Saturday, 30 July 2011

Crusading our way through the Europa League

Once again I've had a bit of a blogging dry-spell of late but in my defence I was first pre-occupied with a nasty case of food poisoning that lasted a whole week (woe) and then we were off adventuring, the latter being quite a bit more fun than the former. I will spare you the details of the food poisoning (if only because I don't want to relive it) but I will instead share the delights of our little trip. It might take me a few posts though because everything was so awesome that it deserves specific attention. So let us begin…


It all started on 20 June when the draws took place for the Europa League. Our local team, Crusaders FC, had made it into the second qualifying round and we were eagerly awaiting to see who we would be drawn against. The Yorkshireman had been hatching a cunning plan to maybe go and see the away match, so long as we weren't drawn against someone from the back of beyond that would take seven years and three planes, a train and a canoe to get to, so we were excited enough to watch the draw live on the Interwebz. We nearly fell off our seats when we realised that we would be playing either a team from the Faroe Islands called NSÍ Runavík or, more likely, Fulham FC.

This was great news for us. Fulham play in London, only a short, cheap flight away, so not only would it be easy enough for us to attend the away match, but should also mean a decent crowd of Fulham fans coming over to see their away match at Seaview. It promised to be a quite a crowd-pleaser for the locals too - the English Barclays Premier League is sadly more popular here than Northern Ireland's own Carling Premiership and it seemed that the chance to see "proper" footballers in action was quite appealing to all football fans, regardless of their feelings for Crusaders or Fulham specifically. It also helped that Fulham had somewhat of an admirable reputation in the competition, having actually gone all the way to the final against Atlético Madrid the year before.

However there was one small fly in the ointment - nothing is every straightforward is it? Basically, we couldn't go ahead and book our flights or our hotel because… what if, quite unexpectedly, NSÍ actually beat Fulham? We had done a little preliminary research and with flights to the Faroe Islands costing over £1,000 per person on those dates, we would definitely not be going to that away match anyway. But it would have been silly to be randomly flying off to London for a couple of days if it turned out our team was playing the Danes hundreds of miles away. But with every day that passed, flight and hotel prices were climbing. What to do, what to do?

In the end we booked a cancellable hotel but waited until after the first match to book anything non-refundable, reasoning that if Fulham suitably stomped NSÍ in the first leg, it would be a defeat from which the underdogs would be unlikely to recover in the second leg. Luckily for us, if not for NSÍ, that's just what happened and Fulham beat them 3-0 in the first leg on 30 June. The second game was due to take place on 7 July but we got too antsy watching the prices climb online and ended up caving in and booking everything a couple of days before. Again luck seemed to be on our side and the second leg ended 0-0, meaning Fulham were through and due to play the Crues at Seaview on 14 July - hurray!

The run up to the Crues home game was a busy time for the club. We were in the middle of adding new stands and suddenly the pressure was on to have them completed, health and safety approved and ready to go before the Fulham squad arrived for training. There were people working day and night and calls for fans to chip in and help out sprucing the place up. The Yorkshireman and I tried to volunteer but by the time we arrived in the evening there was no-one around except for a contractor who was taking down some fencing and had no idea what to make of the two eejits tentatively asking if they could help in any way. Oh well, at least we tried.

Regardless of our inaction everyone else pulled together and finally everything was in place just on time. It was just as well really, since the game was practically a sell-out. The Yorkshireman and I had to use all of our spidey-sense to find two seats together in the main stand!

The game itself was great craic. I'm not great with the blow-by-blow accounts, bearing in mind it takes me at least one season to associate a new player's name with a face on the pitch never mind continually identifying who is doing what at high speeds, but there's a match report on the BBC website if you're so-inclined. What I will say, though, is that I nearly imploded with excitement when we actually scored! Okay so we ended up losing the game 3-1 but I literally jumped for joy when one of our newest recruits, Timmy Adamson, sent the ball flying into Fulham's net.

So then it was just a matter of looking forward to the next week when we would be flying off to London to see the away leg. We knew it was likely we would be completely obliterated by the clearly stronger team, especially on their own turf rather than away at our artificial 4G surface, but it was still going to be an experience to be reckoned with!

The Yorkshireman and I had carefully set up other activities to keep us amused around the city while we were there, not to mention a bit of a twist for the ending of our trip. But there will be more on that to come over the next few days, as I will attempt to relive our awesome adventures on the mainland...

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