We’d already been to Wembley, where we’d been outplayed by Manchester United and soaked through as we made our way back to the pubs.
Some of us had travelled on to Anderlecht’s Constant Vanden Stock Stadium two days later, hidden ourselves among Sunderland fans to see Les Ferdinand’s headed winner at a decrepit Roker Park, and seen Newcastle start their UEFA Cup campaign with a 4-0 home victory over Swedish part-timers Halmstads BK. And now, as a squad containing Ferdinand, Alan Shearer, Peter Beardsley, David Ginola and Philippe Albert made their way to the west coast of Scandinavia, a hundred odd of us had just landed at Copenhagen Airport on a late September morning in 1996
We switched to a coach, hung our flags up in the back window and drove north through the capital towards the Helsingor ferry and Sweden, our third country of the day. I sat with a group from Shildon, County Durham who I’d met on the way to Carrow Road the previous season. “Aye, so I took a ball to Seaton sands,” said one, necking the last of an Elephant Beer, “and I chucked it to one of the seals.” “What happened?” “Nowt, it just bounced away. I thought they’d be able to do tricks and that. I’ve seen them on the telly.” “You’ve never met Aldy, have you?” someone whispered. “It’s best not to ask.”
The beer ran out soon after Helsingborg and by the time we checked in to the Hotel Tylosand we were all straight on the hunt for more. The Blackpool of Sweden was how someone had described Halmstads, but it looked more like Bamburgh as we dumped our bags in the lobby and looked out at the beach: clean, windswept and completely unexciting. Ordering a pint in the hotel bar taught us two immediate lessons: that alcohol in Sweden was even more expensive than Denmark and that we were staying in a building owned by the two members of Roxette, guitars and platinum discs laid out around the walls. “What country’s that?” asked Aldy, pointing through the window at a bit of land as wide as a football pitch, the height of a corner flag out of the sea and empty but for a couple of wooden cottages, a flag pole and a lighthouse painted in red. “Country? It’s just a rock, man,” answered an incredulous voice. “It’s about the same size as Jersey, isn’t it?” “Bergerac must have had an easy job, then.”
Dressed for success (sorry), a bendy bus took us to the Örjans Vall stadium and a bar that had apparently been smashed up by supporters of Djurgårdens a few weeks before. We headed to the ground to collect our tickets, were pointed down the side of a river and ended up cutting across a field towards a small white caravan. “I want the ticket office not a hot dog,” someone muttered before we saw the open flap and a handwritten sign with ‘Tickets’ written on in marker pen. It was in keeping with the rest of the facilities at the Örjans Vall, which had been built in the early 1920s and used for two of the games in the 1958 World Cup. As we took up our places in the uncovered stand behind the goal, we could see people playing tennis twenty metres from the pitch. This wasn’t exactly Cold Blow Lane.
A crowd of 7,500 people had come to see if Halmstads – who’d beaten Faustino Asprilla’s Parma side 3-0 at home a year earlier – could pull off a miracle. The home side lined up with a young Freddie Ljungberg; Newcastle had Shearer, Ferdinand and Asprilla in attack, and a makeshift back three of Albert, Darren Peacock and Warren Barton. There were always likely to be goals.
The first came two minutes before the Hungarian referee whistled for half time, Ferdinand controlling a Keith Gillespie pass, spinning his marker and smashing a volley on the turn past Hakan Svensson in the Halmstads goal. For the few hundred travelling fans that would be as good as it got, the team attempting to coast through the second half before falling to two sucker punches in six minutes in the final quarter of the game. First Torbjorn Arvidsson bundled in after Pavel Srnicek parried a Robert Andersson shot, and then Magnus Svensson materialised from midfield to strike home the winner off the underside of the bar. Keegan was visibly furious, his mood not helped by the Swedish TV crew who unwisely asked “Tell us, Kevin – did you let Halmstads win tonight?” “If we think we’re the sort of side who can go out, stroll about and win games then we’re kidding ourselves,” he said in his post-match press conference. Aldy was just as puzzled the following day. “Is this fruit ok to eat, do you reckon?” he asked, staring at the breakfast buffet. “It’s not poisoned, if that’s what you mean,” someone answered. “Nah, man,” he said, shaking his head at the stupidity of the reply, “but it might be that plastic stuff, just for display.”
Which is probably how Manchester United felt three and a bit weeks later.
If you want to see a few more nostalgic photos from the European trips of the mid 90′s, take a look at this page.
Author: Michael Hudson
Website: The Accidental Groundhopper
Bio: The day I finally accepted I was never going to be even half as talented on the football pitch as Archie Gourlay I decided to do the next best thing and follow Newcastle United wherever they played. After moving abroad, I’ve since followed wildly unsuccessful football teams around South Korea, Japan, Italy, Latvia, Czech Republic and Ukraine. Still to see any of them win a trophy. Beginning to think it might be me.
You can also find Michael and his vast knowledge of football on twitter: @DolphinHotel
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