The great Lancashire boycott of all things Belgian has begun. Tesco in Bury has already taken all Belgian chocolate off its shelves and Sainsbury’s in Bolton are refusing to sell Belgian waffles. Rumours are even suggesting that Vincent Kompany has been admitted to Fairfield General Hospital after having a large black pudding wedged up one of his orifices.
If you are looking to alienate entire communities of Northern England, then look no further than 13 time Belgian champions – Club Brugge. Brugge had announced that during a week long training camp in Manchester, they would also be playing friendlies at local venues. Initially a match against Bury was arranged for Tuesday 9th. The match was then moved to Wednesday 10th… before suddenly being cancelled just days before it was due to take place.
This decision incensed Bury fans. It was all rather odd. Bury had printed match day programmes and had incessantly publicised the match through social media. With the match now cancelled, Bury fans took to Twitter, prompting statements from Club Brugge who claimed they had never even agreed to play them.
If things weren’t already odd enough, the following day Club Brugge announced that they would be playing Romanian side Oțelul Galați… at Bury’s smaller neighbours Radcliffe Borough! The game was to be broadcast live on Romanian national television and there was a lot of excitement ahead of the match. Of course, this now annoyed Bury fans further. Cancelling on them, only for another match to be announced at their pre-season rivals.
The day of the match had arrived. I had washed my Romania shirt and was waiting for it to dry on the washing line before Aaron picked me up. Temperatures were close to 30 degrees, so it was only right that Aaron turned up in his suit. He looked ever so slightly silly, but I out did him. I was wearing my yellow, blue and red Romania shirt, blue shorts and yellow sunglasses. Unfortunately I couldn’t find my Romanian folk costume.
We had a couple of hours to reach Radcliffe. The drive should have only taken 20 minutes, but it took us the best part of an hour. First of all we had to stop off at McDonald’s in Bolton for Aaron, and then the rest was my fault. “Look. Trust me. I’m born in Bolton, I know where I’m going” were the only words needed to explain the next part of the journey. To cut a long story short, we went wrong slightly after Burnden Park and ended up closer to the Phoenix Club in Farnworth than Stainton Park in Radcliffe.
I soon rectified the situation and we rolled into the car park with around 45 minutes to go until kick off. The Romanian film crew were enjoying a game of cards outside the clubhouse. It all appeared to be a party atmosphere. That was until fellow blogger Mark told me that there was “going to be a delay as Brugge wanted the grass cutting”.
The Brugge players were sat on a wall near the tunnel, whilst a group of volunteers ran up and down the pitch with a lawn mower attempting to please the Belgians. I was then told that the “Oțelul Galați team bus had broken down”. Again, something just didn’t seem right. Different excuses flying around, and nobody knowing what was happening. This was an ideal opportunity to scour the brick wall for famous footballers. There it was. One of the greatest sights I have seen at a non-league football ground. Former Bolton, Chelsea and Barcelona player Eidur Gudjohnsen was there. Sat on a brick wall at Stainton Park.
There was enough time for a photograph before the Brugge team disappeared. With all of us assuming that they were going inside for a sit down or for a pre match talk we thought nothing of it. That was until a Belgian woman approached me to say that the match had been called off. The grass was too long for Club Brugge to play and to add another spanner in the works they also wanted sprinklers to be deployed.
Before we had time to even moan about the decision, the Brugge players were back on their coach and had departed Radcliffe. I was desperately searching all over Twitter and Facebook for another match to go to when Aaron overheard that they were now going to play the match at the team hotel.
Were we really going to ask around for the name of the hotel and rush to wherever it was? Of course we were! I hadn’t gone all the way to Radcliffe to leave disappointed. The only problem was that there were around twenty of us meeting at Radcliffe, and not enough seats in the car!
Aaron, Matt and myself jumped in the car and headed to Radcliffe station to pick up Lewis and Rob. With not a clue where we were going we hit rush hour traffic south of Manchester. A closer look on the map revealed that we were heading for a very, very posh part of Cheshire. Mottram St. Andrew to be precise.
Mottram St. Andrew is a small country parish which is found in the middle of Alderley Edge and Wilmslow. With a population of just over 600 it has been home to plenty of famous people including Wayne Rooney, Owen Hargreaves, Peter Crouch, Mark Hughes, Carlos Tevez, Freddie Flintoff… and last but not least Mario Balotelli. Yes, that’s right. The infamous Balotelli bathroom firework incident happened in Mottram St. Andrew.
So there we were. Driving through Mottram St. Andrew in a Citroen C2 that struggles to make it up a slight hill. We were being tailgated by the most expensive cars in the world, but we didn’t care. We had more important things to worry about! We now knew that it was a behind doors fixture. I envisaged us turning up to this posh hotel, only to be told that we weren’t allowed in.
The Tom-Tom – complete with its Australian voice – announced that we were close to our destination. Suddenly we turned left, and we were driving through a vast golf course. On the horizon we could see a large hall, with two blue coaches outside. We had successfully tracked both teams down!
Hotel guests were enjoying champagne and caviar outside when we rolled up in the Citreon C2 listening to BBC Radio 1. What on Earth were we doing? We had just driven 20 miles through rush hour traffic, not knowing where we were going all to watch a game of football.
To say we felt out of place was a complete under statement. We were all a bit too shy to walk down the footpath past where the posh people were drinking. As we were contemplating what to do next, a vehicle rattled down the road behind us. Two Oțelul Galați fans had just pulled up in a 24 hour breakdown recovery vehicle. This was getting better by the minute.
Kick off was set for 19:30 and it appeared we could watch the match with no problem at all. The Club Brugge players were whizzing around on golf buggies, so we decided it would be best to follow them. Sure enough, we found a glistening green pitch nestled in the middle of a golf course.
It turns out the pitch was constructed for Euro 96 when the German national side stayed at the hotel. The pitch was made to the exact same dimensions as the old Wembley after instruction from the German FA. Enough of the boring facts that Aaron provides us with. It was time for a drink.
Walking inside the Hall itself, we walked through what appeared to be a library before we came to a bar. A quick look at the price and it soon became apparent that I would not be buying a beer. Not only because I am STILL underage, but because they cost £4.50 a go. Oh how the other half live.
We went back outside and sat by a large fountain which was offering a relaxing yet anonymous sound. It was all very nice. A complete contrast to what the last couple of hours had provided us with. Our two Romanian friends joined us for a drink, which meant we could talk about a football league which we knew absolutely nothing about. Conversation soon turned to our new favourite player. Cosmin Matei of Dinamo Bucharest who we had seen on Tuesday. We crowned him our “football hipster” after reading a Romanian article on how “hip” he was, and that gave us a brilliant idea. Each time we see a strange European side play, we have to pick our “hipster” of the evening. Who would win this brand new accolade? Find out later…
Kick off time had approached. Rob and I strolled down past the golf club and perched ourselves on the grass embankment which neighboured the pitch. The Club Brugge players had parked three golf buggies together and had made a little stand out of them.
As I was busy knocking together a make shift team sheet the match kicked off. Club Brugge were in their black and blue striped shirts with black shorts. Otelul were in their red, blue and white striped shirts with white shorts. Both teams had that European look to them. I’m tempted to even purchase an Otelul shirt after this adventure, but I have to stay loyal to Dinamo and Matei the hipster.
Despite it being a friendly, both sides were knocking chunks out of each other. Referee Darren Handley (who has featured in my last two previous blogs) was keen to keep play moving; much to the annoyance of certain players.
The first opportunity of the match came on 8 minutes when Bjorn Engels angled in a cross to the Galati area. Costa Rican international Oscar Duarte connected with his head, but his effort went just over the bar.
Mushanga Bakenga was the next Brugge player to come close to opening the scoring. He turned the Galati defender well before volleying a tame effort towards goal. It had been all Brugge so far.
It didn’t take long for the Romanian side to reply. Victoraș Astafei complete with his red and blue coloured head guard burst through on goal. He looked odds on to score, but Australian national goalkeeper Matthew Ryan got down well to keep the scores level.
Our favourite player of the first half was the young Brazilian who was up front for Otelul. Marquinhos Carioca was causing the Brugge defence all sort of problems. He had produced a few solo runs down the left, but one of our other favourites – Bjorn Engels – was matching him on each occasion.
Eidur Gudjohnsen and Timmy Simons had now joined the fun. After strolling over from the hotel they had perched themselves on the grass bank on the other side of the pitch. It really was odd being in the presence of these people. Simons has captained PSV Eindhoven and Club Brugge, and is currently the second most capped player in Belgian history.
With 5 minutes of the first half remaining, Sergiu Costin took a quick free kick from his own half. He had spotted Brugge keeper Ryan off his line and attempted to lob him. It was a decent effort, but unfortunately for us neutrals the ball sailed just over the bar.
The deadlock was broken on 63 minutes. Good skill was shown by the Galati winger on the left hand side, before he sent in an inch perfect cross to Sergiu Costin. Costin rose well, and sent an unchallenged header straight past Matthew Ryan.
Two minutes later and Gabriel Giurgiu should have doubled Galati’s lead. He did a quick one two with Marquinhos Carioca to find himself through on goal. Giurgiu snatched at the ball resulting in a goal kick.
Against the run of play, Brugge equalised on 71 minutes. Tuur Dierckx burst forward and presented the ball to Mushaga Bakenga. Bakenga dribbled through the Galati defence and was dispossessed with a strong challenge. The ball fell to the feet of the Galati defender who attempted to hack the ball clear. Somehow that didn’t happen and it took a huge deflection off number 97 – Shangyuan Wang. He had been the worst player on the pitch. Truly woeful. It was only fitting that his goal would come through a huge slice of fortune.
The comeback was complete 10 minutes later. Enoch Adu played a great ball out of defence to Nicola Storm. Storm took on two defenders before rifling a shot into the bottom right hand corner; the keeper was left with no chance.
That was the end of what had been a truly remarkable match. There was just enough time to grab another quick photograph with Eidur Gudjohnsen who had plonked himself down on a water cooler in front of us. If anything he approached us, we didn’t approach him. We also had our photo with Gabriel Giurgiu who had been a stand out performer for us. He seemed very happy when he saw that I was wearing a Romania shirt. For that reason alone, he was crowned our European Hipster of the evening.
We walked back to the hotel, side by side with Eidur Gudjohnsen. He obviously thought we were a bit mad, and you could see him smirking at our conversation about which football team we were going to stalk next.
It was time to say goodbye to our Belgian and Romanian friends. Next stop, Wilmslow train station. We needed to drop Matt off so he could catch his train back into Manchester. Aaron had proclaimed all evening about how well he had been driving. Typically when we arrived at Wilmslow train station he nearly crashed. After nearly missing the entrance to the station, Aaron decided it’d be best to slam on his breaks and turn the car. All of this was played out in front of a female driver who was waiting to pull out of the station. We came extremely close to rolling the car straight into hers. All she did was tut and drive off. Fantastic.
A late finish was inevitable for us all, but did we care? No. Of course we didn’t. It had been the best football match we had ever been to. We are never likely to come across something so strange and wild if we carry on ground hopping for the rest of our lives.