Today’s adventures in Bratislava are mostly set, erm, not in Bratislava.
One of the aims of football, I think, is to get people to visit places they would not normally visit. Partly a cultural thing, but mainly an economic thing. Having thousands of football fans spending their hard earned in pubs, restaurants and other places of ill repute can do wonders for the economy of a town.
Bratislava gets more than it’s fair share of the tourist Euro, so today’s game is in Trnava.
There have been times when it has made sense to stay in the same city as the game, but some times – particularly following Wales- games can be played in one horse towns that would struggle to keep even the keenest adventurer busy beyond pub opening hours.
So long as the distance is not too great many fans, us included, often stay in a nearby bigger city than the one hosting the game. Sarajevo, Prague, Tirana, Turin and Amsterdam are just a few of the cities we have stayed in even though the game was not being played there.
Finland is very expensive, so when Wales played in Helsinki we actually stayed in a different country, travelling by ferry from Tallinn, Estonia, on the day of the game.
The ninety day rule can also catch you out. The host country has to give ninety days notice of the venue. If you are too quick off the mark you can find yourself booked in to a hotel miles from the game. We got caught out big time in Poland. We ended up watching the game in a pub on a big screen in Krakow, whilst the game was being played three hundred miles away in Warsaw.
I think Turin must have been another ninety day trap, as Milan seems a perfectly reasonable place to stay.
Today’s jaunt is not so extreme. As so many are staying in Bratislava a fleet of buses has been lined up to take us to the game and back.
The day started well. Up at a sensible time, refreshed from a comparatively early night. The sun was shining and we sat on the balcony with cheese on toast and a cup of coffee, observing the Bratislava skyline, listening to Speedometer Funk and wafting in the smell of the traffic on the dual carriageway. It seemed almost too good a vibe to spoil with alcohol. Almost.
The walk to the bus station was facilitated by sat nav on the phone. Something we take for granted these days but would have been considered science fiction a few short years ago.
As we got closer to the station the pubs were getting predictably fuller and fuller of welsh fans. The cafe in the bus station was busy and probably sold more beer in a few hours than they normally sell in a month. Although, being forward thinking (tight) valleys girls and boys, we had brought our own cider to the party.
Eventually we poured onto the awaiting busses – around thirty I think. A mixture of Leigh James Travel and Wonky Sheep..
The fifty miles was covered in no time. Just a brief interlude to regroup on the outskirts of the city to water the bushes on the side of the motorway and to be escorted in by the police five buses at a time.
It was an efficient system, for us at least. Not sure the rest of the traffic was impressed by our escorted convoy cheating the queues.
As we near the stadium we see dodgy looking trouble makers on every corner.. All dressed in the same black uniform and riot gear, they looked like ninja turtles.
The British police learned years ago that starting out in riot gear can be provocative. No such niceties are worried about here, and they look like they mean business.
In fairness to them though they seem friendly enough and many are seen laughing and joking. Probably because they realise they are likely to have an easy night. Trouble at Wales games is extremely rare.
In Euro 2016, whilst our football neighbors were busy recreating the siege of Stalingrad, Wales fans were earning a reputation for being the friendliest, loudest and most colourful fans of the tournament. We came second to the Irish in the drunken stakes though.
In fairness to the Saes, at euro 2016 they couldn’t have been peaceful if they wanted. The Russians wanted a piece of them and that was the end of it. You can be as friendly as you like but if the others want a go it’s out of your hands. But if you have a reputation for being friendly, people dont feel the need to take you on.
This particular game was almost played behind closed doors, as punishment for the behaviour of the home fans (racist chanting if I recall correctly). But as we melt into the town peace and harmony reign supreme.
All the pubs were filled with red shirts and hardly any home supporters seemed to be drinking. The welsh fans were in good cheer, although slightly subdued compared to usual. It was probably because they were absorbing the cafe culture that dominates the city.
We kicked off in a secluded courtyard and, yet again, Slovakia did itself proud in the old culinary department. I had a salad, but not any old salad. A salad with goats cheese and strawberry sauce. The icing on the cake though, wasn’t actually icing, but beetroot baked in coffee. Yes, that’s right. None of the Pukka Pie and chips nonsense for us.
I’ll be chucking beetroot in with the old fair trade coffee granules when I get home.
We then found a bar selling strongbow, although not for long. I quite like the local sajder though. It was full of old faces and the many TV screens were silently showing a mixture of tennis, ice hockey, handball, drifting and rodeo.
The stadium itself is quite modern and includes a shopping centre, cinema and all that jazz. Whilst walking around it we bumped into the referee from the fans game. On his own this time. Obviously he does not mind taking his daughter on the pitch to ref a game of football but draws the line at taking her ticket touting.
Entry to the thirty thousand seater stadium is quick and efficient and we soon find ourselves in our seats – although nobody else seems to be worried whose seat they were in.
We were at the back of the lower tier so it was easy to jump over the back of the seat to access the toilet or the bar mid game. And unlike UK football stadiums, beer seemed to be available all through the game and you could actually watch the game with a pint in your hand.
The welsh team played well and the travelling masses were ecstatic when we went one up. Veteran wales fans have learnt not to count chickens though, so the equaliser was a bitter blow, but one we were prepared for.
A clear welsh penalty ignored by the ref and a missed sitter in the final minutes provide many opportunities for ‘what if?’ conversations on the bus, but as the old cliche goes (and was said out loud on the bus) ‘we would have been happy with a point before the game’. Its just that losing a lead always feels like a defeat and equalizing always feels like a win.
The bus was quiet on the way back, with the exception of the Penpederheol contingent at the back debating who their favourite son is, arguing about UFOs and discussing famous bridges they have crossed.
Children were embarrassed by their parents.
The old town has the feel of the aftermath of a battle. Drink weary welsh fans amble from pub to pub trying to sing but not having the energy to do the songs justice. The Irish and Scottish pubs had miraculously decided the beer was more expensive tonight than other nights.
We find ourselves in a kebab shop. Despite being in the old historic town it could have been any shitty kebab shop anywhere in the world. The Slovaks finally let themselves down. The vegetarian kebab consisted of a huge chunk of unidentifiable cheese cut in half and grilled then stuck in a bap with some wet lettuce.
It was worth it though cos I overheard the conversation of the day.
Bloke one: “Stop pissing about looking at the menu and just order a kebab”
Bloke two: “But I dont like kebabs”
Bloke one: “Nobody likes kebabs. It’s just what you do, innit”.
Which pretty much summed up the old town tonight for me. Nobody wants to stagger around pubs drinking beer you dont need paying prices you dont need to pay. It’s just what you do innit.