Hands across the sea

14 08 2008
Manchester City o FC Midtjylland 1
UEFA Cup 2nd Qualifying Rd.

The seed was planted on the way back from Denmark; Midtjylland drew Man City so some ideas were floated; we could repay the warm Danish welcome by supporting our new friends in Manchester. The seed began to germinate with the first forays on to their message board. “Could we have tickets please?” I gently watered the seed and the shoots began to appear. They would look into the matter but it wouldn’t be a problem.

The bulb sprouted; someone called Thor sent me a personal message; how many tickets I would like? I put a message on Citizens-Choice and someone replied, then Les replied; he wanted 5. I asked for ten from Thor and he said “No problem!!” It was a relief to hear confirmation, a few days later, that the tickets would be definitely available. Rather touchingly Thor gave me his mobile number.

The day arrived and the flower opened. It felt like a good day, the sun was shining. The only dark clouds were co-ordinating the distribution of tickets with the travel plans of the others; Les et al would be coming later than the rest of us, Johnathan would already be in Manchester taking in a French film and Gwyn would be getting to Manchester at some unspecified point.

I had to meet Thor and the rest of the Black Wolves in a pub called The Old Monkey at four o’clock. It felt like the first time at university, how should I introduce myself? It turns out that talking was the most effective method. I asked a young man at the bar and he said, whilst simultaneously extending his hand, “Bangor!!, It’s great you’ve come!!”. This reaction was common, a slap of the back and a firm grasp of my outstretched hand. Thor and Rasmus were very friendly, in fact everyone seemed very friendly and had that certain gleam in their eyes. There was no sign of Hekler though. 30 minutes after Johnathan arrived we left for a Man City bar.

Just as we were leaving some police turned up to say hello. We walked down the street and they followed. En route I chatted to the Goalkeeper from the fans’ game, his legs were fine now. Whilst we were waiting for the bus, another chat: “Bangor!!, It’s great you’ve come!!”.

The Police made sure we got the right bus, how helpful. As bus travel is such thirsty work we tried the nearest pub after disembarking but they wouldn’t let us in. Whilst we walked to the next place I took part in a philosophical discussion about Arhus’ neo-Nazi fans, a change from discussing the weather.

We could see figures dressed in red and black outside the next pub, one of them was unmistakably Hekler. To any passer by the scene inside the pub would have appeared to be a tableau of jolity and conviviality. Then Hekler stood up sharply and emitted what can only be described as a menacing orgasm, “UUUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHH!!” Everybody, apart from Johnathan and I, bellowed some unitelligable responses. Although this felt a little unnerving by this stage I felt that I was on the inside, accepted, part of it. You may even say that I began to feel that I had some Danish heritage.

It would have been difficult to avoid assimilating the Black Wolves’ group identity; we’d all been followed by the police, we’d all be turned away from pubs and now, as I sauntered outside taking a call, some bloke came up to me; “You…… Should….. Tell…… The…….. Police…….. That……….. You……….. Are………… Here…………” I briefly wondered why he was stressing every syllable then I remembered my attire (a black and red Bangor polo shirt). I looked Danish too!!

My newly accquired identity was reinforced by the reactions of local youngsters as I escorted the keeper to the cash machine. The first three that tried to communicate were hindered by their lack of prowees with Danish. “Midgiland?……..Oi!! Are you Midgiland?” I repiled “No, Bangor City”. This response was obviously so mind-blowing that they had to ask me again;

“Oi, are you a Midgiland fan?”
“No, Bangor City”
“Why have you come to see them lose then?”

Les et al arrived but as we reached the pub everyone was walking the other way. Hekler provided us all with a t-shirt and a scarf, how nice!! En route to the ground I had another conversation featuring Danish astonishment: “It’s really beautiful that you’ve come!!”. It’s certainly nice to be made so welcome. Rasmus provided our tickets outside the ground. At this juncture more scallies appeared; “No mistake lad, You’re going down tonight” Nice one Dr Fraud lad. It was a little unnerving waiting for Gwyn, I really felt like a sore thumb in my Black and red scarf.

If this what being an away fan entails you can keep it; Police escorts, entry into pubs barred (were they scared a conversation may break out?), witness to scallies chatting shit (as I believe the practice is called on the street), the “UEFA alocholic drinks ban” in operation (I could have sworn that we had drinks ON the terracing in Denmark). Just to show how welcome visitors are the stewards refused to allow my flag a place where I wanted to put it, I had to put it where they wanted. I tried to put it in one place but the pointed finger of power gestured “over there”. I went “over there” and that was ok. In short we couldn’t have experienced a greater contrast to our adventure in Denmark, at least the police don’t have guns in this country.

When encountering fans from other countries you will inevitably experience a different culture and different behaviours and, of course, different songs. Just before the match was due to begin the other Midtjylland fans held their scarves aloft, for no discernable reason. As we were now honourary Danes decorum dictated that we follow suit. Just before the teams came out City decided to deafen us with music, although it was the excellent Doves. The repeated opening of Pounding helped to build up the tensioned excitement. Just before the teams came out our fans, I had definitely become we, then started to perform a German-like manoeuvre; they outsreteched their arms, waved them up and down and emitted a low “whooooaaaaaaaaa” sound, we joined in too.

Decorum also dictated that we should sing. Of course the songs were unrecognisable at first but after a few renditions we began la, la, laaaing along. We actually managed to sing the ones with words before long too. It helped that two were in English, others were la, la, laaa or allez, allez, allez or ole, ole, ole. You just had to remember to fit FCM or Midtjylland in at some point.

On the pitch Midtjylland performed admirably. They played with the same one touch play as they had against Bangor and their defence seemed solid. As I was chatting with Thor Midtjyllamd were undertaking another free-flowing move, then someone had a shot and it was in!!!! We bounced around like the rest, although obviously more subduded than the others. The first half only had a few moments of worry for us, when City were in the area. City also hit the bar but Midtjylland were more than holding their own.

It wasn’t quite so easy in the second half. City had more of the possesion and everytime they adavanced into our half I felt there was impending doom. City hit the bar again but, in truth, FCM’s keeper didn’t have that much to do. FCM looked good on the break as their passing was precise and their players were quick. We could have scored another on at least two occasions. Both breaks involved a burst down the left and an advancing player on the right just too far away to put the ball away.

We were part of an another continetal fan thing during the second half. We had to put our arms around the people next to us, then la, la along, then at a certain point jump up and down, then jump left and right. It was fun being a football fan!!

Four weeks ago I knew next to nothing about them and now I was worried beyond reason about their ability to hold a 1-0 lead, that’s the power of football. As the clock moved slowly towards 90 minutes I felt a palpable rise tension in the tension. Then the whistle blew and elation!!!

A lot of people came over to say thank you for coming and shake my hand. Thor and Rasmus asked me to come every game as my record going to see FCM was 3 victories from 3 matches, they even said they’d pay for my flight although I’m not sure this was an entirely serious offer. The Police appeared again, this time it was to make sure that we weren’t having too much fun on the bus.

Whilst we were in the Old Monkey again a few United fans came in to offer their congratulations. Johnathan and I left to bear-hugs and handshakes. We’d definitely have to do this again, let’s hope they draw Everton in the next round.

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