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.

Where’s the rest of the stadium??


It is rare these days that CMF and myself have an opportunity for a bit of high jinx in a foreign land. With the mini-Fullers growing up fast it is difficult to get anyone to look after them for more than a couple of hours, let alone a couple of days. My parents have this pathological fear of children staying overnight in the museum and so we have to rely on favours of friends and neighbours. However, I can sometimes swing favour based on principals like “It’s for Bridget’s birthday”, and so I had put a date in the diary some 6 months before that we would be away for 2 days in mid-October. The original plan was to head east to Moscow for the England game, but with spiraling costs, plus the fact I could not guarantee CMF a ticket with her 12 caps I agreed to forfeit my chance to become a Top Capper and miss the one game that would have given me a 100% record in this membership campaign. Instead I found out that Austria would be playing Ivory Coast in the inaugural game at the newly developed Innsbruck stadium. This ticked off three objectives.

1. It was somewhere relatively cheap to get to
2. It was a stadium I had never been to before
3. It was located a few miles from the Swarovski factory – a must for any man who needs to earn some brownie points

I put in a call early doors to my friends at the Austrian FA (no legal or moral request has been denied by these fantastic ladies who put the work to our FA to shame) and soon had sorted a magic pass for CMF and myself (They are called Magic passes as they open all locked doors without a key and get you everywhere). Easyjet were not due to start their Gatwick to Innsbruck route until a few days after we had returned and so I booked flights into Munich instead, with a car waiting our arrival for the 90 mile drive through some of Europe’s most beautiful alpine scenery.

A couple of days before we left I checked some details on the Swarovski factory and saw that it was closed for re-furbishment…Now as this was one of the reasons how I had managed to sell the trip to CMF I decided to not say a word and plead disappointment when we got there.

The outbound trip was as smooth as we could have expected. We were in the car at Munich airport (a nice little Seat turbo number) within 30 minutes of landing, and soon hitting the three digits in terms of speed on the autobahns. At some point, which we couldn’t quite fathom we passed into Austria and were soon traveling alongside huge snowy peaks, babbling brooks and onion shaped church domes. We passed the town of Kurfstein – immortalised by my mother from our 1st family holiday abroad in 1975 in a small alpine village nearby. Every attempt by brothers and I made to buy something in the village (sweets, toys, guns, drugs – the staple needs of a 5, 10 and 12 year old) we were told to wait, as it would be “cheaper in Kurfstein”. Of course on arriving at said town, shops were either closed for the afternoon, or the prices were double that for the village. And so now , at any family gathering when my mother mentions anything about shopping we retort with “It will be cheaper in Kurfstein”…I am sure you can see how those long winter nights just fly by.

We arrived at the village of Wartens, just 5km outside Innsbruck just after lunch and quickly found the factory. But on arrival we saw it was closed. “Oh no – to come all this way”…Bridget was gutted and I told it to lay it on thick as we approached an information post with an old Austrian lady (wearing tight leather trousers – very weird!). We explained we had come as a surprise for a 10th wedding anniversary present for my wife as she was a keen collector and that we were going home again tomorrow. The kind Sadist took pity on Bridget’s crocodile tears and gave her a voucher for a free gift at the main store in Innsbruck, plus a book (worth €50) and a “rain check” for any time in next 2 years….and I did not have to spend 2 hours wandering around a factory nor spend £00’s on any more crystal!

After a couple of laps around the centre of the town, first looking for our hotel, and then for a car park, we eventually parked up and walked through the historic centre to find The Golden Adler, one of the most famous inns in Austria. The reputation of hospitality was certainly well deserved, and once we had checked into our room we were away into the thick of the action looking for hostelry. Sightseeing was concluded with a brief look at the Golden House – home of the old royal family and dominating the old town square, and we even had time for a shop in the Swarovski factory (I’ll buy this – no I insist, bring the free voucher out of the pocket) before we hit a bar or two for a few Steigl’s.

With kick off time fast approaching in Moscow we headed back to the hotel for a “snooze”…now here was a dilemma that faces us blokes once in a while – do we take advantage of a quick bout of passion or do we watch the football?? I had a couple of tricks up my sleeve, but the Steigl’s had reached tipping point for CMF and she was soon asleep, leaving me free to watch the horror unfold in Moscow as England threw away any real chance of qualifying for Euro2008, and with it any remote chance of me selling any guide books to Euro2008 – well thank you Mr McClaren – just tell me who to invoice for all of my work!

And then came the dawning….With very little hope of being in Euro2008 I would almost certainly get as many media tickets as I wanted, and flights and hotels! I could take the family away on holiday…I could not spend £000’s watching us lose on penalties in the quarter finals again and I could actually enjoy some unbiased media attention for once! With a spring in my step, I woke Bridget with a cup of tea, a shag and then it was time to go to the football.

It is not often the Austrian’s come to play in the regions, and with the opening of the newly renovated stadium I expected a bumper crowd. The bus from opposite the Golden Adler was certainly cozy, and dropped us outside the stadium 15 minutes later. There were hundreds of people outside the stadium in what I thought was the queue for the ticket office, but no…The stadium on one side had a gym and a rock climbing wall inside and with huge glass windows displaying the action many fans had decided not to enter the stadium yet but to watch the action on the running machines – and what a treat it was too….in fact with “something for the ladies” on the rock climbing wall we could have spent all evening just here, but we did have some free media passes to get.

The stadium was originally a 12,000 relatively new affair, built in a similar style to Salzburg’s Bullen Arena with four identical adjoining stands. In order to meet the 30,000 limit set by UEFA the club decided to simply add second tiers on three of the stands, leaving the east stand open, and offering some amazing views of the mountains behind to everyone in the south and west stands. The media lounge certainly needs a bit of work before next summer’s tournament – it held 30 at the most, and with at least 40 trying to help themselves to refreshments it wasn’t exactly comfy. If that was bad, then our seats were even worse. Cramped in the back row between the TV crews and a part of the stairwell we were shoehorned into our seats. Once the ball went down to the south of the stadium we could see very little as the TV camera platform was in the way. At least we had a TV monitor in front of us to show what was going on in that corner.

Ivory Coast had agreed to be the opponents in this historic game, and true to their word they had put out a full strength side in what was to be their last warm up game before the African Nations. This meant a host of Premiership players including the Arsenal pair Kolo Toure and Emmanuale Eboue started along with captain Didier Drogba. The game was played in an excellent spirit with both sides throwing players forward at every opportunity. Austria took the lead against the run of play when Sanel Kuljic converted a penalty in the 30th minute and this was how it stayed until half time. With the temperature dropping faster than Steve McClaren’s salary prospects we retreated back to our half time sanctuary where Kalie (American student who wanted to be a journalist and who seemed keen to get some private tips on how to succeed in the industry) served us some Gluwine which in theory was off limits to us journalists just in case we get pissed and write nasty things about the Sacher Torte!

The second half started with Ivory Coast dominating play, and it was no surprise when Drogba slotted home an equalizer just before the hour mark. The turning point however came a few minutes later when an Austrian player decided to shepherd the ball out of play in front of his own bench. Ivory Coast midfielder Steve Gohuri was getting bored with the blatant obstruction so he did what all of us want to see in this situation – he kicked the Austrian up the backside. Queue all sorts of mayhem on the side lines as Gohuri got his marching orders, much to his amazement. Fifteen minutes later it was 3-1 as Austria took advantage of the extra man (why do managers who fail to score against a team with one player less always complain how hard it is to break down a team who have had a player sent off – its simple – you have one extra man – just pass the ball to each other!), and seemed to be coasting to victory before a dubious last minute penalty by Drogba brought the final score back to 3-2.

After the game we listened to former Real Madrid fullback Ulli Stielike explain why the team would never win the African Nations due to “too many individuals” – obviously referring to messers Drogba and Toure, and then we listened in translated French awe as Drogba then gave a warts and all interview with the journalists who sat next to me throughout the game (from France Football magazine) about how something was broken at Chelsea after the special one had left, and how he couldn’t wait to join Barcelona in the summer. Although my French studies did not even get as far as an O-Level, my knowledge of the language is on a par with my cockney and I can understand most things – I am sure to this day he said “I want to leave Chelsea as something is broken”….either that or I translated it wrong and it should have been “I want to go home to Chelsea in case my thing (TV, Video, DVD etc) is broken”….hmmm.

So after the game we headed back to the buses and within 30 minutes we were back in the Adler ready for some Austrian Pay TV and a night (well 30 minutes) of high class action….Even if I say so myself..

About the Tivoli Neu
As part of the plans to host Euro 2008, Innsbruck’s modest Tivoli Neu stadium is having a major face lift which will take the capacity up from its current 17,100 to just over 30,000 in time for the for big kick off in June 2008. The current stadium will be developed stand by stand, resulting in a smart uniform stadium similar to the Stade de Geneva, with some of the best views of any grounds in Europe.

Four identical stands decked out in grey seats will offer 30,000 unobstructed views of the action on the pitch, and those in the south and east stands will also get an amazing view of the snow capped Tirol Mountains behind. The stadium will also feature a number of restaurants, a fitness centre and a conference centre. Quite what the club will do with 30,000 seats after the tournament is finished is unsure as currently FC Wacker only average around 5,500 for their home games.

The new stadium is due to host the Austrian national team in a friendly in October 2007 in a game versus Ivory Coast in a game that will officially open the redeveloped ground.

Who plays there?
The Tivoli Neu is the current home of FC Wacker Innsbruck. The were actually only formed in June 2002, rising out of the ashes of the bankrupt FC Tirol Innsbruck. However, due to the legal complexities of the situation, the new club basically have no history prior to June 2002.

The club started in the regional leagues of the Tirol region for 2002/03 season, but soon moved up into the Red Zac Erste Liga, the second level of Austrian football. At the end of the season the club merged with Wattens who had finished 3rd in the league, and thus were allowed to take their place in the Austrian Bundesliga – a situation that would not be allowed to happen in most other European leagues. In 2004/05 the club finished 6th in the 10 team league. The following season they didn’t fair much better, whilst last season they nervously looked over their shoulders for long periods before a decision was made only to relegate one team at the end of the season.

Wacker were bottom for periods of the season until Grazer AK went into administration and were docked 28 points, thus condemning them to relegation with a dozen games left to play. Therefore a 9th place finish wasn’t impressive but was enough to ensure another season of top flight football for the club. The current squad is dominated by Austrians, with a sprinkling of overseas players including Nigerian top scorer Olushola Olumuyiwa Aganum.

Whilst the club have not ever had the opportunity to compete for any major honours, their previous entity FC Tirol Innsbruck won the Austrian Championship for three consecutive years from 2000, although this history has been erased from the records.

How to get there
Innsbruck is only a small city and so the easiest way to reach the stadium is on foot. It is located next to the ice hockey stadium alongside the A12 Autobahn. It is less than one kilometre from the main Hauptbahnhof.

If you are walking from here, come out of the station, turn left and follow Sterzinger Strasse southwards until it becomes Sudbahnstrasse. After 200metres it will join Olympiastrasse. Turn left here and follow this road over the railway and the river. After 300metres turn right into Stadionstrasse. If you want to use public transport then bus lines B, K and J run to the Tivoli stop from the old town and train station every few minutes. For the Euro 2008 tournament when the stadium will host a number of games, special buses will run in the build up to games, and after the matches at regular intervals. These will be free for match ticket holders.

Getting a ticket
Tickets for every match at Euro 2008 have been sold out for many months, and the only way now of getting tickets is by applying through one of the nations football associations once they have qualified. Whilst tickets for matches may become available after the draw is made on the 2nd December, it is unlikely that a further sale to the public will yield more than a few hundred tickets per venues.

If you are here to watch an Austrian Bundesliga game then you should have no issues turning up on the day to watch a game. FC Wacker Innsbruck do sell tickets in advance via http://www.oeticket.com or by calling +43 512 588877-86. Tickets cost €14 for a place in the Nord or Sud Tribune and €18 for a seat in the Ost or West stands. Views are good from any spot although head for the Nord tribune to get a great view of the Tirol Mountains on a clear day.

Getting around
Innsbruck is a small city, and with a unique location almost sandwiched between the Tirol Mountains. Public transport is a mixture of buses and trams. The tram lines run through the old town and out to the surrounding villages. The Innsbruck card, available from the Tourist Information Centre in Burggraben 3 covers all public transport as well as entry into the city’s main attractions and in the winter months the ski lifts, and costs €23. Alternatively a single ticket for the tram or bus will cost €1.60.

Local Hotels & Bars
During the late spring and early autumn when the days are full of blue sky Innsbruck is a fabulous place to visit. The whole town seems relaxed and people head for the hills for clean fresh mountain air. Consequently at this quiet time, hotels are barely half full and so you can get some bargains. However, come winter time and they are full to the brim. Also, expect most rooms to have been taken come 3rd December 2007 once the draw for the finals of Euro 2008 has been made. The Tourist Information Office in Burggraben 3 (http://www.innsbruck-tourismus.at) may have some ideas if you are stuck. The following hotels are very popular all year round.

Goldener Adler – Herzog Freidrich Strasse 6
Tel: +43 571 111 http://www.goldeneradler.com
The Penz – Adolf Pichler Platz 3
Tel: +43 575 6570 http://www.the-penz.com
Ibis Innsbruck Hauptbahnhof – Sterzinger Strasse 1
Tel: +43 570 3000 http://www.accor.com

Tyrolean food is both hearty and cheap, meaning that your Euro will go quite along way here. Expect to find plenty of veal and pork on the menus as well as some heavy dishes influenced from Hungary. The following restaurants are popular all year round.

Ottoburg – Herzog Freidsrich Strasse 1 (Tel: +43 584 338)
Villa Blanka – Weiherburggasse 8 (Tel: +43 276 070)
Weisses Rössel – Kiebachgasse 8 (Tel: +583 0570)

The old town’s cobbled streets are full of excellent bars and cafes, including the area around Penz and the railway arches behind the station. Good places to head during the evening include:-

Leo Kino – Anichstrasse 36
Café Hofgarten – Hofgarten
Theresianbräu – Maria Theresian Strasse 51

The city also has a couple of Irish Bars where you can catch a Premiership match from England during the season. These include:-

The Galway Bay – Kaiserjägerstrasse 4
Limerick Bills – Maria Theresien Strasse 9

Nearest Airport – Kranebitten Airport (INN)
Telephone: +43 225 250
Website: http://www.innsbruck-airport.com

Innsbruck’s small airport comes alive in the winter when dozens of flights will arrive daily, bringing thousands of winter sports fanatics. As Innsbruck is one of the few places in the world where you can step off a plane and be on the slopes in less than an hour, it is a very popular destination. It is the main base for a couple of Austria’s regional airlines such as Welcome Air and Austrian Arrows. The only airline that flies direct into Innsbruck from the UK is British Airways from London Gatwick.

Bus route F connects the airport to the central station every 15 minutes and the journey takes less than 20 minutes. The central station has some excellent fast routes to other destinations such as Munich (1hour 45mins), Vienna (2hours) and Venice (4hours).

Red Bull Shit


With only two months to go before England’s fate would be decided by the super powers of Russia and Croatia I was still on course to complete my research for Euro2008 and hopefully the trip to Salzburg would not be the last time I would be seeing the city for football purposes.

Now this was one trip that I was looking forward to. Salzburg is one of the most historic cities in Europe. Home to Mozart and the Sound of Music, as well as one of the most depressing stories of corporate greed in football today.

The trip had been planned to take in a regular Austrian Bundesliga game versus Austria Karnten – who themselves can claim no history themselves (for more details see the section on Klagenfurt). Red Bull had won the 2006/07 season at a canter, mainly due to the fact they had more money than sense, and a management team of the Italian Trapattoni and the German Matthaus not only dominated the league but also monopolised the media. This season looked like going the same way, although Matthaus had got bored of playing 2nd fiddle and had departed some months before.

Many people may remember Salzburg in their run to the UEFA Cup final a few years ago. At the time they were known as Casino Salzburg – primarily because the Casino is located across the road from the ground. A couple of years ago the club were floundering in the Austrian league, and with Euro2008 just having been awarded to Switzerland, the club were desperate to attract some investment both into the club but also the bland stadium.

In stepped Red Bull and the meglomaniacal ideas of its owner Dietrich Mateschitz, who had recently formed the Red Bull racing team out of a hangar at Salzburg Airport. Red Bull took over the club, lock, stock, barrel, history and club culture. They started as they meant to go on announcing to the fans “This is a new club with no history”, changed the club colours to Red and White and of course dropped the name Casino in favour of Red Bull. Quite a way to endear yourself to the fans in the first week!

More of the football later. Obviously being in one of Europe’s most visited tourist destinations I did not expect a quiet few days in the city, and with the dull drizzle taking hold as soon as the plane had landed my original idea of finding a nice pavement cafe for a few Steigl’s was ruled out early doors. The whole city is very compact, with the airport being no more than 3 miles from the centre (and almost ajoined to the football stadium to the north). A short bus ride dropped me right outside the gates of one of the most famous houses in Austria – the MIrabell Palace. After fighting my way through the Japanese tourists, all armed with cameras and umbrellas – a deadly combination in anyone’s book, I got a glimpse of the famous steps, where Julie Andrews did her “Do Rey Me” stuff in the Sound of Music. The view from here through the gardens and up to the Hohensalzburg which dominates the city is impressive to say the least on a cloudy day, let alone on a summer’s day, although I do not think you would get close due to the tourist crowds.

I spent the rest of the day doing the tourist things. A couple of (surprisingly interesting) hours wandering around the Salzburg museum, which obviously does not have any rights to Mozart and so omitted him from the city’s famous people section, up by funicular to the Hohensalzburg, down again through the historic Getreidegasse and of course no visit to Salzburg would be complete without a visit to the birthplace of Mozart. And a few words at this point on Wolfgang Amadeus. You cannot miss his bust anywhere in town. Sweets, coffees, beers, aprons, dogs – you name it and its branded…And people buy this shit by the bucket loads. The biggest seller are called Mozart Balls – salty dark chocolate with a marzipan filling – yum yum!

I had the foresight to grab a hotel room just a couple of doors down from Mozart’s house in Getreidegasse. With an early flight I thought it would be useful to get a few hours sleep before the football, and escape from the hordes pounding past my hotel window. I woke up starving, and with 90 minutes to kick off I thought I should go and eat first. However, during my hour power nap the city appeared to have gone through some kind of time shift as darkness had fallen and all of the tourists had been removed by their alien spacecraft, to be replaced by stylish locals enjoying getting their city back. The other unfortunate side of such cities as Salzburg is that almost all of the restaurants were Mozart themed. Mozart Soup was (apparently) is favourite – a meat broth with dumplings. Mozart Schnizel was cooked (apparently) by his mother and was a normal schnitzel cooked in sauce, and of course Mozart Ice Cream was (apparently) his favourite..It appeared to me as Vanilla with a strange sauce that looked and had the texture of tar…I gave that one a miss and had a much duller (but more delicious) Strudle.

I had eventually managed to secure a media ticket for this game after emailing the club on over a dozen occasions. It is often hard to explain to foreign clubs exactly what I do and why I need a media ticket. Some clubs (and even national associations) simply give me a pass, and access to almost everywhere. Sometimes they make me jump through hoops, but eventually give me my own backstage pass. And finally, there are those organisations that unless you own a national newspaper, or have played 100 times for your country will not even return an email. What makes it hard to fathom is that UEFA and FIFA some of the most beauocratic organisations in the world sit in the first category, yet clubs like Bury, Rochdale and Wrexham are most definitely in the latter category. Salzburg sort of sat in the middle. It was a bit of a disappointment not to get a proper pass that I could put round my neck, but I did get free entry and as many Mozart balls as I could eat.

My seat was next to the dug out, three rows from the front. I headed down to my seat early to soak up the atmosphere. There was certainly quite a party in town, with pumping Euphoric-breakdown type music and disco lights blazing down from the roof but someone had forgotten to invite the guests. With 15 minutes until kick off there was no more than 3,000 crammed in at one end of the stadium. I was joined by a couple of local celebrities, based on the number of people who kept coming up and asking for autographs. They tried to engage me, using the only common language we know – football. They laughed when I said I was a West Ham fan, but with my beloved Hammers playing Plymouth Argyle in the Carling Cup back home they could understand my anguish as I kept an eye on the phoen awaiting the avalanche of goals.

The game was sterile to say the least. It was if a large corporate had come along and taken the soul out of the club and replaced it with tins of energy drinks. What was funny was that for a team sponsored by Red Bull, the team were very lethargic and it took a stroke of fortune in the first half for the team not to go in a goal behind.

What did become obvious in the 2nd half was that the sparten crowd a) did not like Trapattoni and especially his negative tactics, and b) most of the team. The abuse that started raining down on the play maker (and ex-Crystal Palace midfielder ) Sasa Ilic was a case in point. However, the club had the last laugh eventually as three goals by Red Bull in the final 5 minutes gave them an undeserved win, and returned them to the top of the table.

After the game, with everyone making their way out of the stadium, all of the media guests (and that was me!) got a Red Bull goodie bag, including a postcard of a Red Bull plane, a Red Bull girls (ok – skinny fit) T-Shirt and of course a can of Red Bull – just what I wanted after being up since 5am that morning! The good thing was that most people had parked in the shopping centre opposite and so the bus back to town was almost empty. With the drizzle again falling in the old cobbled streets of the city centre, you could not think that you had somehow been transformed into Victorian London, with dark lurking shadows in the narrow alleys in the city centre. And could I find a bar open at 11pm – not a chance!

About The EM Stadion
The EM Stadion is completely unrecognisable from just 18 months ago when it was known as the Wals-Siezenheim and home to SV Austria Salzburg. However, with the investment both from the local government and from Red Bull, the stadium is now a much expanded 30,000 seater arena and home to the new Red Bull Salzburg club. In fact it is hard to escape from the Red Bull theme on visiting the stadium for a domestic match, with Red Bull branded everything – including the name which will revert back to the Bullen Arena after the 2008 tournament.

The new look stadium was completed during the summer of 2007 as one of the venues for Euro 2008 and was officially opened with a friendly versus Arsenal in July 2007. The stadium is one of a select few that is using the FIFA-approved artificial Ligaturf. The previous 18,200 seater stadium has had an additional tier added to bring it up to the 30,000 requirements as a tournament host. This was achieved by raising the 1,900-tonne roof by 10metres and slotting in the extra tier.

Views are excellent from any part of the stadium. Whilst the Arena doesn’t have the scenic surroundings of the Tivoli stadium in Innsbruck, it is much more pleasant that some of the stadiums we have in this country. The stadium has some really unique features such as concession stands that serve fans both inside and outside the stadium from the same points, two huge screens and one of the loudest sound systems in Austria. It also has a lighting system that wouldn’t look out of place at a disco. Inside the stadium the concourses are wide and spacious, allowing fans a view of the action whilst they queue. Access to the upper tiers of the stadium is via the staffolding towers dotted around the stadium. Like the stadium in Klagenfurt, only three sides have two tiers, with the main West Stand having a row of Executive seating instead Come June 2008 the whole area will have been completely transformed into a true football festival.

Who plays there?
Up until the end of March 2005 the Wals-Siezenheim stadium was home to SV Casino Salzburg, the three times champions of the Austrian Bundesliga. However, in the sweep of a pen on a contract, over seventy years worth of history were erased when Red Bull bought the club on the 6th April 2005. Along with the name change, the club were “forced” to adopt a new strip and a new management team. The sale of the soul of the club was too much for many of the fans who formed their own club, buying back the original name SV Austria Salzburg and joining the regional leagues of the Salzburg region. In their first season playing in the traditional violet and white strip of the former club they finished top of the league and thus started their long climb back up to the top in a similar fashion to AFC Wimbledon.

SV Casino Salzburg were originally formed under the name Austria Salzburg in September 1933, although they had a pretty undistinguished history until they changed their name to Casino in 1978. Under the new name the team won the Bundesliga in 1994, 1995 and 1997. In 1994 the club also reached the UEFA Cup final, losing 2-0 to Inter Milan on aggregate. In 1994/95 they reached the group stages of the Champions League, finishing third in a group containing Ajax, AC Milan and AEK Athens. They almost appeared in the group stages again in 1997 when they lost to Sparta Prague in the final qualifying rounds. The takeover certainly alienated most of the fan base as Red Bull published the slogan “Salzburg – the club with no history”. They appointed Giovanni Trapattoni and Lothar Matthaus as the management team in May 2006 and in their first season the team won the league with 5 games to spare. With funds available to invest in the team few would bet against them retaining this title in 2007/08.

How to get there
The stadium is located almost at the end of the runway of the airport, and is less than a kilometre from the terminal building alongside the A1 West Autobahn and opposite the Casino. It is around 3km from the city centre. Bus lines 1, 10 and 18 run from the central bus and railway station to the stadium stop in Stadionstrasse on the east side of the ground. Journey time is less than 25 minutes. Close to the stadium is the Europark commercial centre, which includes an Ikea and a massive shopping centre.

For more details of the surrounding area go to Footiemap.com to view their Austrian map.

Getting a ticket
Tickets can be purchased from the Bulls shop at the stadium from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday or until 2pm on a non-match day Saturday. You can also call +43 662 43 33 32 and arrange to collect and pay for your tickets on a match day. The website http://www.redbulls.com has an online ticketing function which you need to register for to use. The stadium before redevelopment was almost full on most occasions, although the new stands mean that tickets should be available for most games. Ticket prices range from €11 in the terraced area behind the goal to €22 in the East or West stand. All seats offer excellent views of the action on the pitch.

Getting around
The best way to get around Salzburg is by foot. There is a network of buses which run to most places outside the city centre, ticket prices are €4.20 for a day pass. Buses radiate out from the bus station on Südtirolerplatz. The city also has a small S-Bahn network that runs to the outskirts. You can purchase the Salzburg Card for €21 which covers all public transport and access to the main tourist sights and museums in the city. This can be purchased from the Tourist office in Auerspergstrasse 6 (Tel: +43 662 889 870).

Nearest Airport – Salzburg Mozart Airport (SZG)
Telephone: +43 662 8580 7911
Website: http://www.salzburg-airport.com

Salzburg’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart airport is the second largest in Austria. As more and more airlines wise up to this fantastic weekend destination, passengers are sure to grow considerably over the next few years. The airport is located just over a mile from the German border, and 2 miles from the city centre. To reach the city catch the number 2 bus that runs every 10 minutes from outside Arrivals and takes 15 minutes and costs €1.80.

Currently the following airlines serve Salzburg on a daily basis from the UK. British Airways from London Gatwick, Flybe from Exeter and Southampton, Ryanair from Liverpool, London Stansted and Nottingham East Midlands, and ThomsonFly from London Gatwick, Bournemouth, Coventry and Doncaster Robin Hood airport.

Klagen what? The most unlikely Euro venue ever


I would love to have been present when UEFA phoned up the Austrian FA to tell them that they had won the bid to co-host Euro 2008. “Hello Mr Fritz – Good news you’ve won the bid! Now tell us where will you be hosting the games? Vienna – a must, Salzburg – birthplace of Mozart and Sound of Music – good choice, Innsbruck – Seat of the Alps and good transport links and where else? Graz? Linz? Nope…We want to hold it in Klagenfurt…..” The simple answer to any question about Klagenfurt is “Why?”……Let’s get a couple of things straight. Klagenfurt is not unpleasant, its not dirty, dangerous or even quiet – it is simply in the middle of nowhere.

Klagenfurt, if you are trying to find it on the map, is in the south west corner of Austria, on the border of Slovenia and at the east end of Laker Worther (aka Worthersee). It is actually nearer to the Slovenian capital Llubjlana than any other Austrian city, and actually nearer to Zagreb in Croatia (two countries away) then Vienna. Even Ryanair only pay it lip-service in the obscure stakes by flying here three times a week. The town is small, but very functional. It has nice squares, lots of bars and the delights of the lake less than 3km from the centre…..They are the plus points. On the downside it will take you a day of traveling to reach the place, unless you are one of the 190 or so lucky to get a seat on Ryanair. Of course Llubjlana is only 28 miles away, but a lifetime by train (2 1/2 hours), Salzburg 3 hours and Vienna a whopping 5 hours! The reason for this is those pesky mountains that surround the town centre….

But investment was pumped into the town, and a shiny new stadium was planned to hold 3 games during Euro 2008. But what of the local team FC Kaerntan? Well they were blissfully happy in their 2,000 seater stadium in the south of the town and the need for 30,000 new stadium had passed them by some time ago. But this is Europe, and in Europe logic goes out of the window. So they agreed to move to the new stadium once the tournament in June 2008 was finished. In the summer of 2007, when completion of the stadium within sight, an amazing event happened. Mid-table Austria Supefund-Paching had just finished another season in mid-table in the Austrian Bundesliga when along came the regional president and suggested that the club move to the new Worthersee Stadium, a considerable distance from their nice modest stadium. Further more to give the club a new identity they would be known as Austria Karnten as of the 1st August 2007.

I was in town to watch the friendly international between Switzerland and Japan. The game was played as part of a four way tournament also featuring Chile and Austria, and came four days after the stadium had been inaugerated with a friendly between Austria and Japan in front of a sell out 30,000. Obviously expectations were low for a big turnout for the game, but we should never under estimate the power of the Japanese support for any sporting event.

The stadium is located around 2km south west of the small town centre, on one of the main roads out towards the lake. It is a truly amazing structure, and what the local NIMBY’s must have made of it is quite interesting. The plan is to take off the whole of the upper tier of the stadium in June 2009 and sell it to Graz and Linz for their stadiums – quite an innovative way to deal with the potential over capacity and I am sure the first in a long line of Ikea style stadiums that will start springing up around Europe.

Outside the stadium are plenty of bars and restaurants that cater for most fans and it was surprising to see so many fans at the stadium so early. Inside the stadium could have been anywhere in Europe – even Milton Keynes as little had been done to differentiate it from other new builds. However, with my press seat, a genuine pint of beer (none of this low alcohol stuff here) and a Wiener Schnitzel in hand I sat back to watch Switzerland demolish a poor Japanese side in the first half. Two goals in two minutes, one from a direct free kick and one a penalty seem to have ended the game after just 15 minutes, but the Japanese came straight back after the break and leaped into a 3-2 lead, thanks to two penalties and a dodgy looking offside call. The Japanese fans got so excited that they even forgot about starting a Mexican wave for at least 5 minutes…..With just 3 minutes left on the clock, Switzerland equalised as Arsenal’s Senderos thumped in a powerful header from a corner. But Japan weren’t beaten and in the final minute of the 3 added by the referee they scored a winner.

20,000 fans went home happy with both the stadium as well as the result. Outside everyone seemed to be walking around confusingly wondering how to get back into the town. But fear not – the orange bibbed stewards herded us all onto waiting buses and we all praised the Austrian efficiency that had seen us go from seat to bus in less than 10 minutes. We all slapped our thighs as we passed traffic jams and cold pedestrians traveling in the other direction – oh how we laughed….for around 10 minutes until the bus offloaded us as the Park and Ride in Europark – a small time amusement park on the banks of the Lake some 5 kilometres from the town centre. And of course, as Klagenfurt is so sleepy normal buses do not run past 7pm at night…..Therefore a walk that Randulph Fiennes would have been proud of ensued to get back for last orders at the hotel. So be warned of friendly natives in future!

About the Wörthersee Hypo Arena Stadion
Out of all of the stadiums constructed for Euro 2008, the new Wörthersee Stadium is the most eye-catching and innovative. It is built close to the lake of the same name, in one of the most beautiful areas of Austria. The complex will also include multi-sports facilities to include track and field arenas, fitness centre, as well as training facilities for all year round sports. It is hoped that the stadium will attract a number of high profile European clubs for their pre-season training camps, as is the fashion nowadays.

The new stadium has 32,000 seats, all offering fantastic views of the action. It has three stands with two tiers, with unusually the main stand being a lower one tier stand, although it does has a viewing gallery for VIPs. The roof is translucent, allowing plenty of light to enter into the arena. What is unique about this project is that after the tournament, parts of the stadium will be removed and transferred to other stadiums in Austria including Linz and Graz to increase their capacities. The final capacity of the stadium will be reduced to 12,000 – making it the first stadium of its kind to be built in this way. The concourse areas are wide and offer plenty of opportunities to get refreshments without missing the action. Also, unusually for a stadium all areas of the seating are accessed from this concourse, so that both the upper and lower tiers enter at the same turnstiles. The upper tiers offer a good view of the action, although the rake of the stand is very steep.

Who plays there?
As of the start of October 2007 the Wörthersee Stadion became home to SK Austria Kärnten, a club basically created out of the ashes of FC Superfund who had finished 6th in last season’s Bundesliga. As it only can be in European football, the need to have a top flight team was too much for the local council, who went on a shopping spree that Abramovich would be proud of, and simply bought a club and moved them hundreds of kilometres to Klagenfurt. So, as of September the club, complete with new name, kit and history will start a new era. The original FC Kärnten (known as FC Kelag Kärnten) based at the tiny Kurandtplatz stadium currently playing in the Red Zac 1st League (the 2nd tier of Austrian football) must be rubbing their heads in amazement. Their history has been pretty uneventful since their formation in 1920. They did reach the Austrian Bundesliga in the 1960’s, after promotion in 1965. They went on to stay in the top division for five seasons.

They returned again for periods during the 1970’s and 1980’s before finding some consistency in the early part of this century. After winning the 2nd division in 2001, the club went on to win the Austrian Super cup in May 2001 thus qualifying for the UEFA Cup for the first time although a 4-0 defeat to PAOK Salonika was not the best debut they could have made. However, the following season they made it through again after a 5th place finish in the Bundesliga. This time they managed a victory, beating the Latvians Metalurgs before a 2nd round defeat to Hapoel Tel Aviv. To cap another excellent season in 2003, they reached the UEFA Cup again, losing to Feyenoord in the 2nd round. In 2004 the team were relegated back to the 2nd division where they have remained since, although their 2006 3rd place finish did give the fans hope of a return to the top division right up until the last few games of the season. If they did manage to get promotion this season then expect them also to move to the new stadium. As part of the ramp up events for Euro 2008, the stadium hosted the national team for the first time in a four team tournament featuring Switzerland, Chile and Japan in September 2007.

How to get there
The stadium is located 3km from the shore of Lake Wörther, and 2km from the city centre. You can quite easily walk to the stadium, simply by following Siebenhügelstrasse out of the town centre. It should take no more than 20 minutes. Alternatively you can catch bus number 90 from platform 4 of the bus station in Heiligengeitsplatz, which run every 30 minutes and takes 10 minutes. A single ticket costs €1.70. After the game buses line up close to the stadium – however be warned – make sure you get on the right one otherwise you will end up at the park and ride close to Europark which is nowhere near the town centre.

Getting a ticket
Tickets to see games at the Hypo Arena will be easy to pick up. Over the past few seasons FC Kelag Kärnten have only managed to erage around 1,500 for their home matches, and so it should not be an issue at all turning up on the day of the game and gaining entry. If you do want to buy tickets in advance, then you can book online at http://www.fckaerten.com. Tickets will range in price from €19 for a seat in the main stand, to €16 in any other part of the stadium. At the Sportzentrum Fischl, the club charged €16 for a seat in the main stand, and €10 for a place on the terraces. Tickets for matches during Euro2008 sold out during the public ballot in March 2007.

Getting around
Public transport in Klagenfurt is very poor, and the car is still seen as the best way to get around town. Therefore expect ridiculous traffic jams at some points in the day.


Three countries in 10 minutes – and all for a €1 – Bargain!


Sometimes these trips go wrong. Not spectacularly wrong (yet, touch wood, fingers crossed etc) but wrong…It seems not matter of complex planning on routes, travel, weather and people can sometimes prepare you for the issues that you can face. As I am sure you have read so far, dear reader, I am prone to the occasional oversight or mistake – however so far it has not cost me dear. This trip was another example of when things go wrong, but end up all right. The plan here was very simple – visit the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna to see Austria play Paraguay in a friendly. After all, the stadium is a favourite with UEFA and will host the 2008 European Championship Final. It is also the only UEFA 4 star venue I have not seen a game in. Added to this a journey that took me via Slovakia into Austria and I thought I would pay a visit to some of the more well known Stadia in Bratislava for future research.

Ryanair’s daily flight to Bratislava (or Vienna as they refer to it in some material – after all its only 50 miles away AND IN A DIFFERENT COUNTRY!) is one of the first to depart Stansted airport. But how wrong you would be in thinking at nobody would be at the airport at 4.30am. In fact I would wager that the 2 hours from 4.30am to 6.30am are the busiest period in terms of numbers of people in the terminal during the day. Gone are the days when you would be one of a handful of people on the flight as well – as with flights to the exotic destinations of Brno, Kaunas and Lodz (Czech Republic, Lithuania and Poland to the uninitiated) the flight was over 80% full.

Fast forward two hours and we were touching down in another new country – country 43 by my reckoning. Then came the first problem. Whilst many of the smaller airports have tried as much as possible to “integrate” the arrival of airplanes full of Brits with bulging wallets, Bratislava gave the impression it couldn’t care. In fact I do not think I saw a smiling person all day in the country of Slovakia. You arrive into what can be simply described as a small atrium once you have passed via customs. There are no signs in English to direct you anywhere. Through a process of deduction I would a bus stop, where the trice-hourly bus ran into town. Tickets were by coin payment only….So how do you get coins….The bloke in teh small kiosk next to the bus stop wouldn’t change Euro’s, the only exchange place in the airport was closed, and the cash machine only gave notes…So what do you do? Well, if it was only me I would walk around and around until I found the solution. When there are 30 or 40 people in the same boat, you simply get on the bus and keep quiet!

The bus took us around the airport commercial centre, a place that would do the likes of Bluewater and Lakeside proud – an Ikea, M&S, Nike, Next and a host of other big name shops lined the streets – contrasted by the huge industrial manufacturing chimneys in the background. Then I noticed something….Whilst the place was busy with Saturday morning shoppers, no-one appeared to be carrying any bags – so is it that people come here to window shop before trudging back to their gloomy industrial tower blocks, or do they save it all up for a power spending spree later in the day.

Anyway, my first stop was the Tehlene Pole Stadium – home to Slovan Bratislava, Art Media’s European matches and the national team. It was here in 2003 that the England fans and players alike were racially abused in an incident that was swept under the table by UEFA. Like many such stadiums in Europe at weekends, they are free to enter and even go and play a game on the pitch (although remembering that gun laws here are different, and the conversation with the security patrols may be a tad different to those in Croydon). The stadium is similar in design to Dinamo Moscow’s – one large two tier stand sitting over the three remaining stands – only one of which offers cover from the cruel Slovakian weather. It can hardly be called atmospheric….If you are thinking of watching a game here then catch the Bus 61 from the main station. A ticket (if you can be bothered) will cost 14SKr.

Almost across the road is the Inter stadium – simply exit the Tehelme Pole stadium to the south, turn right and after 200 yards you will see it across the road. Again, the stadium was opened and I was able to freely wander in. The stadium was similar in design to the Tehelme Pole – although the running track was hardly a bonus. What I do not understand with these stadiums in countries where the weather is a little chilly and wet why on earth do they not build roofs??? Direction are as per the Tehelme Pole stadium.

I blagged my way onto a tram this time – full of smiling locals. Now, if we had the quality of women on our trains from New Eltham to London Bridge in the morning I doubt if anyone would complain about standing up….But they just didn’t want to smile…The sun was shining, it was the weekend and they were stunning – but a pair of sunglasses and a frown is not a good look. After a brief walk through the old town – very picturesque, full of British Stag do’s and more than its fair share of “Club xxx” type establishments, I headed over the Danube to find the last stadium on my list – the Art Media Stadium. The club have come to prominence in the past few seasons after some amazing performances in Europe. In 2005 they almost reached the knock-out stages of the Champions League, finally putting out holders Porto to earn a place in the UEFA Cup. The stadium isn’t fit to hold European games – it has no floodlights, although it is a popular concert venue and has hosted Sting and the Scorpions in the past few months. Again, the stadium was open for all to wander in. In fact the team were having a training session ahead of an end of season tournament, and with a cold beer in hand it was the perfect place for a 30 minute break. The stadium is quite similar to some of those you will find in the UK – with three identical stands forming a horseshoe, and one old stand sitting like a sore thumb..The stadium is easily reached from the old town – either by foot (walk across the old bridge across the Danube) or by Bus number 50.

From there I had to walk to the South Station – in an exotic neighbourhood called Petrazalka. Hindsight is a wonderful things, and with it I would have known that Petrazalka means “the biggest council estate in Europe”….not the best place to be walking around with a map and my England track suit top on. But I am not one to miss a shortcut and so straight through the middle I ploughed. Whilst it doesn’t compete with some of the areas in Madrid or Barcelona for poverty (believe me there is real poverty in those places if you want to look for it), it was rough…gangs of youths couldn’t believe seeing me brazenly walk through their “hood” and I can only assume that I survived because they assumed I was some kind of bait from a rival bigger gang. The wierdest thing was that on the edge of the ghetto, the local authorities seemed to have made up for the fact that Slovakia is landlocked by placing a seaside resort there – except the sand and sea. You know the type of buildings, smart flats with balconies, wide “boulevards” with trees and pavement restaurants….Surprisingly no one was eating despite it being 1pm and 25 degrees.

Finally I reached the station in one piece and booked my €8 ticket to Vienna – total journey time of 59minutes. In order to board the trains you need to pass via passport control – technically you are emigrating to another state – although the concept of free travel within EU states must have missed the authorities. Now the great thing about the train is that in the space of 10 minutes you pass from Slovakia, into Hungary before crossing into Austria – as there were stations in all 3 I make it that for less than €1 you can pass between the three countries.

My plan on arriving in Vienna was similar to Bratislava. Check out a couple of the bigger club stadiums before heading over the Ernst Happel in the Prater Park for the game at 5pm. I had concocted a fiendishly simple itiniary that would see me do 5 stadiums in 3 hours……Unfortunately the closure of the main S-Bahn line around the city for maintenance meant that plan 1 had gone out of the window. I decided to change to Plan 2 and within 20 minutes was confidently trying to find an open gate at the stadium of FK Austria Wacker – the current Austrian cup holders located on the main ring road around the city, and a short hop from the 67 Tram. Unfortunately, my luck ran out and I couldn’t find a way in. So onto stadium 2 – the Gerald Haneppi Stadium – home to Vienna’s biggest club – Rapid Vienna. A bus and a U-Bahn ride later and I walked out into the sunshine to find fans. Not one or two, but hundreds. It was 3.30pm – 1 1/2 hours before the national team played – and on the wrong side of town. Undeterred, and under a false assumption that they were here for any other reason that I had screwed up, I marched down the road. As each step hit the ground I realised with more confidence that this small stadium (c.19,000) was in fact the venue for the game – and not as I had planned my whole trip around, the national stadium. Now it wasn’t a disaster – I had been worried I would not have enough time to enjoy my media accreditation and the facilities that go with it – but I had meticulously planned the trip to visit the Ernst Happel Stadium, and tick off another Euro 2008 venue. Still, having picked up my pass and grabbed a free beer, a free burger and a free Rapid Vienna fans pack I settled into my padded seat in the stadium to watch the match.

Despite this being a national team match, the media area was sparsely populated. It was very evident from recently friendly results, and the confidence within the press that if it wasn’t for hosting the tournament, there would be no chance of this team competing on an international stage. They huffed and puffed to a 0-0 draw against the South Americans with ex-Sunderland and Chelsea keeper Jurgen Macho the man of the match. I decided not to stay for the press conference afterwards – my German and Spanish are not exactly fluent so hopped back on my tri-country train trip.

I should have said earlier than I managed to change €50 into 1600 Slovakian Krones. I have not got a clue want this equates to but it had paid for lunch, 3 beers, a book on Slovakian football, a one day transport pass and a return train trip to Vienna. So after clearing immigration back into Slovakia I weighed up if I had enough to get a taxi to the airport. My negotiation went like this…”Airport – How Much”….”Airport-yes we have airport”….”I know but how much to get there”….”No bus there only taxi”….”Yes I know how much”….”Five Hundred”……”Three hundred is that right?”….”No 400″…and so off we went at breakneck speed. There was still a pot of Krones left for a pizza, a beer and some water…..

A long and tiring day – made all the better by Ryanair’s fantastic punctuality record (34 minutes late), and of course the standing joke that is the way Immigration at Stansted airport work completely opposite shifts to when the flights arrive – after all we all love waiting in line for 30 minutes at 1am just to get back into our own country.

Bratislava – The Facts

The Tehelne Pole Stadium
Junacka 2, Bratislava 83104
Capacity: 30,087 All seater

The ground is located around 4.5km north east of the city centre in the Nove Mesto area. The stadium is easily reached by public transport from the city centre. The national stadium is home to Slovan Bratislava, as well as the venue for Artmedia’s European games. During the 2005 Champions League campaign, the pitch bore the brunt of the poor late Autumnal weather, and became almost unplayable in the game versus Porto. With only one covered stand, a space on the open end is not quite as appealing in the cold wet winter than in the barmy spring and summer.

How to get a ticket for the Tehelne Pole Stadium
For all domestic club games tickets are available on the day of the game. Average attendances for Slovakian football is less than 4,000 and so you will have no problem in getting a ticket for a match from either the main ticket office, or direct at the turnstiles. For big European games then information on when the tickets go on sale are posted on the club’s own websites.

The Stadium – The Pasienky Stadium
Vajnorksá 100, Bratislava
Capacity: 13,295 All seater

Very similar in design to the National Stadium, with one single covered stand, an athletics track and curved ends behind the goals, the Pasienky stadium is showing its age. Home attendances rarely hit the 3,000-mark meaning that it lacks real atmosphere.

How to get to the Pasienky Stadium
The stadium is a stone’s throw away from the Tehelme Pole Stadium to the north east of the city centre. Buses 38, 103, 113 and 118 run from the city centre to the ground. Alternatively, catch the metro to Nové Mesto station and then complete the journey by foot.

How to get a ticket for the Pasienky Stadium
Tickets for any game at the Pasienky are available on the day of the match, including those for the big inter city derbies between Slovan, Inter and Art Media. For big European nights, expect the ticket prices to double or even treble. Tickets for a normal league game start from just €8 for a place on a terrace. A posh seat will set you back around €20. Tickets can be bought on the day of the game from the booths along the Vajnorska main road.

Around the Pasienky Stadium
The stadium sits in parkland and a residential area. Around the stadium there is very little in terms of refreshment areas, although on a match day a number of temporarily bars set up shop and sell their wares. With the proximity to the stadium it is best to stick to the city centre for your pre-match drinking.