Wednesday, 13 October 2004

A v Azerbaijan 13.10.2004

Azerbaijan v England,13 October 2004 Baku World Cup 2006 Qualifier,

After beating Wales 2-0 at Old Trafford we were looking forward to our trip to Azerbaijan. We were booked on the 365EnglandFans trip, arranged with our mate who runs the site, using Red Arrow travel (based in Cardiff) who had the experience as they had taken Welsh support to Baku twice in the last few years. It was a nice early start as we had to be at Gatwick for 7am. We checked in and met our mates in the bar once we had been through passport control. I imagine that 90% of our flight were in the same bar, but by 9am everyone was on board our Monarch flight to Baku. The flight was approximately 5 hours but adding on the +4 hours time difference and it was about 6.30 when wearrived (not 5.30 as the Captain on the plane told everyone!).
We were soon through passport control as everyone had visas and were soon on the bus to the Hotel Absheron, near the harbour. Opposite the hotel was a Governmental Palace, and it was only a 5 minute taxi race or 10 minute walk to the old town and also fountain square which had loads of bars and places to eat.The local currency is the Manat and it was £1 = 8,500 manats, or $1 = 4,900. Once we had checked in it was time to sample the local beer. It was 8000 manat in the hotel bar, and it was very nice, called Xirdalan (Castel Brewery). We drunk up and heading to Fountain square. The taxi ride was great fun. The taxis we jumped into raced each other and our Lada screamed home first, narrowly avoiding cars, people and lampposts! The first bar we visited was a local bar and it cost 18,000 manat for 3 beers, 2 vodkas, a coke and a lemonade! The same round in O'Malleys in Nizami street cost 67,000 manat, so after that we wandered round the many bars round the square. We ended up in one about 1am very hungry. We spoke to the bloke at the bar who appeared to be a bit of a negotiator, he managed to catch the chef who was half way out the door and agree on 5 steaks for 25,000 manats each. We agreed and when 5 kebabs turned up 10 minutes later we happilytucked in thinking well they are sort of steaks! Just as we finished the steaks arrived!!!! So being hungry we ate up. We had to pay an extra 10,000 Manats for the Kebab as apparently we had negotiated with 2 differentpeople so got 2 lots of food! Liz and I left about 2.30am to retire to bed, our mates rolled in at about 5am and left the Hotel bar at 6am (it turned out to be a 24 hour bar in the hotel!)

Tuesday morning and we went on the sightseeing tour arranged through Red Arrow. The coach was a bit of a wreck we went through the Apsheron Peninsula passing the Oilfields that featured in James Bond's "The World is Not Enough". Then it was on to the petroglyphs of Gobustan which were discovered accidentally by quarry workers in the 1930s. The 4,000 inscriptions date back 12,000 years. Another interesting feature was theGaval-Dashy, a resonant stone that rings like a gong when struck. Next the coach drove us off road again to the mud volcanoes.
They were amazing, bubbling mud, occasionally shooting out molten mud, which was cold!!! There were about a dozen active mud volcanoes and one lad managed to slip in the mud and we all rushed to his aid rather than all standing laughing at him ofcourse!!.
Our next visit was supposed to be to a fire temple (or something similar) but as soon as we left the petrol station the coach gradually got slower and slower before grinding to a halt. We were about 60km from Bakuand it was about 2.30. We wanted to got to the U21's and the coach looked unlikely to get going. Somebody flagged down a passing coach and we all piled aboard. The 2 dodgy blokes running our trip tried to stop us getting on, telling us the coach was going nowhere near Baku. The two local ladies on the coach told us it was! We took our chances and remained on the coach. It did go to Baku and 30p later he dropped us back into Baku. It was then a 80p taxi ride and we were back at out Hotel. Soon we were back in the lobby and jumped in a cab with 2 West Ham lads to go to the U21 match. We paid 100,000 manats and had the taxi wait for us atthe ground. It was about 25 minutes away and the match tickets cost 3,000 manats and we joined the other 200+ England fans in the corner. The game had been moved to the Ismet Gabiyov Stadium , we passed the original venue and there were loads of people milling about, probably more than turned up at the right venue! We went mainly as 2 Brighton players were in the squad. Dan Harding played the 90 minutes at left back and had a reasonably sound game. Hinshelwood didn't make it off the bench. The game was a dire 0-0 draw. We headed back into Fountain square (our taxi once again beat the Rochdale lads into the square with some neat manoeuvres driving on the wrong side of the road and plenty of honking his horn. Our drive was about 90years old but turned into a lunatic once he had turned the ignition key) and our mate Piers met up with an old mate who has lived and worked (for BP) in Baku for the last 4 years. The deep fried pasta start was interesting and we had another great night out visiting a few more expat bars.

Wednesday morning and we got up late and after breakfast bought 2 new Kodak films for about a £1 each and headed to the old town. We started by climbing the Maidens Tower, and as the weather had dramatically changed from getting sun burnt the day
before to rain and a howling gale it was an interesting struggle to stand at the top of the tower and take pictures. We bumped into 2 more lads from Brighton in the tower. Next we wandered round the walls off the old city, took some photos of an old mosque, had a look at the enormous statue of Nizami at the back of Fountain Square, before heading into the shelter of a bar. More and more England fans turned up and the bar was soon heaving. We got back to out Hotel to get the coaches to the ground at 7pm.

The ground is called the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium, after the linesman who gave the goal over the line in out 1966 world cup win. He is a bit of a local hero! We were in the corner block with the win and rain lashing into our faces and it was freezing.

I imagine most people saw the match so wont comment other than 3 points were welcome, I guess that's all that matters.

All the tales off hassle getting into the ground provedunfounded and it was just as easy getting away back to the coaches afterwards. We hit the hotel bar when we got back (about 12.30 due to the stupid kick off time)We finally got to bed about 2am and it was a struggle to be up for 8am as the coaches left for the airport at 9am. Overall Azerbaijan was a very friendly welcoming place. It relies on oil (and beer sales!), and apparently corruption is high in all business life (and the local police like the odd $ of the ex pats as well!). So another fantastic away trip, Wales and NI to go

Mark R
Brighton and England

....hehehe I have money, loads of money, its what makes Azerbaijan go round....

Some More pictures around Baku. The weather was nice and sunny and hot for the first couple of days..................

...........................Heavy night was it last night? our mate Rochdale Nick with Piers......

..............before and during the U21s and yes its still sunny!..........

But now its match day and its not sunny, well its not even just cloudy, its very very wet and extremely windy......

Perhaps the bad weather explains this picture, mmm probably more likely the local beer taking effect!!

Wednesday, 8 September 2004

A v Poland (Katowice) 8.9.2004

Words by Mark Raven
Pictures by Liz O'Brien

Poland v England, 8 September 2004 World Cup 2006 Qualifier

So following on from Austria 5pm we caught the train back to Vienna West Station, made our way over to the South station to catch our overnight train to Krakow.
We got the right platform, but got confused by the train. Coach 1 was closed, coaches 2 & 3 went to Prague, Coach 4 to Moscow, Coaches 5 & 6 to Katowice and Warsaw, but luckily coach 7 was ours and the sleeper to Krakow. There had been many warnings about overnight trains between Austria and Poland and our carriage looked like it belong in Wacky Racers! Once inside, well what can I say. Our couchette had been converted to 2 beds only, had a sink, plus complimentary croissants and bottles of water. There were about a dozen England fans on the train, and it was a very peaceful night.

Tuesday and we arrived at 5.58am into Krakow. We visited the cashpoint then took a taxi to our Hotel to drop off our bags before venturing out for the day. When we arrived they had no record of the reservation. We showed them our voucher and were told to come back after breakfast! So we had breakfast and went to the booking centre. Luckily the voucher booked through was backed by Orbis (local Hotel chain) and Gullivers travels.
They said come back at midday once checkout time had passed and they would see what they could do. So we went off to the main square, got our bearings, had a wander round and went back to the hotel. A room (in the supposed fully booked hotel) had miraculously become free, so we were able to freshen up. During the day we strolled round the main square, it's a great place to visit and one I would certainly recommend to others. In the evening we had a meal of beetroot soup with pasta in it followed by Chicken in a garlic sauce , well it was chicken Kiev and the whole thing costs us about £5.

Wednesday was match day. This was my third trip to Poland and the other three have all been rather nasty violent affairs. A lad had organised 2 coaches from Krakow to Chorzow (suburb of Katowice) so we had booked that before leaving England. The coach didn't leave until 4pm (Katowice about 1 ½ hours away), so in the morning we wandered up to the Wawel region of Krakow. Krakow survived being bombed during the war, so is very historic.
The Palace had an amazing court yard, and the dragons den was a fascinating place, all within the Wawel palace, but in the cliff side. We went back to the main square and had a look round St Mary's Church. On the hour every hour the bells chime and then a trumpeter plays a tune that stops half way, it's a tribute to the original trumpeter who was killed when sounded a warning a few hundreds years previous. The midday bell and trumpet is played on the national radio station every day.
The coach left at about 4.30pm and we arrived into the stadium area about 6pm. First of all we got directed away from the ground and the driver started to park up with the Polish coaches miles from the ground. Bryan who had sorted the coaches had a chat to him and we were soon on the road again and this time we were allowed to the England entrance and our coaches was driven inside the police cordon and we were safely in the ground.

The Big flag passes overhead!!!!

I thought we played well and the 4,000+ England fans made plenty of noise, but not as much as the enthusiastic Poles. They were a couple of dodgy moments when seats and coins started to be thrown about but the Police dealt with it very well and calmly, so different to previous matches!

The usual display of flares as the Polish team come out....

The Players celebrate the 2-1 win.

Not the most modern scoreboard I have seen at a football ground!!

After the game we were kept in for about an hour 20 minutes and we were back into our Hotel bar in Krakow at 1am.

Thursday and we had booked a trip to Auschwitz. We left at 9.30 and arrived just after 11am. Well I am not sure what to say about the place. There were a fair few England fans about and it was good to see everyone being 100% respectful. You start by entering the gates with the infamous "arbeit macht frei" words above the gate, meaning "work makes you free".

You then move on to various accommodation blocks that have been set up as a tribute.
The place that got to me was the room of 150kg of women's hair that was cut off once they had been gassed, the next had 44,000 pairs of shoes, the next 20,000 suitcases with names and where they lived written on them, the next baby clothes. Makes you feel strange, difficult to explain. Quite a few on our trip found it difficult to cope, but there are people on hand to talk to. After that it was on the punishment block. They had starvation cells, suffocation cells, standing 4 in a bricked up cell 90 x 90, many died standing/squashed up. Once cell contains a shrine to a religious man who took the place of another prison to die of suffocation. The man who he replaced survived the Holocaust and lived to be 94 and died just a few years ago.

Outside of this was the death wall, where prisoners were stripped naked and shot in the back of the head. There were a few flowers left in tribute, pride of place was the St George's carnations left by Mark P and others (excellent and tasteful gesture)

Other Jewish prisoners had to move the bodies before they were then shot. The last bit we saw was the only remaining gas chamber. We stood in a spot where they estimate 77,000 were gassed and the "ovens" where they were cremated. Next to this gas chamber was the gallows where camp commander Hoss was hanged once the Soviets had liberated the camp.

Most of the atrocities took place in Birkenau our next visit. Birkenau became the main death camp. They gassed on average 5,000 people a day (took 20 minutes to kill 1,500 people). They exterminated 400,000 Hungarian Jews in 1944 in just 2 months. It was still hard to believe that the Jews had to pay for the train to the camps, still believing they were going to a better place! 900,000 they believe were gassed without even being registered.

They still do not know how many died in the camp, they estimate between 1.5m and 2m. It was very humbling, but I am glad we went. When we got back to Krakow we went on a Horse and Carriage ride to treat ourselves (and to try and lighten our mood a little) and then late on went for a superb meal . I had a starter of cheese soup (filled with vegetables and came on its own heater!!), followed by bigos (meet and cabbage in a cottage loaf!) Add to this a few drinks and the bill came to 80 zlotys, about £7.50 per head.

........Liz in the "posh" restaurant looking very posh.......and then to bring the tone down I started on the cheese soup.......

Friday and we had to be up and out the hotel by 6.15am to catch a cab to the airport and our 7.50am Lot air flight from Krakow to Gatwick. We got back to Durrington just after midday.

So roll on Azerbijan in less than a month!

Mark R