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Tartan Armani on Tour - Italy, March 2005

Prologue – The Plan for Milan

Given the profusion of away trips in 2005, and Helen’s lack of annual leave, there were always going to be a couple of games that had to be cut short, and given the Italy game was on Easter Saturday, and that leave is in short supply due to the school holidays, we plumped for a quick-in, quick-out trip from Good Friday until Easter Sunday (almost a complete round 48 hours). As the Italian FA kept us guessing over the venue, with strong rumours supporting anywhere from Lecce in the deep south to Genoa, we played a cautious hand and waited for the announcement, paying a premium as a result, but at least safe in the knowledge we were heading in the right direction.

As it happened, we got Easyjet flights direct from Gatwick for around £130 each – more expensive than BA from Heathrow, but much more convenient (no M25 at the Easter Weekend!). Due to apprehension about the trip, we decided to opt for a more luxurious hotel than normal, and inadvertently booked ourselves into the landmark Gallia at a pricey £120 a night – still, at £250 each all-in for the weekend and a wee bit of luxury for 2 nights (the hotel, not Easyjet!) at Easter isn’t too bad.

So, the stage was set, and after a frustrating week at work, growing continually restless at the thought of everyone already on the bevvy out in Milan, it was off to Gatwick on Friday morning…

Friday - Is this the way to Amaretto?

The airport was heaving on Friday morning, as hordes of “shell-suiters” queued up with screaming kids in tow at the start of the school holidays. The Easyjet desks were thronging with people heading for the likes of Amsterdam, but we got checked in and through security with a minimum of fuss, and were pleasantly surprised by the relative peace and quiet of the upstairs Sports Bar (“No Children Allowed” being a very welcome sign!). The seats at the departure gate were filled with a mix of families and English city breakers, who were no doubt in for a pleasant surprise when they got to the Duomo later that day – the 20 or so fellow footsoldiers on the flight would have given them little warning of what was to await.

At the other end, having successfully (and eventually) negotiated passport control and the maze of bus stops in Linate car park, we were dropped off at Central Station and wandered around to our hotel. Palatial would probably be unfair – the Gallia is a bit of a landmark, and we were rewarded with a balcony corner view and a chaise longue (a first for me), to name but a few luxuries. A rendezvous with Craig to hand over an emergency sporran led us to his hotel bar, where we met a few of the Barnton Tartan Army (they of the big flag at the Norway game), before heading out on the metro towards the San Siro. We got off at Duomo for our first and only glimpse of the square and the cathedral (under scaffolding wraps) as we walked across to the tram stop, where we met Al and Bev from Enfield (originally Dumfries in Al’s case). At the end of the tram line and in the shadow of the stadium – which is incredible from the outside – they came along with us to Bar Trotto, where Bruce, Sharon, Jim Carver and Vic were waiting, and we all sank a few plastic-glassed Heinekens and shared stories before bidding farewell to the two of them and headed off to Lotto metro for the bus to Saronno.

Ally Maciver and John (aka Steel Peach, a Brummie now biding in Lombardy) had organised a night of pizza, music and karaoke in the small town of Saronno, around 20 miles north west of Milan and home to the liquid marzipan liqueur, Amaretto di Saronno. Around 30 Scots, including the eccentric Elvis throwbacks, the Suspicious Minds Tartan Army, as well as the Milngavie TA (represented this time by Sumo, Russell, Ally Jones & Irene, Pete and Katy) made the trip out – rendezvousing at the smallest McDonalds repetition in the world for the bus. After around 30 minutes, the bus pulled up in an empty side street leaving 30 bewildered footsoldiers to stagger around to a small square with a lit shop front proclaiming pizza and karaoke. When we got in, it was apparent we were the only people there, but at least we got served quickly (by we, I don’t mean Helen and Craig, who had to wait almost 30 minutes after an opportunist strike by an apologetic Sumo and Russell). An antipasto starter plate including tuna and bacon rice (a little unusual) followed, whilst Irene and Katy, both on their first trips, tried to fathom exactly what was going on. Some Italian easy listening followed before John took the stage, and then the rest of the pub, and then the pavement outside (with his roving radio mike), for a few Brit-rock songs. The beer continued to flow for most, but Chris Norton, Diggie Don and myself opted for a cheeky wee strawberry sparkling number – only 7% but all the taste of cremola foam (Ally M) or fizzy mad dog (as Sumo summed it up).

The karaoke soon followed, opening somewhat predictably with Suspicious Minds, before moving on to more than I can accurately remember as the place steadily filled up with locals. Russell was up quickly to perform the topical “Billie Jean”, and other Milngavie highlights include Pete’s take on “Take On Me” and a Sumo and Katy duet. Ally went solo on Yellow Brick Road, however disappointed everyone by choosing “It’s still Rock and Roll to Me” instead of “I Got You Babe” for his double-act with Susan. Chris Norton rescued Pete Risk by standing in for “That’s Life”, and doubled up with me on Zucchero’s “Senza Una Donna” (we had to abandon a plan for him to sing the English when it turned out to be an all Italian version!). That was my second attempt at Italian singing that night, as I had earlier murdered Paolo Conte’s “Via Con Me” (my excuse: the karaoke machine never highlighted the words!), which at least contained some English in the chorus (“I dream of you… chips, chips”).

With the strawberry wine soon drunk dry, various other attempts to imbibe exotic plonk (alongside the Heineken, mind) were made, with the likes of Mateus Rose and Landers Portuguese wine passing lips, as well as a whole round of amarettos towards the end of the evening. Ally remained sensible and negotiated a good rate with the bar owner Tina, and we piled out looking for the bus just before half-one. A minor burger van dispute was taking place in the distance, but somehow all of the troops were rounded up and shepherded back on the bus for the noisy journey back to Central Station.

Sharon and Vic, who had been knocking back industrial strength jugs of vodka and orange, were beginning to flag, and we wandered round to Bruce and Sharon’s hotel in an abortive attempt to find a nightcap, only to find the bar closed.

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Saturday – Beer tents, buses and Beverino

A late and lazy start saw Helen and I head across to the station at lunchtime, where we bumped into Akie hanging around waiting for Vodka. After grabbing a bite to eat and some wine from the supermarket (3 bottles, one of which clocked in at €20!), and even finding a corkscrew, on a very cheap swiss army style knife, it was back to the hotel. After umming and ahhing about finding a bar, going to the hotel’s “Baboon Bar”, or just necking some wine in the room, our decision was made by Bruce and Sharon passing our hotel and nipping up. After much effort, and a nearly broken corkscrew, Helen managed to get the cork out in instalments and we were rewarded with the fruits of her labour – well, Helen and me at least; Bruce doesn’t drink wine and Sharon was still at the “never drinking again” stage.

After the bottle was finished, Bruce and Sharon headed off to meet Chris, and Helen and I had decided to head to the game with the bus tickets we had bought from Irish entrepreneur Helen Donegan (through her website Italy With Us). Helen D had arranged a number of buses, covering the U21 game, transfers to Pisa airport and trips around Milan and to Como, however most controversially, she had chartered 6 corporation buses to take fans from Central Station (well, right outside our actual hotel) to behind the Scotland end, returning after the match. Not to everyone’s taste, and certainly a talking point on the Tartan Army Message Board, Helen (my one) and me had decided to book these primarily as insurance for getting home after the game. After all, we’ve faced issues in the past (notably Brussels and Valencia), and it would be no more expensive than one of the rare taxis in the town. We had just over half-an-hour before the bus was due to depart, so we made good use of the classy (and pricey) Baboon Bar; a couple of cocktails later and it was out to join the 4pm bus to the stadium; our two bottle wine supply bolstered by the acquisition of 5 mini bottles of “Beverino Rosso”.

The ride to the game was pretty comfortable, punctuated with some great songs (“We’re going to deep fry your pizzas”) and lots of friendly waves from the locals. On disembarking at the south end of the ground we headed around in the direction of the beer tents, stopping to grab a bite to eat and a scarf. Outside the Forst Stadio Bar we bumped into Wee Numpty of the Notts Scots, and were soon joined by Big Numpty. After a round from the bar and an attempt to open wine bottle number 2 – the corkscrew snapped off in the cork this time, necessitating a trip to the bar for Helen to flutter her eyelashes and leave the job to the professionals – it was off to the Daily Record’s much publicised “Tartan tent” (which was neither tartan, nor much of a tent – more of an awning, actually). A decent Scottish crowd were already in evidence around the ground, and we were delayed only long enough to decant our open wine into plastic glasses (the third bottle and remaining 3 mini bottles were safe in the ruck sack). The square surrounding Da Vinci’s horse was pleasantly full (i.e. not uncomfortably) of Tartan Army, and the flags hanging off the back of the coliseum-like racecourse stand made for an excellent backdrop. The wicker sofas scattered around were looking increasingly optimistic given the darkening overcast sky above us, and the first few spits of rain were being felt as we made our way under the cover of the awning in the corner. The queue for beer tokens looked pretty rough (we were okay given our “supplies”), as did the secondary queue to turn the tokens into alcohol – we drifted out the other side of the tent and found ourselves in the company of Chris, Fran, Bert and his wife, as well as Chris’ daughter and her boyfriend Matty – all of them immensely proud of Bert’s “There is a light…” flag, fluttering proudly in the drizzle.

The heavier rain coincided precisely with a large influx of fellow Tartan Army – Craig and Disco Keith turned up minutes before Ally, Sue and Rich, by which time we were huddling with hundreds of others in the bottom concourse of the stand. The wine was shared amongst the gathered, and only a text from Ally Ewan (promising more wine and more plastic glasses) tempted us from our haven, with Craig in tow keen to share a drink with his old college-mate. The rendezvous was named, however on arrival at the now-packed Stadio Bar, Ally was nowhere to be seen (a later shouted phone call minutes after the final whistle revealed he had been outside, possibly at the other bar), but some superb negotiation from Helen secured drinks direct from the barman (circumventing the time-consuming cassa system of pre-payment). As the three of us supped our beers, Craig leaned over to present a grinning midget ultra with a tacky “I’ve met the Tartan Army” button badge. The ultra was very grateful for this, and saluted Craig in a way that would have made Di Canio proud (speaking of which, all the ultras seemed to share Paolo’s taste in Planet of the Apes sideburns), much to our bemusement. There only remained time for an exchange of badges with John from the Shetland Tartan Army (confused by my insistence that I had met him in Pandoras – sorry John, I meant the Clockwork!) before heading back round to the Scotland end. One final beer stop (from a stall) remained, as well as another scarf purchase (I was determined to ditch all my coins as a result of the confiscation scare stories we’d heard), and it was off to our turnstiles, meeting John “Steelpeach” and the Milngavie Tartan Army on the way in.

After getting in, climbing the stairs and paddling in the toilet, we all became separated as I queued for a box of Tuc biscuits (sadly not the ones with a soft cheese filling) – Helen and I made our way up to the back of our section where we were soon joined by Sharon and Bruce, then Rich (who had somehow ended up in conversation with a player’s girlfriend in the front row). The section we were in behind the goal filled up rapidly, and before we knew it the anthems had been and gone. Scotland started solidly, if a little hesitant to commit to all-out attack, and lasted well into the first half before the injured (and soon-to-be-substituted) Rab Douglas was caught out by a Pirlo free kick curled over the wall towards Rab’s top right corner. Within a few minutes Gordon was on, and Scotland remained steadfast until the half-time break. Shortly after half-time Quashie conjured up a great volley matched by a fingertip Buffon save, and midway through the half Ferguson put Miller clear only for the young striker to snatch at the one-on-one. In amongst all of this the game was constantly punctuated by a number of soft free kicks, mostly awarded in Italy’s favour – for all their constant rolling around, the physio was hardly on the pitch, yet it wasn’t until the closing few minutes that Italy extended their lead; Pirlo again, but with an inch perfect dead ball that left Gordon blameless. Off the pitch, the second half was witness to an incredible version of Doe a Deer that seemed to get louder each time for around 15 minutes solid – some of the Italians had tried to drown it out with jeers at the start but soon gave up – and on the flip side, a pitched battle between two opposing Italian ultra elements in the stand beneath us, out of view to most Scots in the ground but not on the telly.

Come the final whistle, almost every Scot in the stadium took the two-nil defeat in a positive light – I certainly feel it marks definite progress from the sort of capitulation we could have been forgiven for expecting once the first had gone in (for example: Paris, Cardiff, Amsterdam, even Hungary and Sweden at home). The half-full San Siro may not have met everyone’s expectations in terms of facilities, atmosphere or even safety (as Helen’s bruised back could testify to), but it was still a magnificent venue to cheer on the team, and hopefully bear witness to the initial shoots of recovery we so badly need.

Anyway, away from the match analysis (let’s face it – not something these diary accounts are renowned for!) and back to the blow-by-blow account… After a wait of around 30 minutes or so, much of which was whiled away singing and being applauded by some lingering Italian fans, we were allowed out, and Helen and I made our way down the never ending staircase keen to get seats on the bus. Our buses were tucked just behind the trams, but we were lucky to get straight on and sat down within minutes. After a delayed departure, it took over 30 minutes of driving just to get to Lotto metro (a 20 minute walk from the ground!), although a couple of shouts from the back suggested the driver had been going around in circles for a while. By now, a combination of the late time, the excitement of the game and the heat of the bus (and maybe, just a wee bit, the amount of red wine I’d had earlier) conspired to make me feel very ill indeed – the last 25 minutes or so back to the station were spent trying not to breathe too deeply, as not only did I feel ready to faint but explosions from either, or both, ends felt uncomfortably imminent (sincere apologies to the guy in the seat in front – I had to keep leaning against the top of his seat back to stay upright). No sooner had the bus stopped and I was back out in the cool, fresh evening air and I was (nearly) as right as rain – strangely, no-one else had felt the heat to the same extent as me. Despite my swift recovery, it was still felt prudent to beat the retreat back to the hotel room, particularly as it was literally in sight of the bus terminus, and the bathroom facilities were duly put to good use as Helen crashed out in bed, curtailing any lingering plans for a nightcap in the hotel bar.

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Sunday – On the Pan in Milan

There was no escape from the heat in the hotel room either – after waking up feeling decidedly unstable in the wee hours, the only thing for it was to throw open the window/door onto the stone balcony to cool the room down whilst I lightened the room in the bathroom. The downside was the window's positioning – facing the bus/tram terminus at the station’s south-west corner – so the price was increased noise. We may have lost an hour (due to the clocks changing), but a late check out agreement and the early-ish night meant we had clawed back some time, which at least made my acidic, unstable stomach slightly more bearable. Breakfast took the form of a McDonalds cheeseburger, practically a national dish given the proliferation of the fast food outlets on every corner, after which we bumped into Will Fae Swindon and Leon heading for the Linate bus. The bus trip and subsequent pizza and coke in the crowded airport bar were relatively low-key, and despite the scores of Scots at the airport, check-in, boarding and everything in between went pretty smoothly (especially for Easyjet!). Even Shambles, Russell and co who had a tight connection at Gatwick would have struggled to have missed it, given the ease with which everything happened.

All in all, a low key trip for us, as predicted several weeks previously, but still very enjoyable. I’d recommend the San Siro to anyone – just don’t expect any prawn sandwiches!

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Italy Gallery 1

Italy Gallery 2

Italy Gallery 3

Italy Extra Gallery

Austria B - Not mattering in Mattersburg


Keen to maintain our very rare 100% away attendance at Future Cup matches, we booked up for Vienna as soon as the venue (Mattersburg, a very small town in Burgenland) was confirmed 5 weeks or so ahead of the game. I have to confess I was a little hesitant about Vienna, despite the great weekend we’d had in Innsbruck the previous summer, due to its stuffy reputation (admittedly based on my image of chalked wigs ballroom dancing to Mozart!). Nonetheless, with the game on the Tuesday, we opted to spend the weekend and the Monday in Vienna, then stay the night of the game in Mattersburg’s only pre-bookable hotel before flying back on the Wednesday.

Saturday 16th April

We caught the mid-morning BA flight on the Saturday, and arrived in Vienna’s modern airport early afternoon after catching breath-taking views of the Alps due to the clear skies. Having done our homework, we bought Vienna Cards at the airport tourist office (sharp left out of the Arrivals door) and therefore qualified for discounted express train tickets for the posh double-decker train into town. After catching two subway trains across town to Mariahilfer Strasse, and then struggling up the slight hill through crowds of shoppers in oppressive heat, we discovered our hotel was actually right on top of the next tube station!

A walk along the shopping street of Neubaugasse ended in disappointment, as the promised fan shop “Caledonia” had changed hands and become an antique shop, and strangely, all of the bars and restaurants were shut. In frustration, our first beer in Vienna was in the historic Café Eiles, served by a tuxedoed waiter. Again reaping the benefits of having read the guidebook, we headed out to the suburbs to try the cheap wine delights of the heuriger wine taverns. Although Grinzing is the most famous area (especially for tourists), we opted for the joys of Stammersdorf, right on the north-eastern edge of the city, and more of a village than a suburb. The main street was literally lined with heuriiger taverns, where wine is served by waitresses in 250ml mugs for around £1.20 a go, and food is served in a school canteen manner. After a small meal and what must of amounted to more than a couple of bottles worth of plonk each, we headed back into town on the tram and were heading up the street towards the hotel when we spotted another kilted footsoldier coming towards us.

After a quick introduction with Joe from Dundee and Leslie from Sunderland, we all headed off to the Siebensternbrau pub, only to find it was in the process of closing. After blagging a quick half we popped into the small bar next door for a couple. Helen was flagging badly after all the wine earlier that evening, so we bid farewell and headed off round the corner to our hotel.

Sunday 17th April

It took a while to get into gear on the Sunday, as Helen was feeling the after-effects of the night before. After eventually dragging ourselves out, we headed down, via subway and tram, to FK Austria’s ground in the Altes Landgut area of the city. The “Violet’s” stadium is on a motorway embankment, and by the time we’d trekked from the tram stop through the pedestrian crossing and up to the ticket office we didn’t fancy turning back on ourselves to go to the pub. Helen did get a €5 “ladies” discount on her ticket, and with these in hand we headed around to the turnstiles that were just opening (around 90 minutes before kick-off), confident of getting a drink inside. As it happened, the bar was a marquee type affair with picnic tables inside, where Helen was able to nurse a coke whilst I went on the prowl for pin badges and sausages. On my travels I saw a superb poster advertising fan travel for the UEFA Cup Quarter Final against Parma the previous Thursday, promising a “Violette Parma Invasion”, which brought all kinds of fantastic images to mind; Helen, struggling badly to keep her coke down, didn’t see the humour so well.

With the club anthem and various other soft-rock classics still ringing in our ears from the DJ’s who had set up in the marquee, we took our seats in the main stand and watched the colourful display of flags from the main terrace. Within minutes of kick-off, Casino Bregenz – a team propping up the league, and 9-0 losers to FKA earlier in the season – had the ball in the net to stun the home crowd. A group of around 5 away fans danced in the far corner of the ground, and Bregenz then set their stall out to defend, and frustrate both the team and the fans. Despite a string of sitters being missed, the teams went in at 0-1 for the half-time break, with FKA’s Aussie keeper having to be physically restrained from having a go at the linesman. The second half continued with the Bregenz goal under siege, until midway through the half when a dropping ball into the six-yard box was bundled over the line, complete with the Bregenz goalkeeper still clutching it in true 1950s style. The game finished 1-1, and we were off and out back down across the motorway junction towards the tram stop and a couple of pubs recommended by the The Rough Guide to European Football. One turned out to be closed Sundays, so we made do with the other one – a typical central European suburban drinking den. Helen was still feeling rough, not helped by the resident dog running around her feet, so we made do with the one and headed back towards the hotel, with a quick wander around Stephansplatz (the cathedral square), seeing as we had to change tubes there anyway.

After freshening up, we headed around the corner and back to the Siebensternbrau in much better time this evening. A pleasant meal of schnitzel and apple strudel followed, as I worked my way through four of the seven house brews (chilli beer is a non-starter for me, hemp beer didn’t appeal either and I’d had a small helles the day before), and we made the decision to take an early night rather then head on into the city centre.

Monday 18th April

The early night (still past 11pm, mind!) worked wonders, and we were up bright and breezy and in good time to head across the city to UNO City to get on the 11am tour of the UN buildings (which was a lot more interesting than it must sound!). We then walked through the high rise building to the Danube Tower – it was a blustery April Monday, so not too many other people had headed for the tower, meaning we had the views mostly to ourselves. The outside viewing platform was only just bearable, but seeing as were caged in there was no worry about being swept over the side. The bungee platform sticking out the side looked suspiciously like a pirate ship’s “plank” and not something you’d catch either of us on. The tower boasts a full-on restaurant and a café quite content for you to sit and linger over a drink as the whole section revolves. And revolves at quite a speed it does too – in the time we took to finish a coffee and an ice cream, we’d done almost three laps!

Back down on terra firma and it was a short hop by U-Bahn to the Prater Amusement Park, home to the iconic Riesenrad (the big wheel immortalised by The Third Man). The wheel took around 40 minutes to complete a stop-start journey, but this may have been due to a quiet day; unlike the London Eye, they stop the wheel to empty and fill each cabin, so they may have been waiting for people to shuffle through the turnstiles. The Amusement Park was pretty deserted and only half-operational, but the excellent Schweizerhaus bar was open – famed for huge pork dishes (we didn’t) and foaming mugs of Buvar (we did). After tearing ourselves away from the cosy bosom of said pub, it was a long and fruitless walk round to the Ernst Happel Stadium; long as we opted to take the road way around as opposed to cutting past the back of the trotting stadium, and fruitless as there was absolutely nothing of interest around the ground. The one small reward was next to the tram stop (that would take us back to the U-Bahn station) was an inviting yellow coloured pub – now a proud owner of a NATA pennant. After getting back to the Praterstern U-Bahn station we stopped for a quick stand-up beer in a large corner bar before heading into the centre proper.

We made our way from the Stephansplatz tube station to the Esterhazykeller, a heurigen tavern in the city centre. The top-notch wine still came in the half-pint tankards, and only slightly more expensive than the suburbs of Stammersdorf, although despite the more urbane setting, it was still school dinner time as far as food was concerned. Eventually tearing ourselves away from the welcoming wine-flavoured bosom, we made it back up to the now dark surface and decided to take the scenic route through the floodlit courtyards of the majestic Hofburg before opting to carry on the wine theme at the Eulennest Vinotheque (spurred on by our Vienna Card discounts). The Eullenest turned about to be a small wine bar/shop/delicatessen, where our tasting of five Austrian wines turned in to a full-on session with extra wine and lots of cheese and fresh parma ham from the deli counter. We left there around 11-ish, determined to get a cocktail as a nightcap from the iconic Loos Bar around the corner. Adolf Loos is a famous architect who designed a small bar, officially known as the “American Bar” with lots of brightly coloured tiles and mirrors – well, that’s all we could see when poking my head above the thronged masses in the doorway. The mirrors make the place look much bigger, but there can only be space for around 25 people inside. Disappointed, but not defeated, we headed back to Mariahilfer Strasse and the mega-trendy cellar of the Bar Italia, where a Melon Colada sated my cocktail desires. And that should have been that, however stupidly I was inspired to try another, and went for a “Hemingway Special”, thinking that dark rum is one of the safer spirits for a man of my fragile constitution, before retiring for the evening.

Tuesday 19th April – Matchday

The cocktail had tasted pretty sharp on the way down, but I had foolishly thought zantac would put out the fires. This seemed to be the case when I first woke around 8am-ish for a call of nature, although I was a little unsteady on my feet at the time. When the alarm went off for real 2 hours later, things had got much worse, to the extent that stripped naked and stood in the shower, it took just 30 seconds of staring at the shower machinery for me to decide that standing up for long enough to complete the transaction was beyond me. Helen was thankfully understanding, following her own exploits two days before, and was able to negotiate an hour’s stay of execution in the room.

So it was an hour later than planned that Helen and (a very subdued) me made our way across Vienna to the Sudbahnhof and the train to Wiener Neustadt (for a change of trains to Mattersburg). Mattersburg station was a revelation – two incredibly narrow platforms and a tiny building containing toilets, a waiting room, and thoughtfully, a bar where we were able to stop for a wee beer and a look at a map the barmaid was able to pull out of a drawer of odds and ends. I popped out to use the gents in the waiting room and came back out to find Joe and Leslie (who we’d met on the first night in Vienna) sat on benches finishing their drinks from their train journey. After leaving a pennant behind the bar, we set off together down the hill into the “town” centre (in my opinion, 6,000 people constitutes a village!), looking for our hotel and a decent spot for a rendezvous – the latter turned out to be easy, as even a tiny Austrian provincial community proudly boasts that keystone of the local community: an Irish theme pub (called “The Peacock”). Our hotel, the Florianihof, was just around the corner, and Tam McGhee, Ian Carden and Lorraine (the ONLY person we know to have a 100% B Team record, unlike us away-game part-timers!) were already ensconced in the bar. We dropped the bags in the room and headed back out to meet Joe and Leslie, having passed news of the meeting point to the three musketeers.

It didn’t take long for the travelling Tartan Army to converge on The Peacock – when Ian arrived shortly after us, Joe and Leslie, he proudly hung his “Blackpool Tartan Army” flag on the wall, quickly followed by Tam bedecking the pub’s frontage with his much bigger “Twa Tams TA” flag (cue loads of jokes about where the Twa Tams pub actually was). Ludo heralded his arrival with his bugle, then proceeded to tell us about his eventful hire car journey up from Graz, which had already cost him one wing mirror, and it wasn’t long until Dunfermline boys Tartanpar (Stewart) and Jock Villa, along with Will from Swindon hit the pub. Tam had organised a sweepstake to see who would get the total number of Scotland fans at the ground (€1 a head), and the late arrivals had already ruled a few out of the running. Around 30 minutes before kick off the 11 of us set off for the ground, and narrowly averted heading into the nearby Sports Bar for “just a wee one”.

The ground itself was in the shadow of the famous railway viaduct (Mattersburg’s star attraction!) and hosts a moderately successful provincial top division club. Strangely the team regularly draws in crowds of 8,000+, and is therefore big enough to hold everyone in the town with room to spare. We were in the main stand, but not actually under cover (and it did look ominous). We were treated to an appalling rendition of Flower of Scotland (the band must have listened to the same dodgy 78rpm record at the wrong speed they had in Mannheim!), and the game kicked off at a relatively sedate place. The game remained goal-less for the first thirty minutes, the only real moment of interest being shuffling Sam Parkin’s substitution for the infinitely more mobile Shaun Maloney. Austria took the lead from a soft goal from a free-kick and we went in one-down at half-time.

By the interval, a few more Scotland fans had drifted in, taking our total to 19 (Tam had 18 in the sweep and duly claimed his winnings). In addition to three guys who pretty much kept themselves to themselves (one in a kilt and one in a WESTA t-shirt), Dave from Dundee joined the throng just after kick-off, as did Mark (aka “Dicko”) and his pal Kev had driven up from Graz – the final two pieces of the jigsaw were their pal Colin (I think!?) and his son Jamie. Later reports from the train suggested that “two Germans in the press box were supporting Scotland” were rejected (as they weren’t in the Scotland “end”).

Half-time brought some unusual entertainment – as the marching band made their way on to the pitch, Ludo was eyeing up his bugle. Somehow he managed to get permission from the stewards and took his place in the ranks of the marching band, much to the crowd’s hilarity. After marching along (just!) to one tune he made his way back across the pitch to rapturous applause from the Austrian crowd. In the ensuing media frenzy he had to pose for endless photos with local children as the second half kicked off, although he was rewarded with a professional press photograph of his moment of glory.

Unfortunately, Ludo was the only Scotsman to really get such a reception that night. Scotland fell two behind on the hour, and an excellently taken goal by Craig Beattie (following a rocket-like \severin shot coming back off the post) proved only a consolation. On the final whistle it was back downstairs and into the packed clubhouse bar with most of the TA, although Joe, Leslie, Lorraine, Ian, Jock, Stewart and Will all had to head away for the last train less than an hour after full-time. I started on the beer, but on finding that wine was only €1 a glass (and the fact that the beer was being served in flimsy plastics at a 50c deposit a time), I quickly switched. The train posse headed off, and left Dave, Tam, Helen and myself to spend Tam’s sweep winnings. Tam was next to go, feeling a little tired and emotional, with just Helen and I to witness Dave’s charm offensive on the local ladies. It turned out that the SV Mattersburg is one of the main social hot-spots for all the surrounding villages, and as a result had over-staffed heavily for the occasion, which is why Doris, a young blonde would-be barmaid, pulled up a seat at our table and engaged us in conversation. Her and her sister Claudia decided to join us for a last drink at The Peacock, which was very handy as it meant a lift – by now, the skies that had looked so ominous had opened, and the rain was bouncing off the streets.

The Peacock was surprisingly busy (for midnight on a Tuesday in provincial Austria), but we managed to get space at the bar. Claudia and Doris promised to meet us in Graz for the full-team game in August before making their way home to get up for work in the morning. After another couple of nightcaps, we made our way round the corner to the hotel.

Wednesday 20th April

The killer hangover on the Tuesday forced me to take things easily on match day, which in turn led to us waking up fresh as daisies on the Wednesday morning. We had mentioned to Tam and Dave we were planning to get the 12.59 train, but didn’t really expect to see either of them still around. True to form, they were both in the hotel bar, Dave with a small beer, Tam nursing a coffee. The train journey back was pretty uneventful, save for catching a double-decker train from Wiener Neustadt straight to Wien Mitte (for the airport train). Our ambitious plans to see a last few sights in Vienna went out the window and the four of us headed across from the station to the Bierkutsch’n for radler and turkey kebabs before catching the train to the airport.

So that was that – much like Innsbruck the year before, Austria proved a real surprise and I’m certainly looking forward to going back in August.

The trip in numbers:

  • 2,700 – official attendance
  • 19 – Scottish fans in Mattersburg (Lorraine, Ian Carden, Jock Villa, Stewart aka tartanpar, Willfaeswindon, Ludo, Joe, Leslie, Tam McGhee, Dave from Dundee, Mark aka Dicko, Kev, Jamie, Jamie’s Dad, 3 guys I don’t know, Helen and me)
  • 5 – Scottish fans stayed overnight in da ‘Burg (Tam, Dave, Ludo, Helen and me)
  • 4 – Scottish fans who already live in Austria
  • 1 – wing mirrors left on Ludo’s hire car
  • 1 – Scottish bugler on the pitch at half-time
  • 0 – number of Immodium taken by Paul

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Austria B Gallery 1

Austria B Gallery 2

Austria B Gallery 3

Austria B Gallery 4

Austria B Gallery 5


On The Juice In Belarus

This is a long one, so I've split as follows: Prologue, Mincing in Minsk and Brest and Beyond


Every year I need to take a two week block off my work – I know I shouldn’t moan, given how much leave I get throughout the year, but it’s still a chore. I certainly try and avoid spending it at home, so the Belarus trip was the one chosen for the break. The original plan was to fly down from the Moldova home game to Heathrow on the Sunday and catch the afternoon flight to Riga. One night in Riga then Air Baltic to Minsk on the Monday, then train down to Brest (on the Polish border) on the Saturday for two nights, then moving on by train to Warsaw for a few days before ending up in Krakow, flying back on the Sunday, giving a full two weeks in Eastern Europe.

Flights were booked well in advance (a bargain £120 “open jaw” BA ticket into Riga and out of Krakow!), only for a catastrophic chain of flight amendments to mess the whole plan up, starting with the Riga flight moving to 10.30am, too early for any BA flights to Heathrow on the Sunday! Coupled with Helen having less leave than me, and her wanting to make sure she kept some back for the play-offs (ever the optimist!), we decided to cut the trip shorter and come home on the Tuesday.

The Riga change meant the only way to travel to Heathrow on the Sunday ahead of the connection was to leave Glasgow on the 0630 bmi flight (which thankfully clocked in at £30 each one-way) – we didn’t fancy stressing about getting back to the airport after the match on the Saturday, and in any case, the hotel at Glasgow airport was far cheaper than a night at Heathrow.

So… the morning of Moldova game saw a more sensible build-up than we’re used to, meeting up with Gav and Annie (at her first Scotland game) and soaking up the atmosphere at The Shed nightclub. A goal-less first half left feeling a little nervous at half-time, but a quick goal followed by a late clincher led to an ultimately comfortable two-nil win. A few drinks and lots of laughs in the Allison Arms followed before Helen and I went back to the hotel for a few hours kip ahead of our early start the next day…

Sunday 5th June 2005

In spite of the ludicrously early flight time, everything went smoothly and we arrived in Riga on time. We shared a people carrier taxi into the centre with some other Scots from the flight and checked in to our 17th storey room with a view across Riga’s old town from the Reval Hotel. After a cocktail in the SkyLine bar it was off into town with the intention of revisiting some old haunts, although we only really made it as far as the massive beer tent on Livu square before being waylaid for several hours. The long day’s travelling had tired us out, so it was one in an empty, closing Runcis and then back to the hotel for the sleep of the just.

Mincing in Minsk

Monday 6th June 2005

Any other time, a lunchtime flight would have seemed early, but after the two previous mornings it was a luxurious lie-in by comparison. At the airport we met fellow Scotland fans Graeme and Dasha (Graeme’s Latvian-Russian wife), and on arrival at Minsk we were very grateful for Dasha’s Russian getting us through passport control and customs without a hitch. They very kindly offered to share the pre-booked cab with us, so we found ourselves at the Hotel Belarus much quicker and with much less hassle than expected, and after around 30 minutes at reception where several butch looking women were called over to scowl at our reservation and berate the male receptionist in Russian, we were finally handed our slip of paper to give to the dezhurnaya on the 15th floor in exchange for the key to our “junior suite” in the apex of two of the three “arms” of the tower block.

After a few minutes “adjusting” to the soviet realism of our bathroom, and the tiny size of the alleged double bed, we’d unpacked and were on our way downstairs. A quick recce of the hotel turned up the top floor bar/restaurant, a closed bar on the 6th floor, and amazingly, a 24 hour bar on the 13th (unfortunately we never actually made it in here for a drink, much to my disappointment as I’ve heard the tadpole rolls were a real treat!), before ending up in the Pool Hall bar on the 1st floor. Big Dave J had tipped us off about this place whilst we were checking in (he’d managed to catch the “24 hour” currency exchange in a rare open moment!), and he was in there with a number of the Heb Bar TA, including Bridie Boy (Allan, minus his trademark hat). Waiting for a beer was a laborious process - the marked shortage of glasses being exacerbated by the barman’s insistence on chilling them in the freezer before pouring – and after a couple we headed downstairs. We only made it as far as the Smirnoff restaurant for a quick one sat at the bar whilst admiring the glitter ball, before heading off to find the Rakowski Brovar for a rendezvous with Ally, Susan and Rich.

We managed to find the brewpub without too much difficulty, and were very impressed with the place (it wasn’t to be a good indication on the rest of the pubs!). Ally and Susan already had a table just across from Wee John and some of the Perthshire Boys (we could hear the odd rendition of “There’s a moose, loose, aboot Belarus” drifting across the pub) – John later filled us in on the story of the border crossing (someone inadvertently walked into and smashed a closed glass door BEFORE passport control!), and the arrival in the city (with people on the roof of the bus, narrowly missing the overhead trolleybus lines). Rich finally made it after taking the slow bus in from the airport (he’d come via Warsaw), shortly followed by Mike, Suzanne, Bert, Joey Deacon and friends. In the meantime Norrie and Joan had been, gone, and come back again, bemoaning the opening hours of the other pubs they’d found in their brief sojourn. We left ahead of closing time to wander back to the hotel and opted to have a nightcap in Panorama on the top floor, which was still pretty quiet – this part of the evening was most memorable for a conversation Rich had in the gents with the guy stood next to him: “When did you come over?”, Rich was asked; “I was sat next to you on the flight” was the truthful answer!

Tuesday 7th June 2005

A pre-U21 lunch meet had been agreed in the now familiar surroundings of Rakowski Brovar, and the lack of working phones (seemed all Orange phones were incompatible in Belarus) meant we couldn’t afford to be late. It didn’t help that we were accosted by an eager badge-seller as soon as we stepped out of the hotel, but stopping to buy badges did mean we met up with Mike, Suzanne and Bert and strolled through the reconstructed old town (“Trinity Suburb” on the way to the pub.

No sooner had we crossed the Svisloch River than the clouds had rolled in, and the heavens opened when we were but 100 yards from pub door. After seeking shelter under an apartment block balcony (along with several locals), we made a run for it when the rain eased off to a steady downpour. We weren’t the last to make it to the pub soaking wet – Disco Keith turned up 30 minutes later looking frankly ridiculous in sunglasses and wringing wet shorts. After several beers and some food, it was clear there was dissension in the ranks around heading for the U21s – Ally, Susan and Kev were definitely going, whilst the more fair-weather amongst us (Mike, Suzanne, Bert, Craig McD, Jim Brown, Rich, Helen and me) opted to stay dry and central by going on a pub crawl.

Ironically, by the time we’d extricated ourselves from the bosom of Rakowski Brovar the sun was shining again, so we made the most of this by enjoying some of the cheapest beer of the trip in one of the beer tents on the terrace of the Rakowski shopping centre. The drawback of this approach became apparent when Rich had to lead an expedition to the toilets, a good 600 yards away on a different floor. Pit stops were made in a café with a heart on the sign (no local beer, only warm bottles of Heineken!) and the Air Grip café in a cinema complex (Bert ended up in the film theatre after taking a wrong turning to the Gents), before we ended up at our destination: Stary Mensk, opposite the still active KGB Office on Skoriny. Stary Mensk failed to live up to expectations – it was effectively a beer tent set on a wide pavement (with no toilets!), and this offered scant protection from the rain that was once again bouncing off the pavement. We were re-joined here by Kev, who had changed out of his sodden shorts following another drenching at the U21 game, and met up with Clarkston Chris and his pal Dave for the first time on the trip, as well as Graeme and Dasha again briefly.

Hunger was setting in by now, and Craig, Kev, Jim, Helen and I set off in search of food whilst Mike, Suzanne and Bert made their way back to Rakowski in a cab and the young ‘uns went off to look for a club. After a pizza and some wine (Helen and me were dining in the company of the cultured end of the TA wedge here!) we made our way back towards the Hotel Belarus, minus Craig. Kev remembered the old town was a hive of drinking activity back in 1997 and was disappointed by its quietness this time around – we made do with the tiny Café Banana. This was a wee bit of a find – a genuine Arabic bar in the middle of Minsk, complete with waterpipes and drapes. The evening was certainly brightened up by one of the girls dancing at the bar: a stunning, 6 foot-plus blonde who was a dead ringer for Species actress Natasha Henstridge. After finishing up here we headed back to the Hotel Belarus, where Jim and Disco, living up to his nickname, headed off to Westworld whilst Helen and I headed for bed.

Wednesday 8th June 2005

Having seen how quickly the weather had changed the day before, and not wanting to catch my death of cold (didn’t stop it!), I decided on a Valencia-style strategy and donned trousers for the only day on this trip. Without the aid of mobile phones, it was very difficult to coordinate any kind of meet-up, so Helen and I opted to check out the Minsky Brovar, a short walk away through the churchyard next to the hotel.

Minsky Brovar was a far cry from the “brewpub” described in the SFA notes – it was the brewery tap of a fully-fledged industrial brewery (Alivariya – the red/yellow coloured label adorning many of Minsk’s riverside beer tents). We’d only been in around 30 minutes when a couple of the Loony Alba boys (Tevo and Kellas), along with Drew Lilley and his “uncle”, Derek the brewer, were ushered through the bar and into a curtained off area. It turned out that they had been in the day previous, and had been invited for a tour, tasting session and lunch by the Chief Executive.

A variety of luck and limited texting through Helen’s phone resulted in Kev, Craig McD and Rich finding their way there, and after several hours we left in order to make our way towards the ground. Craig invited us all back to his room at the Hotel Minsk (staggering distance from the ground) to polish off a bottle of Rosé (like I said, cultured!) and listen to St Etienne on his mini-iPod, and Helen repaid this hospitality by locking the bathroom door from the outside!

We got split up walking to the ground after a couple of abortive attempts to get served (all the pubs seemed to be on “no alcohol” instructions from the police), and Helen and I got in nice and early before meeting up with the rest of Loony Alba on the very edge of the Scotland section. The game turned out to be an entertaining goal-less draw with plenty of chances for both sides (and plenty of singing from the locals), although Alexander’s drive was so close to clinching it near the end there were twinges of it being a “moral defeat”. For once the other results weren’t quite as helpful, and we were left rueing what could have been had we snatched the win. After a lengthy wait to leave our section, and a lengthier wait in the toilet queue (I’d given up at half-time having seen the queue), we made our way back round and through the town. The hotel foyer was rammed, and on getting to the room all intentions of going to Westworld fell by the wayside as we realised how tired we were – Ally and Sue made it as far as the foyer again, only to reach a similar conclusion.

Thursday 9th June 2005

Thursday was put aside for a sightseeing minibus trip that Scott Kelly and Singing Phil had arranged, and the rendezvous was early doors in the Hotel Minsk. Opinion was divided on whether Rich would make an appearance (a veteran of several missed trips in the past), but impressively he reported for duty earlier than bus convenor Scott. The bus had a strong NATA bent – aside from Scott and Phil, Taffy and Chris’ mate Dave were the only non-NATA bods on board, and our sensible/hungover (delete as appropriate) demeanour possibly contributed to the quieter than normal atmosphere (by that, I mean less singing!).

After a carry-out stop at a supermarket on the outskirts of Minsk (where the cash machine helpfully dispensed a single $100 note to Scott in place of local currency), it was off to an ethnographic village museum (bottles of beer in hand around the exhibits). Our guide Anna was fluent in English and even managed to grasp most of the humour on the go, unlike the local museum staff who eyed us suspiciously for the duration. Finishing off here it was back on the road towards Mir Castle, with a lunch stop to find.

The Westa Hotel appeared on the roadside like a mirage, and having spotted the hotel name, Phil started negotiations to appear on the balcony above the sign for a photo opportunity. A meal of borsch (why did I ask for the cold stuff?) and something like pork followed (along with a swift dose of immodium), photos were taken, and we were back on the bus (in my case, praying the medicine would kick in and do its job).

Mir Castle is a genuine tourist attraction, hamstrung by its location a bit further away than the middle of nowhere. Nonetheless, for the purposes of this diary, a castle's a castle, even if the toilets are in a bomb shelter that you have to buy tickets from a box office to enter! After a brief stop at the Victory Monument (which is in sight of Lee Harvey Oswald’s house, no less) the tour concluded at the door of the Minsky Brovar. Thankfully everyone was suitably impressed with my suggestion, and after a few beers and some food Phil’s bemused Belarussian colleague joined us. In search of that famous “better bar around the corner”, we went next door on leaving the Brovar, which proved to be an invaluable insight into Minsk’s drinking culture.

If the Brovar was the brewery tap, then the bar next door was its factory outlet – the place knocked out bottles for buttons, and offered utilitarian benches to all (and was bizarrely non-smoking). The local jakies made a beeline for us, but some quick footwork managed to deflect the worst their affection, at least until chucking out time at the ridiculously early time of 10pm (i.e. still light!). Once outside, Belarussian Alex told us it was the most “democratic” place he’d ever been in. After a ten minute walk to Stary Gorad, a restaurant on the edge of the old town, Helen and I decided to beat a retreat back to the hotel, firstly to, ahem, take care of some unfinished business (immodium only lasts so long, you know), and then to try and get some food. Unfortunately, by the time I’d dropped off my luggage, the only food options were the expensive, glitter ball-strobed, and suspiciously empty Smirnoff restaurant, or Panorama. Panorama turned out to be far busier than the Monday night, and we waited (boy did we wait!) for our food suffocating on the dry ice smoke whilst being serenaded by a very, very bad covers band. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, and the shaslyk was very good when it finally arrived.

Friday 10th June 2005

After a lie-in, we opted to head for the railway station to get hold of our ticket to Brest for Saturday’s early train, but after crossing the Svisloch we noticed the tourist office next to the Yubliyena Hotel would do the same job and was much closer. After around 15 minutes of pidgin Russian later, we were the proud owners of two first-class train tickets for the 0830 train the next day. Feeling buoyed by this success, we headed for the metro for our one and only trip – this took us all of one stop to McDonalds on Skoriny.

We headed down to the stadium for a look at it in the sober, cold light of day, and were caught in a passing shower whilst all the market traders rushed to get their counterfeit sportswear under cover. Dynamo Minsk boasts a souvenir shop of sorts – no shirts, but you can buy a tracksuit – we opted for a scarf and a pin badge, before heading back up towards the main drag and into Café Mistral, which we soon recognised as one the places we were knocked back from immediately before kick-off on Wednesday. No sooner had we taken our first sip of beer than Helen received a text from Rich stating he was at the stadium – we talked him in and joined us ten minutes later. Moving on we had a quick one in a posh restaurant and then caught up with Ally and Susan in Traktir Na Marxa, where they were ensconced with EASTA’s Davie and The Claw.

After a visit to Patio Pizza we rejoined Ally, Susan, The Claw and Davie and headed back towards the Hotel Belarus whilst Rich headed back to his hotel to freshen up before hitting the bright lights once again. After a stop-start walk, being stopped by several locals for photos, we bumped into a friendly Belarussian “fixer” on the bridge desperate to change a Scottish £20 note as no exchange would accept it. We were able to oblige, and ended up heading to Staravilinskaya , a riverside bar in the old town, with him and his glamorous girlfriend (Claw and Davie knew him from the hotel anyway). After the totally surreal sight of a live Peruvian panpipe band serenading us on the decked terrace, we made our excuses and left for a respectably early night ahead of our trip to the border the next morning.

Brest and beyond

Saturday 11th June 2005

By Saturday morning it was now apparent that the niggling cough I’d had for a few days had become a full-blown summer cold, as I really wasn’t feeling on top of my game. I had just enough strength to barter with the taxi driver for a fare to the station, and we arrived in good time yet still thankful we had already booked both our tickets and our compartment.

The train was a suitably sturdy soviet iron horse, and our carriage’s provodnitsa showed us to the end compartment. The logic for paying extra for first class (only a few pounds) was for the peace of mind of having our own compartment (second class has three bunks). I settled down and slept for most of the 4 hour journey, having left a pair of boxers at the top of my bag specially for this purpose – no point battering the kilt any more than necessary!

The train terminated in Brest, and despite it not being particularly busy (it had come from Moscow, and most people seemed to have alighted in Minsk) the narrow platform was rammed with families meeting people. After negotiating the scrum we headed out onto the street, but found out we were completely lost and after a while waiting for a bus that never came we admitted defeat, walked into the nearest hotel and asked for a taxi. The taxi was in the form of a meter-less 20 year-old Capri-style car (complete with flame detail!), and the surly driver dropped us in front of the Intourist hotel for the bargain price of 5,000 rubles (less than £1.50), which strangely seemed to be under police/secret service guard.

We had to wait a short while for our room to be cleaned, and spent the time trying, and failing, to buy an onward ticket to Warsaw the next day from the in-hotel tourist agency. Despite my best Russian (which isn’t very good) and Helen’s best German (which is better), the end result was that they would be unable to guarantee a ticket for a weekend international train until two hours before the train departed. Disturbed that this could leave us scratching around in Brest we opted to head for the local train instead, which should connect on the Polish side with a Warsaw train.

We headed out the hotel (another very real does of soviet bathroom realism!) and off towards Brest Fortress, the main reason for stopping over. A long, long walk along a very straight, very long, very boring road was momentarily enlightened by the sight of an open-air train museum (closed, mind), until the monumental gate of the fortress loomed into sight. Brestkaya Krepast heroically held out against the Nazi advance for weeks in 1941, and was accordingly awarded formal “hero” status within the Soviet Union – this entailed building a huge star-shaped gate at the entrance, and erecting an obelisk and a stunning sculptured rock called “Valour”. We visited the museum, where the reason for the earlier security at the hotel became apparent; a Japanese trade delegation was being guided around by local dignitaries.

We didn’t fancy the long walk back, so waited for a bus instead, riding it past the hotel to the Zio Pepe pizzeria. After eventually finding the way in past the metal detector, we were confronted by a massive empty multi-purpose room, complete with stage, dance floor and seating area (the bowling alley was downstairs). Getting served wasn’t a problem, given the ratio of waitresses to us, and even by the time we’d finished our pizza and beer there was no sign of any other customers (although to give them the benefit of the doubt, it was only 6pm and the place still had another 12 hours to drum up some trade. We wandered up the main precinct and back down, attracting bemused glances from the locals, before settling for a beer on the terrace of a wee pub opposite the cinema. My cold was more like flu by now, and with Helen also lacking the energy for a night out, we admitted defeated and were back in the hotel room just after 8pm!

Sunday 12th June 2005

The one advantage of the early night was an early start, and we headed up to the station. It certainly took time – to-ing and fro-ing between windows to get the tickets (60p each for the 18 minute journey to the EU) and to change our roubles into something a little more useful (Euros it was, as I didn’t fancy the £50 or $100 notes the exchange girl was insisting on, and they had no Zloty). Negotiating customs and passport control proved another challenge, but after a wee while we were through and on the next train to Terespol.

Crossing the border this was is one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life for far too many reasons to go into – let’s just say it was very strange. Unfortunately no photos exist of this part of the trip as it really wasn’t the right time to take out a camera, although the images are burned permanently onto my consciousness! Suffice to say when the machine gun-toting Polish border guards checked our passports and let us off the train, we could have kissed the platform! Nothing against Belarus (we loved our time there), but it really was a relief to be back in the “western world”; of course, the thought of Poland representing normality is funny in itself given our first experience for a week back in 2001.

Anyway, enough occidental-centric rambling! We opted for first class tickets to Warsaw, as we reasoned the packed train we’d just arrived on would also be heading to the capital on the same train, and in any case the tickets were just £9 each for the 3 hour journey. We shared our carriage with a wee old guy for around 30 minutes, and a tall, pretty brunette for 90 – right through to Warsaw when she suddenly engaged us in conversation, then led us through the underground warren to our bus stop before going and buying us a tickets! To cap it all, she then gave me her phone number – good to see I hadn’t lost my touch with Polish women, despite being full of the cold!

The Le Meridien hotel was unbelievably posh – the sort that does a double-take when you walk in with a kilt – but we’d managed to get a really cheap internet deal. The luxury (a shower, man, a shower!) was more than welcome after the double whammy of the Hotel Belarus and the Intourist in Brest, but we headed out to grab some food. After a good meal in Der Elefant we headed back towards the station for the top floor bar of the Marriott, where I could only manage one very slow beer – at least I had the excuse of having to negotiate a heavily armed border crossing in trying circumstances – and another moderately early night loomed.

Monday 13th June 2005

A long lie failed to rejuvenate my illness-ravaged body, and after dragging myself up and around the towering Palace of Culture and Science (aka Stalin’s birthday cake), it was back to the hotel for an afternoon nap. Well, when you get to my age…

Upon getting up for a second time, we strolled up to the reconstructed Old Town where we bumped into a glamorous young couple from Motherwell. A beer for Helen in the old New Town Square followed (soft drinks for me all day, I’m afraid!) before an excellent and filling meal of Pierogi (Polish ravioli) in the Pierogarni restaurant, with the friendliest waitress in the world. We had time to round off one-and-a-bit very low key beer with one last beer for Helen at the Pub Pod Barylka before catching our third ridiculously early night in a row. All in all I was very annoyed with my performance since Friday, but what can you do? And in any case, I knew I had a trip to the Confederations Cup in Germany on the Wednesday, when I would no doubt come under intense peer pressure to stay on the batter until the early hours, so I did desperately need to recuperate in the next two days! It’s fair to say I was happy to heading home (even if just overnight) the next day and not heading down to Krakow as originally planned.

Tuesday 14th June 2005

And so it was off to Warsaw’s Okeice airport at the crack of dawn for our marathon journey home: bus to the airport at 8am, getting to the wrong terminal and having to lug our bags 500 yards through a car park, meeting a Scottish couple who’d been down to Krakow after the game, flight to Luton, rammed bus to Luton Airport Parkway, train to Gatwick, bus to long stay car park, car home. We got in the door around 4pm, and I was out it again at 6am the next day on my way for a flight to Cologne, but what a trip that turned out to be! And the best news? A night in my own bed managed to dispel my lingering cold, leaving me clear for beer aplenty!


The trip in numbers:

  • 7 different beds in…
  • 8 consecutive nights (from Friday 10th in Minsk to Saturday 18th in Cologne: Minsk, Brest, Warsaw, Worthing, Cologne, Hanover and Cologne). Okay, so two trips ran into one…
  • 7 airports in one trip (Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow, Riga, Minsk II, Warsaw and Luton)
  • 6 NATA members in Belarus
  • 5 countries in one week (Sun-Sun: Scotland, England, Latvia, Belarus, Poland)
  • 2 westerners on the Brest-Terespol shuttle we fled the country on (Helen and me)
  • 1 day without a kilt. Matchday, as it happened.
  • 0 late nights enjoyed by Paul and Helen
  • 0 the number of beers had by Paul on the last day of the trip


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Belarus Gallery 1

Belarus Gallery 2

Belarus Gallery 3

Belarus Gallery 4

Belarus Gallery 5

Belarus Gallery 6

Belarus Gallery 7

Belarus Gallery 8


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Austria Gallery 1

Austria Gallery 2

Austria Gallery 3

Austria Gallery 4

Austria Gallery 5

Austria Gallery 6

Austria Gallery 7

Austria Gallery 8

Fjord Fiesta - The Return - Norway, September 2005


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

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

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

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

Tuesday 7th September 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 8th September 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 9th September 2005

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

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The trip in numbers:

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



Norway Gallery 1

Norway Gallery 2


Slovenia, October 2005


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

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

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

Sunday - Monday: Five airports, two days

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

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

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

Tuesday: a day in LJ

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

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

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

Wednesday: Bled, Sweat and Beers

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday: Unionists or Laskoists?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday – Sunday: Mopping up in Munich

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

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

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

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Slovenia Gallery 1

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Slovenia Gallery 3

Slovenia Gallery 4

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Slovenia Gallery 7

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Highlights of 2005

According to Paul, anyway...

Best away trip: Slovenia

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

Best home game: Italy

Best night away on TA duty: Tuesday night in Graz

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

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

Best pre-match home pub: Three Judges

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

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

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

Best beer: Dom Brau, Graz

Most mental local firewater: Turbo Most, Austria

Most boring location: Oslo

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

Favourite stadium visited: San Siro (for the outside)

Favourite match venue city: Graz

Best non-TA destination: Düsseldorf

Best non-TA pub: U Cerveno Vola, Prague

Best Brewery Tour: Union, Ljubljana

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