Travelling light: adventures in Europe with Bury FC

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Did you know Bury played a recent friendly against the national team of Gibraltar? Did you know Gibraltar had a national team? This is a tale of one man’s illogical quest to see his team participate in a meaningless fixture. Why did he do it? Over to Mike Sneddon to explain:

Supporting a football club outside of the top two divisions is a pretty unique experience. With what other goods or services are you told which brand you must use when you are too young to object, and not be allowed to change brand EVER, and even when you ARE old enough to choose, you stick with that brand irrespective of how poor the product turns out to be? Where else do you get 100% brand loyalty forced upon you for life? Why else would you spend a ludicrous amount of money travelling nearly 2,000 miles, ignoring many opportunities to give up and reconsider, just to watch your little team in a friendly against the Gibraltar national team (just for example)? Why? Because that’s what we do. The word fan is short for fanatic and it’s no more apt than in the lower leagues where blind loyalty is hardly ever rewarded with the success it deserves.

Bury FC, my largely unsuccessful lower league team of “choice”,  announced last Monday (2 Jan) that they would be flying out to Spain for a four day training camp due to the unusable, weather affected training facilities in Bury.  The highlight of the trip would be a hastily arranged friendly against the national team of Gibraltar.  News of this spread quickly on the Club’s message board and many expressed an interest in making the trip. I, despite being of sound mind and reasonable intelligence, was one of those who decided, with less than a week’s notice, to excitedly head to the low cost airline websites to plan my trip.  Within an hour, it was booked. Flights, car hire, accommodation, the lot. The Internet is wonderful, though the bank managers of the most irrational and impulsive Bury fans may disagree. Best we don’t even mention the wives.

Before I knew it, it was Saturday night, I’d made arrangements to meet a complete stranger at 5:30am the following morning, and the bag was packed. An early night would have been the sensible thing to do, but as you’ll see from this blog, the entire trip is bereft of logic and rational thought.  My plan was to nip to the pub to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday, head home around ten and wake up at 5am refreshed. Actually, I should add the word “plan” to the list of words that are absent on this whole trip. So that’s logic, rational thought and planning all out of the window.

The 10pm plan had been re-planned several times during the night and subsequently, I found it more difficult than usual to wake up. To be fair, it was also 5am. Fifteen minutes late, I arrived at a man’s house that I’d contacted though the internet, something I’m almost certain my mother specifically told me, never to do.

John, the stranger, arrived at my car with his “luggage”. Now, I thought I had packed light with just a top, pants, socks and a toothbrush. John had taken travelling light to a whole new level. John’s luggage consisted of three cling-film-wrapped butties in a clear plastic bag. That was it. Here was a man where travelling light meant his luggage was only going as far as the plane, at which point he would consume his luggage, thus leaving him completely sans luggage by the time we landed at Malaga (or should that be sin luggage?) This left me hugely impressed. To be honest, I was equally glad that I wasn’t booked on the same return flight as a man who would be returning from this trip in 48hour old pants.

Arriving at the pre-booked car park, we ran for the bus, nearly forgetting my case in the car, which would have left me as the lightest traveller of the two of us. Safely on the transfer bus WITH my case, I checked my pre-printed boarding card, my wallet and my passport. My passport was in my case wasn’t it? No, no it wasn’t.

I see this as my Sliding Doors moment, as in the film where we see how different Gwyneth Paltrow’s life would be if her character had – and hadn’t – made it through the closing doors of a tube train. The concept being that little events that seem so inconsequential at the time can completely change your life. Now, I accept that leaving my passport behind may not have changed my life but it would ultimately lead me to a much more stressful and expensive trip with a number of ludicrously irrational decisions being made.

I said goodbye to John at Manchester Airport terminal two and said I hoped we would see each other again, later that day in Gibraltar. By the time the car park bus had arrived back at my car, I had already booked myself on another flight from Leeds Bradford airport later that morning. Impulsive people with irrational thought processes really shouldn’t be allowed such easy access to the Internet.

So, off to Leeds it was, with just a brief trip back to Bury to print out the boarding card, take more hangover cures and accidentally smash a wine glass into a million pieces. It may have been more than a million, I didn’t have time to count them all nor even to clear it up. That’s an extra tenner onto the wife’s duty free gift, then!

At Leeds Bradford airport I was charged four times what I’d already paid in parking fees, to park at an airport I did to want to be at, for a flight I didn’t want to be on. Meanwhile, “Sliding Doors me” who remembered his passport was gratefully sharing John’s “luggage” on board the original flight to Malaga with the extra legroom he’d pre-booked. A largely uneventful flight was spent calculating and recalculating my ETA and comparing it with the kick off time.

I worked out that if I got my car hire sorted quickly, I would be able to make it to Gibraltar an hour before kick off. Perfect. I would still make it for kick off and all it had cost was an extra flight and overpriced parking. If only.

On arrival at Malaga airport, I quickly discovered that the car hire place had shut. All of them were shut. Ah. Now time for irrational me to make another ill-informed decision. Option One: Get the bus to Gibraltar, arriving after the game and meeting up with the Bury fans to at least “soak up the atmosphere”. Option two: jump in a taxi for a journey equivalent to going from Manchester to Birmingham at a cost in excess of the original flight tickets. But, which to choose…

The taxi driver didn’t talk much for the whole 90 minute journey; he was probably too busy planning his early retirement that I was funding. In fact he only said one word to me immediately after I asked him to take me to Gibraltar.  I don’t know what “ker-chiiiiing” is in Spanish but I’m pretty sure thats what he said.

El Kerchingo and I sat in silence for the whole trip. I imagined he was my wife and that this silent treatment was her punishment for this series of expensive, irrational decisions. That way, when I got home I could invoke the double jeopardy rule and the wife couldn’t punish me for the same thing.  Meanwhile, “Sliding Doors me” was enjoying his afternoon in Gibraltar with a relaxing, cold beer going slightly pink in the sunshine that would have disappeared before the real me got there.

Eventually, the real me did arrive in La Linea, a short (it said on the hotel details) walk from Gibraltar. I arrived at the ground about an hour before kick off, where I was able to deduce at least a little bit of team news when I walked into the bar at the ground to see Bury’s striker, Andy Bishop, and goalkeeper, Cameron Belford, each with a pint in their hands, citing injury “niggles” as a reason not to play on the Victoria Ground’s artificial pitch. Brilliant. “Niggles”, the footballers’ equivalent of “the dog ate my homework”, only usually used for international friendlies or immediately prior to Christmas.

So to the game, which despite ultimately being the reason for the trip, was largely inconsequential. The game was quite poor and uneventful until an injury time penalty gave the home side a deserved 2-1 win. The fact that the game was forgettable (for the Bury fans, at least) was a blessing in disguise as a large proportion of the 100 travelling Bury fans were unlikely to remember it due to 2-3 days of local hospitality.

So why would 100 Bury fans travel almost 2,000 miles to watch their team lose and have nothing more than an “I was there ” moment to show for it? Why would a relatively intelligent man throw good money after bad to get to a game that doesn’t even matter? Why would he be faced with a return journey, only seventeen hours after arriving, which would take him to the wrong city on board planes, trains and buses? Because we’re Bury fans and it’s what we do. If logic came into it, nobody would support lower league clubs. Yes, there’s the banter, the camaraderie and your mates but ultimately, the product is inferior to many others. So don’t try to think too hard about why because if you have to ask that, you’ll never understand…you’ll probably have more money though.

Follow Mike on Twitter, and check out his football inspired t-shirt designs on his website, here.

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6 Responses to Travelling light: adventures in Europe with Bury FC

  1. Trevor Ward says:

    To put it bluntly Mike, you scare me.

  2. Maurice says:

    It was worth every penny though wasn’t it? It was a quality trip!

  3. Unknown says:

    I saw you in the rose and introduced myself by saying how lucky you were to be going. I still stand by that. I wish I could’ve left my passport at home too and been able to join the trip. Well done mate. Quality read.

  4. Preston Exile says:

    Respect !

  5. Paul C says:

    And people think I’m mad, as I drove from Devon 1/2 way through our summer holiday to be at the opening of The Globe Arena (Morecambe) in a Carling cup tie against Coventry City(my home town club).

    Mucho Respect Mike.

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