Four European football games, three different countries, two English munts and a beer bike
Standard Liege v Helsingborgs (18:08:11)
Roda JC v Waalwijk (19:08:11)
FC Cologne v Kaiserslauten (20:08:11)
RSC Anderlecht v Mons (21:08:11)
Join Millwall fans, Guy and Hutch as they romp through Europe swerving their 5 a day in favour of football and beer....
‘What do you want for your birthday dear?’ asked Mrs C. Well as I couldn’t quite afford a divorce, I opted for a European road trip with Hutch, my bezzie mate. Simples.
After what seemed like an age of planning followed by last minute alterations, we hit the road to ‘la tunnel’ at Folkestone, via the rather superb £4 for any 8 items breakfast on offer at Tesco in Ashford. Whilst there are of course are other breakfast suppliers available, this was the dog’s doodaas and a perfect start to 4 days of culinary experimentation that would hospitalise a lesser mortal.
Driving into Belgium is so easy I wondered why I hadn’t done it before. Toll free roads, no disruption and a few BMW M3s doing 150mph in the outside lane, what could be nicer? Three hours flew by as we meandered our way to Liege for the start of the epic adventure. Liege weren’t selling tickets online for this one, so en route to the hotel we popped into the ground and collected them in person. They normally come close to selling out for league games, but for European matches getting tickets is seemingly no problem at all, although that may change if they progress through the competition. As it was our first day we opted for the best seats in the house at 34 euros each. This gave us two beauties in the lower tier of the main tribune 1.
Belgian art, tick.
The packed main stand at Liege
After a brief sojourn and a couple of Jupilers at the hotel, we headed back down to the ground. Plenty of street parking available on the roads around the ground and lots of bars and bratwurst sellers too; paradise. Well, it would have been if the heavens hadn’t opened and dumped more rain on Liege in 40 minutes than his Lordship dumped on Noah in 40 days. We managed to down two tremendous bratwurst baps and a couple more beers before hitting the club shop. Souvenir scarves in hand we took our place in the ground only to find our 34 euros had bought us seats in the second row of the lower tier and tantalisingly just beyond the shelter provided by the roof above. ‘Zut alhors’ said I; ‘merde’ said Hutch.
Luckily, the game was far from a sell out so we snuck up to the middle tier where there were still plenty of empty seats. That’s more like it. Liege’s ground is quite impressive really; the two ends and the main stand are all joined in three tiers, with tribune 2 sitting on its own opposite. The gap between tribune 2 and the stand housing the away fans provides the spectator with an incredible view of a power station, matched only by the landscape at East Fife.
A ground with a view. Not quite East Fife
With the rain now stopped the game got under way, although the surface water on the pitch made things rather tricky for the players who struggled to produce anything that one would call decent football. Liege contrived to miss a first half penalty but a well struck shot midway through the second half turned out to be the winner as it all ended 1-0. Credit to the Helsingborgs fans, they made a fair amount of noise all game and must fancy their chances of over turning the deficit next week.
Back to the hotel where we saw that the Team Sky GB cycling team were also resident. Great! Not only was I on a European footie tour, but I was going to meet my dream woman and most favourite sports personality in the whole wide world, Victoria Pendleton. I should however have realised that proper pukka athletes don’t stay in Campanile hotels and the Team Sky GB, in spite of their flashy van and Volvo estate, had a combined age of 17. A few more Jupilers easily managed to dispel my disappointment and we retired for the evening eagerly anticipating a day that would see us in three different countries in the space of half an hour. Does life get any better? You bet it does.
Roda via Alemannia Aachen...
We had decided to base ourselves in Aachen for the second leg, as the Holiday Inn were offering a decent rate. Tonight’s fare was to be Roda v Waalwijk in the Eredivise. I had emailed the club who replied in perfect English that turning up and buying tickets on the day would be no problem at all. Nonetheless, we nipped straight up to the ParkStadion at lunchtime to see if we could get the tickets in our grubby little mits nice and early.
Giant inflatable "thing" outside the entrance, tick
The ground is relatively new and reminded me of the new plasti-stadiums we have in the UK at Coventry, Leicester, Derby et al. It was however at the centre of a retail park and within the stadium building itself, but accessible from outside, was a hotel, bars, restaurants, a gym, a casino and a Subway. Brilliant, I could ‘eat fresh’ today and in so doing, partake of some shredded lettuce to make me feel I was doing my bit to keep healthy.
We picked up the tickets with little difficulty. They took a copy of our passports and said that neutral fans have to sit in a certain corner of the stadium. But at 17.50 euros I wasn’t going to quibble. We wandered around the stadium and encountered a friendly looking Dutch groundsman type person at one of the entrances. In my best Dutch I asked if we could possibly nip through the gates and take a few photos. ‘No’ came the reply in his better English. Miserable beggar.
We drove the 7 miles back to Aachen and as luck would have it, our hotel was literally next door to Alemannia Aachen’s new Tivoli stadium (Pfff ... this keeps on happening, you couldn't make it up etc .. and so on - Ed.). We had had a peek at the old ground, which is sadly decaying rapidly, before wandering into the club shop at the spankingly impressive new ground. We got chatting to the young gent working in the shop and he offered us free access to the stadium to take photos and have a look around. Top man. Roda ground staff take note. We then ambled into the club bar/restaurant and felt it only sensible to sink a couple of beers before departing. Note to self: definitely come back for a game at Aachen.
The new Tivoli - definitely worth a visit
The game at Roda was against newly promoted Waalwijk (bet that scores a few in Scrabble). Beware; if you park at the retail complex they will liberate 8 euros from you, so we parked for nothing on the industrial estate a 5 minute walk to the north of the ground. It was here we discovered the Munt!! 10 euros purchased 5 plastic Munts, which were then exchanged for beer or food in the ground. It was at this stage that I had a bit of an O level maths moment trying to work out how beers at 1.5 munts apiece comes out to 3 munts and tried in vain to break my munt in half, ouch.
The view from neutral corner was surprisingly good although there were a cluster of Waalwijk fans in said neutral corner. There was however no sign of animosity as the game was far from a sell out and everyone seemed very friendly. Not the most memorable of footballing encounters ensued but Waalwijk’s star striker Geoffrey Castillon stood out as possibly the worst professional football player I’ve ever seen. Whilst he was lightning quick (a speedboat without a rudder springs to mind), his second touch was always a tackle and he demonstrated that even in possession of a banjo he wouldn’t be able to spank a cow’s backside with it stood right in front of him. Guess what happened? Yes, after leading 1-0 thanks to a beauty from the full back, Waalwijk’s answer to Norman Wisdom embarked on a solo run, left defenders trailing in his jet stream and buried a belter in the back of the Roda net. 2-0 game over.
There's Geoffrey! Hands on hips in the centre circle
Eau de Cologne - or 'Köln' for our German friends.....
Day three and the home of the curried bratwurst was calling to us as we entered Germany. We had purchased tickets online - but dropped by the Rhein Energie stadium to have a look around well in advance of the game. Having taken a few snaps, we continued our fare evading tour of Europe and took the tram into the city centre. My Leicester Tigers rugby shirt probably betrayed my Anglo Saxon origins but it did not stop a chap with his family asking if we were English. ‘Ja’ I replied and a conversation about our European adventures duly followed. He seemed in awe and somewhat jealous of the fact that two mates could pile off around Europe watching football and drinking beer whilst he was stood with his wife and two young lads about to go for a cable car ride.
Cologne is a top, top place. We sat outside a bar by the Rhine supping German ale and admiring the bevy of fraulines who for some reason had decided to remove most of their clothing and sunbathe right in front of us. Duf Duf Duf. Cologne was also the home of the ‘beer bike’ a splendid contraption where a dozen or so lads sit either side of a bar on top of a bicycle drinking ale whilst cycling around the city. Why don’t we have these in England??
This is the future!
Eventually remembering we were here for the football, we said a fond farewell to the lovely ladies and evaded another fare back out to the stadium. Even though it was two hours before kick off, the large park area outside the ground was already busy with both sets of fans mingling quite happily. I couldn’t quite imagine the same atmosphere if this had been Millwall and Wet Spam fans in Southwark Park.
We had heard of the legendary currywurst so decided it would be rude to come all this way and bottle it. Not at all disappointed we also had to sample the regular bratwurst. Well, sitting in the sun drinking beer makes a man hungry. We basqued in the late afternoon sunshine as all forms of human life sauntered past including an elderly couple of Cologne fans who must have been at least 90 years old. Aaah.
When in Cologne...
We eventually entered the ground to find ourselves slap bang in the middle of a mixture of Cologne and Kaiserslautern fans, one of whom had the wonderfully named ‘Kuntz’ plastered across his back. Luckily for us it was the only ‘Kuntz’ we saw all day as the atmosphere was absolutely fantastic. Readers will probably be able to tell me why there was no segregation; is it because everyone in Germany loves Kaiserslautern in the same way that everyone in England loves Leyton Orient?
In roasting heat we witnessed 90 minutes that was more akin to wacky races than the Bundesliga. The sides were so poor that the match was excellent. Real end to end stuff and if either side had had a decent striker it would have ended 6-6. Sadly, they had forwards that weren’t fit to lace Geoffrey Castillon’s boots and it all ended 1-1. As an introduction to the Bundesliga this was as good as it gets and we will definitely be back to this part of the world.
Enough said (note the curried bratwurst at 3 o'clock)
After a hefty diversion during which we encountered a few more ‘Kuntz’ on the motorway, we headed back to the Campanile at Liege, only to find the Team Sky GB cycling team still there. ‘You haven’t got very far’ we chortled as we entered the bar to the obvious lack of amusement of our top athletes. The premature bar closure brought great disgruntlement from us, as there was a pressing need to replace all the bodily fluid we had left behind on a plastic seat in Cologne.
When I were a lad, I had watched the European greats of Broussia Monchengladbach, St Etienne and Anderlecht. Now as a middle aged old fart this was the highlight of my trip. A visit to Anderlecht, European giants. Yes sir.
I had been in regular correspondence with young Vincent from the Anderlecht ticket office to make sure that I wouldn’t miss out. I was assured that there would be seats left and just to turn up on the day as the ticket office would be open. No problems said Vincent. We duly turned up to find the ticket office closed and a text from Bantam fan telling me the game was a sell out. With my heart beginning to race a touch, it was then that a surfing Dutchman and a bodybuilding Belgian saved the day with a touch of friendship that merits at least a few lines in this tale.
Stood outside the closed ticket office looking rather depressed, we were joined by a rather jovial Dutchman called Eric. With an endless smile and limitless enthusiasm, he regaled us with his tales of travel around Belgium on a bike and of sinking huge quantities of beer at various music festivals. Eric was also a season ticket holder at AZ Alkmaar and was missing his first home game for ages. I love the Dutch. With little else to do as the rain began to fall, there was nothing else for it other than to retire to a bar over the road called ‘le But’. For any EFW’ers visiting Brussels, you simply MUST go into this bar and meet the landlord.
A must visit venue - complete with Man Utd shirt-wearing landlord (centre)
As we walked in I thought we had mistakenly wandered onto the set of the pub scene in An American Werewolf in London, as the place went rather quiet as the tattooed body builder types stopped drinking to look at us, and the equally large landlord in a Man Utd shirt did likewise. Facing one of those key life choices, we decided to stay and let the language of football overcome any barriers that were there. Well, who could resist Eric! Within minutes we were in conversation in Dutch, French, Flemish and English with the landlord and the customers who it turns out were the nicest people we have come across in many a tour.
The landlord enquired whether we had tickets and on being told we hadn’t he picked up the phone and made a call to a ‘contact’ in the club telling them he had friends in from overseas and needed some match tickets. Within minutes three match tickets arrived in the bar. What an absolutely fantastic gesture. And Eric’s smile became broader than ever. It transpires that the landlord was the academy and youth team manager at Anderlecht for years and is still clearly very well connected in the club. Indeed he arranges all the away match travel for Anderlecht fans in Belgium and beyond. He went on to show us calendars and photographs of the teams he had managed, including himself and the players he had helped with their careers including none other than Vincent Kompany. Eventually we bade a reluctant farewell, promising to recommend ‘le But’ to all fellow UK fans, who can be assured of the same warm welcome we received.
Constant Vanden Stock Stadium
Belgian rioters forced to ensure harsh community sentence
There was of course still the small matter of the game. It has to be said however that the stadium was a huge disappointment. As a small boy it had looked amazing on TV, but to see it in real life was something of a let down. There didn’t seem to have been much done to the place for decades and it is miles behind other European stadia in terms of facilities. And there were no bratwurst on sale either. That said, the atmosphere was electric in the second half. The first half was 45 minutes of my life that I will never recover, but in the second half Mons stormed into a 2-0 lead and with Anderlecht down to 10 men, surely it was a case of shutting up shop and seeing the game out. Not on your Nellie. Anderlecht poured forward and scored twice within a few minutes to send the place into ecstasy. Both sides had chances to win it but the game ended honours even at 2-2, a fitting end to 4 days of digestive hell across three nations of Northern Europe. Roll on the next trip.....
Like this? Guy has also written on his trip to IFK Goteborg for EFW
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