This is a first for us. We’re Grecophiles, been going to Paxos and Lefkatha for the last 17 years. We’ve never bothered with anywhere else until now, other than the odd visit to New York or Bacup. 

     But seven days with the Burnley FC Supporters’ Club Fraser Eagle luxury coach tour to Austria in support of the Clarets seemed too good a trip to turn down. If I had a pound for every school coach trip I’ve organised in my other life I’d be a wealthy man. This is a chance to sit back, relax, admire the scenery and be organised by someone else.

     Packing followed the same routine as it does for Greece. I pack what I need in a small suitcase and Mrs T packs for what she might need in the big suitcase. I have three pairs of shoes including the ones I wear, and she has six. Three she knows she needs and three she packs just in case she needs them. Fortunately she believed me when I said there is the same 20kg limit you get on a charter flight; otherwise we’d have the kitchen sink as well. Women… bless ‘em… I once met a woman who packed a fur lined anorak for an August trip to Egypt – just in case she needed it.

     There are two games to see; the first against FC Brasov from Rumania (oh no it won’t be), and the second against FC Apollon Limassol of Cyprus. The team news from Limassol is already in. Their squad of 26 has a list of the usual Greek names – Giorgios, Stamatis, Alexis, Andreas, Michalis and Christos. On the day we’ll just call them all Nick the Greek. The most interesting one is Phani.

     Yes folks, he’s always Phani-ing about.
     The itinerary has already been changed before we even set off. The Saturday game has been switched to Friday. But that is good. The Saturday journey home now includes a stop at one of those huge hypermarkets where people stock up on booze and fags. Mrs T and I will stock up on champagne – I guess it’s just the life we lead. We drink it all the time. Doesn’t everybody? But sometimes we just gag for a cuppa tea and egg and chips.

     Leaving the house is no easy matter for us. The Scottie has to go to one neighbour. Another neighbour comes up to feed the cat. Someone feeds the fish in the pond and then any one of three waters the tomatoes in the greenhouse. All this so we can watch BFC train, all this to spend 24 hours on a coach (twice); but it’s our first time to Austria so here we go.

     Departure time is 12 midday from outside the soon to be re-developed Turf. Some folk are already muttering and mumbling because the new stand will only seat 2,500 and will be for away supporters. The retail, business, hotel and leisure bits and pieces are projected to bring in an annual £3m. That should cover Ade’s hairdressing bills with a bit left over to buy Kiraly and Duff a new razor each.

     What do I know about Austria already? Not a lot really. It’s one of those countries that’s just sort of there and is rarely in the news. But it’s the birthplace of the world’s most famous painter and decorator, good old Adolf who caused all that trouble in the forties. Then there’s Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Strauss, Mahler, Joe Zawinul and a film called the Sound of Music which I am proud to say I have never seen. Nor have I ever read a Harry Potter book. Does this mean there is something wrong with me doctor? I emailed a tourist office in Salzburg for general tourist info. They sent me a booklet about Julie Andrews. The name Habsburgs rings a bell from my sixth form schooldays ‘A’ level history, and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand started the First World War. My grandmother on special occasions always used to put out little cakes called Viennese Fancies on the best china in the front parlour which was only open on Sundays, weddings and funerals.

     I’m looking forward to Schnitzel, Knodel and Tafelspitz. They’re either something on the menu or play for FC Brasov. Confusingly, Danish Pastries originated from Austria. Poppy Noodles is not as you might imagine a porn star, but a gourmet delicacy from Lower Austria.
     Here are two quiz questions. What is Kasnockerin and name one European country with no coastline? Answers: Salzburg cheese dumplings and Austria.

     Mrs T is looking forward to two things, the local wine and the apricot schnapps. There are allegedly 20,000 schnapps distilleries in Austria. How do you choose from this bewildering choice? Well you make a schnapp decision of course. Me; I’ll settle for the dumplings and local sausages. Diet be damned. Travel writers must eat second helpings and do essential culinary research. It’s the price we pay.

 Sunday July 29th 2007
     We left the car in Bacup with friends. Not many people in Bacup have a car so everyone stopped and stared. Someone I know who lives in Leeds runs a construction and engineering firm based in Bacup. They provide and drive in all the concrete piles and foundations for big construction projects. Not many people can say they are an expert on piles. 
     “And what’s your job?”
     “I’m in piles.”
If that isn’t a guaranteed conversation-stopper, nothing is.  
     We depart boosted by the knowledge that new research shows that a bowl of tomato soup once a day aids fertility, and that 7.3 out of ten people are happy with their lives. The other 2.7 are Leeds United supporters, now minus 15 points already, unless they appeal, which they will, and we hope it is increased not reduced. Oh dear how sad. The newest joke… what’s the weather in Leeds… minus 15. 
     This was a 26 hour journey with a passenger list of 35 coach-weary people by the time it arrived in Saalfelden at 2.30 or thereabouts on Monday afternoon after leaving Burnley at 12 on Sunday lunchtime. France, Belgium and Germany were largely passed through in darkness, the breakfast stop and the remaining Austrian scenery in daylight perked us up.
     “In the mountain greenery where God paints the scenery,” Mel Torme used to sing. It’s one of the great opening song lines. He wasn’t far wrong. Unload, unpack, sleep for an hour, shower, drink (heartily for several), dinner and ready for Game One on Tuesday.

Tuesday July 31st
     And what a shocker it was. Rocky came down in the morning minus Rockette. “Just ‘ad an ‘our int shower an’ sauna an’ it were free n all. Ah’ve left t’wife up there asleep.”
     “What int sauna?” (Dave Timberlake shocked)
     “No in bloody bed yer pillock.”
     Dave is mildly fanatical. Bathroom is claret and blue, bedroom claret and blue, house outsides claret and blue. He has over 100 Burnley shirts in his wardrobe.
     “I’m divorced Dave,” he told one and all cheerfully every day. “She even valued me programmes and I had to pay her half of that. You love Burnley more than me she said to me. Darling I love Blackburn more than you I told her.”

     Would you travel from Norway for these two games, fly to Frankfurt and then hire a car for the rest? Atle Norman of the Norway Clarets did just that with his son and wife. He said there are over 60 Norwegian Clarets who gather to watch games on TV and often fly over to Turf Moor. Just think how many might come over if we actually played attractive, entertaining football and didn’t run out of pies at half time.

     So, it is Saalfelden Tuesday morning, eager to go, anticipation etc. The mountain backcloth, houses dripping with flower boxes and balcony displays. Little streets, quaint alleys, pavement cafes, ancient buildings, the Hindenberg Hotel going back 500 years and Spar supermarkets everywhere. In the market area there is the three day fish market, a sort of mobile caravan of trucks and lorries that descends on towns and villages. One stall sells those incredible Austrian sausages which I shall sample ere the week is out (bizarrely enough on the top of a mountain), one stall sells fish sandwiches which look great until you see the head stick out one end and the tail out the other. That’s ok until one eye winks and the tail starts flapping.

     And so to the game: after we had our helpings of eggs, bacon, and thick rye bread and then toast and jam. The English, a nation of dog lovers, feed the hotel dog Bobby at every opportunity. Bobby is a dark brown shaggy haired Retriever with a hint of German Shepherd somewhere. Bobby will be two stones heavier by the end of the week. The hotel manager does her best to keep him away from the dining room but this dog has no intention of missing out this week. 


     Abtenau the village hosting this game was awash with claret shirts when the Fraser Eagle contingent arrived at the village square in good time, plenty of time for rounds of drinks or pots of tea.

     There are two ways to look at this game. One, that the result doesn’t matter for us, it’s just part of a day travelling through wonderful scenery and beautiful villages, the absence of litter, no hooliganism, anything resembling poverty, or Gordon Brown. In other words it is the journey that is the highlight, not the arrival.

    Or two, yes it does matter, and this was a poor defeat to a Rumanian village team with the unlikely name of Prefab, the result of two joke goals that BFC specialise in so well. The first was a stunning own goal. One non-football mum travelling with her claret-fanatical family thought we had scored. The shame of it, she shall remain nameless.

     One has half an idea that our players came out not taking this game or team too seriously. “Bloody hell they’re called Prefab… come on lads this’ll be a doddle.” The words ‘comfort zone’ sprang to mind. Well what a shock they got going two down in minutes.

     “What do you think of it so far?” I asked Dave Timberlake, as a quick defender casually took the ball off Ade.
     “Good beer and great scenery.”
     Ade clean through had the ball taken off him far too easily and that was it until a header on target on 30 minutes. Prefab were quicker, sharper, more determined, more athletic and hungry for the game. Our possession came to nought.
     The best moment came when a Prefab player about to take a throw nearly had a heart attack when a BFC fan let loose his klaxon horn a couple of feet away behind him.

     Half time and the hills were not alive with the Sound of Music, more like the lost chord. 150 or so Clarets made their way back and forth to the beer hut down the side of this little sports club ground with just a few benches dotted around and a two rows of seats. The Theatre of Dreams this was not. But oh that scenery; on one side the peaks and tops of high mountains bathed in sunshine, and behind us, rolling, rising meadows of greenery dotted with chalets and farms.

     Second half and SC rings the changes. The performances pick up and most of the play is Burnley with an occasional Prefab breakaway. We have shots, near misses, hit the bar and at last with minutes to go a smart Gray goal produces a few more minutes of pressure and excitement. But then game over and it’s a defeat for Burnley. That’ll learn ‘em to be far too casual and think they can just stroll around like Galacticos.

     Players and management disappear to the far side of the field. There is no acknowledgement for the fans who have made this journey and spent all this money - not even a little teeny weeny wave. Despondent players sit on the grass in a group in the far corner with SC giving them his verdict on the game. This would not be a good time to ask “can I have my picture with you Steve?”


     The host town for this game is Bad Goisern which is two hours away from base camp. Coach fatigue has set in.  This is a day of murk and mist after the fabulous weather since arrival. The day we had in Salzburg was under a fierce sun and clear blue sky. Lunch in the castle (they get upset apparently if you don’t call it a citadel) restaurant overlooking the city from several hundred feet up was one of the highlights of the week. The morning of the cable car ride was likewise. But then the afternoon saw a dramatic change to an ice/hail and rain storm which had us running for shelter in Zell am See.

     What an incredibly neat and tidy country this is. Whenever you see a piece of litter you feel obliged to photograph it and slap a preservation order on it. Even the cows in the meadows look as if they have had a shower and a manicure before stepping out for the day. Some of them looked almost as beautiful as Jade Goody. Every chalet and farm and house is festooned with floral displays. Do they have window-box-police? Do they knock on undecorated chalet doors? “Ve see you haff no flowers here. You haff no deesplays.  Your name is going on ze leest.”

     In every meadow the tractors are out mowing. On the steepest slopes it is done by hand with scythes and great wooden rakes. Every view is worth a photograph. This is a picture book land. And yet quite a common name is Schmuck, funny that.  Lanes and tracks wind their way up the hills and slopes to houses and chalets perched so precariously that you would fear to sneeze if you lived in one.  At every turn and bend in the road you expect to find a jolly farmer on a tractor dressed in lederhosen and playing an accordion. Sometimes you do and you can join in the even jollier singing.

     “I love to go a wandering along the mountain track… I love to go a wandering my knapsack on my back… valderee… valdera…

     We covered hundreds of kilometres and you wonder where are the poor people, the asylum seekers, run-down council estates, drunken teenagers and hoodies?

     But boy can the weather catch you out. Nineteen of the coach party went up 6000 feet to the mountain top in the cable cars and sat at the top in 80 degrees or more drinking beer and eating giant sausages from the little wooden hut with the little man in charge who got very cross if you went inside to order. Two hours later back in Zellem the heavens opened and the winds roared. Ice and hail came down as big as hens’ eggs. This was savagely serious skull-splitting stuff as tables, chairs, umbrellas, parasols, branches, small children and lightweight OAPs were just swept off their feet and blown down the road. Had we been caught out in the open at 6000 feet hopping out of a cable car into this stuff we wouldn’t have been drinking beer and eating sausages that’s for sure. We were luckily indoors at ground level drinking hot chocolate and chatting to a Sunderland supporter puzzled why the town was full of claret shirts. Anyone mixing a martini during that storm had but to hold the glass out the window for the ice.

     Our impressions of Zell am See were therefore limited to a blizzard and steamed up café windows and drenched tourists huddling in doorways, several of them Clarets. The hotel that night was a welcome sight at the end of the journey. The weather could have been Burnley in February.

     But the game: this was a two hour drive from Saalfelden and in truth coach fatigue was setting in. Sometimes I’d get off the coach with numb legs and not be able to walk in a straight line. I’d conducted a survey during breakfast. The results were interesting. By and large the continental bods eat a healthy breakfast of cereal, fruit, crispbreads, a little cheese and ham maybe, yoghurt and lots of juice. Red and green peppers seem to go down well. In come the English and strip the place bare of calorie filled eggs, bacon, slabs of bread and toast piled high with best butter and inch-thick jam. I usually led the way.

     But hey, who won the war? It’s a Full English that put the Great into Britain.

    Rocky the night before had been impatient for his pudding. Actually he was impatient every night for his pud. In truth there was always a long gap between courses. I gently explained to him the cultural differences.

     “Rocky,” I began. “Sur le continent it is the custom to pause between courses for social intercourse, philosophical debate and pleasant discourse. It is a chance to clear the palate before the apple pie and custard arrives and have fine conversation.”
     I could see Rocky thinking. “Well fuck me ah dint fuckin’ know that.”

     We journeyed for two hours in thick mist, drizzle and cloud. Even chalets and valleys and accordionists don’t look quite so picturesque in the wet. Passing through Bad Goisern we watched a local pull a large trout (presumably) out of the stream that runs through the town; so much pleasanter I thought than going to Netto to get a tin of pilchards for tea. 

     The rain had stopped as we took our seats in the tiny wooden stand, beer and sandwiches available at the back, 150 to 200 fans including Greeks and locals… hard to say. The atmosphere generated was raucous and bellicose. A few BFC fans were well oiled shall we say but nothing too bad. At the far side, the mountains rose up into a dozen shades of grey without the sunshine to pick out the colours.

     3 – 0 up by halftime, Gray and Blake making a good partnership. An own goal from a wicked Blake free kick, a Blake master goal from a 30 yard lob with the keeper out of position, a McCann 20 yarder beautifully placed. But this was a game of niggle and a number of flare-ups, the Greeks as ever theatrical and demonstrative. Lafferty was sent off getting involved in some kind of incident, difficult to see what happened, did he flick out with his boot at an opponent? The referee said yes.

     A strange one this; it went unreported in the local Press and was even edited from the Claretsmad messageboard, airbrushed from the pages of history, as if someone wanted no one to know. But here in the brave, bold London Clarets Mag we bring truth and real reporting. We tell it like it is. Is this an attempt at a Nixonian cover up, a sort of Kylegate?  If that is the case then I’m Carl Bernstein.

     By this time we were 4 – 0 up courtesy of a Gudjonnsen rasper which the goalkeeper could not hold. At the end Lafferty disappeared into the team coach protesting his innocence to admiring supporters.

     In the first half the ‘first team’ did the business and after that the reserves came on, Gudjonnsen, Akinbiyi, Harley, Spicer, Berisha, Rodrigues, and Lafferty et al.

     For a friendly this was a tasty, spicy game with the Greeks diving and rolling at every opportunity. At the end, exit happy fans, by now even more well-oiled some of them; exit the team and management again not bothering to acknowledge the fans for the support and the journeys made. It would have been so easy to walk right by the adjacent stand from the dugout and mingle for a few minutes after this fine win. Before the two games a minimal amount of mixing took place but that was only the Burnley fans chasing after players to have pictures taken and shirts signed. Something more deliberately ‘official’ after this second and final game would have been appropriate and basic good PR.

     So what have we learned? That OK a first team is there that can win games. Kiraly or Jensen I’m undecided. Spicer or McCann I’m undecided. We still don’t have a proper right back. At left back Harley or Jordan… Harley for me, he gets forward more. When Elliot and Jones play well, so does the team. Caldwell and Duff are the best centre back pair. Lafferty has such pace and potential but how best to use him is the puzzle. Star of the training camp entertainers was Jones who apparently is a class-act magician (honestly I’m being serious here). Maybe he made Lafferty’s red card disappear. In some games he makes himself disappear for long spells.

     Prospects for the season… that great manager Alec Stock always used to sit the players down before the season and tell each one how many goals he wanted from them. If he were here at BFC, what would he say? “Gray I want 20 from you, Blake I want 15 from you, Elliot 10, Jones 10, McCann 10, Akinbiyi, Lafferty and Berisha 15 between you, and the rest of you 10 and I don’t care how you score them.”

     Now to my simple little mind if the defence does its job then those 90 goals will take us up. 90 goals… who am I kidding?

     Or you could say, “Defence I want 25 clean sheets and from the rest of you just 50 goals and lots of 1 – 0 wins.”

     If only it were so simple.  
     And seven days on a coach, with a 26 hour drive there and 24 hour drive back? Yes it was worth it even though by Friday and the second game it did seem to have become a bit of an endurance test. It’s not something you would want to do more than once a year maybe but to have had overnight stops would have increased the cost.

    So, this was a great week and a big thank you to Joyce Haluk for putting it all together with Fraser Eagle who provided two fine drivers. There wasn’t a moment when we didn’t feel safe. And yes we’ll be there again next year if it’s Austria. There are still so many sausages I didn’t have time to sample. And the wine in that cash and carry – boy was it cheap.

Dave Thomas August 2007