A deathless experience on the
pitch; a near-death experience off the pitch. Yours truly's just
glad to be alive.
At 5am on Thursday down on the riverfront techno nightclub Freestyler, where the sound of helicopters is deemed danceable, this fan was watching the sun rise and the trout feeding in the water. And enduring the usual post-match existential crisis.
Suddenly a blonde said something nice in my direction. She was looking my way, so I glanced over my shoulder and thought: "Elvis flipping Christ, this crazy woman's talking to the fish."
The penny dropped. She was talking to me. A closer look confirmed that this was the most beautiful woman on the planet. Next to my mum of course.
She approached and carried on talking. Her contact lenses must have fallen out. I controlled my panic and the urge to back off and jump into the river. The next 30 minutes were the best of my life.
Her name was Ivana. She was 25. Ivana from nirvana. Helen of Troy's twin sister. Helen of Troy's face launched a thousand ships. For Ivana, well I would have jumped off Penarth Pier.
She wore a crop top and a micro-mini that was smaller than a PG Tips teabag. My heart started to sigh. Even the trout were gawping at her.
Fresh from six months living in New York with her artist aunt, she spoke almost perfect English. She claimed to have met, among others, Leonardo di Caprio - I'm not making this up, though she might have been.
As she spoke in her Marilyn Monroe-esque breathy-girly voice, she would reach up with both arms, put her hands behind her head. She flashed her glorious armpits and ran her fingers through long, blonde hair, pulling it up and back before it fell slowly like snow on her shoulders. This made me want to howl like a lonely coyote at the fading moon.
At one point she touched the back of my neck with her fingertips and it was all I could do to stop myself making squeaky bat noises (zoology tip: bats go 'Ee, ee, ee' - I visited a batcave in Borneo last year).
Isn't it great that women drink too much? It improves their critical faculties enormously.
Her pal Milla came over after 20 minutes. She clearly had her contacts in and was acting as Ivana's guard dog for the night. She gave me a 'Harrumph', which from previous experience of the female species I know means: "Why's she talking to an ugly Welsh runt?"
It became time to leave and they offered a lift, turning down my request to drive as they were far worse the wear than me.
Milla the guard dog said: "Where are you going?"
"I'm at the Majestic but I'd be happy to tag along with you."
"You are going to your hotel."
"Roger, Milla." OK, I didn't say that - it's just a line to keep all our readers in Cameroon involved.
Why get in a car with a drink-driving angel? Look if she'd offered a lift to the gates of hell, it would have been accepted with eternal gratitude. It boils down to this - all men are desperate; all men live in hope. Come to think of it that could also explain why some of us follow Wales.
The car erupted into life. We set off. Down the first slope, we immediately hit trouble. The car veered towards oncoming traffic. We were seconds from mounting the central reservation and hitting a bollard. Milla barked out commands to Helen of Troy's twin and she pulled the car over just in time.
That was when I lay on the back seat to contemplate an early death and to minimise whiplash injuries. The Morrissey lyric came to mind: "If a ten-ton truck killed the both of us, to die by your side, well the pleasure and the privilege is mine." Believe me, it did come to mind.
Milla growled: "Sit up! There's nothing to worry about."
I told her I was tired. After learning I worked as a journalist she told me she worked in marketing in Tokyo and had written for a Belgrade paper. Feeling cocky, I thought: "Yeah, yeah, stop chatting me up and keep an eye on Helen of Troy's twin so we don't get decapitated."
Ten long minutes elapsed as we lurched all over Belgrade and narrowly avoided plunging off a bridge into the Danube. What a way to go that would have been. Much against my wish the Majestic was in sight.
"Out!" shrieked Milla, now crazy as a croc as she knew my heart belonged to another. I gave Helen of Troy's twin a lingering look, reaching into my jacket pocket for a red rose (corny, eh?) and handed it over. Her eyes sparkled like a meteor shower. Or maybe she was even more sozzled than I thought.
I winked at her. She winked back. I got out. I spent the next two nights trying to find her in Belgrade's bars but never saw her again. Been crying blood ever since.
But enough of a sorry specimen's car-crash love life. Time for the car-crash football.
Just what is it about schizo Serbia?
Where else in the world do fans greet their own national anthem with infernal booing - the Serbs apparently miffed at having to share a football team with Montenegrins.
What about the appalling racist barracking of Jason Brown, Nathan Blake and Danny Gabbidon by 200 fans at the u-21 game and the main fiasco.
What do you make of Wales fans being embraced by a Red Star Belgrade hooligan wearing a T-shirt with the emblem 'Skrewdriver' - a reference to the fascist lout punk band.
Then there's the locals. Mostly nice. But the first one this fan met, a taxi driver, engaged me in a stand-up row within an hour of arrival. The coppers also kept us in for 45 minutes after the game and ensured a 45-minute trudge back to the town centre afterwards.
Well I can't work it out - no more than I can explain why a weirdly wonderful woman decided to talk to me. Such mysteries are the essence of every trip. And there's no greater mystery than the match itself.
I mean, where's John Fashanu when you need him?
Serbia & Montenegro. S & M- sado-masochism - our hosts are the kinky kings of world football. One minute masochistically losing to Azerbaijan, a result that had us double-checking whether Bobby Gould was S&M manager (and he must have written the bible on masochism). The next, sadistically seeing us off when qualification is barely on the horizon. Ooooh, they didn't half give it to us hard.
Nobody present thought we would lose. At the start the insufferable confident fans, like this one, were openly sneering at those who said they'd be happy with a draw.
At half-time, the same people were openly sneering at those said we were going to win. I was clock-watching from the eighth minute when it was clear that someone had done their homework and decided that attacking down our left flank would pay dividends.
The only surprise was the goal took so long. Sparky then relieved Blake from his burden and acted too late. The first five minutes of Earnshaw's game were thrilling and raised hope but the incredible goal-line clearance sucked the last vestiges of vigour from the travelling horde.
At the end, the atmosphere was flatter than a night out in Caerphilly. It was the exact opposite of that moment in Helsinki when Davies made it 2-0. Where was the joyful penetration?
A year ago, Davies, Giggs and Bellamy were as frisky as foals. Here they were nervous as newlyweds. In a country where Viagra is surely redundant, they failed to stand up and be counted.
So more heart-attack football over the next three months and an unholy scrap looms. No more comfy drubbings over future opponents. More plucky-Wales-miss-out stories.
That surely will be the case. This time it will be too much to bear. This supporter has worked out his final breath will be on November 19 in the play-off finale in Cardiff, or the banana republic of Belgium, or the third world north-east of England or the monument to concrete of Rotterdam. John Hartson has just missed two penalties that would take us to Portugal. Death caused by a broken heart.
The post-mortem will discover a surprise - tattooed on my ticker will be 'Mladenovic 73.
Or, maybe, the word 'Ivana'.
Fan of the week:
We've never honoured a Swansea fan but must pay homage to Sean Passmore, a man with a greater sense of adventure than Marco Polo. The night before the game when asked by a complete stranger: "You want to come to techno party?", he agreed. We joined two Serbs in a car. Five minutes later it dawned that maybe it wasn't a good idea to be in a car with a 6ft 6in Serb with a big, friendly smile. One who perhaps might misconstrue the fact that your correspondent is a single bloke living in Brighton. In fear of mugging, and worse, I stuffed all my money down my socks. But, he did what it said on the tin and took us to a techno party. Next time, Sean, you're on your own.
Quote of the week:
It's double-bubble for the Jacks. Oi, you west Walian wallies, stop invading Cardiff cyberspace or we'll take the website down!
Aberdare's ace astronomer Gary Nicholas was staring out of the bog windows at the Red Bar and said: "Mars is looking big tonight." That wasn't a pet name for any of his appendages. Turned out he'd been staring at a lamp on the pub next door and mistook it, as one easily could, for one of the riches of the solar system (or possibly a chocolate bar, you never know with Gary).
He then mounted a magnificent attempt at damage limitation that Alistair Campbell couldn't have matched, by blah.blah,blah, Mars IS indeed a big boy this August. Well we can't be bothered to check. Let's face it there's not much to do in Aberdare, so why night track Mars nightly. And all credit to the man for telling the story against himself.