Nick’s Barmy Wales Trip in the Baking Baku Heat

18 Jun

I was up reasonably early, only to find that my phone was not properly charged because the charger I’d brought, despite having a two-pin plug, did not seem to work properly (mark this down as disaster no.2 or 3). I had a power-pack as back-up, but this did not have much charge on it. Especially with the tickets being on my phone, I was going to have to get a charger before doing anything. So I went to the phone shop down the road, with the intention of also buying a local SIM card. Despite the fact that I had WiFi in the apartment, my UK sim-card was eating up data like Pacman on speed – in just one day I’d somehow used about £20 worth, half the cap Vodafone, my provider had decided on. I got the charger, but the guy in the shop wanted to see my passport for me to get a SIM, which I didn’t have on me, so I thought I’d just let Pacman continue for the time being.

I did have a slightly funny experience in the phone shop though. The guy was pointing at different numbers apparently saying that if I paid 15 manat, I’d get a number somehow fancier than one for 5 manat. Having a cool phone number must be a thing over here, in the same way that personalised car number plates are status symbols back home. Curiously as well, in Baku, you see a lot of very old fashioned cars, and these I was told were Russians showing off somehow. You see Mercs etc and all that too, but somehow the old fashioned cars are a statement.

I’d got a bit distracted from the football. Despite having only gone to one live football match in over a year – Wales v Albania in a disappointing 0-0 draw  (especially as I had a double with Iceland to also win) – going to football matches is something I generally know where I’m at with.

Wales’ hub was set as a place called The Landmark. There was some music, some nice sunshine and lots of lads dressed in various replica shirts, and quite a few Wales sunhats. And beer as well of course. I quite quickly got talking to a guy called Rich who was from York and quite friendly. It was a bit uncanny how many people from England I met on this trip, supporting Wales with various Welsh connections. Richard’s dad, and I think his dad before him, had been a miner. We also talked with a couple of much younger, and more firmly Welsh lads called Tomos and Dafydd. I’d got there a bit late and we were in fact among the last few to leave. There were official stadium “arrival” times, and I’d already missed mine by about two hours, not anticipating this to be a big deal. As my mate Stu in Indonesia says – they never kick off without us. Tomos ordered one last bottle of wine which we polished off between us and we set off to find the Metro.

This actually proved a little more problematic than anticipated. We did actually still have a fair bit of time before kick-off, so no panic stations yet, but after all, we jumped in a cab. The stadium itself looked very impressive from outside in the baking Baku heat, and getting in was pretty stress-free, except for the fact that Tomos had to be practically carried by his friend – I had not realised how drunk he was until we got out of the taxi.

We were searched, no big deal, but I did not like the fact that they kept everyone’s lighters! I’ve never liked either intentional or unintentional lighter thieves, so this did rile me a little. In the concourse area, I got a light from a silver-dressed man on stilts. Later, stewards were assisting smokers in the loos – again the reverse of back home where if you stewards catch you smoking, most likely you’ll be turfed out.

And so we were in, and there we were, with obligatory pricey beer of course. Beautiful stadium which you can imagine must look well impressive when full. I spotted Tim Hartley, an author who I know through football connections and Richard and I took our places near to him. We were in good voice, although I was disappointed that there was no singing of Men of Harlech as has been heard at more recent Cardiff and Wales games (it was just the der der der, de der der version).

Perhaps more so at Wales away games, there is the issue of Welsh speakers tending to be more prevalent, almost shaming non Welsh speakers like myself (I am appalling at learning all languages). You have to try to forget singing your club chants – even getting people to try “I’ll be there” didn’t work for me, but then I’ve never been good at getting chants going either. Definitely not in recent years. I’d come prepared with this gem – “When Giggs is doing time, his missus will be sore, the only fkn reason, she’ll be shagging Keifer Moore” but couldn’t really get it going. Maybe Giggs is after all not that out of favour. There were though far more Moore songs than Bale songs, it seemed.

It was when attempting this chant that I looked round and saw a woman behind me, which I felt slightly awkward about. I suppose women on football trips are generally going to be a bit more laddish than lady-like, but you still have to be careful. The woman, who turned out to be called Laura, seemed ok with it. We somehow became quite friendly with Laura and her husband, Huw, who were from London but had actually travelled with Wonky Sheep. Huw was the more quiet of the two, with Laura being more chatty.

Of course the key point of the trip is the football, but I expect you can read about that elsewhere, and you’ve probably seen it. I actually thought we’d been doing pretty well and the Swiss goal came as a bit of a shock, but I wasn’t too down, expecting we’d get back into it. I then did about a five minute long rendition of “Wales Golf Madrid”, running up and down one aisle with literally nobody joining in. Was the chant out of date? Did everyone have more belief that it would be Moore who would equalise? Did everyone just think I was a drunken idiot?

Well anyway, it did seem that just after I’d stopped, Moore, with his fab red headband, stepped up, nodded home the goal to level, sending Wales fans berserk of course. And then Switzerland had a goal disallowed, and we sang a song in praise of VAR (which I expect is normally something disliked even by most of those singing).

The game ended, and a draw was a bit of a disappointment, but after Italy had hammered Turkey 3-0, we would be going into the next game with hope. I think we hung around for a bit after the final whistle. I lost my hat in some kind of exchange. I spoke to some TV cameras after the game (I only know this because a friend sent a video from home). Somehow Richard, Laura, Huw and I made it into the town centre. My memory of the interim stuff really is very foggy.

The four of us enjoyed a very nice meal in the outdoor area of a restaurant. I think we were all half starved at this point. There were one or two odd things – Huw and Laura said they were both in their forties, when both definitely looked as if they were in their thirties. I’m not sure what else I found odd, most likely my drunken mind was just playing tricks with me, but I did really enjoy their company. The booze I think meant I was making a bit of an embarrassment of myself, but somehow I was being tolerated. We made it to another bar full of Welshies, and carried on until stop-tap at 12am.

Outside, while I was buying fags, and we were wondering what to do next, a guy approached me and said we’d be welcome back to his flat for more drinks. He was a Londoner and a Leyton Orient fan, and I think the mention of Leyton Orient is always going to make me dewy eyed as it was one of my first ever away trips, probably over thirty years ago. So about six of us piled back there. This guy had a flat that overlooked where the Formula One racecourse went past (it must be like Monaco, ie. around parts of the city itself) – a very nice view from his balcony. We were kept entertained with booze and music. But a funny thing happened, maybe a couple of hours in, when he suddenly put on the Vindaloo song. The six of us, without even really saying anything, in our drunken state saw this as our immediate cue to leave, and with that we headed back out into the night, and, somehow, home.

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  1. majordee


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