Hello dear readers! I hope all is well with you? I thought that I’d get back to writing about some travel.
I have written about football-related travels many times on the blog but this? This is a post I never in my lifetime thought that I’d be writing about.
I was listening to an episode of The Travel Architect’s podcast recently and the “travel quiz” on this particular episode revolved around the concept that people travel locally, nationally and internationally to watch sports or any event really at “bucketlist” venues – I am one of those people.
My love of football is no secret, I’ve been obsessed with the sport for as long as I can remember. Football is the biggest sport in England – by some distance. Football is the biggest sport in the world even and I’ve heard it nicknamed the “global language” – regardless of your native language, everyone understands football.
I think that’s particularly true for myself. I’m an introverted person, I’m quiet but that was multiplied tenfold as a child. I was so shy and so reserved but football was my comfort zone, I understood football and if we had a mutual love for the game it made it infinitely easier to connect with you. It was an easy bonding subject I suppose.
As a kid I just immersed myself in to all things football. To this day it’s probably the only passion I have that exceeds travel. I love and loathe it in equal measure, it infuriates me like nothing else can but the highs of the game are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
It didn’t matter what it was growing up. I could be playing football in the streets from dawn ’til dusk, collecting football stickers for the latest Premier League sticker album, reading Match magazine every single week or watching football on the telly. Playing computer games such as Championship Manager (“move aside Gerry Francis.. I’m taking Spurs to the lofty heights of the UEFA Cup!”), reading football-books.. whatever it was, I was obsessed!
I heard so many football stories from my dad’s youth – a very different time in football where tickets were more accessible and affordable. My dad would travel up and down the country with his mates and even experience the occasional foray in to Europe for the ultimate “away day” experience – hearing stories of Spurs in Belgium and UEFA Cup glory in 1984 was something I was so envious of for such a long, long time.
My dad’s “heyday” came and went. Marriage and kids and responsibilities followed and my dad had to stop going. Football became too expensive and required too much sacrifice to follow with the same frequency – sadly resigned to a life of “armchair football” but he still had enough love for it to pass on the reigns to his son. We’ll not give too much mention to the rebel Arsenal-supporting daughter! – “Why haven’t you disowned her dad?”
I loved football so much but my dad couldn’t afford to take us regularly if at all, it’s an expensive day out but my love for it was unrivalled. Growing up I’d firstly dream of playing on the biggest stage, playing for Spurs, winning the FA Cup and once the realisation kicked in that I’d never be good enough to achieve that, my hopes turned to my “idols” achieving that success on my behalf.
I wanted to see Spurs win an FA Cup (I still haven’t!), I wanted to see Spurs in Europe. Even as a deluded, hopeful child you’d never dream of Premier League or Champions League glory for little ol’ Spurs – that was beyond our limitations but just give me something to remember. Give me something to match up to those stories my dad has from the late 70’s and 80’s.
Year after year I’d witness disappointment after disappointment. I still haven’t forgiven Shearer for breaking my heart in the FA Cup semi final in `1999. Likewise I have held a bitter resentment against Germans, Kaiserlautern, for ending my sole European memory of Spurs far earlier than I was prepared for. Just the one European excursion in my pitiful Spurs-supporting memory – my dad’s fairytale stories are all a lie!
Jokes aside, I dreamt of football on the biggest stage – imagine going to watch Spurs in Europe or England at a World Cup. My dad went to France in 1998 and I watched on again, envious albeit ultimately with similar feelings of disappointment and heartbreak following another painful England World Cup defeat.
My school years were particularly painful, arguably Spurs worst era and similarly coinciding with the years (92-04) I was most susceptible to teasing from my peers.
I left school and typically Spurs fortunes changed. More importantly though, I left school. I was now of working age – the financial limitations my father had had, I did not. I had no responsibility and despite taking a weekend job in a supermarket I was finally free to spend my
hard-earned cash as I pleased – going to the football regularly.
I remember little of the first time my dad took me to White Hart Lane but I remember running up those steps and seeing that pitch for the first time – “wow!” – you dream about it but I don’t think that first time can ever disappoint. It’s Disneyland levels of magical – now that I was working I could finally come as often as I wanted.
Better yet, Spurs were improving on the pitch! In 2006, at 18 years old, I finally got to watch my beloved Spurs participate in a European competition – in the flesh! Tottenham vs Slavia Prague in London. A “glory, glory” European night under the famous lights of White Hart Lane!
The allure of European football, playing on the continent in places you have and haven’t heard of, has always mesmerised me. You read blog posts about the hidden gems of Europe – “secret off-the-beaten-path cities no-one has heard of” and it’s like mate, you underestimate the obscure places across the world that football fans know about because of some random football team that play there.
Going back to that previously mentioned podcast.. My love for European football in particular always came with an “I’d love to play there..” wish before materialising in to the “I’d love to watch a game there” dream instead.
There were and still are so many football experiences I’d love to witness one day – famous football stadiums, famous football matches and rivalries, famous football tournaments that would be incredible to see live.
Primarily I want those football experiences with Spurs of course but some aren’t possible and others aren’t realistic. I can’t watch Spurs in a World Cup but I’d still love to attend a World Cup one year – there’ll always be some regret that I didn’t go to Brazil in 2014.
It’s my dream to go and watch either domestic or international football in South America – Brazil and Argentina in particular as the footballing giants of the continent. It’s my dream to go and watch some of the big European rivalries, I have a list of football stadiums I’d like to visit before I die (or before they knock the stadium down!). I have so many football-bucketlist experiences to tick off!
European football again obviously holds a lot of those experiences and I never thought I’d see them with Spurs if I’m being honest. That Champions League anthem is mesmerising but I never really believed growing up that I’d watch Spurs participate in the competition, let alone multiple times as I’ve been fortunate to do. I never thought visiting the likes of the Camp Nou, San Siro, Bernabeu, WestfalenStadion or others would ever be possible.
After finally being able to go to home games regularly I attended my first Tottenham away game in 2008 – Spurs at Villa Park in Birmingham – what a historic, traditional stadium that is too. It’ll be a sad day should Aston Villa ever replace their stadium.
I went to multiple domestic away games over the years and then finally went to my first European away game in 2014 – Benfica of Lisbon, Portugal – one of Portugal’s biggest teams and a huge name in European football.
It was “only” in Europe’s second-tier competition, the Europa League (UEFA Cup) but still – watching Spurs in Europe? “This is the dream!”
Since that first European outing I’ve watched football in a number of countries and even in that elusive Champions League competition I thought beyond little ol’ Spurs and then ‘here’ we are – June 2019.
I kind of knew, much like my father 30 years ago, that my footballing days were coming to an end. I’ve had this nagging feeling about a different lifestyle, different priorities and different responsibilities that suggested I’d have to “hang up my boots” so to speak.
It wasn’t necessarily imminent but I knew it wasn’t far away and so I went in to 2019 with the mentality that the next European outing, this, could be my last ever European away game with Spurs. I wrote that blog post knowing I was bowing out soon – I just wanted one final away European away game and “anywhere but Dortmund”.
Ironically Dortmund was one of those stadiums I never thought I’d see Tottenham play at – one of Europe’s most famous football venues and undoubtedly fitting of any worthwhile football bucketlist – home to the famous “yellow wall” of Borussia Dortmund.
Tottenham were drawn to play Dortmund in March 2016 and I’d literally only just come home from Georgia at the end of Feb and I was booking flights – I did not give a shit about work, I was not missing a “once in a lifetime” trip to Dortmund.
Seven months later we were back in West Germany in nearby Leverkusen and then in November 2017 we returned to Dortmund again! On that occasion I saw Spurs win but twice was plenty – there’s no other reason to visit Dortmund!
So faced with the possibility of a third “once in a lifetime” trip to Dortmund – I was praying to the football gods for some mercy and to send me anywhere else. My prayers fell on deaf ears: Tottenham Hotspur vs Borussia Dortmund – March 2019.
There were no guarantees of progress, no guarantees of more European games. This could be my last and only opportunity so reluctantly, back to West Germany for the fourth football excursion in three years. Spurs typically won comfortably which resulted in a Champions League quarter final against fellow English side, Manchester City.
Unbelievably Spurs succeeded and set up a first Champions League (European Cup) semi final appearance in 57 years – Tottenham vs Ajax – giants of Dutch and European football – “pinch me!”
Next up Amsterdam – with a touch of irony perhaps. Spurs have offered so many disappointments over the years. Typically I’m on the verge of packing it in altogether and Spurs decide this is the year for a cup run in Europe? “Thanks Tottenham..”
Amsterdam was not in the budget for the year but of course I had to go, hoping that Tottenham may well just go one step better than they did in 1962 and incredibly they did – a first Champions League (European Cup) final appearance in their 137 year history!
and so this is where this story begins!
“Begins? Jason, you’ve already written a novel!”
I know, I know but what’s a story without a little context?
I was ready to pack it in, just one final European outing. I’d budgeted the first six months of the year perfectly so that I could think about next steps with Haleigh. This was the supposed to be me winding down as far as the football was concerned but Spurs said “sod that, we were your first love!”
A Champions League final was an “at all costs” trip and boy was it. There was no scenario in which I wasn’t going to Madrid, with or without a ticket for the game, but I genuinely had no idea how I was going to make the logistics of this work.
As if the trip wasn’t expensive enough anyway, Tottenham’s European fate had been sealed on that memorable Wednesday night in Amsterdam. 24 hours earlier our opponents Liverpool had sealed their own fate – we’d face English opposition in Madrid but more importantly that meant fellow English supporters and travelers that had been afforded a 24 hour head start.
Reports suggest 100,000 or so traveled from England to Madrid for this game. I don’t know how accurate that is. I don’t know if it was more – quite possibly but for my fellow experienced travelers, try and book that trip with three weeks notice on very specific dates and when a vast majority have had a head start on your travel planning -it’s bonkers!
The simplest solution (“hey, we’re selling flights to Madrid sat on Ryanair’s wing for only £450,000 one way”) was a no-go.
I was 100% going to Madrid but it was time to get creative. Where do I fly from? What are my options? What’s the alternative to flying to Madrid? Barcelona? Bilbao? Where? Would it be cheaper to not fly from England? Maybe I’ll go out to Dublin or Paris or Marrakech or anywhere else first!
It was a headache! I was still in Amsterdam at the time and pondered if I just should start walking to Madrid now! I shared my frustrations with my parents and knew it’d probably have to wait until I got home.
“Your dad’s thinking of driving..”
Wait, what!!? Dad’s contemplating popping out of “retirement” for this one? Wow! I mean it probably shouldn’t have shocked me, this is big after all but still, my dad didn’t even own a passport at the time.
That said, anyone who was anyone was going to this. I think it was about Liverpool’s 408th Champions League final in 20 years and they’ve been to one more since then too but for Spurs? This doesn’t happen to the likes of us – a genuine “once in a lifetime!” experience.
I know it’s a case of being privileged and having the luxury of football as a priority in your life that you can do a trip such as this but it still surprises me that any Spurs fan missed this.
If you have to sell an organ or that Arsenal supporting sibling, do it! A family friend of ours flew over from his home in Australia to be in Madrid because this was the big one! Admittedly his journey may well still have been cheaper than any flight from England going to Madrid but he knew how important it was, I knew that I had to go and my dad likewise – a first Father-Son European away game!
My dad drove! A European road trip from Peterborough, England to Madrid, Spain. Another friend of my dad’s footballing days joined us for the roadtrip, quite surreal how much of the old gang had come out of obscurity for this one – I’d never met Lloyd before and I don’t think my dad had seen him in decades either but a trip worthy of a reunion!
The match was on Saturday, we left England after work on Thursday and intended to drive back on Sunday so this was as quick and as budget-friendly as such a trip would allow – sharing fuel and accommodation costs between us.
We left work on Thursday and headed for Dover where we’d be picking up Lloyd and more importantly, catching the late-night / early-morning ferry over to France. I can’t recall what time it was but let’s just say it was dark in the crossing.
I was a little apprehensive about taking the ferry. It makes me a little cautious about ever booking a cruise too, I get a little seasick I guess and I felt so rough coming back from Amsterdam three weeks earlier which was weighing on my mind a little bit.
Nevertheless we had a beer on board and kicked off the trip of a lifetime in style. The rest of the ferry was packed with football fans, predominantly Liverpool fans but two sets of supporters all in good spirit – all ready for the big game on Saturday!
We arrived in France early Friday morning and was able to catch the sun coming up over the country – being the end of May it was particularly nice and came up quite early.
The trip made me feel quite nostalgic. We’d take the occasional family daytrip to France when we lived in London and I also visited Spain on a coach-trip with school that no doubt took a much similar route that we did for this trip.
I remember nothing of France from those trips other than stopping at service stations and such in random places. For a long time I didn’t really feel like I’d really been to France. It was only after visiting Paris and Lille that I felt like I’d actually been to France and started falling in love with it. Lille was particularly nice visiting France in the summer and getting to see what the fuss was about. Up until then I’d never really got the fuss about France.
We were on the road for a good few hours on France, stopping occasionally for a food break and chance to visit the grand service stations of the country – feeling very nostalgic for the France I remember from my youth!
Mid-afternoon we arrived in our stop for the night. We didn’t want to do the full drive on Friday so agreed to stop somewhere on route – I’d had a little read on options and suggested Bayonne / Biarritz might be a good choice. So we booked a little budget backpackers hotel in Bayonne for one night – it was very basic. Tucked away in the middle of nowhere really and more dorm-like accommodation but perfect for one night – we had no problems with it.
We dropped off our things and decided we’d go and spend the rest of the afternoon at the coast. We got back in the car and headed for nearby Biarritz.
This was meant to be a whistle-stop one-nighter so none of us were that bothered about where we stayed, we hadn’t done any real research about what to do or what to expect from the area. More than anything it was a good base for us to then hit the road again in the morning.
So Biarritz took all of us by surprise – it is stunning! We stepped out of the car and I was blown away by its beauty. This is why people rave about the South of France!
The sun was shining, the water was gorgeous and it felt so relaxed. Biarritz were actually hosting the ‘World Longboard Surfing Championship’ this week but it seemed like we’d missed any of the major activity of the day. There were still a few people out in the water but it was so peaceful.
We found a little outside bar to pick up some beers and just sat by the water mesmerised. It’s so easy to glamourise travel places but this felt like paradise. The only disappointment was the reality that we were only here for one night. Part of me sat there, looking out to the water and thinking can’t we just sack off Madrid?
I’d been to Madrid before (and LOVED it), let’s find a bar for the game tomorrow and stay here
forever. Why are we leaving this place so soon?
We enjoyed the views a little longer but didn’t hang around for particularly long. We got back in the car and returned to Bayonne, which also looked nice from the little we saw of it, before finding a place to grab some dinner near our hotel. We were pretty close to Spain by this point but still had a few hours drive ahead of us so were keen to get an early night and an early start in the morning.
On Saturday morning we woke up in eager anticipation of the day ahead. Champions League final day featuring Tottenham
fucking Hotspur. This is actually happening!
Of course I was sad to be leaving the South of France, I am itching to return to Biarritz one day and also to explore more of the South of France because it had instantly won us over but nevertheless we had to go.
The drive over the border is gorgeous. As I said above, I’d done the school coachtrip to Spain before so this wasn’t of huge surprise to me but it was even prettier than I remember it being.
Even more Spurs and Liverpool fans were on the road by this point – all Madrid bound. We stopped off at more service stations along the way and picked up food for the morning to keep us going. Eventually we’d arrived in sunny, glorious Madrid.
I think Madrid is undoubtedly one of the best cities in Europe, I think I might go as far as saying it’s my favourite European city outside of London but on this occasion we weren’t here for the culture or anything else that Madrid has to offer. We found somewhere to park and headed straight for the dedicated fan-park hosting Spurs.
We picked up some beers and soaked up the building atmosphere. One of hope, one of optimism, one of disbelief. This fairytale-like story was one night away from reaching Hollywood. We’d been down and out so many times over the course of the season that there was this feeling of “it’s meant to be” and we just needed that movie-script ending to round it off.
Soon enough our family friend, Dave, had joined us. Coming all the way from
Australia Barcelona, it was great to see him after a few years. I’ve seen him a few times over the years in England and we even met up a couple of times when I went to Sydney, now we were in our third country together and for a Champions League final! Had I mentioned that?
A little while later two more of the old gang, Dave number 2 and Mo, had come to join us for a little while too. A great opportunity for a reunion photo and a “we were there” moment.
Soon enough the fan-park closed. Dave 2 and Mo went their separate ways whilst the four of us went off in search for elsewhere to drink and hopefully a bar to watch the big game tonight.
We picked up a drunk stray from Aberdeen who’d seemingly lost his friends and tagged along with us for the night. We tried a couple of bars without much fortune – finding that they were either completely rammed with supporters or that they were completely empty because they had no TV to show the game. Eventually we had some fortune in a restaurant-ish kind of bar showing the game and selling beers which was all we really needed.
The day had been lovely. Everyone was in good spirits. I think there was a fear that with tens of thousands of Brits descending on Madrid that there’d be trouble. The Brits, and English in particular, don’t have the greatest reputation on the continent. Some of it is fully justified to be fair but on this occasion there was no need for such concern – everyone got along swimmingly. Now for the football..
All that build-up, all that anticipation and excitement? Minute one: Liverpool penalty – game over.
It still feels unfair, unjust even. I don’t think the decision will ever sit right with me and it just killed the game. Spurs huffed and puffed but without any real quality, it was probably one of the worst Champions League finals in truth but to have this grand occasion go like this so early in the game was and still is hard to accept.
I don’t know how much I ever really believed. I was always hopeful and had optimism, there was definitely fleeting moments of “we’re going to do this..” but Liverpool were of course the favourites for the game, favourites to win the trophy for the Nth time and so it proved.
As ever for Tottenham, no happy ending. No fairytale, no Hollywood movie to come. I can’t and won’t question the effort because we tried but even accepting we weren’t ever expected to be at this stage, it was no less painful. We huffed away and Liverpool hit us on the counter late on – an undeserved 2-0 in a game lacking any quality. We never deserved to win and perhaps it’s the bitterness talking but Liverpool were barely worthy winners themselves.
I walked out at 2-0 completely deflated. I needed to just walk somewhere for a bit. I had no interest in seeing the final whistle, no interest in seeing the trophy presentation. Who fucking cares?
We didn’t have accommodation for Saturday night. I think we’d made the decision to just find some kip in the car later on and then head out Sunday morning.
Nevertheless we hung out in Madrid for a bit after the game, mingling with a few people from the bar that we’d met. I dare say I wasn’t really present at all. Maybe its the years of experience supporting Spurs, maybe its the fact the other three have all tasted real Tottenham success but I think the other three took the defeat much better than myself.
I don’t know how any of them could find the energy to be sociable enough for chit-chat. In truth I just wanted to be as far from Madrid as possible. After maybe an hour we went and found a late-night joint for some cheap and greasy food. I’m not sure you’d necessarily associate Madrid as a good place for a kebab but it ticked the right boxes after a day of beer and football.
From there it was back to the car. Lloyd seemed to find the time to talk to every passing celebratory Scouser. To be fair to the Liverpool bunch, they were very gracious about it and complimentary of Spurs but I didn’t really find any consolation in it.
More to the point was that Lloyd was constantly stopping on our walk back to the car. I lost count of how many Liverpool fans we stopped for in the end – admittedly Lloyd was fairly drunk but I’m sure he was seeking them out – “just keep walking Lloyd, come on!”
My dad seemingly had much more patience than I did. Perhaps I needed to be a bit drunker myself but I wasn’t particularly interested in baby-sitting someone 20-30 years my senior, nor stopping for chirpy Scousers.
We said our goodbyes to Dave, wishing him well for the trip back down-under, and eventually got Lloyd back to the car having stopped for conversations with seemingly every single person in Madrid.
We slept on the outskirts of Madrid for a few hours kip before hitting the road again – determined to try and do it in a day and be back on a late-Sunday / early-Monday ferry back to England.
Sidenote and a word of warning for anyone that fancies doing this road-trip – the tolls aren’t particularly suited to back-seat passengers and dare I say drivers too! Lloyd seemed near-dead in the front seat and was completely passed out which left me on toll-duty as my dad drove and seemingly few seemed to fall on the actual drivers sides for some reason.
Maybe my memory is rusty but thinking back to it, I don’t know what you’re supposed to do if you’re a solo driver. A few tolls on I was an expert on the pay-process but it seems bizarre that that was the case. Perhaps manned toll booths on the right side of the road were closed because it was a Sunday and this was our only option? Who knows?
Anyway, we looked for somewhere to break up the drive once again and as tempting as it may have been to return to Biarritz we wanted to see somewhere different. Bordeaux seemed like an obvious choice but we opted to go to ‘La Rochelle’ instead, I figured I was more likely to visit Bordeaux one day and why not go somewhere else.
We struck out unfortunately. Perhaps we didn’t give it enough of a chance but for a flying visit, we certainly didn’t see the best of La Rochelle and wouldn’t necessarily be inspired to return. I’ve heard good things so I’d be inclined to go back and see if it could change my mind but it was barely a lunch spot for us and left no real impression.
We hit the road again pretty quickly and from there it was the odd service station on an otherwise uneventful drive. Lloyd eventually woke from his slumber, still feeling the effects of a heavy day of drinking. Having perked up a bit we grabbed some food and then made the gradual return to Calais, Dover and Peterborough respectively.
Reflecting on the trip as a three-parter makes it more special: Köln, Amsterdam, Madrid – wow!
It’s hard to detach from the finale, hard to detach from the pain of how it ended but when you take the whole experience in to account then I can only look back on it with fondness. Amsterdam was incredible, to follow that up with a Father-Son road-trip was particularly special and it’s a footballing-adventure I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
I’m gutted that this three-parter doesn’t get the Hollywood ending it deserves but hopefully you’ve enjoyed following along anyway. If this is to be my last football-inspired blog post and how I bow out of European football, what a way to do it!
Maybe there’ll be more European adventures to come, who knows? I’ve certainly cut back on the football this side of Covid and I’d be reluctant to go back to Dortmund for the 592nd time but watch this space I guess. There’ll almost certainly be a World Cup adventure in 2026 given that the USA are one of the host countries!
Anyway, time to wrap this up! Next time on the blog? No idea! Haha.