I didn't even know where Bruges fucking was.
For a while I’ve been trying to persuade the crew that taking in a game on foreign shores would be a great excuse to get away, have a few beers and take in some strange football. Up until this summer though, they’d largely resisted due to understandably not wanting to miss any action with the U’s.
But, after some deeper research, it became clear that quite a few European leagues start up to a month before we do, thus meaning if we did skip any Sutton action, it would be nothing but pre-season games. This helps and eventually, after some gentle prodding I’ve found a trip cheap enough & close enough. All we need to know now is if we’ll have a game on the 10th August.
|On the road. I mean the train....oh whatever.|
What’s that? We’re going to Farnborough? For a friendly? Fuck that. It's shit at the best of times and besides, we’re there in the league in 6 weeks time. So, to Belgium gentlemen! The original plan is to go and spend a couple of days in the beautiful city of Bruges and take in Club Bruges v Zulte Waregem for our football fix. Then we spot that Oostende, newly promoted to the top level and just a 15min train ride away are also at home on the same day. C’mon Belgians, move one of ‘em. Double header! You know you want to!
For once, it seems the football gods are smiling on us and having all booked up for Bruges, the league obliges and sets the Oostende game for the Saturday night several hours after we arrive and move the Bruges game for the Sunday afternoon. Lovely stuff!
Fast forward and it’s now early on a Saturday morning and I’m heading to Dukey’s for my first pickup. As it’s my stupid idea, I’m providing the transport! Next up is Nick the Taff, then our part-time drunken away day companion Crockett and finally, the shadowy & mysterious Mr X. Surprisingly all are awake, not hungover and on time. Next stop, Channel Tunnel. The drive down is good and the chatter suitably childish as we congratulate Mr X on his choice of exotic and almost completely beer-less Morocco for his recent holiday. I mean, not being able to get a pint in a Muslim country during Ramadan. What are the the odds?
|No cats, dogs, assault rifles and definitely no fucking ferrets....|
We’re checked in on time and having made sure we’re not carrying any firearms or ferrets in the vehicle, are soon in the queue for our train. Then finally, our first fuck up of the day. As Mr X heads to a nearby vending machine for a drink he finds that he is lacking something important. His wallet. Of course, the rest of the group console him in the only way we know how. By pissing ourselves laughing. Once we’ve wiped our eyes, we of course rally round our fallen comrade and offer to bail him out for the weekend at rates that would make Wonga feel good about themselves. The train journey itself is pretty dull, what with no scenery for us to peer out the window at (Crockett is disappointed he can’t see any fish), so we pass the time by mainly making wallet related jokes.
The drive on the other side is relatively uneventful, all except for a slight error on my part somewhere near Bruges where with a passenger shouting directions as we approached a roundabout, I may have taken it in the style generally found acceptable within the British Isles. Which if you're relatively up on your highway code, you'll know is bad, as this is the opposite to that used in Europe. Fortunately, no one died and after a short pause to regain my composure from simultaneously laughing in hysterics combined with having a minor mental breakdown, we continue on our way into town.
|Over 35? This'll make you chuckle....|
Digs located just before 2pm, we grab a touristy map from reception and set about using it’s ‘bars we think you'd like to get twatted in’ section to help us drink our way down towards the station and our train to Oostende for the game that evening. This included a visit to ‘Joeys Cafe’ (which, due to my age and childhood playground insults, made me giggle like a small child) and a tiny place called the ‘Staminee de Garre’, tucked down an alleyway so small and nondescript, we walked past it 3 times before we worked out where it was. Although the half billion tourists walking down this street from the main square didn’t help with it’s visibility. Here we partook of their famous ‘Tripel de Garre’. An almost Orange coloured liquid, served in a squat little goblet and clocking in at around the 11.5% mark. Topped up on this delightful, rather shap flavoured rocket fuel and with heads starting to go a bit fuzzy, we found the station and after grabbing a can of Jupiler and a sarnie each, settled in for the short hop to Oostende.
|Welcome to Oostende....|
We’re soon stepping off at the delightfully tatty and characterful station in Oostende and stroll towards the seafront before getting bored and stumbling into a small smelly bar. Another quick beer to refresh ourselves and we head off in search of Marvin Gaye. Or, the statue of him that sits near the promenade to be exact.
Yeah, you’re sat there thinking “Marvin Gaye? Just how pissed were you lot?” and ordinarily, you’d probably be right with the answer to your question being "I love you! You're my bescht friend!". But, in this case, there really is a statue dedicated to the late soul singer Marvin Pentz Gaye Jr, in a scruffy seaside town in Belgium. The reason for this? Well fact fans, ol’ Marv found himself living there in self imposed exile from the American tax man in the very early 80’s and is where he wrote probably his most famous song, 'Sexual Healing'. The video for it was also shot at the Kursaal Casino in the town and it’s in the lobby of this building that a not at all tacky statue of Marvin sat at a piano can be found. It's 'painted with a gold rattle can from Halfords' look almost enough to bring a tear to the eye. And so having paid our respects to one of the finest soul singers ever (and dented our drunken manly football yobs persona a tad), we settle down in a nearby bar for a couple more refreshers. Here the local barman advises us to get a cab to the ground, but we decide "What the fuck does he know, he only lives here!" and instead head off on the rather-quite-a-lot-longer-than-we’d-hoped stroll to the Albertparkstadion. Home of KV Oostende.
|Amazing what you can do with some Halfords rattle cans....|
KVO’s stadium is down past a large racecourse (which apparently looked like Basingstoke’s Camrose according to one in our party) and tucked almost, but not quite out of sight behind a retail park type place, which includes a Sports Direct. Here begins the task of getting tickets, which when you’ve sunk nothing lower than 6% for several hours, is a little harder than it sounds. The nearby turnstiles don’t seem to give much info, so we ask some friendly local coppers. They direct us to the ticket office behind the main stand and there a nice helpful chap tells us to go back to the turnstiles. This instantly gives us a dim view of the local constabulary. So we join the queue of locals with our 14 euros in hand and await our turn. Whilst chatting away, a guy approaches and asks if we’re English I confirm we are and he asks what on earth we’re doing here today. It’s only after we’ve been conversing for a minute or two I realise he’s holding a microphone.
Before I know it, what turns out to have been my rehearsal is over and I’m staring into a camera, being recorded for Belgian national TV (go to 23mins in. See anyone you know?) and answering many of the questions I’d just been asked before ‘off air’. Mr X gets in on the action by chipping in a prediction no one has asked for. “Oshtende win four nil!” in his best Schteve McLaren. And suddenly I feel slightly better about my own effort. Besides, they’ll never use it anyway. Will they? Oh please god don't let them use it.....
|Hot Jupiler Pro League action.....|
Inside, we hit the outside bar and take in the pre-match buzz. We’re in the home end and it’s looking pretty busy. Crockett goes in search of programmes and returns with two team sheets (better than nothing) and Dukey heads off to the club shop to liberate a scarf for Juan’s collection. I give him a few more euros and instruct him to kit out the whole crew. We shall not be casuals today my friends! Oh no!
With colours sorted, we head in for a look at the clubhouse. Which reminds us a little of Sutton’s Players Bar at home, with it’s sloped roof thanks to the rake of the stand. And with more beer obtained, we head out for kick off.
Now, we’re not expecting much as we find a spot at the front of the stand right behind the goal. Neither of these sides has managed a win in their opening 2 games, with our hosts sitting bottom of the table and Leuven only 2 spots above them. However, the football is of a decent standard, with the emphasis on getting it wide and being played to feet. One thing we’re not used to is the quality of touch, although the set pieces are somewhat awful. Usually failing to beat the 1st man.
KVO make most of the running and spurn a couple of decent chances as well as forcing a couple of decent saves from the visiting ‘keeper before Leuven manage to earn a corner on about their first serious foray forward about half an hour in. We’re too shocked by the first decent delivery of the day to notice the tussle in the 6 yard box that causes the ref to point to the spot. Bollocks! The locals aren’t impressed and put out a fair volume of harsh whistling and booing (rather than just calling the ref a useless cunt like we probably would). But the Leuven #17 Messoudi ingores the catcalls and slips the pen home. Just over the crescendo of boos & whistles, we can hear the visiting fans cheers from the far end.
|The locals in full voice....|
This gets the ire of the home support even more and we’re tickled to hear a couple of chants in plain English, albeit heavily accented. “Yoor. shupport Is. fuuking Schit!” and “Ve all agree. Leuven schupporters. Are wunkers!”. Dukey is thoroughly amused by all this, with the second number proving particularly catchy (so much so, he could still be heard whistling it to himelf out in town the following night). The noise the small group of locals put out is pretty impressive and they back their guys to the hilt. With the home side shooting this way in the second half, we’re looking forward to it going up a notch.
At the beak, Leuven still lead with Oostende having been a little deflated by the goal. Here we take the opportunity to stock up on more little plastic cups of Jupiler and I treat myself to a braadworst. Which is awesome and helps a little to alleviate the damage done by strong Belgian beer. We also take time to discuss the fact that despite supposedly playing in red, our hosts this evening are wearing their light blue change strip. And we can't work out why.
For the second half, the home side are reinvigorated and roared on by the home fans, they set about trying to reduce the defecit. However having forced plenty of corners and free kicks around the box (mostly delivered like we were taking them) it looks like it’s going to be one of those days. But then a cross in from our left towards the near post sees a KVO man take a tumble in the box. Penalty!
The #16, Yohan Brouckaert has the job of restoring parity and after one of those stuttered run ups, leaves the Ian Walker-esque stupid floppy haircutted Leuven stopper sprawling as he rolls in the spot kick, much to the delight of the locals packed into the little stand behind us. From here, Oostende push for the winner, but despite a couple of near misses and one the ‘keeper almost spills into his own net, they are frustrated and instead must share their first point of the season with their guests.
|The KVO goalscorer......|
Having thoroughly enjoyed our evening of Jupiler Pro League action, we need to skedaddle and get our train back to Bruges. So rather than walk back and with cabs almost non-existant, we decide to use the local tram. Here we witness a mostly good natured sing off between a small group of travelling fans and the locals. This proves entertaining until we twig we’re on the wrong platform and must join the Leuven mob on their side. Ooops. Hello! Ignore the scarves, we’re tourists! Please don’t shout at us.....
As we have a few minutes to wait, we send Mr X into the shop behind us with 20 euros and obtain some cans for the trip ‘home’. In his true true awayday "24 Buds!"style, he returns with a dozen beers having thought that because we gave him 20 notes, he had to spend the whole lot and not just pick up a 4 pack.
Our tram is packed when it arrives, but we all pile on and after a couple of minutes, a couple of lads sat to our right pipe up. “Are you lot from London?”. Turns out they’re from Epsom and on a stag weekend on the coast with some Belgian friends. “You’re the first English speakers we’ve met today!” they admit, sounding happy to hear some fellow Brits. But before we can say “Fuck me, how do we always manage to meet people from back home?” another couple of guys have accosted Nick the Taff. It turns our they’re from even closer to us. Sutton itself! And even weirder, they've recognised him from having gone to Sutton Grammar with the Taff’s older brother!
|AlbertParkStadion under lights....|
Shaking our heads of this weird bit of small worldage, we jump off at the station. Still with a lot of cans of beer left and 15 minutes to drink them. Well, it's worth a try.
We fail. Instead we lug them with us, swigging as we walk back from Bruges station into town, where we encounter a fountain and some lewd pics are taken as a couple of the statues are female and ejecting water from their breastal regions. Thankfully, there’s no one else about to witness this stereotypically Brits abroad behaviour.
Once more out of beverages, we again go in search of somewhere to park up and carry on drinking. In typical fashion, we pick a lively looking place by the name of ‘Bras’. As in the type of ladies underwear. Disappointingly though, the female staff members are disgracefully over dressed. Still, we have beer and a nice seat outside to slump in.
|This man is pouring some really big fucking beers....|
Before too long we find ourselves chatting to a young lady by the name of Fleur and her two male companions on the next table. They’re soon making some of us feel really very old as we find out that the legal drinking age is a couple of years below that back home. And they’re all under the age of 18. Although I and Dukey are more shocked that the two young lads have no idea who Enzo Schifo is! Come on! Enzo Schifo! Midfielder. Monaco & Anderlecht. Played in 3 world cups??
Oh never mind. Bloody kids.
Oh look, we need more beer! Mr X & I head indoors to claim the next round and we order. The barman asks what size we want and gives the choice of small medium or large. Before I can make the vaguely sensible choice, someone else who shall remain nameless has drunkenly blurted out “Large!”, the bellend. A few moments later, Mr Barman returns with what can only be described as an obscene mount of beer in four glasses so big that even we don’t have a bag big enough to put them in to steal.There’s also the cost.
32 Euros. Idiot!
So we return to our table with our beer skyscrapers and set about draining them. From here, things get fuzzy and having finally polished off our fucking ridiculously large 2 litre drinks after approximately 12 hours on the piss we strangely find ourselves somewhat full. So we bid our new friends who don’t know who Enzo Schifo is goodbye and head back towards our digs. Dukey and I lead the way and having drunk far too much and are in need of sustenance. Dirty, greasy sustenance.
Hey, where did the others go??
Before we know it, we’re back at the digs, it’s gone 3am and we’ve failed utterly to get some greasy grub. And there’s no sign of the other 3 members of our party. We of course wonder where they’ve got to, but mainly we’re just hungry. So we set off back the way we came, utterly determined to get food. Oh and maybe find the others.
And halfway back to town we finally find what we’re looking for. A very late night kebab place. What? The others? Oh who cares, I have burger & chips.
Finally fed, we wander back to our beds to find the other idiots have only just arrived back themselves. It’s well gone 4, so christ only knows what route they took home! Especially considering it’s the one straight road between the last pub and here. Still, it's a conundrum that shall remain unsolved as it's well past my beddy byes and we've got more football and no doubt more of Bruges beer reserves to drain tomorrow.
Still, dreaming up a load of nonsense to write about that one is on Dukey. I'm off duty!