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Leverkusen away by @willomufc

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  • Leverkusen away by @willomufc

    With barely enough time to recover from the delights of San Sebastian it was time to pack the bag for Cologne which was going to be our base for the game against Bayer 04 Leverkusen. For the second Euro away in a month, I was letting the train take the strain starting with the Eurostar to Brussels. While my mate and most other reds were booked on the connecting 1025 train to Cologne, I had a 3 hour wait in Brussels. I did plead with the hector but his request for an extra 50-odd Euros to board the earlier train had me accepting my fate of a stopover in Belgium. After a scout of the bars opposite the station I chose one with a few folk sat at the bar supping glasses of Leffe and settled in for a couple of hours. The bar was surprisingly full of drinkers given it was only 11am, including one girl in her train company uniform supping glasses of Leffe brune while barking her orders into a walkie-talkie. Management at its very best! Soon enough it was time for the train to Cologne and, after an early start to catch the Eurostar, I got an hour of shut-eye before retiring to the buffet car for a beer. By this time a good number of reds had come on board, connecting with a train from Amsterdam that had been delayed by a few hours, and we were all pleased when the train rolled into Cologne at 3.15.


    One of the aspects of train travel that I love is arriving right in the heart of a city and Kِlner Dom - Cologne's spectacular cathedral - provides a great first impression. After heading straight for the ticket collection point conveniently close to the station, my bag was dumped off at my cheap hotel and I was soon supping a glass of the local brew - Kِlsch - with my mate who was one of a number who had travelled ticketless. After a couple of beers in the Altr Markt, we headed down towards the Rhein where a few of the extended Red News family were drinking. Not quite the RN numbers that had converged in San Sebastian, and we weren't as popular without the pulling power of Barney, but a great bunch of lads made for some good company and banter, with the prospect of a game of football lurking somewhere in the background. We arranged a bar to meet up at after the game and most of the party headed out to Leverkusen to beat the crowds on the train, while I kept my mate company for a couple more beers in Cologne. As a result, I ended up on the 'soccer special' and was greeted by a platform that was bouncing with reds being carefully watched by a line of riot police. Once the police had made sure we were all crammed in, the train slowly crawled its way to Leverkusen. By this time, it was too late to join the rest of the lads who were enjoying a bar bouncing full of German reds, so I headed straight into the ground with a bit of time to spare before kick-off.


    The stewards were thorough in their frisk and I was relieved that the cold had led me to put on my jumper that was now covering my flag under my coat. "Is there a flag under there?", enquired the steward suspiciously eyeing my top heavy bulk , "undo your coat and let me see". I'm sure it would have been fine, but I didn't let on and he seemed happy enough when he saw my jumper. In fairness, the stewards were really friendly and in good humour - it makes such a positive difference. After having a look round inside and putting up my flag, I reflected that other than some pringles on the train I hadn't eaten since a bacon baguette over 12 hours earlier! As I headed back to the concourse I remembered that it was a cashless stadium so it was all the way back down from the upper tier to the turnstile to pay for a card, which required a 10 euro deposit which I loaded with another 10 euros for the kiosks (let's hope Ed wasn't taking note!). Anyhows, 2 bratwurst filled the gap and I was soon back in position as the teams came out.

    There was a really good atmosphere by this time with both sets of fans in good voice. The Leverkusen support behind the goal put on an impressive display with a giant flag and then a mosaic, before then literally bouncing as the game kicked off. A young lad alongside me - a regular face at Euro aways - was leading most of the singing in the upper tier, co-ordinating with his mates in the tier below. Our support away from home really is terrific for the most part. Some lads behind us started up the Kagawa song with reference to Pearl Harbour. That song doesn't rest easy with me and the young lads next to me were obviously of the same opinion, pleading with others to stop singing it. That soon passed and everyone was in unified voice for a terrific rendition of Twelve Cantonas, continuing the festive spirit from the Christmas Markets in Cologne. A second goal was celebrated with more festive cheer as Jingle Bells echoed around the Bay Arena followed by a bit of a disco at half-time. Euro aways usually make for a good atmosphere in the away end but I thought our support was in particularly good voice in the BayArena, the party mood obviously helped by a good performance and a comfortable win.


    With the prospect of the train journey back to Cologne, unusually for me I left before the end (reclaiming my 10 euro deposit on the way out) and as the train pulled out of Leverkusen station I bumped into a couple of the lads - Mark and Mickey - who'd had the same idea as did fellow RN forumite Louise (Irish Soccerette) who I bumped into in Cologne train station. Before long we were back in the bar being served by the grumpiest waiter I'd ever come across, a Victor Meldrew lookalike with the personality to match! The rest of the lads soon arrived and, after Victor had grudgingly slammed down a few more glasses of beer on our table, he announced that he'd been working since 11am and wouldn't be serving us any more Kِlsch tonight. Fortunately, we stumbled across a small bar in the Altr Markt with a good crowd of reds and a barman who informed us that, provided a lid was put on any singing so as not to bring attention to the bar, he'd be serving until 4am. Happy days. However, it wasn't lively enough for some in our party, one of whom had turned 60 at midnight, so a scouting party went out in search of some action and before long a text was received with directions to our next watering hole. On arrival there was a bit of a stand off with a stern and extremely stocky bouncer telling us we weren't going inside to join the others. However, someone who I guess was the manager, looked us up and down and obviously concluded we would furnish his till with Euros while offering little risk (or capability!?) for aggro and overruled the stubborn bouncer. In fairness to the lads who found it, the bar was a gem, a nice little bar area and a cheesy small disco down the back.


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    After I managed to get the barmaid to serve us up miniature bottles of Schnapps there was one of those great, spontaneous Euro away moments as the 90s pop classic Saturday Night by Whigfield triggered a rush to the dance floor, our German hosts in awe that some of our party knew the dance routine off by heart (worringly too well in some cases!). We had some good craic with the locals before the bouncer finally got his way in muscling us out at closing time. Most of our party sensibly decided that was the cue to call it a night (well morning by this stage) but with our 4am bar still open three of us went back for a nightcap. I bumped into a couple of lads from the Black Country who were on the same train back from the Sociedad game and we had a chat with the barman, thanking him for keeping the bar open for us. He was a decent lad and didn't even hold a grudge despite one red leaving a bitemark on his arm as he threw him out the night before the game.


    As I staggered back towards my hotel I got a security guard to let me into one of the Christmas Markets and take my picture with some impressive wood carvings I'd spotted earlier. He even encouraged me to climb up on the display for a better picture! And then one last sting in the tail was walking past a bar still serving and seeing some Euro away regulars - including the lads next to me in the ground - that tempted me for one last glass of Kِlsch which the lads topped up with a bottle of gin they had under the table!! Sadly, I asked after one lad who I hadn't seen on the aways this season and discovered he was pretty poorly. A really sound lad who, not knowing me at all at the time, had helped me out on one occasion when I was travelling alone. Hopefully, he'll be back on the circuit soon. Anyway, finally recognising my limits, I was soon weaving a route back to to my bed, admiring the cathedral that looks even more amazing all lit up at night.


    A few hours kip, and then a quick walk round the fantastic Christmas markets for some souvenirs before heading for the train to Brussels. I caught up with some sleep before bumping into some of the lads getting off the train in Brussels. We passed the couple of hours before the Eurostar with a couple of beers and then it was time for the final leg of the journey home. Much to the amusement of the rest of the train, an inflatable zimmmer frame was unveiled by the lads as a 60th birthday present. All too soon I was home again cursing the prospect of the alarm call that would greet me for work the following morning.


    So all in all, what a cracking month November was. Two terrific trips, with some great company and two fanstastic cities. Here's hoping for a decent draw for the knockout stages, and that Moyes and the players can give us European football next season which is by no means a certainty at the moment. I really love the craic on these trips and it's always a privilege to be able to travel to watch United. And thanks to all those whose company I shared. However, after 2 trips in November it's time for the body and bank balance to recover!


    by @willomufc for http://www.rednews.co.uk
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