A word of advice for anyone planning to travel to Europe in case we ever play there again - make sure you pack a spare pair of shoes and jeans in case you happen to get pushed in a smelly canal by the local plods. Of course, it just had to Big Issue that was on the receiving end! It wasn't his only misfortune on the trip mind. And he wasn't the only one to have problems. Read on.
Most of our group flew out early on Wednesday, Gordon and Steady from Leeds-Bradford, Big Ish from Liverpool, and Brendan, Kieron and Paul B from the Toon. The Jet2 flight from Newcastle almost got away on time, but the pilot decided halfway down the runway that there was a technical problem of some sort and slammed the brakes on. It was a few hours later that they finally got away. My trip over was a lot less eventful - a gentle stroll in the afternoon sunshine up to Leeds-Bradford to catch the 10 to 5 KLM flight, which was bang on time. I wondered if there'd be any other Toon fans on the flight, but I certainly wasn't expecting to see any other YMs on it. So I was amazed to bump into the Fringe in the departure lounge considering last time I'd seen him he wasn't going to the game, but he'd had a change of heart and booked at the last minute when he heard there were spare tickets and beds going.
Once in Amsterdam it didn't take us long to meet up with the rest of the the lads in the Old Sailor pub. Some of them had had a few by now, which probably explains some of the behaviour. Like Paul showing off his dancing skills (or should that be lack of dancing skills? - watch), and Gordano and Paul almost coming to blows over Joey Barton; Gordon was trying to convince everyone that the Toon should buy Barton, I think it's safe to say Paul didn't agree. At some point Steady and Big Ish got chatting to a Turkish mother and daughter pair. To our amusement the mother took a fancy to Big Issue. Every so often he would come over to us to tell us that his life was in danger as a result of this liaison. He reckoned that a coloured bloke looking on was their pimp and was threatening to put Ish in hospital or worse. This didn't quite tie up with what someone else told us which was that the two women were cleaners in the pub. Cleaners with a pimp??? Still, Big Issue was absolutely convinced that he was going to get ambushed and beaten to a pulp when he left the pub. He didn't. He reckons though that his female friend managed to relieve him of 100 euros at some point.
Eventually people started to drift off. Some headed for their beds, others decided that they wanted food. Darren opted for the latter. He reckons it was a dodgy Chinese that made him throw up when he got back to his room. Nothing to do with the 15 pints that preceded it then Darren?
Next morning I came up with a plan designed to stop me hitting the beer too early. After breakfast I would take advantage of the good weather to have a long look round Amsterdam. I would then get a train up to Alkmaar at around 12 and take a look round there as well. It would therefore be at least 2 o'clock before my first beer. Well the first part of the plan went ok, but then as I was walking to the station I spotted the rest of the lads finishing off brunch and a pint in a café. Needless to say they forced me to accompany them to the Old Sailor and to start drinking pints of beer. After a few in there we moved on to another couple of bars in the red light district, and another one near the station, before finally heading for the train around half 4. By this time we'd lost a few from the group - at some point Fringe had gone back to the Botel to get his cardy(!), and we never saw him again all day, and Steady and Big Issue had also become detached.
Most of the lads bought cans for the train (it was a 40 minute journey after all), but I decided I really needed to eat something (nothing since breakfast and in all probability nothing for the rest of the day) and so bought myself a jumbo sized Kit-Kat. Well it was better than nothing! Before long we were in Alkmaar where we headed straight for a bar over the road from the station. We only had one in there though before setting off for the town centre (so I was finally going to see something of the place!). We could tell from the noise before we got there that the square by the Cheese Museum was the place to be. There were hundreds and hundreds of fans congregating outside the four of five bars along one side of the square. Most of them were AZ fans (the first we'd seen all day!), but probably around a third were Toon fans. We wasted no time getting beers in and joining in with the crack. What happened shortly after is still not exactly clear. I went to the bar to get more beer and when I came out there were chairs and bottles flying. One lad seemed to be getting a good kicking, but I'm not sure if he was one of ours or one of theirs. I never for a second thought that the trouble would get out of hand or last long and so ambled back over to where we'd been stood before the bother started, even though the rest of the lads had by now moved off around a corner. Within seconds a load of riot police arrived and formed a cordon. I think the theory was that it was to keep the two sets of fans apart, except that I and quite a few other Toon fans were on the wrong side of it still chatting to the AZ fans as if nothing had happened. Before long the riot police moved off, and eventually the rest of the lads decided that it was safe to come back. Paul was in quite a bad way though because a police horse had stamped on his foot during the original commotion. More beer and more crack with the AZ fans ensued, although there were a couple of occasions where it seemed like it was going to kick off again. As for who was behind the trouble, I'm pretty sure you can forget all the exotic theories about Feyenoord fans (and Ajax and West Ham fans come to that). I think it was just simply AZ fans who weren't happy about there being so many Toon fans on their patch. They didn't seem to have a general problem with Toon fans though, because I'd walked through the perpetrators without a problem on my way to the bar seconds before it kicked off, plus of course we were still there about an hour later.
So where were Steady and Big Issue during all the excitement in the square? I'm still not sure about Steady (I assumed the pair of them were together, but it transpires they weren't), but Ish was having fun and games of his own. All day he'd made it clear he wasn't happy about drinking in Alkmaar. His theory was that if there was any bother then they'd close all the bars and we'd be knackered. So his plan was to get off the train the stop before Alkmaar (Heiloo) and drink there, then presumably to get a taxi to the ground. Considering the stations at Alkmaar and Heiloo are both exactly the same distance from the ground, this actually wasn't as bizarre an idea as it sounds. However, it's totally academic because Big Issue fell asleep on the train and missed Heiloo. He also missed Alkmaar. I don't know where he ended up, but I do know he got fined 35 euros for not having a valid ticket. It was turning into a expensive trip for him....
Anyway, it was eventually time for us to start thinking about getting to the ground. I'd always assumed we'd walk, but Paul's injury put paid to that. It was agreed to head back to the station and get taxis which was still a long way for Paul to walk in his condition. However, there was ages to go to kick-off and I didn't really fancy getting to the ground too early, so I decided that I was going to walk to the ground anyway, and so off I set. My plan was to head off in the rough direction of the ground and then follow the crowds. Except that there weren't any. I obviously wasn't on the right route and so I did a 90 degree turn to the right thinking I would have to hit main walking route at some point. After a few hundred yards I still hadn't seen anyone else that looked like they were heading for the ground, so I did a 90 degree turn to the left so that I was at least heading in vaguely the direction of the ground. A few hundred hundred yards more and I still hadn't seen anyone. It was at this point I had a mild panic that I would never find the ground and would miss the game. However I asked a passing pedestrian and he gave me good directions and I got there no problem. What was strange during all of this though is that I had a map in my pocket and never for a second thought to look at it! If I had I might have taken the direct route from the town centre to the ground instead of the circuitous route I actually took.
The last part of the walk I was chatting to some AZ fans and wasn't fully concentrating. I suddenly realised the path we were on was taking me away from the away end, which is the nearest part of the ground to the town centre. I was all for jumping over a barrier and crossing a dual carriageway, this being the straight line to where I wanted to be. However, the AZ fans were adamant that I should stay with them, plus the police spread out along the side of the road looked like they meant business. What I didn't know was that there was a canal on the other side of the road. More of that later...... Actually getting into the ground itself was a bit bizarre. They've got those unmanned turnstiles with bar code scanners. But of course they had to have people stood there to show you how to put your ticket in properly. And then there was a bloke on the other side of the turnstile to tear off the corner of your ticket!
Towards the end of the game came the announcement I'd been dreading. "Would the Newcastle fans please remain in their places for 20 minutes at the end of the game". The game finished late enough as it was, and any delays getting out could mean having to get the last (slow!) train back to Amsterdam. As it happens it ended up being nearer to 10 minutes than 20. Everyone not on the official club coaches back to Amsterdam raced out the ground and through the coach park, only to find our way blocked by a set of closed gates. It soon became clear that the police lined up behind the gates didn't intend letting us through. Their justification was that the road outside the gates was a "highway" and was too dangerous for us to cross, and they told us we had to go a different way. We begged and pleaded, but to no avail. Either side of the gates was a canal, and I wondered if it was possible to sneak round, but I decided I'd never get away with it. Eventually myself and Brendan (none of the rest of the lads were with us - it turns out most of them had hitched a free ride back on the club coaches) decided to cut our losses and go the way we'd been told, even though it put at least another quarter of a mile on the distance back to the station which virtually guaranteed we'd miss the half 11 train. Which we did. Even using my map to make sure we went the shortest route back it was still about 20 to 12 by the time we reached the station. On the way we'd passed some locals who sang "You look like Chelsea, you do" (as in "We love you Newcastle, we do") at us. Very strange! I wish we played like Chelsea mind. Anyway, we went for a pint while we waited for the last train, joined shortly afterwards by Kieron. It was in the pub that we bumped into Big Issue and found out about his adventures after the game. Like me, he'd wondered about trying to sneak around the side of the gates. Unlike me, he'd actually tried it. And when he did he reckons that the police pushed him in the canal, then beat him with their truncheons when tried to get out. At least he managed at some point to get a taxi back to the station. But the taxi driver charged him 15 euros extra for wetting the seat. It was turning into a very expensive trip for Big Issue. Oh, and his mobile wouldn't work after it's dunking. It was turning into a very, very expensive trip for Big Issue.
One very slow train journey later we were back in Amsterdam. With the time being 10 past 1 and with us having early flights to catch in the morning (or wanting to get out of soaking wet clothes), we all headed for our beds. And so that's it for European jaunts for the foreseeable future.