European uncertainty: A follow up!

In my last post I spoke about fate determining my next trip. On Monday morning I’ll discover where my beloved Tottenham Hotspur are playing in March and by Monday afternoon I’ll have booked my travel in order to make a trip. You can read more about that here (European uncertainty!) but I suggested possibly posting a ‘Europa League’ comparison and here it is.

See, I’d already started drafting a Europa League edition of the same post in anticipation of us joining the competition and then Tottenham produced a sensational performance in Barcelona on Tuesday night to see us progress in the Champions League instead.

I was ecstatic! It’s the competition you want to participate in and see your team proudly competing with Europe’s elite. However from a travel perspective it was a tiny bit anti-climatic. I was eyeing up all of these Europa League opponents and potential away days, spread right across the continent and suddenly that all changed and I was left with just six destinations: Dortmund, Paris, Porto, Munich, Madrid or Turin?

Six destinations! All in countries I’ve been to before, four cities I’ve been to already and I’ve even seen Spurs in three of the stadiums which means it’s a 50-50 split for a new football experience. I’ve been to Dortmund twice!! I really don’t want to be visiting for a third time.

Moaning aside, I am happy we’re in the Champions League and I’ll be going to whichever of the six fate decides we’ll be visiting but I thought I’d have some fun and give you a comparison.

If Spurs had lost on Tuesday night we’d have ‘disappointingly’ entered the Europa League and that would have seen us visit one of the following 15 cities in February: Plzen, Bruges, Donetsk (Kiev), Istanbul, Zurich, Glasgow, Prague, Lisbon, Piraeus, Vienna, Rome, Malmo, Krasnodar, Rennes, Barysaw.

Fifteen! It’s ironic but our successful result on Tuesday night made it all a little more boring. Anyway, I’m going to follow on from my last post and treat this in the same manner.
From genuine “no-go” destinations to “dream trips” I’m going to review the 15 destinations and tell you what my thought process would have been had we found ourselves in Monday’s Europa League draw instead.

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Last trip to Italy in the Europa League – Florence, 2015

Rome, Italy
The one plus side to my Champions League fate is that there are no destinations to really worry about. I nearly opted to put my next destination before Rome but, you know what, I think Rome would sincerely worry me more.

Rome is high on my bucketlist. It’s probably top of my list of places to see in Europe that I haven’t already been to. Culture, history, food etc etc but it’s just not worth the risk for football. Fans of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough and Tottenham themselves have all found trouble awaiting them in Rome. The stats don’t lie and I don’t want to be another statistic. I can’t forget stories and images of Spurs fans left in critical condition following our last visit to Rome. Another stabbing headline.

Even overlooking the numerous stories (seriously, google it) I think I’d perhaps risk it as a fan of any other English club but there’s also the Jewish connection to Tottenham Hotspur. Unfortunately there’s also a racism / antisemitism problem in Italian football, particularly with Lazio who are almost famous for their right-wing support. It’s a travesty I’ve yet to visit but I wouldn’t ever go to Rome for football. It’s more hassle than it’s worth and a football trip in Florence (Feb 2015) wasn’t enough for Italian football to win me over.

Istanbul, Turkey
I really want to go to Istanbul, it looks like an incredible city and how many two-continent-cities can you visit? It’d be unique for that alone. It’s definitely on my bucketlist.

For football though? No. The Europa League could have seen us play either of Turkey’s two biggest clubs, Galatasary or Fenerbache, both based in Istanbul and both intimidating places to visit. There’s a little part of me that would be intrigued but I think a football match in Turkey is best left to experiencing as a neutral and better avoided as an English fan. More stories of violence and stabbings is enough to put me off. The city is a must visit but it’s another pass on the football front.

Krasnodar, Russia
I think prior to the World Cup success in the summer I would have been a bit more wary about visiting Russia for football. I still think Tottenham visiting Moscow would likely draw some unwanted attention but the only Russian team we would have been susceptible to playing would be based in a city called Krasnodar.

Honestly? I don’t know anything about the place. It’s a million miles away from Moscow and St Petersburg which are the two big cities I want to visit. I might have gone to this one though so it surprisingly ranks a little higher than Istanbul and Rome. What does go against it is that I don’t think it’d be an incredible atmosphere, very few of our fans would travel and I don’t know how easy it is to get a Russian visa in a rather quick turn-around period. I might have gone or I might have gambled on us progressing and getting something more appealing in the next round.

Kiev, Ukraine
An interesting one. A trip to Ukraine would have meant a game against Shakhtar Donetsk who unsurprisingly are from Donetsk. The problem is Donetsk is on the Russian border and is a bit of a warzone at the minute so they’ve been playing their games (for quite some time) in Kiev.

I want to go to Kiev and a year ago this was higher on my list but it seems tensions between Ukraine and Russia are running higher so it’s dropped a little bit. Unfortunately it seems like a bad time to be visiting the country. It’s a city that appeals more than Krasnodar so for that reason it ranks a little higher but I would have been in two minds about going.

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A return to Greece and pretty sunsets? Tempting!

Piraeus, Greece
There’s a temptation to put this one a little higher. I had to google where in Greece this actually was and it’s on the outskirts of Athens so I’d probably base myself in Athens and make a trip to Piraeus purely for the game.

Athens is definitely a city I plan to visit and Greece in February would have been a perfect winter getaway and a bit of Greek sunshine. Much like the Istanbul fanatics though, the Greeks are known to be a little crazy and love to create an intimidating atmosphere. I don’t think there’d be any trouble over there, purely as most of the time would be spent in Athens but it wouldn’t be one of my first picks to visit for football. The reality is we’d likely win and I’d save my pennies for the following round.

Vienna, Austria
This is where it begins to get a bit trickier and the destinations start getting more appealing. I’m being a little harsh on Vienna here because I would like to go back, my only visit there was barely for 24 hours and I couldn’t speak any German so I feel like it’d be much more enjoyable this time round.

Additionally I’d have no concerns visiting for football. There are a lot of similarities to Germany (hopefully don’t offend the Austrians/Germans in saying that haha) and I think it would be quite an enjoyable experience for football.

The only reason this is so far down is because albeit a flying visit, I have visited and Austria is also pretty expensive. There’s a lot of other places that would be cheaper and I’d rather visit. I would have gone though and possibly squeezed in a return to Bratislava or Budapest at the same time.

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Vienna, Austria – 2014

Barysaw, Belarus
“Where?” I hear you ask. Football definitely aids my geography knowledge so I knew BATE Borisov play in Belarus but I honestly had no idea where in Belarus this was. The fact the team are referred to as Borisov and Google suggests they play in Barysaw also makes me unsure of how you even spell it in English. Does anyone know and want to correct me?

Nevertheless a quick search on Google suggests Barysaw/Borisov is about an hour away from the capital, Minsk, which you’ll hopefully have heard of at least.

It might seem weird to some that this is higher than Vienna but it’d just be cool to go somewhere completely different, somewhere I’ve never been and it’s a trip I could extend in to a few other nearby countries I’ve never been to either.

Rennes, France
I said French football has never had the biggest glamour about it in my eyes and Rennes aren’t one of France’s bigger football clubs either.

Nevertheless it’s such an easy trip to France that this would have been quite a fun away trip. It’s not a region of France I’ve previously been to but it’s a country I’m growing a fondness of and I’m keen to explore more of. Not having to fly is always a bonus and it’s close enough that we’d take a large number of fans too which would make for a fun atmosphere over the course of a few days in France.

It definitely would have been one to get me excited but sits bang in the middle at 8th of the 15 destinations. Seven to go!

Zurich, Switzerland
Switzerland is a country I have still yet to visit! It looks stunning and so does Zurich so it’s a city that has been on my radar for a while. I don’t really know what it’d be like for football, with the exception of FC Basel the Swiss clubs typically haven’t seen much success in European football recently so it isn’t somewhere I’d get overly excited about from a football perspective but it’d be a cracking trip.

Zurich is also close to a number of other cities and countries making it ideal to extend a trip and explore for a little longer. The chance to tick off a new country and see a game at the same time would have been highly appealing. It’d be expensive though so would have fallen short of my top 5 wishlist.

Malmo, Sweden
Another city that is on my radar already as a travel destination and another country that I’ve yet to visit. Malmo’s a bit of an anomaly though as I think this would probably be the only away trip that I’d look to fly to another COUNTRY and stay in another country.

Malmo is just across the bridge from Copenhagen, one side of the bridge is Denmark and the other side is Sweden! So it’s only about 30-40 minutes away I believe.

I’d really like to visit Copenhagen and it has always been on my mind to combine a Copenhagen/Malmo trip when I do, looking to spend a night or two in the latter.

From a footballing perspective it doesn’t overly excite me but I really want to go to Copenhagen so it would have been a game I’d have relished, albeit in a different country. Bizarre.

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Easter Road, Edinburgh, Dec 2017

Glasgow, Scotland
“I really want a European away trip” – puts Scotland in to the top 5. Alright, so for this one I wouldn’t even have to leave this little island and it is a tiny bit anti-climatic to face another British side in Europe but it’d be a fun affair.

I’d like to return to Glasgow anyway, I went as a child but don’t remember much of it and it looks like an interesting city. I’d really really love to go to Celtic Park on a European night too – even if it was just as a neutral. It holds a reputation for one of the best atmospheres in Europe on a European night and the subplot of a Scotland v England affair would add a bit more spice to the occasion.

I think there would be inevitably some trouble in such a game but I think it would largely be a minority and for those that go looking for a scrap opposed to Glasgow being particularly unwelcoming. There’s no real bad blood between the two clubs and I think it’d be an interesting experience to play that at some point. Perhaps next season our paths will cross. A trip to Celtic (or Rangers) on a European night is definitely on my bucketlist though.

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Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal
A return to Lisbon? Yes please! I went to Lisbon for football in March 2014 and I’d love to have had the opportunity to go back. I have unfinished business with Lisbon, some of you may recall I pretty much spent three nights getting drunk in Lisbon (read me!), so I’d love to go back and see more of it.

It was one of the most hospitable places I’ve ever visited, the weather was a dream too and it’d attract a number of our fans making another great atmosphere. Additionally, last time I visited for a match against Lisbon based Benfica. This would have been a match against Sporting Lisbon so it would have been a new stadium visit too!

 

Plzen, Czech Republic
Alright, let me be completely honest. A European away trip is a great chance to see somewhere new and get a bit of culture and have an adventure but fundamentally it’s a trip that revolves around matchday. I’ll typically go for 3-4 days because matchday is a write-off. All you want is a good atmosphere, a sing song and a few beers with your mates.

So where better to enjoy that than perhaps one of the greatest countries to enjoy a beer? The Czech Republic is famous for its beer, so much so that the popular Pilsner beers unsurprisingly originate from a city called Pilsen (Plzen). Not that it’s all beer, it looks like a pretty city too and is somewhere I’d like to visit on my first trip to the Czech Republic.

The additional reason this makes my top three is that I’d extend the trip. I’d have a couple of days in Plzen and a couple of days in my dream destination Prague, a city I have been wanting to visit for so so long and somehow haven’t yet made it happen. It obviously won’t be for football anytime soon but the Czech Republic is definitely somewhere I’m thinking about for 2019.

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Belgian beers in Bruges!

Bruges, Belgium
Snap! If the Czech beers don’t take your fancy maybe you’ll have more luck with the Belgians who have many incredible beers of their own! I can’t say football and Bruges brings back happy memories, on my last visit to Bruges I ended up finding a bar to watch Tottenham lose 5-0 to Liverpool. The Belgian beers were a good way to console myself though.

This would be a hugely popular away trip for our fans, it’d be relatively cheap and it’s another of those trips that wouldn’t require flying to. I make it sound like I’m a nervous flyer, I’m not but there’s something more enjoyable about taking a train to travel somewhere.

I only spent a day in Bruges on my only visit, it’s a good amount of time to enjoy the city but I’d happily go back and see a little more of it. It’s a magical place and there’d be enough to do for a few days and other potential daytrips nearby such as Antwerp or wherever if I wanted a little escape. Had we been in the Europa League I think this is the one most of our fans would have been hoping for, however there’s one that just edges it for me which is..

Prague, Czech Republic
This is somewhere I keep meaning to visit and it just hasn’t quite happened for me yet. It’s cheap (ish, I imagine it’s getting pricier as its popularity grows), it’s beautiful, it has incredible beer, a highly-rated nightlife, plenty to do, plenty of history. Need I go on?

I’ve never been to the Czech Republic which gives it an edge over Bruges, it’d be another new country to watch football in and it’d surely prove to be a cracking atmosphere as I’ve no doubt it’d be a popular trip for our fans.

Additionally as much as I would dream of a European away trip as a child, for a long time a European home game was a novelty of its own. A home game against Slavia Prague in 2006 gave me my first real taste of any European football. It’d be nice to say I’ve seen us play them home and away.

Sadly Czech football isn’t of a high standard so a meeting is only ever likely to be in Europe’s secondary competition.

Anyway, that wraps things up. I’ll never understand fans that diminish the luxury of Europa League football, for some reason there’s a snobbish attitude that would see fans rather us have no European football than Europa League football. Of course the Champions League is where you want to be but if we’d lost on Tuesday night I wouldn’t have been too disappointed to find ourselves in tomorrow’s Europa League draw.

The irony is that, in many ways, this presented some better away trips than the ‘glamorous’ Champions League. I wanted to offer a comparison because it seemed daft that I was saying in my last post that I found the alternative a little underwhelming and anti-climatic.

So feel free to play along again. Fifteen destinations, which would you want to be visiting? Similarly you’ve now had the Champions League options and the Europa League options, which list is the more attractive in your eyes? The Western favourites of the Champions League or the variety of the Europa League? Let me know!

Next up on the blog: Georgia part two!

Stay tuned!

Jason

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European uncertainty!

I’ve been slacking a little lately and haven’t got around to posting part two of my Georgia series, I promise that will follow shortly but I thought I’d break things up to talk about my next trip!

Long-time readers of the blog should know by now that I’m a huge football fan and some of you may recall a blog post from last year titled ‘Left to fate’.
You can give that a read here (Read me!) but the point behind that post was that the choice of my next destination was out of my hands and left up to a higher power.

The football gods, fate, luck of the draw, whatever you want to call it. My beloved Tottenham were going to three unknown European cities and I had to wait upon the outcome to decide if I wanted to go or not.
I used that post as an opportunity for you all to play along and pick 3 destinations that you’d personally be hoping for.

On Monday I’ll discover who Tottenham’s next European opposition are and therefore I find myself in a similar position where there’s uncertainty as to where my next trip will be. On Monday afternoon I’ll be booking flights to somewhere in Europe but right now I couldn’t tell you where. I could get you to play along again but I thought I’d actually switch it up a little and go in to a little more depth about what my thought process is behind why some trips are more appealing than others. For instance in my Florence posts I talked about being nervous about visiting Italy for football and that may have surprised some of you.

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Football in Florence

I’d drafted this blog post under the assumption that Spurs would be participating in the Europa League and rather ironically, as delighted as I was to be proven wrong, it was probably a more interesting blog post on that basis. The Europa League offered a few “no-go destinations” such as Rome or Istanbul and also offered a bit more variety in terms of countries I could visit such as Croatia or Switzerland or Ukraine or.. you get the point.

Tottenham produced an incredible performance in Barcelona on Tuesday night to confirm our status in Europe’s elite competition, the Champions League, but ironically it’s all a bit dull. Opposed to the 16 potential destinations spread across the continent that the Europa League offered, I’m left with just 6 destinations (Dortmund, Paris, Porto, Munich, Madrid and Turin). All of which are countries I’ve been to, four of which are cities I’ve been to and three of which at stadiums I’ve already seen Tottenham play at. How bloody boring!

So in explaining my reasoning from least desirable to “dream trip”, here goes:

Dortmund, Germany
Do I need to say anything else? Germany is the pinnacle of European football for me, Dortmund is a football fan’s wet dream and should be on anyone’s “football bucketlist”. I dreamt of visiting Dortmund for a game, irrespective of who the opposition were. Experiencing that famous atmosphere and yellow wall is rightly considered a rite of passage in football.

In March 2016 the unthinkable happened! Not only was that dream trip about to become a reality but even better, Tottenham were the team visiting. Rather than attend a random game as a neutral I could visit with my own team as an away fan – wow! It was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and I’d only just come back from Georgia and I was booking flights for three weeks later. I couldn’t miss this game!

In November 2017 Tottenham returned to Dortmund. I was hesitant to return. “Once in a lifetime” scenarios aren’t supposed to come around again so soon. The reality is Dortmund had little appeal to me as a destination other than football so I’d stayed in Köln on my previous visit, which was a sickener when later in 2016 we played Leverkusen (just outside of Köln) and I found myself back in West Germany. A third trip to West Germany seemed excessive but nevertheless I went back – splitting my time between Bremen and Düsseldorf around the match itself.

Dortmund is a fun away trip but I’m not looking for a third return in three years. Please, please, please avoid Dortmund in Monday’s draw!

Turin, Italy
Of six destinations, Dortmund was bottom by a long long way. I will go to Dortmund if that’s what fate determines but I know a part of me will be disappointed. I have my preferred destination too but the other four are split so marginally, I’ve opted to put Turin 5th on my list which might be a little harsh.

There are pros and cons to a Turin trip. It’s a city I’ve never visited which adds some excitement, Juventus are a massive name in European football which adds some prestige to the football, there’s an element of revenge too after Juventus knocked us out of Europe last season and of course it’s Italy which means all of the pizza, pasta and gelato!

On the flipside it’s football in Italy. I loved Florence but from a footballing perspective it wasn’t a dream trip. Turin would be closer to the scale of Florence in terms of safety, opposed to getting stabbed in Rome or Naples but I can’t say Florence was ‘fun’. Aspects of it were but curfews, police escorts, separation from opposition fans, over-the-top security and more just spoil it for football fans. It’s not what the game is about.

I want to go back and see all of Italy, Rome and Naples included, but I didn’t find it enjoyable for football. Florence was incredible for many reasons but the football wasn’t really one of them. My favourite day in Italy was on the Friday once the football was over and the police had relaxed with the knowledge most Brits were heading home. I’ll go to Turin but it’s not top of my list.

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A return to Paris?

Paris, France
From here on in I’m not sure if there’s really a bad draw. I loved Paris when I visited in December (2016) and I feel like I’ve got a lot of “unfinished business” with the city. There’s so many reasons to return and irrespective of the football it’s somewhere I’ll return to.
Additionally I’ve never watched football here and it’s a country I’ve yet to watch a live game of football in so would take my tally up to twelve countries that I’ve seen a game in. It’d also be a simple trip and I probably wouldn’t even bother flying which is a bonus.

However it ‘only’ reaches fourth on my list because, as a bit of a football snob, I don’t feel like French football has that same glamour about it. Paris St Germain are France’s biggest football club for instance and I was amazed to discover quite recently that they were only founded in 1970. I’ve held this opinion of French football for a long time and that revelation kind of cemented that belief, France’s biggest club are younger than my parents! PSG are a global name now but they’re still short of Europe’s elite.

With that said, I visited Lille this year on the day of the France v Argentina game and it surprised me a little in experiencing the atmosphere in the city. Similarly it made me fall in love with France a little more so perhaps a Paris football trip might win me over fully.

Madrid, Spain
I feel like I’m doing this a disservice by placing it third on my list. Madrid is flawless. Nowhere is ever likely to displace my love of London so, excluding London, Madrid is my favourite European city. It’s a city I’d overlooked visiting before last year, I figured I’d visit someday but I was in no real rush to visit the Spanish capital. However in 2017 Tottenham were scheduled to face Real Madrid and I couldn’t miss it.

Tottenham taking on the biggest name in football? Sign me up! It was such a prestigious occasion and huge opportunity and it was enough to rush a trip to Madrid. I’ve spoken about this on the blog before but a Spurs European away game was a childhood dream of mine and these are the places you’d dream of coming to.

The biggest surprise for me was that away from the football I LOVED Madrid. As much as a capital city can be, it’s an underrated city. It blew me away. I couldn’t rate it any higher and I’d love to go back.

The only thing that stops this being top of the pile is the fact I’ve been to see Tottenham there once already. It’d be hard to top the last trip to the Santiago Bernabeu too. I won’t be disappointed if I go back though.

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Watching Tottenham in Munich

Munich, Germany
Not only have I been to this city but I’ve watched Tottenham here too so there was a temptation to put this further down the list. With that said, despite Tottenham playing in their stadium I haven’t actually seen us play Bayern Munich there (or anywhere) so it’d be a novelty factor in seeing us play one of the biggest names in European football.

Additionally I speak decent German and I love Bavaria. I’ve already mentioned German football is the pinnacle of European football in my eyes, the Germans are great hosts when it comes to football and it’d be a popular trip amongst our fans making for a good atmosphere.

It’s a city I feel I could see a little more of and there’s the additional opportunity to visit my favourite German and Austrian in nearby cities. It’d make for a great trip!

Munich, Madrid, Paris or Turin could have been placed in any order really but I’m just giving this the edge for a multitude of reasons.

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Tottenham in Lisbon, Portugal

Porto, Portugal
Lastly we have the dream trip – Porto!

Portugal was where my first European away trip with Spurs occurred and I fell in love with the country. Where Italy tries their best to suck all of the fun out of the experience, Portugal were incredible hosts. The locals of Lisbon accommodated us in to their city, made us feel welcome, had buskers playing Tottenham songs and were happily sharing beers with us.

It’s a travesty that if this is to be the trip in March (2019) that it’ll be five years since my only visit to Portugal. Five years since I’ve visited this beautiful and incredible country.

Porto ticks all of the boxes. It’s a city I’ve never been to, it’s a country I want to see more of, they’re a big enough name in European football to make it interesting, it’s the most winnable game (on paper) of our potential opposition and I already know how hospitable the Portuguese are. It’s easy to get to, thousands of Spurs fans would likely travel creating a great atmosphere in the city. I could go on and on.

It’s a city I’ve been tempted to visit for a while and it’s our best chance of progressing in the competition. A no brainer really!

Anyway, that wraps things up. Unfortunately the Champions League, for all of its glory, is actually relatively boring and favours the Western European nations. UEFA continue to balance the scales in favour of England, Spain, Germany and Italy which whilst exciting places to visit, actually add a dose of repetitiveness to the trips you enjoy.

You want to see your team compete at the highest level but rather ironically a post on potential Europa League opposition would have made for a far more interesting blog-post. I hope you enjoyed it anyway!

I’ll keep you posted on where I book flights to on Monday! Where would you personally be hoping for? Dortmund, Paris, Porto, Munich, Madrid or Turin?

I might follow this up with a Europa League edition, just as a comparison, but next up on the blog will probably be Georgia part two!

Stay tuned!

Jason

München – Trip 1, part 1

I announced my return to the blog at the end of August and intended to have posted again before now. Part of my struggle was because I was torn on what to post next. Should I jump straight in to the USA summer trip or do I stick to the blog theme of posting about my trips chronologically? I opted for the latter.

So now that my summer fun in the US is over with, let’s rewind. Last time out on the blog we were focusing on Bilbao (May 2015), three months later I was readying myself for the next trip: München aka Munich!

For the third consecutive year I was going to Germany, having only first visited the country for the first time in 2013 (Köln) before visiting Berlin (2014). My growing fondness of Germany could probably be attributed to two common interests: beer and football! Whilst both are loved all over Germany, nowhere does that seem to be truer than in München (Munich) who happen to be world-famous for their beer (Oktoberfest anyone?) and are also home to Germany’s biggest football club – Bayern München.

It was the latter that was the inspiration for visiting (although I may have had a beer or two whilst in Germany too) as my beloved Tottenham Hotspur announced they’d be going to München for a pre-season tournament. Spurs in the Allianz Arena with no importance on the result? Sign me up! I knew I had to go!

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Outside Allianz Arena on the Wednesday!

On the Tuesday I flew out to München, it was a tad frustrating I couldn’t fly any earlier but such were the circumstances at the time. I landed with the intention to rush over to München’s Allianz Arena via my hotel to drop off my things. Having never been to München before I ended up jumping on the wrong S-train, it still took me to central München but seemed to have more stops than the other direction, not ideal given my flight had been delayed so I was stretched for time to get to the stadium. I dropped off my things at the hotel as quickly as possible and then made a quick dash for München’s U-Bahn (tube / metro / subway).

Nevertheless it was clear I wasn’t going to get there on time, admittedly it was only pre-season so it wasn’t a major issue but given Tottenham were playing first (in the first of 2 games) I’d hoped to catch the start. It wasn’t to be and as I strolled up to the Allianz Arena it was deserted, not helped by being in the middle of nowhere but most spectators were already in their seats.

I walked up to the gate and was prepared for a quick body search before entry which put my German to the test for the first time. On my two previous trips to Germany I knew nothing so it was nice coming back with some basic vocabulary in the locker. As the security guard searched me he threw a question in my direction: “Schlüssel? he asked.

Damn, I know that word! What is it? Bowl..? No, that’s schüssel – no L! Why would he ask that anyway you idiot? Hmm.. key..? KEY! Yes, there’s a key in my pocket! That makes sense!

“Ja.. Schlüssel” I replied perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.

Entry accepted, I made my way in to the stadium feeling pretty smug with myself. “Wow, I’m practically fluent”
Of course I wasn’t, I still struggled a lot throughout this trip but it was a sign that I was going in the right direction at least in terms of learning the language. I could come to Germany and not be solely dependent on English for once!

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Allianz Arena, Munich

The Allianz Arena is a cracking stadium, up there with one of my favourites in the 40+ football stadiums I’ve visited. German football really is the pinnacle for me in terms of fan experience and it was a nice novelty walking in and grabbing a beer before finding my seat – a decent beer too! I’d missed the first half to find Spurs were losing but soon found my friend Daniel in our seats enjoying the experience. Following our game there was another game with the two winners and two losers set to play the following day, of which we were the latter.

On our way back to the U-Bahn after the two games it had become clear Daniel was drunker than I realised, he’d made the most of arriving in München a day earlier and had squeezed in some beers earlier in the day which was highly amusing for me. Whilst I’d seen Daniel drunk before it was possibly the drunkest I’d seen him so the strength of the German beers had seemingly gone to his head. Not that it stopped us making a pub-stop back in the centre of the city. We’d found an Irish bar with a scattering of Spurs fans enjoying the trip and grabbed a quick beer before calling it a night.

Wednesday had much more of the same in store. Whilst tamer than a competitive European away game we were still planning to soak up some of the pre-game atmosphere. We agreed to meet around lunch so beforehand I woke up early and joined a ‘free’ walking tour, always a great way to see the city.

It’s a good way to familiarise yourself with a new city and they’re usually pretty educational too, it was a chance to learn that München wasn’t all beer and lederhosen and had quite an interesting history too! The tour covered the role the city played in the rise of Hitler and also told some more light-hearted stories with the help of the Glockenspiel – found in München’s Marienplatz. Every day you’ll find hordes of tourists looking up at the belltower as a couple of historical stories are played out.

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Marienplatz, Munich – September, 2016

The rest of Wednesday was football-focused and consisted of a bit of singing, plenty of beers and another two enjoyable games of football (Spurs success this time too!).

We made our way back in to the city centre after the football, had a beer or two and then called it a night. My plan for Thursday was to take a daytrip somewhere, I was tempted to visit the famous Neuschwanstein Schloss (castle that was inspiration for Disney) and also the Dachau concentration camp. Those of you following the blog for a while will know I opted for the latter which you can read about here: A lesson learned in Dachau or a look in to the future?

Dachau was moving, it’s hard to visit somewhere like that and not feel something. Germany has the best pick-me-up though and that’s good beer! I got back to München late on Thursday afternoon and arranged to meet up with Daniel, we decided to spend our last night together with some beers at the Viktualienmarkt. They have a number of food options and additionally a cracking beer garden – perfect given the weather. We had a fun evening and were probably one of the last to leave, the staff clearing tables and stacking benches was a good hint that it was time for us to go.

It was a good end to our third European adventure together following Lisboa and Firenze, on Friday Daniel was heading home and I’d be temporarily saying goodbye to München too. I’d be back on Saturday so it wasn’t a long farewell but it does mean you’ll have to wait for part 2.

Next up was a daytrip to Augsburg on the Friday! Stay tuned!

Jason

Firenze: Day 2 – Matchday!

If you’ve read my two recent posts on Italy you’ll know I was in Firenze to watch Tottenham take on Fiorentina back in February 2015. If not you can catch up here (Pisa and Firenze: day 1) but we left off last time round with the end of day one (Wednesday) in Firenze which had been a great first day in the city.

Thursday was matchday and in all honesty if you’re doing a trip like this you just have to write matchday off. If you can squeeze some culture in to the morning then great but you sacrifice your afternoon to soak up the atmosphere of the city and then save your evening to watch the game itself.

For this reason I always travel for 3 days at least for a European football trip because I know one of those is lost, nevertheless I love the matchday ritual and knowing there would be roughly 3,000 other Brits in the city for the “party” does get you excited.

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The matchday fun was temporarily put on hold a week before our game. On the previous Thursday Dutch football fans had clashed with riot police in Rome which added another unwanted spotlight on Italian football, which already holds a tainted reputation. Unfortunately it left us to face the repercussions of those actions and it was clear the Italian authorities were not going to be treating our visit lightly – in what was already a fairly high profile game.

A lot of news and rumours came out of Italy over the course of the next week. Some of the rumours included calling upon resources from other cities with 1,000 additional police (on top of the presence for a normal game) expected in Firenze, tightened security measures, police escorts, curfews on the bars/restaurants throughout the city and even a proposed drinking ban on the day of the game (today!).

You could certainly feel the police presence in the city, Tottenham had communicated to our supporters that we HAD to take specific buses to the stadium as the police would be closing off all surrounding roads for away supporters, Wednesday night had added substance to the curfew rumours but surely, surely there wasn’t going to be an alcohol ban today?

Breathe a sigh of relief! There wasn’t! I think it would have been near on impossible to enforce so I’m not sure where the rumours surfaced from but luckily the beers were still flowing!

On Wednesday night me and Daniel had found an Irish bar full of Spurs fans so we decided we’d revisit it on Thursday. By the time we arrived Thursday lunchtime it was already a little busy with people hanging up their flags wherever possible and creating a bit of an atmosphere.

 

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Pride of North London – Then, Now, Forever

It was only ever going to get busier as many opt to fly out on matchday, so the majority of Spurs fans would be arriving in to Firenze over the course of the next few hours. So to my surprise this bar had TWO barstaff working. 3,000+ Brits were here to drink the city dry so it was baffling how unprepared they were – surely you knew we were coming? This isn’t a normal Thursday afternoon shift!

From a business point of view I found it ridiculous! You are due to make an absolute fortune! If you can’t serve the people quickly enough they’ll find their beer elsewhere – you’re driving your customers away!
On the plus side there was no sign of this drinking ban at least!
After plenty more beers and much more singing eventually the police advised time was up and were moving us on – time to go to the stadium!

Fortunately me and Daniel were one of the first on the bus so managed to get a seat (we didn’t use) but one by one more Spurs fans would get on board. Whilst waiting for the bus to fill up we were sat parked at a bus stop so every so often an old lady would get on with her bags and things. Clearly confusing it for a regular bus from the same stop but every time they would quickly be advised to get off! “Wrong bus, trust us, you don’t want to be on this one!”
Having crammed enough of us in like sardines we were off and so began a wave of noise!

Every bus was sandwiched front and back: Police vehicle – bus – police vehicle – bus – police vehicle.. you get the idea. We were being paraded through the streets of Firenze like criminals and in all honesty we made the most of the attention it brought.

The atmosphere on board was incredible and I don’t think anyone was sat down for the entirety of the bus journey. Spurs had arrived and we let the Italians know it – leaving some very puzzled onlookers as we whizzed through the streets at the expense of the other traffic that our entourage had taken priority over.
Song after song after song at the top of our lungs with police sirens blaring too – our presence was making a racket!

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We’re here! Far too early!

Eventually our bus dropped us at the end of an empty road with a bit of a walk to the stadium. The police had cordoned off every surrounding road giving us one way in, one way out. It ensured we didn’t cross paths with a single Italian fan and also gave us no opportunity to take a look around the area / rest of the stadium. It was a little sad in truth.

 

Before you could even get to the stadium you had to pass through a number of security checks – tickets, passports and then a thorough body search. Far too intimate for my liking (“Valentine’s Day was a couple of weeks ago guys”) but given how well stocked the police were I don’t think they were going to get too many complaints. Having been sufficiently groped we’d passed the necessary tests and could make our slow walk to enter the stadium.

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Playing the waiting game!

We were here far too early and the facilities were terrible so there wasn’t anything to do except fly our flags, sing our songs and wait. I’d love to say the game was worth the wait but it wasn’t. We were crap, the less said the better and it was bloody freezing too. Fiorentina’s stadium lacks a roof and we were at the back of the stand so were catching most of the wind.

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Fiorentina’s noisier supporters at the opposite end

The game came to its conclusion and we were kindly told that we wouldn’t be going anywhere just yet – you can freeze a little longer whilst we lock you in to allow enough time for the Italians to disperse. It’s not unusual for away games so it wasn’t a huge deal, it was cold but at least it wasn’t raining!

Oh now it is! I don’t know how long we were kept behind for but it felt forever. Eventually they let us out as far as the buses because, of course, we’d be escorted back in to the centre of the city. The bus journey was much tamer heading back. Nothing to celebrate and most fed up at how long we’d been forced to wait.

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The game probably ended at around 8:45-8:50 – the bus journey was around 15 minutes so inevitably it was about 10:30 by the time we were set free back in the centre of Firenze. We’d been at the stadium since about 5-5:30 (for a 7pm kickoff) so needless to say we were craving some food and a beer.

The police had kept us so late that by the time we’d got back to the centre barely anything was open. We did find one restaurant in this nearby square still open so we took a seat outside, it didn’t take long for the waiter to tell us that we needed to be quick! We’d barely sat down but, of course, there was a looming midnight curfew.

Dinner was.. okay? Who knows? Surprisingly you don’t tend to enjoy it so much when you’re feeling rushed. As if that wasn’t enough you could feel the close watch of the two police vans sat on the opposite side of the square – ready to enforce an early night if necessary.

I think both me and Daniel could have quite happily gone for another beer after dinner but were we likely to have any luck finding somewhere open? The city was dead, the police had done their jobs, killed the mood and put an end to any potential trouble before it could begin. I headed back to my hostel and got tucked in for another relatively early night in Italy as I had important things to sort out on Friday (stay tuned!).

Reflecting on the overall football experience it’s hard to say if I’d go back to Italy for football. On the one hand you’ve got the safety concerns of racism and violence in places such as Rome or Naples that I’d still be nervous to visit for football. On the other hand the only way to counteract it appears to be with over-the-top-policing to ensure your safety.

I’m not criticising the approach, it worked. I had no interest in being another statistic, another number in a long line of English stabbings in Italy but that doesn’t make it any more satisfying.
A year earlier I’d witnessed Portuguese buskers singing Tottenham songs, Benfica fans embracing our visit and barely a police officer in sight. Benfica knocked Tottenham out of Europe but as fans you exchange pleasantries and wish eachother luck for the rest of the season. That’s football, that’s why I love the game.

To go from that experience in Lisbon to Firenze was a sad reflection on Italian football and made it easy to see why attendances in Italian football have been on the decline over the last decade  Football is about the fans and I didn’t meet a single Fiorentina fan whilst in Firenze, they’d been cut off from our reach.

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In fairness to Italy, Tottenham returned to Firenze a year later and by all accounts I heard from those that visited that it was a better experience. Perhaps a realisation that Tottenham and Fiorentina had no bad blood and could coexist in the same city without any fuss. Nevertheless, whilst there were still aspects I enjoyed it didn’t quite live up to watching Tottenham in Portugal, Belgium, Germany or Spain.

I’ll definitely go back to Italy, there’s so much of the country that I want to see but maybe I’ll give the football a miss.

Anyway, hopefully you enjoyed the little insight in to travel as a football fan. Stay tuned for the final day in Firenze, I promise it’s a good’un!

All the best!

Jason

Day one in Firenze!

You may have noticed I have a tendency to ramble on a bit (“no Jason, don’t be silly. Of course you don’t!”) so I’ve decided that going forward I’m going to split some of my longer trips up across multiple blog posts.

Anyway back to Italy and on to part two of the trip! If you’ve been following along you’ll know that my trip (Feb 2015) began with a day in Pisa and that I’d be moving onwards to Firenze (Florence) the next day (Wednesday). What you don’t know is why I was visiting Firenze, nor why I’d been sceptical about going at all! First of all let’s start with why I was visiting?

Well that’s an easy answer, football of course! My love of football is no big secret on the blog and it’s perhaps the only interest of mine that surpasses my love of travel. Opportunities to combine the two loves are always a bonus!

In 2014 I lived a childhood dream when I went to Lisbon and I got to watch Tottenham play in another country – a European away trip for football – an incredible experience! I’d wanted to do a European away day with Spurs for so long and Lisbon had finally given me a taste for it. Come the end of 2014 I was itching to do another and was awaiting news of where Tottenham would be playing in the February. I eyed up all of the potential opposition and hoped for the best – in the end the “football gods” were sending us to Firenze in Italy to play Fiorentina.

 

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Fiorentina v Tottenham Hotspur!

Visiting Italy had been another childhood dream of mine so surely I had to go!? No, I hesitated. The news of Spurs visiting Italy was met with trepidation, was it safe going to Italy?

For those of you not clued up on football I’d forgive you for thinking I’m scaremongering but I couldn’t erase the stories or images from my mind of Spurs visit to Italy three years earlier. One night in Rome saw an ambush on an unsuspecting pub which left some of our fans in critical condition. I’d love to say it was an isolated incident but fans of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Middlesbrough have all faced problems of their own in the last 15 years when visiting Italy.

It doesn’t make great reading for English football fans and sadly Italy’s reputation speaks for itself in both football violence and racism.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting English football fans are angels and I’m not suggesting it’s a reflection on all Italians either. It is very much a minority but enough of a minority that you’d be naïve to not have some concern visiting at the very least!

“but you went to Italy so you are just scaremongering!”

I did go to Italy and the location was a factor. Would I have gone to Rome or Naples so easily? I’m not sure. I definitely want to visit both, particularly Rome, but I’m not sure I’d risk it for the football.
In contrast Firenze I had never heard of English fans running in to trouble so I felt a little more comfortable going over there.

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Firenze’s Duomo!

Five days before I was due to fly to Pisa news broke from Italy. The headline read something like “Dutch football fans clash with riot police in Rome”. – the worst part about it was that it wasn’t a surprising headline.
Rome has its own tainted reputation but the same can be said of Netherlands-based football club Feyenoord – stick them together in one city and it was only ever going to lead one way.. “in other news, water is wet..”

Irrespective of how inevitable it was, it did put an unwanted spotlight on Italian football again. The timing was terrible given there was going to be an imminent arrival of 3,000+ Brits to the country in the next few days.
Lots of reports and rumours came out of Italy following the trouble in Rome: 1,000 additional police in Firenze to be called upon from surrounding cities, tightened security measures, police escorts, curfews on local establishments and even a proposed drinking ban on the day of the game. It was clear that the Italian authorities would not be messing about for our visit!

So now you’ve had a little background, what actually went down in Firenze? Here’s day one!

I made a swift getaway from Pisa on Wednesday morning and was soon arriving in to Firenze. My first job was to find my hostel but luckily I’d been given directions.. “let’s have a read”.. Step one: Find the Burger King opposite the train station!
Here I was in a city famed for its culture, a country famed for its food and what am I doing? Looking for a bloody Burger King! I didn’t come to Italy for this! At least things could only get better from there, right?

My directions did at the very least take me where I wanted to go (my hostel, not Burger King!). I was soon checking in with the most wonderful host imaginable and dropping off my things in anticipation of exploring more of the city!
My host was brilliant and gave me so many recommendations for food, drinks, gelato and things to do. With that in mind I went off in search of lunch to a nearby place that supposedly had good food and good beers – a winning combination!

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Mostodolce pub/restaurant in Firenze

This bar was beautifully decorated, the bar staff were friendly and I ended up enjoying my first pizza in Firenze alongside a beer. Following lunch I went off to find the “must see” of the city – Firenze’s famous Duomo (cathedral) and it’s famous with good reason. I’d seen photos of it online but photos don’t really do justice as to how impressive it is. The building is absolutely stunning and you could spend a lifetime admiring it. I was in complete awe of it!
I could only imagine how impressive it looks on the inside!

I should have left it to the imagination! The exterior wows you but inside it’s rather underwhelming – it isn’t anything special, Pisa’s Duomo was better. I felt so disappointed by it – if you have no interest in climbing the 463 steps to the top I wouldn’t recommend going in at all! Just keep admiring it from the outside!
If you do decide to climb the Duomo you are rewarded with great views overlooking the city once you’re at the top so it’s worth it in the end.

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View at the top of the Duomo!

After I’d climbed back down I set off to explore a little more of the city and familiarise myself with where things were. As I walked around I knew I was going to love Firenze. It was full of charm and character plus had a number of stunning pieces of architecture, Firenze won me over very quickly.

Firenze has spectacular squares that are perfect for people-watching but simultaneously is home to narrow little streets that are perfect for getting lost in and exploring all the intricacies that the city has to show off.

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Having seen a little of the city I made plans to meet up with a friend (Daniel) who’d flown in to Italy today and was going to be imminently arriving in to Firenze after a brief exploration of Pisa himself.
We went and found some food somewhere and then our attention turned to grabbing some drinks for the evening and potentially catching that night’s European football. We had a beer at bar number one but there was no sign of them showing any football so we moved on to bar number 2.

We found an Irish bar down one of the narrow side streets and unsurprisingly weren’t the only ones who’d had the same idea – the bar was full of Spurs fans creating a bit of an atmosphere before our big game tomorrow (Thursday). There was definitely a bit of a buzz in the air which was helped by the fact that they were showing the Arsenal game.

Whilst the bar was predominantly taken over by Spurs there were a few exceptions. I vividly remember being stood in the vicinity of a couple of Americans in our limited standing space who were curious who we were supporting, making the assumption we’d be cheering on our fellow Englishmen! The suggestion was quickly ridiculed – “don’t be daft”.

If they’d had any doubts about where our loyalties lied it didn’t take them long for them to realise we were all Monaco supporters for one night only. Former Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov was playing for Monaco and he’d left Spurs on rather sour terms so wasn’t too popular at the time. However all was forgiven as he smashed home against Arsenal and sent the pub into bedlam – a huge roar followed as we basked in Arsenal’s misery. It left our fans in high spirits and created a great atmosphere following the result.

Things wound down pretty soon after the game though. There had been rumours of a midnight curfew being imposed on all of the bars and restaurants in the city and it looked as if there might just be some substance to it – the bar was closing for the night and we were swiftly being moved on. It was probably for the best, I was a little drunk anyway.

Me and Daniel left and it took me 2-3 minutes to realise I was needlessly going in the same direction, I didn’t want to be following Daniel because I was staying elsewhere! The consequence to that was that I took a rather “scenic route” back to my hotel. A lot of the narrow streets all look the same, particularly after dark, and I obviously took a wrong turn at some point. Soon enough I was stumbling upon Firenze’s river – which happened to be my first sight of it so I was clueless as to where I now was!

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First glimpse of the river!

I tried retracing my steps which wasn’t as successful as I would have liked but then I spotted that HUGE Duomo once again. If you can find the Duomo you can find anything in Firenze and it got me back on track and tucked up in to bed pretty soon after.

Day one in Firenze had been a success in my mind but I wasn’t done just yet! Stay tuned to hear more!

All the best!

Jason