26th of September 2003 - 1st of October 2003
Sunderland - Reading
score: 2-0 (28' min Julio Arca 1-0, 32' min John Oster 2-0)
Sunderland - Ipswich Town
score: 3-2 (35' min Gary Breen (own goal) 0-1, 43' min Gary Breen 1-1, 48' min John Oster 2-1, 50' min Naylor 2-2, 84' min Kevin Kyle 3-2)
After one and a half year it was time to go to Sunderland again. We hadn't been there for a long time (except for Drew of course, as he has been there on his own with his truck). For Drew this was the second time this year (this is just to make Nick jealous). The plan was (and so we did) to go in September 2003. Two home games vs. Reading and Ipswich Town. As you know, Sunderland had been relegated to the First Division. They had sold/sent on loan 23 expensive players and all that was left was a young team but with almost no experience. So how would this new season end?
Nick started with the bookings and the organisation for this trip and those were perfect again, as ever. Hats off for King Lazarus. I asked my wife: "what do you think of the reviews I write of our trips. Do you enjoy reading them or do you think mwahhh?" The answer was "mwahhh, it is only about football, food and drinking in the pub". "So?" I said. "There is nothing cultural in it", she answered. Wow, panic started. She was right. It is always about football, food and pubs. Fine with me, but you need to listen to the readers. So we had a quick meeting in our local pub with a couple of pints and a match on the telly. After we had some food we all agreed to do something cultural the next time!
The plan was to fly on the 26th of September to Edinburgh (Scotland). That was where the trip would start. Benny Bennassi didn't go with us this time. That is always a shame. Who has to carry our bags this time? And who's coat can we wear when we are cold. When we walked back from a night out, Ben was the only one who wore a coat. So we all got this coat on, on the way back for 5 minutes each just to warm up. Who did join the party? Gup (Tim), Peur (Richard-Bram), Lazarus (Nick), Peter (Pep) and Drew (Cornelius).
Finally, the 26th of September. Mrs. Gup and mrs. Peur dropped us of at Schiphol Airport. To the check in, well that was Jet Easy (we only had the delay again at the customs with Gup and his cucumber in aluminium paper in his underpants. Leave it home for the next time please!) In the waiting lounge there was a V.I.P. with hat. He would also be with us on the same flight. Guess who? It was Barry Hughes (Welsh bloke and former manager of FC Haarlem). We were joking by saying "isn't that de Aal?" Never do that! Never ever made the mistake to think that Barry is de Aal. You get the strangest situations. You like the Stones or the Beatles, not both. It's the same with Barry and de Aal. It is up to you to decide….
It took about an hour to arrive in Edinburgh. We got our luggage and were picked up by Brian, 'cause that was where we should stay for the first night. Brian used to be a policeman in Edinburgh. He is married to Eileen and lived and worked in Scotland for a lot of years. We met him at Sunderland's pre-season friendlies in Holland and Belgium. Brian was at these matches and so were we. After we had dropped our bags at Brian's house we went straight to the pub. We were thirsty!
With the jet-leg still in our legs we drank our first pint. We looked around and saw this was a real old Scottish pub with lots of character. It was build around 1840 by a Scottish architect who's name was McDonald and he enjoyed making hamburgers. Well, something like that. Another round here please! When we had finished these we went to a 70's disco place where they played only seventies music (strange?) This was a nice place with lots of people inside. It was almost multi-cultural. All Scottish people and five Dutch blokes. At a certain time a bloke said we had to leave because the party was over. No more drinks were served and the music was turned off. Closing time. We went to Brian and Eileen's house where we got another Irish Coffee (well, more Irish than coffee), but then the time had come to search for our beds. We did a little dance to see who could sleep in which room, so I was with Pep in a double bed and next to us on the floor was our friendly and faithful buddy Peur. He was laying on his rug with his head in his arms. He was saying something about a hard floor in the morning. But that is just typical Dutch. Always something to complain about. By the way, Brian and Eileen had a dog named Ben. He wasn't used to many visitors so every single one of us was examined by him. This Benassi on four legs sniffed and snuffled like he had never done before. Yes, also on the intimate spots. That wet nose was everywhere. I was glad that Peur didn't do that. Brian and Eileen's son Andrew had also a bed in the house. Well, in normal situations that is. But now there were visitors. So when Nick had to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, he saw Andrew sit in a chair. He had a sleeping bag zipped until the top of his neck, and he was asleep. Unbelievable!
After we had a Full English breakfast (wonderfull cooked by Brian) we got our bags in the cars and set off for Sunderland. But before this long journey we had a stop at Murrayfield. This is the national rugby stadium of Scotland and Brian had arranged a tour for us. The stadium is impressive and has 70.000 seats. The colors of the traditional Flower of Scotland can be seen inside. A nice old man took us round the Stadium, the dressing rooms, the pitch and told us a lot about the history of Murrayfield and Scottish rugby. He enjoyed our presence and we enjoyed his stories. After the tour we rushed to the cars and a nice heavy Scottish rain fell down on us. It was time to get to England.
Off to Sunderland. This is a three hour long drive and all on b-roads like you can see in the adventures of James Harriott. And yes, after a while we saw Sunderland and the magnificent Stadium of Light. All of us could stay at Jonathan's, our Mackem friend. We decided to choose our beds this time (no dance) and we headed for "our" usual pub: the Howard Arms. We talked and drank a couple of pre-match pints before the Reading game. Not that we were nervous, but it's better to prepare well, right? On the way to the ground we got our usual burger with extra onions (of course). And then find a way in the crowd and walk along to the stadium where everyone splits up again to be welcomed with loads of love by the stadium and a lovely green pitch where everybody gets a shiver when he or she sees this (wow what well said, almost poetic!)
I get another shiver when I hear the tune of "Ready to go" and when I see the heroes of Sunderland and Reading get on the pitch. Because of Sunderlands relegation from the Premier to the First Division, the stadium is only half-full: 25,000 people. But the match starts and so does the singing.
Soon we see that Sunderland is the better team and all that Reading can do is defend. After a difficult start in the First Division, Sunderland have climbed up to the fifth spot, so do not drop points in home games is the device. It is not an exciting game. But that is just because Reading almost didn't do anything. All we need is a goal. And it came before half time by Julio Arca. He got the ball on the left of the penalty area, the goalie expects a cross and moves to the centre, but Julio decided to shoot the ball direct in the goal at the near post. Everybody got on their feet and celebrates (click here to see a photo of Julio’s celebrations right after this goal). The ice is broken. John Oster got Sunderland’s second goal and the final score is 2-0 for the Red and White Lads. The points stay in Mackem-town.
Everybody went happy home and/or the pub. We went to the pub of course. After the match it is always very crowded in the Howard Arms. We talked about the game and had some pints. Most of the people went home after a while to have some food or get their make-up on for a Saturday night out. We stayed in the pub, 'cause that was where we would spend our Saturday night. Luckily Tim's make-up was still on, so we could stay in there. And yes, the karaoke was on again. And when they want some singing, they can get some singing, but you also need to lubricate your throat. We asked for some songs and the singing started. Drew is always the first Pop-Idol. And he did a great version of "My Way" from Sid Vicious. Our English friends also did some singing and three "dresses" from Holland (Pep, Gup and Peur) had a soar thoat or something. They said they were only there to be the Pop-Idol-jury. The best singing of the night was from our own Lazarus in a duet with mrs. Diamond (her husband always sings Neil Diamond songs) and they did the great "Paradise by the dashboard light". Wow, that Lazarus was in great form. You could not see or hear the difference to the real Meat Loaf. Time went fast and everyone had to get out of the pub, 'cause it was closing time.
At Jonathan's home we were all enjoying the Jackass DVD and after that we went to bed with pain in our stomachs from laughing. But my bed was already taken by Tony, so I had to get intimate in the double bed with Lazarus. But there was only one problem. We only had a single douvet. It turned out into a "Clash of the titans" for a little bit of douvet. We finally fell asleep but we had to stay in the spoon-position. By the way Gup was next to us fast asleep in a single bed with a huge douvet, but we only found that out the next morning...
"Goodmorning Sunday" I said, and walked with my towel and soap downstairs. Halfway down the stairs I stopped because of what I saw through my narrow sleepy eyes. Jonathan has got a pooltable in the middle of the house, and Peur and Lazarus were playing. "Well, that is nothing special?" you should say. It wouldn't be, but Peur was playing in just a very tight boxer and was leaning with his giant body on the cue, while Nick was there freshly showered and dressed well with his hair folded ready to strike the ball. I peronally thought it was a good view, but anyway...
What was on the menu today? A five-a-side indoor football game with Jan Rap and his mates. The Dutch matadors were Pep, Gup and Drew with coaches Lazarus and Peur up in the stands. The Dutch lads still had the huge loss of the last time on their minds, and were well prepared for this time. After some welcome shouts from the stands, the match could start. And this time it was the other way around. Our English friends were totally outplayed. They didn't know what to do with the short passing of the Dutch and ran like chicken without heads from the left to the right. Wow, that felt terrific.
After this huge win, we went into (sorry) the pub. Later that night we went to dinner with Sunderland's mens choir at an Indian restaurant. They are spice people by the way, and you can see that also in their food so we had dinner on the cutting edge. Phew that was hot!
Away went the Sunday and the Monday came. This was the day when we should visit Belfast, Northern Ireland. This city and country have got a long history that isn't too nice to hear about. So we went into a plane with a strange feeling, because we didn't know what to expect. We flew from Newcastle to Belfast. Friends Jonathan and Pottsy were asleep during the flight... (Tsjjj, what a dresses, skirts). When we arrived we took a taxi to the city centre. And there we were, in the middle of Belfast. Five Dutch and two English blokes. They would love that in Belfast. The Dutch (not we, but in history) brought the orange color to Ireland. Everyone was catholic back then, but we, the Dutch, had to turn them into protestants. So from then up to now there is struggle between the catholics and the protestants. They both have all got their own areas in Belfast. The Irish (catholics) want self employment, but the protestants are pro English and want to be under the English gouvernment. This is what the "civil war" and hate is all about (in little words), but it still is for us and for a lot of people hard to understand. But it is a fact that most of the wars are religious fights. Strange, but unfortunatly it is...
We couldn't change anything about this in one single day, so we went to a typical Northern Irish pub with Harp beer that you can only get in Northern Ireland. We were joined by a Belfast bloke who said he was just released from jail in the morning. He even bought us a drink. One pub further op the road we discussed about what to do. And the best way to discuss is when you've got some nice food as well. So we ordered lunch and after a couple of Harps we went to the bus station for a Belfast city tour (this was what the discussion was about). This tour took us to the Belfast docks. As you probably all know, these are the docks where the Titanic was built. Well I didn't know that and most of us didn't know that. The guide told us that the original Titanic had a different name in the first place. There were two of the same ships built at the time. The original Titanic in Liverpool and the Bearboat (I forgot the name) in Belfast. Anyway, the Bearboat was finished earlier and it said in the contract that the Titanic was the first ship that had to sail. That's why they changed names. We all know what happened to the Titanic, but what happened to the boat from Liverpool is unknown. Well it was bought by three bears and everything turned out fine for the English....
The bus took us also around protestant and catholic areas with a lot of beautiful Murals where the Irish showed their ideals and sadness. This is very strange feeling. IRA-members and hungerstikers turn out to be heroes. In the different areas there is also different flags. In one area you see Union Jacks and in the other the Irish flag. It was also strange to see the barriers around the areas. Maybe difficult to understand this, but it really was. The guide also told us that very often they throw bricks at the tourbus, but luckily not today. The city centre of Belfast gets a lot of new buildings and it looks good to see the rebuilding of this nice city. After the tour we went into the pub to talk about what we'd seen. One thing for sure: was this cultural, or what? We left the beautiful, but on the other hand also strange city of Belfast behind us and flew back to "good-old" England, where we ended the day with dinner at the local Italian restaurant. Then a bit of Jackass at Jon's and in bed again.
Tuesday the 30th of September 2003, matchday again! The Red n' White Lads had to play Ipswich Town, but an evening kick-off, so time for some shopping. Jonathan stayed at home to do some cleaning and ironing. We went empty handed but with a full wallet into town centre. In the town centre Peur took our straps off and the young puppies Drew, Gup and Lazarus were released and ran into Sport Soccer. After this surprise attack the men came fully loaded out of the Sport Soccer. Now off to the Stadium of Light for some more shopping. Yes ladies, these men love shopping as long as it stays in their own street. Not Sesame Street, but Sport Shopping Street. With lots of full bags but with an empty wallet we went back to Jon's house. Peur had put our dog-straps on again.
We made ourselves ready for the match, so home top on. If you don't do this, well.... The doorbell rang. It was Brian who came straight from Edinburgh and he would drive us the next day up to Edinburgh again. But that was tomorrow! We had to go to....guess where? Good guess, the pub. It turned into a great afternoon. Then the usual stuff, grap a burger with extra onions on the way to the ground and then find your seat. Busy, busy, busy.
The match started. Sunderland started bright and they created some small chances. Sunderland and Ipswich were a bit even. Sunderland was slightly the better team, but bloody hell! An own goal from Gary Breen. He tried to block the ball, but slides the ball behind goalkeeper Mart Poom who was totally surprised and so were we. Shite, 0-1 behind. The equaliser followed quickly, scored by the same Gary breen. After a good cross he headed the ball in the net; 1-1. The crowd sang "Jetzt geht loss" (joking), this is a different country. Half time. They deserved their tea, we didn't. We had coffee.
It turned out in a nice and exciting match. John Oster put Sunderland in front and that was followed by the 2-2. Sunderland kept pressing for the winning goal, but that goal could also get in on the other end. There were some exciting moments in front of Mart Poom's goal, but the Sunderland fans could jump off their seats for the winning goal seven minutes from time by Kevin Kyle; 3-2. We sang and celebrated when the final whistle was blown. A great game with a great finish. After the match we went into the "Black Cats Bar" where a couple of other Dutch people heard us talk Dutch. It turned out to be two coaches who were brought in by Kees Zwamborn for the youth academy. We stayed too long in here, the pubs were already closed so we went into a nightclub. It still was our last night. Jonathan also promised us to make us a Full English breakfast. He still hadn't done this in the morning, and now at 4.00 AM it didn't look like he woud be able to make it the next morning. So it turned out in a Full English before you go to sleep.....
Wednesdaymorning, Time to go! The holiday was over and everything had to go into Brian's car. All our bags and we. The bags did fit, but we were still a bit short of space. So we left with our true and loyal friend Peur on the roof of the car. Pitiful? Nah, we tight him good to the car. After the long ride we were dropped off stiff at Edinburgh airport. We said goodbye to Brian who came back after 20 minutes. Peur was still on the roof. Barking and squeling he ran towards us. Yes, it is ok! And who did we see waiting in the lobby? It was our stalker Barry Hughes again. Barry wanted to have his photo taken with us, well we agreed. Barry and we landed safe at Schiphol airport and everyone went his own way. After I cried about our farewell and the lovely days we had together, I stepped into my own frontdoor and yelled: "Honey I'm home".
(written by Drew, with some additional bits by Nick)