Passport woe on Road to Porto

I was listening to Talksport’s Hawksbee and Jacobs show today and they were telling a story about someone who had an issue with their passport meaning they couldn’t travel to their respective destination.

Bob Mills, who was sitting in for regular co-presenter Andy Jacobs, quipped that everybody seems to know someone who at some point has had an issue with their travels abroad, so they asked their listeners to send in their stories.

Funnily enough I was involved in one such incident when following United away from home in the Champions League.

In 2004, I was still living at home and working full-time, so I was a little more flush than I am these days!  Anyway myself, my brother and a mate from work decided to buy a day trip to Porto which included match tickets via the Club’s Official Travel Partner.

There was one flight going from Manchester and one from Gatwick.  Being the “International” supporters that we are, we were booked on to the Gatwick flight.  As it was an early start on the morning of the match, we stayed at one of the hotels adjacent to the airport the night before.

We arrived at the terminal the next morning excited about what might lie ahead on our first Champions League away day.  We soon had other concerns though when we got to the check-in desk.  It transpires that our mate’s passport expired eight months ago!

After trying all the tricks in the book to try and get him on the flight, we were left with a dilemma.  The only way he was coming, was if he drove to Peterborough to get a passport pushed through as an emergency and even then, there was no guarantee he would make a later flight.

Me and my brother felt a certain degree of guilt about going without him, but would I have expected him to miss out and chuck the best part of £250 down the pan if I’d cocked up??  Not really.  We were desparate for him to pull out all the stops and join us, but he ended up watching the game in the pub.

It may have been the end as far as the passport was concerned, but the drama had only just begun.  We got off the flight and found that we’d brought the weather from England with us.  It was pissing down!  We got dropped in the City mid-morning and the bus wasn’t coming back to take us to the stadium until 5pm.

The initial intention was to have a wander round the City, take in the sights and see what Porto had to offer.  As I write more of these blogs, you will note that I have a bit of a fascination with Football stadiums.  We discussed maybe walking to city rivals Boavista’s ground, but this was a fair old trek from where we were.

We walked for the best part of an hour and it was bucketing down!  We decided that we needed to find a café of some description to dry out and see away a few hours.  As we got back to the area where the bus had dropped us off, we found a little café with a few United fans in – result.

There was a bald fella ordering the local tipple “Super Bock”, so we thought we’d give it a bash.  As the hours began to pass, more and more United fans seemed to have the same idea and soon the place was rammed.

A short, bald chap with a hell of a tash behind the bar was a Benfica man and he was a cross between Arkwright and Jack Frost.  His English was as good as our Portuguese, but we were throwing a few native player’s names at him and he was giving us the thumbs up or thumbs down.

Soon after a Porto fan walks in decked out in his shirt, bandana and flag.  He was either a regular at this sort of thing, very brave or very stupid, but his shout of “POOOOOOOOOORRRTO!” as he walked in seemed to go down well with the travelling Red Devils.

You quite often hear stories of fights in bars and general unrest when English teams or the National Team go away in Europe, but as my first away trip, it was quite the opposite.  The atmosphere was unbelievable.  I’m not naïve enough to think that this is always the case, but this really was brilliant to be a part of.

5 o’clock rolls around and worse for wear following countless SuperBocks, it is time to head back to the bus for transport to the ground.  I’ve never been much of a drinker to be honest and my younger brother was in the “Youth Team” when it came to this sort of pastime back then.

The bus started its journey and my brother is quickly passed out.  Within five minutes he is awake again telling me he feels sick.  Now I’m perched by the window, so I have no means of vacating and leaving him to it.  Before I have the opportunity to do anything, he buries his head in his coat and spews all over it – shocker!

Whilst somehow managing not to draw too much attention to ourselves, we got into a mild panic about how we were going to get him in the ground when we arrived.  We had heard rumours that the stewards were not keen on letting people who are “oblitarated on Super Bock” into the ground.

It was a bit like an Only Fools and Horses sketch trying to work out how we were going to make him look relatively sober whilst carrying a coat caped in puke!  It was a relatively cold February night, so I was wearing my Ellesse jumper (like you did back then!) and a rain coat over the top.

We hatched a cunning plan that he could wear my coat whilst stuffing his stricken Pukey-Coloured Dreamcoat underneath.  Me and Trigg played it cool and we found our way through.  It was almost like the Great Escape but ultimately not very great.  The whole crusade would prove academic (or epidemic as Del Boy would say) because he threw the coat away when we came back out anyway!

We decided to give the Super Bock a swerve whilst in the ground and this allowed us to sober up somewhat.  My memories of the game aren’t all that good to be honest.  Porto, under a certain Jose Mourinho, went on to win the Champions League that season.  We should’ve beaten them though.

Roy Keane’s red card which happened right in front of us was petulant, but pathetic at the same time.  Vitor Baia went down in my estimation after his theatrics.  Shame Keano didn’t put a proper one on him.  Benni McCarthy got both Porto’s goals that night and looked a world beater.  He was anything but once he came to the Premier League though.

The game was probably the only low point of an eventful trip although the atmosphere was superb.  The drama was still not over though as we made our way back to the bus with tails between our legs.  There were some mesh fences that you often see on Construction sites keeping both sets of fans separate.

There was a little bit of “argy-bargy” as we made our way back down the steps towards the bus.  Seconds later, one of those fences comes flying past my head and crashes to the bottom of the steps!  Cheers mate – I really needed a hospital trip at the end of all this!

Though slightly shaken, we had to listen to some drunk United fan sing “We’re in Porto and you’re in Stockport” down his phone to some poor bastard over and over again.

We got back on the bus and as one of the first to arrive, we took the view that maybe someone else wouldn’t mind putting up with the pile of vomit in the foot-well we had earlier occupied.  Acting conspicuously on the other side of the bus and closer to the front, we heard someone shout out, “Ewww, someone’s been sick here!”

Hopefully it was the same bloke who threw the fence past my head!?  Maybe it was the bloke who was singing that terrible song over and over again!?  Maybe he did both!?  Nevermind.

We went to the home leg a couple of weeks later.  United should’ve buried Porto, but in the heavens of the North Stand, we saw Mourinho famously run down the touchline.  The rest they say is history…