Take 30 blokes, put them in a foreign country where the beer is cheap and the women are plentiful and what do you get? Well a bloody good weekend of football, laughs and goodwill across Europe. And is down to one man. Danny Last, the man behind European Football Weekend website. After years of going here and there across Europe, meeting locals and spreading the word that us English are actually quite like the Belgiums/Germans/Swedes/Danes and Poles when it comes to wanting to watch some football in a cracking atmospheric environment with a few beers. Such nuggets as “Waking up in Rostock wearing nothing but a Hansa scarf around my neck meant it must have been a good night” can be seen scattered across his site.
More and more people became interested in his trips, and when the TBIR team and Danny teamed up we formed an unbeatable partnership that could span Europe and bring people together in a way that even the most ardent Eurosceptic would be proud of. Last year Danny put together an itinerary for the first ever Ocktoberfest – a trip to take in four games in three days in Holland and Germany. You can read all about the trip here, or watch the short video highlights below.
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The weekend of bonding created some long lasting friendships. After all when would you see Royal Antwerp fans ending up at Forest Green Rovers, TSV 1860 Munich fans braving the monsoon at Eastleigh versus Lewes or even a Hansa Rostock fan want to go to watch West Ham (come on – stop stretching the truth now).
As soon as the trip came to an end there were calls for an encore. Wanting to share some of the burden of the organisation Danny created his own EU subcommittee and the planning began in earnest. First up was venue? Budapest was a firm favourite of ours thanks to our trip there in March 2008 and with Vienna and Bratislava in striking distance it seemed ideal. Easyjet obliged with cheap flights as soon as the route was announced and a hotel was found next to the national stadium no less for less than £30 per night and we were in business. Soon nearly 30 people had stuck their hands in the air, and then more importantly stuck their hands in their own pockets to book their itineraries (it has to be noted that Danny nor anyone else on this trip is a travel agent – you pay your own way all the way). So all we needed was some kind fixtures. With four top tier teams in Budapest at least one would be at home right? Wrong all four were drawn to play away….and the same with the nearest two others as well. OK – Bratislava – nope Inter and Slovan were away too.
To many that would be a disaster but our COBRA committee met and with some careful planning and some calls to far away coach companies a full weekend of football in two countries started to take shape. And then Debrecen added to our pleasure by making it into the Europa League Group Stages, meaning their home games had to be played at the Ferenc Puskas stadium in Budapest – the one slap bang next to our hotel. So five games in four days in two countries – its enough to give anyone serious about European Football Weekends a heart attack.
There was some familiar faces on the trip – Game a day John, Antwerp Hans, Big Deaksy, Stoffers, Radish and the Forest Green boys as well as some new chaps hoping that the pre-match build up would be worth it. And of course it didn’t disappoint. Apart from some dire football at times the trip was a huge success. As Danny Last points out in his first piece, what goes on on Ocktoberfest tours never stays on Ocktoberfest tours.
I could go on for thousands of words on the trip, but I know you only want the juicy bits so here is my take on events of the weekend day by day.
Day one – Thursday 21st October (EFW version here)
Work commitments meant that whilst the majority of the group were watching Debrecen v PSV Eindhoven, I was at the screwed up hell hole on earth that is known as Luton Airport. West Ham would be proud of the ways that airport try and extract money from you. Want to drop off a passenger (as Football Jo was dropping me off) – that will be a £1. Need one of the plastic bags for your liquids – that will be a £1. Want to avoid the queues at security – that will be £3 to stand in a different line. Anyway, two hours later of experiencing Wizzair passengers and the foreign concept of “staying seated until the plane actually stops” and I was in Hungary. Fifteen minutes later and I was in the O2 Arena – a pub close to the hotel where the rest of the party were, er partying. And had been for hours. Songs were in full flow and the barman could not believe his luck as he kept stocking up his fridge with £1 a half litre bottles of Bodsodi.
It all started getting a bit right wing when two locals started making right arm salutes and signing songs about Mussolini, trying to encourage us to join in and at that point it was time to call it a night, although Deaksy decided to go and find Tescos as he was a bit peckish, only to return hours later empty handed having failed to spot the huge 24 hour store about 50 yards in the other direct he headed in.
Day two – Friday 22nd October 2010 (EFW version here)
All of the talk at breakfast was not of the football, nor the game that evening in the unpronounceable town in the west of the country. It was all about Kim Wilde. Next door to the hotel, in the Pap Lazlo arena was an 80’s concert starting at 8pm, and of course a 4 star hotel next door would make a perfect spot for the stars – Kim, Boy George, Nick Kershaw, Paul Young and Rick Astley. Now here are two facts about young Rick that will amaze you…firstly he has a fear of flying and as such appearances like these were very rare indeed. Secondly he has sold over 40million records. 40MILLION. The task for the day was simple. Find Rick and get him on the bus for our tour.
First up was a short ground tour of Budapest. A short walk from the hotel were the grounds of MTK and Ferencvaros, two of Hungary’s best known teams. Now most people have heard of Flash Mobs, groups of people who turn up out of the blue for a specific reason at a set time and venue. Well, we have invented Flash Fans. A group of football fans who turn up at empty stadiums, find the magic door (the one left open with direct access to the pitch) and generally create legal mirth once we are in there. At MTK if happened to be the first door we tried.
Five minutes later and we were re-creating the final scenes from Escape to Victory (filmed in this very stadium and one where they had to spend money to make it look better today than it was in 1945!) before heading off down the road to the home of Kevin McCabe owned Ferencvaros. Not so much luck this time – Danny and Perchie made it onto the pitch but the rest were stopped by a security guard who instead forced us into the museum.
Football hooliganism is a problem in Hungary, especially with Ferencvaros. One cause may be the fact that to buy a beer is £1 but to buy a track suit in the club shop is £100. Is it any wonder the fans turn up pissed and not in club colours. Get you priorities right!
Back to the hotel and it was time for the first of our coach trips, heading westwards across the country to Zalerg, erm Zalag..no…Zalerga. well westwards to the place where ZTE play. But first a stop off in Siofok on Lake Balaton – the partay capital of Hungary, which of course being a Friday was completely closed. When the highpoint of a stop is a visit to SPAR you know things have got bad, but at least we came away with a shopping trolley full of beer.
Westwards Ho! and we arrived in the ZTE place in time to stock up on provisions. Some of the posher members of the party paid an extra £1.20 to sit in the VIP area, soon forgetting the rest of us with our Disco scarves on (made with a special shiny material). As for the game itself, well I cannot actually remember much about it. A combination of beer (at a rip off €1.30), the cold and some dire football saw to guaranteed amnesia but I do remember the winning goal hit the back of the net and then the referee simply not bothering to want to walk back to the centre circle as he was so close to the tunnel behind that goal. Game over, a ZTE win and within minutes the Flash Fans were in the goalmouth.
A couple of hours later and we arrived at the hotel to find our message for Mr Astley still undelivered, and Kim Wilde unavailable to come to the O2 Arena for some customer experience Hungarian style and of course a few Bodsodi’s.
Day three – Saturday 23rd October 2010 (EFW version here and here)
Despite our overnight dreams there was no Love of the common people at breakfast as the 80’s stars had apparently moved onto another town, despite the hotel putting their best girl on the welcome desk, asking her to hitch her micro skirt up a few more inches. Our coach was waiting to take us north across the border into Slovakia, and learning the lessons from yesterday they had one with a toilet and a fully stocked fridge. Unfortunately the toilet didn’t work, but hey it’s the thought that counts.
Danny and I had done our homework and worked out that the 200km trip would take about 3 hours. Of course we didn’t factor in coach speed and the fact that they cannot go along single track dirt roads as we would in our Smart Cars, so the SatNav showed an ETA of 2.15pm from the start….kick off in Trencin was 2pm…Could we get them to delay the kick off? It was a consideration.
So what do 30 blokes on a coach do for 4 hours? Play Bingo of course. Yes, in the height of true blokiness we got our heads down and won some wonderful prizes including tea towels, an apron and a pill cutter – Rock and Roll eh. A further delay at the border whilst T-Bone our driver had to pick the border guard off the floor and explain a few more times why he was driving 30 blokes across the border for a football match meant we pulled up outside the Štadión na Sihoti with 30 minutes gone. Danny had already sorted out our special “Englishmen away for a weekend party pack” which was entry to the ground, a beer and a scarf. What more do you need? Well how about a Slovakian sausage – don’t mind if I do….Oh how I wish to rewind that moment in time.
The ground, complete with its lollipop floodlights and the castle that once was home to Van Helsing himself (well, according to Perchy anyway) was perfect set but had seen better days. In the second half we took our spot on the crumbling terrace with the Trencin hardcore fans and soon were discussing the merits of Avram Grant’s reign at West Ham – well they thought it was hilarious that anyone could be a West Ham fan in the current climate!
On the pitch the home side triumphed in a game against Petrzalka, the team formerly known as ArtMedia in a top of the table clash that sent some of the nutty home fans, well, nutty.
Keen not to avoid another missed kick off we piled back on the coach and headed back down the motorway to Trnava for what promised to be the game of the weekend. Spartak Trnava’s supporters are known to be some of the most passionate fans in Eastern Europe. Sometimes that boils over a bit, like last week when they mistakenly ripped up dozens of seats at Senica in celebration of their away win. So where would the best place to watch such a game – well what about slap bang in the middle of their home end?
At last we had a decent game as well (click here for a full report) with Spartak attacking our end and trying any method possible to beat the Zlatan Moravce keeper, including throwing masses of toilet rolls at him and plastic bottles full of, erm yellow liquid. He of course complained to the referee and of course was told not to be a wimp and carry on. Half time brought some simple entertainment – kids football, but with a twist. Take two tiny goals, put 20 kids of varying age on a pitch with no rules, no boundaries and no referee and you have anarchy. Tackles were flying in irrespective of whether anyone had the ball and there was understandably little in the way of goalmouth action, but it was cracking entertainment.
The second half saw more fan action than football action but if truth be told that is what we had come to see. A nil nil draw wasn’t a bad result for us, but for the home side it was two more dropped points.
So what stood between us and a few pints in Budapest? Only a five hour coach trip. Our genial coach hosts tried to keep our spirits up by promising us a visit on the way home to the Stadium Eto, home of Györ which was apparently lit up at night like the big bright white elephant it had become. And of course when we got there it was all in the dark. What could make my night any worse? Well how about the return visit of the Slovakian sausage as well as the rest of my stomach contents? Nice.
Day four – Sunday 24th October 2010 (Kenny Legg’s version here)
So did I feel any better after 8 full hours of sleep? Er not at all. But that wasn’t going to stop me enjoying the last day of Ocktoberfest 2010. First up was a look into the Olympic Stadium across the road and its fabulous giraffe style floodlights before we headed south via metro and tram to the home of Budapest Honved. For once the magic door didn’t open – well one did and was then firmly closed by a burly security guard who wouldn’t take Euros for an answer.
So we headed north for the final bit of action of the weekend. Ujpest B were last season’s Hungarian second division champions, but as the first team are happily in entrenched in the Soproni Liga they cannot be promoted. So they consequently had their best players plucked from their ranks by the first team and it was back to square one for the B team.
Now travel arrangements are my speciality but occasionally I screw up. I had planned the journey from north to south with 15 minutes to spare but coming out of the metro I ushered everyone on the right bus but going the wrong way, eventually realising the error when the floodlights we saw were not from the Szuszac Ferenc Stadion but from Vasas’s ground. Hardly handy when there was no game going on.
So twenty minutes later we paid our £1.60 each to get into the right ground and see Spartacus of Nyive rip apart the home team in a two-nil win. Whilst there was only a three figure crowd in the stadium, what was interesting to see was the number of empty seats at one end, which could be explained after a recent visit of Ferencvaros and a referee who they didn’t agree with in a 6-0 defeat.
The one amusing incident in the game came in the 80th minute when the away team keeper was sent off for handling the ball outside the area. After a long wait on came a cross between Borat and David Seaman in the tightest pair of tracksuit bottoms known to man and clown shoes for his big chance. He turned out to be quite good unfortunately!
So what to do with our final few hours? I know lets go to a bar and watch some more football! I took the party to my favourite restaurant in the city called Boxutca, a sports restaurant, where a secret handshake saw the real magic door open and a huge room open before our eyes, with one huge screen and two little (40 inch LCD’s) on either side so that we could see all of Jamie Redknapp’s ego live from the City of Manchester Stadium on Sky Sports.
A fine meal of Goulash soup to start and then a variety of main courses served as if they were fit for the Masterchef judges themselves would have fooled many outsiders that we were imposters but we know the fine things in life and it was a fitting way to end another successful EFW Ockoberfest.
And the topic of discussion on the way home? Why of course, next year’s venue. Czech Republic anyone?