The Holland trip
in April 2000 was a first for a number of reasons - it was the first
trip The Wee Man came on, the first time we met the Notts Scots,
and also the first time Rich and Paul wore kilts. From France '98
onwards it had been a case of "do I buy a kilt, or do I go
on a trip?" - I had said if we didn't qualify for Euro 2000
I would buy one, so I had to go and put my money where my mouth
We went to Holland by train and ferry, and left Brighton very early
on the Tuesday morning, meeting up with Allan and David in Amsterdam
ahead of a night out. The Amsterdam nightlife brought a mixed reaction
from our group, as although we were out for ages, we didn't seem
to drink that much. We were all disappointed that the city failed
to live up to its 24-hour reputation ("just at weekends",
apparently - it's no Prague!).
The next afternoon, it was off to Arnhem by train, and the mayhem
of Arnhem's main square, where there must have been at least 4,000
Dutch and Scottish fans drinking and joking together. We got there
too late to get a comfortable spot, so we settled in a quieter bar
round the corner. The game itself was a wee bit surreal - played
at the impressive Gelredome, home to Vitesse Arnhem, the stadium
features a retractable pitch and roof, and was played with the roof
shut. Due to the boxy nature of the ground, it was like being in
a sports hall.
The game finished 0-0, with Sullivan in inspired form - along with
the defence, he kept the likes of Overmars, Bergkamp, Kluivert and
Hasselbaink at bay. Due to the closed roof and the very 'smoky'
atmosphere inside the ground, I reckon the fans contributed to the
goalless draw, as the players were all too mellow to bother running
too much, and at full time they all went to the garage for a Mars
Bar and a strawberry milkshake.
Back to Amsterdam - and an early night for Paul ("I've
got glandular fever") Allison, as the rest of the group spectacularly
failed to find a late-night drinking den (they missed my beer-sniffing
skills). The next day it was off to Ajax's Arena for a wee nose
round and the guided tour, and a far more civilised night out before
the train/boat home.
We hate England more than
you (2), Ireland, May 2000
to play away in Dublin immediately after a Bank Holiday weekend
was an inspired one, and Rich and I set off by plane on the Saturday
morning, meeting Clarkston Chris at Dublin airport, and Welsh Steve
(who came by boat from Wales) in the town on the Saturday night.
Due to work, Steve was only on board until the Monday morning.
On the Saturday night the town was full of English stag and hen
parties, and failed to live up to expectations. One moment of light
relief came when Chris came back from lavvies visibly shaken - when
asked what was wrong he explained that he had been set upon by a
hen party and his novelty "Shaun The Sheep" g-string had
been snatched - one of his assailants was wearing it around her
neck as a trophy!
The following day, Steve, being Welsh, persuaded us to go to the
Ireland v Barbarians rugby match at Landsdowne Road. Never understood
it, never will (Jonah Lomu at left-back will never work). At the
end everyone was practically encouraged to go on the pitch - we
made our way for the corner bar for a pint and a photo opportunity.
Later on we bumped into a foul-mouthed Maryhill lass (is there any
other kind of Maryhill lass?) living in Dublin who was having a
row with her boyfriend and wanted to involve us. After a Smirnoff
Ice session in Major Tom's nightclub it was back to the hotel.
And it was at the hotel where Paul (glandular fever, remember)
was to stay for the entire next day, whilst Rich had spent his one
and only night there out of four, having become "acquainted"
with a local. Another Major Tom's session followed for the rest,
with the Clarkston Branch now in full attendance.
The day of the game involved a massive session with the Notts Scots
and several hundred others in Olivers bar. Clydebank Chris (NTA)
was to find himself filmed for a BBC documentary whilst dancing
on a table, leading the singing (and the bastard hasn't shut up
about it since!). A chance meeting with Robbie Jenkins in a pub
halfway to the ground followed, and despite losing an early goal,
the team performed exceptionally well to win 2-1. Back off to Temple
Bar, where the festivities finished a wee bit earlier than hoped
as all the clubs were full.
A great end to the season, and time to look forward to the World
Cup qualifiers. Next stop Latvia.
For the third successive year,
Scotland were to play away in the Baltics on the first weekend of
September. Also for third successive year, Rich was to miss the
match because of work commitments. In order to make a proper trip
of it, me and the bird booked up a city break to nice hotel in Riga,
flying out on the Wednesday night and back on the Monday morning.
After a chat on the plane with the Scottish wife of Gary Johnson
(the English manager of Latvia), we made our way into town, and
after checking in, found ourselves in a Russian bar. Now, having
travelled a fair bit to Eastern Europe, I’ve seen a fair few
mafiosi in my time, but the question everyone always asks back home
is “how can you tell?” – well, this guy was 6-foot-4,
built like an outdoor lavatory wearing a black suit with a black
polo neck and lots of gold jewellery, surrounded by half-a-dozen
ladies of the night. We were not in the best part of town, but the
four hours or so we were in there passed without major incident
(I don’t know what it is with flights to the Baltics, but
they always get there around midnight, and leave very early in the
morning). The only exception was the toilet, and this was to become
a wee bit of a trend. I have never, ever felt so sick in my life
as I did after stumbling out of the toilet, so bad was the stench
I almost collapsed. The problem is compounded by the fact that if
you piss in the street, you get locked up for the night!
The following day, nursing a mild voddy hangover, it was off to
the seaside – Juurmala, the “Latvian Rivera”.
This was only 30 minutes from Riga by train, but a real world away.
The day we went it was a bit like Troon in February, but with a
nicer beach. That evening involved a wee recce around the pubs,
including a brief stint in Dickens (opposite the closed Paddy Whelans),
before moving on to the surreally named nightclub, “Nobody
Writes To The Colonel”.
The Friday was spent going up a big tower for aerial photos of
the city (which is de rigueur on away trips), before making our
way to the Daugava stadium for the Under-21s match. Arriving there
early, we were able to locate the tiny bar inside the only stand
for some warm bottled beer (this was drunk dry by half-time), and
watched the U-21s put in a very convincing performance for a 4-0
win. After visiting the lavvies, I actually returned with my camera
to capture the state that they were in (see photo on the left) –
I think the police sitting in the patrol car outside were a bit
confused by the camera flash!
We shared a taxi (and a later a meal) with Jim and June, a couple
exiled in Buckinghamshire, before moving on to hit the town again.
The thing with Scotland trips is that everyone congregates in a
big (usually Irish) pub, that ramps up its prices and gets rammed
full dead early, when there’s usually a far better (and even
cheaper) bar waiting around the corner – near Dickens were
several that fell into this category – the most obvious candidate
being “A La”. “A La” was literally an office
style door in a wall that led through to a series of inter-connected
rooms, and this really has to be the most laid-back, relaxing and
welcoming pub I have ever been in. The only downside is that I don’t
think any other TA found it in all the time we were in Riga. Several
other bars, notably the Beefeater-ish “Alus Seta” (Beer
Yard) and “The Amsterdam” were also preferable to the
heaving throng that was Dickens.
It was the following day where we really struck gold as far as
pubs were concerned. After an early wake-up call on the mobile from
the Nottingham Tartan Army (who had travelled via Estonia) we met
in the Dublin pub, before moving on to a selection of others, before
settling in the underground pool bar that is “Klondaika”.
Although this bar was actually in the same block (and right around
the corner) as Dickens, it’s deceptive entrance meant that
not many Scots found it. Nonetheless, we enjoyed it so much that
when we eventually re-surfaced we had missed the march to the ground
and begun a frantic search for taxis. After getting in 5 minutes
late through a side gate (I still have my entire ticket), with Helen
still clutching one of the carry-out beers we had got for the taxi
ride, we took up position in the stand. After constant Latvia pressure,
and a missed sitter from Billy Dodds, Neil McCann popped up to score
a vital last gasp winner. Back off in to town, and back in taxis
for the Klondaika.
Except the bastard taxi carrying Helen, Machar and me only went
and dropped us at a different Klondaika bar (apparently it’s
a chain!), and after a 30 minute wander through the Riga back streets,
we made it to the right place. A night of drinking ensued, with
the only hitch being Helen spilling a pint of Coca Cola down my
kilt (“It wasn’t the fact that she spilt it, more the
fact that she was only drinking Coke!”), until we retired
around 4am for the hotel.
The next day was spent sight-seeing and having a romantic meal
and stuff, before an obscenely early awakening to get the cab to
the airport, and time on the flight to turn my thoughts to the upcoming
San Marino/Croatia double-header.
For reasons outlined
below in the Croatia report, I had to travel to San Marino completely
independent of the Croatia match. This meant that Rich would have
to undertake his Munich-Bologna-Rimini-Venice-Llubljana-Zagreb mission
on his own (a separate write-up from the “Gangster of Love”
will appear on this page shortly). With the Wee Man and Clarkston
Chris only available for the San Marino leg, the Wee Man and I met
up with the Chris at Heathrow on the Thursday morning (after a Vodka
binge in Brighton the previous night). We were greeted with the
unprecedented experience of travelling to Bologna with England u-21
squad (they had some tournament or other).
We met up with Rich in a bar opposite Bologna rail station, stunned
to see that he was sipping white wine. We quickly realised that
bar had already been drunk dry of everything else, and having met
up with a bird Chris knew from Strathclyde Uni, we went off for
a bar more suited to our needs. A few hours later we were on a train
to Rimini armed with a carry-out. After a good 90-minutes wandering
around the streets of Rimini we staggered across the hotel. After
a quick turn-around (and an unfortunate incident involving the Wee
Man and the bidet) we were off out again, quickly finding the Scottish-owned
pub The Bull And Bush. As this was Thursday night, the pub was jumping
but not uncomfortably packed, and when things started quietening
down around 1-ish, Rich and Chris were chatting to one of the owners
about local clubs – we were told about an all-night bar around
the corner (which me and the Wee Man thought sounded ideal, being
the boring old farts that we are), but to Rich and Chris’s
joy, the barman had rang his nightclub-owning pal (Ennio) who was
driving round to pick us up and take us back to ‘Carnabys’.
Now, this was a new experience to the four of us, being shepherded
into an Italian disco-owner’s people carrier and driven 7
miles in the wrong direction from our hotel at 1 in the morning.
Rich and Chris were beginning to lose their enthusiasm, and we were
all questioning just how busy this place was going to be, when as
we pulled into the street the club was in, Ennio explained that
the place was quite lively for this time of year, as there were
two buses of Slovenian 6th-form students in. We walked in, clearly
the only Scots in the place, to a dance floor jumping with 17 year-old
Slovenian talent, whilst all the moody lads were huddled in groups
around the wall, making their pints last for hours. This was a good
thing! No queue at the bar, but a great atmosphere in the club.
Chris became quiet friendly with a young lassie, but when quizzed
later as to why he didn’t actually kiss her, he explained
that her teacher had stayed close all night! The kids were bussed
off around 3.30am, and the DJ switched from playing Euro-pop to
punk/rock stuff, much to our delight, although at this point it
was just us and the staff left. As Rich threw himself around to
the strains of U2’s Party Girl, he managed to swing his arm
out and catch the Wee Man, innocently walking past to the toilets,
with a beautiful right hook to the jaw! We stayed chatting to the
bar staff until gone 4am, during which time the Wee Man had helped
do the cleaning, and then Ennio gave us a lift back to the all night
bar (The George) we’d heard about earlier. We had to leave
half-an-hour later when the Wee Man, mumbling incomprehensively,
was seen staggering away down the road in the wrong direction –
after catching up with him we bundled him into a taxi and got back
to the hotel around 5.30am. The night still didn’t end here,
as Chris and The Wee Man went up to the room, Rich and I got some
beers off the Sebastian (the night porter) and found some turtles
in an ornamental fountain at the back of the foyer.
The next morning, after a substantial lie-in, as we were leaving
the hotel, Rich was off speaking to the turtles. As we walked over
he leaned in the water and put his finger in, which the nearest
turtle promptly clapped its beak around, startling Rich into jumping
a good three feet back, whilst the rest of us rolled around in tears.
When we regained our composure, and someone asked Rich what he thought
it would do, he replied “I thought it would kiss me!”
– not just a ‘ladies’ man, eh Rich? Shame he stopped
with his finger and didn’t go any further! After stumbling
across some Polish folk dancing in a hotel bar, and failing to get
past the door at the Bull and Bush because of the crowds, we ended
up in the Life nightclub (Carnabys was shut).
The following day was match-day, and we had bought all-in tickets
for a bus and a meal from the Bull and Bush pub, so we had to get
down there for midday. Feeling a wee bit rough, I took a while to
pick up, but by the time the bus had dropped us off at the pub on
the way (buggered if I can mind the name) we were all in full flow.
The atmosphere was great, the beer was flowing and the DJ (one of
the Bull and Bush’s owners) was pumping out the Scottish tunes.
Everyone was bouncing on the tables, and the look of bewilderment
on the unknowing Italian family who had innocently pulled up in
the car park and walked in to a standing applause was priceless.
Off up the hill in time for the end of the England-Germany game,
except the pubs were already rammed, and then back down to the stadium.
The temperature in San Marino was considerably lower than that in
Rimini, and by the time the game kicked off, hypothermia was beginning
to cut through my beer-fuelled ‘ready-brek’ glow. The
stand we were in (opposite the main stand) didn’t seem too
sturdy, and then everyone started a bouncy – at one point
some guy behind us took a header and flattened about 10 rows stood
in front of him like a mental dominoes game. After going for a piss
at half time and unable to get back to the lads, I watched the second
half from the corner nearest the goal we were attacking. After 70
minutes of banging our heads against the wall, Scotland managed
2 goals and we went back (very slowly at first) on a very crowded
bus to Rimini.
We had met up with David and Allan of the NATA Inverness Branch
as arranged before the match, but none of us really recovered from
the chill (and the Inverness boys had not slept in order to get
their flight that morning), and as a result called it an early night,
which was a disappointment. Three of us had to get to Bologna for
a flight the next morning, and one of us (me) had an exam on Tuesday,
and a trip to Croatia to contend with!
I’m lucky that my job gives me the annual leave (and the
pay) to enable me to follow Scotland, although usually on a modest
budget. However, one of the downsides is the studying for management
qualifications, particularly as the exam was due for Tuesday 10th
October, three days after San Marino, and the eve of the crucial
Croatia game. Through some frantic travel arrangements, I was able
to arrange a flight leaving Heathrow 5pm and changing in Frankfurt,
coming back on the Sunday (needed a Saturday night for a cheap flight).
The only problem was the exam was in Brighton and was due to finish
at 1pm, leaving the M23/M25 to be negotiated. Some frantic scribbling
enabled me to leave the exam hall over an hour early.
After a diverted flight via Munich we touched down in Zagreb around
midnight. After sharing a taxi with another TA foot soldier (sorry,
but I’ve already forgotten the guy’s name) to our hotel,
we did the usual: drop the bags and hit the town. We quickly found
The Bulldog pub around the corner, where we bumped into Scott and
Josie of the NTA, and we settled into a relatively quiet corner,
with a unique way of getting served (reaching through the glasses
on the back shelves of the bar). We bumped into a few characters
that night, particularly the Prestwick Tartan Army (Steff, John
and Andy) and some Croatian bird called Elena.
The next morning, back at The Bulldog we met up with the other
usual suspects – Rich; the Notts Scots: Scott, Josie, Campbell
and Big and Wee Numpty; Alasdair and Wee Davie of the Milngavie
Tartan Army; and David and Allan (who had flown in from Rimini that
morning). We set off on a wee tour up Tkalciceva, a fine street
with wall to wall bars, before getting hold of some crates of beer
(and some cigars) and heading for the main square (Trg Ban Jelacica).
The square was a teeming mass of people, including some unpleasant
nazi types, but the atmosphere was mainly friendly and peaceful.
I say mainly, because a Croatian nationalist headbutted Big Numpty
in an unprovoked incident (which I can verify, as I witnessed it)
before escaping into the crowds. A local doctor witnessed the incident,
and along with the Polis, made sure that he got seen to at hospital
before making it to the game (no lasting damage).
On a lighter note, the rest of us joined the march to the ground,
and finished the bevies outside. We left Allan and David as they
tried to persuade a Polisman to point his gun at David’s head
for a photo opportunity! The game was a real end-to-end affair,
with Scotland deservedly equalising to claim a 1-1 draw, and Craig
Brown, often accused of lacking passion, was ordered to the stands
by the ref! Allan had found us by half-time, having become separated
from David outside as they finished off some wine someone had handed
them. In the car park afterwards they were able to eventually find
their bus to take them straight to Zagreb airport for the flight
home. The rest of us hit the town to soak up the party. I later
found out that David had fallen asleep 5 minutes into the match,
and the guy next to him only woke him at the final whistle!
After the travelling involved on the double header, the vast majority
of the TA departed on the Thursday, Rich and the Nottingham contingent
included. Alasdair, Davie, Helen and I went for a sight-seeing tour
to NK Zagreb’s ground, where I was ushered to an office under
the main stand by the head Ultra and bought a ‘White Angels’
scarf (despite the obvious connotations, there is no racial element
here – NK play in white, and their fans are renowned for their
tolerance, in sharp contrast to Dinamo’s skinhead Bad Blue
Boys). We then went on a massive pub-crawl with a student called
Martina becoming our tour guide.
After the Milngavie Two had departed on the Friday, Helen and I
went back to Dinamo’s Maksimir Stadium for a nose around,
and walked round the park and zoo over the road. A strange thing
happened that night, as we walked down Opatovina (near Tkalciceva)
in our tartan, loads of people applauded, cheered and shook our
hands – we felt like movie stars. This was all because of
the rapport the TA had built up. Knowing that we were out-staying
the majority of Scots, and given the recent turmoil and racial tensions
in the Balkans, we had actually packed loads of civvies to wear,
but we never had to resort to that, given the friendliness and welcoming
atmosphere that we got everywhere we went.
On the Saturday, we resolved to find a match to go to, so after
getting up early to go and buy a sports paper from a newsstand,
I tried to decipher where the nearest match was taking place. Much
to the disbelief of the hotel concierge, who helped in the translation,
we decided to settle for a 3rd Division match in Samobor, a small
town an hour by bus from Zagreb, as this was our closest option.
Samobor is a really picturesque town on a hill, although when we
asked in for directions to the ground in a bar, the waiter told
me that there wasn’t a team there, and it was only when I
showed him the paper that he scratched his head and admitted he’d
never heard of them! We found the ground in time for kick-off, and
took our places in a crowd of around 70 people, having paid £1.50
to get in (and free for Helen!). Needless to say we were the only
foreigners at the ground, however in keeping with the friendliness
we had grown accustomed to, we received no hostility or undue attention,
only polite smiles and nods. The home team won 1-0 with an exquisite
free-kick right before half-time, and the second-half was pretty
dull. Which was just as well, as a gang of local kids had climbed
over the fence and they spent the entire second half trying to aim
a spud gun up my kilt!
Back to reality on the Sunday, with the flight via Frankfurt to
Heathrow. I didn’t find out until December that I’d
managed to pass the exam with flying colours!