We've all been on a European tour...
...ok, maybe not all of us did - but you know what I mean!
Reality really setting in...
So many of the things that seemed nothing more than just 'hopes' and 'dreams' with Pompey have actually come true, and for the reality of yet another being fulfilled has now sunk in after the reality of 2nd October 2008 - our first ever furrow in to Europe as an away side in a truly meaningful fixture.
Seeing Pompey in the premier league is almost old hat now, maybe this status is even being taken for granted now? This was dream one for me, top flight football with Pompey - box ticked! Surviving one season well and truly ticked another, and several more seasons to follow made the tick bigger. An increase and improvement in cementing, then building on our top-flight status - again box ticket!
As our status grew, the thoughts that Pompey could one day compete for a major domestic honour became something that seemed more attainable, still this was 'just a dream', but that dream also became a reality last season when we of course lifted the FA cup - I still have to pinch myself to make sure it was not a wonderful dream, although the tattooed reminder helps me not to forget... I was there, and with one of my best friends, my brother - I still get choked up thinking about that to this day and how special it was, even more so for the reason that I was able to be there with my 'little big' brother - and I have shared this story before... Get that box ticked again!
So, seeing Pompey at Wembley, another box ticked also thanks to this, not once, not twice, but three times due to the semi final, final and charity shield all taking place in the capital.
Now the latest chapter has been written, I have now seen us play in European football with the uefa cup this season. The 1st leg at Fratton fulfilled this ambition, the trip to Guimarães, Portugal - via Spain - fulfilled the ultimate European football dream: watching Pompey in European competition in Europe, people say that our plan was 'crazy', but all I can say is it was bloody well worth it!
A European tour with Pompey, even if that is my only part of it, has ticked that other box!
This only leaves a couple of dreams left unfulfilled, one is to one day see us play in the champions league - which is unlikely but not impossible, the other - and the ultimate crowning glory is to see us crowned league champions. This seems almost impossible though, but should this - as is likely - and the champions league dreams remain unfulfilled I think I am more than content with my lot and whatever the future will bring, as the club I love has fulfilled most of what I only ever thought would just be dreams that I had for it, and best of all I can say 'I was there for all of this' as I was at all of this, as I was during the dark days in our history which makes this all the more special, but whatever the future holds I can safely say 'I will still be there'...
The European expedition
When I told friends and work colleagues that I was going away to Portugal via Spain most were envious and called me all sorts of names - when I told them I was doing this over a time period of a little over 24 hours most then said I was 'bloody crazy' and called me plenty more names, but boy am I glad that Paul - my cousin, Adrian - his mate - and myself did all go over to Guimarães for the uefa cup game.
The adventure started on Wednesday really, Lynne - Paul's girlfriend - came to collect me from my Aunty and Uncle's place in Cosham - where I had been staying since the Spurs game - that evening after work, I then went back to their place. An early night was required as we had to set off early the next morning for the airport, that early night meant around 10pm, although by the time I managed to drop off I do not know what the time was to be honest...
3.25pm on Thursday came around and it was time to get up and shower ready to collect Adrian at around 4.20ish - here came 'minor setback number one', there was no sign of life! After a little deliberating about what to do it was decided that Paul would have to knock the door - not ideal considering Adrian's wife Jenny and the 7-month old baby Oscar were sleeping, but with the mobile seemingly off there was little choice... He showered and what have you before offering his apologies and we set off around 4.45am, a little behind schedule, but not a lot - London Stansted it was then!
We arrived, parked up got the shuttle bus to the airport, went through all the searches required, grabbed a bite to eat and boarded a Valladolid bound flight ready for take off - this left at 8.30am. This is where my first encounter with a known face happened, storagematt was on the flight, just a few rows in front of us - we exchanged pleasantries and then onward, and clearly quite literally upwards it was...
Not only was this my maiden European adventure with Pompey - as it was for us all - it was also my first taste of flying, so I was naturally 'a little worried', but this was not a problem, a walk in the park, no 'freaking out' or anything. We were due in at 11.30pm Spanish time (10.30am UK time) but were ahead of schedule, which was ideal! Through the checks that end, pick up the car and we would be away - unfortunately we encountered 'minor setback number two' as a Pompey fan in front of us was having problems with his car hire, again this was not a problem as we still had plenty of time. The fella at the car hire had to try his luck elsewhere - thankfully from his point of view I can say that his party made it to and from the game safely.
We got our car with no problems, and it was fantastic - nice and big, plenty of leg room. The journey to Guimarães could begin, after a couple of photos for the record books of course, at what must have been around 12.30pm (11.30am UK), with no GPS it 'might' have been a problem, but we had good directions and all was going smoothly until one slight wrong turn! But we got back on track fairly quickly and eventually a couple of hours or so into our trip - and after mine and Paul's European tour CD compilations were played, Adrian let us down though as he did not get his done - we had a break in a café somewhere in Spain. Slightly hungry, but unsure of what the hell to ask for we opted against this and settled for 'tres cola' thanks to Paul's ordering skills - the only thing he missed out was a 'por favor'.
After the break, the drivers switched, Adrian took the wheel and all was going smoothly - that was until we got closer to the Portuguese boarder... With a poxy lorry in front of us, on a one lane road - one lane leading into a new country, what's that all about? - the decision made, 'I'm going for it, lets overtake' in theory simple, in practice a little more hair-raising when it came down to it as not being used to driving a left hand drive stick shift an approaching car was doing just that, approaching a little more than we would have liked, but eventually the gear bit in and we were fine - we really were fine, it was nowhere near 'dangerous' at all and gave us all something to laugh and joke about.
I think we got into Guimarães around 4pm - (Portugal works on UK time, for those that do not know) found a car park to stay in, but not sure if it was a long stay, or for how long a stay it was time I did my first bit of international speech, asking a guy at a desk in some building 'fala inglês', or 'do you speak English' to anyone else :-) sadly he did not, but the women with him did and she told us it was a long term, fee free stop car park - result, landed on our feet! The town, city, whatever you want to call it was really nice - and from the brief time we spent looking we liked, but decided to head to the town centre, where we came across the hoards of Pompey fans. Upon arriving there I phoned one of my old travel companions to see where he was and met up with Rob, Ken, Ritchie, Stubby and Susan - among others - and we had a few drinks to pass the hours away... We landed on our feet with the parking, but even more so with Rob and Ritchie saying that everyone had decided that we could kip on their hotel floor if we wanted, better than sleeping in the car - so we accepted.
The atmosphere in the Guimarães town square was brilliant, thousands of Pompey fans on a European tour was a sight I will never forget - flags were flying from all the bars and buildings around, with the locals happy to fly them. I felt sorry for Paul and Adrian, as they could not really drink more than a couple of pints, so did not want too many - but they insisted, even so I did not get carried away! Eventually we decided we wanted something to eat, so the 3 of us told the rest we were off and would catch them latter, but Rob and Ritchie said they knew somewhere to get food... eventually, the pair slightly inebriated, did get us to where they wanted to - after a mini (non)guided tour of Guimarães! Food was good, although to be fair by that point anything would have done as we were starving...
Still at least an hour and a half before the game I reckon, we decided to head towards the stadium. I am not a fan on the 'half and half' flags, but this was a special occasion, so after haggling a little we managed to save a couple of Euros - result... into the stadium we went, and a nice stadium it was - the seats were 'different' to say they least, with a couple breaking, but to be fair they are not designed for standing on, which is what some did to break them. It had been a long day, and the waiting made it even longer but it was worth the wait as we got to soak up all the atmosphere. The game eventually came round, and for a good while it was not really worth it - football wise - as we seemed like we had stayed in England! It was frustrating, but the atmosphere was fantastic throughout and this eventually dragged us through. The game itself, which almost become 'a side issue' was frustrating for so long, but we eventually came through as we all know so the game does not need to be talked about. The only thing that I disliked about the atmosphere was our insistence on signing the 'anti-scum songs', I get tired of these at home and feel we do them too much, but there was even less point in singing them in Europe surely?
So, the game finished and us safely securing our passage into the group stages so the European tour continues the voyage home would be next up - but not before we were held in the stadium for a while... A 15 minute hold back was expected, but from full time and the time we finally did get let out it seemed like more than 15 to be honest, and this longer than expected time left a slightly fruity situation developing, as the final train leaving for Porto was due to leave at 12.45am, and by the time the game finished it was already well past midnight! The hold back caused some frustration, and this showed at times but thankfully nothing developed and I have been told that NO major trouble was reported, which was good to hear as a ridiculous kick off time like we got - thanks TV world! - ran the risk of this, especially with all the drinking time that was given...
When we eventually were allowed out of the stadium, the idea of returning to the hotel with the others was something decided against, as the drivers needed to try and get there heads down for a couple of hours really and the fear was had we gone back to the square we might not have even got that before heading off back to Spain, so we 'tried' to kip in the car, having got back their and settled by around 1.15am... that did not work really so in the end, after a couple of hours of 'sleep' we set off back to Spain at a little after 3am (baring in mind that was 4am Spanish time.) As it turns out we could have gone back to the hotel with the others and easily got a few hours kip, as 3 went back to the hotel - but there you go!
The journey back was tough going as it was still very dark, and remained that way until around 8am (Spanish time) or later, which when you think about it do we ever have it pitch black at 8am over here? The fact that it was so dark, which was fair enough in the early hours, but when it was 'relatively early' not so...
A break at our BP found service station, where we picked up supplies such as crisps and drink on the way to Portugal, provided a break on the way back to Spain and offered us the strongest coffee ever seen in the tiniest cup imaginable, and Paul a lemon tea, although this was not what was suspected when ordered. Paul, who took the first leg back to Spain was doing a grand job again, but when you start switching lanes and not realising you had done so you know its time to have a break, so drivers changed. I promised myself that to be fair I would not sleep during the driving at all as it would not have been fair on those doing this, and I kept to this despite a few 'head slipping forward and then whipping back' as I felt myself fading moments. It was a strange journey back though, but it went fairly well, again going down with no problems really. By the time we got back to the airport we just wanted to get home by then as tiredness had well and truly set in! We still had several hours to wait though, as it must have been around 9am (8am UK time) and with our flight back not until 12noon we just had to wait around, we then did some more waiting around in the departures lounge...
After a decent flight, which again saw us land a head of schedule - and saw storagematt sit behind us - when finally back in England, back through all checks we needed to do and shuttled back to the car we still had another car journey back to Portsmouth! The traffic on the roads was pretty bad and this added a fair amount of time to our journey, but a Friday afternoon journey was always likely to see this. 4.45pm I think the time was when I got back to Cosham - first thing I did was make myself a cuppa, showered then mooched about for the evening before finally succumbing to tiredness and dropping off for half an hour or so sometime between 9 and 10, to catch the end of Little Britain America, then it was off to bed, well earned I think where I stayed undisturbed for at least 9 hours!
Leaving at stupid o'clock in the morning on the Thursday, flying out to Spain to then drive to Portugal, take in the game - eventually - only to try and get a bit of sleep before heading back to Spain and then flying out to return back to England on the Friday afternoon was seen as 'crazy' by some, but surely realising another dream of seeing us play in Europe in European competition would have seen Paul, Adrian, myself and hundreds of other Pompey fans that did the same 'crazier' to have missed out had we turned it down knowing we could do it! I can look back in years to come and say 'I was there', so I would have been crazier to have turned it down, wouldn't I?
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