How would you like to view this page?  
Home colours (striking white on navy) Away colours (bigger navy text on a white page - easy read version)

Jump To:

See Also:

Lithuania, September 2006

Prologue: Phantom fixtures and five goal feasts

Over the past few years, some kind of hysteria, perpetuated by the popularity of the TAMB, has developed around booking flights and accommodation for Scotland games; as if something isn’t booked then and there, prices will rocket. Whilst this may hold some truth for the likes of Iceland, Faroe Islands, Kazakhstan, Georgia etc, for almost every other European country there are numerous travel options. When the original meeting between all of the nations in our group reached an interim agreement, the SFA (in retrospect, unwisely) published the provisional fixture list on its website. Subsequently, it came to light that Oleg Blokhin had been on a plane at the time, the Ukrainian FA refused to ratify the fixture list and UEFA stepped into the breach, handing Scotland a far better set of fixtures (the only drawback being a free fixture on the very last day in November 2007).

Thankfully I was in Germany when the phantom fixtures were announced, thus removing any possible temptation to join in the booking frenzy that was sweeping the TAMB. My only concession was to book a (cancellable) hotel room, but this was more a legacy of having been bumped at the last minute from a room in Vilnius in 2003. When the fixtures proper were announced by UEFA the following month, I had by this time managed to swing a day off work and sat diligently in front of my laptop, ready to pounce in case of the nightmare scenario: Georgia and/or the Faroes away in 2006. As it happened, Lithuania was a pretty straightforward option, and I was in early enough to snaffle up Club Europe seats for the outbound leg (though not for all four of us travelling). A hotel recommendation from Ally, following his route through Vilnius to Minsk the previous summer, and we were all set.

The Saturday before the trip saw the Scotland circus take place at Parkhead, with Hampden being rented out by the fat dancer from Take That. Pre and post match rituals were disturbed by the change of venue, and the Barrowlands gig proved a bar too far for us before the game. None of that put the team off their stride as we raced into a five-nil first half lead; in fact the only downside was the thousands of fans missing the first couple of goals due to struggling to get in through Celtic’s ludicrous automated ticket gates despite having arrived in good time (we were lucky – our stand had no queue).

A Sunday visit to my Granny’s for sponge cake and a lift to the airport from James and Lynne later and we were enjoying the hospitality of Glasgow’s Executive Lounge. Due to the number of early flights from Gatwick the next day, the Travelodge proved very popular with the travelling Tartan Army (although the hour-long wait for luggage had worn us down and we retired to bed straight away).

I don't like Mondays (at Gatwick when the baggage carousel breaks down)

To add insult to the injury of the draconian hand luggage restrictions in place at the time, the check in queues were almost out the door due to broken conveyor belts. This is where our Club Europe tickets came into their own with a dedicated check in line, and we were soon through and in the lounge. Despite the offer of free bevvy in the lounge, I opted to stay dry so as to make the most of the complimentary champagne on board, and this was duly caned all the way to Vilnius (despite the shortages sweeping the rest of the plane, Club Europe was thankfully unaffected!).

Ally, Susan and Kenny arrived just minutes after us on the KLM connection from Amsterdam so we agreed to wait for them in the Arrivals Hall. As we waited, the heavens opened outside and the waiting Tartan Army scuttled into a number of taxis and buses, leaving us to linger while Ally found to his horror that his bag was still sitting at Schiphol Airport. We beat a retreat to the upstairs bar restaurant to discuss tactics and wait for the weather to subside, eventually opting to barter with the profiteering taxi drivers rather than try and get all seven of us onto a bus.

We were having a beer at the hotel bar, having already checked in, when Rich appeared – he’d planned to leave us a message as his work mobile wasn’t working. The eight of us headed off en masse – the plan was to strike for Avilys brew pub for some food, but we diverted into Busi Treacas for some of their home brewed cherry beer. Avilys was dependable (and expensive) as ever, and Rich and James were made up with the “Beer hive” 5 litre giraffe measures. After a few hours we moved on – the rain was back on now, and some doorway hopping brought us into a weird and wonderful student bar (which we managed to drink dry with just one round!) and then onto the all night refuge of Transylvania and the first pear ciders of the trip.

Tuesday – shell suited animals and stuffed jakies

Tuesday morning saw Helen and me head to the nearby bus station to get some provisions for the room (after late night munchies having to go unsatisfied the previous night). On the way back, we made time to visit two wee bars – one full of stuffed animals and shell suited jakies, the other a nice, shiny (but very small) sports bar sporting a Chelsea Headhunters scarf (and now, Worthing and Netley Abbey Tartan Army ones). After dropping off the crisps in the room, we headed up Pylimo in search of a bar we’d found back in 2003 with the Milngavie boys – it had stuck in our mind thanks to the appearance of an entire military brass band marching through it. The bar/pizzeria in question was still there, and we settled in for a few beers and a pizza as gradually everyone else gathered there: Bruce and Sharon (who’d just flown in that day and used our taxi price as a guide to ensure they didn’t get charged double, as originally quoted!), Ally and Susan, and eventually, Craig, Kevin and Wolfie (from Austria).

No brass band this time, but a wake! We were politely ushered out to the wooden terrace, and thought it best to drink up and leave (otherwise we’d have to weave between the mourners to get to the gents!). Next on the agenda was posh bikers’ bar Harleys, before a backstreet expedition (without Kev and Wolfie) taking in a hotel’s cellar bar (that we again drank dry, this time of pear cider) and a traditional restaurant (for Zeppelins). Tam Coyle had been doing his best to perpetuate a rumour of some secret gig for one of the charter companies, but when we stumbled across him later on that evening he was looking forlorn – there was no PA but the barstaff had offered to put his CDs on for him, one album at a time!

With the game to look forward to the next day, and the Loony Alba bus setting off early, everyone turned in for an early-ish night around 1am. Well, almost everyone…

Wednesday – Hitting a Kaunas with a banjo

Waking up early on Wednesday morning, I found Helen was already up and out, having been called upon to “talk in” a tired and emotional footsoldier who was evidently unable to discern which way to hold his map, having enjoyed a late night drinking session with Fast Ted and Andy Mac, amongst others. Said footsoldier proceeded to take to his bed for the rest of the day, leaving his good lady to accompany the rest of NATA on the bus to Kaunas. Pear cider rations were procured at a local supermarket, and the convoy of buses took to the road a mere 20 minutes late; the only blow to our bus convenor’s planning was the lack of a CD player to entertain us with his specially selected compilations (one for a win, one for a defeat!).

The bus dropped us by the ground and almost everyone headed down the hill to the city centre. Having been in Kaunas in 2003 and being distinctly underwhelmed by the experience, I was in less of a rush, and instead the NATA contingent (Ally, Susan, Sharon, James, Lynne, Helen and Paul) headed into the open stadium for photos before spotting a small bar (Komanda) in the outside wall. In a rare departure from tradition, everyone bar Ally and Susan, opted to stay put and have something to eat in the bar, and we were still there hours later when the Inverurie Two returned from their successful foray for vegetarian food. In the interim we’d joined by Auld Andy and Scott, Phil and Roisin from Loony Alba, and by the time Gav, Craig T and Kellas had joined the fray a case of lager had appeared on the table.

Mindful of the fun and games we’d all faced 3 years previous, an early approach to the turnstiles was called for. Thankfully the Lithuanian FA had managed to properly sort out segregation (must have been all that extra money they’d charged a large proportion of us) and there was no repeat of the problems we’d faced before. Our £30 seats were along the touchline at the end of the main stand, and were right where Kenny Miller ran to celebrate his goal. After romping into a comfortable two-nil lead, we were pegged back in the last five minutes and had to endure a spot of hanging on until the final whistle. Being penned in for a while by the local polis was a lot more bearable this time around with a win to celebrate.

Jubilant, relieved, and six points to the good, we made our way back to the Loony Alba Bingo Bus. Not letting the lack of a stereo stifle our enjoyment, the back of the bus was a non-stop sing-along to the likes of “Star Trekkin”, “The Gambler” (we were all singing this for the full trip – apparently the Celtic Park DJ had played it at half-time!), and thanks to Sharon, “Man-a-man-ah” from the Muppets. Once back in Vilnius, we did head to the “Man in Barrel” pub on the main square but were beaten back by the chronic lack of service and again headed for an early night. Still, not as early as some, eh Bruce?

Thursday – Off the beaten Trakai

With this trip being mine and Helen’s fourth visit to Vilnius, we felt compelled to actually make the effort to see some of the surrounding attractions and decided to strike out for nearby Trakai, home to an historic castle and the erstwhile capital city. The rest of NATA (bar Rich and the absent Clarkston Chris) tagged along too, and somehow we all managed to shoe-horn into a cramped and fragrant minibus for the 30 minute journey to Trakai’s forlorn bus station.

Trakai is basically a long peninsula into a lake, with the train and bus stations at the southern tip (where the “mainland” is) and the castle built on a small island in the lake at the northern end. We wandered up and through the ruins of the old castle, pausing at the Kybynlar restaurant for the traditional Karaite dish of Cornish pasties. The Karaites were a tribe from Iraq who had been hired by the old Grand Duke back in the good old days, and had swapped desert life for castle-guarding duties in the Balkans. Trakai is the site of one of their few temples (it’s a semi-Islamic religion), with others in Vilnius, Turkey and the Crimea.

Fed and watered, we wandered down and over the bridges to the pink hued castle itself, getting the obligatory Susan-in-stocks photos, before heading back to the station via a wee pub (complete with loads of owl symbolism) on the way back down. Having scratched (and sniffed) the surface of real Lithuanian bus travel, we decided to take our chances on the trains; there’s only a handful of trains a day, taking 45 minutes or so, but we were in luck time-wise. The rolling stock itself was typical ex-Soviet – massive and sparsely furnished, but it did the trick.

Back in Vilnius we headed up to Lokys, or the Bear Restaurant as Kenny Hamilton (who had by now joined the fray) described it from his last visit. A meal of beaver, bear and such like later and four of us (Ally, Susan, Helen and me) headed around the corner to Aukštaiciai In search of Rich, who had been ringing me on Dave the Spy’s mobile. We’d missed Rich but were in time to see a spot of improvised singing from Dave’s table before heading off into the night.

Friday – Otherwise engaged

Ally had managed to organise a bus tour to Grutas Parkas, a theme park (of sorts) created by Lithuanian entrepreneur who had snaffled up all the unwanted Soviet monuments in the early 1990s. The park is a good 80+ miles from Vilnius, down near Drusininkai, hence an early start was required. Unfortunately, my bowels had started even earlier, and instead of accompanying Helen on the “Elite Tours” bus (complete with side-expanding seats), my morning was spent on another kind of seat instead.

When things started drying up and I felt suitably confident to wander away from the safe proximity of the hotel bathroom, I headed out into Vilnius. Right before the trip I’d got it in mind to propose to Helen, and given her first ever Scotland trip had been to Vilnius back in 1998 (in other words, pretty much exactly 8 years ago given the timing of both matches), I thought a tasteful amber ring would be appropriate to actually do the proposing with (besides, Helen’s far too fussy for me to chance actually choosing a proper engagement ring on my own!). Tasteful and amber rings are usually mutually exclusive terms, however after a spell of mooching around Vilnius’ posher shops I managed to find the perfect ring (three stones, one for each game in Lithuania…), and after picking up an Orthodox icon of St Elena (as a good luck charm for the car) from the Orthodox Cathedral, my work here was done.

With an afternoon to kill before the bus was due back I decided to head out towards the TV Tower to see what I could see. The bus stops in front of Vilnius railway station are a bit of a free-for-all, so after studying a route map I made my way down to the next stop. The Tower itself is a fair bit out of the centre, and the only route from the bus stop means heading through a less than salubrious housing scheme, but the views from the revolving restaurant are worth it. After consulting the map again, I could see a bus that went from the Tower to the Zalgiris stadium, so I caught that to see if the old Antalya bar was still open. It wasn’t, however posters at the stadium did declare that the FC Vilnius v Zalgiris Vilnius local derby was scheduled for the next day (not the Sunday as our cursory pre-trip research had suggested). A beer in the second of the stadium bars later, having swapped a NATA badge for a set of official FIFA referees’ cards, I was on my way back across town to meet the returning Helen.

With the most of the others in the hotel foyer, we all headed back out and round to the Sports Bar Helen and I had discovered on the Tuesday. Again we were made to feel very welcome, despite the cramped surroundings, but with so many pubs and such little time, we were soon off again – next door to the “Russian Jakey Bar”. Of course, with Scotland having been in town for a week, the jakies in residence weren’t Russian this particular Friday night: two lads, clearly tired and emotional, were completely out for the count at a table near the door, much to the amusement of the bar-staff and the locals. We settled in for possibly the cheapest beers of the trip, having posed for photos with the ropey barmaid (and dissuaded her from stealing one of the sleeping Scots' Glengarries) before heading once again to the mythical “bar around the corner”. This particular one was called Labyrinth, and seemed to be a favourite with local dope smoking Goths. As one would expect from such passive smoking, we soon had the munchies and Cili Pica opposite the station came into play.

Saturday – Young ladies bearing beer

After scooting up the new funicular to take in the view from Gedimino’s Fortress, Helen and I met up with Rich (and eventually, a hungover Ally and Susan) in Avilys ahead of the game. We met James and Lynne up at the ground, and with our plastic-cupped beer in hand, took our £2 seats in the centre stand. A dire 0-0 draw between two very poor teams was enlivened by two young girls (around 8 years old) coming and asking Rich who he was supporting. After giving them saltire button badges, they returned at the start of the second half each bearing a beer for Rich (to add to the one I’d got him at half-time).

As the teams filed off the pitch at the end of the game, Rich had the audacity to stand by the players tunnel to shake hands with the home team as they passed. A quick badge buying session later and it was off to Po Grin Dis, another old haunt from the U21 game in 2003. A Russian meal in a shopping centre restaurant followed before we headed up to the Sky Bar on the top floor of the Reval Hotel for some cocktails and views over the darkening skyline.

Sunday – homeward bound

Another early-ish night made for an early rise, and we headed out to the airport by taxi. Despite having the chance of free bevvy in the lounge before the flight and no work the next day (I was between jobs – due to start a new one a week later), I didn’t really feel like drinking (much like the whole trip, to be honest!) so we had a quiet one. In any case, the following week would be mostly spent in Germany, with two Fortuna games and a Rot Weiss Essen match to look forward to, along with the small matter of getting engaged.

Back to top of page


Main NATA Gallery
(11 pages)

NATA Extra Gallery
(4 Pages)

Bruce's Gallery
(New window)


Ukraine, October 2006

Prologue - World Cup Finalists? So what...

Another trip that was booked the day the fixtures were formally announced, meaning we could sneak in and get direct BA flights at the cheapest price. Not that the price was particularly cheap (and not Club class either, this time!).

Much like the Lithuania game a month previous, the Wednesday away game was preceded by a home match. No Faroes this time; we were playing host to World Cup runners up France with a 5pm kick off. Now, to be honest, this has to be my favourite time for a football game to kick off, as it allows just the right opportunity to make full use of the pre match hospitality whilst still leaving plenty of options for later on. A decision was made to miss The Shed, and instead we headed up Bath Street after leaving the Iron Horse at 11am, taking in The Griffin (full of friendly French fans) and the more sedate State Bar before grabbing a taxi to the Allison Arms.

One Gary Caldwell goal and a lot of singing and celebrating later, we were all back in the Allison Arms for several hours before managing to catch a bus within a street of the Sports Café. Unfortunately (for us) the Sports Café was too mobbed to be comfortable, so after a couple we headed back to our Clydeside hotel, amazed at how much the win had fired the celebrations of the usually non-plussed (with Scotland, anyway) locals.

We flew down the next morning with Bruce and Sharon, and after giving a Bruce a lift back to Merstham for him to swap luggage, it was off to the Holiday Inn Ariel at Heathrow and a pint of Guinness in an England souvenir glass.

Monday – Baileys for breakfast, wine for lunch, beer for dinner

Helen and I have these cards that allow us to get into Airport Executive Lounges around the world, and for a mere £15 we can take in a guest. The challenge was now to ensure that Bruce drank enough to get his money worth, so we hit upon the Balieys with gay abandon. By the time the flight was called around 9am we’d already demolished several large measures each, which was handy as it lined my stomach for the booze on board.

The flight was pretty much 50% Tartan Army, with many familiar faces (including James and Lynne, who’d transferred from Glasgow that morning) on board. We’d managed to snag the very back row of the flight; handy for the toilets and the stewardesses. And handy for them to keep supplying the red wine. I’d chosen wisely, as almost everything else ran out – I was unperturbed, as 7 wee bottles later (or the equivalent of just over 2 normal sized bottles) the flight touched down in Kiev. We’d been warned to expect hideous delays at passport control and customs, but Bruce, Helen and I just sailed through. Not so for James and Lynne – a system crash paralysed the queues for a good 45 minutes just after we’d got through, so as they stayed in line, we waited it out in the Arrivals Hall with our circus strongman lookalike driver.

James had managed to organise a transfer in the hotel minibus, easily big enough for all of us and our luggage, and straight to the hotel as well. The President Hotel Kyivsky overlooked the stadium from a hill, and offered easy walking access to both the match venue (10 minutes) and the city’s main drag (10 minutes the other way, with Independence Square another 10 minutes along). After an orientation beer in the hotel’s pricey bar, we headed out for a look around, getting as far as Chateau (or, as everyone else thought it was called due to its Cyrillic sign, “WATO”). We made the classic mistake of taking seats on the pavement terrace, meaning our drinks took several days to arrive and three of the party had died of hunger by the time the food arrived in mid-December, but nonetheless the beer and food were good. After a few hours some space had opened up inside, so we headed on up and joined Mike, Suzanne, Bert and co at a well placed table within easy striking distance of the bar. The clientele was taking a definite turn to the tartan variety as the night wore on – a few of us were even questioning the need for hotel given the place is open 24 hours a day (and is its own microbrewery to boot – I must be dreaming…), but all good things must end, and with a brewery tour to look forward to the next day it was off for some shuteye.

Tuesday – The men (and women) in white coats

Following on from the success of Bruce’s Union Brewery tour in Ljubljana, KELTA had vowed to return the favour. Using Steve’s fortuitous job title (Beer and Wines Buyer for a major retailer), KELTA’s Simon had managed to arrange not just a free tour of the Slavutych brewery, but even a free bus pick up from the centre! Yet again, Bruce had failed to make a bus rendezvous, but the rest of NATA were there in force to don the white coats for the technical tour of the brewery. Unlike Union, where the beer was kept flowing in their own purpose built pub, we were entertained in a conference room complete with a powerpoint presentation, but nonetheless it was a good way to spend an afternoon.

The driver dropped us back in Independence Square and we wandered through the market stalls, picking up ever cheaper Dynamo Kiev souvenirs (and the odd fridge magnet of Ukraine’s gorgeous but controversial ex-PM Julia Timoschenko) before being shanghaied by a TV crew wanting opinions on the game and the country. Feeling a warm glow of Ukrainian hospitality (and the warm glow of free beer), I enthused about both in my tourist Russian, which immediately piqued their interest (before they quickly learned that “Ja gavaru tolke nyemnoga pa-Russkye” – “I only speak a little Russian” is my most used phrase!). It’s okay, I thought – I wasn’t interesting enough for TV, and even if they did show it, no-one I knew would understand any of it anyway! I later heard from a couple of people that they’d returned exhausted and drunk to their beds, switching on the telly at two in the morning, only to be confronted by me speaking in Russian!

Anyway, back to the present – after the market we headed in the rough direction of Andrew’s Descent only to spot a likely candidate for food. “Sunduk” (or “The Chest”) was a cellar restaurant and pub, but despite an extensive menu, only served two or three dishes. Still, that was all that was needed, and Bruce soon arrived along with WESTA regulars Jen, Janis, Dot and Craig. Back out on the street and we met a number of other familiar faces at the top end of the square before setting off on a quest to find a “bar around the corner”. A Czech themed pub provided the obvious choice for a stop, and the NATA/WESTA group (now boosted by Jim Brown and Tam Coyle) headed in for a beer before checking out the café bar opposite. It was at this stage when reports of the trouble in the square began to reach us – an unspecified number (estimates varied from 30 to 300) of local hooligans had ran out of the subway and rushed the unsuspecting Scots, delivering a few blows before scurrying off down the side streets. This put a bit of a downer on the night, and as half the group went around the corner to regroup with pals who had been caught up in it, the rest of us headed back in the direction of the hotel and away from the centre.

Wednesday – Ticket queues and backstreet cafés

Although we could, in theory, have picked up our match tickets on the Tuesday afternoon, we headed to the Hotel Sport at Wednesday lunchtime to pick up the briefs, along with the rest of the Tartan Army. The SFA’s pre-match research had been successful in identifying the smallest, most impractical hotel foyer to use, so we decided to have a strategic lunch and come back when we could actually get in the door. With Helen on Lonny Alba committee duty (having been elected as Membership Secretary at the end of September) on the restaurant terrace in a pre-St Andrews Night meeting, the rest of us (Ally, Susan, Bert and Chris Houston) had a meal of posh pasta in the Nobel’s. When we got back to the Sport after 3pm, the queues had subsided slightly but it still took around 40 minutes to get hold of the tickets. By this stage, I’d had enough of the shambles surrounding the stadium and headed into the centre for a quiet drink (Ally and Susan also decided this was a wise strategy, but somehow we lost Bruce on the way). We managed to find an alleyway with a couple of bars – one a café bar that existed more in a marquee than a building, and the other turned out to be Eric’s Bierstube, another marquee effort (upstairs anyway) with friendly service and a lot of local Ukrainian fans.

We hopped on the metro back to the ground and could see the notable police presence. The atmosphere, both at the metro station and on the road to the ground (once we’d found out that the access gates at the Hotel Sport were bolted and we were all being channelled in via the main entrance) was drunkenly abusive rather than actually intimidating (at least for someone who had been at the Dynamo Dresden v Fortuna game a few weeks previously!), and we managed to get through the multiple layers of stewards with little incident (although I don’t know why my rucksack was searched three times whilst almost everyone else wandered through unmolested!). The toilets were aromatic and, as the American students would say, co-educational; the dividing wall seemed to have been removed many moons ago. Most frustratingly, they were a good 100 yards from the Scotland section. Of course, the complete lack of any refreshment facilities at least meant there was nothing inside the ground likely to require anyone to have to expel it in toilets in the first place.

Kiev’s Olympic Stadium may be impressive from a distance, but up close it’s a peeling, fading dinosaur of a ground. The Scotland fans had a curve of several sections, with Ukrainians above us (despite assurances this would never happen); despite the acres of empty seats around the bowl, we were tightly packed in thanks to the local FA selling tickets at a tenth the price the SFA were charged, then letting all Scots with local tickets into the SFA section.

The game was lost on the pitch thanks in part to some gamesmanship from Shevchenko (who certainly didn’t turn a performance worthy of his price tag). Having said that, 2-0 to the hosts wasn’t entirely unreflective of the way the game went, and to come out the first four matches with 9 points from a possible 12 is not too bad a return at all.

The atmosphere at the final whistle was a little subdued, although being kept in our section for a good 30 minutes did give an opportunity for a bit of terrace humour at the expense of a couple of hapless locals on the running track. The police then moved us down the stairs and through the car park in instalments, apparently whilst clearing any lingering hoolies out of our path. We ducked out of the city-bound march once we had reached the path up the hill to our hotel, however the search for a late night beer (or even a water, given how dehydrating the stadium had been) in the Hotel Rus next door proved fruitless.

Thursday – Here we glow

Chris Thomas had managed to arrange a bus trip to Chernobyl for the Thursday, so an early start from the Hotel Sport was called for. A chance conversation across the Sports Palace forecourt led to Bruce realising his passport was essential and he had to turn back and face the climb back up to the hotel again to fetch it whilst I sourced some (non alcoholic) drink for trip. A brief meeting with Andrew from Moldova (well, Russia, but living in Moldova) followed – he had to catch a bus down to Odessa that day, and we were about to depart for the second pick up. Once everyone was on board (with only one drop-out), the guide Sergei’s appeal to treat the trip with the solemnity and respect it deserved was rendered slightly surreal by the radio blaring out “Man-ah-man-ah” (shades of the Kaunas bus trip!).

The trip was better than I can possibly describe here – better to look at the gallery and see the photos – but I’ll try and condense it anyway: sat on bus, had passport inspected, had photo taken in front of Chernobyl Welcomes Careful Drivers sign, wandered around Chernobyl visitor centre car park, drove to power station, got out of bus in power station car park, listened to museum curator show us scale model of reactor (complete with reactor core crazy golf flags), got told off by museum curator for taking photos from upstairs, took more photos, got back on bus, went to Pripyat (deserted town), carefully stepped over the brand new childrens’ doll poignantly placed in Pripyat by a previous tour guide (think “Drop the dead donkey”), went to a restored church, had a four course lunch (I had no idea you could do that many things with beetroot), got bus home.

Chris’ party had been supplemented by a handful of stragglers, including a couple of Moldovans (I’m sure someone must have asked them if they though Pripyat was nicer than Chisnau!) and the tallest American I’ve ever seen; all 9 foot 7 of him was squeezed into an orange body warmer and a pair of green satin flares like some kind of grotesque circus costume. After lunch I braved the sanitary facilities in the Chernobyl town canteen – shortly before I did, someone (presumably from our bus) had got there first and disposed of what can only be described as some highly radioactive waste in one of the two pans. Unfortunately, said pan was not plumbed in (although a hose pipe was hanging flaccidly from the wall), so the offending excretia was left in the open to ripen. There was also no door on the cubicle, so whoever laid the golden egg obviously wasn’t shy. Suspicion, perhaps naturally, fell on the jolly green trousered giant, but later intelligence revealed he’d been merrily using the Ladies (which had a similar “open plan” aspect) at the time, much to Michelle’s consternation.

After gasping for air outside, it was back on the bus for the long drive back to Kiev. Once back in town and changed back into our kilts (long trousers were an essential for Chernobyl) we headed out for a beer, eventually meeting Ally, Susan, James and Lynne downstairs in Eric’s Bierstube, along with a couple of Dutch guys they’d met and dragged along with them. Unfortunately we’d missed Rich that evening, but did hear second hand of his views on Star Wars: “I’d love an Imperial Storm Trooper uniform, but I’ve nowhere to wear it”.

After politely declining an invitation from two friendly hooligans to join them in their pub over the road, and listening to the grumpy owner of the Irish Pub near Independence Square putting the world to rights, we still managed to find time for a local jakey to be magnetically drawn to Ally’s glaikit grin and try and follow us home. Thankfully, my Russian does extend to the sort of vocabulary that makes a jakey review his life choices, and after a brief exchange he turned tail and headed off into the night, much to everyone’s stunned amusement.

Friday – Kick Start

Thanks to Rich’s enthusiasm for the subject, Andy Dougan’s book “Dynamo: Defending the honour of Kiev” had been required pre-trip reading for most of us. We’d arranged to do a wee tour of Kiev’s grounds in order to pay homage and agreed to meet at the gates of Dynamo Stadium (the closest one to the city centre) on the Thursday lunchtime. The only no-show was Chris, but he hadn’t read the book anyway, so after a brief stop in Dynamo’s club shop (shockingly overpriced compared to the other outlets in the city, but we think that’s intentional so they can sting the gullible; Rich, proud owner of a £39 Dynamo shirt, disagrees!).

Dynamo Stadium, a surprisingly compact and low-rise ground, is set in a park, and has a long shaded approach from the road, guarded at the end by a manically determined security guard. He knocked back our initial approach, and then tried to chase us away from the FC Start memorial statue before an impressively pin-striped bodyguard sort shooed him away and escorted us into the ground before allowing us on the pitch for a team photo. From here it was onto the main station as a gateway to the CSKA Stadium. Finding the back door to the stadium was easier said than done, so after a drinks stop at the Parasol restaurant bar it was the long way round over the flyover to the stadium. The ground is a crumbling relic with no sign of any facilities whatsoever, however a poster did proclaim that Arsenal Kiev were hosting Metallist Kharkiv the next day. We knew that Obolon Kiev were at home in the second division at the same time, however given the choice of seeing a top division game or wandering out to the northern suburbs to see a brewery side, we (probably unwisely, in retrospect) opted for the former.

Next on the agenda was Start Stadium, a good 25 minute hike from CSKA along the congested rush hour streets, At least out here in “real” Kiev, away from the city centre, people seemed a lot friendlier and many of the idling cars tooted and waved in greeting. Start Stadium still stands, but given the state of the pitch doesn’t get much match practice. Athletes were using the track for running, and the single stand had a number of other people chewing the fat. After another photo session it was back to a metro station and for Rich, James and Lynne, off to the Babyn Yar Memorial in the north, Bruce had a flight to catch, and Ally, Susan, Helen and myself headed for pizza. For the second trip running, I wasn’t really in the mood for mental drinking, so we settled for a nightcap at the Indigo pub near Olympic Stadium and an early night.

Saturday – Boring, boring Arsenal

The Arena entertainment and shopping complex seems to have been built with the sole intention of laundering as much money as possible. Nonetheless, it does boast it’s own German style microbrewery, so a late morning drink was on the agenda for Helen and I. With the main street cordoned off by police due to simultaneous right and left wing rallies taking place, we opted for the backstreets and managed to find the hidden gem of the Baraban Pub – pretty much unmarked and in a small courtyard. We met James and Lynne in the Parasol bar and headed round to the CSKA Stadium for the match, with Ally, Susan and Rich giving the game a miss. Despite the free entry, I’d say they made the right choice – nil-nil flattered both teams, and the crowd was outnumbered by two youth teams using the pitch immediately after the main game. Hard to believe that this was top division football!

After a quick one on the way back towards the station, we met Ally and Susan back in Baraban (who we’d managed to direct there) and we settled in for the night. They even had veggie burgers, but unfortunately ran out of burger buns so we had to settle for sliced loaf instead! When the last beer just wouldn’t go down (“it was like trying to fit an Obolon into a round hole”) I knew it was time for the fat lady to sing.


The A Team van had been booked for the return airport transfer, with Ally and Susan taking Bruce’s place. Unfortunately Kiev airport operates a strict no-checking in policy until 2 hours before the flight, but at least this gave time for me to try the Ukrainian staple of borscht in the 24 hour restaurant beforehand. No sooner had the food gone down than it was time to start standing in line. It seems the Soviet tradition of queuing in order to join a queue is alive and kicking in Kiev Borispol Airport! For one of the few times on a Scotland trip, I was genuinely glad to be homeward bound, and almost regretted spending a week there (especially as holiday allowance is now at a real premium for me).

Back to top of page


Main NATA Gallery
(8 Pages)

NATA Extra Gallery
(6 Pages)

Bruce's Gallery
(New Window)

Highlights of 2006

Following on from last year's "awards", here's Paul's choices for 2006:

Best away trip: Japan

Best away game: Scotland 5, Bulgaria 1

Best home game: Scotland 1, France 0

Best night away on TA duty: Thursday night in Kobe

Best away pub: Avilys, Vilnius (but only for the want of something more worthy!)

Best karaoke performance: Kenny Hamilton singing The Gambler, as recorded and sent by Bruce (closely followed by Ali Nish singing in Japanese)

Best pre-match home pub: The State Bar

Best post-match home pub: The Allison Arms

Best quote: Bruce (walking past Worthing's only gay bar and looking in the window): "There's an awful lot of women in this gay bar", Helen: "Yes, but they don't normally have their curtains open like that"

Best song: “So Japan-easy, oh this is so Japan-easy”

Best beer: Avilys Honey Beer, Lithuania

Most mental local firewater: Japanese Shochu (as tasted by Chris Houston - "Taste this - it makes your teeth chewy... I can't eat this")

Most boring location: Chernobyl wasn’t really buzzing (just glowing), and Kaunas isn’t my favourite.

Drunkest NATA member: Bruce, Tuesday night/Wednesday morning in Vilnius. Next question…

Favourite stadium visited: The Kobe Wing Stadium (edges it over Saitama due to the roof!)

Favourite match venue city: Tokyo

Best non-TA destination: Düsseldorf (again)

Best non-TA pub: Schumacher’s Stammhaus, Düsseldorf

Best Brewery Tour: Slavutych, Kiev (thanks to KELTA)

Back to top of page



Search NATA Online: powered by FreeFind

Copyright notice: All photographs on this site are the property of individual members of the Netley Abbey Tartan Army unless otherwise stated. The copyright of these images remains with the individual possessing the photographic negatives, and permission should ideally be sought before copying them. We are keen to prevent anyone from making financial gain from our copyrighted images, or bringing the reputation of the Netley Abbey Tartan Army into disrepute (as we are more than capable of doing this ourselves).
If anyone does wish to use these images and would like express written consent to do so, please e-mail Paul Allison using via the contact page.
© Netley Abbey Tartan Army, 2001-2008 (and beyond...)