It’s not often you get the opportunity to travel from one end of the footballing spectrum to another in just a few hours. But today was one of those days. After the highs of Lewes’s win at Wingate & Finchley yesterday it was a rude awaking at 3am for the trip to Madrid, on the first flight out of Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport. So early was the departure that I had the BA lounge to myself for a good 15 minutes. Still no Marmite though, but that is another story. As the plane hugged the Atlantic coast of France I looked back on my previous trips to the Spanish capital, each memorable for different reasons.
In 1998, the Current Mrs Fuller and I made our first ever trip to Madrid on Debonair. Remember them? They flew from London Luton and went head to head with Easyjet for a number of years. We pitched up in the middle of the Summer, not realising how hot Madrid could be. A tour of the Bernabau raised temperatures even more, although the roof-top swimming pool of the Emperador was certainly a bonus (Madrid tip number 1: Not only an excellent rooftop pool but a huge buffet breakfast).
Two years later and we were back again. In lieu of Christmas presents to each other we had invested in four consecutive weekends in European destinations that just happened to have four of the biggest football teams in Europe. Milan, Madrid, Munich and Rome. What an outstanding month. Only it seemed such a good idea when we booked it in July. Come January time and CMF was “just” five months pregnant. Not handy for walking up to the top tier of the San Siro but she was a trooper and so I decided to treat her to a seat in the lower tier at the Bernabau. Oh how she enjoyed sitting in the Fondu Sur with flares for company. Nobody has ever mentioned that passive flare smoke is bad for unborn babies so that is OK. In those days the East side of the stadium only had three tiers, rather than the five elsewhere.
Four years later and I was back to help Spain celebrate their 500th fixture. And how were us party guests treated? With water cannons in the streets around the ground, unprovoked baton assaults on the fans in the stadium and the racial abuse of Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips. The actions of the Spanish police went unpunished although their FA were fined $87,000 for failing to act on the abuse from the crowd. So that makes it all alright then. Continue reading