Sutherland to North Holland to North Rhine-Westphalia doesn’t come across as a typical football tour but I’ve been known to do things a bit differently in the past. The plan, three games played in three countries over four days. What brought this on? It wasn’t deliberate; it was part being in the right place at the right time and part jiggery pokery. As I’ve documented before, I had my own personal Highland League agenda(and bucket list item) to take care of which obviously led me to Brora but luck brought me into mainland Europe. I was to attend a course in Essen (twenty two miles from Dortmund) for a couple of days through my work. So how did I end up in Amsterdam? Basically, I work for a laid-back company and through a wee bit of truth bending and telling my work that a plane to Amsterdam and a train to Dortmund was cheaper than flying to Dusseldorf or Frankfurt they were more than happy for me to use this route. As I book my own travel arrangements for training I was effectively told “be at the course on time and hand in your receipts when you get back”. What they didn’t realise was, I had already checked potential fixtures to attend and I was not in fact trying to save them money. Game(s) on
Brora R*****s v Nairn County, Dudgeon Park 19/11/16
A mere three and a half hours driving away the final piece in the jigsaw of my own personal Highland League hike lay. Mother Nature tried her hardest to force this off but the hardy Dudgeon pitch wasn’t playing ball with the big freeze that put off five of the eight HFL games that day. I was positive this game would fall foul, but when my contact* from FitbaNorth.com told me to head up as he had checked the park it came as pleasant surprise. 10am I left the Garioch with Cheap Trick blasting out until Cosgrove and Cowan came on, pretty much the norm for my travels except this time I had the bizarre experience of driving past the venue of that days Dons game (the Caley Stadium)and travel a further sixty miles north. Why not go to the Dons game I hear you ask? Well if I did not attend Dudgeon that day I would have failed to go round the grounds in a calendar year due to offshore commitments, this leading to total failure. After a quick stop in Invergordon to have a look at the rig graveyard that is building up and quick piss and a pint in the Marine hotel I was on my way to the smallest town in the Highland league. (As a comparator its population is exactly half the size of your writer’s sleepy home midden of Oldmeldrum)
Nairn County have had their woes in recent months and this on paper was to be a Brora win all the way. Anything else would be deemed a shock. So when Ross Naismith fired County in the lead and Gary Kerr scored the best volley I have seen in years to double the advantage the shock was on much to the delight of Donald Wilson Dons and Nairn nut, author of “Pittodries Silent Assasin” and all round top man who I spent the first half watching the match with. Brora managed to pull one back before the half setting up a cracking second half. Ten minutes after the restart Nairn were awarded and converted a penalty. From then on the Cattachs bombarded the Nairn goal and inspired substitution Craig Campbell blasted Brora to a more than deserved point with a brace in the final ten minutes. Brora should have won, Brora didn’t win and I drove the one hundred and fifty mile journey happy with the days viewing and six goals served up.
FT Brora R*****s 3-3 Nairn County
*Named BroraBhoy, nice to see the celtic story has reached Sutherland.
Ajax v NEC , Amsterdam ArenA 20/11/16
Could have I fired straight to Germany? Absolutely, did I want to? Nah min, I had another bucket list item to score off as I have a soft spot for Ajax and have done since they won the Champions league in ‘95(When the name was still justifiable}. Even though I was only ten i fell in love with great football and the great players who played it like Jari Litmanen, Frank Rijkaard, Finidi George, Danny Blind and eh Peter van Vossen*. But where the fuck was Ajax, to me it was a mythical town in Europe which had the second-best team in the world which was also complete with name taken from mythical Trojan war hero. From then on I always wanted to see “de Godenzonen” (the closest I ever came was Eurogoals with the brilliant Angus “Statto” Loughran usually commentating). Twenty one years later I was in Ajax (I took my time). It turns out it is not a mythical city but in fact Amsterdam.
4am check in at ABZ complete with a couple of Bodingtons, I was buzzing like a wee bairn. It not something that happens that often these days but I was fucking delighted to be heading over all truth told. After all the boring travel stuff I arrived at Centraal station where the weather was absolutely horrendous. Near gale force winds and biblical rain would be an understatement. I thought my next actions should be Taxi-Hotel-nearest boozer-work out transport to the ground. So I found myself in the world famous Three Sisters Pub at 10am drinking 8% Belgian beer without realising the shit canning potential until the waitress said “if you want to see the football I would change beers”. So after that sensible advice and switch of beers I managed to work out that the Metro was the best way to get to the Arena with this coming as a real disappointment after I was expecting it to be by Trojan horse. What a caker to get there though, a train every eight minutes, thirteen minutes to get there and two stops at the ground. Wiggy if you are looking in, better amend the plans and add a Metro line out to Kingsford. After alighting at the second stop, the child at Christmas excitement hit me again. The red and white scarves and flags were visible, there were thousands of fans kicking about, merch vendors everywhere and best of all the Arena looking like a spaceship had just plonked itself in amongst the endless bars and eateries that line the forecourt between the station and the stadium. After a fruitless search to find a programme, the search morphed into finding the emptiest looking pub. A Grolsh bar directly across from the player’s entrance was to be the place as people seemed to be avoiding it due to chunks of roof blowing off a nearby hotel. (I did say near gale force earlier). Once inside a couple of non-Dutch sounding guys asked if they could sit at my table. After one noticed my Dons polo shirt under my jacket they struck up a conversation. Turned out they were Bristol City fans on a weekend jaunt to get “something different”. It also was apparent pretty quickly they didn’t have many good words in regards to Derek McInnes. They did however say they were gutted Paul Hartley was thirty three when he signed as “he was a fucking player” and would have liked him there a few years prior. A few beers down and some fitba travelling stories swapped it was time to leave my new found Aquascutum clad “Brizzle” pals. After tackling the never ending mass off confusing staircases I found the gate for my seat which was conveniently situated next to a quickly visited bar, but more importantly I noticed the roof was closed, this meaning I was to watch my first ever indoor game, milestone.
NEC or Nijmegen Eendracht Combinatie , Ferne Snoyls employers after his brief visit to the North East, had been struggling prior to this with two wins in twelve so an Ajax win was fully expected. What I didn’t expect was such an amazing display from home side. It was an onslaught from start to finish and really was a joy to watch. NEC did not have a clue how to deal with the magnificent Kasper Dolberg who scored a twenty one minute perfect hatrick to put the hosts in a 3-0 half time lead. A further two goals in the second half completed the scoring but it could have and should have been more. What a way to finally see my childhood second team. The difference now is that Ajax are a selling team now and will lose their better players to Europe’s elite, especially 19-year-old Dane Dolberg who is destined for big things or so I thought. (He moved to Nice in the summer of this year)
One thing I did learn was that stadiums outside city centres can work but Aberdeen are not one of the most successful European teams so I’d be fooling myself to think that our new midden out on the city boundary will be half the experience this was.
FT Ajax 5-0 NEC Nijmegen
*Did not actually make an appearance in the final but was on the bench.
Borussia Dortmund v Legia Warsaw 22/11/16, Westfalenstadion (aka Signal Iduna Park)
As I sat on the red eye train to the heart of Germanys industrial area I couldn’t help thinking about how much I enjoyed the previous days game and how Dortmund v Legia had a lot to live up to. If only I knew what was coming.
Once the first day in Essen was out the way I headed to Dortmund to check into my hotel which happened to be down the street from a bar flying Dortmund flags outside. Maybe a chance to get some local fitba chat and a few beers I thought. This was to be a complete non-event due to the staff to punter ratio being 4:1. But with the football chat at a disappointing minimum I was assured that if I was back the following night it would be a party and I was shown photos and videos of the previous Saturdays pre match piss up, it looked impressive and affa rowdy (the after party was probably better as they beat Bayern Munich 1-0) so like a good boy I retired to my hotel with a wee pick n mix of untried and unheard of tinnies. (Does anyone do beer better than Ze Germans?)
Once back from Essen on the Tuesday. I headed into the city straight from the train as I thought surely if i head to a bar on match day I might meet some fitba fans. If you have never been to Dortmund turns out it is weird, there are no bloody pubs in the city centre. By none I mean none and trust me, I looked hard. This to me was surprising considering it was once the brewing capital of Germany. There are however two traditional restaurants at each end of the main street. So after a few pints and some delightful German cuisine in both I was still yet to see a yellow and black piece of clothing anywhere bar the club shop. I was beginning to doubt the game was that night. As the sun started to set I decided to dump my bag at the hotel and head to the bar from the previous night. I walked in at 6pm local time (almost three hours before KO) and there were the same four staff from the previous night but instead of just me there were an elderly couple in the corner. I stayed an hour and gave up and decided to toddle off to the stadium. As the glow of the floodlights began to fill the above the gargantuan yellow girders jutting out from each side of the ground, as if from out of nowhere there was yellow and black everywhere, thousands of punters filled the pavements as if they had teleported themselves there. Unlike in Amsterdam where there are bars all the way up to the ground the Westfallen (not using its modern day sell out name) has vendors everywhere, sausage vendors, beer vendors, pretzel vendors, burger vendors, more beer vendors and of course merch vendors but it has its own charm about it, people standing about having a good time, supping a few beers while having a blether. On the adjacent grass some kids having a kick about while their dad has a swift pint before the game. It was here I finally got some fitba chat with a guy around ages with me called Topp. We talked about Dortmunds season, Aberdeen and the scourge of German fitba RB Leipzig and mostly the fact the whole of Germany hates them. He even went on to say he would rather Bayern won the league than those “fucking bastards”. So that shows the country wide loathing they have amassed in their short (but longer than sevco) seven and a bit year history. After a few weiss biers with Topp (who was a topp man for the record) I was directed to my gate and we said our auf wiedersehens.
When buying my ticket I deliberately got my seat in the “nord tribune”. The reason, so I could face the famous “Yellow Wall” or “die sudtribune”. I wanted to see it rather than experience it and what a sight it is, bigger than Pittodrie for domestic games at twenty five thousand and completely standing (railed seats are used for international and Champions League) and as steep as fuck, as is the rest of the ground which I imagine can be intimidating for opposition players. It really has to be seen as describing it just doesn’t do it justice and I saw it on a smaller capacity night. Unfortunately there was no huge display on the night as there has been in the past for Champions League matches; this was maybe down to the damp squibbishness of the match. Dortmund had walloped Warsaw 6-0 in Poland and had already qualified prior to this. But there was an interesting display which read “Fuck You UEFA Mafia, Football Is Nothing Without us Fans”. This was to do with the new Champions league set up that’s on its way, which funnily enough Dortmund will go straight into if they are top four in the Bundesliga, so i found it to be a decent show of solidarity from fans that will benefit from this obscene bullshit. Not that it will affect the Dons any time soon
The game itself will not only be never forgotten by me but the history books as it’s the highest scoring game in the Champions League ever and most likely forever. Once the Champions league anthem and rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (gads, fucking gads) were out the way it was game time and I can only say it was absolutely outstanding entertainment. How can I squeeze it into a few words.0-1, 1-1, 2-1, 3-1, 3-2, 4-2, 5-2 and that was only half time. I was literally rubbing my eyes in disbelief, had I had too many beers with Topp? Once the second half got under way every time there was a break on the crowd were on their feet cheering for more and that went for Warsaw when they broke too. Everyone seemed to know that the events unfolding in front of them were something exceptional in the making. The second half was dull in comparison with only the five goals. Hats off to twenty seven seven of the twenty eight players on show, Radoslaw Cierzniak can fuck off as he’s an dirty arab bastard though.I will doth my hat extra specially to Shinji Kagawa who was the maestro behind most of Dortmund’s play and id go as far as putting his shift as one of the best performances I’ve seen in the flesh, definitely a 10 in Champ Manager. One stat from the game I was surprised about, twelve goals yet no hatrick, but on the other hand there were three braces (Kagawa, Reus for the home side and Prijovic for the visitors). Three players scoring two must be some kind of rarity so I’ll take that over a hatrick as id already got one at Ajax. Football at its craziest..
FT Borussia Dortmund 8- 4 Legia Warsaw
When I boarded the train at Dortmund Hauptbanhoff and made myself comfy for my three hour hike back to Amsterdam the realisation hit me. I had watched three games in four days and had seen the net rustle an astounding twenty three times. In the following games played by the six viewed clubs mentioned above the total goal count between the twelve teams was twenty four. That was inclusive of 4-3 Brora victory v Strathspey and a 3-2 NEC win v Twente which are high scoring in everyday football. That stat in itself shows how out of the ordinary what I had witnessed was. I have been critical of modern football in recent years and have been especially critical of the Champions league among other branches of overhyped pish and yet I had just had and awesome run of games inclusive of the Champions League and I doubt I could have enjoyed it any more. I will always stick by the whole “goals make games” philosophy. Any level of football can be entertaining if there are goals. So after my 7.6 average I ask myself is modern day fitba as overhyped and boring as I like to make it out as? Or was someone just a lucky boy. I think I’ll go for the latter. I must have had itchy ears the day I bought my tickets.