Foreword: The tongue needs to be inserted firmly in the cheek before reading this and no offence is intended towards anybody :)
Well here we go, the first wave of players arrived at Gatwick only to find the wrong cars had been registered to the wrong drivers and £20 notes were changing hands to cover the extra cost that would be required to cover the additional day when collecting the cars. Had this set the scene for the next 5 days? Only time would tell.
£24.99 for an evening meal (+ 1 free drink) and unlimited breakfast the next morning….. who’s in and who’s out? What are you doing? I dunno what are you doing? How much is it? What time is it? That’s too early, what about the others what time are they getting here? Do we need to book? Why can’t we just turn up? Let’s just book in I need a beer! It was evident that that trying to organise 17 fifty plus menopausal walking footballers (and Iain) was going to be a big ask.
The beer was a priority and JD Wetherspoons in the South Terminal was calling loudly. Lakhi & Harry lead the way and it was at this point we realised that Harry was not as tight as rumour would have it. Out came his big wad and we knew we were going to be in for a good weekend. The beers went down quickly, too quickly some might say, and we started to learn a bit more about our fellow Amblers. Three wives and eight kids you’re having a laugh! No, said Harry I used to work in the NHS, it’s a great place for pulling the women and I was a catch in my younger days!?
My round said Paul, who was just beginning to show us his hidden ability to consume lager at the same rate as Bunker, Lakhi are you sure you should? Wouldn’t you be better off joining Bally & John in the coffee shop? No boss, another San Miguel for me, said Lakhi, I’m on my holidays now.
Time to get back for phase one of the £24.99 extravaganza. I need the little boys room babbled Lakhi, as the obvious effects of his 10 pints become evident. Eventually he returns with a young Sikh lad, not another unexpected revelation surely? Look what I found in the gents, it’s my cousin and he is looking for a small holding. The mind boggles.
Late for dinner and still in shock at bumping into his “cousin” Lakhi eventually sat down for dinner and his 1 free drink. The relative calm of the dinner table was disrupted by stories of the young man and what he was doing in the South terminal, none of which were totally believable, but I’m sure will be the subject of further discussion on a Friday night. Dinner complete time to join the wave two lads in the bar, hold on, who is that on the floor, oh dear the chair has collapsed and it could only have been one person.
The full Ambler contingent was assembled in the bar waiting for news of the two squads, what time we had to go to bed, what time we had to be up and what we had to wear. Unfortunately, team news was not forthcoming, there were things Micky G needed to sleep on, the psychological and mental state of some of the players was playing heavy on his mind and some of the reports emanating from the South terminal bar were giving him some serious concerns.
Alarm at 5 o’bloody clock, are you sure Micky G wasn’t playing an April fool joke on us? Nope 5.30 for breakfast, blue tour tops and black track suit bottoms and don’t forget the receipts from last night’s dinner for the second half of your £24.99 special. There were a few quiet bodies around the breakfast bar including one with a very red face and sunglasses, no prizes for putting a name on that one. Vacate the rooms and down here for 6.30, squads will be announced.
Yellows will be Bunker, Roy, Harry, Dobby, Lakhi, Hong Kong Fuey Dave, Alan, Paul and John Handel.
Blues will be Mickey G, Mickey H, Barry M, Bally, Walshy, Colin, Ray and Mel.
Amblers refereeing assistant Iain C.
Right boys you need to start thinking seriously about what we are going to Italy for this weekend. It’s going to be a tough tournament and we don’t want to embarrass ourselves. The mood changed almost instantaneously, had everybody remembered their heart tablets? Have I got my beta-blockers? Have we got enough pain killers to go round? Questions were being asked.
Where do we go now, where do we check in? you’re already checked-in, you can go straight through, but where is Mick going? He has got the kit and that has to be checked-in, normal service had been resumed. The intelligence test was failed by a number of people as the liquids amnesty area uncovered a few chancers who were looking to flout the rules. Mel lost his 200ml invisible grease-free, spray-on sun block, Walshy was complaining about losing his favourite moisturiser and Alan couldn’t understand why he couldn’t take a 500ml carton of milk through.
It’s been delayed, good I need the loo. Who does she remind you of? Look at the state of that one! Although the bar was only arms-length from where everybody was sitting the players were already heeding Mick’s earlier warning and showed great restraint by resisting the temptation. It’s up, Gate 14, that’s right down the other end. Let’s go, who’s bag is that? Where has Colin gone?
Gate 14, and Baz was busy chatting with an acquaintance from some previous job, that’s nice we thought, little did we know what that job was and what lay ahead of us.
Can you move over, I want the aisle seat, with my knee and my hip you can’t expect me to sit in the middle. Mick H was playing the old soldier card and the younger team members had no option but to fall into line.
What the hell is going on back there what’s all that screaming and shouting about? Is he having a heart attack or is he just a nut case? Why are those people sitting on him? Are those handcuffs? How many people are with him? Throw the rascal off, I don’t want to have to listen to that all the way to Italy. Can’t they put gaffer tape over his mouth? No someone died before when they did that. It was becoming evident that Baz knew more about this situation than he was letting on.
Stooooop….. Stooooop…….. Stoooooop……. I’m not safe…. Stooooop….. Stooooooop driver….. Stoooop………. 50 bloody minutes of this before the record changed and the deportee suggested he would like to have sex with our mothers and our sisters. Guys we have some ladies sitting at the back that feel very threatened by what is going on, would you be so kind as to change seats. Six brave Amblers reluctantly obliged and the 4 ladies and 2 gentlemen swapped seats. It carried on and there were various suggestions about how we could address the situation. Knock the rascal out, we should all give him a right hander that would shut him up suggested Roy. It’s alright said Baz as soon as we take-off he will quieten down, trying to reassure everybody that we were not going to have to endure another hour and forty minutes of that noise and abuse. Thank god for iPods and headphones.
Well he did eventually shut up and the rest of the flight passed by in relative peace, but it does beg the question why do normal people (Amblers excluded) have to put up with that when they are paying hard earned money for their flight.
Having arrived safely in Venice and manged to master the electronic passport machines the Amblers trekked to the coach park, this was the start of what was to be a lot of walking over the weekend.
An hour and twenty minutes later we arrived at the Ge Tur complex in Lignano Sabbiadoro. The town looked as though it was deserted and we were not far wrong, as we later discovered the holiday season doesn’t start until May.
We were given our wrist bands, luncheon vouchers for meals and allocated our rooms… time to explore the environment. Where is the beach? Must be over there? Why must it be over there? I can hear seagulls! You can hear seagulls in Hillingdon but that doesn’t mean there’s a beach there! Yep fair point Micky H.
500 yards and there are the pitches, nicely marked out with Samba goals. We can play on that, of course we can, we can play anywhere. Where is the beach? it’s that way. Another 200 yards and we come across the fantastic beach of Lignano Sabbiadoro. There was not a sole on it but you could imagine what it would look like in the height of summer.
700 yards walking and most people had worked up a thirst, some intrepid Amblers (Lakhi and Hong Kong Fuey Dave) aimed for the pier while the majority headed 700 yards back to the bar. A couple of hours and a few beers later the Cove team arrived, a few pleasantries were exchanged and they encouraged us to carry on drinking the low calorie lager we were getting used to. We obliged knowing the importance of keeping oneself hydrated in the searing Italian heat, all 17 degrees of it.
By this time the fantastic four of Colin, Walshy, Bally and Ray had been taken in by the beauty queen looks of the barmaid Mary and the levels of flirting had reached new heights. Must be my round said Ray, no you got the last one must be mine replied Colin, take the empties back the woman is rushed off her feet poor thing. These were levels of flirting that Anne and Ruth back in Uxbridge could only dream about. More chips (crisps to you and I) boys she asked in her best English, it was now becoming very clear what their game was.
Time to redeem the first of the luncheon vouchers, lentil soup, rigatoni pasta in tomato sauce, some kind of fish and something in a thick yellow sauce. Umm soup and a roll and the pasta look to be the safest bet, can’t afford any stomach upsets before tomorrow’s first round of games. Well I’m off out, I can’t eat any of that. Obviously the offering was not to every bodies taste, but after a long day most people just took what was on offer and after a couple of nightcaps headed for bed.
Well here we are, the big day had arrived Blues kicking off in the morning, Yellows in the afternoon. What was for breakfast though, sausage, bacon, fried eggs anticipation was high as the Amblers came down two by two. Oh! cheese and ham some kind of omelette/scrambled egg combo and of course the fresh rolls. Earl grey or green tea Paul asked Alan? Micky Harvey was looking particularly smug as he tore the top off of the English breakfast tea that had been borrowed from the Premier Inn, smuggled, not very successfully, through airport security and customs and was now awaiting the addition of hot water for his enjoyment.
What’s that? I’ll have one of them. The very well put together tournament guides were being distributed around the breakfast tables and it wasn’t long before the head waiter recognised a star in his mist. He picked out Micky G from the picture and said he seen him many times before but was not sure where. You are a star the head waiter commented to Mick, yep that’s right a porn star, made hundreds of films. That’s right I have seen most of them replied the waiter, you are big in Italy. I’m big everywhere Mick shyly replied.
News of the importance of one of their guests soon spread to the waitresses and the kitchen staff and heads were popping around the swing door at a rate of knots. We have to make sure you keep your energy levels up said the waiter, I will make sure you have big portion for the rest of your stay. Enough said.
Blue team outside 9.15 fully kitted out I want a word, Mick had now put his football head back on and was preparing for battle. He was not best pleased with the late arrival of one of the players who seemed to be suffering with some kind of red knee syndrome. What the hell is going on with those knees, what have you been doing with them? Sorry I’m late Mick, I’ve had a bit of a problem with my Boots own brand rub.
The team talk was calm but we were under no illusions as to what was required.
Southampton Strollers – Match report to follow
Cove B - Next up was an experienced Cove B side that contained the Sherriff of Nottingham look alike. They didn’t quite get the joke until it was explained to them. More info required
Norwich - Last up was an eventful match against the Norwich A team. Micky H taking a dig to the ribs and then threatening retribution. Lots of whinging and moaning from Shrek and after being 4-1 up ran out 4-2 winners.
Lunch was again another offering of soup, rigatoni pasta in tomato sauce, fish and something that resembled pork but tasted nothing like it, but after the mornings exploits anything was welcome.
Paul was having a pre-tournament nap, but Alan was most concerned about his welfare. I think he’s dead said Alan, give him a poke no you poke him, I’m not doing that he might hit me.
Captain Bunker started to look anxious, it was the Yellow team up next and there were a few injury worries. Are they in the right frame of mind, who is playing where, what formation are we playing, what happens if someone gets injured, the nerves and the excitement of international football were kicking in.
After a great day of football, it was time for another visit to Mary and another chance to see the Fantastic Fours charm offensive in action again. Seventeen large beers please requested Johnny Handel. Seventeen exclaimed Mary, but I have no glasses. She had an idea. Out came her big jugs, and slowly she began to fill them up. Plastic glasses were the order of the day, but the speed at which the beer was being downed meant that that no sooner had she filled her jugs they were empty. The crisps kept coming only this time it was without the TLC that the Fantastic four had become accustomed to, but that didn’t stop them for taking numerous, and mostly unnecessary, trips to the toilet just to give her a little smile or a wave.
Well I’m not having dinner here tonight, I can’t stand the thought of any more pasta or fish. Who’s going into town, what time we meeting, can we go somewhere that I can get a burger. Well my feet are killing me I’m not walking, OK we’ll get a cab. The organised chaos that had previously been witnessed was rearing its head again. I’m having another beer then we can ring Angelo the cabbie and he can take us into town.
Once again the town was heaving when the various groups arrived and it was difficult to find somewhere to accommodate everybody. I’m not walking any further this one will do, it’s got beer it’s got food what more do we want?
Well he didn’t expect that custom tonight I’m sure. I need to walk I’m stuffed, there might be another bar open near to the site. We’ll have one back in the bar.
The coach is leaving at 10.00 tomorrow are we all going? Yep, well don’t be late see you at breakfast.
Same old, same old for breakfast but there were a couple of different flavour yoghurts to choose from, and the rolls seemed a lot fresher. The powdered egg omelette or scrambled egg or whatever it was had just been brought out so it was piping hot which made a change.
What time are we leaving? 10.00 how many more times do we have to tell you. Where is it? Out the front where we got dropped off. It’s like being back at school all over again. Are we all here? Where’s Lakhi is he coming? Yes, he’s coming, he’s just doing some last minute preparations.
How far is it, how long will it take to get there, does the driver know where we are going? Look he’s on the mobile phone again. Where are all these lorries going to, there’s hundreds of them. Is Harry driving? I bet he’s got his toy steering wheel with him and pretending to be a coach driver. What’s Bunker doing next to him? I think he is changing the gear for him!
Is he really on his third wife? I can’t believe he found 3 women stupid enough to marry him, he must have something we don’t! Are those mountains or clouds? Mountains you idiot, the same ones you flew over on Friday. What are they called? The Alps you muppet.
What are those things? Vines, there’s just nothing on them yet. No they’re not, they are religious symbols left over from Easter. They are vines I tell you, they’re a bit small for vines. They are small so people can pick the grapes off easily when they are ripe. I think they are Olive trees, don’t be daft, olive trees grow taller and they have to use nets to harvest the olives. Do you like olives? No I can’t stand them.
We have to go on a boat lads, it will be ten euro’s each. They coach driver will drop us off and pick us up at about 6.00. Pay the woman in the kiosk and someone else will give you a ticket.
As the boat got ever closer to our docking point at the Gabrielle Hotel there was a sudden apparition at the front of the upper deck. It would appear that Batman had joined us in a way that no one had expected. We were truly blessed.
Have we landed in the right country or are we in China or Japan was the question as we disembarked at the Gabrielle Hotel? Back here at a quarter to five don’t be late or the boat will go without you.
As we started the slow walk towards St. Mark’s Square it was evident Roy was struggling for one reason or another. He didn’t seem to have the normal spring in his step and was even struggling to keep up with smaller strides of Dobby. What’s up Roy, you alright? No I’m not!
It would appear that all the walking from the previous two days had taken its toll on his massive thigh muscles, which in turn had led to complications elsewhere. We all felt for him, but there was not a lot we could do to help. There was a suggestion on the use of Lipsil but that was quickly dismissed as an option.
The hustle and bustle of St. Mark’s Square led to the group splitting up as Johnny Handel seemed to be on familiar territory and was intent on getting to the less touristy parts of Venice.
Elsewhere Bunker, Iain, Hong Kong Fuey Dave and Mel were going round in circles, having overdosed on architecture, religion and gondolas, and they were in desperate need of food and drink.
Twelve and a half euro’s for a small beer I’m not paying that, that’s taking the proverbial that is. We were all in agreement let’s look for something a little further away. We’ve been here before haven’t we? Yes, where are we? Get that map out again. Where did you say the others were Campo S.Agostin. Where’s that on the map. I can’t see it. Ask this lady she works here. No idea, was the reply, ask the waiter he will know. No idea my friend is it in Venice?
That was the final straw, find a bar that has beer, a telly and somewhere to sit my leg is killing me.
Luckily enough we found a bar that had large beers (reasonably priced), bar stools and a television showing the Roma match. Heaven.
4.45 and we are back at the Gabrielle hotel. Where were you lot? Don’t ask, John got us lost, had to get a water taxi back another 10 euro’s each. Had a blinding meal though only 70 euros each at the end of it. Where’s that boat I’m knackered.
The evening meal at the hotel was much better than had been expected, and for those that had not eaten very much during the course of the day was very welcome.
Can’t go to bed yet it’s too early, we’re on in the afternoon tomorrow so we can have a lay in if we need to. There’s a small bar just up the road, we passed it last night when we walked home. We’ll have a few in there shall we, yer why not, they might even have some football on.
Well it was a good job that we were on in the afternoon as it would appear that Dobby had not had a great nights’ sleep and neither had the occupants of the room next door. Shut-up! Shut-up! Roy Shut-up! Could be heard from the adjacent room as it was obvious that one of the occupants was having a fantastic nights’ kip.
So here we are finals day and there was a lot of nervous anticipation around. Did we do the right thing by going to Venice and walk aimlessly round for hours, or should we have emulated the Cove guys and had additional training sessions on our Sunday off? Should the Yellows & Blues still be talking with each other or was someone going to let the tactical cat out of the bag?
Only a few hours left now to find the answer to that question
More to follow...