Nope, we genuinely aren't winding you up. We've not only managed to bag us entry to the Scottish Challenge cup, or the 'Irn Bru Cup' to give it the officially mandated sponsorship bollocks, but we've also managed scab us an away trip to play Ardrieonians into the bargain. Near fucking Glasgow. Which is in fucking Scotland. Yes, as in the deep fried mars bars, tartan wearing, Alexander Graham Bell, See You Jimmy, Braveheart, SNP Scotland. That one. Baffled? Yeah, you're not alone there if we're honest.
|"Beat Norexia? Yeah, big fan. Loved their first album"|
Apparently our stirling efforts in finishing 3rd last season was enough to catch the eye of the people in charge of something called 'fitba' north of the border, a sport that apparently very closely resembles our own Association Football. And they've kindly invited us up for a sort of cultural exchange thing. And it's no wonder really when you think about it, we've been on the telly instead of Eastenders. We're a big deal. This also probably explains why the other English side invited were Boreham Wood. Balances it out a bit. Ying and Yang. Or something.
Right, I think that's enough bollocks pre-amble, I suppose I'd better try and actually explain what this nonsense is actually all about. Are we all sitting comfortably? Well, the Irn Bru is a comp dreamt up back in 1990 to help celebrate the centenary of the Scottish Football League. It basically pitted all the SFL sides, excluding the top division clubs, against each other for few years until they started inviting in the top 2 clubs from the Highland League to join the fray. Then in 2016, to really sex things up, they decided to make it a bit, well, 'international'. The SFL invited in two clubs from the Welsh Premier as well as two clubs from the Northern Irish leagues as well as the U21's setups from the SPL. Last year it gained two more Irish clubs, this time from the Southern bit and then finally to this year, where us and Woooooood got the nod. Like Dirty Barry arriving in an isolated car park and flashing his headlights, sexed UP baby!
Naturally, when the rumour hit that we might be getting asked, we all laughed and went "Bollocks!". And then all took a quick look on Skyscanner to see what flights to Scotland cost in early September. Massive cynics we may be, but it never hurts to be well prepared cynics. It only really came to life and having watched a brilliantly cobbled together draw take place live on Facebook in what looked like a medieval dungeon which had been specially whitewashed for the occasion, in which some bloke was handling ginger balls, we were rewarded with a trip to Airdrieonians. Now, being footballing connoisseurs we of course knew who this lot were. One of those famous old names you used to hear on Final Score when you were a kid. Where it was however? Not a scooby. Even Mr X who is both a Scot AND had a geography degree wasn't 100% sure. "Glasgow somewhere" was the best we got out of him.
Oh well, it's a start.
|So which way now?|
|"Let's just have a quiet couple of pints and a curry....."|
|The finger sandwiches were shite|
Turns out our man of mystery was in the right ballpark. It's about 11 miles to the East of Glasgow. And that's why I find myself at Gatwick on a Friday afternoon with almost a dozen other dickheads and an EasyJet boarding pass. What? You didn't think we'd do this in a day did you? What do you take us for, idiots? Actually, don't answer that. No really, don't. We already know the answer. As well as our own excitement at the tie, it seems our hosts are at least a bit intrigued by having some bunch of mockneys rock up in town. And it's because of this I wind up boring the arse off Colin on the Only the Lonely podcast for half an hour or so talking all things Sutton United and what a load of daft nonsense this is. Oh and that pie thing too. Always with the fucking pie thing.
Having worked until 2pm, I make my way straight to the airport, arriving just a few minutes after Dukey and Dr Bell although locating them for the transfer train thingy is harder than it sounds. And time is of the essence in this case, as I've rather stupidly agreed to go do some more media whoring at short notice for an online Scots Rock & Sports radio station. And getting that particular call whilst trying to go through security might get me a ticking off as well as being a little rude as the line goes dead because I've been tasered or something. So whilst Dukey has a fag, Dr Bell and I make a dash for it. Well, I do at least. He sort of hobbles. Which is handy as it means I hit the queue well before him and his newly installed bionic hip causes a major security alert. In fact, despite being a whole 3 rows away when he comes through, I hear the beep of the metal detector from where I am. This of course gets him a turn in the full body scanner, which will no doubt have scarred the poor bastard operating it for life.
I get my latest bit of media duty done whilst the lads try to get a pint in. We also locate Pete at the bar and having eventually found a spare table, settle in to await the arrival of the rest of the mob. Slowly but surely, they all drift in with even Nat making good time from Epsom. This is good, as it means we won't have to change the motto after all. While we have a couple of pints to kill the wait, Dukey gets a call from Old Frank. "Tom, are we playing Boreham Wood tomorrow? It says we are in the fixtures". Erm, no mate. We're busy with something else. We also find out from Dr Bell about a sleep walking incident from Fylde away last season where someone of the Welsh persuasion wandered out into the car park in their pants. I'm furious. Why the fuck am I only hearing about this now? The place had CCTV! We could have got copies of the footage for fucks sake!! The full party assembled, we head for the gate when it's called, although we are down a couple of regulars. Firstly Mr X has gone up during the week to visit some old family haunts and 4 Days is off in the arse end of Denmark with Wales. Of course, he hasn't been moaning like fuck about the clash for weeks now, oh now. Robbo is also absent, but purely because he's on a later flight out after work.
|That sounds familiar...|
We're on time leaving the gate, but then suffer the usual Easyjet traffic jam to the runway meaning we take off late. However, the fact they tell you an hours flight takes 90 minutes is exposed for the dirty lie it is when we land in the fair city of Glasgow bang on time an hour later. A couple of sherbets are obtained and we're on the way into Glasgow itself. In our transport, the driver naturally makes conversation asking why we're all in town. "Football" is of course the answer. "Oh, I thought yous was up for that Eggheads telly show! They film that here" he says. None of us are sure whether we should be offended by this or actually impressed he thought we looked like a clever bunch of televisual quiz masters. Oh shut your face.
Checked in, we hit the town. Some of us are hungry, whilst others want pints. This proves harder than we assumed, as JR highly recommends the Sauchiehall Street area as being ideal for this. Sadly for him, pretty much everything is shut. At half 9 on a Friday evening. Evetually we find a spoons for the drinkers and we plump for a curry place almost opposite, before joining the others back in the pub after our scoff. Also in the gaff are Chalmers and his good lady, along with a couple of the Yoof. All we're missing is Mr X. But not for long! He went to Scotland v Belgium at Hampden, but as they're royally getting bent over he bails at 4-0 after an hour and has soon joined us for beers. Naturally, we're sympathetic to his distress!
We have a couple here but time catches us up and like most places round here, the spoons closes at 11. So we head off down Sauchiehall Street looking for somewhere for a few more bevvies. Then it all unravels. Just as we're on the verge of giving up, a lass approaches Steve to persuade him to go into a place called 'Savoy'. And drinks are just £1.80 which of course, is something we're not remotely interested in. Fast forward three hours, it's gone half two, people are drinking red alcopops out of fish bowls whilst watching members of the Tartan Army shaking their stuff to various popular music track with a heavy dance beat over the top and we've just watched a geezer yak up in a corner by a fruity and then a member of staff appear to mop it up off the carpeted floor. It certainly explains why said carpet is so sticky I guess. Finally though we have a moment of clarity and head for home. So much for a couple of pints an a bit to eat. Fuck our lives. Tomorrow could be tough.
|"Where are we again?"|
|Is it a Pye? I hope it's a Pye!|
To make matters worse, Belly drops off before me and puts on a ferocious display of snoring. Never before have I heard someone snore with feedback. Now, normally, I'd just flip the mattress and break the noisy cycle, but as Dr Bell only had his hip done 2 months ago, I can't remember what side it was and I'm far too drunk to compute the physics that would ensure he fell on his 'good' side, I just put up with it until exhaustion takes over and I finally drift off.
Needless to say, when I awake at 8 the following morning, I am far from well rested. Fortunately, there is no hangover to speak of so I get my arse downstairs for breakfast. Again I'm pressed for time as I'd stupidly agreed on Friday to speak to BBC Surrey this morning just before 9am. After scarfing down as much bacon as I can, the call comes through and after listening to Tina Turner for 5 mins and then a pre-recored interview with Dos, I'm on for all of about 90 seconds. Bastards! I could have had an extra half hour in bed!! The gang assembles and we set off for the train into Airdrie for opening time. Everyone's a little jaded on the walk and Steve mumbles about how much he'd love about a litre of sugary drink right now. And then as we turn a corner, salvation. There's a geezer giving away free bottles of Ribena. We must look minging as he spots us coming a mile off "Hangover cure lads?" he offes. Yes, dammit. Give us all of it. Now.
We hit the train and apart from a couple of rancid alcopop fuelled farts, the trip out to Airdrie goes smoothly and shortly after 11, we're stumbling into 'Cue Here', a local pool hall whose owner had offered on the club forum to give us the run of the place along with some grub as well. As a bonus, there's a decent jukebox although the guvnor does take exception to some of JR's selections later in the day! We camp out here racking up the games of pool, feeding that jukebox and tucking into burgers supplied from the ktichen. The yoof join us not long after and a few other U's fans drift in as time passes, including some of those who've slogged up on the overnight National Express. Which personally I'd rather remove my ginger balls with a shitty, rusty knife than endure, so fair play to them. They are all far hardier types than I. Come 2pm, we rustle up a fleet of sherbets and head for the ground. Time to get our game faces on!
Worner, Thomas, Beckwith, Collins, Bolawinra, Bailey, W.Brown, Beautyman, Wright, Wishart, Taylor SUBS: Davis, Eastmond, Cadogan, Drinan, Ayunga, S.Brown.
Having said hello to a few familiar faces outside and sorted a programme, I leave the rest of the gang to their pre-match snifter to get in and get the flag sorted. There looks to be decent representation in from South London for this one and we give the lads a warm welcome out of the tunnel and pre kick off, they pop over to give us all a wave and a clap. And I should fucking think so an'all, it's about an 890 mile round trip for this lunacy! The game itself is what you'd probably call a 'slow burner' and we'd call 'a bit fucking dull to start with'. Both sides seem to be feeling each other out, which given our complete unfamiliarity with each other is probably no surprise. We still create the first chance of the game a few mins in with the surprisingly fit again Bailey puts in a free kick that Beck nuts straight at the keeper. The hosts no.11 looks about their best player, but it's typicall a fuck up from us that gives them their best chance of the half about 15 in when Aswad manages to fall over his own feet out on the touchline about 30 yards out from our goal. He also helpfully prods the ball into the path of the oncoming oppo striker who races in and fires across Worner and wide of the far post.
Things go a bit better after 20 minutes when we clear a Airdrie corner out to Tombo. He turns and clips the ball forwards and Tommy Wright sets off in pursuit. He outfoxes the chasing centreback, makes himself some space and rifles a low one across the keeper into the far corner. 1-0! Blimey, we're only fucking winning in Europe!! After this, the game again largely drops into a fairly competitive but largely uneventful pattern. Airdrie force a save from Worns not far before the break but we manage to see it out to the whistle and disappear down the tunnel still a goal to the good. Speaking of disappearing, I make it Scotch Pie o'clock! Down on the concourse, Mr X is ahead of me in the queue and orders his sustenance from the lasses behind the jump "Scotch pie and a cuppa tea please love". The pie appears and is joined by a popular brand of orange drink which comes in a foil bag. "What's that?" enquires the bemused man of mystery. "You said a Capri Sun!?" protests the young lady serving. "Yeah, I heard Capri Sun too!" adds a colleague. Clearly, despite his tartan ancestry, X is far more Mockney than Jockney these days. Unlucky mate!
From the restart, we really should see the game off. Taylor surges from deep, goes past a couple of oppo and weaves into the box, but with the goal at his mercy, he seems caught in two minds and skews a shot just wide of the far post. Not long after, Tommy nearly does it again buzzing around the big centre backs, he breaks forward and once more having made space for the shot, forces a good one handed save from the keeper down to his right. From here, whilst we can never quite put our feet up, we largely keep the hosts at arms length. Their best opportunities come from a close range header at the back post that the bloke powers just over when he really should do a lot better and a last ditch save from Worns after a bloke is given the freedom of the 6 yard box to attempt some acrobatic effort. In between, the ref is wonderfully National League and dishes out a few moody yellows, but the best is the lino beneath us who awards us a throw in for Cadogan clearly knocking the ball out of play right in front of him, to the great amusement of the away support. We see out the win though and the final whistle is greeted with great delight by the 101 U's fans in the corner of the stand. Fuck me, we're on a run in Europe lads!
|Oh for fucks sake|
|Late night gin n' crisps session|
|That's what I like...|
We pack up and hit the cosy bar downstairs for a post match livener. Here we find that we've made history as not only the first English side to score in this comp, but the first one to reach the last 16 as Boreham Wood have drawn 0-0 and gone out on pens to Dunfermline. Elsewhere, favourites Dundee United have also lost on pens. As we enjoy our drink a huge crate of unsold pies are dumped on our table. "Help yersels!" the lady says. Don't mind if we do! We can't stop long though as they're soon clearing the place up for an incoming wedding reception, so we say our goodbyes and hit the road, meeting the team coming the other way from the local corner shop laden with cans and snacks for their coach trip to Edinburgh and flight home. The marvellous athletic specimens that they are! We wish them a safe trip and set out for a pub we'd been suggested, but it turns out to be a far longer walk than described, so we simply stop off at the first place we come to, a gaff called the Albert. It's pretty busy and a lively crowd is enjoying some Saturday evening scoops. Over a quick beer we're made to feel very welcome and end up chatting with various locals about the game and god knows what else. Sadly, though we have to move on and depart for the West End bar nearer the station to meet up with Dougie, a mate of Steve's and also Aridrie's commercial manager.
Finally we find the West End and here begins another load of interaction with locals who seem impressed with our ability to get on a plane & fly to Scotland to watch shit football. The chatter flows as freely as the beer and the beer flows very freely indeed, it seems that the two clubs boards have got on famously today pre-match and there's already talk of trying to get them down to ours for a PSF next summer. We quickly make friends with our committed 'Against Sober Football' stance, so much so that towards the end of the evening, Dougie and at least two other Diamonds have expressed an interest of heading to Hartlepool to see our game there at the end of October. Suckers. If only we were as good at talking people out of their money as we were at getting them to buy us pints and join us in grim North Eastern towns to get pissed up and watch 5th tier football, we'd be fucking millionaires. As much fun as this is though, time sadly eventually beats us and with a train due shortly, we finally bid our new friends goodbye and decamp back to Glasgow.
Steve and I are the last to leave, but oddly, the first onto the platform at Airdrie. Where are those idiots? Ah yes, it's a train journey of more than 10 mins duration. They'll have buggered off to the nearest offy for cans. And then some. They stumble into the carriage with a couple of minutes to departure with 4 packs of Tennents and 3 bottles of Buckfast. I think we can all see where this is heading can't we? The cans and half the Buckfast fails to survive the trip and we alight at Queen Street still with a thirst on. Right, time to ditch unwanted crap and get back on it! A quick stop at the hotel and a squirt of smelly and it's back out to the spoons by the Station where we find COCs Malc & Keepo, club treasurer Oakesy, Amber Aleman and various other Sutton faces including Gandermonium tat regular Mr Kim the Railway Boy. We're also joined here by Magnum PI, who'd skipped off at full time to head back into town and take out some lass he'd met back in Euston after the Macc away day last season and who lived up this way! We manage to sink a couple of pints before we're again being kicked out into the night air ridiculously early. A spoons? Closing at 12? Absurd. Anyone would think Scotland had a serious alcohol problem and they were trying to resolve it with draconian opening hours!
|Rain? In Scotland? As if!|
|Mr X's tears from Friday|
We're recommended a gaff up past the station by one of the bouncers and set out for a late drink. Some of us make a quick stop for chips and soon JR & Keepo re-appear. It seems the late night gaff is a blow out as there's a huge queue and the rest of the party have set out for Pop World instead. The rest of us can't be arsed to go traipsing across Glasgow and would just prefer to sit somewhere and just booze quietly. We head back towards the hotel where keepo reveals he has a bag of M&S gin and tonics from the journey up unused, so we hatch a plan to commandeer the now closed hotel bar and drink those whilst talking shite. Whilst recovering his stash, we're rudely interrupted by Robbo coming to the door of his room across the corridor in his jim jams. So I take the opportunity to fart through his open door and we disappear off down the corridor giggling like schoolchildren, leaving a disgusted Robbo to deal with the noxious cloud I'd just directed into his room.
Eventually, we decide to call it a night around 3 and I return to my room hoping to have beaten Dr Bell to the punch, sadly, I've failed and he's sat in his pants preparing for bed himself having returned from a night in 'Club Tropicana' with the B-Team. And apparently, drinks were most definitely not free.
With two 3am crashes in a row, sleeping in on the Sunday is definitely on the cards and I finally haul myself out of my pit around 10 for a much needed poo. Still, it makes room for breakfast! It's then off to Spoons to reassemble with the party and find out what idiocy transpired in our absence last night. Over much needed food, we find out that the planned for tour at Hampden is out as they're apparently closed today, with Steve reckoning it might be to do with either Scotland or Albania training there before the Nations League game tomorrow night. Shame, but no matter, we'll go for a nose around anyway! Mr X leaves us as this point as he's on a lunchtime flight back as he has to start his new job in the flaps industry in the morning. Loser. We head back to check out and then once more set off into the wilds of Glasgow for some football geeking. A train takes myself, Dukey, Magnum PI and Steve a couple of stops south to Mount Flo Rida, although no one seems to know why the nearest stop to the National Stadium is named after an American Rapper, let alone why you'd want to mount him. As we disembark, we're just clearing the cover of the platform and about to leave the station when a massive downpour suddenly erupts and sends us scurrying like hungover non-league rats back to the shelter. A sudden monsoon like downpour? In Scotland? What are the odds?
|That wasn't us right....|
After fifteen minutes huddled together, we're finally able to emerge from cover and begin our mission and having sidestepped what the locals might call 'a wee jobbie' on the steps off the platform, we're soon on the way down to Hampden Park. As we approach the ground, there's the unmistakable sound of a game of fitba underway in the damp lunchtime air. It turns out that next to the big gaff, is a smaller ground. Lesser Hampden. And it's here that Queens Park's other teams play their games, the one making all the racket looks to be their under 12's or 13's taking on someone or other. With only the one game to see this weekend, we stop and take in a few minutes of the action whilst we of course grab some pics of the place. Although it doesn't seem to come up in the Groundhopper app, so no one gets a tick! After a while, we leave them to it whilst we case the big joint next door. This is important work as Queens Park had dumped out TNS on pens last night, so we could feasibly be heading up here again in the next round! Having got some pics and stuck up some stickers, we head out in search of somewhere I've wanted to visit for a very long time. Cathkin Park. The former home of Third Lanark, a club that went bust in 1967 just six years after finishing third in the SFL behind Rangers and Kilmarnock, scoring 100 goals in the process. Their ground stood empty & derelict for many years before the stand was removed and the place became a municipal park. But on three sides, largely overgrown with trees, the old banked terracing remains. I've seen so many pictures of this place over the years and had always wanted to see for myself and here we are. It's an odd experience, standing in the middle of a park pitch (Sunday teams still play here!) looking at terraces around you that once formed a stadium that held 50,000 people. Incredible. It's also surprisingly peaceful despite being in a residential area and with a main road running behind it. Very eriee.
With photos taken and geeking done, we head back for the train into Glasgow and after parking up in Waxy O'Connors for a pint and some food, we finally head back to the hotel to regroup and head for the airport. With everyone assembled, we rustle up some Ubers and we're on our way. The journey for myself, JR and Dukey is a little tense, as halfway there on the motorway, the bloke's car starts beeping loudly. After a while, I spot the cause. On his dash display, the ominous warning "Engine failure. Stop vehicle" is flashing up every time it beeps loudly. Oh shit! The driver tuts a few times when he notices the same thing, but just ploughs on leaving us wondering if we're going to be shortly stuck on the hard shoulder waiting for the AA or encountering a big firey death. Fortunately, we survive and upon alighting at the airport, I give the driver a big tip. "Don't buy a fucking Peugeot next time!". We park up in spoons for one last livener and await our flight whilst we check out the Scottish press for signs of our big win yesterday. Sadly the best we can manage is two mentions. The rest is about Scotland's bumming on Friday and the Old Firm, despite the fact neither were actually playing.
Annoyingly, our flight is delayed, then when we do get a gate and wander down, it's delayed some more. And then a bit more. It seems that something on the aircraft is no longer functioning and we're waiting for an engineer to fix it. I refrain from asking if they've tried turning it off and then back on again. Mainly as I'm not getting paid for it. Eventually though, just as we've about accepted life in our new country and started looking up house prices in Airdrie, we're told that we can at last leave, just the 2 and a half hours late. So that means sleep before work tomorrow will be at a premium and we can't get any compo from EasyJet as the delay wasn't over 3 hours. Joy.
Back at Gatwick, the race is on to get a reasonably timed train back to East Croydon. Fortunately most of us make it, although some have a narrow escape when some bellend hits the emergency stop on the escalator down to the platform sending people and luggage flying. Still, the train is on time and having said our goodbyes at East Croydon, I call up yet another sherbet to get me back to HQ, as I'll be fucked if I'm waiting the 20 minutes for a bus. It's at about this point, tired and starting to feel the effects of two days solid boozing that I'm almost starting to hope for a home draw in the next round.
Like fuck. It's Bohemians away next. In fucking Dublin! Yes, Ha'penny Bridge, top o'the mornin', Roddy Doyle, pints of Guinness & Leprechauns Dublin. The one in Ireland. That one. Liver failure and or bankruptcy awaits.
Fuck it, we're on a run in Europe!