From Hampden to Cluj by Matt Corr – Part 2, A Second Bite at Transylvania

Harry Potter and the Disappearing Defender – from Hampden to Cluj, Part 2 by Matt Corr

It’s another European footie night on TV but I decide to record the highlights and catch some sleep before the 2.30am rise for Transylvania. I’m sure there’s another punchline in there. By 4am Thursday, my wife has dropped me off at a frozen, dark Glasgow Airport and we’re on the road again. Sheer lunacy.

The usual faces are there as I check in. Some pals from the stadium stewards. The Garngad Bhoys and Lederhosen Graeme. Big Alec. Which leads me to another story. I’m with my daughter in the Juventus stadium in Turin, back in March 2013. As we take our seats, I am delighted to recognise an old friend from many years ago, Alec Melvin, from our supporters’ bus, the Cairn CSC.

I greet him warmly and we spend the next two hours chatting away, occasionally throwing in a name from the old days, before we shake hands and part. I’m telling my daughter all about him afterwards and mention that he was one of the older guys when I was the Treasurer as a young man. I haven’t seen him in years. ‘Dad. I think that guy is younger than you!’

I do the sums mentally and it’s ‘head in hands’ time. I’ve spent the evening talking to a guy I don’t know, about people he doesn’t know. And he probably didn’t have the heart to say. It’s like the scene from National Lampoon’s European Vacation, when the Griswalds spend the night at an elderly German couple’s house, in the mistaken belief that they are related. As they wave goodbye to their guests, the involuntary hosts ask each other, ‘Who were they?’ ‘Haven’t the foggiest. I thought you knew them!’ There are times when even I despair of myself. It’s official. I’ve become Clark Griswald. Worst part of this story is that I was stone cold sober the entire time.

Suffice to say, I have crossed paths with Alec many times since then on these trips, although strangely it seems his laces need tied or he has an urgent telephone call to take as I approach him. These things happen. Anyway, I’m in a restaurant in Paris on the night we gave PSG a humping for five minutes and Alec is sitting with Gerry Conway, another old pal from the Cairn. The real Gerry Conway, trust me. He later confirms that the man’s name is indeed Alec – a total fluke. He’s just a different Alec. Who knew?

On the day of the general election, there is a constitutional crisis with even greater implications, as the barman in the airport Beardsmore advises that ‘the Guinness isn’t pouring too well at the moment. It’s too early.’ Jesus, man. It’s after 4.30. What’s the problem? The expression on my face forces the poor guy to prove it by showing me his latest attempt, which looks like the worst possible option with the best part of 24 hours on a plane then floating around Transylvania looming ahead.

Dejected, I settle for a Budweiser, declare a huff and take a seat at a table which is not number 45. Bad omens.

I’m on the aircraft early and settled into a window seat at the front. This will do. Then I spot Bob from Portsmouth boarding and looking for his seat. I last saw him on the Fan March in Rennes, as he sped away like Linford Christie, whilst I tried, unsuccessfully, to walk and drink at the same time, before deciding that I can walk anytime.

He’s in row seven apparently, so I helpfully point out that I’m in five and soon guys are being moved out of their seats to accommodate Bob. I then realise that I’m sitting in the wrong seat and try desperately to move without being noticed. Not a chance. Eagle-eyed Bob has clocked me sliding into the row in front and happily points that out to the passengers around us as the evacuation reverses and I slink into the faux-leather red-faced. This trip is not going to plan.

We’ve landed in Cluj-Napoca, boarded the buses and soon we are heading into the city. It is all very familiar and I quickly have my bearings. It’s lunchtime as we’re dropped a few minutes away from the cathedral and O’Peters bar, which is my target destination.

Entrance to O’Peters bar

A quick visit to the bank to exchange some currency and it’s game on. The entrance to O’Peters is unusual to say the least, a low ceiling which they have now acknowledged requires some limbo-dancing skills is followed by a steep descending staircase. I arrive at the bottom in one piece to find the tiny bar under siege from the visiting support, who seem to have all arrived at exactly the same time.

I recognise the barman from my previous visit here. He is under real pressure but dealing with the challenge with perfect English and manners. There is the usual good humour from the crowd, which I love, spoiled only by one numpty, who for whatever reason is giving the poor guy pelters.

He eventually does get served, and gives the barman more grief, advising that he’ll be getting one drink then heading elsewhere. The barman promptly gives him his money back and tells him he’ll be getting nothing here. I’m not detecting much sympathy in the room.

I manage to squeeze into a stool at the bar and get my turn fairly quickly, considering the opposition. He recognises me and I’m given a pint of Guinness with no money taken at that time. A tab. Nice one. I am Barfly CSC for the next couple of hours as the madness continues around me. There’s a brief lull from time to time but mainly it’s manic and noisy with my friend and his colleagues coping pretty well.

I remember the last time I was in here, sharing a romantic dish of chicken wings with big Tony, who I’d only met five minutes earlier. I know. I’m a slapper. We had noticed that the barman had a large scar running across his skull, a legacy no doubt from major surgery at some point in the past. But you don’t ask, do you? Well not everyone shares that same sensitive approach to such matters, it would appear. I nearly choked on my Guinness as a guy behind me shouted over, ‘so whit happened tae yer heid, big man?’ Hopefully, there will be no repeat today, in the interests of international diplomacy.

I have a perfect spot for people-watching and the usual cast of characters pop in and out for their cameos. I get talking to a guy from New Stevenson whose European record makes mine look good, his only victory being in Trondheim this time last year.

There’s Keith from Berwick, whose claim to fame is that he was Jock Wallace’s ballboy back in the day, although sadly not in January 1967, when the Wee Rangers beat their Glasgow namesakes in one of the biggest Scottish Cup shocks ever. There’s some great fun from the Dalkeith Bhoys, a place I know well, and a laugh as I meet another Celt from Berwick. When I point out that he’s the second person I’ve met from the town in the past hour or so, he finishes me with his response, ‘that’s my brother, he’s an a******e!’ Where do you go after that?

There’s a familiar face as @paulthetim appears at the bar, and we have a couple of drinks and a chat. I’ve only known him to nod at previously. He comes across as a nice guy and I love his commitment to following Celtic, literally, everywhere. He’s living the dream in many ways and, as often happens, you occasionally see folk having a pop on social media. I enjoyed his company, in any case, and anyone who devotes his time and money to the team to the extent that he does is ok in my book.

I’ve had a message from Marius of the Romanian CSC, who advises he has finished work and is heading into town, to the Old Shepherd Bar nearby, which was closed when I arrived and which I’m told won’t be opening until 6pm. I pass that on and, long story short, we finally meet up there after a few hiccups.

Marius is proudly carrying a huge Palestinian flag. He has a lovely surprise in the shape of a laminated honorary membership card for the club, already with my name and number printed on it. Superb! I’m made up.

We have some photos, drinks and a chat, and he explains that he and his lovely lady, Alida, fell in love with Celtic and each other as the ten was stopped back in 1998 and have been fanatics ever since. I love these stories. Alida reminds me of my Sarajevo Rose, Elma, who captured my heart back in July, both in looks and mannerisms. It is a pleasure to be classed as a friend and honoured in this way. All too quickly, they are heading for the match. I decide to finish my beer and follow them shortly.

The road to the ground consists basically of a long hill up from the town centre. Both sets of fans are mingling freely. Towards the top of the incline, I see a mature gent struggling slightly but being helped by some young Celts. Turns out this is Henry from Clydebank. Must be something in the air there which breeds such determination, a la Jimmy from the tour. He will make the game, come hell or high water.

Unlike my last visit here in August, I arrive at the ‘Away’ end to join a huge crowd struggling to get in. It’s a strange set-up at Cluj, with our corner section ‘bolted on’ to a modern stand. The toilets are right at the front and the terracing steps are actually lower than pitch-level. There is a huge fence between spectators and pitch which belongs in another century, and with the banners draped across the front, you need to be seated reasonably high-up to get any kind of view.

Despite appearances on TV, the place is mobbed and I’m really struggling to see anything as the teams come out. I eventually squeeze into a row where it’s standing on seats time, enabling me to take in the action. Such as it is. Many of our key players are rested and with the surroundings feeling more like Brockville in the 80’s, it doesn’t feel like I’m watching Celtic in a big European tie. The game is a bit of a non-event, with two second-half goals from the Romanian champions ending our undefeated away record in Europe this season. I get the requirement to rest players in the midst of a busy schedule, with the placings already decided. However, there is still an overriding sense of disappointment any time I watch Celtic lose a match.

The crowd, like me, is a bit subdued but as often happens, there is a sting in the tail. We are waiting for the home support to disperse before shuffling back to our bus for the long journey home. Then we hear the unmistakeable sound of Gerry & the Pacemakers.

The mood changes to one of defiance as a sea of scarves are hoisted in the air. The Cluj fans in the adjoining stand join in, a nice moment, then there is applause for the Celtic support from our hosts as they head home. Well most do. One young fan wearing a pair of round spectacles is seizing the moment, giving it everything. And it’s no surprise whatsoever when the chant goes up, ‘there’s only one Harry Potter!’ There are smiles and laughter amongst the Troops as Harry joins in, cheering wildly at his new-found audience. His day has come.

Then the spell is broken as the Milky Bar Kid does indeed start to milk it, and the visiting support, tired and emotional after a long, cold day and a defeat, bid him farewell with a new chant, ‘Harry, Harry, best of luck!’…as far as I could make out.

We’re finally in the departure lounge and I’m beat. Some of the team appear in the airport and despite the result, they receive a huge cheer. Followed by a chorus of ‘Bayo’. They are something else this lot. There’s news coming through about exit polls which suggests another difficult period lies ahead. Some fans are providing score updates from the later Europa League kick-offs in Glasgow and Oporto but I really couldn’t give one. I just want to get home. It will be a full 24-hour shift before bed beckons. What am I thinking? Getting far too old to do this day-trip malarkey. That’s me finished. Never again.

Won’t do me any harm to see who’s in the draw for the knockout stages right enough, would it?

Dedicated to the memory of Harry Hynds. A true Celt and gentleman who made these trips possible for so many of us and our families over the years. RIP Harry.

Hail! Hail!

Matt Corr

You can follow Matt on Twitter @Boola_vogue

From Hampden to Cluj by Matt Corr – Part 1, A Trophy Mission at the Cup Finals and the Brazen Head

About Author

Having retired from his day job Matt Corr can usually be found working as a Tour Guide at Celtic Park, or if there is a Marathon on anywhere in the world from as far away as Tokyo or New York, Matt will be running for the Celtic Foundation. On a European away-day, he's there writing his Diary for The Celtic Star and he's currently completing his first Celtic book with another two planned.

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