Tuesday, 3 November 2015

PSV Eindhoven v Vfl Wolfsburg. 03/11/15

"If Wolfsburg are going to lose this game then I hope it is 9-0 so we get to hear Zombie Nation eight more times."

PSV Eindhoven 2-0 Vfl Wolfsburg. Philips Stadion.
Tuesday 03/11/15
It sounds like a dream inspired by a combination of the strongest gouda and edam imaginable - a street that features 50 different bars with names such as Sgt Peppers and the Tipsy Duck. But this is no dream, no figment of the imagination like Diagon Alley (sorry kids, Harry Potter isn't real). It exists and is alive and well in Eindhoven, the latest destination in the Vfl Wolfsburg 2015-16 Champions League tour.

Interesting light effects around the cathedral
It's name is Stratumseind and it isn't particularly long. It stretches just the 200 odd metres from the imposing figure of St Catherine's Cathedral down to the River Dommel but in that space it has packed in a plethora of licensed venues varying from nice cafes to traditional English pubs to smokey venues that pump out European dance music into the early hours. Yes, we're talking 2 Unlimited.

Train beers from Amsterdam to wonderful Eindhoven
Two away games into Wolfsburg's first Champions League campaign since 2009 and only the second ever in the cubs history, finding gems like Stratumseind has represented one of the few highlights of going away with Die Wolfe so far. The home form for Dieter Hecking's men has been good - two games, two victories over both their opponents here PSV Eindhoven and CSKA Moscow. Away from home, not so good as they arrived in the Netherlands having lost their only game on the road against Manchester United at the end of September.

That hadn't stopped several hundred Wolfsburg fans making the four hour trip via coach and train while we'd headed there by flying into Amsterdam and then catching a 90 minute train. Complete with train beers, of course.

Hertog Jan - fantastic Dutch beer
It wasn't just Strastumseind that highlighted the best of Eindhoven's drinking holes. Eindhoven is after all a big university city with plenty of places for students to go and that meant we got through our fair share of beer - into the double figures of pints, gulp - before kick off at the Philips Stadion.

And the Philips earned Eindhoven another tick in the box, being one of those all too rare a breed of grounds that is bang in the city centre. Being little more than a ten minute walk from Stratumseind we joined a friendly PSV fan who not only showed us the way but then bought us a beer from the stands that had been handily set up around the stadium. "F**k UEFA, if they don't let us drink in there we drink out here". Couldn't agree more, mate.

Rumble, Rboert, our new PSV friend and McCarthy "f**king Uefa"
with some beer outside the Stadion
The Wolfsburg support was kept high in one corner of the stadium with a pretty poor view of the action. The ground itself appeared excellent from up in the Gods with the steep stands packed with beered up PSV fans and a rocking atmosphere that was no doubt helped by the home sides dominance of the game which they went onto win 2-0.

Philips Stadion - cracking view from the away end
Philips Stadion toilets - or were they showers?
Jurgen Locadia and Luuk De Jong were the goalscorers as PSV kept this wide open group even more wide open than it was before kick off. The 1990s dance music wasn't restricted to the pre and post game partying either, both PSV goals and the traditional end of game lap of honour being carried out to the brilliant tones of Zombie Nation and Kenkraft 400 which was incidentally one of Rumble's top remixes back in his days of being a London DJ. Could this place get any better?

An alternative view - should have started the game there
Well, yes it could. All those Wolfsburg fans not traveling back on the coach that evening - and there were quite a few madmen planning on staying up all night to catch the 6am train home - were ushered back into the ground and walked around the perimeter track to get out. Which gave a much better perspective of what a fantastic ground the Philips Stadion was if you weren't penned into a corner up in the clouds.
Exiting the ground via the pitch was a new one...
The imposing stands of the Philips Stadion
Pubs giving out free emergency services
helmets - tick
Post-game entertainment? Well that was pubs giving out free firemen and police helmets and fireworks and flares galore going off. Rumble kept up his fine record of falling asleep in foreign night clubs. And I woke up the next morning in the hotel covered in stolen butter. All on Stratumseind of course, the greatest street in the world. Unofficially.

PSV Eindhoven: Jeroen Zot, Joshua Brenet, Santiago Arias, Jeffrey Bruma, Hector Moreno, Jose Andres Guardado, Davy Propper, Adam Maher (Jorrit Hendrix), Luciano Narsingh (Gaston Pereiro), Luuk De Jong 1, Jurgen Locadia 1 (Nicolas Isimat-Mirin).

Vfl Wolfsburg: Diego Benaglio, Sebastian Jung, Ricardo Rodriguez, Timm Klose, Naldo, Luiz Gustavo, Daniel Caligiuri, Joshua Guilavogui (Julian Draxler), Andre Schurrle (Vieirinha), Max Arnold, Bas Dost (Nicklas Bendtner).

Attendance: 35,000

Sunday, 6 September 2015

San Marino v England. 06/09/15

"If I ever have a child I'm going to fly my partner to San Marino to give birth purely so my kid can become an international footballer"

San Marino 0-6 England. Stadio Olimpico.
Saturday 06/09/15.
San Marino. Is there a more pointless international team on the planet? They have one win to their name - a 1-0 friendly victory over Lichtenstein in a friendly in 2004 - and have spent pretty much their whole existence propping up the FIFA World Rankings. The place itself has a population of 32,576, meaning that you could fit the entire principalities residents into Wembley nearly three times over. And from that, you need to find at least 11 people who are vageuly talented at playing football. Poor sods.

All of that may make you wonder, what is the point in going to San Marino to watch a game? Surely you could find an equivalent standard at say, Sussex Sunday League level and not have to pay for flights or a match ticket. Just be wary of the dog excrement around the side of the pitch and the vomit left by the hungover left back.

Birra Moretti - and plenty of it
But that defies the point. Italy is a fantastic country. Anywhere that brings you out a plate of sandwiches as a complimentary accompaniment to a pint is going to be. And San Marino itself is also beautiful if slightly boring. No readers, this is a trip well worth making.

We started in Pisa which has so much more to offer than just a poorly constructed tower. Really, you have to admire the carefree attitude that epitomises Italian life. If The Shard had have been built and then started leaning at an alarming angle, there would be enquiries, lawsuits and it would probably be torn down and rebuilt. But the Italians? "Ah well, the Tower of Pisa leans a bit, not a lot we can do now, hey maybe we can even turn it into a tourist attraction." One that shouldn't be climbed if you've had a couple of pints, it must be said.

Bloody cowboy builders
The view from the top of the Leaning Tower. Not advisable to
climb after a few pints
So what else was there? Well, pizza to start with. The sort of pizza that was so good it turned me into one of those people who photograph their food. And then there was beer and plenty of it. Small squares off the main road - seemingly, the cities only main road - where you could sit outside drinking Birra Moretti and Peroni in 660ml bottles for just €3 until 4am in the morning when it was still a barmy temperature. 

Pizza in Pisa. Yes, I've become one of those people who
photographs their dinner
1 Euro a flavoured vodka shot. A dangerous game to play
We also stumbled across a bar selling flavoured vodka for €1 a shot but the less said about that, the better. Especially for Mark and Steve for whom the experience proved to be just a little too much as they both dozed off mid drink and were unable to locate their hotel without the help of an unusually tuned in McCarthy. Who, needless to say, couldn't find his hotel afterwards.

From Pisa, it was off to Florence. There wasn't much to report about this great city other than the fact that yours truly can now add it to the list of places he has slept rough in after a hostel mix up saw me miss check in. This started out by spending as long as possible in a pub that fantastically saw a performance of Taylor Swift at some weird Open Mic night type event before joining some migrants in a park, sharing around some more Moretti and then visiting the cities cathedral - the biggest bricked dome building in the world no less. 

Florence Cathedral. A bloody impressive building even when
drunk at 3am and with nowhere to sleep
Afterwards, the station for departure at 8am the next morning was found and sleep was taken - heartily interrupted every 30 minutes by Steve who in an attempt to find the right station for his train seemed to be on a mission to visit every single town and village within a 15 mile radius of Florence by boarding the wrong locomotive. He did finally make it to Rimini before the rest of the happy campers, where we met him and from where it was off to San Marino.

The stunning views across Italy from the City of San Marino
The Stadio Olimpico is not actually in San Marino itself but at the bottom of the mountain on which the principality is situated so if you go straight to the ground, you can't actually say you've visited the place. For reasons of sheer goonery in the quest to tick off as many different countries as possible, that meant a bus to the top of the hill and a visit to the City of San Marino.
San Marino's main export is weaponery, available over the counter

A medieval place with old walls and plenty of stairs, it offers breathtaking views across Italy from the top of Mount Titan. There is not a lot else going on there bar food and drink unless you fancy picking up some weaponery with a plethora of shops having guns, knifes and for those of us who'd like to impress Jennifer Lawrence with our Hunger Games skills, crossbows available for sale over the counter. Unfortunately, EasyJet's overly strict policy on dangerous items meant that no purchase was practical.

Stadio Olimpico - pre-season friendly in Scandanavia anyone?
An excellent venue for international football
So I suppose we should mention the football. Think pre-season friendly away against a European lower league team and you've got it just about right. The Stadio Olimpico hosts 7,000 odd fans in two stands down either side separated from the pitch by a running track that, despite the grounds name, is yet to hold to the Olympics. There were 3,000 odd England fans in the crowd of 4,378 and for those who didn't have a ticket, you could pick up a cracking vantage point from the top of one of the hills behind the goal.

Not got a ticket? Don't worry about it, this handily placed
hill will sort you out
The game itself was played on a surface comparable to my Grandfathers vegetable patch and that is probably doing a huge disservice to where he produces some award winning stuff. The atmosphere was totally flat bar anytime San Marino got into England's half when the entire crowd would cheer them on. They even nearly had a shot at one point which sparked wild celebrations scenes of jubilation.

As you might expect, England ran out comfortable 6-0 winners through goals from Wayne Rooney, Ross Barkley, Harry Kane, a Theo Walcott brace and an own goal from Cristian Brolli. Brolli himself did actually manage to justify the entrance fee alone with an absolutely stunning display of ineptitude, scoring not only that own goal but having to play most of the first half with a bandage around his head which constantly came off on the several times when he fell managed to fall over thin air. He was definitely the pissed up left back of the pub team.

27 degrees, sun blaring, floodlights on. Caring for the
The Boy Rooney prepares to equal the England goalscoring
That Rooney goal saw him tie level with Bobby Charlton in the England goalscoring list and he was withdrawn early in the second half. Of course the official reason would have been the game was run and he had no need to stay on but the cynic inside can't help but wonder if the FA saw the opportunity to sell a load more seats for Tuesday night's game against Switzerland by having him attempt to break the record then rather than in front of a sparse crowd that was doing it's hardest not to fall asleep.

Home via Rome - another ground ticked off
No sign of the Pope
Job done for Roy Hodgson and his side then and after a 30 minute journey back to Rimini it was beers and food all round before an early night (yes, really) ahead of the journey to Rome on the Sunday. Rome itself was fantastic with all the usual sights hurriedly ticked off but in truth you need more than the day there that I'd afforded myself. 

A return visit to Italy for a Roma or Lazio game then? Ah, that would be a shame.

San Marino: Aldo Junior Simoncini, Cristian Brolli, Marco Berardi, Davide Simoncini (Alessandro Della Valle), Mirko Palazzi, Nicola Chiaruzzi, Manuel Battistini, Giovanni Bonini (Luca Tosi), Andy Selva (Danilo Ezequiel Rinaldi), Jose Hirch, Matteo Vitaioli.

England: Joe Hart, Nathaniel Clyne, John Stones, Phil Jagielka, Luke Shaw, James Milner (Fabian Delph), Jonjo Shelvey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Theo Walcott 2), Ross Barkley 1, Jamie Vardy, Wayne Rooney 1 (Harry Kane 1)

Attendance: 4,378

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Ireland v England. 07/06/15

"That game was enough to make me realise that if I haven't had at least one pre-game beer I don't actually like football"

Rosscommon 2-20 Armagh 1-14. Croke Park.
Saturday 06/06/15.
When you are a regular spectator of Brighton and Hove Albion, the phrase "a great day out ruined by 90 minutes of football" is one that is ingrained in your footballing lexicon - a constantly apt description for 90% of the prattery you will witness going on on the pitch over the course of a season.

It's been particularly prevelant in 2014-15 as the Seagulls survived in the Championship largely because somehow there were three worse teams in it. Twelve shots on target which yielded just one goal from the final eight games meant that rounding off the campaign with an England trip - especially given the way Roy's Boys have played recently - should have been a cause for celebration. We might see a goal.

Yet in Dublin the Three Lions caught Brighton-itis. Whoever reported on the BBC website 14 shots from the visitors with three on target must have been on the strongest hallucinegics available as this was literally as boring as any sort of football can get. Throw in the blanket no sale of alcohol going on across the city and a 1pm kick off on a hot Sunday afternoon and you had an encounter that was marginally less boring than any television show involving Miranda Hart. It really was that bad.

And this was a real shame as - and here comes that phrase - this was a great trip ruined by 90 minutes of football. It involved 33 pints of Guinness across 16 different venues, two different sports in two iconic stadiums and the inevitable marriage proposal to one lucky local lady.

A nice non-partisan plaque to Bloody Sunday at Croke Park
Three Conference-standard hurling cup finals were on offer on the Saturday of Mr Raven, Mr Beddow and Mr McCarthy's arrival in Dublin in front of huge crowds of about 4,000 at Croke Park. After rocking up at the home of gaelic sports, we were luckily handed some complimentary tickets by one friendly local outside and took our place in Europe's third largest stadium for a sport that involved all the best elements of rugby, football, hockey, cricket and quidditch (minus Ginny Weasley).

Croke Park was home to this delightful floodlight
It was relatively easy to pick up the general rules and scoring system although this was no doubt helped by the copious amount of alcohol that was flowing. Hurling it turns out is far more entertaining than a sobering post season international friendly, especially if you are a Rosscommon fan and you get to witness your side score a last minute goal against Armagh to win the prestigious Nicky Rackard Cup, as we did.

Croke Park
The clouds gather over the terracing
The second game featured Fermanagh winning the Lory Meagher Cup against Sligo despite having three men sent off. The rain and cold descended after that so we left before the third and final game of the afternoon got underway for the sanctuary of the pub but having seen a last minute winner and a trio of red cards in just two games, serious consideration will have to be given to sacking off football from next season and starting the McCathy's Hurling Travels blog.

The Rosscommon boys celebrate lifting the Nicky Rackard Cup
Pub sanctuary soon extended from the welcoming Bridge Tavern to the less welcoming Sunset House. This venue had everything you could want from an Irish pub that was clearly not designed to be found by tourists such as ourselves. Deathly silence as two English men ordered drinks - tick. An Irish bloke with no teeth you couldn't understand who looked suspiciously like Barry Chuckle - tick. A shrine to the H Block Hunger Strikers - tick. Somehow, we made it out of there alive.

Barry Chuckle's long lost Irish brother? Complete with background
shrine to the H Block Hunger Strikers
The dream comes true - an Irish fiance
What followed was a wonderful pub crawl encompassing Lloyds, Bowes - where a delightful Irish girl snapped up the opportunity to become engaged although unfortunately I have since forgotten her name - Brogans and The Oak but not even those 16 pints could make the following days visit to The Aviva Stadium anything other than a mind numbingly boring experience. We were in the ground unusually early given that the lack of alcohol on sale anywhere left bugger all to do apart from venturing in to the home of Irish football and rugby and appreciating what sitting in a giant greenhouse must be like.

The Aviva Stadium - or a giant greenhouse?
Inside the Aviva
The entire place is made of translucent plastic which means it is very bright and on a sunny day like this one leaves fans susceptible to sunburn and extreme dehydration, especially in the shallow away end which is open to the elements and encompases only a handful of rows behind one of the goals. The weather, environment and complete lack of atmosphere or interest from anybody present - not helped by no pubs being open - easily made the experience more akin to growing tomatoes out on the pitch and to be honest the action would almost certainly have been improved had Jamie Vardy marked his debut by coming on and helping Wayne Rooney plant some vegetables in the centre circle.

England fans try not to doze off...
England players thank the fans for somehow not falling asleep
Relief at there a) being no lock in for England fans afterwards, and b) finding a Guinness was therefore palpable. After nearly two hours sat out in the sun, I was so thirsty that if you'd offered a glass of Jack Warner's urine I'd have happily drunk it, and this point was hammered home as three pints were gone within ten minutes, shortly followed by another 13 across The Schoolhouse Bar, The Long Hall, The Stags Head, Mercantile Tavern, The Norseman and JW Sweetmans. Unfortunately, the famous Temple Bar wasn't allowing anybody in because somebody in there was singing. Clearly, having a good time wasn't just outlawed at The Aviva.

"Nobody having a good time is allowed in Temple Bar"
Dublin was an absolutely cracking city and Ireland a wonderful place. The bonus of the League of Ireland playing through the summer months means it surely won't be long until a return to the Emerald Isle for some league football is on the agenda. Fingers crossed that that inevitable visit won't come under the "great trip ruined by 90 minutes of football" banner.

And if it is, McCarthy's Hurling Travels might not be such a farfetched idea after all.

Ireland: Keiren Westwood (Shay Given), Seamus Coleman, John O'Shea, Marc Wilson, Glenn Whelan (Harry Arter), Aidan McGeady, James McCarthy (James McLean), Robbie Brady, Jeff Hendrick, Daryl Murphy (Jonathan Walters), David McGoldrick (Shane Long).

England: Joe Hart, Phil Jones, Gary Cahill (Phil Jagielka), Chris Smalling, Ryan Bertrand, Jordan Henderson, Jack Wilshere (Ross Barkley), James Milner, Raheem Sterling (Andros Townsend), Adam Lallana (Theo Walcott), Wayne Rooney (Jamie Vardy).