The game itself might have been a damp squib, but the event of City’s first competitive European tie was a momentous occasion indeed. Amber Nectar travelled to Slovakia to see The Tigers take on AS Trenčín in Žilina. Instead of a match report, here’s a travelogue piece of our beer drenched experience. Self indulgent? Yeah, probs.
Wednesday 30th July
Les: Is it cruel to mock another person’s irrational fear? Yes of course it is, but that’s what’s mates are for, and the four took great delight in the one becoming more ashen faced the nearer we got to Luton airport. By the time flight-fearing Andy boarded the slightly delayed 7.25am Wizz Air service, his face was whiter than a boil-washed replica Leeds shirt.
Andy’s coping mechanism was Dutch courage, and by the time the flight to Košice was airborne, he was at Eindhoven level and could sleep for the entire voyage. One of the Wizz Air stewardesses had the vague look of a Kraftwerk video robot and was amusingly named Vasilena. She probably wasn’t as lubricated as Andy at this point however.
Matt’s audacious earlier attempt to convince a security staffer that a 200ml bottle of deodorant was half empty so therefore within the permitted take on volume cut little ice, and his entreaties were ended before he was invited for a cavity search. No complaints about Wizz Air, in fact I’d rather be flying back Anglicky-ward with them than Ryanair.
The taxi ride from the airport to Košice city centre was very brief, though perilous as the driver thought he was Sebastien Vettel. We were delighted to find that the average price for a pint of beer (pivo) was just €0.70 and spent the afternoon exploring Košice’s hostelries. The general rule seemed to be that the deeper the bar was in the building (most seemed to be in cellars) then the less the beer cost. Glorious sunshine was quickly replaced by a torrential downpour as we sat outside a restaurant that claimed to be vegetarian but advertised pork cutlets.
It was there where I first tried the ‘black beer’, which was a bit like a chocolate stout and delicious, though it does unpleasant things to the innards as I later discovered. We found a supermarket selling large bottles of beer (50p, 40p and 30p) and stocked up for the train journey to Žilina, which proved to be a beautifully scenic 3 hour meander through the High Tatras mountain range, though group member Tony was more interested in perving over a young Slovak lass (that is before he fell into unconsciousness).
We arrived in Ž-town by 7pm and soon found our hotel. I was greatly amused to find out Matt and Andy have a double bed to share, but less amused by the odd bracketing that held the shower head and meant I soaked the entire room as soon as I turned on the shower. It was time to find yet more beer and heading to the Marianske Square, where we found an impressive contingent of City fans, some singing retro chants in a somewhat tuneless manner. It’ll be better tomorrow when game day focuses the vocal chords.
Andy: “What time is it?” enquired my girlfriend, as the alarm’s shrill artificial noise pierced the darkness.
“Go back to sleep. It’s five past one. I’m off, but I’ll try to be quiet.”
“Oh. Go get showered then, and I’ll make you and your mates some bacon sandwiches.”
Astonishingly, that turned out to be true – and so at 2am, with everywhere dark and silent, we sidled out of Hull with a bag full of bacon sandwiches and another full of beer. 2.17am is the earliest start of my life. My mother will be so proud.
I really hate flying. I’m not interested in statistics about death-likelihoods, it is a simple and straightforward violation of common sense to hoist a massive winged cylinder of metal into the sky and pretend it’s safe. Luckily, we somehow made it safely to Košice and its harmfully cheap hostelries. 58p for a half-litre was the best we found, though throughout the entire trip we rarely paid more than a quid. Amusing, during a Radio Humberside interview the following day, this was one of the things they seemed to enjoy a mildly intoxicated me informing them about.
We knew we’d only get a few hours in Košice, and perhaps we could have spent more time looking around it instead of diving into cheap underground bars. But what we did see seemed alright – Mestský Park was near to the railway station, as was Jakab’s Palace. It’s always good fun looking at which parts of a city formerly occupied by the Soviet Union still bear the scars of Communist thinking – to the presumed relief of the locals but the mild disappointment of this traveller, none were sighted in Košice.
The journey from Košice to Žilina was a quite marvellous one. At 3½ hours it wasn’t short, but we knew in advance it’d take us through the Tatra Mountains, part of the Carpathian Mountain range. I’ve always thought of the Carpathian mountains as being a long way east of anywhere, and somehow darkly sinister in nature – I attribute this solely to Vigo the Carpathian in Ghostbusters II, who scared me a bit as a kid.
There was nothing evil in what we saw though – soaring peaks, twinkling blue lakes, rolling fields – together with our indecently cheap beer and the comfort of Slovak railways, this was one of the most enjoyable train journeys I’ve ever had. Whether Les enjoyed our friend Tony spending much of the journey unconscious on his shoulder is not really for me to comment upon.
It was a little after 7pm when we arrived in Žilina and piled straight into our hotel. At £16 per person per night we weren’t expecting the Ritz, though functional door handles, the twin bedded rooms we’d booked and a working shower would all have been nice. Never mind.
By 8.45pm we were ready to go, and we headed straight for the Mariánske námestie square that’d been touted for some time as the best place for City fans to assemble. A beautiful and archetypally European urban square, it was headed by the imposing (and when lit, gorgeous) Church of St Paul the Apostle, featured fountains and greenery and most importantly, an array of bars. We encountered a group of Amber Nectar friends, ordered giant pizzas for about €4 a pop and settled in for a good drink.
By midnight, our numbers were now about 16 strong (would’ve been 17 had Matt now wussed off early) and we alighted upon Charlie Chaplin’s Bar, where ale flowed, conversation drifted in and out of City, and excitement about the following day reached intense levels. By about 2am a small number calved off in search of some more risque entertainment; we remained and supped up, falling into bed at about 2.30am. Sorry for waking you up, Matt.
Matt: (06.45) Some of us aren’t nervous fliers, but inexperienced with the ways of air travel. As a result, one can of deodorant, one tub of hair wax, one bottle of facewash and some aftersun was removed from the hand luggage for being too voluminous. The wax was half empty! So I head for Kosice with short-term concerns for my hygiene, hairstyle and complexion. Someone on the staff at Luton Airport is going to look and smell like him now…
(09.20) The trim that colours the wings and interior decor of the plane is the same hue of purple as the City change kit of 1999/00. These are things you force yourself to notice when you’ve already read the in-flight magazine and the two AN editors are asleep either side of you.
(09.54) Plane descends. Stomach rotates as if on the corkscrew at Alton Towers.
(14.45) Piváren Cakáren bar. 58p a pint.
(17.00) One hour into three hour journey across very green and picturesque Slovakia countryside and you sense our number are now relaxed and starting to flag. Bottles of tasty (if unchilled) local ale are taken as the train pulls into Spisska Nova Ves, people struggle to acknowledge that they may need to rest up. Perhaps the level of intoxication is such that it matches entirely with the sense of realisation that comes with the occasion and, at last, we finally and full come to terms with the madness that is: City in Europe. Žilina has a lovely piazza with big screens, two of them! And there weren’t any tramps watching rolling BBC News either. King Edward Street this was not.
Thursday 31st July
Les: “These shorts are awesome” said Matt abruptly, to Andy and I’s puzzlement and disagreement, “but they don’t have pockets” after he’d replenished toiletry stocks “nicked by Luton Airport”. We headed to the stadium to have a nosey while many in our extended group elected for a lie-in.
We arrived to find the stadium manager hoisting the UEFA Respect flags in one of the corners while muttering “UEFA mafia! UEFA bandits!” to our amusement. Matt was suddenly overcome with the need to babb so pleaded with the stadium manager and was directed to the women’s toilets, becoming the first Hull City fan ever to use the MSK Žilina stadium women’s bogs.
Then we headed back to the rather pleasant main square for our first pivo of the day. As the day progressed the number of Tiger Nationals in it swelled and there was even an appearance put in by Ehab Allam.
City fans were interviewed by both ITV and BBC in Marianske Square, and as some of them were filmed singing “City till I die” with flags, a member of the clubs corporate travel group sat at an adjacent bar moved in and placed a placard with the new sans-club name crest in front of the camera. Really? What a classless and needlessly inflammatory act, seemingly designed to create a them and us dynamic.
Club stewards informed us that City fans should stick to the square and not wander around in colours unless in groups, lest neo-Nazis issue a kicking, which goes against everything we’ve learnt about Trenćin and Žilina fans being resolutely anti-fascist.
We were also told we’d be searched twice for pyros and intoxication (gulp!) and held back 15 minutes after the game, standard Euro fare. No promises on the intoxication score, have you seen how cheap the beer is?
The Neo-Nazi stuff turned out to be needless even if well intentioned scaremongering, and the supposedly confrontational attitude of police and stewards greatly overstated. The Policia were ready for anything though, and dressed like players in the Speedball 2 video game. Trenćin’s fans were quite tame, and losing the noise making battle to a full throated Tiger Nation relishing the occasion. Their fans did stump us at one point by singing the theme from Dallas. Eh?
It’s a shame that City’s performance didn’t match the sense of occasion; they lacked sharpness and impetus, and couldn’t break down a well drilled Trenčín side who are two games into their league campaign. Tom Huddlestone’s penalty… despite having seen it with my own eyes, I’m not sure I believe what happened, but rather than anger I just felt a sense of amusement at the TypicalCity-ness of it all.
Chester and Bruce were excellent, Meyler and Elmohamady (rebranded by the scoreboard as Mohamed Essa, oddly) were not. It was hard to judge Snodgrass on his cameo appearance. Trenčín had a lot of possession but didn’t test McGregor. With another weeks fitness, we’ll do them in the second leg.
Outside the ground, Tony (who exudes the look of an ageing 80’s cock rock lead singer) was beset by women trying to swap scarves with him, though his offer to swap shirts instead wasn’t taken up on, heh. Back to the square then, where the Tiger Nation seemed to still be in buoyant mood, we headed to the Charlie Chaplin pub that had served us well the night before.
There we met a group of Trenćin fans who sadly couldn’t explain why they sang the Dallas theme. One of them, who’d lived in Aberdeen previously, showed off his knowledge of jokes learnt in Scotland, each prefixed with “I’m not racist okay?”
When Charlie Chaplin’s would no longer serve us ale, we went to a 24 hour bar on the suggestion of one of the Trenćin fans who lived in Žilina. There we were introduced to Borovička, a clear Slovak spirit which is akin to dry gin, and supposedly is to be drunk in this way: Breathe in, drink, then exhale. It was powerful stuff, though not quite as potent a punch to the nose and throat as Slivovica, a sort of plum vodka that I tried in Prague last year. Slivovica was offered, but it was 4.30am by this point and the chances of missing the quite early train were increasing exponentially with each drink.
Andy: Have I ever mentioned that I don’t get hangovers? No? I really must someday. We breakfasted – average fare, with cereal, bagels and cheese the best options, and while most people slept it off, Les, Matt and I set out into what was a very soggy Žilina. Clouds were rolling in off the hills that surround the town and the rain varied between moderate and intense – something, we unhappily reflected, that could dampen spirits on the square later on.
With a few hours until opening time we opted to wander towards the stadium for a look – and we were successful, gaining access for a few photos. We had the private pleasure of seeing the ground staff interrupt his own broken-English diatribe about “UEFA bandits” to hoist the UEFA flag in a stadium that City were about to play in. Photos were taken and Matt’s desperate urge for a Euro-bab were sated – it’d have been a tragedy to bab such AWESOME shorts after all – and we went in search of Euro-ale.
We were about the first out, though it was a real thrill to see City fans congregating as the day wore on. Representatives from the local media were swarming around the City fans, filing copy and taking film for broadcasts back home. Even the national boys and girls were interested, with TalkSport calling during in the afternoon.
Flags were affixed to tables, and sun began to beam upon the righteous as heroically capable waitress attending to our group of 20+ continued to meet our beery needs. Numbers grew considerably when those doing day-trips were discharged by the train arriving in from Bratislava – I’d nicked back to the hotel to change my t-shirt into a retro-City shirt (having satisfied myself that colours were both desireable and safe), and could see the path from the station from our room, which for a short time was a steady stream of happy City fans.
The day wore on, with a random holidaying Burton fan joining us (massive credit to the officials at Hull City AFC who managed to sort him a ticket) and an amusing visitation from City’s own security staff. They gravely warned us about being “searched twice” (we weren’t), neo-Nazis being in town (they weren’t) and urging us to leave at 5.30pm despite the ground being ten minutes away and kick-off not being until 7pm. Oh, and don’t enter the ground drunk, we were advised.
It was probably already too late for that. We listened politely, because they were only doing their job and were presumably disseminating information provided by others, then ignored all of their advice. Though the platoon of Euro-riot-rozzers who marched across the square towards the ground at 4.45pm did look quite impressive.
Matt: (08.30) Slovakian continental breakfast: bread, cheese, cold meats, pre-filled croissants. Monsoon raging outside. How typical it would be under the adage of #typicalcity if the game was called off due to a waterlogged pitch…
(13.15) Interviewed by John Shires of Calendar. Smooth. Him, not us. We were pissed.
(19.00) Immortality. And they play You’ll Never Walk Alone before kick off, which isn’t greeted favourably.
(19.27) Insignificant performance but dominant enough. Aluko and Rosenior have only reasonable first half chances. Language barrier between supporters obvious.
(20.03) Oh Tom, why didn’t you just belt it? The most Typical City thing of all this was that we’d inevitably draw 0-0 and our finest ever footballer would miss a penalty while then skying the rebound via the crossbar hopelessly from about 15 inches.
Friday 1st August
Les: “The train leaves in 20 minutes!” shouted Matt, waking me up at 7.50. Shit! No time to shower, or breakfast, so I just threw my stuff in my bag and left the room, casting an envious look at Skelly, who had a far later train and was still asleep. Bah. Thankfully the station wasn’t far away, and the train itself was a few minutes late. That train journey offered time to reflect on the last few days, which City performance aside, were fantastic.
This was about camaraderie, and sense of belonging, and celebrating our club and its identity. I really hope we get to do this again, and I concur with the “this is the best trip I’ve ever been on” chant that was lustily revived during the game. Games where City’s support are legion, where everyone who goes to games on a quasi-regular basis can get a ticket, such as the cup final, are great, but I really love trips where the support is distilled to people who’ll do anything and go anywhere to support City. That might sound snobbish, but so be it, this trip was about the few, and it was wondrous.
Andy: Our final day of the trip is also Yorkshire Day – and by a neat coincidence, the same date as the final day in Beijing five years ago. We truly are the blessed generation of City fans, doing things and seeing things our predecessors would never have dreamed possible. But there was no time for dreaming now – our train to Bratislava left at 8.11am, and the rousing of troops was required.
Matt had had a full night’s sleep and was fine; I had not, but managed to be shovelling bagels down my ale-stricken throat by 7am. Les, Rich and Tony – well, they made the train, but not with any breakfast, and not in a supremely healthy state. Who’d have thought Slovakian spirits could have such a deleterious impact upon one’s wellbeing?
The beer trolley came around the train, and we even passed through Trenčín en route, wistfully gazing at and photographing the castle that stands so forbiddingly on a hillside. Žilina had been fine hosts, but there remained a small note of regret that we hadn’t been able to visit Trenčín itself.
By 10.30am we were in Bratislava station, three hours before our flight home. It was hot there too, so we repaired to a bar outside the station and cajoled some beer and chickeny things out of the staff (who won’t be setting any records for speed of services). We taxied to the airport just in time for a quick drink before the flight home…and that was that.
It was a supreme honour to be among the first 700 people who can forever say “I was there” when City played their first ever fixture in European competition. We left with no regrets, about £400 lighter but with memories to last a lifetime (and stories to bore everyone with for weeks to come) – and the burning, intense hope that on Thursday, City can arrange for this to be just the first such trip, and not the last.
Matt: (0930) Finally see the town of Trenčin as our train rumbles through it towards Bratislava. No signs up at the station though as it’s being renovated. The castle is beautiful but we couldn’t see the football stadium of our host club.
(1315) Bratislava airport. Greenhouse conditions in Slovakian sunshine as we go though the departure gate and home hovers closer.