Bad trips: miserable European away journeys

3 Mar

Vardar’s time-zone torment
Macedonian side Vardar’s excitement at playing their first continental tie, against Dunfermline Athletic in the 1961/62 European Cup Winners’ Cup, resulted in a dramatic oversight. “We weren’t told that Scotland is in a different time zone,” all-time Vardar top scorer Andon Doncevski remembered. “We started our warm up thinking there was an hour to go until kick-off, but there was still two hours to go. In that time, there was a downpour, then sun, then it started to rain again, and all the time we were wondering where Dunfermline’s players were. They were having massages while we warmed up. We played very badly and lost 5-0.”

APOEL’s Lisbon deluge
APOEL lost by a record 16-1 margin at Sporting CP in the 1963/64 European Cup Winners’ Cup, travel preparation playing a part. “It was pouring down with rain and back then we didn’t have proper football boots for grass,” forward Andreas Stylianou told Team-mate Nikos Kantzilieris added: “This Cypriot woman living in Lisbon was our only fan in the stands. She took a Cypriot flag with her, but later told us that she wrapped it around herself to keep out the rain after we went 10-1 down.” APOEL could not go home and lick their wounds, having agreed to play the ‘home’ leg in Lisbon too, spending a week in Portugal at their hosts’ expense. However, they were somewhat vindicated by the decision, Stylianou explaining: “The second game was played in sunshine and we only lost that one 2-0.”


Skënderbeu flirted with disaster

Visa troubles
Skënderbeu’s heroic journey to the UEFA Champions League play-offs might have ended much earlier had they not been able to sort out a clerical error ahead of their second qualifying round meeting with Crusaders. The Albanian club mistakenly applied for Republic of Ireland visas for a game being played north of the border in Belfast. Happily, with a little help from their hosts, everything was sorted out, with the correct paperwork being picked up in Paris en route.

Montenegrin side Čelik Nikšić, meanwhile, were beaten 7-0 at Metalurh Donetsk in the first leg of a 2012/13 UEFA Europa League second qualifying round tie, but it might have been worse given their journey. Their 1,500km bus trip to Ukraine would normally have involved crossing Moldova, but due to an oversight the club did not get a visa to enter the country and were refused entry at the border, turning a long voyage into an interminable one. Having set off at 22.00 on the Sunday, they arrived in Donetsk around 15.00 on the Wednesday, having been on the road continuously for 65 hours.

Play misty for me
The vagaries of the Faroese climate have caused visitors plenty of problems in the past. With Vágar Airport under fog, Greece’s 2-1 UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying loss in Torshavn was preceded by an unscheduled stopover in Denmark.

Similar problems meant France turned up for a 2007 qualifier against the Faroes just three and a half hours before kick-off, having spent a night in Bergen, Norway. The referee team appointed for the game did not land at all, meaning the officials who had arrived early to oversee an Under-21 qualifier the following day were given a rather more prestigious task than they expected. France – showing impressive chaleur – won 6-0.

Backstreet boys
Rayo Vallecano’s journey to face Real Sociedad in the 2011/12 Spanish Liga season was a notoriously arduous one; the club’s financial situation was so precarious they had to do the whole 700km voyage by side roads. “We had no money to pay [for] the toll roads,” said forward Michu. “It was crazy.”

Last season, meanwhile, rock-bottom Córdoba’s directors got so annoyed with their players after a long run without a win they refused to pay for them to fly to Eibar for their final game, meaning they had to traverse most of Spain by coach in punishing heat.

Bilbao’s charter fright
Athletic Bilbao fans did not much enjoy the experience of being beaten 3-0 by domestic rivals Atlético Madrid in the 2012 UEFA Europa League final, though the 400-or-so supporters who accidentally chartered a flight to the wrong country were spared some of the indignity. The unfortunate fans made the old mistake of getting Bucharest and Budapest mixed up, landing in the Hungarian capital rather than the Romanian one. Plans were hatched by some supporters to complete their journey to the Arena Naţională by road, though most decided to watch the game on TV in Budapest, realising that their flight was scheduled to head out just a couple of hours after the final whistle.

©Getty Images

Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas

Lyon blow their top
Olympique Lyonnais felt the Eyjafjallajökull volcano was at least partly to blame for their defeat by Louis van Gaal’s Bayern München in the 2009/10 UEFA Champions League semi-finals. The Icelandic volcano’s series of eruptions in spring 2010 grounded aeroplanes across Europe, compelling Lyon to take the 576km journey to Bavaria in a fleet of minibuses. That took ten hours – with a stopover in Stuttgart – club president Jean-Michel Aulas attributing the 1-0 loss to the time they spent on the road. “The efforts we had to make during that trip cost us in the second half,” he said. He had no such excuse for the 3-0 home defeat that followed.

Spartak go down the tubes
Spartak Moskva were anticipating an easy journey to their own Luzhniki Stadium for a UEFA Champions League home game against Internzionale Milano on 31 October 2006 but were forced to abandon their team bus after being caught up in a traffic jam in the Russian capital. With kick-off inching closer, the players had to head for the Moscow underground to complete their journey – much to the surprise of the city’s commuters. “I have never seen a jam like it,” said Spartak boss Stanislav Cherchesov. “Every street and alleyway was gridlocked. The only excuse for a jam like that would be if it was people driving to the stadium to support us against Inter.” Spartak lost 1-0.

Tiligul’s strip tease
Moldovan side Tiligul Tiraspol’s trip to Brussels for a 1998/99 UEFA Cup first qualifying round match involved changes of flight in Budapest and Paris, and having missed one connection, they eventually arrived in Belgium to discover that a good deal of their kit had gone missing en route. Anderlecht generously agreed to let Tiligul borrow strips for the match, leading to the odd spectacle of both sides wearing Anderlecht badges. The purple-shirted Anderlecht beat their white-shirted counterparts 5-0, but there was some consolation for Tiligul, who were allowed to keep their borrowed strip, going on to wear it for several more years in domestic games.

Zestafoni’s ID calamity
Remember that Tom Hanks film The Terminal? The one about the stateless guy that gets trapped at New York City’s John F Kennedy Airport. Well, a similar thing happened in the 2006 UEFA Intertoto Cup, except that it was in Kazakhstan, and the player did not get as far as the airport. Zestafoni striker Gogi Pipia made the mistake of forgetting his passport as his side ventured from Georgia to take on Tobol Kostanay, resulting in him being debarred from leaving the plane until Kazakh authorities decided that a faxed photocopy of the missing document was enough to get him through customs. He may have wished he had not bothered – Zestafoni lost 3-0.

©Anatolij Popeluha

Vīts Rimkus – still unarmed

In the bag for Ventspils
A slightly off-colour gag got Ventspils striker Vīts Rimkus into a whole heap of trouble as his team travelled home following a 1-0 UEFA Champions League first qualifying round defeat at Llanelli in July 2008. When Rimkus was asked the routine question at the security desk about whether he had any forbidden articles in his luggage, team-mate Deniss Kačanovs interjected that there was a hand grenade in there. If it was a joke, the airport staff did not get it – Rimkus was whipped away to spend a couple of hours proving that he was not armed and dangerous and discovered that all his team-mates had flown home when he was eventually released. History is silent on what happened when Rimkus and Kačanovs finally met up the following day.

Bosnia and Herzegovina the long way
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first official competitive match – a FIFA World Cup qualifier in Greece on 1 September 1996 – ended up being something of an ordeal, since the airport in Sarajevo was closed for civilians at the time. As a result, the senior and Under-21 teams had to fly from Split, Croatia. The journey of just over 160km to the airport was no formality – their drive west on 28 August took ten hours by coach and necessitated an overnight stay. The senior team eventually lost 3-0 in Kalamata, and the Under-21s 1-0, making for a thoroughly underwhelming six-day trip.

Široki Brijeg, meanwhile, learned exactly how far east Kazakhstan is when they took on Irtysh Pavlodar in the 2013/14 UEFA Europa League second qualifying round. The distance from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Pavlodar is around 4,400km as the crow flies, but the club’s journey was longer than that – a bus to Sarajevo, a flight to Vienna, an overnight trip to Astana and finally a hop on to Pavlodar – and took 24 hours in total. A 3-2 loss was a pretty decent outcome in the circumstances.

Have you or your club had any crazy experiences on the road in UEFA competitions? Share them on Twitter using #UEFAlonghaul.


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