Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Road to Schiphol - Football Abroad

Thursday 24th June 2004. England v Portugal in the European Championships quarter-final and the Three Lions latest predictable failure on penalties in a major international competition. Where were you for it?

Some were actually there. Some may even claim they were (why?). Most no doubt watched it on TV. And if you’re one of those, you’re one lucky lucky bastard. Because there’s also the very select few (eg. me) who ended up stuck in fucking Amsterdam airport all day. With a fucking ticket.

This is my story. None of the names have been changed as I either couldn’t be bothered or didn't find them out in the first place.


Really. Fucking. Early.....

My alarm goes off at the really rather too early hour of 4am. What am I doing this for again? Oh yeah, that's right, I’ve got to be in Lisbon by early afternoon for some football match or other. With this thought now firmly plugged back into my consciousness, I’m up and all showered & ready to go by 4.15. Which is a bit annoying as my cab isn’t due until 5.15. So I decide to kill time sitting on the sofa like a small child waiting at the bottom of the chimney for Santa, checking my ticket every twenty minutes to ensure I’ve not lost it whilst I’ve been sat here and not moved. Amazingly, my cab arrives on time and I’m off to London City Airport for a 7.40 flight to Amsterdam before heading to Lisbon from there. Little do I realize that this is honestly as good as today will probably get.

The airport is pretty quiet when I arrive, which isn’t that surprising given it’s only just gone 6am on a Thursday morning. So I’m checked in in no time and then head off to scoff some much needed fatty breakfast food before going though to departures. Here, just past security I’m mildly interrogated by two policemen who are amazed to find I’m neither a Millwall fan (it seems there's a few on my flight), on their list of naughty people they're supposed to be stopping travelling and am actually heading Lisbon-wards in possession of a genuine ticket for the game.


The gates to hell.....

More waiting follows as 7.40am approaches, arrives, passes and is swiftly followed by the inevitable announcement that the 7.40 departure to Amsterdam has been delayed until 9am.

Naturally, I start to panic a little bit. This journey doesn't have much in the way of 'margin of error' factored into it, so I swiftly head for the nearest KLM desk to demand to know what the chuff is going on. It turns out that it’s a bit foggy out in the land of Windmills and Tulips and am told I’ll instead be on 5pm-ish flight to Lisbon from Amsterdam instead of the planned 11am departure which makes getting to Estadio da Luz in time for Kick Off just a little more than a tad tight. I start to panic a lot more now, despite being assured by the KLM lady that it is very possible I can still catch my original connection in Amsterdam as the same delays are affecting other outgoing flights from there by about an hour & as it's not a big airport, I can run between gates.

With this in mind I decide to risk it and check my bag back out. Removing all essentials like toiletries, a change of socks & undies, a spare shirt and an 18ftx9ft Sutton United St George’s flag that I can take as hand luggage to make that mad dash between gates that bit easier. The rest I'll worry about when I wake up tomorrow.

After a rather nervy wait, finally my 7.40 flight leaves. At, er 9.20. And after a somewhat dull flight, we finally land at 11.50 at a still rather murky looking Amsterdam time. Sadly, touchdown is achieved at the arse end of the fucking airport and a good 10 minute bus ride away from the actual terminal. As we trundle along the tarmac, I stare out into the remaining fog, picking out the shapes of other airliners and begin to wonder just when exactly I'll get my chance to show off my sprinting skills.


Oh cock it....

Finally we arrive in the terminal itself and the nearest information screen shows absolutely no sign of my flight to Lisbon, delayed or otherwise. A nice Dutch lady on a nearby Information desk then confirms what I deep down already know. The connecting flight had indeed already left  and at 11.15, just 15 minutes late and not quite the hour as claimed by Miss Lying KLM bitch back in London. Running, it would seem, is no longer required, nor even an option. I mean, I’m no couch potatoe, but even I can’t catch an A320 with over a 45 minute head start. More importantly, nor can I fly. The same lady then politely directs me to KLM 'Transfer Desk 2' so I can arrange to get my arse onto an alternative flight.

After a short stroll through an otherwise quiet terminal, I eventually locate ‘Transfer Desk 2’. It's hard to miss really, given it resembles the departure lounge of an airport of some small Republic not long after a military coup. In other words, tt's rather busy and full of concerned people wondering when the fuck they're getting out of here to wherever they're supposed to be. As if to rub salt into the wound, Desk 2 is unsurprisingly right next to the completely fucking deserted ‘Transfer Desk 1’. So, I do what us British do best. I join the nearest queue and proceed to spend 2hrs 40min waiting at KLM 'transfer desk 2’ before finally being told the next flight to Lisbon leaves at 7.10pm.

Of course, this confuses me slightly and I politely enquire what the chuff happened to my 5pm-ish flight I'd been promised and react badly to being informed “It is full” and even worse to being informed that I “should really have checked in earlier”. In response, I politely tell the lady I had been queuing since bloody 12 noon and the only way I could have checked in any earlier was to produce a firearm and use it to persuade the other nice people in front of me to let me jump the queue somewhat. This apparently doesn't wash and I'm definitely not getting the 5pm.

I feel like crying. But as I’m British and we don’t do that sort of thing, so I look for some inanimate object, or perhaps even an innocent foreigner to kick the crap out of instead. Still, it seems I'm not the only one being somewhat fucked about as the couple in front of me have just arrived from Paris on their way to Dublin and have been told they’re being re-routed to their intended destination. Via Paris. Go figure! After much soul searching, I decide to continue my journey, suffering the pain of not actually seeing the game & hoping there's one fucking huge English based party in Rossio Square for me to join when I arrive so I can drink myself senseless and forget any of this ever happened.


Roughly the 6th level of hell....

An idea also pops into my head of trying to get a ticket for France versus Greece the following day. Taking out the mountain of frustration I currently have welling inside me by drunkenly abusing the massed ranks of ‘Les Blues’ seems a very appealing way to spend an afternoon in Lisbon.  Resigned to my fate, I decide to have some lunch and then head to internet café place to check emails & kill some of the several hours I have at my disposal faffing about online. And I'm glad I did as I find my travel company have emailed me to say that there has been a small error & they have double booked me at the hotel I’d found. You know, the only one in fucking Lisbon seemingly with a room still available. Which as it turns out, it didn't. So to top things off, I now also have nowhere to sleep when my 7.10 flight finally arrives and I eventually want to fall into an alcohol induced coma after getting somewhat drunk.

Now a tad frustrated to the level where I could happily punch a particularly cute kitten, I send a rather terse reply regarding full refunds and adequate compensation. Although I get a nagging suspicion that simply tapping out “thanks a fucking bunch you useless wankers” would be infinitely more satisfying. I then sit back and seriously think about ending it all. As football trips go, this one's a stinker and I've had a few bad ones!

Instead, I resolve to find the nearest bar to sit at whilst weighing up best way to commit hari kari, as I find there is no better way to contemplate killing oneself than with a beer in your hand. And with that first beer of the day in my hand, I decide drinking myself to death is probably the most attractive (and least messy) option. With this in mind, I further mull over the options available to me by rapidly sinking my second beer of the day. Swiftly followed by a chaser. Then another.

Eventually I decide I won’t actually top myself, but show true British grit instead and rather that sit around in Schipol fucking airport moping, I’ll go home to cry like a big girl under my duvet instead, where no one can see me. So, it’s an annoyed stomp up to the check-in area and try to snag a flight home ASAP. Any flight. But here everyone either laughs at me or quotes a price for a ticket that I'd expect would allow me to actually take the plane home with me & keep it when we arrive back in London.

Strangely, I begin to really hate Schiphol Airport with a passion and I consider once more ending it all, concocting a haphazard plan where I put my little rucksack on under my jacket, wrap my towel round my head and run around screaming "Allah Akhbar!" at the top of my voice in the vain hope one of the security guys will think ‘suicide bomber!’ and swiftly end my suffering with a short burst of semi-automatic gunfire.

Instead I decide I'll have another beer. Maybe two. And possibly another short. Or three.


Not my ticket, obviously. This one's been fucking used....

Having decided to continue with the drinking plan in the short term, I’m quickly annoyed again by trying to actually locate a bar in the check in area. Naturally, all watering holes & booze are airside on the other side of security, another cunning plan (even better than the 'Terrorist' one) pops into my spinning, frustrated little head. I’ll got to the KLM ticket desk over there and turn on the ol' Taz charm, or failing that, outright beg/plead/threaten/bribe them to change my return flight back from Lisbon to London on the Saturday to today instead. Who said the ‘Bulldog Spirit’ was dead eh?

The nice and very pretty Dutch lady at KLM ticket desk listens in utter open mouthed disbelief to my story of misery and taking full on pity regarding my plight, she instantly changes the return ticket without question. My guess is she's either impressed by my storytelling ability or just wants shot of the depressed, mildy drunk English bloke in front of her, as she not only confirms me on the 8.05pm to Heathrow but also puts me on standby for the earlier 7.05pm too. Just in case a spot opens up.

I try to hug & kiss the woman behind desk but a nearby security guard intervenes, thankfully without the use of pepper spray, baton or firearms. Which makes me think things are finally looking up.

The next obstacle is I once more have to go through security and their fucking bleepy metal detector thingy for about the 6th time today (without beeping natch) just to get back to departures. Secretly I worry if such regular exposure to these things over such a short space of time causes infertility. As I’m wondering about my future parental chances, I pick up my jacket from x-ray conveyer belt wotsit and  find a scrumpled up bit of paper underneath. Instinctively I grab it (as it’s under my jacket) and as I walk away from security I unravel it to work out what I very nearly lost and find that it’s actually a 50 euro note. It’s certainly not mine as all my European type shekels are safely tucked away in my wallet. That and none of mine I brought on the trip was a fifty.

Nonetheless, none of this matters today and I shamelessly pocket it anyway as I’m having a difficult time of it and quite frankly fucking deserve that bit of good fortune.

Now, the plan of getting smashed I feel is a good one, however with now even longer to wait until my escape from this hell hole, getting falling down pissed and being denied access to the plane is the last thing I really need. So  I decide to err on the side of caution and return to the internet place to kill a bit more time and it is here that I start to type all this load of old pony, finding it slightly therapeutic to share my misery with a text document and get it all out of my system. Who knows, if I publish this when I get home maybe someone will buy the movie rights? I can see it now, it'd be like a cross between an Ealing farce and Tom Hanks 'The Terminal', directed by Ingmar  Bergman. A surefire winner and no mistake. The 21st century's answer to 'An Evening with Gary Lineker' clearly. Although with more swearing. A lot lot more swearing.


Possible infertility versus cash money windfall...

Before too long, I’m all vented out and decide now is a good time to slope off in the direction of my departure gate with my recent 50 euro windfall to get the party started. Having found the gate, I am overjoyed to not only find a little cafe/bar thing opposite, but also that it sells a wonderfully wide and varied selection of alcohol. So I make use of my European Union issued Bullseye and throw several bottles of local brew down my neck in quick succession. Follwed by a couple of shorts, before making the extremely short trip to Gate E08 about 10 yards away for that 'stand by' option at 7.10pm.

Given the way today has panned out, I’m more surprised by the fact I'm surprised to find that the stand by flight is also delayed. I just start laughing like a madman. The laugh of a madman approaching his 10th hour in Amster-bastard-fucking-dam airport to be precise. It seems my new approximate departure time is now apparently 9.45. Which causes me to mutter obscenities under my breath regarding people of a clog wearing persuasion that operate airlines and airports, as well as the fact that I now have another 2 hours to kill.

By now more than bored of my existence in Dutch airport limbo and given that had I got any sort of inkling of the utter disaster that was to befall me, I could have got the train into town and well, done what one tends to do in Amsterdam rather than toss is off here on my own, I enquire as to latest reason for my spending another 2 hours in this fucking dump. To which the umpteenth nice Dutch lady behind a desk today informs me there are no 'air crew' (that’s 'pilots' to you and me) available to fly the plane. Bouyed by my alcohol intake, I half jokingly volunteer 'to have a bash' seeing as they're a bit short handed whilst their staff are off no doubt ‘schmoking schome drugs’ in town (like I probably should be). Professional to a tee, the nice lady says she didn't think that would be possible. Something to do with 'insurance liabilities' apparently. I’m not sure if my excuse of having left my pilots licence "in my other jacket" is entirely believed either. At this point, I figure I can't be far off a chat with airport security and let the matter rest.

My obvious frustration at the day's events attracts the attention of other passengers in the vacinity and I end up proceeding to tell my sorry tale of woe to umpteen disbelieving souls. The last of these umpteen disbelieving soul requests a picture of me & my soon to be rather quite useless Euro 2004 quarter final ticket, as and I quote "My mates will never believe all that!". I oblige & smile as sweetly as someone who is having probably the worst fucking day of their life possibly can. Still, I hope such irrefutable photographic evidence as this meant that his mates did indeed believe him when he told them the tale down the pub of the time he met the unluckiest ginger idiot in Europe.

Bollocks to this, I’m off back to the bar. Managing to put another dent in my 50 euro 'sanity fund' windfall with 3 more beers and a chaser before they insist they must close up for the evening. Oh come on! Still, they do inform me of the location of the one alcohol selling joint in the place that remains open late and it has a telly, so I amble on over in that direction to try and catch as much of the 1st half of the game as I can. The game I’ve got a sodding ticket for and been stuck here all fucking day trying to get to. Deciding to do now dispense with the services of the rather average local beer on offer, I instead order several shorts as I settle down with numerous other pissed off, although not quite as pissed off as me I'd wager, travellers also trying to kill some time waiting for their messed up flights.

The game goes something like this...

Owen scores.
I drink.
England play somewhat unconvincingly.
I drink some more.
I'm unable to spot my empty seat behind the goal on the TV.
Er.........I drink a bit more.

Half time finally arrives with England still ahead, but it’s now time for me to use that handy 15 minute break in while they have their oranges & stuff in Lisbon to stroll, with a bottle of the strongest Dutch beer money could buy in my hand, back to my old friend gate E08 for some flight that may or may not take off at some point. Sometime. Soon. Maybe. Who knows? Fuck it.

Still, on the upside, I’ve only another 4 years, 364 days, 15 hours to survive here before I can claim my Dutch citizenship and be able to get the really good stuff in the cafes of Amsterdam full time. Do locals get a discount on that sort of stuff?


JUST. FUCKING. FLY!

Once more, I enquire of the nice Dutch lady behind desk, thankfully a different one to before, at Gate E08 the likelihood of me ever seeing my own country again. She smiles and points at a big window, through which can be seen a big plane parked below. I then point out that she can gesticulate to that big plane thing through the big window all she likes, but that it's currently not fucking doing what it was bloody well designed for. Eg: Flying.

I also suggest that getting the "poxy fucking bastard thing" where it's supposed to be may go some way to actually impressing me. Again I'm startled that at this point the nice lady once more doesn’t call security and have me executed. So I guess it's true what they say you know, they really are a pretty laid back, chilled out bunch the Dutch.

Must be all the drugs.

After what seems another age, KLM flight KL1027 as I've now come to know it, due to leave Amster-frigging-arsehole-dam at 7.10pm and then 9.45pm, finally starts boarding. The end of my ordeal is in sight! Well, sort of. As at 10.00pm the passengers of KLM flight KL1027 then proceed to shatter what I reckon is the world record for 'Longest time taken to board a commercial fucking airliner', so I take the opportunity to give Guinness a buzz to see if that's a category in that book of theirs and if not, I've got the winner right here if they want it. I also ask if I can order a takeaway for delivery at the same time, but I’m informed “that’s a different department". Typical.

It’s soon clear to me why the boarding is going somewhat slower than it should do. Some absolute fucking genius has foolishly somehow tuned one of the information screens in to so that it is showing a football match. currently underway in Portugal. Which just so happens to be the match I have a ticket for. The TV person's genuis also extends to the fact that the screen they've chosen can only be viewed whilst stood around the entrance to the jetway for the flight.

The normally chilled KLM staff now start to drop subtle hints that they wish to get the flight on it’s way so they can knock off and go to some smoky cafe for a quick one after work. Hints like locking the entrance doors to the jetway leading to the plane and starting to pack up to go home. This persuades the last few stubborn English people, including me, to eventually take said hint and ask if they'd be ever so nice to unlock the jetway door again so we may be allowed to board our flight and leave this godforsaken hell hole.

And lo it comes to pass, finally I leave Dutch soil some 10 and a bit hours after arriving and land at Heathrow Airport, back in Blighty just the 17 hours after leaving British soil. Of course, I ignore the stewardesses and break all the rules of air travel to immediately call Chalmers on my mobile as we taxi back to the terminal to find out the final score of the match. Who cares if the plane suddenly explodes, it’ll be an improvement on my day quite frankly and it'll mean I'll be on the news tonight. He informs me that the game is “just going to penalties” and then proceeds to plonk his phone next to the telly so I can hear the impending misery for myself.

Predictably, England miss some of theirs. Quite a few in fact.


Portugese goalkeeper scoring winner out of shot....

Naturally, this means England lose. On penalties. Again. Which makes me forget my surroundings and swear loudly. This of course prompts the other passengers to put two and two together and ask the result. And having informed my fellow travellers that once more England have exited an international tournament on penalties, they all swear loudly too. I dunno if you've ever been on an A320 where a large proportion of the passengers have all exclaimed 'For fucks sake!' in almost total unison before, but I have and it's a strangely satisfying thing.

So, finally back on home soil, I disembark after apologising to the cabin crew on the way out for causing a whole plane load of people swear and head for 'Luggage reclaim', which with hindsight was somewhat wildly optimistic and a pointless waste of another 30 minutes of my life before I admit defeat and fill in a “missing luggage" claim form. My bag it seems has apparently gone to somewhere called 'Lisbon'. Really? Can’t think how that could have happened. Startling news.

However, I no longer really care & with my "Can I have my luggage back please, it's in fucking Lisbon without me the bastard" paperwork completed I shrug my shoulders and leave the 'Arrivals' hall to go in search of Gareth, my lift home. Who, being of Scottish heritage and thus having absolutely no interest in tonight’s events in Lisbon other than a slight chuckle at our defeat, has very kindly come to collect me to try & soften the blow of an otherwise somewhat dreadful day.

A good while later, I eventually locate Gareth parked outside the 'Departures' hall. Which is 4 floors up from the ‘Arrivals’ hall. This earns Gareth some really rather well deserved abuse regarding the difference between the two, even despite his kind effort to schlep out here late on Thursday night to come and collect me. Still, I've called him worse on an away day before, so he's used to it.

Soon though, we’re on our way and quickly see the signs for M25. Nearly home now. Not long to go until the pain will be banished by sweet teary eyed sleep.

Until we discover some wankers are in fact digging up the bit of the M25 we'd like to use and the slip road onto it is closed. We’re then sent on the longest and most complex fucking diversion known to mankind before we finally get back onto the M25 15 minutes later after skirting past poxy Slough. Typical. I should be getting shitted in the capital of Portugal right now and instead I'm sat in a Vauxhall Astra near Slough whilst slowly sobering up. Cosmic.


Meanwhile, in Lisbon baggage reclaim....

Finally though, the ordeal ends and I arrive home. Some 18 hours and 33 minutes after my departure, minus luggage, but plus one now slightly out of date Euro 2004 England versus Portugal Quarter-final ticket (RRP 90 Euros), feeling a tad more pissed off than I probably would had I actually made it to Lisbon & seen the game.

Despite my impending soberness, sleep won't come to me as I'd hoped and so I stick the kettle on, enjoy a cuppa and revisit that little text document I'd become acquainted with earlier to finish off writing this ridiculous tale before eventually crashing out to cry myself to sleep, vowing to never agree to buy tickets at extremely short notice for International football matches on foreign soil ever, ever, ever again. Under any circumstances. And that includes being drunk. Cross my heart and hope to die.

With the following day booked off, I sleep in and then spend the following evening getting incredibly drunk at a work leaving do, explaining to all my stunned colleagues exactly what one earth I’m doing there in Wimbledon and not in Portugal seeing France get royally dumped out of the tournament thanks to a firm dose of  Greek pragmatism, before arriving home really quite late to find that my bag has returned from it’s own little jaunt to Portugal and is sat outside my front door patiently awaiting my return, delivered, according to the card on top, by some nice courier man at some point whilst I was out.

I bet he was bloody Portugese. Or Dutch.


Taz, unsurprisingly, no longer acknowledges the existence of the FA's marketing cash cow known as the England national team. Anyone wishing to turn this ridiculous story into a fucked up cross between 'The Terminal' and 'An Evening with Gary Lineker' should drop him a line.....

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