Saturday 25th May 2019
By Patrice Mongelard
Farnborough Old Boys Guild Senior Vets tour to Rotterdam: 24-27 May 2019
Phil Anthony was Tour Organiser, Mick O’Flynn Tour Manager and Peter Harvey Tour Captain. The Tour Company was once again Burleigh Travel Limited (Sports Tour Specialists). The Coach Driver was Bill Houston, ex-Army – all order and efficiency and a very helpful presence who kept us well drilled.
Theme tune – only briefly:
The UEFA Champions League tune (written by English composer Tony Britten in 1992, as a serious classical piece, heavily influenced by Handel’s Zadok the Priest) was played only once for those set to enjoy Thursday night football next season. The recording used in the television transmissions is performed by the London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and sung by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chorus. The version we use on tour is played on a recorder, with the special property of getting under the skins of Arsenal, and especially Man Utd fans.
Rotterdam is the second largest city in the Netherlands. It is Europe’s largest port, enjoying extensive rail, road and waterway links with the rest of Europe. It has a population of about 650,000, and so it seemed to us, as many bicycles, but only three cash points. The city was nearly completely destroyed in WWII. Its rebuilding produced fairly unique architecture for a Dutch city, namely the presence of many skyscrapers. Some of us thought that it was not always evident with this bold, modern architecture whether buildings had been finished, or put up straight.
For footballers Rotterdam is primarily known as the home of Feyenoord. They were the first Dutch club to win the European Cup (now Champions League) in 1970.
We stayed at the Hotel Milano in Rotterdam https://www.hotelmilano.nl/en/ We feel sure the name of the hotel has a football connection because Milan is where Feyenoord won the 1970 European Cup final beating Celtic 2-1 after extra time.
I was in the geriatric ward with Colin Brazier and Mick O’Flynn. For reasons that are best left unexplained Peter Harvey was in what he called the maternity ward. Joe Skinner was in the ward for those with very serious undiagnosed digestive disorders.
Split level floors caused Colin Brazier to stub his right toe on the first morning. He must have wished he was Roberto Brazier, because his toe woes were not over.
The party of fourteen players shared rooms thus:
- Michael Daniels/Gary Fentiman/Joe Skinner
- Phil Anthony/Steve Blanchard/Ian Coles/Vijay Patel
- Jim Grimley/Jay Hardy/Peter Harvey/Ian Lyons
- Colin Brazier/Mick O’Flynn/Patrice Mongelard
We missed a trick this year by not having tour shirts. The colour orange would have been stunning. Some of us had shirts from our 2017 and 2018 tours.
Getting there (24 May)
This was largely uneventful. We noted the presence of many teenagers of babysitting age on the ferry, going away with schools for half term trips. We barely noticed the smooth EU transition through France, Belgium and then Holland. The wisdom of beer consumption was challenged by the time between available stops. A particularly long gap allied with speed bumps and the sight of full Dutch irrigation channels demanded a supreme mind over matter effort. When relief eventually came the future impact on nearby trees will not surprise dendrologists.
Game 1 – We had them worried, briefly
Farnborough Old Boys Guild Senior Vets 3 – FC ’s-Gravenzande 5
Our first opposition at 12:45 on Saturday 25 May were FC ’s-Gravenzande https://www.fcsgravenzande.nl/
This was a very impressive operation. The eye was met by sizeable terraces, electronic scoreboards, more advertising hoardings than tulip varieties, a huge offer to the local community, teams in several age groups, women’s teams, artificial pitches, grass pitches, five-a-side pitches, vast car parks. A £6 million grant from the state, had made this possible ten years ago. The immaculate playing surface would suit our technical players, I thought, except we did not have any. A junior team (under 13s) were playing as we got there. The writing was huge on the wall – ‘sekshy’ football, one touch, pass and move, feints, flicks, two-footed players, cultured left feet, care of the ball. The left back was not having a good day, noted Colin Brazier in a prophetic voice. I heard later that the referee was an undertaker, very apt I thought as they must bury a lot of teams there.
We had the temerity to take a 2-0 lead with two beauties, both left foot strikes from Peter Harvey. We had our left-footed wizard too. The first after ten minutes was a sweetly struck free kick in the postage stamp. Five minutes later we doubled our lead. Ian Lyons was adamant that he made a 40-yard dash to link up with Jim Grimley and set up Peter Harvey for the second goal and that Peter had given the assist the finish it deserved – a caress of a left foot that floated the ball to the other top corner above and beyond a static keeper. Then tragedy struck. Colin Brazier stubbed his other toe on an aggressive divot, his foot got stuck, he held the pose, the ball left him and was recycled quickly to make it 2-1. Changes made on the half hour disturbed our rhythm a little, but we were still able to restore our two-goal lead with a crisp Jay Hardy strike, another for the top corner, after a penetrating run from Peter Harvey. Before half-time, however, we were undone by that traditional English weapon, a long ball over the top and 3-2 it became. The Dutch equaliser was not long in coming in the second half. Two more goals for the home side left us much aggrieved by their manner, balls behind our defence to profit from poor positional play and concentration. We did not really create a chance of note in the second half. Yet we did not feel, despite initial fears, that we had been outclassed (well not as much as we would be in our second game).
Game 2 – “Dutch score 9”
Farnborough Old Boys Guild Senior Vets 3 – SV Slikkerveer 7
Our second opposition at 11:00 on Sunday 26 May were SV Slikkerveer http://www.svslikkerveer.nl/ Here too we encountered superb facilities on a similarly impressive scale with huge community support.
In years to come there will be a Farnborough pub quiz question about how the Dutch could score nine of the goals in this ten-goal game without own goals. The answer, of course, is that we had a Dutch player and he scored twice. Ken Bahadoer – a Dutchman encountered in a bar the day before had turned up, as he promised. After a few drinks, and in dim lighting, he must have looked like Ruud Gullit. He had the build, the pigmentation, the swagger, the smile and easy manner. But he did not have the hair. With hair he would surely have scored three headers all from a yard out - two crosses on a plate from Peter Harvey and Joe Skinner in the first half, and a corner in the game’s dying moments from Peter Harvey.
We were like the Walking Dead. We were 4-0 down fifteen minutes after the team photo – all the goals scored from inside the six-yard box. It looked like they could walk the ball into our net. Yet, we put a finger in the dyke. Peter Harvey and Jay Hardy set Ken up for two close range goals (and he could have had more). Peter Harvey got our third to give us hope at half-time. Gary Fentiman was immense, producing some stupendous reflex saves to keep us in touch with our opponents as we nibbled at their lead. They say that in football it is hope that hurts most. I would be lying if I said we hoped to win the game. We had seen enough quality already to rule that out and whilst another English miracle against a Dutch side over there was not on, we hoped to compete.
The second half was tough. Dutch football intelligence came up with a plan to neutralise our best players. We had trouble getting out of our half. More goals followed, inevitably for them, but not until the last quarter of the game. At times we were going down like skittles. Midfield domino Jim Grimley inexplicably went horizontal with no one within ten yards of him. Dehydration took its toll – at one point a bottle of water meant for Jay Hardy to soothe his bruised ankle was intercepted and drained by Colin Brazier (overheating in his David Bellamy beard). Joe Skinner drew two great saves from the opposition keeper with long range shots. Their keeper was no mug as Peter Harvey found out when his penalty (a dubious award) was saved with about five minutes left. Perhaps Peter’s mind was troubled by his exchange with the referee immediately before which went like this:
Peter: “We don’t want a penalty”
Ref: “We are giving you one”
Peter: “What about a penalty?”
The referee blew the final whistle thirty seconds after Phil Anthony came on for the second time. It was an act of mercy. I had left the pitch way before then with injury.
Sadly, this year our itinerary precluded a visit to a military cemetery, unlike our previous two tours. But in a spirit of remembrance we should reflect on what went wrong on our campaign. The main lesson to draw is that we cannot go on tours with fewer than 15 fit players. The teams we played this time could not be said to be younger than us. Yes, they were technically superior, quicker, sharper, took better care of the ball, had many substitutes, were on home turf etc. But what really made the difference was that they had had a good night’s sleep and were fully hydrated.
Gifts (no own goals this time)
We took club pennants for our opponents. These were handed over by a smiling Peter Harvey. On the coach back Mick O’Flynn presented Phil Anthony with a little something as a thank you for organising the tour, and for not telling any jokes this time round. There was also a well-deserved collection for our driver, our Director of Logistics, and he got a Farnborough pennant too.
Players’ Player of the tour – Peter Harvey, who emerged above some voting anomalies to add to his trophy cabinet (something he wishes the team he supports would do).
European Golden Boot – Peter Harvey – with three goals in two matches, so worried at one point that the trophy might have to stay in Holland that he used his right foot to score his third goal.
Managers’ Player of the tour – Joe Skinner – a dead ringer for the bearded protagonist in a well-thumbed 1972 seminal book by Dr Alex Comfort.
No man left behind
This was not strictly true because not everyone came back together. Vijay Patel left us on Sunday morning, after a memorable appearance in our Saturday game. Barry Summers (a mythical character from our 2017 tour) left us in the lurch for our second game despite being only ten minutes away. And he was supposed to bring two more players with him. It was worse than Dutch leave.
You always get moments on tour when cultural differences or language barriers create mildly amusing or awkward situations. One of our party went into a Rotterdam Coffee Shop (one of those with the flowering herb logo) to ask for a cappuccino, allegedly. More seriously, Mick O’Flynn was tipped off that in Dutch the letters MoF on his tour shirt were an insulting term for a German person (and in Afrikaans it meant homosexual). He wore something else on day 2. A Dutch road trip with his personalised number plate would be brave. I do not think the gay Nazi look would suit Mick but others might disagree.
Comedy moments of the Tour
We had many of those. There was great mirth when Phil Anthony revealed that he obtained his UEFA B coaching badge about eighteen years ago. But this was nothing compared with watching a tired and emotional Phil grapple with a sliding door, for what seemed an eternity, in slow motion, looking for a handle to turn, twist, push or pull, despite a large arrow on the door. It was a Jiminy Cricket does Frank Spencer moment. Phil was also unlucky in the beauty contest that was hastily arranged to determine if the waitress in the restaurant we had dinner on our last evening had taken a shine to him. She chose a large brown pepper mill over him. Nor could she choose Ian Lyons because she said he looked like her uncle.
The award of the prestigious Wanker Hat – always a high point, was decided in the changing room just before our first game. Gary Fentiman was bouncing the ball with force and speed against the wall and catching it to show his superb hand to eye co-ordination. The ball hit one of the metal coat hooks and rebounded in his face.
Finally, I suppose I ought to mention the moment when the lads spotted a photo of a man on the wall in the club house at SV Slikkerveer that looked very much like me. Mrs M found the photo spooky, not least as it had been taken in the 1960s.
“It’s just like West Croydon here “.
“Did you know that Holland has the tallest dentists in the world per ca“pita?“
“Pat, look there is a Saga coach over there (same as last year, and same source) “
“Jay – You’re not looking too clever mate. “
“The best footballers are left-footed. “
“My face needs a drink.”
“Phil is a victim of the palm oil industry.”
“It looks a bit Hollandy outside.”
“Driver, thank you for making a lot of men very happy.”
“Does anyone know how much I drank last night? Nor do I.”
Other Tour highlights
On our first night a Millwall fan outside a bar invited us to “Come in if you think you are hard enough”. It had to be one of them and of all the bars in Rotterdam Mick O’Flynn had to walk past that one. Their duet of Millwall terrace ditties was excruciating. Like most Dutch people he spoke such good English that we were unsure if he was an expat or not. He claimed to have visited 92 football grounds in England and described Upton Park as a shithole.
Getting back (27 May)
We took the opportunity of an earlier crossing than planned. This meant an 8:30 start but we were back at the club in Farnborough just after 4 pm. We even had time to visit a duty-free emporium not far from the port of Calais for those all-important goodies for loved ones (please let us tour again next year). Dog lover Jay Hardy took a particular interest in the movements of a sniffer dog while we waited to embark – and with reason, we saw two illegal immigrants processed out of the back of a lorry. There was also time for some to have a traditional swift end of tour half in the club.
What goes on tour stays on tour.
I wish I could tell you more about what went on, but not here and not now. Catch me at the next Farnborough Old Boys Guild Quiz Night and I will probably reveal more.