It was shortly after the third yoghurt bomb landed at my feet that I wondered if this had been the wisest move.
Huddled in a crowd of 398 travelling supporters, and being bombarded with flares (of the marine rather than trouser kind), sticks, coins, and obviously dairy products – I had arrived on my first European trip with Chelsea following an unlikely series of events.
Less than a week previously the game had been switched from Istanbul to Gelsenkirchen in Germany for security reasons. With my then office winding down for Christmas, a benevolent boss permitted me a single day off to make the trip.
Further benevolence came from the unlikely quarters of Ryanair, who sold me return flights to an old airstrip somewhere on the Dutch border, for a mere £20 return (these were the days before taxes, fees, and charges for wheelchairs, boarding passes or using the loo).
An innocent abroad (this was my first ever trip to Germany), I turned up in Gelsenkirchen to find the place closed down. The most interesting attraction appeared to be a branch of C&A; and the most striking feature was the large slag heap that still looms over the place.
Here, I was instantly taken under the wing of a gaggle of Blues fans milling about the frosty Christmas market. “Have some gluhwein,” they insisted, “it’ll warm you up!” And with that I was passed a china mug full of hot, aromatic, red wine. Not speaking a word of German, I hadn’t clocked that ‘gluhwein’ roughly translated into English as ‘stuff that makes your legs melt away’. Mugs of the stuff went down like orange barley at Wimbledon. And all of a sudden, when I went to move away, my arse hit the snowy cobbles.
At the entry to the Auf Schalke Arena, I encountered security so stringent they insisted on taking my underpants and toothbrush off me (I was carrying both for the following day – having not bothered with the nicety of booking a hotel for the night).
Which was why it seemed all the more remarkable that the same security guards who had more or less removed my fillings, had ushered through 58,000 German Turks, all of whom seemed to be in possession of a minor non-nuclear armoury.
The aerial bombardment in the away end became so serious at one stage that even the German police, who were supposed to be ‘controlling’ us, scarpered.
The TV-watching world was outraged to see the Chelsea bench cowering under umbrellas to deflect missiles: they weren’t stood behind a woman receiving medical treatment for the head injury caused by a flying bronze padlock.
And then we went and won 0-2, which really upset the locals. Our merry band was marched back to what Gelsenkirchen laughably refers to as a ‘city centre’, and delivered straight into its only all-night bar in the Ibis hotel. Bummer. We weren’t allowed out until both the police, and all the alcohol, had gone.
You’ll recall I mentioned a lack of any hotel booking. So, when the cleaners flushed me out of my sleeping place in the lobby toilets, I made for the rail platform – where I found rest upon a bench. Being a Ryanair location, Dutsche Bahn could only deliver me to a town some five miles from the airport. From here, I hitch-hiked a lift with an air hostess to departures, and made my early morning flight check-in with seconds to spare. Two hours later it was 9am, and I was sat at my desk in the office.
“Good trip?” asked the boss. “Oh, quiet,” I told her.