Memories Of Watching Celtic Abroad For The First Time: Misfortune In Munich

Following my previous article (Memories Of My First Celtic Game: A Gift From Father To Son), I have decided to document my second European away match in this piece.

Though my first ever game (Liverpool 0-2 Celtic) in 2003, as a six year old, was a European away match; it wasn’t until I went to Munich in 2017 that I travelled abroad to watch Celtic. In the intervening years, I had been to countless games in Scotland, both on the domestic and European scenes, but now I was in a position where I could afford to go away with my pals to watch the football.

I was heading over with a friend, Paul, from Belfast, who had recently moved to Dorset, where I lived. He booked the flights, I booked the hotel – both went horribly wrong!

We got the bus up to London Victoria on the Monday morning. All was in order and as we had five hours to kill, we headed to the bank of the Thames for a few beers. Next, it was a bus across to Stansted Airport and that’s where things went pear shaped. An eerie yellow sky loomed overhead, showing all the hallmarks of an apocalyptic storm. Nothing materialised in England, but we soon received a phone call from a Celtic Supporters Club in Ireland, who had our match tickets. They told us how a hurricane had been sweeping across the Emerald Isle and they were unsure if they would be able to fly over to Germany. We digested the news with the airport bar’s double vodka deal, two for £14(!), before realising that our flight was also delayed due to the weather. Of all the things to halt your travel, a killer hurricane in Ireland and the residue of that storm hitting England was the last thing we could have anticipated.

Finally, we got the call to go to the gate and the wheels were in motion. The departure lounge was dotted with green and white jerseys, and the sound of Irish Soldier Laddie could be heard from a passenger’s mobile phone.

We arrived in Munich quite late and were surprised to find that not much was open in the way of nightlife. Nevertheless, we heard fragments of Celtic songs in the wind just outside Munich Central Station and decided to investigate. The noise led us to a boxing themed sports pub, where a number of Celtic fans who had come over a few days early, had gathered. It was a good night, going through the full Celtic and Irish repertoire, and the few locals out on this Monday evening seemed to be pleased by our presence… all excluding one. This said German appeared to take a dislike to Celtic, and to our company’s exuberance in particular. The smiles that greeted us that evening were replaced by a middle finger, along with what I can only assume is the German equivalent of “F**k Celtic.” We advised him to move away so we could enjoy our pints in peace and he complied. However, it was at that point that my Belfast pal realised his bank card was no longer in his pocket. “That b*****d, I knew he was dodgy!” He screamed, preparing to sprint after our local ‘friend’, until I turned to spot his card on the floor and grabbed him back to his bar stool. We both laughed and enjoyed ourselves until closing.

At this point the nightmare really began. I took out the paperwork for the hotel and had absolutely no idea which train to get. The reviews suggested it was ideally located for travel from the city, so we approached a taxi driver to get a lift. He gave us a blank look, googled the address and said “You know this is miles away?” Nevertheless, we jumped in and arrived at the hotel 45 minutes later, having spent 40 euros. The hotel was one of the most bizzare I’ve ever seen. It was in a disused industrial estate, with abandoned buses everywhere. We pushed open the creaky door, walking around what seemed to be the set of a horror movie. Then, I noticed there was no reception desk and no sign of life in the building. It was midnight and we were now stranded in the middle of nowhere.

A German shepherd barking on the end of a police officer’s lead startled me in the dark. She quizzed us in German, before we tried to ask what happened to the hotel, but the language barrier could not be overcome. At that point, we sat on the pavement without a beer, without a bed and without a soul around.

I phoned to explain the situation and they said that they would find us alternative accommodation within the hour. 90 minutes passed without a word, so I phoned back, only to be told that we would have to apply for a refund when back home, but that it was our own responsibility to find another hotel. Paul grabbed the phone and said “Right you listen here, that’s not f*****g good enough,” at which point my phone ran out of battery and we were now not only stuck, but we had no way of navigating anywhere!

We walked around aimlessly before finding a taxi parked up in a dark alley. Under no other circumstances would I approach it, but needs must and it turned out okay as we got back to the city square – costing us another 40 euros. Once there, we tried every hotel in sight, yet as it was the early hours of Tuesday by this point, all the hotels were full with Celtic fans travelling over for the match, which was being played on the Wednesday.

It was ridiculously cold so the defeated Bournemouth and Belfast boys that we were, headed to the underground to keep warm. We jumped on random train after random train, until we found a shop open at one station and stocked up on Magners. It was our only hope of seeing through the night.

Come 6am we staggered across Central Station and patiently waited for the supermarket to open. A surreal moment then occurred when one wag walked topless through the station belting out the Belfast Brigade. I had assumed that he was a drunk Celtic fan, yet when he was halted by police for setting fire to a bin, he started arguing in fluent German, before shouting to us in English that he was allowed out of his psychiatric home and produced papers to prove it!

I’d suggested to Paul that we should see if we could get a train back towards our hotel, and give the place another try in the daylight. By the time we worked out where to go, it was rush hour. Drunk and exhausted we crammed onto the train, before realising that despite being on the correct line, we were going the wrong way. We ended up in Frankfurt! I immediately ran to the toilet at Frankfurt Station, where I had to vomit. It was then, at my most uncomfortable moment, that I received a phone call telling me that the train was heading back to Munich in 30 seconds… cue the hardest sprint of my life as I jumped on board just before the doors closed.

We’d had enough. The plan was instantly changed to get to a McDonalds and charge our phones there, that way we could look for another hotel online and see if our match tickets were heading over from Ireland after all.

Good news came through on the ticket front, but no hotel or hostel was available in the city for anything under £300 per night. All that remained was to head to the Irish bar and try to make the best of things. Once there, we met a Celtic fan (Craig) over from Stirling with his Dad and Brother. He kindly let us go up to their hostel for a shower and then used his powers of persuasion to plead our case with a nearby hotel, who despite being full, eventually agreed to chuck a couple of beds into an empty utility room for us at a cost of £240 for two nights. After 36 hours awake and as many bottles of Magners, it was time for some rest.

By the time we woke up, Paul had several missed calls from a pal of his nicknamed Stripey Cat! Stripey hadn’t booked a hotel and the plan had been for him and his entourage to crash on our hotel floor. However, circumstances had dictated otherwise and in our exhaustion we had failed to communicate with him. By the time we returned the call, Stripey and co were at a hotel in the Bavarian mountains, where one of his friends had clogged the sink with vomit after overindulging on lager. The journey to the hotel came at a cost of 100 euros and it’s fair to say we weren’t in the good books.

After all the mayhem and lost money, the trip was finally about to get enjoyable. I received a text from a friend, who had flown over from Southampton. He was at the main square and said the place was jumping, so we immediately headed there via the supermarket where we could get a few cans to keep us hydrated in the evening sun.

Everything had gone! Therefore, we had to buy a crate of lager from a local restaurant and headed to the square for a sing song. We met my pals over from Southampton, told them the story of what had happened and before long we decided to get the train out of the city to a gig that had been put on for Celtic fans. The venue held 2000 people. It was packed to the rafters and absolutely rocking. Glasnevin entertained us with the songs of Celtic and Ireland, whilst the fans belted out the Stuart Armstrong on every occasion that the band paused between songs. This was why we had made the trip.

A DJ came on, playing flute band songs which got the crowd going after Glasnevin’s set; before the Irish Brigade took to the stage and opened up with the Lonesome Boatman. Bedlam! What a night.

Our position at the gig, as Glasnevin play to a packed crowd

The next morning we rose early to get our drink in for the day. However, everything from lager to vodka had gone by 9am. Thus, I had to invest in a disgusting cherry liqueur. We headed to the square to meet Stripey Cat, his brother and his pal Neil. Neil was a university professor, who quit his job to become a full time drinker. This was his first trip to see Celtic since the 70s as he had asked Stripey if he could come along for the craic. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as this drunken eccentric man, wearing a full suit with a Celtic shirt over the top, sporting a beard and a baseball cap – stood before me. This whole trip was madness.

Thousands more gathered in the square, underneath the 25oc blazing sun. The atmosphere had been brilliant all day and Stripey was entertaining us with some cracking one liners. He collected our match tickets and returned to the square just in time to commentate on one man’s misfortune as he downed a pint before immediately taking to one knee to regurgitate it right back into the glass. Stripey stood there, hand on his shoulder and said “This man’s a professional. That’s a man of experience, minimal mess. Learn from this Liam, if you want to drink that’s how you do it.” The poor guy kept the glass over his face like a dog’s muzzle shouting what I managed to deduce “F**k off pal,” before his cup overflowed and the contents dribbled down his whiskers!

Myself with Paul, Stripey Cat, Neil and Friends

By 5pm the square erupted – flares were lit, drums were thumped and everyone went wild for the Stuart Armstrong Song. It was one of the best moments in my time supporting Celtic.

When the song finally abated, after a good half an hour, the Celtic hoards headed down the escalators to the underground toward the Allianz Arena. Once in the train station, the drums were beating again and the fans bounced to the tune of This Is This The Day That We Win Away:

At this point, myself and Stripey Cat became separated from the others in the crowds and headed for the train. It was a sweaty overcrowded carriage, shaking to the chorus of Willie Maley and all the usual classics. 30 minutes later, we arrived at the required station. The police lined us up there for an escort, which prompted the Green Brigade to co-ordinate everyone in overhead clapping as we chanted Celtic, Celtic, Celtic, Celtic. This army of green and white rose up the escalators and along the platform. The police marched us through a subway when the noise hit a crescendo with a return to This Is The Day. Munich fans looked on in awe, applauding this crowd of drunken mad men and women, enjoying themselves.

We walked and walked for an age, until this glowing red bowl could be seen at the top of the hill. Stripey and myself had tickets for the home end, but got through the security checks and scanned our ticket at the turnstyle, which worked, despite being at the away section. We got into the ground and just had to make it past one more security guard to the Celtic section. Yet we were curtailed. The steward spotted our tickets and sent us round to the correct section. It was right on the edge of the segregation divide, so we took our seats and bode our time.

“Liam, go for it, get your backside up the top,” Stripey remarked. He had spotted that the segregation fence only went up as far as the second last row. The policeman had left his post at the top of the stairs and it was our cue to run up and get across to the Celtic support. We were in.

The Celtic end was rocking to the sound of We’re Glasgow Celtic as the game kicked off. Then that infamous Jimmy Bell song was sung and Stripey threw his hands about like a choir conductor signalling the end of a song: “Negative energy, that’s negative energy!” Moments later, Bayern took the lead through Muller. Though, obviously not pleased, I couldn’t help but laugh as Stripey Cat started reprimanding those around him claiming that we had gone behind because of that song and the negative energy that it gives out! This was the first time that I’d met Stripey and my convictions that he is a nutter were correct.

It was shortly 2-0 to Bayern and at that stage it’s pretty clear that it’s game over. Regardless, it didn’t stop the party as even after Lewandowski added a third, the Celtic support gave a wonderful rendition of the Heat Of Lisbon with the phone lights in the air, before breaking into a huddle. What a support we have on nights like this.

With Celtic beaten 3-0, our attention turned to finding Paul and the others after the game. We did so outside the ground, which is on a motorway. Stripey, in his infinite wisdom, stepped out and flagged down a taxi – that was us on our way… to a petrol garage for a few bags of cans. We spent the night drinking and having a laugh with plenty of other fans, before Stripey’s brother and Neil disappeared. Stripey had their room key so was in no rush to contact them, but we fortunately stumbled across the pair, who were dancing in a shisha bar, a few hours later.

At the end of that night, I headed out for my first meal of the trip – Burger King. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I sat with my food, only to be confronted by our German, middle finger giving friend, that we met on our first day. He came over gesturing 3-0, laughing in my face, before some other Celtic fans told him the universally understood instruction “Get tae f**k pal.”

That was quit enough drama for the trip. Yet, as we woke up homeless once more, we were far from out of the woods. We weren’t leaving until Friday, so we had to find a cheap room for the night to stay within budget. We trecked up to Wombats hostel, where thankfully they had two spares beds in a dorm, as the Celtic fans occupying it were going home. We dropped our bags in there and headed down to the square, where the last remaining Celtic fans were playing rave music from a speaker with a carry out as they waited for a bus to Berlin Airport.

Finally, it was Friday morning and time to go home. Paul had booked the flights to Luton, so I’d booked a National Express bus to get us back to Bournemouth from there. However, when he presented me with my boarding pass, it said Gatwick on the ticket! I looked at the floor in disbelief… he’d booked himself to fly to Luton and me to Gatwick. I was forced to make a phone call to a friend back home. He agreed to drive up to Luton to collect Paul, then they would come to Gatwick to get me, before driving us home.

Whilst waiting for Paul at Luton, my pal hadn’t read the signs properly about the pick up zone. Little did he realise that he wasn’t being charged the five pounds expected. Oh no, he was charged for every minute that he waited – £48!

I couldn’t believe the catalogue of errors, the mental characters we had met and the craziness of the trip. The gig, the square and the atmosphere in the ground was phenomenal. The match itself was dreadful and the issues with the hotel were a nightmare. Looking back now, I can laugh, but at the time it wasn’t even remotely funny.

We would do it all again the next season in Athens!

About Author

Hailing from an Irish background, I grew up on the English south coast with the good fortune to begin watching Celtic during the Martin O'Neill era. I have written four Celtic books since the age of 19: Our Stories & Our Songs: The Celtic Support, Take Me To Your Paradise: A History Of Celtic-Related Incidents & Events, Walfrid & The Bould Bhoys: Celtic's Founding Fathers, First Season & Early Stars, and The Holy Grounds of Glasgow Celtic: A Guide To Celtic Landmarks & Sites Of Interest. These were previously sold in Waterstones and official Celtic FC stores, and are now available on Amazon.

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