Can England get any worse??? Of course they can!!!

Has there ever been a more pointless game in the history of International football than this one? Well, until the FA decided to buy votes in the FIFA 2018 World Cup bid by lining the pockets of Jack “The Saint” Warner and sending a 4th string team to Trinidad in June 2008.

With just 5 days before the most important game in England’s recent history against Croatia quite why we decided to play a meaningless friendly against Austria in Vienna is unknown to most, although I am sure money is one reason because the appeal for the fans certainly wasn’t.

With the opportunities to test the biggest stadium to be used in Euro2008 running out, the Austrian’s quite rightly wanted to try out their crowd control measures against a passionate away following, so why on earth pick us. I do not think I have ever been to a game where so many fans had left the stadium by half time. The reasons for this were 2 fold. Firstly, it was cold. Not just northern monkey cold, but freezing cold with snow piled deep all around the city. Secondly, it was one of the dullest games on earth and many fans who had left some very welcoming warm bars less than an hour before simply headed out of the stadium and back into the bars.

I have to say that despite sitting in the warm press area I cannot remember more than 10 minutes of the game. Firstly I was pissed from the post match banquet laid on by our hosts in the EnglandFans Seniors match, and then I had a sleep for the whole of the second half. In fact it was a shame to leave my comfy seat to head back outside onto the coach for the trip back to Bratislava. Yes – Slovakia…..

The reason for this dual country trip was that I couldn’t miss another weekend away from the mini-Fullers, and so I had to sign up for the Thomas Cook trip. My normal traveling companions Red Rob, Knightie and Dagenham Dan decided not to waste their time on a 2 cap trip, but as I was still to visit the Ernst Happel stadium after my aborted trip in June (see https://stuartnoel.wordpress.com/2007/06/02/three-countries-in-10-minutes-and-all-for-a-e1-bargain/) I had no option than to do the day trip. Unfortunately due to some strange regulations imposed by the Austrian Airspace authority we had to fly in and out of Bratislava some 45 minutes to the east. As it turned out this was a good move as by the time we reached Vienna news was filtering through that they had closed the airport in the capital!

It was another early start from Gatwick and the general consensus amongst the fans was Why? However, a win on Wednesday night versus Croatia would then lead to a mad scramble for the 4,000 odd tickets (maximum) for every group game in the Euro’s, and so every cap counted. I had declined the invitation to play for the EnglandFans senior team and instead agreed to act as player manager, which importantly meant that I could travel with such essentials as shin pads, vaseline and shower gel – all of those travel essentials that are normally confiscated by those ever eager police and of course got to do my big managers coat which has a secret beer can compartment which I could see would become very useful.

The far too early to function flight landed on time at a very icy looking Bratislava airport, and within seconds was joined by three others, all branded with British Charter logos (XL, Monarch and TUI) as if we had been part of a modern day convey – you can just imagine the pilot’s radioing through because they had taken a wrong turn over Brugge (yeah no worries mate – just follow me, and mind the sharp left around Mont Blanc), and with the kind of efficiency that suggested the authorities couldn’t wait to see the back of us, we were on coaches in less than 15 minutes after landing. Just to emphasis the point, the Slovakians gave us a police escort to the border, waived us goodbye and went back to trying to solve the problems depicted in the films Hostel and Hostel 2.

As we drove through featureless farmland, the snow became heavier and heavier. Of course there was excited talk that the game could be off and we could avoid the spectacle of the whole squad avoiding any physical contact just in case they got hurt before the Croatia game. But alas, news came through that despite the snow, the stadium and more importantly the pitch was in perfect condition.

Freshly fallen snow has a beautiful effect on even the harshest places, and the cold war style housing blocks that littered the outskirts of the city took on a beautiful sheen. The centre of Vienna which is at the best of times one of the most stunning in Europe was full of picture book buildings, gardens and monuments. The buses dropped us all off on the ring road, and as I was due to be at the footie match I had to walk past all of the tempting bars and head for the sports ground next to the Prater Park fairground.

Despite the snow, our local hosts were determined to stage our FansFriendly game, and although the main pitch was unplayable, they did manage to clear a rough five a side pitch, although the two saplings growing in the central midfield area did cause a bit of confusion for the linesman. With many of the squad either still stuck in the UK due to the closure of Vienna airport, and others who assumed that the game would not be played and thus left their kit at home, our playing staff dropped from an initial squad of 25 down to 8, which made my job of picking a team very easy indeed. So easy in fact that I was still in the bar when the game kicked off.

I ventured out after 15 minutes to see us 2-0 down, and with some inspired substitutions in bringing on the Peter Taylor lookalike British Ambassador we were back in it at 3-2 down at half time. The young trees were now being brought into play at every opportunity, and certainly had a hand in the 4th English goal as our centre forward was definitely held back by the young Elm and the referee had no option but to point to the spot.

With the game ending 5-5 it was decided to finish proceedings with a penalty shoot out which of course led to a predictable English defeat. I managed to continue my record of never having managed a winning team outside of British Soil (compared to my home form which is 3 wins from 3 games), and took the plaudits accordingly.

Our hosts had arranged dinner and beers for us in a lovely little tavern in the Prater Park. I don’t know how many of you have seen any Scooby Do, but if you have ever walked around an amusement park when it is officially closed then you know exactly how Shaggy feels. Every ride looks sinister, every clown face on the wall feels as if it is watching you and every arcade machine looks ready to jump out and assault you. We eventually came to a battered old hut that transformed into the most wonderful alpine style chalet inside like some real Tardis. Our hosts laid on Steigl’s by the litre and fantastic food, filling us up as if to say “don’t go and watch the rubbish next door, stay here with us”. As if to tempt us more, they brought out the big guns. Buxom young Austrian waitresses who made every effort to stick their cleavage in our faces when serving our dinner…”Marvellous” as Barry the Millwall fan said. After the formalities of a Mark Perryman quiz – “Which Austrian 5th division team has a name with no vowels?” and the awarding of our “caps” (well official teamsheets) from the Peter Taylor double Amabassador it was time to venture out again and head for the stadium.

I bade goodbye to my travelling companions as I headed for the media entrance, and was soon in the comfy lounge with another beer and in front of a big TV showing the build up to the game. Dilemma time – do I stay here in the warmth and close to the bar, or go out, sit on a cold metal seat and look interested? Time for a coin flip, heads stay, tails go…..After a flip, a long roll and a spin in its axis it came down as tails and so I headed out, but before I managed to drop my bets friend – the Blackberry. I drop my phone on average twice a day. Every day I pick it up, dust it down and carry on using it. Today, with 4 or 5 Steigl’s inside I managed to kick the blooming thing as I bent down, sending it flying over the railings of the stairs and onto the plate of a VIP down below. Having rendered the thing unusable I was not able to call home to re-assure CMF that I was still alive, or what time I would be home. More importantly, having made my own way to the stadium I had no idea where my coach was for the return later, and all of the people I knew on said coach had their details on the phone – great!

So what can I tell you about the meaningless game? McClown decided to be brave and start with Scott Carson in goal, but how on earth did Sol Campbell get a recall? What about the slightly younger players like Upson or Woodgate? Beckham was recalled, although based on his 1st half performance it wasn’t worth the effort of flying half way around the world. Owen lasted just over 30 minutes before a predictable injury ruled him out of the remainder of the game, and of course the match versus Croatia. The only goal came from a rare England corner when Crouch headed in.

The second half was pointless. Someone Alan Smith managed to add another cap to his amazing total as a player who is absolutely pointless. A striker who has not scored for about 3 years, and a midfielder who cannot tackle, pass or head the ball. Ashley Young was given his debut and there was also an appearance by Bentley with 30 minutes to go, but in truth half of the poorly attended crowd (only 39,000 for such a high profile game) had left by then.

I lasted until the 70 minute and boredom was forcing me into a slumber so I decided to make my way outside to find the coach. Amazingly it was the 1st one I came to, and more amazingly with 15 minutes still to go in the game only 3 other fans hadn’t boarded it yet! Consequently when the trio arrived 5 minutes later we were away before the end of the game and on our way back to Slovakia, minus our police escort. How we wish we had all stayed in Bratislava earlier on in the day!

About Ernst Happel Stadion
The UEFA 5-Star Stadium in central Vienna is currently going through some modifications in time for the start of the 2008 European Football Championships which will see the stadium host Austria’s group matches, as well as three knock-out stage games and the Final. The stadium is certainly a favourite with UEFA – it is actually the only sub-50,000 capacity stadium to have a 5 star status and has been used on four occasions as the venue for European Champions League finals, the last time being in 1995 when Ajax beat AC Milan.

The stadium has been on its present site since 1931 when it was constructed for the Workers Olympiad. It originally had a capacity of over 70,000 and was actually expanded soon after the war to a massive 90,000. The record attendance of 92,000 came during this period in a match versus Spain. The capacity has been slowly reduced since, both for practical reasons (nobody likes playing in front of a half empty stadium) as well as for safety reasons to the current 49,844. By the time the tournament kicks off next summer it will hold just over 53,000.

The stadium is an elliptical shape, with an athletics track separating the fans from the pitch. The seats do not run down to pitch level at the moment – meaning that views are good from all places, although part of the work currently being carried out will involve constructing seating in this area. The roof was added in 1986 and is very similar in design to the AWD Arena in Hannover, or the Gottleib Daimler stadion in Stuttgart – appearing to float above the stands.

Who plays there?
The stadium is used primarily by the national team as their first choice venue, although in recent years it has also been used by FK Austria and Rapid for their Champions League matches. Derby matches between FK Austria and Rapid have also been played here over the past few seasons. The main focus is obviously on Euro2008 where the stadium will host seven games in the tournament – more than any other.

How to get there
The stadium is located on a large island which separates the River Danube and the Danube canal from the old town of Vienna. It is also an integral part of the Prater Park, and the iconic ferris wheel can be seen from a number of the seats. The city is currently building a new U-Bahn station close to the stadium on line U2. In the meantime fans should use the U-Bahn station Wien Praterstern on U1 which is only six stops from Südbahnhof. Bus line 80a also runs to the stadium from the old town.

Getting a ticket
Tickets for all of the games in Euro2008 sold out after the initial ticket sale by UEFA in March 2007. Tickets will undoubtably be available on the black market in June 2008, but as the stadium is hosting the home nation, expect them to be expensive.

For the national team games in the run up to the finals, tickets are more readily available via the official site http://www.oefb.at. If you want tickets to see any club games then these will be sold via the official club websites.

Getting around
Vienna has an excellent public transport network, made up of a mixture of U-Bahn, S-Bahn, buses and trams. The network is very dense in the city centre, and services are very frequent meaning that traveling around is simple and inexpensive. The main line in the old town is the U-Bahn line 2 which rings the historical centre. A day pass is the best option for visitors to the city. These are available from all stations, and major stops from the red machines and cost €6.20.

Local Hotels & Bars
Vienna is a busy city in the summer months when tourists arrive in their hundreds per day. However, during the football season, hotel beds are a lot easier to find. It is worth trying to reserve something in advance though – however, the Tourist Office at Albertinaplatz can be contacted on +43 1 2111 4222 if you need any help. The following are highly recommended if you can manage to book in advance.

Hotel Capricorno – Schwedenplatz 3 Tel: +43 1 533 31040 http://capricorno.schick-hotels.com
Austria Trend Hotel – Kärntnerstrasse 18 Tel: +43 1 588 00800 http://www.austria-trend.at
InterCityHotel Wien – Mariahilferstrasse 122 Tel: +49 69 66564 http://www.intercityhotels.de

Austrian fayre is a mixture of hearty German meats, Swiss-influenced chocolate as well as an influence of Hungarian dishes such as Goulasch. The following restaurants are excellent places to try some of the more famous Austrian dishes such as Wiener schnitzel and Tafelspitz:-

Bistrot Coburg – Coburgbastei 4 (Tel: +43 1 518 18800)
Zur Goldenen Glocke – Schönbrunnerstrasse 8 (Tel: +43 1 587 5767)
Plachutta – Wollzeile 38 (Tel: +43 1 512 1577)

Vienna also has a long standing reputation as the location of some of the great coffee houses in the world. The locals much prefer to spend an hour or so in a coffee house than a traditional bar. The following are some of the most historical in the city:-

Café Sperl – Gumpendorfer Strasse 11
Cafe Prückel – Stubenring 24
Espresso – Burggasse 57

If you are looking for a stronger fix then Vienna also has one of the best night time scenes in Europe. There is no real central area for bars and cafes in the city centre, so simply put away your guide book and follow the crowds to such bars as:-

Bar Italia – 6 Mariahilfer Strasse
Sky Bar – Kartnerstrasse 19
Caféx – Alserstrasse 71

If you need to simply find a bar to watch some football from back home then head for one of the following bars that get very busy on a Saturday at 3pm.

Flanagans Irish Pub – Schwarzenberg Strasse 1
Bogside Inn – Landesgerichtsgasse 18
Bocknorn Irish Pub – Naglergasse 7

Nearest Airport – Vienna International (VIE)
Telephone: +43 1 7007 22233
Website: http://www.viennaairport.com

Vienna airport is located around 10 miles south east of the city centre. The airport has recently opened its third terminal which is almost exclusively for budget airlines, although currently no budget airlines fly from the UK to Vienna. Currently the airport serves London Heathrow with Austrian Airways and British Airways.

The easiest way to reach the city centre from the airport is via train from the airport to WienMitte. Trains run every 30 minutes and costs €3 each way. There is also a fast train running from Mitte, although tickets are more expensive. A taxi should take around 15 minutes and cost less than €20.

An alternative airport is located in Bratislava in neighbouring Slovakia some 45 miles away. Both Sky Europe and Ryanair fly from London Stansted here on a daily basis. A bus run by Terrorvision meets all inbound flights and transfers customers into Vienna in around 45 minutes.

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