Austria 0 v 1 England (16.11.2007)
Short on cash, this match was allocated a debut slot in the ‘dirty trip’ category. By dirty trip it meant not flying directly; catching a cheap flight at silly o’clock in the morning; and neglecting the need for a hotel which would mean a full night to kill out in Bratislava.
Apologies upfront as this post is pretty one dimensional, but hopefully it outlines the ridiculous length some England fans go to to see their country play a game of football. If anything I hope the itinerary you are about to read rings familiar, or at least brings a wry smile to your face.
The friendly match against Austria in Vienna was the first Friday night international for many years and part of a UEFA experiment with the international fixture calendar. Playing games on a Friday would mean players could return to their clubs a day earlier than usual – but obviously make it harder for the fans as they would have to take at least a day’s annual leave to go to the game.
After a 04.30am alarm call and a cab to West Hampstead station we caught the 05.45 train to Luton Airport Parkway. The cheap travel option was an early Ryanair flight to Bratislava in Slovakia; and then a train across the Austrian border into Vienna.
On arriving in Bratislava we headed straight for the railway station and picked up our tickets for the one hour train journey to Vienna. It was freezing cold and there had been a decent covering of snow across the city. We stocked up with some winter warmers for the ‘stella express’ to Vienna in the form of a couple of cans of 10% Slovakian lager and a box of wine! The train was dated to say the least – one of those with ancient rolling stock and the sliding door compartments. At least the heaters were in full swing and we settled down in our carriage compartment only disturbed en route by the Austrian border police. Travelling through snow covered Slovakian countryside, the journey into Austria is reasonably quick, and by the time we arrived in Vienna the beer coat was already taking shape.
With the weather not conducive to sightseeing we spent the rest of the afternoon on a pub crawl and to be honest I lost count of the number of places we visited that afternoon. I have vague memories of a drunken snow ball fight in between bars and a ‘grappa’ drinking session which wasn’t pleasant. I have no re-collection of how we got to the Ernst Happel Stadium but assume at some point we jumped in a cab.
This fixture wasn’t one of Mark’s finer moments either. After spending the entire first half asleep, he refused to believe the game had already started when he woke up at half time!
Unlike the Russia away game the month before, this one hasn’t lived long in the memory (for a number of reasons). On the whole it was a poor game, played in freezing cold conditions, in a pretty flat atmosphere, and pretty much instantly forgettable. The only goal of the game coming from a Peter Crouch header from a Beckham corner at the end of the first half.
The fun really started after the final whistle. With no late trains back to Bratislava, we had booked a couple of seats on a fans organised coach back to the Slovakian capital. Having been up 20 hours at this point – most of which had been spent drinking – we were out like a light on the coach. Pulling into Bratislava at about 01.30am and with no hotel booked, the options were sleep rough, or find some late night bars and have a few more drinks. Suffice to say, with the sub zero temperatures outside we opted for the latter. With Bratislava being a popular stag do destination there were a number of late night bar options available, and with a second wind following a sleep on the coach we fully embraced the Bratislavan night life.
If my memory serves me correctly the bar we had based ourselves in for the night kicked us out at about 4am. After wandering the streets for a while we found a late night kebab shop near the central bus station. After ordering a couple of kebabs each just to kill some time, we then set off for the airport to get a few hours kip on a cold floor.
I can honestly say that i’ve never felt or looked so rough boarding a flight, and felt sorry for whoever had to set next to us two that day! By the time I got back home it was after midday and i’d been up for over 32 hours. My travel companion Mark had a finale befitting the nature of this trip. Forgetting to take his house keys with him when he left, he was locked out of his flat on his return as his wife was out for the day. He spent the next 5 hours wandering round Portobello Market in a bit of a daze and was found by a good friend of his curled up on a park bench looking like a tramp! Not one of our finer trips, and lessons have been learned!