I told the taxi driver between terminals at Heathrow: "I'm off to Belgradeto see Wales, but the game is off !" He looked at me as though I was insane.
I'd just had my car towed away,
by an enthusiastic traffic warden outsideTerminal 2, after dropping
off the Azerbaijan orphans who had visited Wales courtesy of Welsh
fans' charity Gol and were returning to Baku. I had the
last laugh though as I told her I had a plane to catch to Belgrade and thecar pound ended up cheaper than the car parks at Heathrow.
It was the quickest check-in ever for JAT Airlines flight to Belgrade. Only four people on the plane, two Welsh fans and two businessmen. Forty-fiveminutes from landing to walking into the hotel and as darkness fell, the streets were deserted as the effects of the state of emergency and the nightime curfew set in. After meeting the famous Bala boys, who had decided they couldn't resist a week on the beer, despite being able to get flight refunds, and it was into taxis, past the Hotel Yugoslavia - apparently had been bombed by NATO during the troubles - to the riverfront and scores of nightclub boats with music at 26,000 decibels.
To our horror, the club we went in, which had looked so exciting outside actually had more bar staff than customers inside. Nevertheless as Aled from Bala pointed out, who cared, they were happy to serve us. The rest of the night became a blur...
Belgrade by day was certainly
a change from Belgrade by night. A bustling city centre, full
of some of the most beautiful girls in the Balkans. Everyone who
goes for the 'real game' is certainly in for a good time in August.
The morning of what would have been the day of the under-21 game saw sixWales fans carry out work for the Gol appeal, by visiting an orphanage in Belgrade. The orphanage was called Dom Za Decu Bez Rodutelja, which translated means 'house for children without parents'. The British Ambassadors wife was proudly presented with a Gol T-shirt which read 'We're not English we're Welsh' and £500 was donated, along with toothbrushes donated by S4C and a football kit from Taffs Well AFC.
It was in a worst condition than the one I had visited previously in Azerbaijan with Wales and looked more like an old Victorian work house. The manager, a bloke called Mr. Cveticanin had an uncanny resemblance to former Wales boss Mike Smith, who, I dunno, may well have been banished here after the embarrassing 5-0 defeat by Georgia eight years ago. Rumour has it that Bobby Gould was working in the sister orphanage in the district of Ustanicka, until he came home for the Cheltenham job!
The highlight for the Serb orphans
though was a six-a-side match in which they beat the tired hungover
group of Welsh fans 5-4, a game which was shown on TV channel
SOS, the biggest sports channel in the Balkans. Wales had 37 shots
on goal all at the Serb keeper, who got so fed up of saving shots
with his hands that he went on to head them away! However despite
on site, it was the orphans who scored five breakaway goals, a series of back heels, overhead kicks and Mark Hughes scissors-kicks, which would have been better placed on Copacabana beach in Rio.
On the walk back into the centre, we passed the Serbian FA, where we thought we would pop in and see if they had any complimentary tickets. The reply was: "I am sorry my friends the game is postponed. You have wasted your journey."
The early evening was spent in the Irish Bar, preparing for the one game that was going ahead in Belgrade that week........Serbia v Wales supporters ! It was all becoming a bit stale when the Bala boys decided to call some taxis and all off the sudden we were in the middle of nowhere in a club in a country town. Thank god I was drunk as the bar prices seemed ok, when I couldn't work out how many noughts were on the end !
The following morning it all seemed a bad dream. We hadn't really been kidnapped had we? It was now the day of the game and the Wales supporters team met at 1pm in Kafe Del Mar. After discussing tactics for two hours, we were picked up by a fleet of taxis and taken to the University playing fields on the outskirts of Belgrade, where we would meet our Serbian counterparts.
The game was supposed to kick off at 4pm but the kick off was put back for 30 minutes as the press conference was delayed. In front of a crowd of 67, Wales scored first - Bryn Pritchard netting with his first touch after coming on as substitute. It was a cracking own goal.
He made up for it later though, setting up the richly deserved equaliser for fellow Gog Steve Lloyd, with a mazy run to the byline. Wales pressed for th winner but it never came and had to settle for a point. A great end to a great week though. Let's hope we get at least a point when the real action kicks off in August !
Fan of the week:
Steve Lloyd of Caernarfon on his first 'Wales' away game. After scoring the equaliser for Wales supporters, he said that night, that
'these Wales games are amazing, I'm becoming a regular now !'. This fan kindly pointed out to Steve, that Wales hadn't even played!
Bryn Pritchard being nutmegged by an 11-year-old orphan in flip flops (yes he really did have flip flops on until he thought Bryn was fair
game in bare feet)
16 Wales fans being 'kidnapped' and driven 31km out of Belgrade and forced to spend 600 euros at the bar of a quiet little club in
A Serbian peasant trying to steal an ice-cream off Rhondda boy Robin Johnson. He had only just bought it after haggling over the price
and she walked a mile with him trying to pinch it for her baby, until he finally slurped the last licks of his Serbian feast !