Travelling tittle-tattle, tall tales and shameless name-dropping by Jon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Norman
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Friday, 6 November 2009
*****The following took place between 4am on Thursday the 5th and 4am, Friday the 6th November*****
4am - The alarm clock goes off. As I turn my phone to silent and step out of bed I am hit by the familiar pang of dread that accompanies every morning of a day in which I'm required to board a plane.
After a shower and dressing in half darkness I gulp down some tea and leave Fe sleeping. It's cold outside and dark. I contemplate never coming back. The headlines in the newspapers that a plane carrying 300 Fulham fans has crashed. It's pathetic really. I've flown 43 times in the last three years. You'd think it would either get easier or that I would grow some.
5am - I pass two drunken couples on the walk down Lavender Hill to Clapham Junction. After getting my ticket I find myself in familiar territory. i.e. waiting for a train to Gatwick that is showing no signs of arriving. It's delayed and for a few worrying minutes I am transported back to February and my failure to get to Jamaica.
6am - No need for additional stress as the train arrives late but well within time. I meet up with Dave and Fergus (a fellow Fulham fan) by the designated help desk. Me and Dave get our boarding passes and match tickets and the Spanish lady behind the counter calls Fergus, Fergoose. A nickname is born.
With our plane scheduled for a 7.30am take off there's enough time for Dave and Fergoose to grab coffee and breakfast. I opt for a double vodka and lemonade.
7am - The flight is memorable only for the fact that for once I go without valium. I don't want my day to be clouded or my emotions held in check. It's only a 2hour flight after all. Dave tells me I should look out the window when I fly as it provides a constant reminder of the reality of the situation. It's a good point.
8am - Still flying. Still not looking out the window much.
10am (Italian time) - I arrive with a bang. Several of them. I'm starting to suspect that those who fly charter planes aren't quite at the top of the piloting calibre tree. What do they do during the week when they're not flying football fans across Europe? Is there such thing as a part-time pilot? A freelancer?
Does this particular pilot dream of the day he can stop stacking shelves at Tesco? Does he imagine the moment he tells the night shift supervisor where to stick that last packet of Nutty Corn Shreds before storming out to work for a reputable airline with a proper uniform that commands respect and where he doesn't have to foot the dry-cleaning bill.
Judging by the crunching landing and the way the plane bounces to halt our pilot could do with more flying time or a reality check.
Disembarking I survey my 23rd country and immediately experience the crazy Italian driver stereotype. The bus driver taking us to customs seems to be having a running battle with a guy carrying another plane's luggage.
Meanwhile a bloke behind with sunglasses and a cigarette on the go drives his vehicle with both hands off the steering wheel. Somehow he conveys an attitude of nonchalent aggression. He looks like he could be the older brother of Paolo Di Canio.
11am - Armed police in all manner of pretty uniforms are lined up waiting for us. Without moving, speaking or breaking off from looking ever so slightly camp, they direct us to our coaches.
Before the journey I had been warned about two things to keep an eye on. Italian fans and Italian police. The first will stab you in the bottom. The second will hit you over the head with a truncheon.
Safety had been entrusted to the baton wielders. The convoy of five coaches was thus led into the heart of Rome by two cop cars that wouldn't have looked out of place in an Inspector Clouseau movie. If Clouseau had been Italian and not French, of course.
12am - Dropped of in the middle of Villa Borghese gardens. I know this because I just looked it up. The jobsworth on the coach warns me and Dave that if we return any later than half past three the coaches will leave and we will have to brave the journey to the ground without anyone preventing the natives from stabbing us in the bottom.
1pm - With camera in hand and stab-proof pants on, me, Dave and Fergoose walk towards the river Tiber. I also know this because I looked it up. We walk past a Piazza and down a couple of random streets before we find ourselves a 'local' restaurant far from the beaten track. Bottom stabbing aside we are all keen to immerse ourselves inthe local culture for a few short hours.
2pm - Three pizzas and six beers heavier we depart seventy five euros lighter. Stung by the exchange rate and a waiter who sussed us the minute we walked into the joint.
3pm - I get within two streets of the Vatican before the thought of missing the 3.30pm deadline forces us all to beat a hasty retreat back to the coach. En route we stop off to buy pancetta, Italian wine and a couple more beers. I deliver a passionate and rousing five minute account of the journey on talkSPORT.
4pm - I am told by the jobsworth that the reason why the coaches didn't actually depart at 3.30pm is because the police are waiting to undertake body searches on everyone. Although from my vantage point they seem far more interested in smoking cigarettes than they do conducting pat downs.
5pm - Dusk is falling by the time we leave. We are driven through town to the Stadio Olympico. Pleasure is derived from the fact that a) all traffic is halted to allow us uninterrupted passage to the ground b) the Roma fans that we pass swear at us c) we are safe and can laugh at them rather than fearing for our lives and our bottoms.
And before you know it we arrive.
6pm - An hour til kick off. A chance to go through the FFC songbook. Clear the lungs. Test the acoustics. Make our presence known. For once we actually manage to outsing our opponents.
6.10pm - Could really do with a beer now. The football hooligan of the 80's has a lot to answer for. No alcohol allowed on the flight, the coach and now the ground. Even some of the bars in town had shut up shop. Didn't they know Fulham fans are the best behaved in the Premier League?
7pm - The first half passes with Fulham well on top. A goal to the good and looking comfortable. As long as the ludicrous decision to give Haangeland a yellow card is the only decision the referee gets wrong we might even get more than the point we were hoping for.
The only other downside is an altercation with an inbred Fulham fan located right in front of us. After being asked to sit down so as to not block the view he refused
"It's Europe, not Craven Cottage" he blustered. As though being in Europe somehow made him invisible thus allowing those unfortunate enough to have to sit behind his stinking, yellow toothed form clear view of the action. "Everyone's standing up!" He cried. Forcing everyone in the vicinity to slowly look around to try and locate another person standing.
Momentarily unsure of himself he then repeated his "It's Europe!" line of argument as though we hadn't heard him the first time, no doubt hoping that after the fifth or sixth airing my brother would turn to me and remark "Oh, I get it, he's saying that it's Europe, and not Craven Cottage. Therefore we should either all be standing or just put up with him blocking our view. Because that's what happens when you watch football in Europe."
But this didn't happen. Instead Dave just told him off in much the same manner a primary school assistant would admonish a slightly backward child who had just coloured in his own face with crayons.
We moved along one seat for an unobstructed view and the buffoon's 'friends' looked a bit shame faced and gave off a 'here we go again' air of resignation.
8pm - The decision not to allow alcohol pays off and the destruction of the Stadio Olympico is averted following one of the most bent displays of refereeing ever witnessed. The pain of dropping two points at home in the last minute of the game against the same opponents is revisited. Two men sent off, a deflected shot that levelled things up and we are faced with a very long journey home with nothing to show for it.
9pm - But first we have a nice hours wait in the cold to get through. At least the moron in front chose to sit down for that second half. Although at times I could have done with something to hide behind. It's a sad end to a day that hasn't finished yet. Another two hour flight beckons. Oh, lucky me. Time to put a brave face on things.
10pm - The hour drive back to the airport flashes by. The warmth of the coach and the extra layers I've put on leave me feeling drowsy. I sleep most of the way. Upon reaching our destination I realise I will have to leave behind the wine bought earlier in the day. Then as we pass through customs the last of the duty free shops shuts for the night.
11pm - An unexpected delay at the airport. I ask the guy selling drinks for wine. His supervisor tells him not to sell it to me.
12pm - Dave and I drop 5MG of valium. As we slouch on our chairs and Dave eats M&M's (which the supervisor was happy to sell to us) big drops of rain start to splatter against the windows. It's dark, it's wet and outside it's cold. It's time to go home.
1am - Finally take off. An hour later than planned. With lights dimmed and the valium taking hold I let my head rest on Dave's shoulder. Hopeful of sleep. But any chance of this is rudely ended as the plane suddenly drops and lurches to the side. Startled, my eyes immediately flick open and I instinctively reach for my brother. His eyes are now also wide open.
Turbulence strikes. Repeatedly. And not just any old turbulence either - the worst I've ever experienced. The plane shudders and rocks and an audible groan rings out from the passengers after one particularly bad jolt makes the plane shudder and dip alarmingly.
The stewardesses are caught out. Everyone has been. The head steward grabs the intercom will all stewardesses get back to their seats now!!!!! But half way through barking this order the plane is broadsided by another burst. It overbalances him and the surprise in his voice is broadcast to us all 'will all stewardesses get back to their seats noooooooow!!!!!'
Panicking Stewardesses do nothing for my state of mind. With one hand grabbing my brothers knee and the other the seat in front all I could think of was Jesus Christ Fulham , haven't you put us through enough today?!
2am - Thankfully (and by thankfully, I mean, thank you god, I am down on my knees praying to you here) after ten minutes the turbulence subsides. I look back on the moment before my flight when I opted to take valium as one of the greatest decisions I've ever made. The part time pilot speaks to us over the tannoy to apologise for not warning us about the impending storm we were about to fly into. It was down to the delay at the airport. Apparently we missed the worst of it.
2am (UK time) - We fail to miss the worst of him, however. Another bumpy landing followed by a skid or two signals the fact that our plane has landed. For a minute I feared the turbulence had returned. *Note to pilot* If your journey is delayed. Recheck the f*cking weather forecast in the area you are about to fly into. That is all.
3am - Without any baggage in the hold Dave, Fergoose and I waltz through customs and head straight for the carpark. Fergoose kindly drops us both off at our houses.
Despite the hour and the fact I have work in the morning I pour myself a small glass of Angostura 1824, switch on the computer and read The Guardian, The Independent and BBC Sport's
version of events. I've always like the Beeb.
4am - Valium + physical/mental exhaustion + shot of the finest Angostura 1824Rum Trinidadian dollars can buy = deep, sweet sleep.
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