Friday, 27 February 2015

Standard Liege v Cercle Brugge. 27/02/15

"The fact this bloke keeps serving us 15% beer shows a blatant disregard for how hammered we are getting."

Standard Liege 1-0 Cercle Bruge. Stade Maurice Dufrasne.
Friday 27/02/15
There are plenty of things that you expect when you go to a game of football. Being surrounded by beautiful women is certainly not one of them. So what on Earth was going on at Standard Liege v Cercle Brugge?

You normally get the odd girl that catches the eye at games on the continent. But this was something else. Even the stewards were stunning for crying out loud. The amount of good looking girls was comparitive to what you find at a wedding where everybody without fail always looks good - even Janet Street Poter probably looked gorgeous walking down the aisle.

Stade Maurice Dufrasne
The amazing standard of lady certainly made for an excellent experience at Liege which was looking far from the case in the hours prior to the game thanks to that old chestnut better known as the hangover. Over 12 hours of strong Belgian beer in Bruges the previous day had left a head that felt like it had been 20 rounds with Mike Tyson but with a fully functioning and remaining ear.

As a result, I'm sure you can imagine just how horrific the two hour train journey down to Liege was. Is there anything more terrible than going backwards on a train that flies around bend after bend while hungover? It turned out there was - a bus journey from the city centre to Stade Maurice Dufrasne in which the driver had no idea of the concept of "slow breaking". And it turned out there was something even worse than that - being given tickets in among the home sides ultras, next to two men with military sized drums and facing two others with megaphones. Poor, poor head.

The moon rises over Stade Liege
How does one get over the said hangover? Cheveux du chien, of course which translates (according to Google) as hair of the dog. After that bus journey from hell, we found two little bars outside of the stadium, one called Cup Cafe which was packed with - you've guessed it - beautiful bar staff and another called Bois d'Avoy which was basically a glorified garage converted into a beer facility.

Bois d'Avroy - the glorified drinking garage
Didn't fancy that? No problem, pick up a crate of beer and join one of the many parties taking place on the steet behind the stadium or on the coaches and buses that had bought fans to the ground. Several drinks later and the perilous state that the previous evening had left yours truly in was beginning to dilapidate.

Grab a beer and join some fans on their bus
Until of course we were inside the towering stands of Maurice Dufrasne. And in among those ultras. Flag waving, megaphone shouting, drum banging, weed smoking, beer swilling, jumping and singing ultras. And guess what - there were even some wonderful women in amongst that rabble. Quite the atmosphere among the Liege faithful.

In with the Liege hardcore
Jupiler et Football!
Stade Maurice Dufrasne is a fine venue, being somewhat reminiscent of The Valley - ironic given former Charlton manager Jose Riga is now in the hot seat. It is three tiered on three sides with the bottom two tiers behind either goal consisting of the mythical rail seating that people are so keen to see in English grounds to allow a return to safe standing. The other stand is a two tiered affair while the ground has a modern feel after being largely rebuilt for Euro 2000. It's aged well like a fine wine.

Rail seating - take note please, Football Association
And good news for the Greeks among us - Maurice Dufrasne is a Euro free building! Like many grounds on this part of the continent, they've done what Syriza can only dream of doing and abolished the single currency in favour of Jetons which can be purchased at a very amicable rate and used to purchase beer and waffles inside the stadium.

Three steep tiers. Now we're talking
The Valley in disguise? Jose Riga will feel at home
With Standard pushing for the title and Cercle battling towards the bottom of the table, this game tested the patience of the home support as they saw their side miss chance after chance after chance with Cercle goalkeeper Olivier Werner doing his best to frustrate Standard right up until the 89th minute when the brilliantly named substitute Ricardo Faty nabbed a late late winner much to the delight of the ultras.

But it wasn't to our delight, missing the goal having left for the three mile journey back into the city with five minutes of normal time remaining. 45 minutes later and we were back settled in a bar around the station, a massive structure that looks more like a spaceship than a public transport hub. It was arguably the best station I've ever seen although it is some way outside of the actual centre of Liege - an area we never managed to find ourselves in which is another convenient excuse for a 
return visit.

Not something from the set of Star Wars - the incredible Liege Station
But back to that question that remains unaswered and I can't shake from my mind. Just why were there so many beautiful women at Stade Maurice Dufrasne? It remains a mystery. Answers on a postcard please.

Standard Liege: Yohann Thuram, Dino Arslanagic (Ricardo Faty 1), Darwin Andrade, Alexander Scholz, Julien de Sart (Jeff Lois), Martin Milec, Geoffrey Mujangi Bia (Jiloan Hamad), Mehdi Carcela, Adrien Tebel, Imoh Ezekiel, Igor de Camacho.

Cercle Brugge: Olivier Werner, Gilles Dewaele, Hans Cornelis, Noe Dussenne, Pierre Bourdin, Tim Smolders, Maarten Martens (Stipe Bacelic-Grgic), Martunis, Junior Kabananga (Richard Sukuta-Pasu), Kristof D'Haene (Jinty Caenepeel), Stpehen Buyl.

Attendance: 24,693

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Club Brugge v Aalborg BK. 26/02/15

"147 different beers. Complimentary bowl of gouda with each round. Eight hours until kick off. I can't see what can possibly go wrong."

Club Brugge 3-0 Aalborg BK. Jan Breydel Stadion.
Thursday 26/02/15.
Researching the fine medieval city of Bruges threw up many fantastic quotes. "Venice of the North", "Romantic Hotspot" and "Chocolate Lovers Capital" were three such straplines which may appeal to your traditional holiday goer but to be brutally honest did nothing for me.

The one that did catch the eye was "Bruges is a city that takes beer very seriously". How seriously I wondered? Well, put it this way - it doesn't get much more serious than pubs dispensing with a food menu in favour of a beer one. Now that is my sort of seriousness.

Jan Breydel Statue - lucky man to have a statue AND a ground
named after him
A trip to Belgium or the Netherlands had long been the plan for the opening gambit of 2015's adventures across Europe, and so it was that Bruges reputation for beer gave it the nod with one of the cities two Jupiler Pro League sides, Club Brugge, having been obliging enough to progress to the knockout phase of the Europa League, meaning some Thursday night action against Danish side Aalborg.

And they say Christmas comes early in England -
just the ten months to go for the people of Bruges....
But before the football, we had that beer to get through. An hours train journey from Brussels deposited the happy party in this most beautiful of cities; all cobbled streets, ancient walls, twisting canals and chocolate coloured buildings. Very romantic.

La Garre - 147 beers and complimenaty gouda = heaven
And then we stumbled across La Garre. Hidden down a Harry Potter-style alleyway that you could quite easily blink and miss, this is the sort of place that every connoisseur of strong, continental lager loves to discover. 147 beers, none weighing in at under 6% and a complimentary bowl of gouda with each round ordered. All consumed while listening to some of the greats of European classical music. What was this, McCarthy's Football Travels does culture?!

In the morning, I'm making waffles
That certainly couldn't last, not when a certain level of debauchery has almost become a requirement on football trips away. As marvelous as this little hideaway of a pub was - and trust me, it was pretty marvelous - we had plenty more pubs to see and plenty more beers to drink. From there we explored the winding streets taking in the sights (Belfry, Statue of Jan Breydel and Pieter de Coninck, Provincial Court), eating the food (cheese, waffles, cheese) and surveying the pubs (Klein Venetie, Hollandse Vismyn, Tongerlo) before finding ourselves joining the traveling Aalborg army.

They were gathered in the least Brugesy pub you could find which went by the original name of La Pub. Incredibly, we managed to stumble across a set of fans who had recently become besotted by darts ever since seeing Jan Molby defeating Eric Bristow in a charity game the week previously.

Aalborg on Tour - with our fellow darts fanatics
Acquaintances made, e-mail addresses swapped so that our new found friends could come over and watch some action at the Aly Pally in December and several more beers sunk and we found ourselves taking up their invitation to join the supporters on their march to the Jan Breydel Stadion.

Now there was just one problem with this march. The stadium happens to be an absolute hike out of the town and by now the rain had begun to lash down in biblical proportions. When the masses were letting off flares and having a good sing song on the steps of the Provincial Court this didn't seem like such a problem. Nor was it when fireworks and firecrackers were going off still five minutes into the walk. Around ten minutes in though and we were freezing cold and soaking wet so did what all good Englishman do in those circumstances - snuck off to find yet another pub to "dry off" in.

Aalborg fans gather on the steps to the Provincial Court....

That resulted in our arrival at Jan Breydel Stadion coming via the not-so-ultra means of a bus which thankfully did give more time to sink some beers in the excellent Den Compt Ir outside the ground - so excellent in fact, that we ended up missing the first 10 minutes of the game and returning to said venue for 90 minutes afterwards.

Not that missing the start really mattered. Club Brugge had won the first leg of the tie in Denmark the week previously 3-1 and so were pretty much guaranteed their spot in the last 16 barring some sort of major cock up along the line of the entire squad trying all 147 pints in La Garre pre game. Being the glory hunters we are, as a result the decision was taken to join the home fans despite our honorary membership of the Aalborg supporters club to revel in the inevitable victory.

Jan Breydel Stadion
By full time, that victory had become even more comfortable as Brugge ran out 3-0 winners on the night to take the tie 6-1 on aggregate. The game itself was a pretty terrible spectacle with wind and rain lashing down in which nothing worth remembering happened - or possibly that we remember nothing that happened. Whatever the case, it was a pity given Brugge include among their ranks highly rated Australian goalkeeper Matthew Ryan and it would have been nice to see why he is so well thought of - as it was, he definitely could have sunk several 12 percenters with us beforehand such was his lack of employment throughout the 90 minutes.

Jan Breydel Stadion
Bonus points for this floodlight arrangement
Jan Breydel was used when Belgium hosted Euro 2000 alongside the Netherlands and time hasn't been overly kind to it. That adds a certain charm with the floodlights sticking up off the roof earning it big brownie points. It is made up of four separate stands, each two tiered and all seated. The glamour and allure of the Europa League hasn't managed to tempt in the Belgian public seemingly, with 2/3rds of the ground empty. Although for such a dead rubber game, who can blame them for staying in one of the many fine watering holes around the city? They do take the beer seriously.

We took in the first half from a stand down one side which was not serving beer before switching to the end behind the goal for the second. It would be easy to say this was because that was where the Brugge fanatics were gathered, singing songs and going crazy for their side but you'd soon realise what a bare faced lie that was when it was revealed that this was in fact the end - the only end in the ground, seemingly - selling beer.

Handbags at dawn
Once again however alcohol proved its worth as at the end of the game we were in prime position to join in with the Brugge captain leading the fans in a sing-a-long about Bruges being wonderful. It was hard to disagree as they marched on towards the next round of Europe and a date with Besiktas.

Brugge is wonderful!
With a trip to Liege in the morning, the sensible thing to do at that point would have been to go home and prepare for a second day on the shant in Belgium. Regular readers will know however that there is rarely anything sensible about these trips, which naturally meant the evening ended with more beer and what is becoming the worrying tradition, started in Dortmund last April, of being asked to leave a bar for constantly playing Phil Collins and Easy Lover on a self DJ-ing laptop.

You'd have thought that in a city that bills itself as being a romantic hotspot they would love a bit of Phil. And we were certainly feeling the love back at the hotel bar when we bumped into - you guessed it - our fellow Aalborg fans who, irony of ironies, were staying in the same place.

Familar faces back at the hotel for our 5am drinking session...
just what was NOT needed
Joy of joys, more beer needed then and before we knew it, bang, it was 5am. Time, as is so often the case unless you possess a TARDIS, had proven to be against us. Which means that a return visit to Bruges and La Garde is an absolute necessity. There are 144 more beers that need tasting. These things are very serious, don't you know.

Club Brugge: Matthew Ryan, Davy de Fauw, Oscar Duarte, Thomas Meunier (Laurens de Bock), Brandon Mechele, Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo 1, Timmy Simons, Victor Vazquez 1 (Franciso Silva), Lior Refaelov, Ruud Vormer, Obbi Oulare 1.

Aalborg BK: Nicolai Larsen, Patrick Kristensen, Kenneth Emil Petersen, Rasmus Thelander, Thomas Enevoldsen (Anders Jacobsen), Rasmus Wurtz (Thomas Augustinussen), Kasper Risgard, Nicolaj Thomsen, Andreas Bruhn, Nicklas Helenius, Henrik Dalsgaard.

Attendance: 11,804