Two months on from Athens, the team is long since forgiven and so it’s time to join the Celtic roadshow again, this time to the home of Mozart and the von Trapp family, beautiful Salzburg in western Austria.
I’m hoping to spend a few days there but options are limited, so instead I take out a mortgage and book onto the official supporters’ charter flight. It’s 5am Thursday, as I shake hands at the airport with some of the stadium team I know from doing the Celtic Park Tours.
Soon I’m through security and the traditional roll and sausage with accompanying pint of Guinness are making the world a better place. Time to wind up the kids with a ‘wish you were here’ photo and text. I do genuinely wish they were with me. However, work commitments come first so I’m Norman Naemates again. Retirement is great.
At 7am, I’m on the plane and raring to go. We’re flying with Enter Airlines, who are unfamiliar to me. Judging by the accents and card receipt, I’m guessing Polish. The stewards are soon under pressure. Someone has decided it is a good idea to offer a trolley service with wine, spirits but no beer, the staple diet of Tims on Tour. There is mild outrage, when we discover that ‘the front of the bus’ have beer and soon there are deals being done to exchange goods. No Brexit complications for our guys.
I find I’m sitting next to the son of a great pal from the childhood days of the Cairn CSC, Gerry Conway, who is also across the aisle. The Conways are legendary Celtic supporters, travelling all over the world to support the team, even when no-one else did. I ask him if he saw the recent article about the 80/81 season in The Celtic Star. Gerry was one of the Celtic fans mentioned in that piece, chaired aloft outside the stadium in Timisoara, following the game against Politehnica. We have a chuckle about that trip but the mood changes when he tells me that one of the old Cairn members has sadly passed away. RIP Larry.
It’s a good flight. I’m in training for the NYC marathon next month, which I’m running to raise funds for the Celtic Foundation. I haven’t had a drink for a month but have allowed myself a day off to see the Celtic with a few beers. I impress myself with my discipline, as I order tea rather than my normal tipple. That smug feeling soon changes when I am handed my card receipt for half a cup of lukewarm water and a tea bag, as it looks like there is 6PLN being charged. I am hoping there is a Polish currency or a ‘Morelos dollars’-type exchange rate, rather than the more obvious explanation of a Euro rip-off.
We’ve landed in Salzburg and boarded the buses for the trip into town. The Travelling Tims are a tight family, highlighted again when the young man beside me asks if I was next to him on the corresponding journey into Paris a couple of years ago, on the way to meet up with my son. I was indeed, so we chew the fat for the next half hour or so, all about the Celtic as usual. He travels with a supporters’ bus from the Condorrat area, a lovely young guy.
We shake hands at the Hauptbahnof, our drop-off point. The procession of fans snakes its way along the banks of the green Salzach river, heading towards the old town in the distance. It’s a beautiful day, which is at odds with my ‘Scott of the Antarctic’ dress choice. Soon, I’m down to the Hoops and taking in the scenery, which is breath-taking, the mountains in the background towering above the Altstadt.
I spend around an hour enjoying the place, taking in the fabulous gardens around the Schloss Mirabell, a 17th century palace. I resist the temptation to join the 2pm Sound of Music tour, as my kids might think I’m uncool, instead checking my bearings on a city map. Time to head to the old city for lunch.
Back across the river and walking up the main pedestrian shopping street, Getreidegasse, past the place of Mozart’s birth. I share an immature joke with myself that I’ve swapped Wolfe Tone for Wolfgang Amadeus, the kids would be so proud. There’s a statue of the main man in a nearby square.
Finding myself eventually in the Residenzplatz, with the beautiful Dom cathedral as its centrepiece, there is the first evidence of settling Tims, as the banners are draped across one of the walls. Turning the corner into the Alter Markt, I’ve spotted my lunch venue, a terraced-café complete with Celtic parasols. This will do nicely. Like Glasgow, Salzburg is green and white today.
The waiter tells me to sit anywhere I can find a table. The place is heaving with tourists and supporters alike, however, Ghod loves a trier so I head up the spiral staircase to chance my arm. And Henrik is indeed looking after me, as a couple are leaving their table in a prime viewing spot just as I pass. Result.
Turns out I have good taste in my choice of eatery. This is Café Tomaselli, a favourite haunt of Mozart with a real sense of history. I order some food and Goldbrau beer, which seems to be what the others are enjoying. I have a fantastic view across the square, where the first of the advance posse are setting up their banners around a feature fountain. There is a police presence in the square, however they are keeping a fairly low profile, observing from afar. There is a nice vibe, as curious tourists wonder what the colourful, noisy people are up to. I take some photos. Everyone is smiling. Life is good.
Me being me, there will be a story over lunch. In Glasgow, my small round table would be the proverbial ‘table for one’. However, there are another three chairs around it, so I am happy to oblige when a kindly German lady asks me if any of the chairs are free. I helpfully lift one and turn around to hand it over…but I have misunderstood. Kindly German Lady is pulling up a seat beside me, as is her equally Kindly German Husband. We are all huddled together around this tiny table, smiling kindly at each other. I am still waiting for food, wondering how/where/if I can eat. This is going to be interesting.
In a scene straight out of National Lampoon’s European Vacation, we engage in a conversation based entirely around smiles and frowns. I am concerned that I may be smiling as she advises on the death of a beloved family pet, relative or forthcoming eviction. Kindly German Husband is trying his best to converse in English, as my German stretches to football club names and ordering up to five beers. It turns out that he likes American football, the names of Braehead Clan and Frankfurt Fire or Thunder or something like that are thrown in. They are from Koblenz, which is in north-west Germany, and are touring Austria this week. Lovely people.
Soon, my Salzburg edition of Come Dine With Me is over, as I wish them well and relax with another Goldbrau. But not for long, as the next contestants are up, a couple from Austria, who go through the by now familiar smiling ritual to squeeze in beside me. Thankfully, they speak English so we can have a proper chat this time. I’m thinking that I definitely have one of those faces but when in Salzburg…
The atmosphere is really building in the square now, the fan numbers increasing by the minute as the troops pile in. Salzburg is alive with the Sound of Celtic. The TV cameras are here too, to enjoy the party, a young lad is heading a ball for the news piece and various Bhoys are being interviewed. The police presence has reduced drastically, now consisting of a few officers standing in a shop doorway, always a good sign for me. I have a perfect view of proceedings as the Celtic songs really kick-off in earnest, much to the tourists’ amusement, as they crowd around for yet more photographs.
My waiter and I are now communicating via nods and my pointing to the Goldbrau bottle, these are going down nicely. I am now a local and comfortable enough with Tomaselli protocol to offer the seats up to the next couple who are looking around disappointed at how busy the terrace is. They are from South Korea, so logically my talk is all about Ki Sung Yeung, ‘Big Dave’, the former Celtic midfielder. The blank looks I receive discourage me, so it’s back to the Goldbrau for Celtic’s unofficial Minister for Tourism. We are interrupted briefly, as what looks like the world’s largest Celtic banner is draped from the terrace at our table, above the unsuspecting patrons below.
After a few hours here, I decide to head down to one of the Irish bars I spotted earlier, by the river. These are adjacent to the departure point for our buses to the game. I congratulate myself for such a stunning piece of planning and head down, taking a photo of said banner before I leave the old square.
I am spoiled for choice but decide to head into O’Malley’s bar in Rudolfskai, ordering a Guinness as you do. It is served in a plastic tumbler, one of my pet hates, however, needs must so here we go. The rebs are belting out and this is a complete contrast to my earlier culture-fest. And I am in my element.
I decide to order some food, as the general rule on these trips is that if you can eat somewhere then do so, as you are never quite certain when your next chance to grab food will be. It’s pizza or pizza, so I choose pizza, a wise choice to absorb the glorious combination of Goldbrau and Guinness. The young barmaid is adorned in Celtic Hoops and is very friendly and nice. I am desperate to suggest that she is ‘sixteen going on seventeen’, but that would be too clichéd, even for me. Turns out her name is Janna and she is from Munich. I make the usual offer of ‘take one for yourself’ and am then surprised when she does just that, pouring a beer and giving it ‘prost’ before sinking it like a pro. There is a man nearby, probably a similar age to me, who has clearly fallen for Janna, as he tells me about a dozen times how lovely she is, whilst she in turn tries to disguise herself as a tree to avoid his unwelcome affections. Who says romance is dead?
There is a great atmosphere in here also, busy enough but easy to get served. One guy is wearing leder hosen, a check shirt, matching trilby and the biggest smile in the place. I am now an expert in smiles, so I ask him if he would mind posing for a photo and he happily does so.
Far too soon, it’s time for the game. There is a growing number of Bhoys walking past the pub door. I join the throng of Hoops fans on the quayside as we wait to board the buses, the singsong is in full swing. Eventually, they’re here and we head to the ground. This is how it feels to be Celtic. I love it.
The stadium is modern, compact and deserves a bigger crowd than it gets. There are around 2,000 Celtic fans in here by the looks of it. We are behind one goal to the left and I am in the lower tier. The news of Broony’s absence is confirmed as social media kicks in, for others but sadly not for me. My smiling and photo career earlier has reduced my mobile to minimum battery and I want a shot of the ground before it dies completely. On the plus side, they are serving beer in the ground, so I feel it is my duty to have one last drink as a thank you for their consideration. There are various estimates as to how strong the beer is, ranging from nothing to normal, but it’s beer so…
The teams are out, Celtic led by KT, and the game starts. Just as in Paris, we get off to the most amazing start, with a goal by, appropriately enough, French Eddie. Fantastic. Well tell that to yourself, Corr, as a fan makes the fatal error of celebrating just too much, then knocking your prized pint all over you. With my face tripping me, he is full of apologies and we get on with the game. About ten minutes later, he appears with a fresh beer for me and I immediately shrink into my seat with shame. Poor guy obviously felt compelled to do that, I am resigning my ministerial role immediately.
At half-time, we’re still ahead and I think this might be the night when I no longer get slaughtered for my appalling away record in Europe. Only the Dancing Queen herself, Theresa May, has fared worse. However, we manage to replicate her recent performance in Salzburg by conceding a couple of goals early in the second-half, which, if we’re being honest, we all felt coming. There is the obligatory soft penalty and red card, just so we can tick all of the European away boxes, followed by the final whistle.
So, it’s Groundhog Day, back on the bus discussing where it all went wrong and vowing never to return. This time I am serious though. I mean it. Never. Well, after Leipzig and Trondheim obviously.