to take some photos of the lavishly appointed ladies lavatories (with a highland theme).

From here, having downed our complimentary kirsch liqueurs, it was off to the Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadium in a couple of cabs, which got us there in good time to pick up our tickets and join the queue. We were nicely settled in for the anthems, quickly followed by Kenny Miller’s opener, but a quick glance over the back wall showed a decent-sized queue of latecomers still trapped outside. A second goal followed shortly before half-time, which I managed to miss as I was talking about monkeys to Bert and Aitchy, and then a strong defensive performance in the second-half came undone with minutes to go when Austria snatched an equaliser (and nearly a winner).

The aftermath of the match saw us make our way around to the Strum-Treff, named as a rendezvous after a frantic text exchange with Doris and Alex. Helen and I had met Doris and her sister Claudia in Mattersburg a few months earlier and had spoken about meeting in Graz; Alex was a late stand-in for a dog-sitting Claudia, and the whole meeting had been thrown into jeopardy by me being a muppet and messing up the international code on my phone! Thankfully Doris and Alex were able to compensate for this and we met up as eventually planned. By this point, everyone else was coming into their own, and our table was being showered in roses (mostly courtesy of an amorous beer kiosk attendant), while my cider hangover was fully kicking in; everyone else’s enthusiasm (and all the sugar in the Coca Cola) somehow kept me going.

An unusual shared taxi ride back into the main square followed, and we reconvened and headed for an Italian bar for a quick one before hitting the lunacy that was Flann’s. Tam was on the decks and the queue at the bar was pretty formidable – Bruce doing the honourable thing and heading into the fray to get the round in. This left me with Sharon, Helen, Doris and Alex, all clutching long-stemmed roses, much to Donnelly’s bemusement (“Hark at Ladies Man Allison!”). We managed to find a free table on the raised area in the far corner, where Helen and Doris proceeded to dance the night away (at one point Helen managed to careen into yet another rose seller, this time sending her beer all over her t-shirted bosom. I stayed on the coke for the duration, and a wise choice it proved to be, as Helen was overcome with tiredness and emotion after the pub finally closed in the wee hours – I still had to persuade her that going back to the hotel and not to another late bar was the best choice!

On Thursday, despite Helen fighting a hangover of Bacchanalian proportions, we somehow managed to drag ourselves from our pits earlier than Ally, Susan, Bruce and Sharon, and were able to meet Alex and Doris in the hotel foyer (where they kindly presented us with some Burgenland wine) before heading off for a coffee at the Murinsel café. The other four caught up with us there, where Bruce (and camera) discovered the joys of the mirrored toilets (see – it’s not just me who has this obsession!). Alex and Doris made their excuses and left for Mattersburg, and the rest of us headed up to the Schlossberg via the funicular railway. After pottering around the top for a wee bit, we had lunch at the open-air Aiola café, where a wasp developed an inordinate fascination with Susan’s pasta, only for it to meet a sticky, vegetable extracted end in her glass of coke.

Our descent from the Berg took us down the elevator, and getting off halfway down meant we could examine the Star Wars like interior. Helen and Sharon quickly spotted the Burgbahn, and we all boarded the kiddie’s train for a horrific journey through a Brothers Grimm inspired landscape (complete with ceiling clinging vampires). After a stroll through the back streets, we settled in to an outside table at brewpub Glocklbrau before rounding off the day with more homebrew and food at Dom Brau.

Part 3 - Trains, Planes and Hydrofoils (Graz > Vienna > Bratislava, Friday - Sunday)

Our last day in Austria saw us partake in our first (and only) hotel breakfast of the trip, ahead of our early (and ultimately delayed) train to Vienna. We bumped into Geebsie at the station, who was on a cultural day trip, but unfortunately had to abandon him when presented with the last available compartment on the Croatian train (only six seats, see). Mine and Helen’s prior knowledge of Vienna served us well, as we were easily able to locate the excellent Bierkutsch’n to fill up before heading across to the Danube boat pier. Ally and Susan had managed to pick up our ferry tickets the previous weekend, and knew exactly where to go for the boat, however none of us were prepared for quite how “leisurely” the whole experience would prove to be. A full 90 minutes late before we’d even left Vienna, we were all convinced the boat had broken down when it moored up at the city limits and the crew all got off to lounge on the grassy river bank for a smoke. However it all turned out to be a traffic jam at the huge locks to the south of Vienna, and once through the lock, the captain lifted up the foil and really put his foot down.

We were still around 90 minutes late docking in Bratislava, however the stunning sunset and views of Devin Castle went a long way to making up for this. We were soon checking in to the Radisson SAS (due to a mental internet deal we’d all booked on), only to bump into TA veteran Ian Gillan. Ian ended up staying elsewhere, but we swapped mobile numbers and agreed to meet up later, which we did in Stanley’s Pub. Bratislava’s compact old town was awash with British stag parties, and certainly felt a lot less friendlier than my previous visit 18 months before; thankfully the small and friendly Stanley’s Pub seemed to have escaped this and we were rewarded with good beer, good service, and in Sharon’s case, good cake. The next and final stop was the legendary underground KGB, which kept Susan and Ally happy with mental rock music, before bizarrely segueing into O-Zone’s Dragostea (as predicted a few minutes earlier by myself, followed up with a Bon Jovi prediction that led everyone to believe I’d bribed the DJ).

Despite having the earliest night, Helen and I were still slow to rise, and we met the others in the pub over the road over some Slang Toast. A wander through the old town got the six of us onto the tourist train, and a walk across the bridge was ultimately fruitless as the bridge tower lift broke just as it was our turn to go up (even a drink in a floating bar didn’t give them time to fix it), so it was off up the castle.

Despite catering for a wedding party, the Hradna Vinaren wine bar was able to rustle up some food (eventually), and between us we managed to cover most of the local specialities. Not all of it was an immediate success – Bruce returned from freshening up to announce that “two of the things I’ve eaten are explosive when combined”. I didn’t escape either, as by the time we’d walked down the hill (and passed my favourite Bratislava bar Kastellan), I was feeling the effects and had to bow out early. The others found the now disappointing Belgian bar before fending off a variety of blood-sucking insects on a bar terrace.

Ally and Susan were away at the crack of dawn on Sunday for their transfer to Vienna Airport, so it was more Slang Toast before the four of us staged a second (successful) attempt to get up the bridge tower. The views from the top were very windswept but worth it, the UFO Bar (“photographs not possible”) less so, but it does have some of the most spectacular urinals (angled ice buckets in front of clear windows). With a few hours to kill before our flight, we wandered through the park to Artmedia’s stadium for photos (but didn’t venture into the Football Pizzeria). In keeping with the weekend’s experiences in Bratislava, the flight home was packed to the gunnels with stag parties.

Strangely, before the trip, we’d had Brno down as the real gem, Graz as a mere necessity and Bratislava down as a sure-fire banker to finish up on. Come the end of the adventure and Graz outshone the other two, with Brno far quieter than expected (certainly when considered that it’s only second to Prague in the Czech Republic!) and Bratislava on a downward slope (or maybe it was just a bad weekend). Perhaps a Scotland away trip to Slovakia will help sort that one out?

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Austria Gallery 1

Austria Gallery 2

Austria Gallery 3

Austria Gallery 4

Austria Gallery 5

Austria Gallery 6

Austria Gallery 7

Austria Gallery 8

Fjord Fiesta - The Return - Norway, September 2005


Some trips in the group merited a lengthier stay (in our opinion: Moldova, Belarus and Slovenia), and some didn’t. Italy was due to the timing of the game over the Easter weekend, whilst for Norway it was a combination of high costs and the fact we’d been in 2003 and weren’t overly impressed with what the city had to offer.

So, a full year before the game (when the flights went on sale), it was on to BA for a Tuesday afternoon to Thursday lunchtime trip, and a bargain rate in the landmark Radisson SAS Plaza (right by the station, and as it turned out, where the team were staying). Having learned the hard way before, if all hotels are going to be expensive, we may as well shell out slightly more for a better one (and appreciate the air conditioning all the more!).

With such a short away trip planned, and work on the Monday (and Tuesday morning for Helen), the Italy game on the preceding Saturday didn’t really feel like part of a double-header. For starters, keen to avoid the anticipated large movement of Italian fans through Gatwick (no worry – only 400 fans travelled from Italy, the rest of the small away support made up by UK-based Italians), Helen and I flew up with Rich from Southampton Netley Abbey International Airport! Saturday found us with a larger group (and kitty) than usual, and proved to be almost “Tartan Army by numbers”, taking in the usual haunts of The Iron Horse, The Shed, Baby Blue and the Sports Café, but was enjoyed by all. A superb Scotland performance resulted in a very creditable 1-1 draw with the Italians, and after the game we worked up a thirst by marching the full distance from Hampden to Baby Blue on Bath Street (around 4 miles). In fact, such was the thirst that even Helen and I, notorious for early withdrawals at home games, made it through until 2.15am!

Back to Southampton on the Sunday was followed with back to reality at work on Monday, however come Tuesday it was on with the kilt again…

Tuesday 7th September 2005

We arrived early for our flight due to a distinct lack of traffic en route (60 minutes from Brighton to Heathrow!), but as the airport was mobbed we opted for the “elite” option and coughed up for the Holideck Lounge. We certainly got our money’s worth, Helen on the Bud and me on the vodka and apple juice, before moving on the posh sherry (Helen reckoned it was just like tawny port). Thanks to my mate Ian, we had advance warning of the delay to our flight meaning more time of the lounge – knowing there was no catering on the plane we felt safest filling up on fluids beforehand!

The flight took off around 5.30pm, and surprisingly wasn’t full, despite a good 50+ Tartan Army on board. The banter around us was good, meeting Colin from York and the Annan Boys, and stopping for a chat with BigDaveJ on the way back from the inevitable lavvy trip, although the head stewardess wasn’t overly impressed with the singing! With no luggage we were able to step straight onto a train and 40 minutes later we were in the hotel room.

Helen didn’t feel up to a night on the tiles, so I headed out alone to meet Bruce and Sharon in Bohemen, arriving just after 10pm in time to see Craig, Kev and Jim Brown leave as Evil Scotsman came on for the “fifth time in the last hour”. Stopping just long enough for one pear cider and to hand over NATA and Worthing scarves for the bar’s ever-growing collection, Bruce, Sharon and I headed off to a “sports bar right around the corner” to join up with the others. After being unsuccessful, we settled for The Belfry, an English pub just off the main Karl Johan’s Gate precinct. Despite the Union Jack plaque (proclaiming the pub as a “Little piece of England in Norway”) and the England shrine (literally, fenced off in an alcove in the deceptively large downstairs area), the pub was very friendly and surprisingly quiet (although it was to be packed all day on matchday). The only downside was that pear cider was sold out, but the excellent Belfry Ale made up for that (even at 54kr, or £5, a pint), as did the unfeasibly busty Bulgarian beauty behind the bar. Kev, Craig, Jim and the Clan Imlach (Loony Alba’s Stevie and his brother Colin, living and working in Norway) soon re-joined us, only for Kevin and Sharon to drop out just after midnight.

Despite being assured by The Belfry’s barman that last orders would be 2.30am, I had serious doubts about this as the place was empty – these fears proved to be unfounded as a late surge of Norwegians, followed by the Armadale Sons of Wallace (fresh from a sojourn to Cambridge whilst changing flights at Stansted) ensured the pub stayed lively right to the death. One of the Norwegians, Bjorn, sauntered over, looking a dead ringer for NATA’s Rich (gelled hair, stubble, open-necked black shirt), only to turn out to be the leading authority on Norwegian football and cheap city centre pubs.

In Norway it’s standard practice to allow 30 minutes drinking up time, so when the lights went up at 2.25am and the bar staff informed us it was last orders, consent for “one last drink” was forthcoming from Bruce and Craig. I duly stood my round, returning the £5 pints to the table with a warning “at five pounds a pint, don’t spill a f*cking drop!”. I needn’t have worried in Bruce’s case, as he didn’t even bother to pick the pint up – despite promises from the offender to smuggle it clandestinely out of the pub for a cheeky al fresco drink, my last view of it as I returned from the gents was the barmaid picking it up and carrying it to the sink behind the bar. The scars from this are obviously going to take quite some time to heal…

Craig’s late night kebab was enough to put both Bruce and myself off, so we plumped for the £2 hot dogs, adding sauce from the comedy swinging udders whilst trying not to choke as a glamorous lady footsoldier informed the kebab-man that she “hates hot dogs but loves sausage”.

Wednesday 8th September 2005

Wednesday morning started around lunchtime for Helen and I, with cheesy nacho balls and Mint Chocolate Baileys (an exclusive duty free purchase) before heading up to the Panorama bar on the 34th floor for the first pear cider of the day. A hungover Bruce and a very hot Sharon, bemoaning the lack of air conditioning in their room, joined us.

After a pizza stop at the 7-11, we were headed off by tram towards the Oslo Mikrobryggeri, although we broke the journey for a quick one at Olsen Café, a sparse Valarenga supporter’s bar in the suburbs. We arrived in the Mikrobryggeri right ahead of Ally, Susan, Kenny and Tanya, and proceeded to work our way through the beers on offer. Neither Bruce nor I tried the pils, but between us we covered the Steamer (a fizzy brown ale, like Newcastle Brown), the Weizen (very nice and tasty wheat beer), the Porter (a very fizzy black beer, but okay nonetheless) and the excellent IPA (15 minutes to pour, but worth the wait – just order it before you’ve finished your current beer!). During the course of this “tasting” session a few other determined Tartan Army beer connoisseurs also found the place, most notably Derek the brewer (Kelburn Brewing Company) and Norrie and Joan from Dunfermline.

After staying a wee bit later than intended, we piled out en masse for a tram that would take us to Majorstuen T-Bane station (two stops from the ground) – turned out the tram driver had been in Bordeaux for the World Cup game! The T-Bane was absolutely jammed, but somehow we all managed to squeeze on, and after walking round to the turnstiles we were relieved to see that the queue was nowhere near as bad as it had been in 2003, giving Bruce and I ample time to finish our “Coke plus”.

Inside the ground was the usual sit anywhere disorganisation, so we ended up back with Bruce, Sharon, Ally and Sue on the right-hand side as you look at the pitch (with me somehow stood next to a solitary middle-aged Norwegian). There was a good atmosphere before kick-off, and both anthems were well respected, however within minutes of the kick-off the ball was in the back of our net, only to be ruled out (for what looked a pretty feeble nudge from where we were standing, however no complaints!). Scotland settled after the early scare, with Gordon looking confident and Hartley’s running and crossing continuing to cause no end of problems. It was from one of Hartley’s crosses, headed down by McFadden that allowed Miller to steal in and dink the ball past the keeper with the outside of his right boot for one-nil. Ten minutes later we were in dreamland, when an over-hit forward cross from Hartley was inexplicably headed back to Miller by a defender under no pressure, allowing Kenny to prove his critics wrong and pick his spot for two-nil. Another chance, deflected clear, fell to the new King Kenny seconds before he was subbed with a minor injury, his job done.

The rest of the game passed pretty quickly, with Scotland absorbing the pressure, but on the whole looking less likely to score. One exception came in the last few minutes, when a diagonal pass played Beattie clear down the right wing, only for his excellent low cross to be nicked off the toe of Neil McCann, preventing a three-nil lead. Instead, Norway broke up the park from this move, ultimately resulting in their equaliser from a low drive on the edge of the area in the 89th minute. For me, this was conclusive proof that Scotland can’t hold a lead for toffee (in the last two games, we were two-up against Austria and one-up against Italy, both into the last 15 minutes, only to end up with two draws), and I duly sunk into my seat, only to be rallied by the guys in front that we’d be okay. Thankfully, they were right, and the cheers at the final whistle were more of relief at holding on than pure celebration.

After a wee singsong we headed out the ground towards the agreed rendezvous with Kenny and Tanya, and then across the car park towards the promised land of Berg metro station. Although a wee bit further away than the Ulleval’s own station (1km instead of 100m), there were none of the queues to get on the platform, and we got a seat on the empty train that rolled in (it soon got busy when we got to Ulleval!), getting us back into town in good time to track down one of Bjorn’s recommendations from the previous night. With Andy’s Pub already queuing at the door, we headed around the corner looking for Pastiz and the promise of 38kr beer. The older generation (Ally, Susan, Kenny and Tanya) lost patience and headed for the comfort and culture (and expense) of an outdoor courtyard bar en route, but we persevered and were rewarded with even cheaper beer (32kr before 10pm!). Unfortunately it was Ringnes, which I cannot physically drink (in common with a lot of Scandinavian lagers, I find it far too acidic and tasteless), so for me there was nothing but the 58kr bottles of pear cider.

At 10pm, with news of England’s failure to score filtering through, the draught lager duly went up 6kr, however a conversation with the delightful German barmaid (Me: “Why did you move here from Germany?”, her: “Oslo rocks, baby!”) revealed that bottled Carlsberg was on promotion at 19kr a bottle until midnight. A stunned Colin confirmed this was indeed the bargain it sounded, as £1.70 was pretty much the going rate for bottled supermarket beer, and even Helen’s fears that it must be out of date (a la Moldova) proved unfounded. The “olds” joined us later, after the England result had come through on three separate mobiles from three independent sources right on the dot of the final whistle (thanks to Welsh Steve and Worthing Andy from me and Helen) – Ally’s night was made when the bar they were in started playing “Perfect Day” at this very moment – and much Carlsberg was procured at the bargain price, lasting everyone well into the next hour (well, apart from me on my mega-expensive cider). As I replied when asked at work on the Friday about how the England score was received in Oslo, “we didn’t let it ruin our night!”

Sharon was feeling pretty ill by this point, and headed off early with the half the crowd, leaving Helen and I, Bruce and the brothers Imlach. The pub shut just after 1am – no-one had been buying in the past hour due to stocking up when the beer was cheap – but in spite of another two hours of drinking time, Bruce, Helen and I opted to head home, leaving Stevie and Colin to stagger off in the direction of The Belfry, dodging a runaway trolley en route. The walk down Karls Johan Gate was a little like running a gauntlet of drunks (of both nationalities) – most were very friendly, including many Norwegians offering their congratulations, however some were a little less so and best avoided. Nonetheless, we made back safe and sound, and early enough for Helen to entertain setting the alarm for breakfast.

Thursday 9th September 2005

And up for breakfast we were, and a lovely fry-up it was too. The flight back was delayed an hour, and turned out to be packed full, although everyone on stand-by did make it on eventually. Despite the historic night, there was no singing as the collective hangovers took hold, and the flight passed pretty much without incident until we had to circle East London three times on our way in before getting permission to land. The landing itself was bouncy to say the least, followed by a slamming on the brakes and what felt like a handbrake turn as we threatened to overshoot the taxiway off the runway. The next announcement revealed we weren’t getting an air-bridge (no bloody wonder – the tower probably saw the landing and decided not to trust the pilot with parking near the terminal building!). Then came the real fun and games – sitting on the tarmac for 40 minutes waiting for someone to drive the stairs up to the plane! Thankfully for Helen and I, we had no connecting flights so could sit tight and see the funny side, however dozens of people did miss flights (the guy sat next to me was flying home to Atlanta via Washington!). In the face of all this adversity, the atmosphere on the plane stayed friendly and jovial; after all, things could have been much worse… we could have lost to Northern Ireland!

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The trip in numbers:

  • 1,061 - days since last competitive away win (2 years, 11 months since Scotland 2 - Iceland 0, Sat 12th Oct 2005)
  • 46 - hours spent in Norway by Paul and Helen
  • 34 - floors up - the Panorama Bar in the Radisson SAS Plaza
  • 5 - games unbeaten since Milan (Moldova H, Belarus A, Austria A, Italy H and Norway A)
  • 4 - different beers tried at the Oslo Mikrobryggeri (Steamer, Weizen, Porter and IPA)
  • 3 - number of consecutive Scotland games that Kenny Miller has scored in
  • 1 - whole pints left on the table by Bruce



Norway Gallery 1

Norway Gallery 2


Slovenia, October 2005


Travel plans were set months in advance, but for once, not actually booked. We’d decided to go via Munich, where a direct train could whisk us cheaply (even more so with our German railcard discounts) to Ljubljana (LJ) in just 6 hours, and would allow for a stop-off in Salzburg on the way back (the hills are alive, you see!). All our ducks were lined up – BA flights to Munich Sunday-Sunday, one night’s hotel in Munich near the station, four in central Ljubljana and two in a posh, posh hotel in Salzburg – the one exception was the train, which could only be booked a couple of months in advance.

Six weeks to go, and a protracted telephone call to Bahn UK revealed that summer floods in Austria had washed away no less than one-third of the entire track, adding on a couple of service bus journeys and around three hours to the now-unreservable journey. A quick Expedia search threw up a £90 return flight from Munich to LJ, and so Plan B took shape.

First up was the small matter of Belarus at home on the Saturday – all we had to was win to make sure the battle for second place went to the wire. Naturally we lost 1-0 with an absolutely dire performance in front of a full yet funereal Hampden. It’s fair to say our chips had been well and truly pissed upon, and even a trip through the beers of the world at the Allison Arms failed to raise our flagging spirits.

Sunday - Monday: Five airports, two days

Sunday: Glasgow – Heathrow – Munich. Heathrow was in the throes of the BA food strike, but at least we could spend our £5 vouchers on beer in the funky new Tin Goose bar in Terminal 1. As our flight to LJ was on Monday lunchtime, we’d chosen to cancel our city centre hotel and instead stay on the airport itself. To be frank this wasn’t a great hardship, as the posh Kempininski Hotel on site was only a short stroll away from Europe’s only airport brew-pub, the superb Airbraü, home to Munich’s cheapest beer (at €2 for a half-litre).

We were on the second of Monday’s two Adria flights to from Munich to LJ, due to leave just after 2pm, however we had trouble checking in even before midday. It turned out the earlier flight had been cancelled, and instead the two flights were being combined onto a single larger plane. Nonetheless, our boarding cards could not be issued until the flight opened for boarding, so a nervous wait ensued. The tension was alleviated somewhat by bumping into Hammy from Preston, and we blethered all the way to the plane.

We were in perfect time for the bus at Ljubljana airport, however it certainly took the scenic route to the main station. Our hotel, the Best Western Slon, was a short walk away. We were soon out and about, bumping into Ally and Susan in Prešernov Square before heading off to the Cutty Sark to meet Kev and Craig. Bruce and Sharon had soon joined us, having arrived off the Easyjet flight from Stansted, however not before the champagne had been broken out (need to perpetuate these elite stereotypes!) in celebration of a new job. Craig led the way to a superb pizzeria he’d eaten lunch in (Ljubljanski Dvor), and we followed this up (now with Jim Brown and Kev in the company) with a drink in a wee coffee bar called Mokarabia before heading over the river for a swift nightcap.

Tuesday: a day in LJ

After a lie in and a McDonalds breakfast (yep – one of those trips again!), we bumped into Bruce and Sharon in Prešernov Square waiting for the “tourist train” to take us up to the Castle. Once up there we bumped into Ally and Susan (who, true to form, had taken the long way up on foot) and the travelling contingent of the Notts Scots (minus the Numpty Brothers, who were still en route). After a brief jaunt around the tower, it was back down on the train and into a wee bar called Collegium (with a barman who didn’t even seem old enough to be at college!), before heading next door to Sokol, recommended by Anne from the Notts Scots. Ally and Susan, and then Stevie Imlach, caught up with us again and we all tucked into plates of ham, cheese and olives, washed down by mugs of the house beer (actually brewed by Adam Ravbar on the edge of town, but still very good!). Getting carried away with the convivial atmosphere, yet only on my first beer of the day, I somehow contrived to spill almost an entire bottle right down my kilt.

We were soon on our way, stretching our legs (and in my case, airing my clothes), and after bumping into Mirza and his pals in Prešernov (obviously the main meeting point in town!). After a brief hotel stop (to wring out the last of the beer), which everyone else spent in the gaudy Gaudi Café around the corner, we set off in search of the Kratchowill brewpub. No sooner had we made past the packed Holidays bar when we stumbled upon a supermarket with its own en suite pub! Provisions for rooms were requisitioned as we took a pit stop in the attached Santana Café, much to Stevie’s bewilderment and Bruce’s disgust.

Kratchowill proved to be an anomaly – an empty bar with great beer and very cheap pizzas. The only compatriot we saw there was Neil (aka Sexpest) who was just on his way out having enjoyed a pizza of his own when we rolled up. We ended the night halfway back at the hotel in an English themed pub called “Sir Williams” before Stevie and Bruce wandered off in search of more beer.

Wednesday: Bled, Sweat and Beers

The first hotel breakfast of the trip was a necessary stomach liner ahead of Scott Kelly’s “scenic” bus tour. Bruce was in sensible mode, convening our minibus with the likes of Machar and the Family Smith, the NATA contingent and the KELTA boys (Kirkcaldy Exiles London Tartan Army), who none of us really knew. First stop was a petrol station to stock up on beer, then Bled Castle, where Drew Lilley (and luggage) joined up with the other bus following his own train trip from hell (well, Zurich actually). The highlight of the castle stop, besides the view over the lake, was the wine shop where Helen and Sharon both wrestled with the bottling press.

Extravagant cream cakes and spilled Slovenian red wine followed at the lakeside (the other bus were knocking back schnapps with real fruit further up the slope at the time) before we headed to our lunch date at the Marinšek brewpub in the village-cum-truckstop of Naklo. Typically, both the slowest eaters in the party (Ally and Helen) were the last to get served, and were less than halfway through before we were reboarding the buses!

A sleepy journey back to LJ followed, where another couple of guys (including Craig McD) were joining the bus following some no-shows and problems with Kev’s bigger direct bus. After finally finding our parking space by the ground it was off to the hypermarket to experience more Santana Café supermarket swallying, this time in the company of the Notts Numpties and various other faces, including young and upcoming Glasgow DJ Tam Coyle.

As usual, there was a silly queue to get in (which gave us time to inherit Pauline from a side-stand bound Marky Adams), but we managed it in good time for the anthems, and we found ourselves standing with the rest of NATA, plus Reeky and Fiona, Tartan Teddy, Ray and family. The atmosphere all around was fantastic, buoyed by the team’s superb performance as we cantered to a three-nil victory crowned by three spectacular goals (including a long awaited one by unsung hero Paul Hartley).

The bus trip back was in high spirits, tempered only slightly by the news that England had won their group and Uzbekistan had surprisingly lost out to Bahrain in the Asian play-off (for the right to lose to Trinidad & Tobago, as it turned out). Back in town, we ducked into the cramped Grunf Bar, which was allegedly closing at 1am. We left at 1.30am, but Bruce and Ally confirmed the party was still going strong until at least 3am.

Thursday: Unionists or Laskoists?

One of the great polarising debates of our time centres around the best Slovenian beer. In the green corner, the goat-labelled Lasko Zlatorog (it’s actually a mystical chamois – ask me about it if you’re interested in the full legend!) from the sticks, and in the red corner, LJ’s own Union Pivo.

In an rare moment of a cliché imitating life, NATA (well Bruce, actually) managed to organise a genuine piss-up in a brewery. Bruce had been thoughtful enough to email the Union Brewery a couple of weeks before we’d set off to see if there was any scope to squeeze in a tour. “No problem” came the reply – they had a tour of 20 on the Thursday at midday and they’d be happy for the six of us to tag along. In fact, we could even mention it to a few others. Which is just what we did. Which explains why, at midday on Thursday the NATA six and the KELTA five (whom Bruce had informed the previous day on the bus) were in the lobby of the Union Brewery waiting for the other twenty to turn up. Ten minutes or so later, a forlorn individual (who we came to know as Cammy the Ref) in a Slovenia shirt and kilt came in and explained that the other 19 hadn’t managed to crawl out their beds. Don’t worry lads, you didn’t miss a thing…

The tour started with the gorgeous Tina showing us around the brewery museum – one of the largest dedicated collections (boasting, amongst other things, an olde worlde pub with non-electrical fridge and a collection of World Cup 1974 Texaco glasses), before the equally stunning Helena took over and led us through the actual production side of things. We were all mesmerised by the cellophane wrapping machine, and amused at the small plastic tube that transformed into a plastic bottle, and the sheer size inside the warehouse (that surely no-one in LJ could have missed from the outside!) was pretty stunning.

The combined tour took around an hour, with Tina and Helena aided by Branko; the three of them then led us to the on site brewery tap, where as a group we were treated to some 4 litre giraffes of beer and our choice from the bottled selection (the Pils was particularly nice, as was the Crni Baron dark beer). For a full three-and-half hours. The beer that had been set aside for the missing 19 (plus the tour group of 40 that had failed to show the day previously) was lavished upon us, fully compliments of the house. Much nonsense followed, with group photos being taken, plastic bottle towers being built and giraffe nozzles being tongued. There came a point around halfway in where the giraffes has disappeared and Helen and Sharon suggested we ought to call it a day, only for Branko to appear behind me brandishing yet more bottles of Crni Baron and the girls struggling out of the kitchen with replenished giraffes.

Three of the KELTA boys had made their excuses and left for their flights, leaving Alan and Bill to carry on flying the flag valiantly. Soon the time came (probably for the brewery to shut for the day, given it had gone 4.30pm), and we (the NATA Six, Cammy the Ref, Alan and Bill) bade our fond farewells and made our way back across the tracks towards yet another, much smaller, brewing concern – Kratchowill for some much needed food.

A strange affliction seemed to settle over me in Slovenia – I was fine whilst I stayed on the bevvy, but the moment I tried to do the sensible thing and eat something it all went wrong! There had been talk of meeting up with Helena and Branko in the Cutty Sark later that night to repay some of the hospitality, but Helen and I had to bow out early after a quick stop in Grunf. Alan and Bill had a dinner date on the other side of town and Cammy was determined to meet up with a young lady of his acquaintance, but unfortunately the depleted ranks of NATA failed to spot either Lena or Branko (although Bruce did think he might of seen the back of Helena’s head in the crowd).

Friday: Cave trips? We’re making a hobbit of them.

My early night on the Thursday did at least mean a breakfast engagement the next day, and from there it was off to the bus station to satisfy Bruce and Sharon’s geological yearnings. Slovenia has two of the most famous karstic cave systems in the world, and the most developed of these, Postojna, was only a short bus ride away.

A whole industry has sprung up around the caves – the rest of Postojna town is pretty unassuming – and the tourist dollar is well and truly milked. Cave trains whisk you several kilometres into the depths, then everyone gathers by big signposts signifying linguistic groups, before being picked up by a guide. The tour was genuinely very interesting, and the cooler temperatures certainly suited me; the only real downside is the “no photography” rule.

Back on the surface we resisted the touted cave restaurant and instead headed to a recommended Serbian restaurant/pizzeria (Pizzeria Minutka) where we had a spread of very filling specialities as recommended by the waiter.

Back in LJ we rendezvoused in Holidays, by now over the main rush caused by the Tartan Army. The draft Lasko Temno dark beer was very welcome (“the best beer in Slovenia” according to the barman, who was very impressed I’d ordered it instead of Guinness!), yet still not enough to displace my overall loyalty to Union following the previous day’s hospitality! Food was on everyone’s agenda, so it was with heavy heart I dragged myself out of the womb-like pub and across to Sokol. Despite (or is that “because of”) having the full monty – house dark beer, soup in a bread, pršut ham and gibanica cheesecake, the food and drink curse struck again and I was soon struggling to keep pace. Bill and Alan from KELTA walked in halfway through, having just returned from a daytrip to Zagreb, and we all headed off down to the old town proper, where we found a quasi-Mexican theme bar doing a roaring trade with the remnants of the Tartan Army (some of whom were dancing on the top bar).

By now, the food was taking it’s toll, and yet again I had no choice but to beat an early retreat (well, it was around 11pm, so better than the previous night), leaving the party in full swing.

Saturday – Sunday: Mopping up in Munich

After a leisurely breakfast and bus-ride for the airport, we breezed through check-in at Ljubljana airport only to find out they’d done it again – cancelling the early flight to consolidate onto ours. No boarding card problems this time – in fact, the only difficulty came at Munich airport where sheer will-power was the only thing that kept me out of Airbraü.

Our hotel room was high above the station, and blessed with the full Premiere football package, which made for a leisurely siesta watching the Bundesliga goals as they happened. Sensibly eschewing a proper meal in favour of fast food (given my recent form), we headed south to the Isartor S-Bahn station, home to Isarbraü – a well recommended, but ultimately packed and very food-oriented, brewpub. Several scoops later, in the company of two very camp German students, and it was back into town for the Paulaner-owned Thomasbraü brewpub before yet another sensible evening retirement (back in bed before the S-Bahn had even stopped running!).

This may have been our first ever Hofbraühaus-free visit to Munich (after five trips!), but the braühaus fun wasn’t over yet – there was still time for some kartoffelsuppe and helles in Airbraü before the flight back to Gatwick on Sunday afternoon!

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Slovenia Gallery 1

Slovenia Gallery 2

Slovenia Gallery 3

Slovenia Gallery 4

Slovenia Gallery 5

Slovenia Gallery 6

Slovenia Gallery 7

Slovenia Gallery 8

Highlights of 2005

According to Paul, anyway...

Best away trip: Slovenia

Best away game: Norway (when there was still hope!)

Best home game: Italy

Best night away on TA duty: Tuesday night in Graz

Best away pub: Cafe Jeton, Graz (followed by Flann O'Briens, also in Graz)

Best karaoke performance: Craig McD “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman”

Best pre-match home pub: Three Judges

Best post-match home pub: Close call between the Allison Arms (due to the back fridges) and the Sports Café (thanks to Tam for pulling everyone together).

Best quote: "I'm surprised he hasn't been harpooned" - Bruce, on hearing that Charlie Miller's career lives on in Norway.

Best song: "We're going to deep-fry your pizzas" - on the tram to the San Siro.

Best beer: Dom Brau, Graz

Most mental local firewater: Turbo Most, Austria

Most boring location: Oslo

Drunkest NATA member: A close call, but Susan’s Tuesday night in Graz edges it over Helen on the Wednesday.

Favourite stadium visited: San Siro (for the outside)

Favourite match venue city: Graz

Best non-TA destination: Düsseldorf

Best non-TA pub: U Cerveno Vola, Prague

Best Brewery Tour: Union, Ljubljana

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