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Austria 2003: Fans Page

Tour recollections from Neil Carhart, John Lloyd and
Alastair McCulloch with photo's from Steve Riggs and Paul Luxton.

North Devon, Leeds and London Greens sharing a few beers
 

John Lloyd

Our Austrian adventure started at Stansted on Tuesday afternoon, as  Dan King, Toby Jones and I met up for our Ryanair flight to Salzburg, having being joined in the check-in queue by Mick Pengelly. A short, and thankfully, uneventful flight later, we arrived in Salzburg just as the sun was disappearing behind the mountains, and were then ferried by to our hotel by a taxi driver who talked proudly (and non-stop) about everything his town had to offer, with Mozart gently playing in the background. This was to become a regular occurrence as Austria has something of a mono-cultural obsession with Wolfgang Amadeus!

After a quick wash and brush up, we met up with Mick, the Leeds Greens (Paul Luxton and Neil Carhart) and went for a few beers and the first sampling of Austrian cooking. Immediately, it was apparent to us all that Salzburg was a beautiful city, and so were the female occupants. The following day saw us do the regulatory tourist stuff by taking a turn around the local castle, and having wiener schnitzel, before we sorted out the hire car and pelted down the A1 to Pettenbach for the first match. After a friendly chat outside the ground with Uber, the stadium announcer and his son, who had been to Plymouth on an exchange trip (what are the odds?), we went looking for some beer. Here, we bumped into the North Devon Greens for the first time, as we prepared for the match in the Spar Bar. Actually, it was a Spar, with a bar next door, but we preferred our new name for the place. The North Devon Greens soon roped us into their drinking games, which led to me having to wear a grass skirt at one point. The locals were more than a little puzzled…

I was nominated as driver for the return journey, so I missed out on the joy of being able to buy and drink beer in comfortable seats, as we watched the first match of the Tour. There were probably a hundred Argyle fans, as well as the official party, and we outnumbered the supposed local side’s fans by five to one. “Is that all you take away?” was sung, as I recall. Given the horrific mullets and leather waistcoats on view, perhaps we should have been grateful more of them hadn’t turned up. The pre-match preliminaries were on a par with a proper international - full team line ups on either side of the officials, national anthems and then the handshakes down the line. Not what you expect when watching Argyle! The game itself paled into insignificance as we entertained ourselves by singing our allegiance to “Sir” Gordon Sparks, and declaring that “Uber is a Pilgrim”, which he seemed to enjoy. His son attached himself to Neil, who lost the first of many items of clothing to locals who found him a fascinating presence. Something about his somewhat unconventional hair, perhaps.
 

Watching the Wacker game with a pint
 

SV Wacker Burghausen were a strong side, and the “friendly” nature of the match was soon dispelled. Younga seemed keen for a fight with any Pilgrim he was in reach of, and it was unfortunate that he profited from a mix up between Wotton and Luke McCormick to score the only goal of the game. Paul Connolly got himself sent off for a high challenge and the game was up for Argyle. The final whistle saw the majority of the Argyle fans drop onto the pitch for an impromptu game of twenty-seven a side, which soon became “three and in”, featuring lots of local lads, one of which was about four years old, and should have been signed by Sturrock on the spot. A great craic was had by all, before we started to get ready to return to Salzburg for another night out.
 

The match ticket from Pettenbach
 

The plan for Thursday was to get up early and drive to Vienna for a couple of days sightseeing, picking up the Leeds Greens from their campsite near Pettenbach along the way. Our Renault Megane somehow managed to accommodate five people and our numerous bags fairly well - not bad for a girl’s car. Both Neil and Paul were clearly suffering from the previous night’s work, and the journey along the A1 was lengthened by a big hold up about 100km out. Somehow, we managed to find an alternative route out which took us along the Danube, with spectacular views along the way. Soon, however, we were starving and desperate to get some nosh in Vienna itself. After a bit of navigational chaos, we eventually reached our hotel, located in a slightly seedy part of town, but very good value for money at about 20 euros per person per night for pretty good rooms. We trundled the four stops on the tube into the centre of town and started a long and lazy afternoon/evening of drinking great bier in the numerous street bars, looking at the sights (architectural and female) and just enjoying ourselves in fine style.

Tourist-related stuff just had to be done, and we got up pretty early on Friday to pack in visits to the Kaiser’s apartments amongst other cultural delights. Then it was time to get to Schwechat for the Austria Vienna - Arsenal friendly. The train seemed the best option, and we were fortunate to be guided to the stadium by a gorgeous local lady, her kid and her bloke. Some not so gorgeous Arsenal ladies joined us near the stadium as we got a connecting bus - one of them had a moustache Lee Marvin would have struggled to grow. At this point, we heard that Arsenal had played Rapid Vienna (the other local side) here last year, that there had been a riot, a fire and that the match had been abandoned. Also, we learnt that Rapid played in green, and we were all in our Argyle shirts. An uncomfortable feeling of impending doom began to descend. The local feds were clearly ready for trouble as we were all subjected to a skin tight search as we entered the stadium. The looks we got from the locals were a little disconcerting at times, to say the least, and Neil found himself attracting their attention again, as one of them followed him in, saying “Green is opposition”. Fortunately, a localised Englishman stepped in and helped to get the police to move us to a safer part of the ground, where the Arsenal fans were based.

Having made it to the bar, we had a great craic with the Arsenal fans. It emerged that when Arsenal played 1860 Munich, the Germans were singing ‘We were the last team to win at Wembley’ to which the Austrians, supporting Arsenal at the match, had responded with ‘We dropped the last bomb on Munich’! Oh dear…We then moved away from the Arsenal fans to the grass banking on the friendlier side to watch the game. By now, we had been joined by the North Devon Greens, and feeling a certain safety in numbers, we started into random Argyle chants totally unconnected with the game we were supposed to be watching. After the statutory Argyle related songs, we launched into "You’re just a small town in Barnet" and “Can you hear the Arsenal sing?” which was met by the more generous "One team in Devon" or “We hate Exeter” from the Arsenal fans. We fired back “We hate Tottenham” and "Keown is a Pilgrim", which must have puzzled the grizzled defender. However, nothing we had encountered thus far was as scary as the Vienna fan who came and shouted alongside us. Except his form of support resembled the vocal style of the lead singer of Napalm Death. A long, deep throated sound, it sounded like someone had attached pliers to a particularly sensitive part of his body. Very mad! Neil made another friend and lost another item of clothing. As we left, in a deep state of hilarity, we met another local who had read about the Plymouth fan who had bitten the ear off George Reilly. This story alone had made Argyle his favourite English side. He insisted that I speak to a friend on his girlfriend’s mobile phone to prove he had met an Argyle fan, Walk away, quickly, and don’t look back….We tried to go out again in Vienna that night, but the day’s drinking had taken it’s toll and we turned in before midnight.

So, we arose on Saturday morning and took our leave of Vienna to head to Schwanenstadt for the tournament. On the way, we stopped off in Gmunden for lunch. As Toby, Dan, Paul and Neil said, this was truly the best pre-match pub we had ever been to. On the shore of the Traunsee, we had a great lunch, with a view that would put Macclesfield on a wet Saturday in November to shame. I insisted on hiring a motor boat for a quick turn about the lake, and then we were off to the game. Dan was now driving (yours truly having been relieved of his duties) and it wasn’t long before the smell of burning reached our nostrils. The handbrake light was on, so we pulled over at a petrol station to find out what the problem was. The problem was that the back wheels were actually on fire - little yellow pilot light-type flames were licking the wheels. Very near the petrol tank. And we were in a petrol station. Thankfully, a few strong puffs put them out, and we started out again, handbrake firmly disengaged this time.
 

Steve Riggs' huge flag at Schwanenstadt
 

We eventually found the stadium, and settled down in the extreme heat for the footballing highlight of the trip as Argyle were to play two sides in two 45 minute games. The first period was against the local side, Schwan Schwanenstadt, but again the off-pitch activities beat the entertainment on-pitch. Mickey Evans had strolled round to the bench in front of us, and his new “haircut” prompted a new song - “Does your mother cut your hair?” The rest of the lads on the bench collapsed in hysterics. The game itself ended in a pedestrian 0-0, and some of the Argyle players were clearly feeling the effects of the high temperatures - in the mid ‘30’s, it was tough to stand out in it, let alone play football.

I had a good chat with Peter Gilbert as he recovered on the sidelines during the second game against the Romanians, and it was clear that the intense heat was making life very difficult. Astra were clearly a few leagues above us in class, as you might expect from a top-flight side, and the 1-0 defeat was a kind result in the circumstances. The realisation that we had travelled all the way to Austria and yet had not seen an Argyle goal started to sink in. It made those pointless trips to Hartlepool and Darlington in 2002 seem small beer by comparison. The only thing to do was head back into Salzburg, handbrake firmly down, and continue drinking, After dinner, we suddenly bumped into a hen party, who somehow deduced we were English from over 50 yards away. As we were having a laugh with them, who should pass by but Prince Charles, in a lengthy motorcade, complete with motorcycle outriders. We all sang “Engerland, Engerland” and Neil said that he waved back. We headed to the Irish bar, and  bumped into the whole Argyle squad, out to have a couple of lemonades before bed. I could say more here, but the Cast Iron Rule comes into effect - “What goes on Tour, stays on Tour.” We bade farewell to the Leeds Greens, who were going home by way of Azerbaijan, and retired to bed.

Sunday was filled with a trip to Hitler’s hideaway, the Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden. Looking out from on high over a large portion of central Europe, it was hard to believe that so much natural beauty could have spawned so much madness in one man. After a trip to Obertraun for the open practice, it was back to Salzburg for an evening flight back to England. We took off in a pretty fearsome electrical storm, but survived the journey. In fact, it took longer to get from Stansted to Ealing than it did to get to Stansted from Salzburg. I'm not especially well travelled, so I guess that might be why I was so impressed by what I saw in Austria - the simple efficiency, cleanliness and calm demeanour of the place. Beer, food and public transport were cheap and excellent. I’m envious.

   From a football point of view, it was a little unfortunate that we didn't see an Argyle goal, let alone a win, having travelled so far. But I think most people realise that a pre-season is not about results and wins. Ivor Jones made that point - in his time as an Argyle director, he saw plenty of thrashings handed out to local sides precede nothing but another poor league season. If Luggy and the rest of the coaching staff have learnt more about the potential of their players, and the players have learnt more about the formations and tactics they are expected to play next season, then the journey will have been worthwhile. For me, if I had known the results beforehand, I would still have gone, and no-one I spoke to in Austria disagreed with that. More to the point, the bonding and team spirit that will have been nurtured in their time together will stand them in good stead in the difficult times ahead next season.

P.S. Candidate for the stupidest thing said on the trip, by yours truly, as we pulled up at a petrol station, to be greeted by an actual attendant ...

“Bitte, fill her up with diesel”.

Thank God they all speak English…

John Lloyd, with thanks to Toby Jones, Dan King, Paul Luxton, Neil Carhart and the rest of the Green Army in Austria.
 
 

Argyle fans, including John Lloyd, Neil Carhart and Paul Luxton, at Austria Vienna v Arsenal
 

Neil Carhart

22/07/03

Set off from Leeds at 11pm with Paul Luxton in the cockpit, arriving at Stansted at about 0230. Very excited and very tired is the mood and no seats available so try and get a few minutes kip on the floor. On checking in, the Argyle entourage arrived behind us, Paul Stapleton said a quick hello and a few words with Rupert Metcalf but I couldn’t keep my eyes off Triggers mullet/moustache combination. I was secretly hoping it’s a joke and a very funny one at that but the guy is from Plymouth so I wasn’t too sure. Coughlan looked very distressed at being awake at this time. The players weren’t very sociable but fair enough because of the time and situation. Checked in and to the bar at 0530 joined by Rupert and on the next table John Thompson of Cold Feet/Fast Show fame having a few rum and cokes with his mates – all this before 6am. Boarded the plane with Friio declining the chance to sit with the Splinter/Leeds Greens making the excuse that he was tired then, promptly watching a film with Larrieu on a laptop.

Arrived in Salzburg in blazing sunshine and a huge hill in the background and me and Paul started to ‘leak’ for the first of many times over the following week. In the Airport we were greeted by a very happy Summers and from here was joined by Alistair McCulloch, we left the team and proceeded into Salzburg for a bier or two in the main Square before Alistair departed for Obertraun. The sunburn had already started to kick in but the bier was very good, sliding down nicely at around 2 euros a glass and the local ladies were providing a spectacular sight. Found a hotel close to where Toby Jones, Dan King and John Lloyd were staying complete with mad landlady who forgot who Paul was and why he was here within a minute of him requesting a room even though we had been discussing the availability of rooms. This was at a Pension Füchs and she had us singing the ü sound until we got it right – then we could go to the room. The house itself was 700 years old and had a large cliff face overhanging it and at 20 euros was pretty good – nowt flash but it’s a place to stay and had a nice little veranda for a late night bier.
 

            

Neil and Paul meet a Canadian, a Frenchman and a Janner
 

Back into Salzburg for a scout about for some food and bier and the next interesting moment was while having a bier by the river, myself and Paul had commented on how quiet the town was even during the supposed rush hour. Then, a local about 50 yards away took our attention as he looked pretty pissed off. This escalated into his friends holding him back from random people and then a group of 4 or 5 more local lads got involved and punches were thrown. The randomness of his attacks and the general hatred shown by this one guy suggests he was on PCP or something of that ilk. In the end the Keystone Cops turned up (you think our Police are bad you want to see these guys in action), 2 at first decided to watch at close hand but not really act but then another 5 cars arrived and a van and after around 10 minutes of fannying around decided to arrest the fella. With at least 6 police attempting to arrest him the mad fella still managed to smash his head (at his will) against a telephone box several times until he knocked himself unconscious - someone call the ambulance. At this point we left to meet up with Toby, John and Dan who were arriving later that day. The rest of the day continued with bier and food and the London lot being accompanied by Mike Pengally whom they met at the airport.  We were then blessed with a lightning storm.
 

The front and back (featuring the SC Schwan Schwanenstadt squad) of the match ticket from Schwanenstadt


 

23/07/03

The day of the first game and another sizzler and a bit of a hangover already. On the way to getting the train to Pettenbach the lurrvely girl at the bar in the main square duly supplied bier without asking – she is the favourite of the trip so far. Boarding the train at Salzburg we bump into Father and daughter (whom we thought was older than 15!) from Stoke who flew in that morning and were on their way to Obertraun. I’m terrible with names so apologies if they read this. The first and only change on the journey, can’t remember the name of the place but it was near Wanchem and the first people we bump into at the station are the North Devon Greens. A bit of bonding and then we board the single carriage train that goes through Pettenbach and what a journey. Not many hills but lots of greenery and fields, very rural including smells taking us back to Devon. The carriage had around a dozen Argyle fans most with heads and arms out of the windows to keep cool (remember its about 34c) but keeping an eye on bridges and signs so not to lose an arm or a head. During this journey there were many sights including a giant rabbit, a cat that had obviously eaten some of these giant rabbits and some bears eggs recently laid in one of the fields. Also the passing of any person or motor was concluded with Green Army chants and general looks of confusion and the odd wave. I also noticed the last stop for the train was a place called Rottenegg.
 

Neil, John, Paul, Dan and Toby
 

During the journey we also passed a really small football ground with one main stand on one side. Much joking was had about us playing there when the train stopped in Pettenbach and we realised we were playing there. The question was how the f*ck did Argyle find out about this ground? It truly is in the middle of nowhere, the station we got off on involved a jump off the train and a small walk across the track to the far side near the main road up which goes up to the ground. The owner of the campsite made two runs to pick us all up – that’s customer service for you. After the camp had been set up it was only 10 minutes of top bombing in the pool before the campsite owner was out complaining. When the very fit taxi driver of Funk Taxi’s (mid/late 30’s, large breasts) arrived it was into Pettenbach and to the bar nearest the ground which was in a small SPAR complex. The bar now named the SPARBAR became a natural meeting point for Argyle fans including Derek Rowe (?), Alan Minnithorpe, Steve Riggs, and many other recognisable faces. Again someone in authority had to come out and quieten the green contingent. Off to the ground then up the railway line and across we came in on to the stadion. It says stadion but really it’s a one stand ground with the stand about 4 or 5 seats deep (where was the 20 seat deep stand Alistair ?) with vasts amount of room between seats to the front and side, Burnley take note. At the top of the stand behind the back row is the bar which was frequented by chairman, directors and supporters alike.

There were around 130 Argyle fans at the game with a splattering of locals and around 10 Wacker fans which is a poor turnout for them considering they are from just up the road on the border. The Wacker fans are what I can only describe as horribly German – mullets (das neckenspoiller) and scarves tied to wrists and tremendous waistcoats. A few Argyle fans had their photos taken with the Wackers and commented on how much they smelt – still though they looked happy and surprised at how many Argyle had turned up. Now to the game which is the reason why we were all here.  Great to see the two teams line up for the national anthems which were both well respected and then the game turns into a blur as the biers keep coming thick and fast and it is such a novelty to sit in relative comfort and watch the match with bier. I remember a few early chances going our way and thinking it was funny to see a group of people on the far side with a black dog of which the dog seemed to be concentrating as much as Sturrock on the game. All I saw of the goal was the ball rolling into the net and early in the second half Connolly sent one of the Wacker players into orbit and he received a rare friendly red card, but the majority of the game was spent singing to Sparksy and our new mate Uber (who is a Pilgrim) who seemed completely taken back by our interest in him.  We befriended who we think is Uber’s son with a sweatband and his mate who helped himself to my scarf (I couldn’t really take it back from him).

The game finished to the sight of Sarge NDG (North Devon Green) very drunkenly running across the pitch to Luggy with pints and grass skirt and the rest followed onto the pitch with the majority not realising how big the drop is from the front of stand to the pitch and pints generally going everywhere. I felt a little betrayed by the youngsters who we befriended because they immediately ran to the Wacker players for autographs. The next hour or so turned into a gaggle of drunken Argyle fans playing football against Austrian seven year olds who were actually pretty good. One seven year old (tops) curled a free kick from outside the area right into the top corner, I was tempted to go and tell Luggy. I found I kept being accosted by the kids who all wanted my shirt or cap or whatever – one even gave me his home address so I could send him my shirt which I may sell on Ebay….just kidding. The rest of the day just descended into carnage and is very blurry except for Sarge who seemed to be unable to walk and spent a good few minutes lying partly in the road until someone had to go and try and pick him up. Eventually back to the campsite with badly cut fingers and stomachs ready to unload the wrong way.......
 

                  

Running out at Pettenbach to face Wacker Burghausen and Nathan Lowndes caught offside during the game
 

24/07/03

Was woken on Thursday by nats flying close to my ear and some small birds that kept landing on the tent and eventually one getting stuck in the NDG girls tent. My bieriod had started. After washing and relaxing in the already hot morning sun Paul realised we had agreed to be picked up at 1030 by Dan, Toby and Lloyd to travel to Vienna not only to see the capital city but as Arsenal were playing Austria Vienna on the Friday night we thought we’d take the piss out of the cockneys. The drive to Vienna was slow and hot especially after there was a huge hold up on the motorway so we took a detour along the Danube which proved quite spectacular and showed how beautiful the country is. It seemed to be green all the way to Vienna, which itself was very different to Salzburg as expected. It was much busier and dustier/dirtier. Eventually found the hotel in a suburb in the south of the city called Keplerplatz (or something). For a twin room at 34 euros this was amazing given the quality of the rooms. Me and Paul had a very new and clean apartment with lots of space and mini-bar but no porn on the TV. Incidentally a few doors up from this hotel was a Love and Fun Megastore, I think Paul was taken aback by the dummy with the gimp mask on (he hasn’t seen Pulp Fiction) and at 90 euros is obviously good value for money. I was intrigued by a similar mask which looked like a cross between a gas mask and a Tie Fighter pilots helmet. The rest of the day was spent in the relative comfort of the street bars drinking bier which I have to say is top notch and shows what a load of crap we get served in this country. We also played the game where whenever a girl walks past we all rated her from 0-10 (there are no 10's) with John coming up with some bizarre ratings that even shocked the rest of us !
 

Uber is a pilgrim, Uber is a pilgrim ......
 

25/07/03

The day of the Arsenal game and it had taken us a while to find the venue of the game as it wasn’t at Austria Vienna’s normal ground, it was in the Schwechat area of the city near the airport. A few biers in the City and a look at a few of the more historic buildings and we were on our way to Schwechat all decked (except Toby) in Green Argyle shirts.  Surprisingly not a lot of people knew about the game or even the venue of the game and this was from people who called themselves supporters. Getting the tube, then an overground train we bumped into a kid, mother (who was a bit of a yummy mummy score = 7) and some fella (who I really hope wasn’t her bloke) who were very nice and we followed them to the ground albeit they weren’t too sure where they were going either. Boarding a bus at the other end for the short journey to the ground we bumped into two mature Arsenal females (both 0’s, I think Paul gave the more elegant lady a 1) one complete with moustache and sidies. They advised us this fixture last year was abandoned due to a riot from the home fans, the PA being burnt down and benches being thrown at the police – no Arsenal fans were involved. This should be fun then we thought.

15 Euros to get in and a very thorough search by the police and we were in. Walking towards the ground there was an all seater stand the length of the far side and on the near side was grass banking. In the far corner there looked to be a few Arsenal fans and a bar so that was where we were heading. A match was already in progress – a local amateur team against what I thought was Austria Vienna’s youth team. Walking along the top of the banking we were getting a lot of looks from a group of policemen and then literally everyone along the back of the crowd were staring at us. Must be the shirts that they don’t recognise. A very large local pointed out in very broken English ‘Green is opposition’. We realised then that Rapid Vienna, their rivals play in green and white stripes. I pointed out to the local that our Green was darker and better but coupled with last years riot that still didn’t make us feel comfortable. Unsurprisingly Toby was starting to keep his distance from us. Further on the stand there was a burger van segregating one side of the banking to the other. When we got to this van a very chirpy English fella who lives in Austria laughed at our Green shirts and had a word with the police to get us moved to the side the majority of Arsenal fans were at. Then there was the sight of 5 Argyle fans being moved down a very steep hill (50 degree gradient??) and back up the other side trying not to spill biers.
 

The Leeds Greens flag on tour
 

Having made it to the bar we mingled with the Arsenal fans who seemed a bit confused but happy to see us. There were probably about 250 or so Gooners but only around 35 from England – the rest were German and Austrian. A Dover Gooner was very surprised we had so many Greens in Austria to which he made excuses about they always play in Europe and it’s a treat for us – still we are better supported in Europe than Arsenal - fact! He also told us about how much the Austrians hate the Germans and the previous year when the Arse played 1860 Munich  the Germans were singing ‘ we were the last team to win at Wembley’ to which the Austrians responded with ‘we dropped the last bomb on Munich’! We took ourselves to the grass banking on the friendlier side to view the game and realised the size of the police presence includes a lot of dogs. The game itself proved there is such a gap between Arsenal and Argyle – the French guys weren’t playing but Keown, Campbell, Bergkamp, Pennant, Cole, Jeffers etc were but the passing and finishing was fairly crisp. We were soon joined on the grass by the NDG’s so there were around 15 Argyle fans and a Hibs lad whom they’d bumped into at the station.

As the game wore on and we got increasingly more drunk the banter started. Every time Arsenal won a corner/had a shot/scored it was a case of ‘Bergkamp is a Pilgrim’ or ‘Keown is a Pilgrim’ then we turned on the Arsenal fans. Paul had gone for a piss in the toilets near the bar and as soon as he left he could hear ‘you’re just a small town in Barnet’. Further chants including ‘can you hear the Arsenal sing……..ssssh’ and they replied with ‘one team in Devon’ and ‘we hate Exeter and we hate Exeter…..’ top stuff we thought and responded with the obligatory ‘we hate Tottenham’ then at the end of the game brought a strange moment. Two locals obviously enjoyed the banter so much they thought they’d join in with their version which the noise produced is very hard to describe.  It was basically mouth wide open and for as long as you can keeping the deepest and loudest tone and ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh’. We couldn’t stop pissing ourselves – they thought we were impressed.  Then they accosted me, everyone else got away but I lost another sweatband, at least I kept my shirt and cap but they gave me their email address so I could send them my shirt in the future. I can understand this sort of behaviour from kids such as the ones in Pettenbach but these guys must have been touching 20 years old, one of them was called Manuel! It took me about 15 minutes to get rid of them and then it was back to the bar with the Arsenal fans.  At this point we noticed how fit some of the policewomen were but they declined to have their photo taken with us.

Boarding the bus back to Vienna we bumped into Derek Rowe (?) and two other Argyle fans who’d also been at the game. To see us off was a local nutter who when he realised we supported Plymouth shouted ‘I know Plymouth yah !!! He’d read about us in the national news because of that incident a few months ago involving a brickie, George Reilly and his ear! Travelling back, there must have been a bit of trouble with the locals as a lot of people were being arrested fairly close to the ground. The rest of the evening was the usual food and bier nothing too mad as we were all very tired from the activities of the day.
 

Steve Riggs (on the left of the flag) and friends
 

26/07/03

Now it’s the Saturday – the day of the 3 team Tournament. Its another stinkin’ hot day and we leave Vienna for Schwanenstadt. We stop off for lunch and bier in Gmunden (or something like that) which is the most amazing pre-match bier spot I’ve ever been to. Basically its hot, massive hill in background with people parachuting off, huge lake with a waterskiing competition taking place. Not only that but a big PA with James Brown, Curtis Mayfield etc belting out of it – NICE. Well it is nice except for the announcer shouting ‘NEXT RIDAAAR’ every few minutes. After a short boat trip in the lake we set off to the ground with Dan driving (John had driven previously). About 10 minutes into the journey Dan comments that the handbrake light is on yet the handbrake is not on. A few minutes later we stop at a petrol station to check everything is alright when the smell of burning rubber becomes apparent.  Paul pops out then announces to everyone that there are flames licking the wheel on the side where the petrol tank is kept. A few frantic blows from yours truly and the flames are out. Good job it’s a hire car and not our own. Back on the road we eventually find the ground after an Englishmen gave us directions but didn’t even know Argyle were playing.
 

Schwan Stadion
 

The Schwan Stadion consists of two stands, an old grandstand which reminded me of the old main stand at Darlo and probably holds around 500 at a push, and an uncovered seated stand behind one of the goals complete with green seats – a bit like at Barnet. I failed to mention this before but there is a new and very impressive Argyle flag which you’ll all see very soon. Its about 65ft long and 15ft high and simply has Plymouth Argyle written along the centre and has been made by Steve Riggs who had the large Champions flag. This flag will look very good at the stands it will fit in.  Also new was the Sir Gordon Sparks Stand flag produced by Curly NDG’s mum with the intention to make all the away ends this season the SGSS stand. Other flags present were the NDG flag, two St Budo flags and of course the Leeds Greens flag.
 

Action from Schwanenstadt
 

These games were much more toned down with about 150 Greens there. The heat definitely played a big factor with all the Argyle players sweating heavily. Again the first game passed by with little incident except for the ‘does your mother cut your hair’ song at Trigger which had the rest of the subs, including Beresford who had to bury his head in his shirt, pissing themselves. For the second game against Astra we moved to the seated stand behind the goal and managed to get a good echo off the main stand. This stand was uncovered and the heat was very intense but there was bier to keep us cool. The Astra team looked very more sure of themselves and I think this made Argyle play better. Still too strong for us and once one of their forwards was put clean through the game was out of our reach. Larrieu made a further fantastic save to prevent a heavier defeat but in the end the result didn’t mean much with the NDG’s doing a conga to the echo of ‘North Devon Greens are homosexuals’. Leeds Greens and Splinter Leeds Greens like the NDG’s but we don’t like to touch each others bottoms! The final whistle brought the announcement ‘the party tent is open, please stay to drink bier’. OK then. A few photos with some of the players and the legend that is Sparksy, although he declined my autograph, and various failed attempts to swap shirts with opposition players we headed back to Salzburg. Not bad coming all this way and not seeing an Argyle goal.

Back in Salzburg we headed out for the obligatory food and bier. After food we were walking to a bar up a very narrow street when we bumped into about 20 local-ish lasses on a hen night – most were fairly disappointing but the hen (6 at a push) had a box of goodies where you paid at least 1 euro and received a present in return i.e. a condom, a sweet, or a lil-let (Paul what did you do with it?) – great idea and a good way to pay for drinks. Our meeting with these girls was interrupted by various police bikes coming around the corner as part of a motorcade. The girls said it was Prince Charles so we all then burst into a chant of ‘Engerlaand, Engerlaand, Engerlaand…….’ and got a wave from the fella himself. Back to drinking and we ended up in an Irish bar we had seen earlier but bizarrely while walking through the door we noticed our very own Stevie Adams and Jason Bent. A quick hello and through to the bar where it was sweltering we also found the rest of the squad. I don’t really want to write on here what was going on in the bar (nothing really bad) but lets say the squad were unwinding with Wotton taking the mature captains role. Marino and Friio seemed happy to see us. Stoney looked very young and it was if he was on his first night out ! We left them to it.
 

27/07/03

Time to head home. When booking the flights it seemed a good idea to go through the Alps to Verona/Brescia in Italy and fly from there. In reality we were tired not only through lack of sleep and bier but also with the heat. Our favourite girl in the bar in the central square in Salzburg served up a final bier at 1000 then it was on to the hottest train ever made. The aircon wasn’t working and we had an Austrian Korn fan apologising to us for the heat.  Changed trains and headed through the Alps which was truly spectacular – as you would expect huge f*ck off hills and greenery everywhere but you really need to see it. Eventually arrived in Italy and after a shite pizza and a brief chat to a local in Brescia (which was more like Lagos) we were on the plane home. A very bumpy take-off, the pilot wasn’t messing about as we were late – the girl next to us really didn’t enjoy the take-off.  In total it took us 17 hours to get home – ferkin knackered.
 

Conclusion

Personally I had a fantastic time out there. The bier was great, food was great, the berds were certainly eye catching, met some truly crazy people (Ya! fur sure), locals were very friendly, das neckenspoiller’s in abundance, the Pettenbach game was the maddest Argyle game I’ve been to. Met a few people directly involved with the club as well as other supporters who I put faces to names. Saw some German waistcoats and was pestered by local kids for various items of clothing during the games (why didn’t they pick on someone else?). The country is truly superb and England can learn a lot from that place and I will return one day (Phill Gill next year ???).
 

North Devon Greens (and special guests) at Bad Ischl
   

Alastair McCulloch

Tuesday 22nd July

While members of the Green Army have been arriving on the continent since the weekend, the majority match the team's travel day of Tuesday.  Some are on the same plane from Stansted as the official trip and while the players head to their Alpine base to rest before an evening training session, the fans depart to the centre of Salzburg for their first 'biers' of the trip and rendez-vous with others in the blazing sunshine and high temperatures that will become features of the tour.

 

Leeds and North Devon Greens at Pettenbach Station
 

Wednesday 23rd July

Most travelling Pilgrims have by now arrived on flights to either Munich or Salzburg, and are staying in wide-ranging locations. Some choose Obertraun, the village that houses Argyle's training camp for the week and just 700 locals, with others in nearby towns such as Halstatt and Bad Ischl. Yet more are based in Austria's largest cities of Vienna, Salzburg, Linz and Graz with some planning to move wherever the mood takes them.

But today there is just one thing on the collective minds of the Green Army - Argyle's first match in Europe since playing Swedish side Lund just 2 days shy of 13 years ago. The Germans of Wacker Burghausen provide the evening opposition at the one-standed ground in the small village of Pettenbach. As usual, Argyle fans start arriving well ahead of the match, the earliest arrivals congregating at the nearby bars which have opened to relieve the Green Army of their newly exchanged Euros. Two seem to be popular, 'Bar Schulz' on the side of what passes for a busy road in Pettenbach, and a bar strangely positioned outside a local shop in a mini shopping mall - affectionately christened the 'Spar-Bar' by the travelling faithful. After a few half-litres of the local brew they head to the ground with some stopping for souvenirs on the way. "How much will these be worth when we reach the Premiership?" is the optimistic question posed by one of the fans who persuaded local shop-keepers to part with the signs advertising the big match to the local community.

 

Stapleton, Gill and Sparks in Austria
 

At the ground, it becomes clear that the number of travelling fans for this tour vastly outnumbers the 15 who followed the Greens in Sweden 13 years ago, with sensible estimates at around the 180 mark. There is also limited support for the German team, their fans doing nothing to dispel bad-taste stereotypes by sporting mullet hairstyles and wearing bizarre leather waistcoats in black & white -their team's colours - and scarves tied around their waists. It might not sound much, but they are a sight the Argyle fans will not forget in a hurry! The teams are announced by the twin tannoy team of BBC Radio Devon commentator Gordon Sparks and his Austrian equivalent Uber. Both are given vocal encouragement from the Argyle fans, especially the now legendary Sparks - who has had a song ("Gordon Sparks, my lord" - to the tune of "Kum Ba Yah") and flag ('The Sir Gordon Sparks Stand', completed in the early hours by the mother of sibling tourists Sarah and Andy Powell) created by the North Devon Greens, who are also busy celebrating the birthday of "Jonesy" - real names are often incidental to the Green Army.

When the teams run out onto the pitch, it becomes apparent that Paul Sturrock is saving many of his stars for Saturday's double-header in Schwanenstadt. The two teams line up in the centre of the pitch while the national anthems are played, both are extremely well observed but some fans later question whether such emotive introductions had contributed to the often tense atmosphere on the pitch. Argyle do not make the most of their promising opening to the game and fall behind after a mix-up between captain Paul Wotton and Luke McCormick. Despite Paul Connolly's red card for two bookable offences (leading to the Argyle fans questioning the referee's impartiality by singing "the referee's a Wacker!") the Pilgrims continue to repel the Germans with relative ease but cannot find an equaliser.

After the game, many Argyle fans join some young locals on the pitch and spread the Green word during an impromptu kickaround before heading off. Pettenbach is isolated and does not have the best late night public transport service in Austria, so many Pilgrims have decided to stay the night.

 

Thursday 24th July

A first complete rest day for most fans sees many of those based in Obertraun head up the cable car to the Dachsteinhohlen, where there are stunning views of the valley below and some amazing ice caves. Fortunately all have wrapped up well as the temperature dives once in the caves, but even the extra layers do not protect them from the dreaded icy drops down the back of their necks!  Views on the trip range from "unbelievable experience" to the less insightful "very cold"! Those fans then head to the village's Pizzeria for their evening meal followed by a game of skittles - it's amazing the entertainment available in such a small settlement. Austria is hit by several thunderstorms during the evening, drenching the Green Army footsoldiers who decided to keep Pettenbach as their camping base for a second night.

 

Friday 25th July

The Green Army continues to be spread far and wide, but some congregate in Vienna to watch the friendly match between Austria Vienna and Arsenal. The fifteen Greens there perform their usual vocal heroics and actually manage to out-sing the 250 or so Arsenal fans in attendance - the vast majority being Germans or Austrians. The Arsenal fans are pleased to welcome the Pilgrims, and are amazed at reports of the size of the travelling Green Army in Austria - citing too many European games for the relative paucity of their English-based turnout! Others fans decide on sightseeing and travel to Bad Aussee - including a check on the stadium's location ahead of Monday's planned match - and Halstatt, where they visit the salt mines at the top of a funicular railway and see further amazing views over the Halstatter See.

 

Action from Argyle v Astra
 

Saturday 26th July

Argyle are taking part in a mini tournament comprising 45 minute matches against two opponents, so the Green Army head for Schwanenstadt. The heat today is incredible and Argyle fans are forced to head for covered meeting points before the game. Schwanenstadt is a much larger town than Pettenbach, and there are more restaurants and cafes open in which to meet, many near the picturesque archway in the main street.  The ground has two stands, one in the shade and the other reminiscent of Barnet's away end with a green seated-temporary stand. Argyle are unfortunate to be playing the hosts in the first game when the heat is still searing. The fans seek sanctuary in the main stand and cool themselves with lagers during the game (one of the novelties of watching games abroad) while the substitutes crouch by the advertising hoardings in the shade of the stand.  Argyle generally have the upper hand in an understandably lifeless goalless draw, but the substitutes respond well to some good-natured banter from the fans - especially Mickey Evans, who takes some flak for his strange choice of hairstyle and facial hair. A good win against the visiting Romanians of Astra Ploiesti should secure Argyle's first trophy of the season, but the Romanians look fit and haven't had the energy-sapping game experienced by Argyle.

About a dozen Argyle fans venture into the uncovered green seats behind the goal their team is attacking, but play is mainly at the other end, with several fine saves from Romain Larrieu keeping the score down to just one goal. The Romanians appear a different class and claim the trophy with another one goal margin win over the home side, though many Argyle fans don't watch the third game but choose instead to partake in their own game on the warm-up pitch beside the main event. The standard in the Greens v Greens game, it's got to be said, is poor - maybe sunstroke is starting to take effect!

 

Argyle v Astra
 

Sunday 27th July

The Green Army heads in two directions today. Many travel to Obertraun for the open day at the training ground (including a match against the official tour party), while the rest head home, unable to secure more time off work to take in the final game of the tour. That final game has now been changed to a match at Bad Ischl - making that earlier scouting trip to Bad Aussee's ground seem a little inconsequential! The heat at the training camp is stifling and as the match kicks off at 2pm, 90 degrees in the shade is the official reading from a nearby guesthouse. In such trying conditions, the official party run out comfortable winners. The class of Kevin Summerfield, John Blackley, Paul Maxwell; the intimidating presence of the Chairman Paul Stapleton and the sheer perseverance of director Phill Gill prove too much for a bunch of (mainly) overweight fans!

Club physio Maxwell returns a weak goal kick with a stunning 25 yard effort into the top corner that brings the watching first-team squad to their feet in appreciation, Gill scuffs home an extremely scrappy second and fan James Ellis sweeps home a classy third to complete the rout. The fans (and guest striker Gordon Sparks) thoroughly enjoy the game but are grateful the match is reduced to just 20 minutes in each half, their bodies are saved more punishment and the embarrassment is kept to manageable proportions. The first team squad then chat to the fans before being taken through their paces by Sturrock, Summerfield and Blackley in a training session which enlightens the fans into the work that goes in to produce 90 minutes of football on a Saturday. The coaching staff join the fans for a relaxing drink as the day's events draw to a close, and the North Devon Greens celebrate the birthday of another of their number, by depositing Jess into the complex's pool on their way to the Skittles lanes at the Pizzeria.

 

Monday 28th July

A by now severely depleted Green Army heads to a thunderstorm-hit Bad Ischl for a match between Argyle and the town’s team of part-timers. Among the rain-sodden faithful, there is hope and expectation (some even offer guarantees) that the team will finally break their Austrian scoring duck. Waves of attacks somehow fail to result in a goal before half-time and the fans spend the break questioning whether the goal will come. Just after the restart, a weak shot is cruelly deflected past Luke McCormick and the team and fans start facing the prospect of an embarrassing defeat. More chances are created and wasted before a clearance rebounds off David Beresford into the goal. Cue pandemonium as the Argyle contingent celebrates the fluke, surely as wildly as any goal they have ever celebrated before, such is the release of a week's pent-up emotion. Despite more pressure the impressive 17 year old Ischl keeper keeps Argyle out, though the Green Army witness a magical moment as an Ischl player tries to 'showboat' but only succeeds in sending the ball and himself headlong into an advertising board.

The fans celebrate mission accomplished at the final whistle - we'd finally scored a goal! The local Bad Ischl kids are spared a kickabout with the now footballed-out Green Army, but join in a conga across the pitch and then watch some embarrassing dance moves in the stands as the tannoy system belts out the finest tunes it can muster. Long after the team coach headed back to Obertraun, the remaining fans move into the visitors' changing room to celebrate (in traditional style, but without Champagne) the end a tour they have thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish.  The Austrian people took a generally non German-speaking group and guided us through our trials and tribulations with a helpfulness and sunny attitude that means many Greens will be keen to sample the stunning scenery again next year.  Here's waiting for the details of next July, hoping we're heading back to the Tirol.

Auf Wiedersen

 

NDG Ian with David Norris, Hasney Aljofree, Romain Larrieu, Ian Stonebridge and Luke McCormick

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