Didn't 'We Have a Luvvery Time When We Went To Utrecht.....
Didn't 'We Have a Luvvery Time When We Went To Utrecht.....
May 10, 1997, the time is 4.30 pm, and Motherwell are trailing 1-2 to Paton's Prats at Fir Park Tommy Coyne is cynically fouled 30 yards from Bawldy Westwater's goal. The stadium is packed with 'Well fans, 12 minutes to go and if 'Well fail to level then it's Airdire in the play-offs. Up steps Big Mitch and the ball vaporises as he hammers it into the net. Motherwell are safe, and Mitch leaves Fir Park with as apt a parting gift as possible to return to his native Holland and to FC Utrecht.....
July 1998, thankfully McLeish has taken Hibs to Division One, and Utrecht and Motherwell agree to a date for the friendly as part of the deal which take Mitch back across the North pond. The interest in Motherwell is on a scale not known since the epic trip to Dortmund, and hundreds of Motherwell fans book up via plane, train and whatever else they can use to get to the land of the free....joints.
Excitement mounts, but with just 12 days to go the good old Mayor of Utrecht decides to ban all evening games at the Galgenwaard after Twente Enschede fans attempt to redecorate the Town Centre, forcing the game to be moved to the following day in the mid-afternoon. Unfortunately many Motherwell fans are forced to pull out of the trip, but a party of 48, led by that intrepid, well-travelled Judith-Chalmers-of-Watson-Street, Liz Mullen, are able to re-arrange their travel details and set off late on Friday, October 9th....
The first scheduled stop proved to be an eventful one, Titch discovering why After Shock is so aptly named - several hours in the Point prior to departure couldn't have helped. Liz "borrowed" a bin, promising she would return with it intact - the lass at the counter was less than impressed when greeted with it's pavement-pizza contents. Although we got ever so slightly lost in Essex we made Harwich in plenty of time to set about the irksome task of exchanging squids for guilders, keeping a couple of hundred each to buy a spit of tea and a crust of bread.
Three hours on the HSS (Heavy Swelling Seas, just ask the poor lad who didn't make it across) later, and several dozen beers (plus a raid on the McDonalds) and we were in the land of extreme flatness. That went fine until we came towards Utrecht itself and then the fun really began. Missing our turn off, we ended up having to do a second lap of the vast Utrecht ring road, until we took the plunge and exited somewhere near the hotel. A local lass was cornered, and once she was convinced we were friendly she helped us persuade some kind of old lad in a Trabant (yes, they are still on the go) to trundle along in front and take us to the Hotel. The site of 48 tired, hungry and thirsty Scots must have made him slip into temporary amnesia as he took an age to get us there, but at long last the Mitland appeared and we were able to experience the delights it had to offer. Nice Hotel, Caroline and I thought, and a TV...let's see what's on.... WHOOSH!!! Up pops what could only be described as every perv's dream film. The "educational documentary" was quickly turned over, only for Liz to burst in seconds later insisting we should see what's on channel 29. It should have been called Channel 69, what an eyeful (though I gather the lass in the film itself was thinking more of a mouthful). Liz left to "admire" the film herself, the ma of us got ready to hit the town
Amsterdam was the intended destination, but by the time the majority had their cold shower Utrecht Town Centre was the order of the evening. Dodging made cyclists and mental scooter riders, the four of us made it after an hour-and-a-half's hike to McConnel's bar in deepest downtown Utrecht. A memorable night was had by all, especially Andy and Graham who refused to go to the Bog unless accompanied by several others - this after seeing the ever-increasing pub population of Jerry Springer candidates. Titch on the other hand spent most of the evening up by the bar attempting to persuade two local ladies to visit his "hotel suite", judging by his straight gait the next day he was none to successful.
Quite how we all made it back to the Mitland is a mystery, as was how I managed to get back with five empty beer glasses and not break any of them. It was a sorry looking bunch who braved Brekkie Sunday morning, though that failed to stop the Hotel running low on every item of food available once Fritz had woken. The Hotel got its own back, hitting everyone for 21 Guilders for watching more than two minutes of the previous evening's entertainment. We were then given the option of making our own way to the ground - or walking, so we did just that. It must have looked strange, virtually no-one walks in Utrecht, they either drive or run around in convoys of bikes, and after the tenth set of wrong directions from the extremely odd passing Pedestrian, we got to the Galgenwaard wet but looking forward to a nice, cold beer.....that was until we learned of the ban on drink until the final whistle. Talk about a swift kick in the goo...sensitive region. Unknown to most, Liz and a couple of others managed to find a local hostelry and downed enough beer for the entire Bus - as if that made it up.
As the Utrecht support turned up virtually every 'Well fan swapped a shirt or a scarf, and many friendships were instantly struck up. The local Constabulary were thick in force,though thanks to the excellent behaviour of not only the home support but the typically well-behaved Motherwell fans, they had the luxury of having a snooze. Outside the ground the 'Well team arrived, led off the bus by soon-to-depart Harri Kampman. As kick-off approached, we made our way into the ground and up the steep steps to of the stand, though when Liz appeared she took the dozen or so steps in one huge leap, somewhat worse for wear after her shandy spree.
As for the game itself, the match was fairly even for the first half-hour with Utrecht looking more dangerous, but a jammy deflection and a free-gift (given under the defence donation scheme we were operating at the time) saw the home team take a 2-0 interval lead. Both sets of fans were thoroughly enjoying the occasion though, and a mutual appreciation quickly developed - especially the healthy dislike for all things Ajax. The Utrecht third goal was comical, their striker having enough time to park his arse, have a yicht, eat his dinner and tie his laces before stooping to head home, and once the fourth went in with still just under 30 minutes to go we feared the worst (that was still to come at McDairmid a fortnight later). However, the expected onslaught failed to materialise, and a nice wee gift all of Utrecht's own making gave Stephen Halliday the easy task of tapping in to raise the biggest cheer of the day (even from the home support). Singalonga Galgenwaard as 'Well grab a goal....Halliday goes close...to the 18-yard-line.We proudly display the colours outside the ground Graham and Ricky persuading the Plod honest it wasn't us, Guv!!!!!
And so, like Dortmund, the 'Well fans were last to leave (though not quite as happy - nowhere near as fact), and after a quick shop in the Calais Hypermarket for "refreshments", we were back at good old 'Well land bright and early (well, maybe not so bright) on the Monday morning. We may have been hundreds of pounds lighter, nursing several hang-overs, but each and everyone of us came back with some great memories and I am sure will agree we had a fantastic time. With luck, Billy Davies will lead us to European Qualification next year and we can do it all again, or perhaps we can get another friendly organised in Utrecht next July - PLEASE!!!!!
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