In this group of travel monotony, Amsterdam
was definitely the cheapest and most Tartan Army friendly
of the trio of repeat destinations. As such, anticipation
seemed to be building to fever pitch, an emotion that seemed
to escape the majority of NATA.
Helen and I opted to stay in neighbouring
Haarlem for our first two nights in the Netherlands, and
flew in late on Thursday night, catching crowded service
bus around the outskirts of Amsterdam direct to downtown
Haarlem. The main reason for staying out there was to take
in the local second division game scheduled for the Friday
night, although that didn’t quite work out as both
myself and Helen were feeling a bit peaky. A few beers with
the Sporran Legion and an abortive and ill-advised attempt
to get into a nightclub led to a quieter-than-planned Friday
afternoon and a quiet pizzeria meal whilst several hundred
other Tartan Army descended upon the game to soak up the
media frenzy and have a sing-song in the cold.
Come Saturday morning and we were up bright
and early (and sans hangover!) to traipse across the city
to the Holiday Inn out in the conference zone. Essen Chris,
a fellow Fortuna Düsseldorf fan, was coming across
to soak up the atmosphere and watch the game with fellow
ticket-less Scotland fans, and we met up with him in the
Irish pub on the corner of Dam Square. Chris was proudly
sporting his maroon Scotland shirt (the fated “Georgia”
kit), and we headed out into the square itself to meet up
with Chris’ fellow Hearts fan Callum and his brother,
who generously shared a couple of their beers with us.
A few beers in the old brown café
Hoppe, at the top of Spui street followed, before the rest
of NATA got in touch to direct us across to the Prins café
a few canals over, where Bruce, Sharon, Rich, Ally and Susan
were drinking and eating with Andy and Mindy from Glasgow.
We headed over and joined them in what was a pretty laid
back, friendly café, far removed from the chaos of
the centre of town.
We headed off in good time for a train,
then squeezed onto a stopping service (that wisely gave
up that plan and proceeded unhindered to the far end of
the Arena at Biljmer) where Kenny showed off his new hat
(complete with drum top and accompanying sticks). After
foolishly permitting Bruce to stick his unfeasibly fat head
into it and having it banged down over his eyes, it was
difficult to ascertain who was more distressed: Bruce with
his cartoonish buffoonery and growing realisation that he
may not actually be able to “see” the game after
all, or Kenny who was fretting about his nice new hat getting
bent out of shape!
The inevitable crush at the turnstiles
awaited, enlivened by bumping into Helmut and Torsten from
Hannover, and being branded “Captain Chaos”
by Machar on account of my luxuriant ginger moustache that
I’d been cultivating, and then we were in and in the
right seats for a change. The game itself failed to present
any chance of an upset, and Caldwell’s otherwise fair
goal notwithstanding, the Netherlands clearly deserved their
After seeing the final whistle for the
first time at the ArenA (we left after 6 goals and 70 minutes
in 2003), we joined the throngs heading for the Strandvliet
tube station. We’d opted to head back to the hotel,
necessitating a different tube from the majority of the
Tartan Army, and were joined by Ali Nish heading back to
her airport hotel – she’d literally just flown
in for the game and was back home early the next morning.
With neither Helen nor I in the mood for prolonging the
evening, we headed back to watch telly in the room and I
was rewarded by seeing footage of a kilted dwarf hoovering
his own happy sacks.
The next day saw us take a wander around
the city, taking in a visit to the Bols cocktail museum
and meeting up with Ally and Susan in a Belgian beer bar
near Leidseplein before heading for some food at the Bekerde
Suster brewpub in the RLD. A low key ending to a relatively
low key trip, ahead of the home leg of the double header
against Iceland on the Wednesday.
I’ve been very lucky to have been
to a lot of Scotland away games without having to miss any.
In fact, as the Japan trip was announced, the last away
game I missed was away to the Faroe Islands in June 1999
(having been there twice since, I don’t think I missed
out on too much!). However, a pointless long-haul trip in
the middle the European season really did not capture my
imagination (or most of the players, as it transpired!).
Coupled with this, we’d been living
with uncertainty over Helen’s job for several months,
and our concerns were realised when she was notified of
her impending redundancy in July. However, as soon as Helen
realised that the Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix was the
preceding weekend to the Scotland game, she hatched a master-plan
to take in both, courtesy of her redundancy settlement.
With my own annual leave having been whittled
away, and with our pal Achim sitting on loads of Lufthansa
miles and harbouring a desire to go to both Japan and a
Grand Prix, the plan took shape. Achim flew out to Nagoya
via Frankfurt, Helen flew out a day later via Stockholm
and Helsinki, and they met up and based themselves in Osaka.
After three hard days of getting soaked then nearly getting
sunstroke whilst watching cars hurtle round the track, they
took in the sights of Osaka, Kyoto, Hiroshima and Nara,
before heading up to Yokohama on the Wednesday before the
Helen had very generously paid for me
to fly out a week later than her to join her in Yokohama,
so after a night in Heathrow’s own Japanese-style
capsule hotel, I flew out with Finnair via Helsinki (no
Swedish stopover for me). A typhoon hit Japan the day/night
I was in the air, and we spent the final two hours of the
flight in “lock down” as the pilot fought turbulence
and brought us in for a very bumpy landing. It could have
been worse – Bruce, flying with BA on a bigger 747
(Finnair fly Airbus 330s and 340s, plane buffs!), reported
one aborted landing attempted followed by a stomach-churning
successful one; on leaving the plane, one of the crew confirmed
that if the second one had also aborted, they were off to
Sapporo in the far north, a mere 14 hour train journey to
The typhoon had knocked the train lines
out from Narita, so it was onto the euphemistically titled
“YCAT Express” bus to Yokohama City Airport
Terminal. The urban sprawl surrounding Tokyo is reputedly
home to more than 30 million people, and it seemed most
of them were in their cars on the road ahead of me on the
painfully slow coach journey that would reunite me with
Helen. An hour later than scheduled, the bus arrived and
I made my way by tube to the Intercontinental (which, compared
to Tokyo hotels, was exceptionally reasonably priced).
After a wee siesta – I’d dealt
with both the jet lag and the turbulence by pretty much
drinking the whole way from Helsinki – we headed out
and up Japan’s tallest building, the Landmark Tower,
where we were able to grab a drink in the café and
watch the sunset over Mount Fuji. On our descent, Achim
was waiting for us at the bottom of the tower and we headed
off in search of some decent beer.
First stop was the Yokohama Brewery, a
cracking restaurant and microbrewery that knocked out a
number of interesting beers, including a Düsseldorf-style
Alt that Achim declared met his exacting standards! Our
next port of call was to be the Craft Beer Bar, but that
took some serious hunting down (it’s actually in a
back alley and not really visible from any of the main roads
in that part of town!) and required the assistance of a
friendly waitress who actually called ahead for us to get
the right directions! This place actually boasted hand-pulled
real ales from the Minoh Brewery in Osaka, although Helen
and Achim weren’t as impressed as me as they’d
already worked their way through the entire range earlier
in the week! The night ended with a failed attempt to find
Thrash Zone, and Helen and I settled for a beer in The Hub
British pub, which was already playing host to Akie, Gill
and Robert, as well as a couple of ex-pats.
Achim headed into Tokyo on the Friday,
whilst Helen and I wandered around the centre of Yokohama,
with Helen taking in a rollercoaster ride before we headed
for the “Cosmo Clock 21” ferris wheel (which,
like many things in Japan, may or may not hold some kind
of record!). On the 20 minute journey, Helen spied a rooftop
crazy golf course on an adjacent shopping centre, which
necessitated a change in course for us to play a round –
for once, I actually won (even getting the ball in a net
via a ramp, something she failed on all five attempts!).
A boat trip around to the Yokohama Marine Tower and a walk
through China Town at dusk followed. Despite the smells
and sights looking very appetising, the sheer culture-shock
and lack of English menus led us to head elsewhere for food,
stopping in a cracking wee tram-themed bar en route to the
Red Brick Warehouse’s beer restaurant. We’d
already heard that Yokohama’s Oktoberfest, planned
for the area next to the warehouses, had been postponed
a couple of days due to typhoon-related delays, but at least
we were able to get a decent beer and some good food in
the warehouse itself.
Nicely fed, we headed back to the Yokohama
Station area for another attempt at finding Thrash Zone,
although first looking for the Cheers pub, which we managed
to locate first time! A couple of northern Japanese beers
later and it was back on the hunt – unbelievably,
an A-board sign was sitting on a pavement we’d walked
up and down three times the previous night. The mystery
was soon solved, however, when the landlord explained in
perfect English that he’d been in California for the
past week and Friday was the first night the bar was open!
Saturday morning saw us meet Achim for
the ticket collection, before eventually heading up to the
station area and finding a Hawaiian-themed bar with four
fellow Scots. The beer really wasn’t going down easily
at this point, but a stroll back to Cheers whet my appetite.
A brief stop for a couple of cans for the tube journey,
and we were on our way to the game.
The journey was straight out of a stereotype
– first, all the locals neatly lined up on the platform,
then everyone crammed onto the tube to a ridiculous extent.
Then, at the next station, even more people crammed on.
And so it continued, all the way from Yokohama Station to
Shin-Yokohama, with the usually short Scots standing mostly
head and shoulders above the locals in each carriage. More
beer was procured at Shin-Yokohama and we headed up through
the streets to the stadium, where plastic cups were helpfully
provided to allow supporters to decant carry outs (including,
in one instance, an entire litre of Smirnoff Blue!) and
take them into the match.
The Scottish section inside the ground
proved to be a little too small, so some of the seats blocked
off for segregation (quite unnecessarily, it must be said)
were made available to avoid overcrowding in the aisles,
and despite an eyebrow-raising of the national anthem, the
game kicked off and 90 minutes of tedium followed.
No disrespect to the players out there
representing Scotland, but after travelling 6,000 miles
to watch your national team, it’s a wee bit disheartening
to effectively be watching a “C” squad struggle
against a Japanese B team (fielded, incidentally, in response
to Scotland’s disrespect to the hosts). The game finished
2-0 to the hosts, and after the obligatory photos with friendly
locals (and a nasty racist incident directed at Helen from
a drunk nedette) it was back out and into a corner bar with
Reeky, Fiona and their Sporran Legion accomplices.
After a couple of beers, it was time for
Helen and I to get an early night, as our jetsetting had
to continue with a 4am awakening the next day. After getting
packed (yes, I know…), we managed to get some sleep
around 1am, but I was at least rewarded with the sight of
a beautiful sunrise over Yokohama Harbour the next day!
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This game represented a bit of a watershed
for me. Despite this being the second-closest possible away
match, and having not missed an away match of any description
in 10 years (including two trips to Japan, South Korea for
a 1-4 mauling, Bosnia and even the game against the Hong
Kong Butchers, Bakers and Candlestick Makers XI), I decided
enough was enough.
If the players couldn’t be bothered
to turn up for Japan, and if the SFA can’t be bothered
to give good notice of games, then why the f*ck should I
bothered to waste my time and money on a team (and football
association) that have such disregard for their fans?
As it happened, I accompanied my wife
on a “mileage run”, a flight she needed to take
in order to retain her frequent flyer status. I didn’t
have to – when she booked the flight, she knew there
was a danger of an international clash – however I
wanted to, and despite letting a 10 year record slide, I
don’t regret it in the slightest.
For anyone who’s interested, the
last away game I missed was against the Faroe Islands in
June 1999, and the run included a total of 46 consecutive
Whether this is a one-off, and my feelings
will change under the new manager, or whether this is a
sign of deeper changing priorities remains to be seen…
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