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 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 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
Austria Trend Hotel – Kärntnerstrasse 18 Tel: +43 1 588 00800
InterCityHotel Wien – Mariahilferstrasse 122 Tel: +49 69 66564

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

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.

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.