18th September : off work all day wednesday … start packing bag ….. get my overtime and expenses claims written up and emailed in to work, this euro campaign will be financially crippling!
20:30 .. dig out old blue/white chequered flag from one of old latics promotion pushes …. look at it whilst thinking of a catchy line to write on it ….. wrap it up an hour or two later – still without writing on it!!
21:30 … off to bed but can’t really sleep properly and terrified of sleeping through my two alarms set for half one and missing the coach! cat nap through and up before the alarms wake up the street!
02:00 … double caffeine intake …. check passport is in my pocket at least 20 times and bluestar arrive … early…. throw on jacket and double check passport is there.
02:45 … chat with taxi driver en route to DW …. Galatasary fan, they were battered 6-1 last night by Real … I commiserate … he says he’s had loads of mocking texts from Fenerbahche fans, I don’t undersatnd that … not something us latics fans would ever do!!
03:00 … get on coach 3 seat 5 and meet my fellow traveller Colin Laticsmon ready for our epic first journey following latics in Europe …. we’re handed our match tickets, wow … it’s really happening!!
3:30…. in the morning!! … and we set off … we’re quickly on the M6 then the toll road and M1 … it goes quickly as we talk football past and present and then reminise about the old days in general and also discuss other topics that are probably not suitable for the youngsters on this site to read!
06:00 all 6 coaches pull into Newport Pagnell services for a half hour break … a lot of wiganers in the shop so spend the time in the queue waiting to pay for the Costa caffeine boosters!
9:15 and we are at Dover port …. exactly as the itinerary/schedule states and we nervously go through passport control … no problems encountered, I’m obviously improving at this photoshop malarky!
10:15 we set sail …. I take a photo of the white cliffs of Dover on my phone and post it facebook … why? well because I can I suppose! breakfast time about 9 hours into the day and it goes down well …. eggs and beans and a croissant to suit my vegetarian self …. full english for colin ….. much needed, fuel for the day ahead and just in case we decide to try a Belgian beer later.
13:00 … we’re back on the coach and departing Calais through La Belle France on the last leg of our journey … the buzz on the coach is getting progressively louder and more intense … who will play? … and in which position? …. how much is a pint in belgium?
14:30 … we are dropped off at the edge of a park on the ouskirts of Bruges and asked to be back for 17:15 for our carriage to the stadium. We make our way through many picturesque side streets and roads and quickly realise we’ll struggle to find our way back … this is where we need are usual accomplice to Latics games, Mr Wildheart , our moral compass and guide , he’d remember the route!!
14:45 …. we make it to the central square, after visiting choclatiers on the way for presents for Mrs laticsmon … can’t miss it as the noise from hundreds of celebrating Wiganers guides us in! Noisy and boisterous with fans enjoying themselves but no sign of trouble … all good hearted. The walk into town has created a great thirst so we decide it would be rude not to sample Bruges hospitality and buy the first beer of the day …. it goes down smoothly and quickly so we try another ….. and another … we join in with a few renditions of “we know what we are, we know what we are, fa cup champions, we know what we are” and other little ditties as we meet up with many fellow latics friends and family …. some of whom buy us more beer … ah well, in for a penny, in for a pound!
17:00 …. after a couple more refreshments Colin and myself get concerned that we have no idea how to find our coach … being responsible adults we muse over this with another beer then make our way round Bruges looking for landmarks from our walk in …….. we fail miserably, asking locals “excusez moi, where’s latics bus 3 s’il vous plait” doesn’t seem to cut it with the locals! After 15 minutes or so of headless chicken mimicing the cavalry arrives in the shape of a large band of fellow latics fans who are heading on the 4km walk to the stadium …. we tag along, we will pick our coach up again after the game! … the entourage gets larger as it moves further out …. and noisier … the locals are friendley and seem bemused at the occasional shouts of “ooh ah ooh ooh ah. oh to be a wiganer” and appear to wonder why we live in mudhuts!
17:30 …. the Heavans open and we’re not far into our trek …. normally this would cause me stress as I’m not a fan of a wet barnet … if I wanted that look I’d invest in wet-look hair gel …. but whether it’s the anticipation of the game or the slight trace of alcohol it doesn’t worry me … or any one else …. spirits are high, our meandering band of merry men stride out in perfect sync to the strains of “and I saw her face, now I’m a believer”
18:00 …. we arrive at the stadium, deep in the suburbs of ‘the Venice of the North’ and are duely frisked … I try to move towards the most attractive female frisker but am too slow so have to accept a masculine set of hands running up my legs … good job I’ve left those smoke bombs at home! We ask about programs …. a collectors item for the future but are informed that they don’t sell them at the ground …. you have to buy them in advance from the club … how exactly does that work? we head on in … It’s lively inside … we join in the throng and indulge in more raucous chanting as we mosey to the bar …. they’re serving lager in plastic pots … and half pint measures, so we double up … thirsty work this chanting! My son comes over and says hello … he can sniff a free beer from miles away!!
19:00 …. kick off …. historic … little Wigan … in Europe,for the first ever time! It’s real but unbelievable … did I think in 1977 when I saw Latics for the first time that this would happen … no, none of us did but it’s here now and we’re there loud and proud. The game and result become secondary to the occassion, the atmosphere is electric … they crowd is small for a European game but the away fans … us …. make up a third of the numbers but all of the noise!! My mobile dies, battery can’t keep going as long as it’s human owner …. no texts or facebook updates till I return home!!
20:45 …. the game ends …. goal less …. details of the match have not registered with me, I could not write a match report or even say how any of the players played …. I was part of it … I make sure I’ve still got the ticket …. proof of my presence in history….. we clap the players off and head back to coach 3 …. luckily there’s no admonishment for missing the trip to the stadium …. the coach is exactly to schedule so 11 hours later I walk into my mud hut, I connect the charger to my phone and wait for the text alerts to sound … sure enough there’s a fair few … all about the game, I start to reply and fall into a deep sleep. 28 hours on the go leaves you shattered but would I do it again … course I would …
thanks to Vince for his thoughts words & deeds
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