We all went and came back on different days and flights, and went our separate ways over there. But this is how it was for me!
It was an early start - up at 4 on the Monday morning to drive down to East Midlands. Tom and Jude, plus the Hutchings party, had gone down the night before to stay near to the airport, and Pigeon had got to the airport at midnight by National Express. Nevertheless I was the first to check in. I had time for a bacon sarnie and cup of tea, then it was off to the bar for a pint as the others started to arrive.
When we got to Bergamo airport we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was much warmer than all the forecasts had said. It was lovely stood in the sun waiting for the bus into Milan. In fact it was so lovely that Andria's lot missed the first bus so that they could stand there for another half an hour. We wasted no time checking in at the hotel before setting off to see what the crack was. The nearest bar to the hotel was worryingly expensive, but this turned out to be the most we paid for a beer the whole trip. It was about this point that I received a phone call from the Rothbury lads. They were flying from Newcastle via Heathrow, but their flight was delayed. Just after we left the bar, as we were chatting in the street, this Italian bloke that used to live in Edinburgh and spoke really good English said to Aaaarooonna "With the greatest of respect, I don't know what language you're speaking." Classic!!
Some people wanted to fill their bellies, but I fancied a trip to the San Siro to check out possible bars for Tuesday. I knew there was a place right outside the ground that did a cracking ham and cheese toastie, as well as a decent pint. I thought it might be an option to get settled in there on Tuesday around lunchtime before things started getting busy. That idea was ditched as soon as we got there. The place was chocka with Toon fans. They'd sold out of toasties, and they were only serving beer in plastic glasses. And this was the day before the game! Still, we settled down for a couple of beers in the sun. Soon after a car with Newcastle reg (03 - so just out the showroom) pulled up, parking on the footpath next to the bar. Some big fat Geordies piled out, took their tops off to impress the locals, and proceeded to have a tailgate party with the cans of beer they'd brought with them. A couple of hours later they drove off, scraping the bottom of the car on the kerb in the process. Another phone call from the Rothbury lads. They'd been on the plane, but were off again while one of the engines was checked. They'd now missed their connection at Heathrow.
Eventually we jumped on the tram (checking it out for getting to/from the ground on Tuesday) and made our way towards the cathedral. Walking through the big arcade thing Arran's mate Paul (Man City fan) was virtually speechless at the magnificence of it. Some local came up and told us to put our foot in this hole in the floor, then make a wish as we spun round three times while looking up at the ceiling. I thought he was taking the p*ss, but after I saw other people doing it I had a go. I wished for 2-1. I was beginning to wonder at one point on Tuesday.....
As we left the arcade we found most of our lot straight away . The cathedral square was jumping. . Enterprising as ever, the Toon fans had found that the fast food outlets around the square were selling beer for 2.20 for half a litre - officially the cheapest beer in Milan. Well, apart from the supermarkets, which were also doing a roaring trade judging from the number of people drinking out of cans. It was boisterous, but good natured. In fact Jude made a comment something along the lines of "Leeds fans couldn't do this. They'd have to get so drunk that they have to start fighting". The latest from the Rothbury lads was that they'd been put on a Ryanair flight to Paris, where they'd get a connection to Milan.
By around 7 we were thinking of food. We made our way back to the hotel, then met up in a restaurant over the road. In the end most of us stayed there the rest of the night. Around 10 some singing started up outside. It continued at constant volume for the next two hours. Then it stopped. Instantly. Apparently the police had decided that midnight was the time for everyone to shut up. At one point Miguel, Everton Bob, and Pigeon had wandered off to see what was happening elsewhere, but the answer was not much. I received a phone call from Paris. They were stuck there for the night as one of the group (for ever to be known as Pampers now) decided that he had to go to the bog just as they were supposed to be catching some connecting bus. By the time he got back the bus had gone and the flight was missed. Missed by 6 of them that is - one of them had somehow caught the bus. Eventually the restaurant decided that it was time for us to go to bed. Not a bad idea as it had been a long day with the early start.
Most of us managed to make breakfast on Tuesday. In fact Martin Miller made breakfast even though he wasn't staying in the hotel! He was actually staying at the Youth Hostel near the San Siro, but came over to our hotel to see us. He cheekily asked if he could have a cup of coffee. The waitress, not knowing that he wasn't a guest, proceeded to serve him a full breakfast. Tom, on the other hand, couldn't get breakfast until he gave his room number! As we were sat there the remaining Rothbury 6 rolled up at the hotel looking a little the worse for wear, hardly surprising as, even though they'd been put up in a hotel in Paris, they'd only had a couple of hours sleep.
As we left the hotel after breakfast for a walk to the cathedral some of Brendan's group were returning from a bit of shopping. They informed us that the beer and wine in the supermarkets was covered up. We'd heard rumours that there might be an alcohol ban, and this seemed to confirm our worst fears. If the bars weren't serving beer Plan B had been to hit the supermarkets. It looked like we might need a Plan C....... Forgetting about any beer ban for the time being, we set off on a gentle stroll towards the cathedral. Only a few hundred yards down the street we passed a bar where a couple of Geordies were having a beer! Perhaps we'd be ok after all. By the time we reached the cathedral, passing La Scala opera house on the way, it was obvious that there was some sort of ban in place - it was an awful lot quieter than it had been the previous evening! Actually, it was quite a pleasant atmosphere, plus it was another lovely sunny day, although not as warm as Monday.
If I had a quid for everyone I saw that I know in that cathedral square that day, it would almost have paid for my trip. We found Maggie and Norman plus assorted partners, Brendan and Becky and friends, I bumped into loads of people that sit near me at St James, then after we'd been up to the cathedral roof (and been filmed for nufc.cock!) we met Gary and co, plus Doctor Death (Richard). Myself and Richard wandered off to take a look at the nearby castle, but my heart wasn't in it - it was getting on for 2 o'clock and I'd had enough culture for one trip. Time for beer! We headed back towards the hotel, having heard that Andria, Gordano and others were holed up in a bar somewhere near there.
It was quite bizarre to coming out of the underground by the main station to find that all the bars were apparently quite happily serving Toon fans. We found Big Issue, Gordano and Steady sat outside a bar on the main drag, Graz stuffing himself with oysters that he'd apparently taken over from home. Strange behaviour. Pretty soon the place ran out of beer, so we made our way to a quiet bar down a side street where most of the YMs were hanging out. On the way we passed the station square, which was very noisy. It was obvious that it was only a matter of time before the police would move in. In contrast, there was a canny atmosphere in 'our' bar - busy, but not too busy . We heard stories that the police were going round steadily closing all the bars. At one point they came into ours, but both they and the owner must have been happy with the situation because they left us alone.
Eventually things started to break up. Some people decided to move on, others went back to the hotel to 'freshen-up'. The rest of us just drank more beer. Finally though we had to make a move. I was determined not to leave it too late after the traumas of Turin and Leverkusen. We debated on whether to catch the underground all the way to Lotto, or whether to get off at the cathedral and catch the number 24 tram from there. We all fancied the latter, but I'm not sure why. As we reached the tram stop at Piazza Cordusio a number 24 pulled up. I tried to work out if it was going the right way, but I gave up and we just jumped on. It didn't look promising - there only seemed to be us going to the match. A couple of stops later the Foster brothers got on, although that still didn't necessarily mean we were going the right way. Pretty soon though we knew we were ok. As we approached the ground it was an amazing sight - all you could see was people in Toon tops. Where were the Inter fans? We jumped off the tram right outside our end and joined the nearest queue. After a few minutes we realised it wasn't a queue for our turnstiles, but we got in ok. We then just had to walk around to our entrance.
I don't really need to tell you what it was like inside , or how the game went. I was fortunate to be near the back of our section, under the overhang, so I wasn't aware of all the objects raining down from above. The atmosphere was tremendous, especially when the second goal went in. I got knocked over, then when I managed to get back on my feet I hugged everyone around me. Fortunately I was next to the Cooks . Sometimes life's not bad.
At the end of the game we were kept in for a ridiculous length of time . Then we all had to leave through one exit, which took at least 20 minutes. What if there'd been a fire? Then we had to walk about quarter of a mile past a line of riot police, before doing a U turn and walking most of the way back behind them Why couldn't they let us through? Enough said. Just as I reached the tram stop a number 24 pulled up (again!). When we got back onto the city I fortunately knew where to get off, and raced up to the cathedral underground station, getting back to the hotel around midnight. You'll have heard horror stories from people who either didn't know how to get back to the city centre, or were simply last out of the ground. Quite a few get stranded when the public transport stopped running. Some were actually prevented by the police from getting into the underground station at the cathedral. It's amazing considering how many big games have been played at the San Siro that the organisation was so poor. I'm convinced though that it was deliberate. It's disgraceful really considering how well their fans are treated when they come to ours.
Anyway, by now virtually everything had shut for the night. I couldn't even get a beer at the hotel! Instead I wandered back to the kiosk outside the station and joined the queue of Toon fans after beer and/or food. I got myself a can of Heineken, and returned to the hotel lobby to see if anyone else would turn up. By half 12 no-one else was back, so I turned in.
Some of us had to be up early on Wednesday to catch the flight back to East Midlands. By 8 o'clock there was no sign of Andria or Lynda at breakfast, and we were catching the half 8 bus. I phoned Andria's mobile. She didn't appreciate it - they'd arranged to get a taxi to the airport and she wasn't getting up until quarter to 9. Sorry Andria!
As we took off from Bergamo it looked like it would be another lovely day, perfect for those that were still in Milan and were going up to Lake Como for the day. In contrast, it was freezing cold when we arrived back in Britain! Still, I was only going to be there for less than 24 hours before jetting off to warmer climes again!
We've had some great trips the last few months thanks to Bobby and the boys. Lets hope for more of the same next season.