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Rubber-ducked in Bath - England v Scotland U17, March 2002

After Brussels, we all faced a long wait (much of it manger-less) for the next away game (the friendly in Paris). We all found our own ways to deal with this - some turned to the Tartan Army Message Board for solace, others went to other country's games to make up for Scotland's shortcomings (e.g. the Czech-Belgium play off). As the winter drew to a close and spring was on the horizon, luck would have it that Scotland were drawn in a triangular qualifying group for the Under-17 World Championship against England and Lithuania.  

All the games were to be played in the West Country, with the group kicking off with Scotland-England at Bristol City's Ashton Gate on a Wednesday night. A double-whammy of work commitments and not wishing to see the next Michael Owen embarrass us in front of legions of Bristol school-kids, Helen and I couldn't make this game, but five brave footsoldiers (under the aliases of TA Ealing, Bzzzz, WillfaeSwindon, Diggie Don and Danny Divers) witnessed a 3-1 defeat. Apparently they were very well received by a crowd of over 8,000.

The following Friday afternoon Scotland U-17 were due to face Lithuania at Twerton Park, Bath, with a 4pm kick-off. This time, nine of the Tartan Army troops were available to make the trip (the five above minus Danny, with Wrighty, Craig McDowall and Gavin from Maidenhead, Helen and myself making up the numbers).

The day started early for Helen and I, as we stayed over at Helen's parents in North Somerset on the Thursday night after driving up from the south coast. We were dropped at Backwell station (Backwell must be the biggest village I've ever seen!) just before 9am. Two trains later (one of which was more like a bus, but with less seats!) we were dining on a £1.99 Bhs breakfast in Bath before hitting the Couer de Lion pub for opening time. A ropey pint of real ale later caused me to reach for the Imodium earlier than planned, but thankfully they did the trick! Another quick pint in a Riverside boozer (The Rummer) and it was off to the Pig and Fiddle for the meeting time of midday. No sooner had we walked up to the bar when Diggie Don walked in, followed 30 minutes later by Wrighty from Bournemouth. The "London Boys" (Bzzzz and TA Ealing, aka Colin) arrived with Will around 1.30pm, and Gavin and Craig had joined the fray by 2pm. The topics of conversation veered from how Don had come down from Grimsby for the two games, to how he was still 39 ("And how many years have you been 39 for?"), and continued to stray from the sublime to the ridiculous as scrumpy chasers were suggested. The pub filled up over the lunch hours with a mix of students, office workers (including a lassie in a tartan mini-skirt) and labourers, but everyone was genuinely friendly, if a little surprised by our presence.

Come half-two and it was off to the taxi rank, 50 yards away according to my newly-purchased sporran-sized map. Good job there was a pub half-way to break the journey then! We popped in to the Old Green Tree for a quick beer, and half of us almost plummeted to our doom down the stairs to the gents. Posing the question to the barmaid "Have you got a jukebox? Can we have the Wurzels on?" met with a reply of "No, but you can sing if you want". After five minutes of Posh Spice they changed their minds and asked us to quieten down (as the old ladies in the back bar were eyeing us suspiciously!). Taxis were ordered, and much like Hampden Cars in Glasgow, they turned up infrequently enough to cause us to wander the streets. Eventually the second and third cars turned up, but by this point I'd dropped my brand new phone on the kerb, and then trod on it for good measure! Being in a different cab from Helen with her unable to contact me didn't do too much for her nerves.

(What follows has been pieced together from other people's accounts and photographic evidence, as I was a wee bit "tired and emotional" by this stage!)

We arrived at the ground just after kick-off, having missed the anthems, and took up places on the terrace behind the goal we were attacking with Craig and Gavin, whilst Will, Bzzzz et al went for the "posh" view along the side, only to receive a barrage of abuse from myself. Scotland took the lead through a Robbie Foy penalty, but Lithuania equalised by half-time. After half-time burgers (veggie-burgers in my case, as anyone in the queue will testify to), we moved round behind the other goal (after a wee detour by some to wind up some teenage neds trying to be abusive) and amused ourselves (but not the Lithuanian keeper) by letting off rocket balloons. This also ingratiated us with some local kids, and we even missed one of Scotland's two late goals for handing them out. At the end of the 3-1 win, as the lads were heading for the tunnel whilst applauding us (and us applauding them), the captain led them over, and they honoured us by shaking our hands, thanking us for our support and allowing us to pose with them for a team photo.

On the way out of the ground we popped into the Bath City shop, where a couple of us bought "Alan Pridham's Black & White Army On Tour" t-shirts for the bargain price of £1. Poor Alan had been sacked a week previously. We also invited the stewards to come for a drink, and they pointed us in the direction of a nearby pub. After treating them (and everyone else in the pub) to a round from the kitty, we were invited back to the now re-opened clubhouse for them to return the favour. In between, there was time for me to have a quick doze, nestling my head on a toilet roll. I have no idea how I came to be in possession of this, but it is clearly visible in the photos. After being disturbed whilst leaning on the table by a crowd of drunks with a camera, I laid back on the bench-like seat, only for one of the Bath lads to produce a digital camera and photograph me from a more "intimate" angle! Country boys, eh?

Anyway, we were ushered up to what seemed to be the players lounge where a large buffet had largely been untouched by the players. We were invited to tuck in, and in the frenzy I ended up with pickle on my kilt. I was also off the scrumpy at this stage and on to Smirnoff Ice in a vain attempt to wake up - it was only when we hit the disco in the function room downstairs around 8.30pm that I picked up. And what a disco! When we walked in, the DJ had to leave the records playing to go behind the bar to serve us. Having said that, he took requests (Proclaimers went down well with everyone, but my suggestion of Sweet Caroline cleared the dancefloor!) and we had the run of the place until we left an hour later (more people had arrived by then). Wrighty and the Maidenhead boys headed for the station and the rest of us taxied it back to The Rummer. By now I was beyond help, and Helen, Don and I headed for the Bristol train, whilst Will, Bzzzz and TA Ealing headed for a club (they ended up kipping in Bzzzz's car, but I understand that he was "delayed" in getting back to it himself!).

All in all, a great day out, and a great way to warm up for Paris. Regrets? Should have laid off the scrumpy!

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Bath '02 Gallery

On a spree in Gay Paree - France, March 2002

A long-standing rumour of a friendly match in Paris had been doing the rounds for months before the SFA finally confirmed it in January. Not wanting to miss the boat on accommodation, Helen, me, Ally & Sue and Ally-a-like Bryan (and Trudie) booked up for the Hotel California in the Latin Quarter back in December, knowing we could cancel the hotel if necessary. Whilst Ally & Sue booked up well in advance for a cheap Prestwick-Beauvais flight, and even Rich booked early-doors for a week-long stay, Helen and I waited, spoilt for choice on the Sussex Coast.

As it turned out, our original plans for a ferry trip and a night in Rouen either side of our two nights in Paris fell through, and with even the Eurostar fully booked, it was time to look for flights. As luck would have it, a British Midland internet sale came up with Heathrow-CDG returns for £53 each - none of your remote airstrips for us! We were now spending 3 nights in Paris (Tues-Thurs), but the downside was that the Hotel California was unavailable at the same price on the Thursday, so we downgraded to a 2* for out last night.

As we'd saved so much on the flights, we took the decadent step of booking a hotel at Heathrow. We went for a drink in a local village pub, and when The Eagles came over the stereo I took it as a sign and texted Ally, who was already in Paris to tell him about the coincidence. What came back was a rather worrying reply that they'd been shifted down the road to different digs!

We arrived in Paris well after the mainstay of the Tartan Army had arrived, and more than a little worried that we'd have to find a different hotel. No such problems, and after less than an hour after checking in, Ally knocked on our door - apparently as he'd walked in the receptionist handed over Bryan's room key without a word! We agreed to meet Ally & Sue within an hour at the Auld Alliance pub, but as we walked up the road they were walking down in the opposite direction, saying that things were a wee bit too mental! A quick beer stop and a pizza later and we were ready to meet the rest of NATA in the Cafe Klein Holland. Quite appropriately, Den Haag Davie (touting a fine pair of tartan bondage trousers) and Trish (who Helen and I met at a Loony Alba meeting that ended up in an Australian nightclub) soon joined the fray, along with the Wee Midges TA, the Pompey TA and 3 of the Notts Scots (Campbell, Scott Forman and the hirsute Adam), and a large group of us set off on a mini-crawl that took in Stolly's and a nameless pink pub. An earlier invitation to visit a stag night in progress at The Highlander Bar was brought up, and as the man with plan (well, a map, at least!) I led the way, with Forman's Doric-twanged abuse ringing in my ears. After 20 minutes stagger we arrived at the pub, negotiated the doorman by employing a spot of name-dropping, and made our way downstairs to what seemed like a Who's Who of the Tartan Army (i.e. just like the Iron Horse on a home game). The session continued until chucking-out time, by which point it was me, Helen, Jon B and Mick L of LA (both of whom had been talked past the door by Helen). We left Jon and Mick standing in the middle of a four-lane road trying to flag down a taxi as we staggered the back road to the Hotel.

The next morning, both of us with killer hangovers, we dragged ourselves out of bed for a 10.30 meet with Ally, who was on TAMB t-shirt duty. We got to Stolly's (home of "Cheap Blonde" beer) and set up camp in the corner, as various Tartan Army Message Board regulars gathered for the arranged meet. To set the scene for anyone not there, Stolly's was a tiny bar with 3 tables, about the same size as most folks' living room, with a single multi-gender WC cubicle - perhaps not the best-equipped venue for 200+ TA on a matchday bender! Within a few hours the acidic French lager had taken it's toll on my notoriously unstable insides and I had to beat a hasty retreat over the Seine back to the hotel - a mere 20 minute waddle (let's just say I wasn't taking big strides!). I was stopped on the bridge behind Notre Dame by a pretty American student keen to engage in conversation, which didn't help much! I made through the hotel door in one piece, got the key, belted it up the stairs and rounded the last bend praying that (1) the cleaners weren't in the room, and (2) that they had been and left some loo roll! I was lucky on both counts, although for some reason there were no towels. No time to think about that as I whipped off the kilt and docked with the bowl in the nick of time, and having to resort to using my t-shirt to mop my brow in the absence of any bathroom linen. As it happened, it was just wind (albeit the wet variety), and looking back a Remegel would probably have released the pressure before it had reached critical level. Nonetheless, I was mentally and physically exhausted by these events, and a wee doze on the bed followed, disturbed only by the maid knocking on the door to return the laundered towels. 

Back into the fray an hour or so later, after a couple of concerned texts from Helen, and I got back to Stolly's pretty much after the main event. Clarkston Chris and his pal (over on a Radio Clyde freebie that Chris had won the previous weekend) and Rich had now made it, along with Alan who we had met in Prague for the play-offs. Ally and Sue joined us all in an attempt to find a local bar on the way to the tube, and we found a quiet one in the Chatelet area. We then split up with the lads, and the four of us went on search of something to eat, settling for a dead posh cafe overlooking the Pompidou centre, after having stopped off for some hand-puppets first. After getting thoroughly lost on the way to the RER, we caught a double-decker train out to the ground, and walked round to find us at the ground well ahead of schedule. After chatting to a few people we made our way inside to soak up the enormity of the ground (none of us had been at the Brazil game). The evening unfolded pretty slowly (bearing in mind I was half-sober), and the 5-0 result flattered Scotland, as France certainly took their feet off the pedal in the second-half. Imagine if that first minute backpass that Barthez missed had rolled the other side of the post? I bet that would have made them really angry!

We stayed to watch the fireworks display and caught the RER back, deciding en route to skip the centre and go to Luxembourg station, near the hotel. We popped into a rare wee Belgian bar (Le Gueze), where I had a pint of Cherry Beer for a fiver (believe me, it was the cheapest beer on the menu), and a plate of bread and cheese, but it was well worth it. A relatively early night followed, as none of us were in a particularly great mood, brought on not so much by the defeat but more from the constant goading from the locals (by this stage it was getting difficult to carry on smiling as a gracious loser).

The next morning we had to be up and packed to move hotels. As the California was rated 3*, and was pretty cramped and basic, we were a wee bit apprehensive about what waited in store at the 2* Comfort Hotel just three streets away. A stiffening coffee later we made it to the new hotel, and what a difference - the room was at least twice the size, and the bathroom alone was bigger than the last hotel's bedroom! A pit stop for some warm goats cheese on toast was interrupted by a series of frustrated text messages from Ally, who had been queuing for hours to get up the tower. After agreeing to meet up that evening for a beer, Helen and I made our way up to the Montmarte area for a wee tour of the Sacre Couer and Pigalle. We then headed for the central Chatelet Les Halles area, determined to find a local bar or two, only to stumble across the Frog & Rosbif pub, complete with home-brewed real ales (the shame of it!). On the way to the Metro we walked through what can only be described as the ugliest red light area in Europe, which was almost laughable, before getting lost at the other end of the tube journey in the Marais area. We had agreed to meet Ally in the Pure Malt Scottish pub, but after wandering the backstreets for 20 minutes a comfort break was called for, and I got my wish of drinking in a local pub, where it turned out the owner was from Gdansk.

The Pure Malt had died down during the afternoon, and we arrived at the tail end, just in time to entertain a wee kid with my glove puppet. After a pastis diversion back to the Polish-owned bar, we hit the Auld Alliance, where I was able to put a face to a name with Jon Smith from the list, who was working behind the bar. We said we'd pop in for one before grabbing some food and heading back, but that didn't prove as easy as we'd thought, so after 3 hours, and with a mad Geordie lass called Catherine in tow, we went for pizza, getting back in to the AA as the party was in full swing. The red wine with the pizza had taken it's toll in Helen, and after a wee stumble she was sat down quietly in the corner, next to a young American couple who didn't know what hit them. The lad (Gunther) happened to be studying at Sussex Uni (where Helen and I met), so a drunken coincidental conversation followed, with Gunther asking for me to recommend a good Scottish drink. With the help of Arthur MacDonald we picked out an Islay malt, and judging by the expression on his face it wasn't all he was hoping for! As the bedlam subsided we made our way home south of the river at closing time.

For my part, the Caley 80 Shilling at the Auld Alliance certainly helped me avoid the usual indigestion and hangover, and on the Friday morning, rucksacks in tow, we decided to see what we could see. This involved the Trocadero gardens, the Eiffel Tower (from the bottom), the Arc de Triomphe, walking the length of the Champs Elysee (around 2.5 miles) right to the Louvre, and then up to the back of Chatelet, where the guidebook recommended a wee wine bar that served plates of ham and cheese with bread. With both of us rehydrating on the coke, we ordered a plate each, expecting a starter-sized snack, only to be presented with an entire cheeseboard and what must have been half a pig. Not wanting to appear rude, we did our best, although I was to pay the price for this, with food poisoning taking hold over the weekend when I got back home!

The flight home was pretty uneventful, save for the hordes of Irish fans at the airport, and all-in-all we felt a wee bit disappointed with the trip. For my part, this was down to the awful beer (save for the final night, and even then I was cheating!), the dodgy guts and the abundance of idiots who had made the trip, as well as a large part of over-expectation. After all, this was the first trip since Brussels, and with both of them being in Western Europe, it's closer than a home game (and neither really felt like foreign trips!). Sorry to sound like such a moaner... Oh well, bring on the Far East...

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Paris '02 Gallery 1

Paris '02 Gallery 2

Misbehavin' In Torshavn - Faroes, September 2002
(or On The Batter In Cafe Natur or Nae Beer In Toftir)

(This is a long one - 3,000 words! - written by possibly the only sober TA footsoldier in Torshavn - so if you can't be bothered to read tales of penguin-related debauchery, roof climbing and urban cowboys, the score was 2-2 and you can stop here. Just don't ask me to vouch for your stamina!)

The above t-shirt slogan was coined shortly after the Qualifying draw was made, along with the Iceland and Lithuania ones (unfortunately not quite as memorable, but still under wraps for now nonetheless), and it was to be adopted by many of the 600 Tartan Army in the Faroes. How ironic then that "Nae Beer in Toftir" would have proved far more apt for me (Paul) after a cruel turn of events leading up to the trip!

Once the draw was made at the start of the year, several informal arrangements were made with Ally regarding travel. We were acutely aware that once the dates were announced in February there would be a mad airline and hotel scramble for the two remotest destinations: the Faroes and Iceland. Hope lingered about a possible double-header, preferably in Summer 2003, enabling ample opportunity for a possible cruise on the Smyril ferry. It wasn't to be, and as soon as the fixtures were announced the deal was done - Ally to sort out the Faroes and me to sort out Iceland. Ally came up trumps with an Atlantic Airways package from Aberdeen, including 4 nights (Thurs-Sun) hotel accommodation at the central Hotel Hafnia.

As fate would have it, the FA Cup qualifying draw paired my beloved Worthing FC with sworn local rivals Bognor Regis Town on the Saturday before the trip (which we lost 1-0), ensuring a heavy drinking session before the trip. No worries, though I, it'll be a gentle warm-up. After all, you wouldn't run a marathon without a spot of training first, would you? The problems started with chest pains on the Sunday morning (some may say they started with the vodka smuggled in to the game and drank at half-time!), coupled with my customary acidic stomach (a usual hangover occurrence), which I simply put down to sleeping funny. When the chest pains were still there on Tuesday, my workmates were getting increasingly concerned - "Look at your weight - it's probably angina!" - that an emergency GP appointment was sorted out. The diagnosis was that my stomach lining was rubber-ducked, and some hardcore anti-acid treatment was duly prescribed, along with a chilling warning to lay off all acidic food and drink, especially alcohol (and also fizzy drinks and citric fruit, i.e. orange juice). After a graphic description of how drinking would probably set off a chain reaction of vomiting blood and tearing my spleen, I made the decision to stay dry (well, it wasn't hard!), and so set off to Aberdeen the following day with a heavy heart and a desire to find banana milkshake.

After a night in Inverurie at Ally & Sue's, we spent a day in Aberdeen before the 5.30pm flight, starting in the TA stronghold of the Windmill Bar, where we met up with Tam, Captain Vodka, Van Der Randan and (eventually) Artour. Encouraged by tales of kiltmaker with drawers overflowing with spare sporran tassles, Tam and I set off in search of repairs - unbeknown to us, Colin (head honcho of the pub) was conspiring with the others to add to Tam's luggage by way of a box of Tampax and an Ann Summers make-up kit. Unfortunately the wind-up wasn't discovered at the baggage scan as hoped, but later at the hostel where he was staying, A wee trip to the Bankhead Inn in Bucksburn followed, to meet up with the majority of NOSTA, and then on to the airport. The tickets had been messed up, so much like Easyjet, it was a sit anywhere job on the flight. This led to a brief state of panic for one well-known fellow "Ten-Pointer" as he was left seatless after being last onboard - his face was a picture as a chorus of "Ten points, nae seat" rang out from the back, until a seat in First Class was eventually tracked down.

After a breathtaking approach to Soravagur airport down a fjord (think Dambusters) and stepping off into a blissful sunset, we all crammed on to a single coach waiting to take us on the 90 minute journey to Torshavn. After I gallantly gave up my seat for a pretty Faroese girl (when she sat next to Helen, everyone swore that they could be twins), I has to endure the journey in the jump seat next to the driver, Roi, who took a bit of a battering for his no-nonsense approach to alcohol and high-jinks (we later found out that a vomiter on a different bus was forced to clean the bus from front to back before being dropped off at his hotel 2 hours later!), yet I found him to be friendly and chatty, even when negotiating 180-degree turns on a sheer cliff road, despite Tam's constant singing (Two Little Boys sticks in the mind) - this is also where he came up with "On the Batter in Cafe Natur". We were met on the Westmanna ferry (Torshavn is on a different island to the airport, and the new tunnel won't be open for a couple of months yet) by Florentz of the Cafe Natur, who had produced a wee brochure to help with the stay, as well as arranging for ferry tickets to the game to be available from her pub. Unfortunately, she was slated by some sections of the Scottish media for this as a perceived rip-off, however if they had bothered to leave the hotel lounge for long enough to do some actual research, they would have found that the tickets were on sale for exactly the same price (£5 each way) from the ferry terminal. As an aside, despite the slandering, I hear that Florentz had such a great time with the TA in her pub she has booked to go to Iceland for the next game!

We arrived in downtown Torshavn around 10.30pm, and were kindly dropped off right outside the pub by Roi. As our hotel was a mere 30 metres up the road we went to check in first, and bar a minor problem with Ally's room (they wanted to chuck him out on the Saturday, but this was sorted the next day), we were checked in by one of the most gorgeous women on the islands. Back to the Natur where I was reduced to sniffing the beer as Helen, Ally & Sue were plied with free drink from the Danish guys at the next table (one of whom then proceeded to tell Ally how he was a manic depressive and was glad of the company!) as we listened to the live music. Unfortunately, such was the popularity (and smokiness) of this place that we didn't get to fully appreciate during our stay. All the while, the TA Message Board wind-up about the Dubliner bar continued to gather pace (this resulted in a certain TA luminary rowing with a taxi driver about it's location the following night!).

Friday morning saw me up in time for breakfast (a side-effect of the sobriety!) and then we went to get hold of a Faroes shirt and some cuddly puffins before having a wee wander around the Tinganes area in the harbour, where we met up with Tam, Artour and Coullzer. With everyone else champing at the bit for the Natur to open at midday, we wandered up to Skansin Fort for a picturesque view across the harbour, and the opportunity for Tam to try and deface a national monument by mounting it's grassy roof. A wee toasted sandwich in the Natur later, and then back to the hotel for a wee nap (leaving Tam to mourn that the Natur isn't licensed for spirits until 9pm, hence his Jack Daniel's deficiency!) and to pick up the match tickets (which looked more like discount vouchers!).

We were to meet up again later in the Manhattan, scene of much drunken debauchery, followed by another walk about, and then after realising that Torshavn really was that small, back to the pub. Our recce had revealed the location of a key club, or private drinking club, and is this is such a unique cultural experience in the Faroes, we simply had to try it. Ally & Sue had gone on another recce to the Natur, so we headed up there with Craig, Artour, Tam and Britney (Donny). The club was an experience, and was compared by someone else (who'd been in at a different time) to something from Star Wars! With Helen being the only female apart from the barmaid, and an assortment of Faroese fishermen and small-town lunatics, we met a tearful headcase and a mad wee eskimo, both of whom could only speak limited English - all of this was punctuated by Tam and Britney literally bouncing around the place in an ecstatic embrace before Donny collapsed to the floor at least three times. When Ally & Sue turned up it was clear from their faces, and from the state of our maudlin fisherman friend, that it was time to leave, and off to Cleopatras (upstairs at the Marco Polo restaurant) we went. Cleopatras was a refreshing scene after the spartan surroundings and mental clientele of the drinking club, as it was a nicely set-out (but small) pub full of partying TA. It also gave us the chance to be reunited with the mad eskimo and a Faroese urban cowboy, who proudly boasted to Ally that he "could have forty to sixty horses here by the morning".

The day of the game came with another breakfast (the only trip I have ever managed breakfast every single day!), and another chance to loudly offend Chic Young (although purely by accident!). After stopping to inflate the 4-foot high inflatable penguin and strap on the bagpuss we headed downstairs and into the hotel lounge, where we grabbed a table with Mike, Suzanne, Pete (aka "Man In Deerstalker"), Mac and Jim from Airdrie, where I was plied with iced water (and Helen with beer). After popping down to the Natur to let Ally & Sue know that we wouldn't be down (it was far too busy), and fending off various attempts to penguin-nap the inflatable, we headed for the boat around 1.30pm. The boat, which was roughly the size of an Isle of Wight ferry and had tickets for 800 passengers, sailed at 2pm, docking around 40 minutes later, leaving us 20 minutes to scramble up the 400-metre steep hillside to the ground. Despite the advantage of being some of the first people off the boat (by virtue of following the locals to the car deck), and having three relatively fit and able people (plus one fat bastard who only days previously was being accused of having heart problems), we still missed the anthems and kick off. We were however in for the two Faroese goals, and the what followed of the first-half was somewhat shell-shocked. As several people, aware of my plight, said to me "this is bad enough drunk - it must be really bad for you being sober!". Two second-half Scotland goals and three missed Faroese sitters gave the scoreline a more respectable look of 2-2 (trust me, if you were there you'd agree that was acceptable!), and the journey downhill was a lot quicker and easier than the climb (metaphoric, or what?) back to the boat. The atmosphere was somewhat sombre on the boat, but the sense of relief amongst the Tartan Army was tangible (as was the disappointment amongst the 12 Madur - the Faroese "Twelth Man").

After pizza and a quick trip back to the hotel, Helen and I headed for Cleopatras, where we met up again briefly with Ally & Sue, and a particularly "tired and emotional" Adam (aka Eurostar Man) from Loony Alba. Another mad man, this time and Icelandic trawlerman - "In 1967, I was in Aberdeen, It was very clean. But in 1968 I was in Grimsby. It is a dirty, dirty town" - and we were off back to the Hafnia lounge (Manhattan and Natur being too busy, and not much desire to go back to the drinking club, or on to one of the discos with me sober). The Hafnia was perfect, as it gave us the chance to see the match highlights on the telly, before pulling up a pew with the same crowd as before the game. The laid-back and semi-civilised atmosphere was exactly what I needed as a non-drinker, and it was a good few hours chatting before it was off to bed (still an early night at around 2am, but not bad for a tee-totaller!).

On the Sunday we vowed to do something worthwhile, so after a detour to the hotel's roof-terrace, we headed to the bus terminal for a Westmanna bus, determined to go on the birdcliff boat-cruise to see some puffins. Around 20 other TA had a similar idea, so after an entertaining bus journey hearing about the night before from the Battlebus Commander - "the locals came out the trees at 5am carrying bottles of vodka. It was like hogmany - bodies everywhere!", and Pear Cider - Paul "What's pear cider like?", Maurice "Have you ever had sex?" - we arrived at Westmanna pier and split into two groups for the two competing boat tours. The other tour got a brand spanking new, shiny speedboat style cruiser, and we got a tiny wooden boat a mere 3 foot above the water level. Out on the almost-open Atlantic, with waves crashing over the side, there were a few nervous moments, but the scenery was stunning, and as the sky became bluer as we went around, the changing light on the cliffs was breathtaking. Unfortunately, Westmanna is a little puffin-deficient at the moment, but we were treated to the captain chasing a baby seagull (or something similar) around a bay. Onboard we met Gudny (from Leirvek) and Ved (from Mauritius), who had met at Bournemouth Uni, where they were heading back after a 2-month summer break - unfortunately Ved confessed to being not only a Manchester United fan, but also to cheering on England - at least Gudny redeemed herself (she was one of the few Faroese who cheered on Denmark in the WC Second Round).

A brief sojourn for 2.8% "light pilsner" (and banana milkshake for me) at the Westmanna Shell followed, before a bus driver took pity on us and gave us an unscheduled ride back to the capital - not before two gorgeous young locals had sauntered past, one of whom had the intriguing slogan "Royal Ass" across her trousers. Back to the Natur, where we found the remnants of the TA still in town (more than half had left straight after the game or early Sunday), barley able to stand (there are 2 places open Sunday daytime in Torshavn - church and Cafe Natur!). As a result, most people could barely stand. Tired of the same pizza cafe, we sought out alternative sustenance at Pizza 67 (not as daft as it sounds - they did burgers), and headed over to Manhattan where most of our pals were in attendance, along with a quilt-jacketed local the spitting image of Parker from Thunderbirds. He provided a good hour's worth of entertainment as he spilled pint after pint, collapsed twice (only to be gently sat up each time by the long-suffering barman) and was constantly knocked back by his very own "Lady Penelope" (she's really let herself go!). We met up with Prestwick Steff and met Freda from Rosyth for the first time, and along with Tam, we decided to head for the Hafnia lounge for another dose of civilisation. Despite the place being the quietest it had been all trip, the atmosphere was still friendly and tolerant (enough for Tam to smuggle in 2 glasses of JD and Coke), and gave Tam the chance to enthrall Steff and Freda with tales of Norwegians, car alarms and Oasis tribute bands, as well as launching into an argument about how Safeway are killing the music business! A good night nonetheless.

Monday morning and almost time to leave. After checking out at 10am, the search for a stuffed puffin commenced. Despite seeing them available for £40 in the hotel foyer, I managed to pick one up for a bargain £26 at the tourist office, before following that with a deeply offensive puffin foot badge for a mere £3 (no wonder there's no birds left at Westmanna - they must have kept falling off the cliffs after their feet had been chopped!). Lunch in the Natur at the second attempt (our first order went to the wrong table), then a stroll down to the bus terminal, where Roi's bus was waiting to take us home. He had been presented with an ETA t-shirt, which he was delighted with, and we followed this up with his very own NATA pennant for his bus (the other lucky recipients were the Hafnia, Natur and Manhattan). Sat right at the front, with Tam in a boisterous singing mood opposite, we set off for the airport, only to stop on the outskirts of town to pick up a pretty air-stewardess who had the dubious luck to sit next to Tam, allowing the entire bus to watch and learn from the master at work ("How do you say you have beautiful eyes in Faroese?"), before sharing his pain when he was KB'd (knock backed - I didn't know what it meant either!). A pretty uneventful flight followed, and it was just Helen, me and Kenny on the Aberdeen-London leg, again allowing for a civilised chat (which was quite a feature of this soberest of trips!).

So there you have it, you can still have fun off the bevvy, although when the guilty culprits read this and see just how much more I can remember when I'm dry, it remains to be seen how many of them will come near me in Iceland!

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Faroes '02 Gallery 1

Faroes '02 gallery 2

Wrecked in Reykjavik - Iceland, October 2002 (or "Save the Welsh", "Clubbing in Reykjavik" or "Lovely Pups" - see t-shirt page for an explanation)

After the epic account of a mere 4 days in the Faroes, I've toned it down a wee bit here, and what you read is actually two separate articles joined together. These articles were originally written for the Worthing FC Programme and the Loony Alba newsletter.

Part One: In Town with the Tartan Army (Thursday - Sunday)

As soon as the Euro 2004 draw was made, Ally and I agreed to take certain booking responsibilities were known. The Faroes were his bag, and Iceland was mine. A swift double-check of the whole group's fixtures was made, revealing that Iceland were to host Lithuania on the Wednesday following our visit. Always keen to take in an game, and safe in the knowledge that there was no way the SFA would be daft enough to arrange a friendly for the week after a crunch competitive game (aye, cheers for that!), we booked for the week, reasoning that we'd take in some sights along the way. In addition, we shunned the cheaper option (for Helen and I anyway) of Heathrow flights for the Glasgow route, to help Ally and Sue in Inverurie. Of course, when this was booked in February I had no idea that I would be suffering with stomach ulcers and be under doctor's orders to stay off the beer!

Aided by some extra weekend work and generous boss, we set off Glasgow a day early, allowing us to break the journey in the Lake District (the last time we drove in the oner, I started hallucinating around 3am, and saw priests on bicycles coming towards us on the M6!) and arrive refreshed in Clydebank, in the middle of a family visit of my cousin to my Mum's house. The next morning it was up, kilted and off to the airport, where we met up with Ally and Sue, and a few other travellers including Ian from Blackpool and Moira from Glasgow. After a few beers (or waters for me) in the bar, we made it on to the plane - for some reason Helen and I had business class style seats (perhaps it was the Iceland shirt I was wearing with my kilt?), but the cuisine on offer soon redressed the balance - Helen has some unidentified fish pate, and my vegetarian option consisted of lettuce, cucumber and tomato.

The bus in to town from the airport (which takes almost an hour) was an experience in itself. The bus was quickly packed, and the last person on was sprightly 69-year-old Moira. Spotting the last free seat at the back of the bus, she moved towards it, only for the lads sitting next to it to say "that's for our beer" - "Nonsense," replied Moira, "I'll sit on it anyway, I hatch beer!" Keflavik International airport is at the tip of rocky, lava created peninsula on the southwest tip of the island. The area is therefore treated to harsh Atlantic winds (the rain was blowing in sideways when we stepped off the plane) and the landscape is treeless and desolate, with lava-strewn boulders on both sides of the exceptionally straight road towards the capital. The driver was having obvious difficulty keeping the bus in a straight line, much to the consternation of the girls sat over the aisle from us. As we passed a cemetery on the outskirts of town, someone joked that it was owned by the bus company! The bus transferred everyone to individual minibuses to ferry people to their own hotels - ours was based right on the main drag through the town. After a quick freshen up, it was out to find a beer, some food and pick up the tickets that my Icelandic fried, Bragi Fjalldal, had sorted out for us. With the massive interest in the game, everyone was worried about getting tickets - the KSI (the Icelandic FA) allocated Scotland 15% of the 7,000 capacity (which is 5% more than they had to), but with 3,000 Scots travelling and only 1,050 official tickets, panic was widespread. As it turned out, all bar one of the seven Netley Abbey Tartan Army members qualified for official tickets due to previous attendance, and in any case Rich had been there since Tuesday and had picked up an extra 6 (to help out the Milngavie boys and two of Craig's pals), but nonetheless, we had spent over £200 between us on these briefs, so off I set to find them.

Through the wind and the rain we set off, but with the weather as it was, we agreed that Ally, Sue and Helen should stay put in a bar, leaving me to negotiate the quayside looking for the Esso Garage that had the tickets put aside (Esso being the KSI's sponsors). When I got there they had not heard anything about them, and there followed a frantic bout of phone calls involving the KSI, me, the Esso garage and Bragi in London. It transpired that they'd sent the tickets to the wrong garage, and after apologising profusely (bear in mind here that as a Scotland fan - I'm not even supposed to have these tickets!), they invited down to their offices at the stadium at 11am the next morning to pick them up. After almost an hour sorting this out, I had understandably worked up an appetite, so back to Sirkus bar to meet the others then to Pasta Basta (what are you having? Pasta, ya basta!) for some food. The ticket saga was not yet over, as we still had to pick our own SFA tickets from the team hotel, so after a pit stop in the politically correct "Unkle Tom's Kabin", where Tam Coyle was as disturbing as ever and Bryan was clearly enjoying his stag weekend, we walked to the Radisson where we were sure it would be breeze. It seemed half the Tartan Army were in the hotel bar, so it seemed rude not to pause. This also gave me the opportunity to "freshen up", given the constant instability of diseased stomach - disaster was narrowly averted as I threatened to block the only pan in the gents! Back off in to town, and to attempt to meet up with Rich, David and Allan (aka The Ladies Man, The Lost Man and The Moomin), as well as Schneckie Nick and his pal Scott. After an abortive attempt to find people in the Dubliner, we headed to Nelly's where we hooked up with a crowd of Ally and Sue's pals from the TAMB ( and some of the Loony Alba boys. The highlight for me was looking for the gents and stumbling across a "disco room" on the top floor, complete with Icelandic drunks headbanging to Def Leppard songs - unfortunately no-one else shared my enthusiasm.

We still hadn't met up with Rich et al, and as he was carrying the Milngavie boys' tcikets it was now becoming a priority. Purely by chance, he looked out the window of the bar he was in just as we walked into the Celtic Cross over the road, and over he came. Back to his hotel room for the tickets, where he showed off it's somewhat unique set-up - a door straight into the car park ("for when I want to smuggle someone in!"), and a bathroom accessible not only from the room, but also the corridor! Back to the hotel at 1am, when everything shuts Sun-Thurs, and despite me being as fresh as daisy (some of the cleanest tap water in the world, apparently!), Helen was a wee bit "tired and emotional", and slightly ill, which she naturally put down to the lasagne!

I was up for breakfast on the Friday, although Helen couldn't quite face it. After a quick rendezvous with the Milngavie boys to pass on some tickets, it was off with Ally and Sue to the Laugardalsvollur stadium to pick up the errant KSI tickets. After catching the bus to the ground we were met by a security guard who explained how Berti was a wee bit touchy about visitors, and as the team were training, only I was allowed in to pick up the tickets. The staff at the office were really friendly, and when I gave them a NATA pennant as a gesture of friendship they reciprocated with a KSI pennant and badge. Back on the bus and then on to Hafnarfjordur for the Under-21 game.

Arriving at Hafnarfjordur, we looked in vain for a pub (even the tourist office was shut!) until we found a little cafe with a carlsberg sign and a strange man behind the bar. We were the only customers, and when I asked for a water he disappeared out the back and returned with a class of crystal clear liquid that unfortunately stank of raw sewage. Apparently this is common due to the sulphur content, but as everytime I raised the glass to my lips I could detect strong hints of jobby, I decided to give it a miss. We set off up the hill to the ground in search of pizza, and found the Robin Hood pizzeria close by (with free soup!). By the time kick-off approached the wind was howling and we could tell rain was not far off. After paying 1000kr (£8!) to a woman sat in a parked car (operating as a turnstile) we walked in and realised we were on the wrong side of the ground on terraced steps, opposite the bulk of the Scotland fans in the main stand. We managed to walk round and use the tickets we had from the car to get in, and made our way to the top far corner to try and get a decent view. Kevin Kyle, of all people, scored a beauty (Helen swears he was trying to blast it over but missed!), and Scotland headed into the interval with a 1-0 lead. Right before half-time the heavens opened, so we wisely sought shelter downstairs (where we spotted a Clydebank pennant on the concourse wall), and only lasted around 15 minutes of the second half, reasoning it was better to cut our losses than suffer colds for the remaining days of our stay. However we didn't leave straight away as we spoke to several people down in the concourse, and as we were walking away from the ground, two cheers went up for what we later found out was a second goal and the sending off of the Iceland U21 captain.

After a wee rest stop at the hotel (after bumping into Mike and Suzanne on the way back) we resolved to go for a posh meal, but first had to perform more ticket distribution duties in the Celtic Cross. No sooner had we walked in the door when Stuart from the Portsmouth Tartan Army had bought Helen and I drinks. This led to the strange scene of me having to carry a full pint of lager across the bar (where I swear every other person stopped me to say "I hope that's not for you in your condition") and thank Stuart for his kindness and apologise for not being able to drink it, much to everyone's amusement. We then headed off to Ristorante Caruso for some top notch grub, before heading to an Icelandic bar near the Cafe Opera. The topic inevitably turned to the contentious TAMB issue, but I managed to take everyone's mind off things by swiftly handing out some rocket balloons. One last call into Unkle Toms finally united me with Nick - Scott was "gathering his thoughts", slumped in the corner, and we agreed to rendezvous in there the next day. On the way back to the hotel (less than 50 yards away) we bumped into Dave M and Arthur, who were both quick to warn me that the street ahead was a wee bit punchy - no sooner had the words left their lips when a local staggered into us and spat at our feet! Simply ignoring the offender had the desired effect, and we made it back inside without further incident.

The Saturday morning brought a morning rendezvous with everyone in Unkle Toms, where we thought we had shifted the two remaining tickets. Bragi had arranged the tickets several months previously, when a 4000kr (around £32) deal secured tickets for 4 games, one of which was Scotland. We explained this to an older guy, and were therefore surprised to see him storm in 20 minutes later accusing us of ripping him off (bear in mind these tickets were changing hands outside the Dubliner for twice this amount!) - we duly gave him a refund, and actually ended up with these two remaining unsold. We had been invited to a pre-match "party" taking place in four rooms at the Hotel Island overlooking the stadium. After an initial scare involving a ticket for Steff's pal, we made it into the ground for the anthems. Due to the atmosphere on the terracing behind the goal, many people in the SFA section never made it round to their seats, meaning all the more room for the rest of us. The first goal brought understandable joy, but for me it was the manner of the performance - composed, calm and always in control - that capped it off. Gary Naysmith's screamer of a second goal was the icing on the cake - it's not often that you see a left-back score on the volley on his right foot in the inside-right position!

After the game it was back off up the hill to the sports bar next to the Island (Wall Street Casino Bar), where it turned out they would be showing the Slovakia-England match. The atmosphere was superb, with the locals and the bar staff helping to make it friendly (the barmaid even sported a tartan mini-skirt!) and it seemed like the entire Loony Alba contingent was present, including Adam Tracy performing his very own "Winnie The Pooh" tribute. After the game a taxi was called to take a group of us to Pasta Basta, where we joined later in the meal by Kevin D, who finished off the meal by pinching Helen's chick peas. The highlight of the evening that followed was the first visit to Unkle Toms (yep, that place again!), where we treated to the sight of Machar showing off his ample bosom as the whole place jumped up and down to the sounds of the Sex Pistols (fancy the Tartan Army dancing to a band that uses the Union Jack as an icon?).

Part Two: "After the Ice Storm" (Sunday - Thursday)

After Helen and I roused from our slumber around midday on the Sunday (and remember, as I'm still off the bevy on Doctors orders - Portugal is pencilled in for my international comeback - Sunday was hangover free!) we made our way to the tourist office and sorted out some sightseeing excursions (more on this later). Then off up the Cathedral Tower with Mr and Mrs Maciver, where met a wee Tibetan who gave the ladies a buddhist charm bracelet each (don't worry, we gave him a Netley Abbey Tartan Army badge in return!). After a wee sojourn to the Kringlan shopping centre (and Hard Rock café for something to eat), we spent a leisurely evening around the town. 

The Monday saw the first of our excursions - a bus trip of the Golden Circle - waterfalls, geysers, national parks, volcano craters and garden centres. Apparently, the hot water is used to heat greenhouses where various tropical fruits, including bananas, are grown - "not to eat, but for fun" according the guide. After a lunch stop at the Geyser visitor centre, we set off for the Thingveller national park. Unfortunately, the pepperoni pizza had taken its toll on a few people (see, my vegetarian diet is far heathier!), and a young gentleman from Inverness ended up closer to nature than he had intended.

Back to Reykjavik - but not for long. We had booked a discounted evening trip to the Blue Lagoon, so we killed time in the Hotel Loftleider bar between buses. The Lagoon was nice and quiet, and very eerie in the dark (thankfully this probably stopped us having to witness the "environmental remnants" left by several hundred Scottish visitors over the past weekend. A bonus for everyone else in the pool at the same time as me - they thought they'd got a whale-watching trip thrown in as well! After an exhausting day, a quiet evening followed, although I did enjoy my best pint of the trip - the water in Kaffi Brennslan was the best I had all trip!

Tuesday was another excursion day - this time in a monster truck 4x4 up to the mountains and glaciers north of Reykjavik. Four of us (Ally, Sue, Helen and I) and a German couple were in the big jeep, and we saw loads of stuff (boiling water coming out of the ground, strange horses, waterfalls, walking on glaciers) before getting back to Reykjavik just in time to throw on the kilts and settle down in the Sport Kaffi (opposite the TA stronghold of Nelly's) with some food and the Scotland-Canada game on the big screen. This was quite a moment for me - as this was the first game I've missed in 3 years (since the Faroes away game in June 1999), and my watching of the game was punctuated by a stream of abusive texts from fellow newsletter contributor Kevin Donnelly. After enjoying the 3-1 win, we moved on to Glaumbar, another sports bar near the Dubliner where the majority of the other Scots still in town had watched the game, before popping in to the Dubliner for the "caberet".

Wednesday morning brought an opportunity to go whale-watching. After getting a lift to Harfnarfjordur (where the U21 game was played - and where Jim Bett's sons play their club football), we set out for 45 minutes into bay, only to meet with 6-foot high swells, a bevy of seasick tourists and an early u-turn. Back into town for some soup in a bread, before heading towards the ground for the Iceland-Lithuania match.

As I have an Icelandic pal (ironically living in London), he was able to set us up with an internet package that involved buying tickets for 4 games (friendlies against Andorra and Hungary, plus Scotland and Lithuania). Due to the complexities of his name being on the tickets, and him in Hammersmith and unable to pick them up for me, it was baited breath that I had tried to collect them the previous Thursday. No luck, as they had sent them to the wrong petrol station, but an appointment at the KSI office the next day sorted everything out. Along with 6 tickets that Rich had picked up previously meant that we had been able to help a lot of people out (in fact, we ended up with two spares that we couldn't get rid of on the Saturday). As a result of all this, we already had our tickets sorted out for the Wednesday game.

When we got to the ground we were amazed at the number of Lithuanians that had made the trip. On reflection, many of these fans could have been ex-pats (possibly living in the US), but nonetheless there were at least 150 Lithuanians present in a crowd of 3-4,000. Our tickets were for the central section of the same stand our STC tickets had been in on the Saturday, and we were in with the Icelandic "Ultras". It seemed as though everyone had brought something along to use as a drum - one guy was banging a biscuit tin. As ever (apart from when smashed at 2am on weekends), the local fans were friendly as ever, helping us to hang our flags over the wall. The team played superbly, coasting to a 3-0 win over an outclassed Lithuanian side reduced to 10 men after 30 minutes, with Eidur Gudjohnsen in sublime form, scoring two and missing a last minute penalty by blasting it over the bar. The only Lithunian player of any note was their number 8; he was captain, and was left to try and carry the rest of the team.

During the match we were in text contact with several people, including my pal Welsh Steve who was at the Wales-Italy game, so when the first text came through mentioning the Macedonia corner, we all agreed it must be a wind-up. This was confirmed within minutes, so after our game had finished, we hot-tailed it back into town to Glaumbar to catch the last 20 minutes or so of the England match. The only moment of cheer for us was Smith's sending off, but we couldn't believe how partisan the locals were against England.

An early night followed, as we were to get up before dawn on Thursday for the Glasgow flight. Only a handful of Tartan Army were on it (including Iain Munro who had missed his flight on the Sunday), but when we went to check in we were told that not only was the flight full, but there were no adjacent seats. It turned out that an Aberdeen school party were coming back from the US and some bright check-in clerk in Washington had give every single one of them a window seat! The last thing that struck me about Iceland, which is a surprising country, is that the airport resembled a refugee centre at that time in the morning, so goodness only knows what it must have been like for those going home on the Sunday morning!

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Iceland '02 Gallery 1

Iceland '02 Gallery 2

Iceland '02 Gallery 3

On the lager in Braga - Portugal, November 2002

In a bid to end the ongoing stomach saga, Paul decided to bite the bullet and go ahead with a claim on his private medical insurance for a gastroscopy (wee camera down the throat) - this was carried out under sedation just two days before the flight to Porto. As a result of the effects of the sedative, Paul managed to have no sleep whatsoever on the Friday night (despite having booked the luxurious Le Meridien hotel at Gatwick), so come 6am Saturday morning, it was a somewhat irritated Paul who made his way to the airport for the 7.30am flight. It turned out that the plane had a flat battery, so after bussing the 20-or-so passengers on to the plane (which was colder than outside, as there was no heating), we sat and froze for 90 minutes whilst the engineers jump started it. Well, most people froze, but Helen ended up with her coat, my coat and a BA blanket to keep her warm.

Arrival in Porto was followed by a bus ride to the Holiday Inn (everyone got off at the centre, but the driver drove us round and dropped us at the door) and a siesta to catch up on lost sleep. Rich and Inverness David flew in early evening and we met up at 8pm at Rich's hotel, whilst the skies opened outside (the rain was to become a theme of the trip!). A taxi was called to take us to Solar do Vinho do Porto, a posh Port cafe overlooking the Rio Douro (except it was dark and pouring with rain. Several glasses of Port later (some costing around 70p, some £7!) and a cab ride back into town took us to the Ribeira area. A swift bar crawl of sorts followed, but it looked as though the rain was keeping the locals indoors. Two things stood about this night - the waiters chasing Rich down a back alley to warn him about the danger (this was a timely warning, as two guys were jumped later in the week) and the card system used to pay in the trendier Porto bars. An obligatory "research" trip was made to Ryan's Irish bar (for Paul to have a medicinal Guinness) and Helen and Paul headed home around 3am. Rich and David were to take in a couple of clubs, including Mau Mau (that had Rich dancing on the bar) and an unnamed goth club.

The plan had been to acclimatise to Porto on the Saturday night and then take in two league matches on the Sunday and Monday. Salgueiros, a second division team from a Porto suburb, were to host Aves on the Sunday (according to their website anyway), but after meeting David in the Holiday Inn (no Rich - turned out he's slept in after his antics the night before) I bought a sports paper from the kiosk in the square just to see if there was any build-up. What I wasn't expecting to see was a full match report (3-2 to Salgueiros) - after taking the paper back to the hotel reception I was told that the game had been played a day early, but a swift check of Sunday's fixtures showed FC Maia (8 miles away) at home to Rio Ave (only 20 miles up the road, so a local derby) at 4pm. Although it was only midday and kick-off was at 4pm, we opted to get a cab up to Maia to soak up the pre-match atmosphere and get something to eat. The stadium was handily placed in the middle of town - what wasn't so handy was the fact the town was pretty much shut, including any signs of life at the ground. A burger and a beer was grabbed in the Wimpy (more of a bar than you'd be accustomed to over here) and then another beer (and a veggie omelette for the fat vegetarian amongst us) was had in a shopping centre (another theme of the trip - no less than 5 meals in shopping centres!) before heading back to the ground for tickets. In between we had circled the ground to no avail, before heading down what can only have been the players entrance only to be confronted by a confused groundsman - an English speaker was found and it was explained where we could get tickets, as well as letting us take a photo of the trophy room (like nothing you've ever seen before!). The tickets cost around £8, but on entering the turnstiles it became clear they were for the away end, as we found ourselves surrounded by the green and white clad Rio Ave support - this did not turn out to be a bad thing. In a crowd of around 3,000, Rio Ave must have brought around 700 with them, and they were by far the noisiest and most fun, with a whole raft of drums and horns (interestingly these were played very tunefully by the men whilst the women, around a third of the travelling support, started all the singing!). A nice touch, and one slightly at odds with the image of Portuguese macho culture at football, was the Rio Ave captain throwing a giant green and white teddy bear over the fence to the supporters at the start of the game.

In such a friendly and fun atmosphere I had no qualms about hanging up the NATA flag (after all, we were all in kilts anyway) and joining in with cheering on Rio Ave. Maia took a first-half lead through a fine headed goal (every time the home team scores in Portugal, a mocking party version of the chorus from "I will survive" is played at top volume) but Rio Ave equalised with a penalty at the start of the second half. The game continued to pretty end-to-end without really looking like either side would add a second until the dying moments of injury time when an FC Maia free-kick was floated over and met with a glancing back header that fooled the keeper. It was at this point we learned that most of the fans around us (we had kept out of the way, away from the Rio Ave hardcore) were actually Maia fans. On the way out we were amazed to see two middle-aged women going at each other at the top of the stairs, and then we were diverted away from the home support and had to walk the long way for the bus home. After a brief conversation with the parents of a Dutch Rio Ave player we managed to flag a bus down (well, it was stuck in a traffic jam) only to cause total gridlock whilst the driver sorted out our change. 

Back in town, David decided he was still feeling too ropey, and Helen and I agreed to meet Rich at 11pm at the best of Saturday night's bars. After a stroll down the steep narrow lanes from the hotel to the riverside, we walked along the Ribeira promenade to look for a football bar I had heard about. Unfortunately it turned out to be a strip-lit cafe full of hooded neds and ultras, so we opted against going in and chose the quainter bar on the riverfront itself. Of course, this turned out to be for the head hoolies, as the constant stream of neds from the other bar coming to receive instructions proved, but nonetheless we treated as friends and they chatted to us for a short while before we left them a NATA pennant. We decided to head for some more Port and had a three-glass selection each. Once Rich had joined the fray we walked in to one of the disco-style bars where a few Scots had started to congregate. After a wee bout of dancing to Las Ketchup on stage, Helen and I made our excuses around 2am, a mere 5 minutes before the gay strippers took to the stage and two young ladies who had been dancing became much more friendlier with each other!

Yet another rainy day on the Monday forced us to abandon the grand plan to walk over the top deck of the massive bridge, and a taxi was called to take us to Taylor's Port House, where we bumped into Prendy and another couple of guys, followed by Ally and Sue. After the tour and the sampling, and another tour and samples at Calem, we headed back over the bridge (lower deck) to the cafe bar in the square for cheese toasties before catching a cab to the Estadio do Bessa for the Boavista game. Trying to actually hail a cab in the Porto rush-hour is not particularly easy - the reason for which was to become clear as a 3 mile journey stretched into almost a full hour. Well, it was raining! We still arrived in time for Paul to get a Boavista shirt (like a chessboard) and to swap a NATA pennant for a Boavista pennant and badge in the club bar (theme number 3: the constant generosity of Portuguese people). Boavista were hosting Gil Vicente in a televised match, which no doubt had an effect on the attendance (3,000) and the travelling support (around 15). After all we'd heard about the attacking outlook of Portuguese football, and the encouraging end to the previous day's game, we all had high hopes. Unfortunately the game was to be one of the worst I have ever witnessed, as Gil Vicente limped to a 1-0 win. Funnily enough, as we went to leave the stadium, the 15 away fans were being kept in by the polis!

A quick pizza and cab back to the hotel later and we were due to meet some of the London boys around 11pm. A wee recce on Sunday night had turned up a promising looking bar down an alleyway off the square the hotel was in, so it was agreed we would meet in Bar Vulcao. Of course, this was to turn out to be the sort of "Twin Peaks-esque" bar that only Paul can sniff out, as when we walked in two old boys at the counter were close to fisticuffs. No sooner had we settled down with our 60p beers than the Portuguese Alan Davies was showing us his Benfica keyring and one of the barroom brawlers (turned out he was a singing shoe-shiner) started serenading me with fado ballads - such was the scene when Kevin and Craig walked in. More lunacy was to follow as Ally was invited upstairs to see the "rest of the house" - a karaoke bar that would open the next day, complete with a glass stage and pink flamingos - but sadly we had to leave to get downtown. After rendezvousing in the same disco bar as the Sunday, where we also ran into fellow Worthing fans Raz and Brian, we headed off to find somewhere more local, and found an absolute gem of a place on a corner of the square. Whilst the owner was originally a wee bit nervous with having 30-odd hairy Scotsmen in a place no bigger than my living room, he soon warmed to us, even to the extent of changing the TV channel to provide some exotic entertainment. We thought the game was up when the polis walked in just after 3am, but after the music was turned down they joined us for a drink. When we finally left at 4am we managed to squeeze 5 of us in a taxi for 4 - being fat does have it's advantages, as I was absolutely fine in the front seat!

Tuesday saw us head down the hill (more of a sheer cliff face!) to the station, where we managed to piece together that there were no trains straight to Braga - we had to get off and get a bus halfway there. The carriage quickly turned into a Tartan Army section, where a very odd French man joined us and proceeded to chat up most of the lads, before taking a can of beer, placing it on the aisle floor and singing a latin blessing to it. All the while the locals looked on in bemusement. Disaster almost struck on the rail replacement bus as it wound it's way through the vinho verde vineyards, as all the beer consumed on the train started to take it's toll - thankfully everyone held on, which saved anyone abandoning ship in the middle of nowhere. In another shining example of Portuguese efficiency (as if scheduling a match in a city with no rail links in a stadium with no roof in the rainy season wasn't enough) the bus dropped us at a deserted bus station on the outskirts of the town, with only a single taxi to make shuttle runs to the hotels! As we were staying at the SFA's hotel (the Hotel Turismo) we were able to pick up our tickets as we checked in. On heading out, a quick pizza (shopping centre again!) and stroll around the town (where we saw the outside of the famous cathedral) we got chatting to a Policeman. After giving him a badge, he returned the favour by swapping it for his Braga Municpal Police badge ("Don't worry - the government will give me another one!"). After another siesta we settled in to the Cafe Vianna in the main square for the evening, where we met up with everyone already in the town (and Paul and Helen celebrated Worthing's excellent 2-0 shock victory at Lewes in the Sussex Cup), before heading across to the Hotel Ibis bar (24 hour, stupidly!) for more fun and frolics before I reached the point of realising it was bed-time.

A lie-in followed on the Wednesday, meaning a 1pm-ish arrival at the Vianna where the party was already in full swing. After a few beers, myself and Helen, Ally and Sue, Steff, Campbell and Adam headed off for a few new venues, starting with Cafe Sporting, a grim strip-lit place (much like most Portuguese cafes), where we swapped a pennant for a comedy inflatable hammer. A swift trip to the Braga club shop to pick up a club shirt (the away one in tasteful navy and cream for a bargain £20) and a cheese toastie later it was off to A Gruta, the tiny bar opposite the hospital's shrine. We'd already started the day with a martini com cerveja - a generous martini topped with lager for a fruity lager-ish drink, so it was back on to these. This was the bar that had the toilet sinks set into rock, yet Helen had to ask for the key to the Ladies behind the bar, as a coated doctor, still wearing his badge and stethoscope, popped in for a fly beer! Another bar, and a first taste of Sagres, before we were summoned to the small cafe next to the Turismo where Ally and Sue had met up with some of the London Boys and, as it turned out, the Worthing contingent. After sharing tales of the previous night's cup upset with Raz and Brian, and ordering what seemed like half-a-dozen toasties before I finally got one for myself, it was time to whip out the secret weapon: bin bags! Half-drunk, we had wandered into a Braga supermarket earlier in the day and somehow communicated our need for bin bags. Thinking that these would be a life-saver in the downpour outside (and bear in mind, the stadium had neither seats nor cover), imagine the disappointment of everyone in the bar when they turned out to be swing-bin liners. Not to be deterred, we wrapped ourselves in them as much as possible and set off, through the wind and the rain, to make our way to the stadium.

Braga's Estadio do Primera do Maia is a bowl-like stadium, not dissimilar to a Roman coliseum, and had cover for around 30 V.I.P.s in posh (i.e. plastic) seats on the far side of the ground, whilst the rest of us had to settle for wide open steep concrete steps (intended to be seats) - thankfully a new ground is on it's way for Euro 2004, but all of this did give me encouragement that surely we must be in with a shout for Euro 2008! After beating our way through the muddy swamp surrounding the ground, and somehow finding our entrance in rain so heavy it was difficult to see more than a few feet ahead of your nose. As kick-off neared, we all sincerely doubted if the game would go ahead, and in all honesty none of us would have minded a call-off. So much for the alleged 400+ tickets sold by the SFA - there must have been less than 250 in the ground (although I don't know anyone who has admitted to staying put in the pub yet!). When Portugal took the lead no-one was particularly surprised, and when the penalty was awarded we all sighed and prepared for the inevitable gubbing. Of course, the save turned out to be our best moment of the 90, but then the game really could have gone either way given the farcical conditions. Pauleta grabbed his second to make it 2-0 to Portugal at half-time, although a strong Scotland performance (relatively speaking) saw the score stay this way - the best description I've heard so far: "We did better in the second half when we were defending the deep end".

As is customary at all Portuguese games (as I now knew intimately) we were kept in for around 15 minutes, but on leaving the stadium it seemed that this was purely to give the locals a chance to get into position. Far from the horror stories we had all heard of Lisbon in 1995, and what I had seen of the Porto neds myself, we were amazed at the reception we got. It seemed the police were only there to stop us from being mobbed by friendly Portuguese fans desperate to swap scarves, shake our hands or just generally swarm around us being nice. This, and the party atmosphere out in the streets, made the soaking trudge back to civilisation a wee bit more bearable, however on reaching the agreed meeting point to find it shut, we took the executive decision to head back into the hotel to dry off. Of course, this was to prove fatal, as coupled with the 9pm kick-off (meaning we got back to the hotel at 11.30pm) and an early rise to catch a plane in the morning we opted to cut our losses and have a quick drink in the hotel bar. This wasn't an unusual decision - Ally & Sue headed straight to bed, whilst almost everyone else had a couple of quiet ones here and there before either hitting the sack or the 24-hour foyer bar at the Ibis. Not for NATA's intrepid lady-killer though - Rich sniffed out a club open until 7am!

Up in time for breakfast the next day, and then after a frantic wait for a cab it was a leisurely drive to Porto airport, where the duty free shop was already taking a hammering. Christian Dailly was also on the plane for what was quite a rowdy flight home, along with the realisation that there were no more trips until the Spring (no Germany Future Cup game for me - no holidays left!)

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Portugal '02 Gallery 1

Portugal '02 Gallery 2

Mainz a large one (December 2002)

I had long resigned myself to missing out on Mainz after the Portugal friendly was announced, particularly bearing in mind the fact I had to work in hours in lieu to get that time off. The Friday before the game brought the crushing disappointment of the Euro 2008 announcement, and out of sheer desperation I made a request for a day and a half of next year's holiday to my sympathetic boss (also Scottish) who gave the nod. That night we booked return flights to Frankfurt and the same hotel as the team, purely to make picking up the tickets easier. The irony of all this was hammered home by the fact that mine and Helen's Christmas present to each other was a trip to Frankfurt just a week and a half later (arranged as a consolation for missing out on Mainz!).

Work on the Monday flew past, and at 4.45pm it was off to the gents to slip into something a little more tartan, which provided my workmates with a wee bit of entertainment. On arrival at Frankfurt (the real Frankfurt, not the one 100 miles away) we jumped on the first S-Bahn, only to end up in the wrong city (Wiesbaden). Thankfully it was only a 15-minute connection back to Mainz, but by the time we'd checked into the hotel (and walked to the room, which was over a dual-carriageway!) we were running quite late. An understanding concierge actually rang round some of the pubs to find out where people were, and then we hopped in a cab to the Irish pub - we met up with many of the guys but failed to catch Kevin and Gavin (apparently suffering heavily from drinking with Big Jim all day). As the pub began to close, we picked up Campbell and half-carried him over the road to Florian (named after the famous French striker perhaps?) where we met up with Adam the Kiwi air pilot Mick from Birmingham (possibly a male stewardess) who were due to fly to the Caribbean the next day. At one point I remember turning round to see Adam at the bar ordering a round of sambucas, then shouting at the barman not to light them "as it's burns the bloody alcohol off!". Neat sambuca wasn't on the approved list for my stomach condition, but it would be rude to turn it down, wouldn't it?

The next day it was up and into the Markt for some breakfast (crepe? No, I went before I left the hotel) and then a hunt for the Eisgrub Brau Haus, a microbrewery rumoured to open all day (which is an unusual commodity in Mainz) that serves metres of beer (a metre-long paddle of half-pint glasses as opposed to a yard-like vase). After an unsuccessful attempt to lure Donnelly to the place, I caved in and ended up ringing him. Within an hour two long tables were filled with Tartan Army, and when the place was taken over by a pre-booked works party it was off to another bar before hitting the Markt again, accompanied by Kevin's German friend Michael (an Eintracht Frankfurt fan). German Christmas markets are renowned for their Gluwhein, so wanting to experience it to the fullest we made our way through the crowds to one of the busiest stalls (reasoning if it had the seal of approval from the locals, it must be good stuff). Gluwhein elicited a mixed response from us, but Helen, Simon and myself developed a wee bit of a taste for it, so much so that when we retired to a wine bar on the edge of the square, we slipped back out for second helpings. Mainz is in one of Germany's main wine-producing regions, and wine bars are more prevalent than beer halls and a lot less pretentious than their equivalents over here. When we got back to our wine bar, we found Adam up to his tricks of bothering the locals, this time deep in meaningful conversation with a rather glamorous lady in her forties. Taxis were summoned, and after thinking long and hard about his options, Adam agreed to accompany us to the game.

We made it in as the anthems were playing, after being delayed at the gate to check bags into the "left luggage" hut and took our place at the back of the terrace (hanging the NATA flag in the adjacent empty section). We were surprised at the number of German fans in our section supporting Scotland, including one girl sporting a tartan mini with a Hearts shirt who was entertained by the Tartan Santas from Den Haag (David & Rossy). The game was a pretty thrilling affair from what I remember (I had a satisfying "ready brek" glow around me thanks to the Gluwhein), and was marked by two late goals - Scotland taking the lead for the first time in the 88th minute, before a sweetly struck German free-kick in injury time put paid to any chance of a shock victory. Taxis were procured (after waiting for Donnelly to haggle with a scarf seller) and we headed to Scrooges on the recommendation of local Scottish ex-pat - "hoachin' wi' tottie, man, it's whaur a' the stewardesses an' 'at go". After finding to our displeasure that the only customers were a pair of French nazi-punks (another story), we headed off for some late night food, and as the London trio retired to bed early, Helen and I headed round to the Irish pub for one last drink. The party was in full swing, but knowing we both had to be back in the office the next day, we were suitably sensible. This paid dividends, as we were lucky to make the train the next day, and even luckier to make it on to our flight. Still, we knew we were coming back in a week and half for our Frankfurt weekend.

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Germany B '02 Gallery


Korea, May 2002: The Prelude

With the need to take a two-week break from work each year, and the fact that some savings had been put aside for the World Cup, the Far East tour actually fell at an ideal time for myself and Helen. A swift round of phone calls brought about a reserved place on a Cathay Pacific flight to Incheon in Korea, via Hong Kong. First, however, came the small matter of Southampton versus Newcastle at St Marys on the Saturday. After making the monumentous decision around Christmas to give up my Saints season ticket after 8 years, I was determined at least to make it to the last match I had paid for. Saints didn’t disappoint with a fine 3-1 win (and not forgetting the injury that blighted Kieron Dyer’s world cup!), although when Saints scored in the last minute to seal a 3-1 win the Wee Man, Deano and Rich were inconsolable, as Telfer’s sublime 30 yard chip cost them £300 of winnings (£2 each on 2-1 and Svensson first scorer at 50-1).

After shopping for a fortnight for many different varieties of anti-diarrhoea remedies and breathable waterproofs, the day before departure was to be spent packing and sorting stuff out. That was until I took two steps out of the front door and fell off the garden path. After crawling back inside the front door (even less dignified than it sounds) and lying in agony for 20 minutes in the hallway, I finally plucked up the courage to take off my shoe and sock to be confronted with a grotesquely swollen left ankle. Thankfully, I was not so blinded by the pain as to neglect to capture the moment for posterity, and reached for the camera (see Korea Gallery 1). Helen made the reasonable and balanced decision to deny me the medical attention my ankle clearly warranted, using the logic that I would almost certainly be deemed unfit to fly, on the basis that a support bandage and an anti-DVT sock would do it the world of good.

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Tuesday: Seoul – the Poland of the East

The 13-hour flight to Hong Kong passed without incident, apart from the inevitable queues for the toilets. I even managed to get in and out of my seat without disturbing the guy next to me in the aisle seat, although he was a bit startled when he woke up and couldn’t figure out how I was standing in the aisle. Hong Kong airport is only a few years old, and the terminal building is almost a mile in length, so you can imagine our concern at only having one hour between flights and the whole length of the terminal (with security checks) to cover in order to catch the plane to Korea. After the ordeal of the first flight, 3-and-a-half hours seemed like a short hop.

The culture shock began to dawn on us as we picked up our baggage and tried to determine where we caught the Seoul bus – Incheon International is around 50 miles from the capital and has been open less than a year (although it’s probably the best airport I’ve ever been in). The bus we did catch dropped us just over the road from our hotel for the night, the Best Western New Seoul hotel in the Gwanghwamun area, chosen as it was handy for both Incheon and Gimpo airport connections.

Jet-lagged, suffering from chronic indigestion (a taste of things to come!) and with a very sore ankle – I took off the DVT sock after around 18 hours and my foot had gone black and yellow – we decided to do the sensible thing, and kilted up to go out for a beer. Gwanghwamun is mainly a business area, with a couple of historical gates, but we found a wee “Hof” (Korean pub). It is pretty much compulsory to eat in a Hof – the Korean drinking culture is to go somewhere and to stay there eating and drinking all night, pub crawls are a no-no. As a result, Helen ended up with chicken and I ended up with popcorn, both of which were ordered by mime, as not being in a westernised area meant the only menu was in Korean. We then wandered around for a while, stopping for a beer in Cowboy, but in the main standing in awe of all the neon signs. Everywhere we went were drunk businessmen – leading to us describing Korea as the “Poland of the East” – the best sight of the evening was on the way back to the hotel: a fully-suited businessman sat cross-legged on a zebra-crossing, pint in hand, waving at us as his pals tried to pull him to his feet.

The hotel room had no windows and lots of 70’s decor, but that mattered little as we passed out with the jet lag, with me vowing to take my gangrenous leg to the SFA doctor if the situation hadn’t improved by Thursday (matchday).

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Wednesday & Thursday: Boozin’ in Busan (or not).

After a tube journey out to the domestic airport (Gimpo) in the company of hungover businessmen, we were shunted on to an earlier flight to Busan – with half-hourly flights, they are more like buses. It was only when airborne it occurred to me that this rendered the flight number information I had left my worried mother irrelevant. This was hammered home by the wind-buffered approach into Busan airport, scene of a crash just two weeks previously.

Busan is a city of 5 million people, built in an amazing location between towering mountains (i.e. in the valleys, with mountains in the middle of the urban area) and the sea. We had opted to stay in downtown Busan near the station, in the spectacular Commodore Hotel – this was in preference to the beach resort of Haeundae where the team, and most of the other 26 travelling fans, were based. After checking into our harbour view room (by harbour, we mean industrial port) and having a quick nap (jet-lag), we made our way downtown into the heart of the city. After numerous sports shops (a Korean XL is not built for an extra-large Scotsman) I settled for a Korea t-shirt (a great shame in retrospect, as Korea shirts became very hot property after their performance in the Finals). We decided to eat in a Pizza Hut style restaurant, which actually had a “Vegetarian” pizza on the menu – unfortunately this was covered with prawns. When getting our jabs for travelling, the doctor warned us in no uncertain terms to be very careful about eating in Korea, never mind my sensitive vegetarian stomach, which is why I only had two meals (both pizza) during my entire 4-day stay.

After eating we wandered around looking for a bar, initially with no success, until we hit upon “Batman”. Wednesday night is obviously not a party night in Busan, so we headed back to the main station in search of refreshment closer to the hotel. The World Cup souvenir shop in the station square was still open for business at 10pm, so we popped in – the staff didn’t know anything about the game (one shop assistant suggested the game was in ULSAN, not Busan!), which obviously troubled us a wee bit. We discussed our options in the plush “Annie’s Bar” over the road, and resolved to get up early to pick up the tickets to alleviate any worries the next day. After a brief stop at the Korean bar in the basement (Annie’s was on the first floor) – by this time we ere becoming adept at the “dumb foreigner doesn’t understand that they have to eat when they drink” approach – we made our way back along “Russian Street” to the Commodore. In the 1950’s, Busan was the start of the fightback in the Korean War, and there were many Americans based there, or on r’n’r – as a result a street to “service” their needs developed near the station, nicknamed “Texas Street”. It was not only a red-light street, there are also hostess bars and cheap drinking holes. As the Americans moved out and the USSR dissolved, Russian merchant ships became more frequent in Busan, along with young Russian ladies of the night. The strangest thing about Busan was the dual-language signs everywhere in both Korean and Cyrillic script.

Up at the earliest time we could muster, which wasn’t easy given the continued impact of the jet lag, we got geared up for the match and made our way down to the station. After meeting an ex-pat Irish journalist, who assured us the game was local, and that’s why he was here, we tried to catch the tube to Haeundae, only to find they hadn’t finished building the line. A tube and cab ride later we were in the foyer of the team hotel, where we met Big Jim Gardiner, who was also there on ticket collecting duty. He had to go and rouse his travelling companions (Sid and Andy), and after a stroll along the beach and a fruitless search for a bar, we made our way to the PNU (Pusan National University) district, just a few tube stops away from the stadium. The area was jumping with students, and a stall with an amplifier was advertising the game that night. There were also enough bars to keep a fat man very happy, even if many of them were not quite open – we settled for a (beer-selling) coffee bar just to keep us going.

Our trusty Lonely Planet guide to Korea mentioned a couple of bars that sounded worthy of investigation, and we were struggling to find which was up on the map when one of the students approached us with an offer to help. He duly led us to the door of the bar, which was just opening up, and was happy to join us for a beer when asked. His name was Swan and he was going to the match, but had to go home for his ticket first, although he offered to meet us at the station in 2 hours and show us the way to the ground – this suited us fine as it gave us the chance for a few more beers. We set off in search of another recommended place, only to find it was being refurbished, although we did manage to find another 3 pubs (including another Cowboy-themed place) – I think Swan was quite bewildered that we managed so many in what he saw as a short time. We were planning to head back to the PNU area after the game, but Swan suggested that the Seomyeon area nearer the centre would be more lively on a Thursday.

It was off the tube and onto a bus to take us the 2 miles to the stadium, which looked like a huge meringue. Despite the spitting rain gradually getting heavier, the path up to the stadium was heaving, and I was being stopped on a regular basis for photographs (complete with my “Try the meatballs…” t-shirt). I had bleached my hair for the trip (something that caused consternation at every passport check), and had some blue spray-in dye – Helen’s slightly skewed attempt at hair art was captured for posterity by a Korean camera crew. Swan directed us to our turnstile and we shook hands – then it was through the World Cup standard security check and into our seats.

The SFA-allocated tickets were in one long row, although around 20 rows in front of us were around 50 ex-pats, who did their best at the start to sing (although the sight of Rangers, Celtic and even England tops amongst them was a less welcome sight). It looked like Scotland were still on the plane as a fast, organised and razor-sharp Korean attack tore them to shreds, and the first goal was not long in coming. By the time Scott Dobie rose above the defence to head-in his second-half bullet header, Scotland were three goals down, and another one was scored before the end to round off a 4-1 defeat. A dejected-looking team trudged off at the end, and for us at the time, despite the attractive Korean play, it was difficult to judge whether the result was due to playing a vastly superior team or jet lag.

After again stopping to pose for photographs, and getting lost in the maze of walkways outside the ground, we eventually found ourselves on a bus back to the tube station. Despite some frantic attempts at making arrangements to meet up in Seomyeon for a beer, it was just Helen and I yet again, as most Scots either headed back to the Haeundae area or back on their bus to the shipyards. Nevertheless we met up with a businessman called Alex Kim (this isn’t unusual – almost everyone in Korea shares the surname Kim) who took us to a rather flash bar. Korean culture is based quite rigidly on the Confucian concept of respecting your elders, with marriage being the decider in the event of a tie – this means that questions about age and marriage are very common-place, even if they seem a little odd when you’ve just met someone. After saying goodbye to Alex, we wandered around the narrow, brightly-neon-lit streets and found another couple of bars (including one Beatles-themed bar and really nice posh one with the match highlights on the telly). Yet again, it seemed that Thursday was not a particularly busy day in the bars of Busan, but we still managed a respectably late time getting back to the hotel.

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Friday: Seoul – Drinking with Disney

The next morning it was up in time for the bus to the airport, with time for the concierge to take my photo in front of the hotel. The trip to Seoul and on to our next hotel (in the Hong-Ik area, near the universities). We had decided to book a Korean-style room for the fourth night, figuring that the jet lag would no longer be such an issue, and we would be in mega-westernised Hong Kong the next night in any case. On check-in the receptionist took one look at me (and my kilt) and said “there must be some mistake – I have you for Korean room”, when I explained no, he broke into a broad smile and excitedly called over the porter. When entering the room, the cleaner came out of a room opposite in tears of laughter – they obviously don’t have many Westerners staying like this. The porter explained that shoes were not to be worn on the floor itself (the area immediately inside the door and the bathroom were okay) and slippers were provided. As the door closed behind him I looked at the space on the floor where the bed should have been and my heart sank – how could Helen and I sleep on a small mat on a padded lino floor? Helen put my mind at rest as she found the other cushions and fashioned bed for a quick afternoon nap. Besides the bed, the room was very well-appointed, with mini-bar, colour satellite TV, western-style bathroom, so no compromise on other hotel comforts.

After a doze, we hit the streets of Seoul for some (safe) pizza whirlwind sightseeing. We were too late for the Gwanghwamun Palace (although we did see the City Hall square that was later famously filmed with 1 million people celebrating). The Tongdaemun Market was pretty hectic, and the stadium interesting, and then it was down to the Seoul TV tower and a gruelling climb up to the cable car. The Tower is on a hill right in the middle of Seoul, and we reached the top at sunset, which was pretty breath-taking. We spent a while at the tower before walking down the other side to the car park, where we able to grab a taxi to the Itaewon area. Itaewon is home to over 20,000 US GI’s, and is a real eye-opener: everyone speaks English and it seems that everyone is on the make. We found the notorious“hooker hill”, which supposedly had a couple of decent bars at the top, only to discover it was hoaching with punch-drunk GI’s and machine-gun toting military police. We opted to give those places a miss, and walking back along the main drag we caught sight of an English Pub. Reasoning that this might be a place to find other Scots, we popped in for a drink and got chatting to Darrell, a sergeant in the military police and serving his second tour of Korea. Despite the amazement and friendliness of the bar staff when I asked for my beer in Korean, we decided not to hang about in Itaewon and instead headed to the Sinchon area, right next to where we were staying.

After finding the narrow warren of streets behind the tube station that plays host to all the bars, we were blown away by how many people were on the streets. First stop was the Voo Doo Bar, followed by a search for elusive dark beer in a micro-brewery. We then popped into a sixties-themed bar, all the while side-stepping the food issue, and we were just about to get up and pay when a huge 2-litre jug of Hite beer appeared on our table as a gift of some guys on an adjacent table. We ended up in bit of a pub crawl, as I mentioned I’d like to try soju (Korean rice wine), which in retrospect was a bad judgement call! We called into a downstairs soju bar, where I ate fruit (a BAD mistake) and drank bottle after bottle of soju (it comes in little green bottles the same size as the wine you get on flights, and weighs in at 22%). Then the lads mentioned an interest in dark beer, and I mentioned the micro-brewery, so off we went. Unfortunately it was now shut, but the bar over the road was open and had dark Becks, of all things. Our last port of call, of which only very vague memories remain, was a Disney themed bar where we ended up moving a large group of people just so we could get a photo, followed shortly by a drunken taxi-ride back to the hotel.

After a surprisingly restful sleep (on the floor) I awoke with a crippling hangover and a rather unstable stomach. We dragged ourselves up and out in order to go and see the new World Cup stadium, complete with brand new tube link, although we more than a little surprised to see 500 hundred or so school kids receiving a lesson on the steps (as they were to see a pasty hungover Scotsman in a kilt, no doubt!). The stadium was very impressive, but fenced off to prevent closer inspection, and in any case, it was time to head to the airport. We had two options – head to Gimpo and catch the transfer bus, or head to a crossroads in the city (on the same tube line as the stadium) to catch a city bus. A feeling of hopelessness struck as we came up the stairs from the underground station to see a 10 lane roundabout with around 8 roads leading into it, with no clue where the bus went from – then we looked across and saw an airport bus sitting in the traffic. Thankfully the driver took pity on us and let us on, and we made it to the airport in plenty of time, which was just as well, as my rice wine-impacted stomach nearly caused me to miss the plane. Hong Kong - and at least another 130 TA travellers – here we come!

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Hong Kong, May 2002: The Arrival

After the non-stop movement in Korea (and particularly the “movement” at Incheon Airport!), the heat, humidity and overall hectic-ness of Hong Kong really took it’s toll on me. It’s taken me almost two years to get the experience down, however my memories of the week were so befuddled even then things would be the same – as a result, this won’t be the most detailed, or necessarily accurate (all the days merged into one long, sweaty, humid hell!) of diary accounts, but nonetheless, and here by popular demand, is the long awaited Hong Kong account…

We arrived at Hong Kong’s huge new airport (with a runway big enough to land a space shuttle, no less!) at the same time as a delayed flight from London, and bumped into numerous TA elite luminaries (such as Britney, Craig, Kevin and Coyle) in the passport queue. After the speedy train into town, Helen and I waited for the bus to take us to our first hotel (the Excelsior) whilst the others jumped in cabs. It was only when I stepped outside from the train terminal to board the bus that the heat and humidity hit me, almost knocking me off my feet. Our hotel was at the far end of Wanchai, and towered over the harbour and the Noon Day gun. We had booked a deluxe room for one night only, as we were part of the group booking in the Park Hotel in Kowloon (arranged by Scott Kelly), but were arriving a day early. As we knew we would have spent the previous night in a Korean style room in Seoul, we thought a touch of luxury wouldn’t go amiss.

After some slight confusion, we were checked into a massive corner suite, complete with harbour views and not one but two sinks in the marble bathroom! Tearing ourselves away was hard, particularly in my frail state after my earlier exertions at Incheon Airport, however we headed out into the evening heat to make our way over to the rendezvous in Delaney’s in Wanchai. A pretty quiet evening followed, with me experimenting with Tsingtao (fruity, but not to my taste), and one of Hong Kong’s own brews: San Migeul (bizarre, but true). No matter what happened, I stayed sober, sweating all of it out almost as soon as I could drink it – but we put this down to it being my first day there and the fact I had been ill that morning. Helen, on the other hand, only seemed to suffer from wavy hair! We made our way back to our hotel around 2am, as many of the early-arrival TA carried on the party in the club over the road from Delaneys.

After a decent lie in, it was up and out of the hotel, to head across to Kowloon and the Park Hotel. We tubed it to Central, and opted for the Star Ferry rather than the connecting MTR line, as we were desperate to see Hong Kong from the harbour. The path to the ferry took us past hundreds of Philipino girls sat on the walkways above street level, chatting or playing cards and dominoes – apparently, every Sunday all the au pairs get the day off so they head here to meet up. The ferry was nice, but humid, as was the rest of “outside”, away from the omnipresent air conditioning. After a brief taxi ride to the hotel front door, we could see a big scoreboard opposite telling us the temperature was 30-degrees centigrade, but 98% humidity. A brief rest later, and it was over the road to the team’s hotel to pick up the match tickets – not just mine and Helen’s, but the 30 or so that made up Scott’s party, including Ally and Susan.

We met up with everyone that evening in the hotel bar, making full use of our drinks vouchers, and then people started to drift on to other things. Ally, Sue and ourselves made our way across to Central, where we met up with Criag, Kevin, Big Greg and various others in The Dubliner’s sister bar in Lan Kwai Fong. After more than a few drinks, and a disoriented Susan – which she put down to “jet lag” – it was back under the harbour in a taxi.

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The First Game

An early-ish start was needed on Monday morning, and as we strolled down to the harbour around 11.30am, we were stopped by Chic Young for an interview. Ally took the lead, but we all knew he was far too sensible to be used in the final broadcast – still, it didn’t stop us ringing home and arranging for the Scottish News to be taped. We made our way to Caledonia, at the foot of the Hutchison Building, and were surprised to be among the first in – just Big Jim, Pete and Mac, the New York Tartan Army, and Sheffield John were already there. Handily, this gave us a clear run at the souvenir rugby shirts (one of the essential “Elite TA” identifiers!), although all that was left was Small and XXXL (which suited me, but Ally wasn’t too happy!). Despite all my best efforts, Helen was steadfastly refusing to get one of the cheong-suns that adorned the gorgeous waitresses. After more than few Coronas (on special offer, and complete with lime in the neck of the bottle), it was off to Delaney’s. The place wasn’t too packed, which was handy as the air conditioning was non-existent, and I found Craig at the back of the pub brandishing his Maidenhead Utd flag, alongside ANZTA with their effort, before we headed off in a cab again, this time to the magnificent Hong Kong Stadium, half-built into the rocky hillside that led up to Happy Valley.

My hair had been bleached blonde prior to the trip – something that had caused many a double-take amongst the passport officials of Korea and Hong Kong – and Helen had sprayed it blue, save for a diagonal cross, to give the impression of a saltire. This one was much neater than the Korean effort, but still left me with blue palms every time I raised my hand to my head. Once we arrived at the ground, and I convinced the security guards that the can of blue hairspray did not present a threat, we sauntered around the side, and found ourselves on an escalator to the upper tier, where we settled down next to Ewan and some of the other Loony Alba boys.

It was an eerie experience, being in such an immense and impressive stadium, amongst a crowd of less than 8,000, and all in crushing, oppressive heat. Scotland took the field against South Africa, and ran out losers in a two-nil defeat: no shame in that considering we had a scratch team out against a World Cup qualifying squad. The second game, which we stayed on for, was Turkey against Hong Kong – not everyone could be bothered to watch: Ewan settled down in the row behind us to catch up on some sleep (he’d been kept awake the night before by his room-mate and a “guest”!). After the double-header of games, we made it back down the hill by taxi and headed for Wan Chai. By now, it had started to rain like there was no tomorrow, and my blue hair paint was running out of control, covering my face, neck and t-shirt, much to everyone else’s amusement! We grabbed a quick pizza, whilst I cleaned up as best I could in the toilets, then headed round to Delaney’s. It became quite apparent very quickly that neither me nor Helen were in any fit shape to drink properly, so at the shamefully early hour of 11pm, we opted for an early night.

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In-between Days

We had reasoned that with an early night, we should be able to get up early and make the most of the next day; for example, heading out to Lantau Island to see the big Buddha. The alarm was duly set for 9am. Then 10am, then 11am… we finally got up, both still shattered, at 3pm, after fifteen hours sleep! After showering drowsily, we opted to head up into Mong Kok, a market district in North Kowloon. We meandered around the Bird Market and the streets full of “hourly” hotels, until we came across Mong Kok Stadium. Now, being an avid ground spotter, I always took any chance I could to get in and grab some photos, however I nearly met my match here! The guard on the gate was quite insistent that there was no way, but we managed to get referred to his boss – a couple of NATA pin badges, and a sworn assurance that the photos would not appear in the press were enough to get us in. On the way out, they explained that the Scotland squad were on their way over to train in an hour’s time.

We stopped for a soft drink and a bite to eat in the shopping mall by the posh hotel over the road, where a friendly lad called Eric behind the counter engaged us in conversation about the football, before we headed back towards Kowloon through an even more crowded street market, stopping for a beer at a sports bar festooned in Carlsberg paraphernalia. We were able to catch the last 20 minutes or so of England’s win in South Korea, and then watched in amazement as dozens of Hong Kong locals headed for the exits in England shirts at the final whistle. Back out it the market, we were able to pick up a few odds and ends – some bandannas for me (to mop my ever-moist brow), and some snoopy ornaments for Helen, as well as a South China Athletic FC shirt in a sports shop. Unfortunately, China’s idea of a XL shirt is slightly different from mine! Another stop in a local pub, watching the locals gamble over dice, and a woman in a PVC purple mini-dress promoting some alcopop or another, and it was back off to base to prepare for the evening.

Back at the hotel, and after a brief sewing kit repair to my kilt, it was down to the bar, where many of the Loony Alba contingent, and Ally and Sue, were in stitches at the performance of the in-house entertainment. We decided en masse to head for the local pubs, and after a few wrong turns (leading us into the depths of the tower blocks on Nathan Road!), we found or first pub. After knocking back happy hour priced beer, and meeting up with a Scottish ex-pat living in Singapore, who clearly believed it was natural to speak like Sean Connery (“My namesh McKim, Jamie McKim, from Shingapore”) it was off into the night. The evening’s a bit of a blur – we drank in Amoeba, ran by an exceptionally friendly (i.e. possibly gay) Patrick, where Susan and Helen got into conversation with some drunk Germans, and I got into an argument with the barman of the Kowloon branch of Delaneys over the beer price (which led to me leaving, and Ally & Sue getting free beer!). We also drank in a pub called the Red Lion, which Helen thought “looked nice”, yet turned out to be a brothel (as many dodgier Hong Kong pubs are), and ended up with jugs of beer at some pub with a live band.

Wednesday was the earliest start of the trip – up in time for Scott Kelly’s bus tour. The air-conditioned mini-bus was pretty full, and was MC’d by an eccentric older Chinese guy who was obsessed with facts and figures: “Can anyone guess how much fish Hong Kong eats in a year?”. The tour took in Victoria Peak, a temple down at Causeway Bay, Aberdeen Harbour (with a Sasmpan Tour), the obligatory jewelleryfactory tour, lunch at a restaurant in Kowloon, a trip up a big hill in Kowloon, a visit to another big temple, and finished up with Mong Kok bird market. There was a big demand to see in the Mong Kok stadium too, but the security guard gave our guide the brush off (much to mine and Helen’s amusement). The highlights had to be the lunch, which provided no knives or forks, and led to Ali Martin getting more on the table than down his throat, and the trip through the Aberdeen Tunnel, which has a scoreboard tracking how many road deaths there’s been (our guide was in his element!). I’ve absolutely no idea what happened on the Wednesday night, but it’s a fair bet that whilst everyone else was out partying until the crack of dawn, I was fatigued due to the humidity and had an early night!

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The last game

Anyway, come Thursday, come the final match, against a “Hong Kong XI” – so not even an official international! We kicked off the day in the cool, air-conditioned climes of Caledonia, which was surprisingly quite (but then, the rugby shirts had all but sold out by now), and then headed by cab straight up to the ground. It wasn’t just us feeling the heat – a full camera crew were laid out on the steps leading to the turnstiles, paralysed by the heat. As we milled outside the ground, picking up some souvenir posters, we encountered a local dressed in a Middlesbrough shirt, and after we made our way into ground, I bumped into Eric (from the sandwich shop), now proudly sporting a China shirt. The game against the Hong Kong XI was little more than a formality – an easy 4-0 win marked by Kevin Kyle’s first Scotland goal – and we viewed it from the low-set seats behind the goal (visible on the telly and everything!). Despite our best intentions to stay and watch the South Africa – Turkey game, we surrendered to the heat, and along with various other miscreants, made our way back down to civilisation.

We were struck by the same indifference to beer, even when we were in Joe Bananas (where everyone dances on the bar), and Helen struck on the brainwave to go up Victoria Peak and see the cityscape in the dark. Whilst still stiflingly humid, the air was slightly cooler and fresher up the peak, and riding the tram was an unforgettable experience. Once back down, we finished off with a couple of cold Corona’s down in Caledonia, where we had a decent chat with Iain, the manager.

Our flight home was on the Friday night, but Scott had negotiated an extra night’s stay in the hotel, meaning we could keep the room until the evening. We took advantage of this by getting up late, then headed over to the Island intending to go up the tallest tower – unfortunately, post-September 11th, this was no longer an option, however Ally and Sue, on a similar mission, had managed to get up the Bank of China tower in Central. Helen and I headed back to Kowloon from Wan Chai, then explored the streets immediately north of the hotel, discovering a whole street of quaint bars and restaurants, as well as picking up various tat in the local shops. Scott had also arranged with the same minibus company to take us back to the airport, so we were able to get an update on how the road deaths had panned out over the past few days from the guide! On arrival at the airport, everyone else headed for the Virgin check-in desks, whilst we had the relative luxury of an empty Cathay desk to check in to (although the errant James McFadden also turned up on our flight!) – Ali Marin, on the other hand, had to enter negotiations with the ticket people, as his plane ticket had been lost when his sporran had burst earlier in the week.

The flight home pretty much summed up the whole trip for me – too hot, too stuffy, no sleep, and no will to drink! How one of the best Scotland trips of all time (according to most who were present) turned into living hell for me is anyone’s guess, but at least I enjoyed Korea!

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