Europe, all over the place.

21 09 2009

Now that the Europa League is back on, it seems about the right time to share our experiences from earlier in this season.

Bangor City 0 Honka Espoo 1
Europa League 2nd Qualifying Round

With all of the excitement  leading up to the draw weeks ago you would think that excitement would be tangible but you’d be wrong, it felt quite anti-climactic. I’d missed the trip for the first leg so this was a very pale imitation. About  30 minutes before kick off we found out who we’d playing the next round, if we got through obviously. We’d play…….FK Qarabeg from Azerbaijan. Bloody Nora, I don’t have the kind of cash required to get to Baku just lying around. Why couldn’t Rosenborg have won, it’s only £330 for a return by Coach. In other words, no Bangor European trip for me. The anti-climax doubled.

Even though it was all an anti-climax first hand reports from half-time in the first game still gave me hope we could win. They made it clear that we could win, but would this idea be clear after the game? It certainly was clear from about half an hour in that Honka weren’t too good. This fact was perfectly illustrated by their goal; it took a mistake to present them with a clear opportunity to score. They sat on the lead and frustrated us. The fact that we now needed 4 goals obviously obviously deflated the players.

The worst thing about this game was that Honka quite clearly reinforced the first hand reports from Finland; They quite beatable. It was very annoying. To compare them to Midtjylland, there is no comparison. Midtjylland could pass, Honka couldn’t. Midtjylland could shoot well, Honka couldn’t. We just couldn’t apply much worthwhile pressure onto them so we didn’t have many chances. Most people put the deciding factor down to their higher level of fitness. Then to top it all, the fuckers didn’t even hang around. They were tracksuited and sitting on their coach before some of the crowd had left the car park.

Fulham 3 Vetra 0
Europa League 3rd Qualfying Round

Two weeks on from Bangor’s exit and I was in London. I checked in to my luxury accommodation and it is refreshing to see that the spirit of Rachman is alive and well. 12 to a room, sinks hanging off wall, unknown stains on wall etc etc. Well, it was £9 a night. At these prices polite service is an option. On my whistle stop tour of London I paid my respects to the International Brigades, found a great deal of annoying tourists (not like me obviously) and prayed that the threatening clouds would not produce rain in the following evening.

Fulham’s ground is in a very lovely location. From the Fulham Broadway tube station you traverse a park then walk down a very pleasant street. All of a sudden you’re there; a tasteful row of brick buildings houses the main stand. Being there, looking at the back of the famous cottage, and the Main Stand’s orangy brown facade, you are again reminded that unfortunately the football grounds of Great Britain are becoming personality-free zones. Where are the little quirks and the interesting oddities in the income-maximising porridge that passes for our modern super-stadia? We’ll return to this subject at a later date.

You could really savour the idyllic urban location, if the weather was pleasant, unfortunately it was pissing down. There was no time to stop and stare lest you contract Swine Flu, not that I had been worried by the multitude of adverts everywhere. Luckily I had to queue for my tickets and even better the queue was reasonably large. The booth didn’t have my ticket, another queue to wait in. After this it got even better.

Outside the turnstiles there was a seething, directionless mass of people. Fortunately everyone was remarkably good natured about everything. When I finally made it to a turnstile my ticket wouldn’t scan in the reader, bloody Nora! As I went to tell a steward he told me; just tell him to rip the stub off, so much for modern technology. Thankfully the Fulham fans were still serene. The serenity might be due to a simple fact; Fulham seem to have a lot of Posh fans and it is unseemly to express displeasure loudly. Today I saw the Poshest fans that I’ve ever seen queuing to get into a football match, it was all Tweed and elegant dishevelment.

The match was preceded by a minute silence for Bobby Robson but I’d obviously missed that, although I had seen the nice tribute of scarves tied to a gate outside the Cottage. The match was so-so in the first half, Fulham had most of the possession and most of the chances. Vetra looked skillful in places but seemed to lose their way near the point where you should really think about shooting, or something like that.

At one point I realised that I’d been there nearly an hour, an hour of dampness, an hour of clammy slight discomfort. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as October due to the humidity but clamminess never feels right. The whole evening could have been a total disappointment if it wasn’t for the charm of the Fulham fans. Despite their team failing to score there were no people shouting incoherently. There were a few disapproving murmurs but there were no bulging veins. I even had a conversation with someone, yes a conversation with a complete stranger in London. The whole situation had an unfamiliar feeling. After 20 minutes of hard thinking I remembered what this feeling was; Paitience!!

This outlook was rewarded after nearly an hour when Fulham took the lead. Not long after that Fulham scored their second and third. The main architect of Fulham’s win was Clint Dempsey. The American pulled the levers very effectively.

I was glad that Fulham had won, they have the nicest fans I’ve met in a long while, I felt a warm glow as I left amongst the happy throng. I trudged back to the tube, slowly getting  soaked and the thought of my palatial accommodation jabbing at my reverie. The glow dissipated.

Aston Villa 2 Rapid Vienna 1
Europa League Play-Off Round

The next stop on the Jet Set Euro tour was Villa Park. Rapid Vienna are one of the more evocative names in European Football; Speed, skill, the exotic. Ever since I’d trespassed in their ground I’d had a soft spot for them. A bit of research on You Tube would reveal to you that  their fans are quite passionate and quite loud, they do a wonderful rendition of the Lambada. When I found out that this match was only £15 a ticket it was chance I didn’t want to miss.

Greying skies greeted us in the grey city. The Bullring offered interesting photo opportunities and possible bankruptcy. A Wetherspoons offered slightly cheaper food than Llandudno and the railway offered cheap travel. As we came closer to the ground we took in the sights and smells; sizzling burgers are your gateway to football. After picking up our tickets we waltzed around the ground and we could hear the Ultras Rapid in full voice, it sounded fun. Just before our turnstile I noticed a booth selling tickets in the away end. Shit, we could have been up there!

We went in and they’d sold out of programmes. I went to have a look at the Ultras and they were loud, a steward casually remarked; “They’re Nazis ain’t they!!!………..guffaw……….guffaw”. We made our way to our seat and passed some youths doing Nazi salutes with a finger under their noses. Ye Gods, I’d been there five minutes and I already wanted Villa to get hammered. We found “our” seats; the ones with a bit of legroom. I began to snap away at the Ultras, they had been singing for fully 15 minutes now and it all looked very impressive.

Just before kick off the Ultras began some choreographed moves. Just into the game most of them had removed their shirts. Everyone one of them was on their feet. I tried to read the banners but there were too many. It was all very very impressive. The Villa fans were evidentially stuck to their seats and instructed to remain silent.

Then Villa got a penalty and their fans awoke, the glue had worn off!! They made a quarter turn to taunt the Ultras before you could say “What a Bunch of Arseholes!!” Ashley Young calmly missed the penalty and the Villa fans calmly returned to their silent protest. The Ultras calmly returned to their chanting. I calmly continued to snap away.

Villa were awarded a second penalty. Villa’s fans near me made the same journey but this time the remained in gloat mode as Milner scored. Several minutes later the gloating was accompanied by a considerable rise in “armstretching-as-celebration”. The Ultras continued to chant and I continued to snap. The behaviour of the Ultras was probably more enjoyable to watch than the match.

Just before half time my snapping ceased. A steward told me I wasn’t allowed to, it was against the rules or something. Jesus Christ, it’s as if the Newspapers and Premier League are actually worried that their syndicated snappers, with their giant lenses, will be made redundant  by fuzzy ouput from us fans. What are clubs going to do next to protect their copyright? Develop a forcefield that wipes your mind just as you leave the stand? Then you will only be able to remember things through officially licensed outlets.

Villa doubled their lead early in the second half and the fans gloated with added relish; there was a flourish to the arm-stretching. Their fans then had the cocksure look of people who knew they’d won, it was all very annoying. The Ultras never gave up, the noise was constant. They were still shirtless. Villa could have scored a few more but the Ultras were never silenced. Then Rapid were on the verge…… The ball bounced in the 6 yard box and there it was, 4 yards from goal…….The goalkeeper was helpless!!!……. The Number 16 swung his leg at it………..The ball flew over. The gloaters stretched forth once more. Even then the Ultras keep up their rhythm, maybe they knew something.

The ball went into the area again, a save!!! Number 16 was near the ball, he had an awkward shot, the ball was in!!!!!!! The Ultras seemed to pulsate from where we were standing. The gloating was now absent. How silly those people looked now!!! Number 16 wasn’t finished, he had the ball at his feet again, he was in the area again!! He just needed to sidefoot the ball into the goal…………. The clumsy bugger somehow trod on the ball. The match remained at 2-1 to Rapid, Villa were out.

20 minutes after the game and we were on another cheap train towards New Street. Some Bloke droned on. To condense his ideas “O’Neill should go, he’s gone as far as he can. It happens every time, with every manager, they lose it; Taylor, Gregory, Atkinson, all of them!!!” One is left to wonder; If this is a perpetual situation why doesn’t he just go in the good seasons? In fact why doesn’t he try a new hobby, flower arranging for example as it’s creative and calm. But why am I carping? What would football be without the cast-iron, copper-bottomed, never fail, certainties that fans hold dear? Less irritating probably.

Note to Self: When people start to moan on public transport turn up my radio.

Note to Self: Buy some headphones

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9 05 2010
Road to Hamburg « Llandudno Jet Set

[…] got to the final,  just like 2009/’10 then. Who are they playing in the final? The club that the Jet Set went to watch in August, Fulham. Spooky […]

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