I took a couple of days out this week to travel to Germany with two mates to see Spurs in their first proper Champions League away game. After doing a lot of legwork arranging the Milan trip for mid-October, I was happy to go along with my mate when he told me he’d found a good, inexpensive route and did I want to come in on the trip. It seemed an easy option, so I said yes.
The only issue was that mate 2 had to be back at work early the day after the game. So, mate 1 told me, “We’ve got a really early flight next morning, so there’s no point booking a hotel by the time we get back to Hamburg.” We were prepared for a bit of a gruelling trip, but not quite for what transpired…
On the way to stay at mate 2’s house in Hertford, enabling easy access to Stanstead, mate 1 told us that ‘Hamburg’ was actually Hamburg Lubeck. That’s about an hour from Hamburg, which in turn was an hour from Bremen. But we’ve done more complex trips before following Spurs, so we were confident. Others weren’t quite as prepared, and one of the funniest lines of the day came from a bloke sitting on the Lubeck-Hamburg bus telling his mate on the phone that “It’s Hamburg like farkin Sarfend is farkin London!”
We arrived in Hamburg and quickly sorted the train to Bremen, arriving at about 1pm. It’s a nice town, although there’s not a huge amount to see. After a few beers in a Bremen fan bar in the city centre we went for a meal, then took a stroll around the town square to mix with other fans. This is always a favourite part of trips, bumping into old friends, and we saw quite a few. Told via text that a mate was in one bar, I opened the door to be confronted by another mate who I didn’t know had travelled, resplendent in retro shirt and brandishing a hefty glass of the local brew. “Nice to see you. We’re drinking with Graham Roberts,” he said, and it turns out that the legend himself was indeed on the beers with a noisy and good-humoured crowd.
The walk to the stadium was one of the most pleasant and friendly I’ve encountered, and the game itself was a treat – particularly the first 43 minutes when Spurs were superb. There was a reminder of the class divide that the CL imposes though. The picture below shows our view from our little ledge of stand high up behind one goal. We watched through a mesh fence the like of which I haven’t stood behind since the 1980s, and in front of that was another curtain of mesh. Not the best view, but we saw enough to enjoy.
As at all CL games, there was no beer on sale during the match – not something that particularly bothers me but, along with the banning of the showing of big screen highlights, another reduction in the customer experience to accompany the upping of prices. Meanwhile, in corporate hospitality, the free booze flows and the TV monitors are on. It really is an audience of two halves at this level.
Although disappointed we’d let a two-goal lead slip, we all left satisfied with a promising performance. But it was after the game that the full extent of our travel error became clear. We got back to Hamburg easily enough, but our plan to nurse some beers and coffees until the early hours was stymied by the bars closing earlier than expected. After experiencing the unwelcome attentions of a pair of young ladies, seemingly backed up by some seedy-looking fellas in one late bar, we decided that, tired as we were, we didn’t want to deal with the general seediness that the Rieperbahn no doubt had in store. So we got a cab to the airport. Even if everywhere was closed, we reasoned, we could try and grab a nap on the concourse and be there for early coffee.
On arrival at Lubeck airport we were greeted by the vision at the top of this post. ‘Everywhere’ was closed. Which meant the entire airport. So, it was 4am and we were stood outside a closed airport terminal at an airport that was 5 kilometres from the town it was named after. And it was drizzling. It’s one of those things we’re already seeing the funny side of, but at the time it was a bit of a low point. By the time the building opened at 6am we’d been joined by about 10 others who’d made the same mistaken assumption.
It’s all part of the fun, and we’ll dine out on the campaign stories no doubt. Experiences like that are probably far more common than many believe, and are far removed from the public glitz and hype of modern football. Which is possibly half the attraction. One thing’s for sure, I’m very glad I’ve booked three nights in a decent hotel for Milan! That will be a different experience altogether.