And so the story begins...
Slovan Bratislava 0-0 Paris Saint-Germain (20:10:11)
Stuart Fuller kicks off a week long look back at the third annual European Football Weekends Oktoberfest.....
Life sometimes just isn't fair. Like the fact that I missed out on the lottery jackpot once because the winning numbers were exactly the same as I had picked in my head but couldn't find a lottery machine nearby, or when you just go past an exit on the motorway to be hit with the traffic jam from hell around the next corner. Alanis Morrissette called it "Ironic" but to me being in a plane crash is not ironic, it is just bad luck. Oh, and Ms Morrissette, when you do "meet the man of your dreams" you could just offer him a threesome with his "beautiful wife". Just saying.
No, for me life wasn't fair because I had to spend 10 days travelling. From one side of Europe to the next and I would only get to see ten football matches in that period. Just ten. I can see you crying on my behalf now.I would be taking in five countries on my travels, meeting up with numerous old friends and drinking pints (and litres) of beer ranking from €1 Pilsen's in Prague to €8 Amstel's in Zurich.
The reason for such gallivanting? Well it was the start of the Oktoberfest season. Now in its third year you can read all about it here. After our successful jaunts in Holland, Germany, Hungary (well apart from the dysentery I picked up last year) and Slovakia in our previous trips, it was the turn of the Czech Republic this year. That was until fate dealt us a lucky card, an Ace in the hole. Europa League football just over the border in Slovakia. Our EFW/TBIR charter says in paragraph 3, section 2:-
"If a game in a city/stadium is being played whereby transport is freely available and journey time is less than 4 hours and there are no alternative destinations, you have to at least spend an hour finding mitigating reasons not to go".
So that is why at 6.30am I was on board Ryanair 385 to Bratislava. Or actually, to Vienna (Bratislava). Why let hundreds of years of diplomacy get in the way of border agreements eh Ryanair?
Known as Pressburg until 1919, Bratislava today is home to hundreds of stag/hen weekends every week. As I decamped from the plane and waited for the bus into town I was handed a leaflet offering me "Pussy Galore" at a club in town, that was apparently open at 10am. I asked the spotty youth whether it was the name of a person, since the capitalisation of the words suggested otherwise, but he simply said "girls, boobs, fanny, sexy time". He failed as a sales person trying to win me as a customer so I declined to visit, although I kept the leaflet for "research purposes".
I travelled into the city with the Barnet boys, finding our hotel with ease and then looking with curiousity at the hulking floodlights in the distance.
An hour later I was standing in what can only be described as a war zone. Around me was the rubble from what looked like a bomb attack, furniture smashed, weeds growing where once there was concrete and finally silence. Silence as if the whole city was in mourning. I was standing on the sweeping terraces of the Tehelne Pole, once one of the biggest stadiums in Czechoslovakia and preferred home of the national team.
Here was a ground steeped in history which now had been pillaged. What could have been broken up had been, and the sad netting still hanging down from the goal posts, the huge weeds growing from the terraces and the remnants of the light blue seats just made you shake your head. I felt a bit wary walking around too much, remembering the "Charlie says" videos of my youth, and seeing the electric cables and holes in the floor around the ground. Game a day John found a ball and took it on the pitch. He became the last person to take a penalty in the stadium (for now), and mirroring his hero, Chris Waddle, he ballooned it over the bar.
Nostalgia over we headed into the old town and sampled some local cuisine before meeting up with the rest of the advanced party who had arrived by train from Prague. Our first home for the evening was the Arena Bar, next to the hotel which had the cheek to try to diddle us by serving pints (well, half a litre) of fine Slovakian beer for €1.50! It got worse as we moved to a pub round the corner that had the cheek to want €1 a beer. Our host for the evening was Dan Richardson, a west country lad, who lived in Bratislava, supported Slovan and ADO Den Haag and worked on a rig in the North Sea. He is a season ticket holder at Slovan and proudly showed us the ticket which cost him just €41. The tickets for this game? €20. And who says clubs try to rip off fans these days?
But for our €20 we also got a Slovan t-shirt and a nice shiny flag to wave, which is more than the travelling PSG fans got. As they (apparently) approached the gates of the stadium en-masse, they were told they weren't welcome and the police moved them into a local pub.
Shiny happy people
Despite a major renovation of the Pasiensky in recent years to bring it up to UEFA 3 star standards so it can host games like this, it is still basically an open air athletics stadium with the biggest scoreboard known to man. That didn't stop the home fans whipping up an excellent atmosphere to try to spur on their team against their big spending opponents. Without a point from their opening two games in the Europa League few gave them a chance against the French side.
It wasn't a surprise to see the French do all the early running, with the Slovan keeper Lukáš Hroššo the busier of the two keepers. However, the home side seemed content to try to frustrate the French whenever they could and the first half ended with few chances and certainly no goals. Still, we found amusement at the littlest things, as we always do. An old fashion fire-engine, ready to douse the fires of Slovan ambition? Check. A mascot dressed up as a Slovan badge with white tights on high fiving us? Check. Big Deaks falling off the seat and tumbling down the terraces? Check.
Danny Last and Kenny Legg give the emergency services the thumbs up.
Pass us that bucket will ya, la.
It was much of the same in the opening exchanges of the half. But the first talking point came on the hour mark as PSG's Chantôme was sent off for a second yellow. That sparked Slovan into life and Vladimir Weiss's team started finding a bit more space and created their best chance soon after.
The night got even worse for the visitors in the 80th minute when Siaka Tiéné was sent off for a late challenge. We were standing in the "Ultra" section and sections of fans around us broke out into choruses of monkey chanting as the full back walked off. It was a shock to hear it to be truthful and Andy Hudson walked out. Slovakia had had its problems with this before, famously when England visited back in 2002 and Dan Richardson has written at length about the situation here. Having now read the UEFA match report is it surprising to see it wasn't mentioned at all? Not really. And if they did what would they do? Fine them another couple of thousand Euros? I will get the broom if you want to lift the carpet Michel.
Or are they? Let's see what action they take...
With PSG down to nine men, Slovan smelt victory. Only the timely intervention of Zoumana Camara prevented Karim Guédé slotting the ball into the net. However, they couldn't find a way through and had to settle for a nil-nil draw.
It would have been rude to simply ignore the hospitality on offer in the fine city, so we went back to the Arena bar and contributed significantly to Slovakian economy. Despite a 4am start we carried on until the wee small hours, donning our Slovan t-shirts and re-enacting various tactical subtleties of the game using shot glasses.
8am and we were all (well mostly all) up and trying to find something edible at Bratislava train station for the four hour ride through Hostel country to Prague. Oktoberfest had started with a bang, and with six games due in the next sixty hours was going to continue to just get better and better.
Must I paint you a picture?
A photo montage of the EFW Oktoberfest set to music can be found right here, right now. Ooh, and here's another.
More photos you say? Righty-o, click here or there.
More photos you say? Righty-o, click here or there.
Stuart Fuller is the Editor of The Ball is Round. Follow Fuller and European Football Weekends on Twitter.
Next up on this trip: Slovan Liberec v FC Banik Ostrava