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France, September 2007

"We'll Always Have Paris..."

As per the preceding trip (Faroes in June), our last game in Paris was another Berti-induced humiliation, the notorious 5-0 gubbing dished out by the then World and European champions. Few Scots in the Stade de France would night would dispute that France were a shoo-in for the 2002 World Cup on the evidence of that night; in fact, some of us (well, me, according to Rich) were reputed to have declared after Zidane’s masterful opener “That’s me f*cking off, I’ve had my money’s worth…”.

Notwithstanding prior performances, Paris remains one of my least favourite destinations, due in equal measure to the haughty stereotype its citizens strive to live up to, the prices and the dubious size and quality of everything, from beer to hotel rooms. Accordingly, taking the Bari/Torshavn approach to being miserable before we’ve even arrived, Helen and I opted for a full day’s work on the Tuesday, followed by an 8pm flight from Heathrow to Charles de Gaulle and two nights in the Ibis Bastille, a hotel we’d stayed in for a U2 concert back in 2005. Whilst the upside is obvious – less money spent, valuable holiday leave saved – the slight downside is that the France trip became disassociated (for us, anyway) from the previous weekend’s resounding 3-1 win against a theatrical Lithuania side with several points to prove (they come over ‘ere, they steal our jobs as footballers…).

The flight itself was delayed slightly, meaning more time in the lounge hammering the wine and chatting to an American couple en route to Tel Aviv (they’d been delayed a whole day!). On board, the massive plane played host to all of 14 passengers, 5 of whom were clustered around us due to the emergency exits affording more legroom. Behind us, we got chatting to Felippe, a Brazilian IT graduate on his first business trip abroad, along with the two boys over the aisle. Bizarrely, there was no sign of any other TA presence on our flight, despite the sight of a few other kilts at Heathrow T4.

Knowingly that we’d arrive late, we’d booked an airport-hotel transfer minibus, settling for the security of a fixed price over the uncertainty of a cowboy cabbie if we arrived too late for the RER train (as it happened, we’d have made it had we run for it!). The downside of these transfer minibuses is the lottery of which hotel gets dropped off first – we lost, and had to sit in the furnace-like heat whilst the bus negotiated the periphique ring road to drop off the only other two passengers at a hotel a single metro station away from the Parc des Princes. The roundabout had some sure signs of life, including that TA staple: an Irish bar! Information duly mentally filed for later reference and it was off to the Ibis Bastille.

With the clock having turned midnight, we decided to stay local, and grabbed a seat in the hotel bar. After a brief contretemps with the night receptionist, he agreed to carry on with beer service, and after Fletchy (a pal of Coullzer who I’d met on the Vienna Airport Train a few month’s previous) joined us, and Helen retired for the night, we joined in chatting with a group of Dundonians who’d braved the bus all the way from the city of Jute.

After heading to bed around 4-ish, and being woken 6 hours later by the door-slamming contest in the corridor outside, a text from Rich advised us that the beagle had landed and was on way to our hotel. After rendezvousing in reception, we opted to get some food early doors, so it was over the road for pizza and (whisper it, after the NATA ban on me drinking grape juice after the Bari and Faroes incidents) a shared bottle of wine. A stroll down to the Bastille roundabout, and a few glasses of beer in a relatively cheap stand-up bar later, it was the tube to Chatelet and on to one of my favourite Paris pubs, the Frog & Rosbif. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a Franco-English pub had failed to capture the imagination of the rest of the Tartan Army, but being a big fan of micro-brewed real ale, I was happy as a frog in beef myself. After Bruce and Sharon joined us, we got talking to our neighbours - the table next to us turned out to have a crowd of Scots and French related through marriage, in Coatbridge of all places. The Potting Shed Tartan Army was next to arrive, with Susan sporting a matching hat to Ally’s (awww…), and then it was over the road to new Thistle Pub for another beer before heading out to the area I’d inadvertently scoped from the airport minibus the night before.

(A quick word about The Thistle – excellent! Very, very friendly, and not overwhelmed in the way that the Highlander and the Auld Alliance, both otherwise superb ex-pat bars in their own right, were in 2002 or, reportedly, again in September 2007)

Catching the metro so early had the obvious advantage of affording ample breathing space, and then a fortuitous mistake led to us surfacing at the far exit from our target pub – Hoggans, the Irish bar on the roundabout – but next to a wee brasserie that knocked out inexpensive toasties (which slightly offset the expensive beer…). With the sandwiches washed down, and after the obligatory photo stop in front of the “Sumo” restaurant sign, it was off to Hoggans to meet up with Craig, Disco Keith, Callum and Gav B. Quick service, good Guinness and possibly the most spacious gents toilet in the whole of France meant for a pleasant few hours leading up to kick-off, and with our chosen perch on the street outside the front door, we had the added entertainment of French road-rage caberet to keep us entertained (at one point, the driver of a stranded bus left the engine running to get out and knock on the window of a 4x4, all to rapturous applause and encouragement from the onlooking drinkers).

Difficult as it was to tear ourselves away from the alcoholic womb of Hoggans, we set off with Callum’s generously distributed carry out for sustenance. The ground was a 20 minute walk away, and far from our confident predictions that our chosen route to the ground would easily outflank those marching from the Eiffel Tower*, it turned out our “just one more quick one” refrain had left us at the back of a sizeable queue to get in. With assigned seat numbers long abandoned, we filed in towards the back of the official Scotland section and ended up alongside the segregation fence (a wholly laughable concept in this instance!). With me being the last to take up my space, I found that the fence effectively blocked half the pitch, so Helen and I moved further down and across, ending up in the aisle for most of the first half until Lynne, on her way to the toilet immediately before half-time, squeezed past us and explained that her and James had two spare seats right next to them, making for a much more comfortable second-half (I dread to think what the surge down the aisle would have been like when the goal went in).

* I have to confess that I thought the Eiffel Tower march was a mental idea as, factoring in the combination of rapidly warming lager, full pubs en route, lack of toilet facilities and distance, I figured it would be an uncomfortable struggle to be in for kick-off, dehydrated thirsty and hungover. On reflection, I’m happy to admit I was wrong!

Almost from our first steps inside the ground, it was apparent that an unpreeeecedented (sic) amount of Tartan Army had found their way into the home end, and the joyous clapping accompaniment to La Marseillesaise (which still gives me goose bumps just to think about) rang out around the ground as the anthems were played. Incidentally, and coming hot on the heels of France’s 0-0 draw in Italy where the anthem was whistled out, the Scottish refrain brought all round praise from the French media the next day! The sea of tartan and waving lion rampant and saltire flags continued unabated around the entire arena, and it is a testimony to the welcoming nature and tolerance of the French fans (yes, yes… even the Parisians!) that no flashpoints occurred as a result. The performance was stirring stuff from start to finish, however along with everyone else I’ve spoken to about the day, I was busy looking around the stadium at the sea of tartan and taking in the singing as Gordon launched the ball forward in the 64th minute; after all, what could possibly happen? The next moment I looked at the pitch to see the ball rocketing towards goal and the goalkeeper flying across to palm it into the inside netting. Sheer, unequivocal disbelief followed.

The next 25 minutes plus passed in a blur. I’ve spoken to several people who were at Southampton’s 1976 FA Cup Final victory against the unassailable Man Utd and they’ve told how they spent the last 10 minutes (Bobby Stokes having scored in the 81st) celebrating, oblivious to the fact the game had carried on without them. Whilst it wasn’t quite as delirious as that, and I remained acutely aware of the fragility of our lead, it never really felt as heart-stopping as I would have previously imagined. In fact, I remember coolly thinking “they’ll now need to score three to beat us on the head-to-head”, not one to equalise or two to win, but simply doing the head-to-head arithmetic after the lessons learned in the last campaign against Norway (away goals only counting double in Euro head-to-heads, not FIFA World Cup ones).

Then came the final whistle and the reality sunk in – we had become one of the few teams to win a competitive game in France in the last decade. Unlike the corresponding home win the previous autumn, when the loudest cheer by far came at the final whistle, this was more of a satisfying finish, confident that Scotland could now go away from home and win against top quality opposition, not merely scrape the odd freak result here and there as plucky underdogs. After wandering around delirious for a while, hugging anything that moved, it was back out onto the streets of Paris and straight into an honour guard of French supporters who were applauding the Tartan Army down the street.

We headed back towards the Hoggans vicinity, planning one in the small bar next to the Metro, only now with Tam Coyle and WESTA wenches Wendy and Joyce in tow. The bar was closed, but common consensus suggested heading underground and getting back to the centre rather than have a few in Hoggans. By now, nervous exhaustion was taking a hold of Helen of me, and we opted to head back to the Bastille area, whilst everyone else was heading for the Irish Pub next to the Moulin Rouge. At this stage, the evening was at a real watershed: Helen and I ended up getting lost between the Bastille and the Place de a Republique, eventually getting into a Quick burger bar before the doors were bolted, and following that up with a relatively early night (2-ish); Bruce and Sharon went with everyone else to the Irish Pub, then pretty much went straight to bed, ensuring they were up bright and early for their Eurostar the next day; Ally and Susan, on the other hand, gave up on getting home that night and partied on in the Irish Bar until the metros started running again on Thursday morning. Not to be out-done, they then went on a pub crawl with Rich and Kenny the next day, finding a bar run by a French jakey Raymond Domenech look-alike and staffed by a woman with an incredibly nice backside (“if only her face had been as tight as her arse, she’d have been gorgeous”). For Helen and me, all was not lost, as after an uneventful flight home and some top notch Bordeaux and Brie on the Thursday, it was off to Magdeburg (via Dresden) the next day for a drunken weekend of Fortuna Düsseldorf and ongoing celebrations!

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When the draw was made for the qualifiers, the two stand-out trips for me were Ukraine and Georgia. When the Ukraine jaunt in October 2006 failed to live up to expectations, coupled with my new job having less holiday allowance, I’d let doubts creep in about the Georgia trip. Tales of civil unrest and Russian missile strikes didn’t exactly fire our imagination either. We’d booked pretty much a year in advance to fly from Munich-Tbilisi, keeping our Glasgow-Munich (and back to London) options deliberately open, on the off-chance that Fortuna managed to sneak promotion to the second division, and could therefore be playing anywhere in Germany that weekend. In the event, Fortuna were due at Borussia Dortmund reserves the weekend immediately after the Georgia game, and with Ally and Sue on the same flights as us and committed to spending the weekend in Munich, we decided to spend one night there and fly back on the Saturday (giving an all-important rest day before going back to work – something that was sorely missing from the previous year’s Kiev trip).

The trip then took shape thus: Friday evening, fly Gatwick-Glasgow; stay for two nights at the airport Holiday Inn; see Scotland v Ukraine; on Sunday fly Glasgow-Heathrow-Munich with BA, and luggage checked through; allow an extra couple of hours at Munich airport, in case the inbound flight’s late (or, if not, to enjoy the on-airport brewpub!); fly to Tbilisi, arriving at 3am Monday morning and getting picked up by a hotel transfer; stay at the Marriott Hotel on a ludicrously cheap points deal (approx £60 per room per night!); see Georgia v Scotland; leave Tbilisi at 4am Friday morning, arriving at Munich for 6am; check into the Mercure Hotel in Schwabing (booked from the Thursday night) for some much needed sleep, then head out into Munich for some Bavarian beer and leather-clad thigh-slapping before flying back to Heathrow on the Saturday; all that would then stand between us and home is a National Express bus to Gatwick and a train to deepest rural Surrey.

The first part all went well, with Scotland romping to a two-goal lead within the first 10 minutes, and running out 3-1 winners against the previous year’s World Cup Quarter-Finalists. We even resisted temptation and headed straight back to the airport hotel after the Allison Arms (although, to be fair, things did go a bit melon-shaped before then…)

We checked through to Munich with no problems, and congratulated ourselves on additional lounge-time at Heathrow as we wouldn’t have to clear security there (having come off a domestic flight). We were even able to enjoy a bit of blether with the Tevo brothers at Glasgow, and again with BASTA chief Don Lawson on the flight down. The problems started at Munich, where we arrived on time but our luggage didn’t. A quick enquiry showed that one of the bags had been loaded onto the next LHR-MUC flight, which would allow just enough time for us to check it on to the Lufthansa flight to Tbilisi. BA assured me that the other bag would be sent on to Tbilisi the next day and couriered to our hotel. Now, we like to think of ourselves as battle-hardened travellers, savvy enough to cope in the face of adversity, and to this end (and learning from Ally’s demise in Vilnius earlier in the campaign), we’d split the luggage roughly half-and-half, however one half had more of Helen’s single items in and one had nominally more of mine (given I don’t have the same need for hair straighteners…). After an edgy couple of beers in AirBrau with Ally and Susan and two bagpipers they’d met on the EasyJet flight across from Edinburgh, I returned to the BA luggage desk to find that it was Helen’s bag that had won the lottery.

After checking in the bag (here’s a tip – never fold a Lufthansa boarding card, as the luggage machine doesn’t like that!) and clearing security, it was into the airside AirBrau with the Cheeky Nonsense Tartan Army for some last minute sustenance. The flight was rammed, but by a stroke of luck, I found myself next to Scott from Dundee, a fellow regular on the TAMB; despite our strapping frames, we both ensured that each other had plenty of space and there was none of the armrest wrestling that sometimes ensues with complete strangers. As Helen passed out, even sleeping through the “missile attack” over the Black Sea, Scott and I got tore into the wine, showing some nice footwork to switch seamlessly from red to white when the grumpy stewardess (to be fair, almost everyone was asleep, so you’d have thought she’d be happy to have something to do…) claimed the red had ran dry.

Tbilisi passport control was conspicuously absent of all the ex-Soviet trappings we’ve come to know and love: there wasn’t a ludicrously large peaked cap in sight. In fact, the whole airport gleamed like something out of an advert. After a slightly nervous few moments waiting to see if our (now-singular) bag had made it, we were out and in the back of the hotel Mercedes sent to pick us up ($25 well spent). We were safely ensconced in our hotel room less than an hour after landing, and the bed alone would have given whole rooms in Paris a run for their money, let alone the abundance of plumped up pillows.

Monday morning came and went in a lie-in, and early afternoon saw us bump into Ally and Susan no less than 50 yards from our hotel along Rustaveli Avenue. Walking with us back the way we came, we bumped into Wolfie and Robert across from Vienna, and then having stepped over the trench that separated the underpass stairs from what passed as a pavement (“this place will look great once they’ve finished it”), into Disco Keith (late for Wolfie!), Mazz and the happy couple, Kenny and Andy Maclean. They tipped us off about a wee Georgian restaurant, just up the hill from the main drag, and we duly settled in there for some authentic Georgian cuisine. After ordering dishes for myself and Helen, the waitress smiled and trotted off, only to be chased by Ally ordering his and Susan’s. He really shouldn’t have bothered. I’ve eaten few things more filling than Georgian cooking; just a tiny amount of the cheese pie (Katchapuri) sets in your stomach like cement! It got to the stage that every time the kitchen door swung open, we prayed it wasn’t more food for us! Still, the beer was very good (both Argo and Kazbegi) and no-one can fault the price.

After paying the bill and rolling ourselves outside, we stumbled into the Paradise Lost pub/restaurant opposite the decorative McDonalds building, shortly to be joined by Carey McEvoy on a walkabout from his guesthouse out in the suburbs. An abortive attempt to find a backstreet bar led us towards the warm embrace of the Nali pub and Monday evening’s Fans Embassy. This was a good move, as the comfortable pub was nicely full but not bursting, and through Paul “The Claw” and Tam from EASTA, we were introduced to the most connected man in Georgian football: Georgi the Georgian. Georgi was doing his utmost to introduce some fan culture to the national team, and had arranged a Georgian fans team to take on the TA Select. After we politely rebuffed his request to join him and his friends drinking outside the gates of the Presidential Palace, fearing such a move could easily be misinterpreted by the police and media, he disappeared, only to resurface 30 minutes later clutching a sports bag full to bursting with Georgia scarves, which he then proceeded to distribute free of charge to everyone in the pub!

After a couple of hours, we decided to strike out and explore the street that ran past Nali, having heard it boasts a fair few bars. We only made it two doors along, but to be fair it was far from kicking. After finishing off in there, following an in-depth conversation with a film director who told us it was fine after all to toast with beer, we headed along to the Dublin pub. This place was bouncing to a live band, but we managed to snag a table just before the Nali crowd made it in. By now, things were getting a little hazy, but I do know that I ended up gate-crashing a Georgian birthday party whilst Kenny “treated” Susan, Ally and Helen to a round of tequilas. It all ended in tears shortly afterwards…

Tuesday morning saw us up relatively early and off to Ally’s hotel to RV for a taxi to the Georgian FA offices on the edge of town for the ticket pick-up, bumping into an aggrieved Tam McGhee on the way – he’d been stitched up by Austrian Airlines and his hotel on the way out, but at least he’d made it; we heard the next day that several Scots had been left stranded at Heathrow after a delayed Aberdeen-London flight. The taxi was an “experience”, of the near-death variety; we marvelled at how the other side of the road becomes an overtaking lane when the oncoming lights are red, despite six lanes of traffic already cramming in to the three allocated lines on each side of the road. The windscreen was cracked, but at least the brakes and horn worked well, as we were treated to both on a liberal basis. As the token Russian speaker (strictly tourist level), I had a ringside view of all of this next to the driver as well.

The Georgian FA HQ sits somewhat incongruously as a stone chalice on a patch of scrub wasteland, next to the road out of a town and up the slope from the presentable, mostly open bowl that passes for Lokomotiv Stadium. Of course, despite the SFA’s instructions to the contrary, the ticket pick-up wasn’t actually from here, but rather from the travel agents 100 yards back down the road. After a brief wait, and a look at Frieda’s new patterned tights (a long story, but at least I didn’t end up with them on my head this time…), we picked up the tickets with a minimum of fuss. We also bumped into Helmut from Hannover, along with Torsten, a guy I’d met a few years ago at the Confederations Cup but not seen since; his Mum comes from Dumbarton, and he divides his support between the Sons and Hannover 96.

Rather than take the cowards’ way out and jump in the idling taxi back to the relative civilisation of downtown Tbilisi, we opted to walk some of the way, weighing up whether to take the cable car up the mountain (and sensibly declining!). After passing Gav and Craig at the Unknown Soldier monument, and picking our way through the rubble and car parts on the “pavement”, we found an inviting looking door leading down into an equally inviting cellar bar/restaurant. After more over-ordering and bursting at the seams, we ventured further down the street, stopping first at ????, so named due to the street number and afflicted by power cuts, then again at the wee bar next door as the rain bounced off the pavement and ran in torrents down the street.

Eventually we decided we had to make a move back towards civilisation, however with the rain showing no sign of abating, we huddled in a bus stop and attempted to catch one that headed to somewhere we vaguely recognised (always a sound strategy, particularly in the dark with torrential rain!). After two abortive attempts to board a centre-bound bus, and a curious police car, a taxi appeared like a genie out of a bottle and whisked us to the Sioni area of town (opposite the Old Metheki Church) for a third of the price we’d paid that lunchtime to go and get the tickets! The plan was to locate the Kaiserbrau; Reeky Sporran had already warned us in Nali that the place was impossible to find, so much so, he doubted its very existence! Quite simply, with beer-scooper pride at stake, we couldn’t afford to fail…

The Sioni area was very plush and modern, albeit quiet given it was a rainy Tuesday evening, however finding the brewpub was indeed a challenge; not only did our map bear no relation to the street names in front of us, but none of the locals seemed any wiser either. We picked up Mark and Steve, a pair of Ally’s fellow Aberdonians, and at their suggestion we repaired to a riverside establishment with the rather ambitious title of the “Rasta Café”; despite its best intentions from the Bob Marley / leaf logo on the sign, it was more olde worlde Tbilisi than cutting edge Amsterdam. This pit-stop renewed my vigour to track down the errant brewpub, and sure enough, not 100 yards away down the riverbank was the very gargoyles we’d been told (by the SFA’s guidance notes) to look out for. Inside was spacious and airy, if a little dimly lit, with the gleaming coppers on show. The beer itself was passable if not great (maybe I’m a little fussier these days?), but the food menu was a bit laughable – most of the items were unavailable, and for five orders of nachos (little more than Doritos with a token amount of grated cheese) we were warned there’d be a 20 minute delay! Nonetheless, I had my beer and was therefore happy, and the banter was good, varying from Steve’s anecdotes about the Brunei oil industry to sleeping rough around Europe to the attractiveness of Aberdonian women. As the night drew to a close (we were the last people to leave the brewpub), Mark and Steve grabbed a taxi to a late-opener across town and the four of us meandered up past the brightly lit old walls.

Matchday saw us progress even less far from our hotel than Monday before being swept along to the nearest pub by Mick Carr, Mazz, Fraz and Andy – it turned out there was a pool bar round the corner and in the same block as our own hotel! Ally and Susan joined us, however with minimal sleep (Andy hadn’t been to bed since arriving on the Passport flight the previous day), most people drifted off and the four of us headed back towards Monday’s excellent Georgian restaurant. By now, rumours of early closures were reaching us – Nali and Dublin were to both remain shut on matchday – so we ate and drank our fill (taking much more care over the ordering now!) and headed back around the corner to Marco Polo, a smart looking restaurant/bar on Rustaveli itself. Inside the place was jumping, with WESTA having secured themselves prime spot in the middle of the ground floor – apparently there were 5 floors; we could see a basement and a balcony but didn’t explore further.

After several beers, but still well before the game, word came that buses were being assembled over the road to drive us down to the stadium. This seemed a great idea, and with a small carry out, we ended up on the first bus to the ground with Chairman Jim leading from the front. The buses sped through town complete with police escort, then straight in the gates of the stadium and deposited us at the foot of the stairs to our section – despite there being 90 minutes until kick off, any pleas to leave and find a pub fell on deaf ears (there was actually an alcohol ban in place around the ground, although some stories of this being flouted have filtered through). Thankfully, the remains of the carry out was able to be finished in peace ahead of the bag check on the stairs before we took up our place in time for the warm up.

The game wasn’t particularly memorable: Georgia scored early in the first half, we had a stonewall penalty waved away (a trademark of this campaign!), rarely threatened and Georgia scored a deserved second. The weird thing was, after the humiliation of losing 1-0 in Lithuania in 2003 and being taunted mercilessly by the locals in the aftermath, the Georgians were incredibly sporting, even to the extent of lining the stairwells behind the police guard to applaud the Scotland fans and try and swap scarves. Even the day after the game, I was amazed at the number of locals who expressed surprise and humility at the result! We squeezed onto one of the first few buses back into town, and someone suggested a pub (possibly Hungarian in theme?) just the other side of the darkened Dublin. To be fair, I was in foul mood following our capitulation, and along with most of the company, spent the rest of what remained of the evening with my head in my hands before giving up the ghost and calling it a night.

Thursday always had the potential to be a strange day, with a hotel checkout and then a long wait for a 4am flight (with a car to the airport at 1.30am). Despite agreeing a 4pm checkout, we were out by 1.30pm, and after a quick pit stop at McDonalds, I’d made up my mind to track down a Georgia shirt and had received some reliable intel that one of the streets by the ground offered rich pickings. Ally and Susan joined us on our quest, so we braved the journey to the centre of the earth on the never-ending escalator to get to the metro. Tbilisi’s main station is relatively non-descript, apart from its actual location – the middle of Baghdad market! A chance meeting with a clock-making football collector led to the frankly bizarre exchange of a NATA pennant for a small travel alarm clock customised with a Georgian FA badge!

The street by the ground proved rich pickings indeed, and I was able to pick up an official Diadora red shirt for less than £20 from the first of the dozen or so sports shops; even better was the Dynamo Tbilisi scarf from the Dynamo sports shop built into the stadium wall. After being shooed away by an overzealous guard for trying to photograph the ground, we worked our way around on the trail of Shota Arveladze’s World Sport Bar. What we eventually found was the most innocuous looking, windowless building with absolutely no sign of what lay within. The bar itself, on the inside anyway, was very presentable in that “I’ve got loads of money and want to show how western and sophisticated I’ve become” way, as favoured by Eastern European moguls and entrepreneurs. What was less obvious was who the target clientele was, seeing as we were the sole customers for 90% of the time we were in there for.

Afterwards we completed the loop around the ground and took an even more mental backstreet back to the station, catching the tube through town and out the other side of the river, near to the Old Metekhi Church. After an hour or so of winding through the backstreets and admiring the view from a couple of church ramparts, including the Old Metekhi itself, we chanced going into one of the city’s top restaurants with its own balcony hanging over the river. After a leisurely meal (that I still thought was going to kill me with gluttony!) we strolled down the hill and over the river to Kaiserbrau, where a meeting of WESTA and Loony Alba minds was underway. Kevin and Gav were distraught at my souvenir haul, particularly the clock (which now has pride of place on my office desk), and vowed to redress the balance the following day.

After finishing up in Kaiserbrau, and still killing time ahead of setting off for the airport, we wound up in Hanger Bar, a highly regarded Irish pub not far down the hill from the Marriott Courtyard where the Sporran Legion were safely ensconced. After convincing Reeky that Kasierbrau was a “Torshavn Dubliner” style wind-up, we opted not to stay for a beer, as the pub seemed to have peaked and was now at that refugee camp stage of the evening. Back at the Marriott, we met up with Gav and chatted before hopping in the hotel car for the ride back to the airport. Gav’s not the best flyer at normal times, but when confronted with a Lufthansa notice that volunteers were being offered €500 to fly the next day, he’s even worse! Knowing he had a tight connection at Munich, he was keen to get safely through-checked, however he need not have worried as we ended up first in the queue. Understandably, some of the more intrepid TA members did put their names forward for the cash incentive, however they were left empty-handed and on-board when enough people didn’t show up.

The airside departure lounge is just as smart as the rest of the airport, with a couple of shops, a pub and a burger bar, where we sat with Riga-bound Dangerous Dave. The gate-side security were not bothered about me taking some water on board, which was just as well seeing as Lufthansa were attempting to parboil us on the way back!

There was yet more luggage fun to be had – the second bag had never made it to the Marriott, so I harboured an outside hope that I would be reunited with it in Munich airport before flying back to London on the Saturday. These plans were momentarily suspended when the bag that had made it didn’t show up at Munich airport either! Thankfully, this was only a minor blip – as it was a rucksack, it came off the outsized belt 10 minutes or so later, so it was onto the S-Bahn for the trek into Munich and some much-needed sleep.

After the ferocious temperatures on the plane, the biting cold of Munich initially came as a welcome relief. It took so long for me to cool down that when I left the hotel around 2.30pm that afternoon, I was foolhardy enough to walk out in a long sleeved t-shirt with my kilt, without even a thought of an outdoor coat or other layer. Of course, when it started snowing a mere 2 hours later, I had ample chance to consider the folly of my ways. Helen and I had started the afternoon off with a couple in the lokal right next to the hotel, and followed this up with a couple in a party bar just off the Viktualenmarkt before meeting up with Ally and Susan (who’d just invested in an identical goretex jacket to her husband, awwww….). Of course, you can’t come on your first visit to Munich (for Ally and Susan) without struggling over a vase of beer in the tourist trap that is the Hofbrauhaus, however I think all of us overestimated our capacities at this stage, as we took well over an hour to clear our litre each, whilst other people came, drank, went, were replaced and so on (like one of those slow motion capture shots of a flower blossoming). Not my proudest moment, and we wisely retired for the evening at this juncture.

The following day’s train > plane > bus > train adventure all went smoothly, and as a fitting postscript, my bag and its entire contents were returned to me completely undamaged 5 weeks later, having turned up at Tbilisi airport (hence disproving my oft-vented theory that some wee corrupt Georgian hotel porter was stoating around town in my lucky sky blue away shirt). It’s just a shame that I didn’t get that lucky shirt back in time for the Italy home game…

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Highlights of 2007

As per 2005 and 2006's awards, here's the hall of fame for 2007 (according to Paul):

Best away trip: Georgia

Best away game: France 0, Scotland 1

Best home game: Scotland 3, Ukraine 1

Best night away on TA duty: Tuesday night in Vienna

Best away pub: The Frog & Rosbif, Paris

Best karaoke performance: Aaron doing Hey Jude in the Allison Arms after the Italy defeat, closely followed by my own spoken word rendition of "I Will Survive"

Best pre-match home pub: The Allison Arms

Best post-match home pub: The Allison Arms

Best quote: "It would be like watching someone trying to shift a wardrobe" - Rich on why not having a first dance at the wedding was better for Helen.

Best song: "I woke up this morning (da-da-da-dum), She sat on my face (da-da-da-dum), I said trim your p*ssy (da-da-da-dum), It's a f*cking disgrace (da-da-da-dum)" - Singing the blues, NATA style

Best beer: Siebensternbräu, Vienna or Dark de Triomphe, Paris

Most mental local firewater: The fruit schnapps consumed en route to Bari's ground

Most boring location: The Faroe Islands

Drunkest NATA member: # 1 - Paul in Italy; # 2 - Paul in the Faroes; # 3 - Paul at the Italy home game

Favourite stadium visited: Parc des Princes, Paris

Favourite match venue city: Vienna

Best non-TA destination: # 1 - Düsseldorf (again); # 2 - Berlin

Best non-TA pub: # 1 - Schumacher’s Stammhaus, Düsseldorf (again); # 2 - The Stanley Arms, Portslade

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