On the tenth day of TBIR Christmas – Our wish list for 2015

On one of my regular, heavily delayed trips to work thanks to South Eastern Trains we thought about our forthcoming trips and where we could end up.  Every year we should set ourselves stretching personal goals, and what better way than starting to plan our trips for 2015.  New stadiums, old stadiums.  New cities, old cities.  Heck even some old stadiums in old cities if the mood takes us.  But the three below are the ones that we are looking forward to the most, those that really get the pulses racing….

So without further ado, let me introduce you to our 2015 bucket list. Come along, enjoy the ride.

3rd Place – Toumbas Stadium, Salonika
ΠΟΔΟΣΦΑΙΡΟ ΚΥΠΕΛΛΟ ΕΛΛΑΔΟΣ ΠΑΟΚ ΟΛΥΜΠΙΑΚΟΣ“Stu, we are going to see Panthessalonikeios Athlitikós Ómilos Konstantinoupoliton in April”, Danny tells me.  My answer of course, is if you can say it, I’ll pay for it.  And so in April we will be heading off the Salonika, Greece’s 2nd city to watch the chaps from PAOK.  In terms of hostile atmosphere it is up there with the most riotous in the world.  Flares, fire, fans, football.  Apparently beer isn’t allowed, but with the entrance to Hades right next to you, it’s probably best to be sober.

2nd Place – The National Stadium, Singapore
national-stadim-Singapore“Stu, can you head over to Singapore again in February.  I know it’s the third time in a year but I’m sure you can find something to amuse yourself outside of work”.  They had me on Singapore.  Last year when I was in the perfectly manicured city the final touches were being made to the 55,000 all seater national stadium.  Today, it is open.  And boy, does it look good.  The largest domed structure in the world, with specific automatic seating arrangements for football, rugby, cricket and athletics, public transport on the door steps and beer pumped to every seat…well may be.  Basically, it looks like the best thing since Philleas Fogg’s Singapore Sunset.

1st Place – The New San Mamés, Bilbao
imagesThere was very little wrong about a EFW in Bilbao.  Outstanding food, brilliant beer, outrageous architecture and a football ground that oozed atmosphere and history.  So how can you improve on that?  Well, how about building one of the most state of the art and modern stadiums in the world slap-bang next to the old one?  The new stadium fully opened in September 2013 and looks an absolute peach, sitting on the banks of the river with just over 53,000 seats.  Sexy isn’t a word you can use often to describe a football stadium, but this is one such occasion.  The question isn’t when can we go but how often.

Tomorrow – Day eleven of this riotous joyride through 2014 with the best football website.

Into the Lions Den

photo 2 (3)Every year Dave Hartrick and I have the same conversation around Christmas time. “Stu – you going to stop travelling next year?” He would ask me and I would always reply with honesty, “that’s the plan…”. And then every year my travel boundaries are pushed wider, not always through choice…well, OK perhaps with a slight nudge in the work sense.

Copenhagen, Stockholm, Munich, Zürich, Paris. That’s been my regular monthly circuit over the past few years with an occasional stop in New York. Add in the occasional trip overseas with Mr Last et al and all of a sudden I’ve raked up more air miles than Judith Chalmers (kids – ask your Dad). But 2014 had started in line with my annual affirmation. Trips had been restricted to these shores. Was I happy? Of course (that’s one just in case CMF is reading).

But then gears shifted at work and all of a sudden I was being asked to visit new far-flung places for work. Nottingham, Worksop and Amsterdam didn’t really get me too excited but Gibraltar, Singapore, Hong Kong and China gave me the opportunity to travel somewhere new. Was there any football on in these places? The thought never crossed my mind, honestly. The fact that the trip to Hong Kong co-incided with the final round of games in their domestic league was pure luck, I’m sure you’d agree.

Last week I was in Gibraltar, watching one of the lowest supported leagues in the world. This week it was Singapore. Travelling 12 hours to the other side of the world wasn’t 100% fun but a stop in between in Dubai where I met up with Ben in the Emirates lounge helped dull the pain of life 40,000ft above the earth.

photo 3 (3)When I did my search for “Things to do in Singapore”, would you believe it that number two on the list after a trip to The Long Bar in Raffles Hotel was a trip to watch the Singapore Lions. The meant the football team, right? And not the big cats in the Singapore Night Safari? I mean who’d want to see that?

Football in Singapore is massive. Everyone you meet knows more about the Premier League than your average English fan and TV coverage is almost wall to wall. There are shops in the dozens of shopping malls on Orchard Road that are temples to football shirts (one shop Football@313 has over 500 different club/country shirts) and Saturday night prime time TV revolves around live games from the Premier League. Continue reading