I could have written loads about Saturday but I let Danny Last have that pleasure here.
The first thing I remember about Sunday morning was Deaks running around the room in his pants telling us we had 20 minutes to get up. I vaguely remember events from the night before. There was a party in the Royal Antwerp players bar. We accosted the Antwerp captain and made him sign a napkin and then told him it was a contract to play for Lewes.
There was a taxi at some point taking us to a bar somewhere near a big tree and we went round and round in circles.. There was a Belgian QPR fan named after Glenn Roeder, a woman who was trying to pair me off with her daughter (daughter was in her 30′s I should add) whilst her husband looked on (“he is a bad man. He wees on the seat. He never buys her flowers. He drinks too much beer” – four ticks in the box for me as well love). There was a girl called Nadia. She danced to the Levellers like it was Madonna’s Erotica. All very surreal. And here I was waking up alongside a large packet of Walkers Japanese Teryaki crisps, a bottle of water and my iPod still playing Mel and Kim’s greatest hits (it had been on shuffle for FLM and Respectable for six hours). I looked down at the carnage below from my bunk to see the martial bed of Deaksy and Danny. All too much for a Sunday morning.
It seemed that we had a good night, although few could remember why. We met the remainder of the Forest Green lads over continental breakfast (ooh get us all Belgianish) and soothed our fragile heads with some coffee. I wanted a traditional Belgian breakfast of chocolate waffle with chips (fried twice) on it. I used my best French to ask for it but ended up with a plate of runny cheese. The waitress must have only spoken Flemish. Typical.
After the delights of a league two mid table clash yesterday it was off for a slice of division four action at Berchem Sports, a suburb of Antwerp. With being disrespectful to Belgium football (which is always a queue for a patronising statement), it is not the top league in the world. In fact based on the standard of Royal Antwerp last night I would suggest the fourth tier game was going to be like watching West Ham veterans from the 1970′s. Still a game is a game and with the sun shining majestically in the lowlands of Benelux it wasn’t a bad life.
Berchem is close to where Antwerp’s little airport is. In fact on the 14 minute walk down from the station to the ground (as paced out by Pat the previous week all in the name of research) we had to duck a few times as planes came swooping down. Apart from the airport and a Q8 petrol station (I can see what they did there) there is little here to bring the casual visitor apart from the football club.
What did add a bit to the spice though was that the visitors were from just down the road. Racing Mechelen were on the verge of winning the league. In fact if it wasn’t for a slip up last week this would have been a championship decider. They were expected to bring a fair few fans on the train being located just down the line. Mechelen once graced the top division, coming close to the title in 1952 in a golden period for the club. They are off course also well known for being home to Norwegian Odd Iversen for three seasons in the seventies, who went on not only to gain 45 caps for Norway but also to father Steffen who can still be seen gracing the pitch at Crystal Palace at the age of 47.
So at 1.30pm we rocked up at the Ludo Coeck Stadion. Whilst the name of the ground may cause a bit of amusement for us Brits, it is actually named after ex-Berchem midfielder and Belgium international Ludo Coeck who made over 40 appearances for the national side but was tragically killed in a car accident when he was just 30 years old. There were two ticket windows open, both manned by older gentlemen. The sign said “Seeeeeeeetenplatz” (well something like that) €12 or terraces €10.50. Big Deaksy went first, producing a €50 for two tickets. What followed next was comedy gold.
“Two tickets” said Deaksy giving the V for Victory. Two tickets were passed over. The tickets were a strange affair of a yellow €8 ticket stapled to a €2.50 red ticket. Making €10.50. He got two tickets and €20 change.
“No I gave you €50?” So the chap started counting off 50 tickets and wrote down €500. ”No, I want €30 change, not €20″. He started counting again, writing down €300. ”No, no, no”. Deaksy pushed the tickets back to him, and thinking he wanted a refund he gave him €20 back. This lively situation went on for a few minutes until Deaksy just gave up. Next up Huddo got his for €10, whilst I got €2 change from my €10 note. These Belgians are crazy.
As we sat down for a beer outside the club house we heard the Mechelen fans go past on the train. They had crammed onto four coaches and passed the ground hanging out of the window signing a song about Big Fat Frank, or so it sounded.
Berchem Sports 1 Racing Mechelen 1 – Ludo Coeckstadion – Sunday 27th March 2011
Picture the scene. It is warm and sunny. In fact the warmest and sunniest it has been for us English chaps all season. The beer is €1 each and you are having a bloody good laugh. Is football important? Well, not really. Anything could have happened in the game and I think most of the seventeen of us would have missed it.
There was a strange minute’s silence to start the whole affair. Strange as both teams huddled together during the 60 seconds. Mechelen looked like Champions elect, playing the ball wide and stretching the home team’s defence. Bart Selleslags (Sorry, have I not mentioned that name yet?), the Bercham manager could only look on as after about twenty minutes the tricky number 19 jinked into the box, sold a dummy and whacked the ball in the bottom corner to give Mechelen the lead. The roof in the stand almost came off. Not just because of the noise but because Deaksy sneezed. Rickety was a bit of an understatement.
With half time approaching we moved back round to the terrace as it was nearer to the bar. The second half passed like a dream. Not because it was a great game, but the conversation ebbed and flowed. With five minutes to go until full time we had to leave to catch the train, and of course we missed the equaliser, celebrated by the scorer running directly to where we were standing just 60 seconds before to celebrate with his girlfriend who we had spent the majority of the game admiring her fine rear.
I will apologise now for those travellers on the 18:50 Eurostar to London Pancreas in coach 4. We weren’t rude, obnoxious or even particularly loud. But we were running. Even if I say that myself. Whoever’s idea it was to record the first episode of TBIR Radio should get a BAFTA. It was comedy gold. Points up for discussion on the 45 minute unscripted show included Andy Hudson’s theory why Joey Barton is the best midfielder in England, why standing should be introduced back into the game, Malaga 2004/05 tactical genius using beer cans (again) and famous Joey’s in history. One day, once I have worked out how to cut out all the slanderous bits featuring Michael Barrymore, Moira Stewart and Judy Finnigan then I will Publish it Click here for a sneak preview
But for now it was time for the curtain to fall on another excellent trip. Not particularly high on football excitement but certainly high on the laugher stakes. As we say in Peckham these days, “Bonnez les douche”.
More pictures from the weekend can be found on our Flickr Channel here.