A Travellerspoint blog


Despite all the great times, there had to be a real downer

This is a strange and very sad entry. It´s also probably worth glossing over completely as it´s really not a cheery one. And to be honest, i don't even know why i`m writing this as I really don`t have any enthusiasm to write it at all. I think i´m only doing it to stay occupied so I don`t break down.

Ideally I would be now boring you all with tales from Germany and the World Cup, especially since i have been to 4 more matches (Australia v Brazil, Germany v Ecuador, Cote d´Ivoire v Serbia-Montenegro and Ghana v USA) since i last posted here, as well as seeing England fail to beat the Swede´s for the umpteenth time to my obvious huge delight. But to be honest, I can`t really. The rest of my time has been spent in hospital with my best friend, Matt, who has been battling Pancreatic cancer. He suffered from a slightly complicated strain which took time to diagnose, and in the last few months has deteriorated rapidly. Changes in his condition was one of the reasons why I almost quit whilst in Vietnam and flew back there and then, although as you know, for assorted reasons I was talked out of it.

Seeing somebody you know and love dearly after over a year is always emotional, but to see him in his current condition was devastating. When I left he was slightly ill, but not overly and it hadn`t yet been diagnosed, and he looked more or less normal. I had been kept updated on his condition and progress as i went along, and had believed that despite what i was being told, that there must be some hope left. One look at him told me there was none, and if he lasted more than a month or so it would be almost miraculous. He was in such a bad way that if i hadn`t been so shocked at his sight, and he not been partly conscious, I would probably have tried to kill him there and then to put him out of his suffering.

The drugs no longer had any effect on dulling the pain, and it had got the point where he had even cut back, deciding that if he was going to live out his time in pain, that he would prefer more pain but trying to remain as lucid as possible instead of more or less being kept alive but so drugged that he was never awake. He had more or less been keeping himself alive on will power alone, fighting on partly until i returned and partly so he could watch the World Cup in his beloved Germany. Together with another great friend, Aldo, we had tickets for a couple of games, including the aforementioned Australia v Brazil, and it was essentially Matt´s last request that we do everything possible to get him to the game. He had never seen Brazil, and it was his life´s dream. After much discussion with everybody involved (and many who weren`t) and against all medical advice, we managed to come to an arrangement whereby an ambulance was paid for and somehow with the stadiums agreement managed to get him wheel chair, drip, drugs, nurses and all to the game where we sat and watched, a group of 7 of us huddled around him in support, until midway through the second half when it just all became too much for him and we left. Despite the fact that nobody wanted to see him suffer that way at all, and all logic said it was the worst thing that we could do, the realisation that we had made a dying man happy, at least for a short time, and had fulfilled his dream and last request mean´t it was most definitely worthwhile. The decision to go probably cost him over half of his remaining life, but he was going to go out on as much a high as possible.

Matt had also made us promise (to our disgust and guilt) that under no circumstances were we to give up any other tickets that we had, and despite his condition and that he could not accompany us, we had to go. Thus it was that i went back to Berlin on a day trip for Germany - Ecuador (which was an absolutely amazing atmosphere. 70,000 happy Germans supporting their own side at home in the World Cup, and with things going well, plus a small number of wildly happy Ecuadorians who had also already qualified) and to watch Sweden v England with the 300,000 others by Brandenberg Gate, another amazing experience. The following morning I got straight off the night train and went to the hospital for the day, before Aldo and I went to Cote d´Ivoire v Serbia Montenegro that evening, back to the hospital and then I went on a day trip to Nürnberg to see Ghana v USA, where the Americans managed to loose by 1 soccer point to 2 after poor second quarter offence. Or some such. I even managed to come across the only other person draped in a large Welsh flag in Nürnberg (plus the likes of Elvis, Captain America, Dubya, the Blues Brothers, Robin [but no Batman], Flash and Wonder woman). In fairness, they were 3 decent games, and a great World Cup experience, but I just wasn`t ever really in the mood, and more or less spent the whole time there feeling guilty and wishing I wasn`t there. As soon as I could, I was back in the hospital, watching and waiting.

Matt lost his battle and died early this weekend. It is strange how you can *know* that it will end that day, for no apparent reason. But that morning we all instinctively seemed to know it would, and it was a very strange and scary experience. Aldo and I had been taking it shifts with his parents, and we phoned them to say. They arrived a couple of hours later, and all 4 of us were there at the end. Looking at him in those minutes, he looked utterly at peace and entirely relaxed, the pain which had racked his face had gone and the release from his pain was almost joyful. I had been dreading that my last image of a dear friend would be one of him in pain, but instead i have a picture of calm serenity. Because of the situation, the initial reaction all around was more of relief than anything else. It wasn´t unexpected or sudden, and he had suffered greatly, thus the feeling that the had been released from that suffering was relief.

I have almost become too accustomed to death for it to register as anything more than a kind of strange "desolate and depressingly resigned sh1t happens" kind of feeling which I can`t really describe at all. Yes, there is overriding grief, but it´s much more than that. It´s hollow, empty, guilty (part "why me?" and part "Why not me?") painful kind of feeling and for the moment that´s all i can really say.















Images from Germany v Ecuador (above) and Serbia-Montenegro v Cote d'Ivoire (below)








Nurnberg, and images from USA v Ghana, below














Posted by Gelli 03:45 Archived in Germany Comments (3)

Which idiot let the entire Swedish population in?

A Blue gold invasion of Berlin

It's amazing just how many Swedish people it's possible to fit into Berlin at any one time. Granted they were going to be playing in the city that very evening, but the numbers were just scary. Two people with a large van full of copies of Aftonbladet (A Swedish tabloid) had driven over to sell their paper and sold out in under an hour. What had started as a decent sprinkling around during Brazil v Croatia had evolved into a full scale invasion of blue and yellow, and with me sporting my large Swedish flag as a kind of cape (as, indeed, I had at the Tunisia v Saudi game and on the train) I certainly wasn't letting the side down. The question was whether the Swedish side would.

I watched Ecuador - Costa Rica in the pub with Toby, one of the English guys who had also headed down to watch the Tunisia game, and in fact even had tickets for the Ecuador game in Hamburg (and his friend, Dan, had gone). Frustratingly for him, he had come down with a problem during the previous afternoon (his legs had swollen to huge red things) and was struggling to walk, so had reluctantly had to give up his ticket in order to visit a Berlin doctor. And with Ecuador being the early kick off, there was no chance of subsequently getting to Hamburg on time. Gutting. For those that have tried to get tickets, you will know what he went through and how hard it had been. To then actually get tickets, be in Germany and be unable to go is about as bad as it can be.

That was followed by another pub trip with some Aussie's to join the hoards of people cheering on the Trinidadians against the poms. Damned English. In fairness for them to loose would have been harsh, but they weren't exactly outstanding against a limited Trinidad side of mainly lower league British players. But they were superb and held on until the last 10mins when Crouch (who's beginning to look like a seriously prolific scorer, by stats at least) finally scored, before Gerrard got a late second.

And then to the main event and the hoards of blue and yellow. We headed again to Brandenberg Tor and the Fan Fest, which was simply a wash with Swedes. The only others out in any force were Aussies (with the exception of Sydney, has anybody ever come across anywhere where there isn't a large crowd of Aussies? It's scary just how omnipotent they are) who were also in yellow, and a scattering of English, many with Swedish partners. You couldn't have told that Paraguay were playing, as there were a total of 4 Paraguayans in a crowd of well over 100,000... The game itself was one of those extreme exercises in patience. The Swedes were on the offensive all game, but couldn't do much with it. Zlatan - long time superhero and saviour of the Swedish people - went off at half time injured, Allbäck somehow managed to have a lob cleared off the line, and with all hope beginning to fade and the entire crowd about to go into mourning, Freddy popped up with a late, late. late winner.


Queue absolute mayhem and a huge party all around. You would have thought that we had just won the World Cup. The evening went downhill rapidly from there, and ignoring the fact that the 3 Aussies I had started with had metamorphosed into 13 (just how do they do it?!) plus a fair few others - and amazingly considering the make up of the crowd, somehow not including a single Swede - the rest of the events of that evening will remain untold. And not entirely because I don't remember most of them. The fact we didn't make it home until gone 9am probably says something though...


The following day was, shall we say, somewhat unproductive. I achieved nothing at all except sitting outside of a kebab van watching football on TV. Movement wasn't going to happen. Plans to play football really weren't going to happen. And I was the active one - none of the Aussies even surfaced before 7pm. But it wasn't a bad day to be stuck there. Argentina gave a masterclass of possession football and attacking intent, demolishing Serbia - Montenegro 6-0, whilst also having a goal wrongly ruled out for offside, missing several good chances and scoring a fantastic goal, after a 3minute long 25pass (forward and back, left and right), and 9player build up. I've long thought the Argentinians have had the most depth - for the last 10 years or so - but curiously they have often failed to use it to it's potential. Admittedly teams that blow away their groups historically have peaked too early and then blow up in the knock outs, but there's always exceptions... The Dutch then beat the unlucky Ivorians 2-1 to send them out and mean my Cote d'Ivoire v Serbia -M game is irrelevant, except for pride and as S-M's last ever appearance together. The Ivorians again looked extremely good, and to my money would qualify from any other group, easily being amongst the top 5 teams. But unlucky enough to be in the hardest group.

That evening, I somehow managed to score tickets on the FIFA site for 2 more games - the Germany v Ecuador group decider and a tasty looking Ghana v USA. Typically after booking 5 nights in Berlin, only to then have to travel to Munich for a game, I will now be staying near Munich and have to travel to Berlin for a game (plus Nürnberg, which is easy). Oh well.

Left Berlin the following morning to Bavaria which is awash with yellow (Aussies of course, bolstered by a large Brazilian following for their game the following day). I have tickets for that, and now have 4 games in 5 days, but whether we manage to go to them all - or any - depends on a very important external factor.

Some of you know why, and I hope the rest will accept that I am deliberately leaving out details, but things are really not looking good down here, and I will probably now be in Bavaria for the duration. How long I'm here depends upon developments, but sadly we don't have much hope left. And because of that, i won't be around much for a bit as I have much more important things to do than be online. I'll update you when there is news, and hopefully will have some stories from Australia - Brazil et al as well, but your going to have to wait until I am in some kind of useful frame of mind to be able to put them together. If I ever am.

Sadly, and despite what Bill Shankly said, football isn't the most important thing in the world, even when it is the world cup. Life and death don't pay attention to TV schedules.

Posted by Gelli 05:40 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

2006 Battle of the Arabs

The delights of an essentially irrelevant World Cup game

Some people might wonder why the heck I went out of my way to spend 60euros on a second level ticket to see a game between two Arabic nations that I have no particular affiliation with, in a city over 6hours away from where I was staying, and which I would then have to return to only 2 days later on anyway.

For the rest of you, it's obvious. It's the World Cup!

And thus it was that i crawled out of bed at an hour almost as unseemly as the one I first got into it (about 20mins previously) and with two (shudder) England fans also heading there, headed off onto the train to Munich. Spain were opening their campaign against the Ukraine in Leipzig that day, and as the train went via Leipzig, we were first treated to a train full of press, officials and Spanish and Ukrainian fans. I had the, erm, honour, of sitting opposite Martin Tyler (looking somewhat old, haggard and pissed off with the world, despite being paid to be there and report) and a couple of Aussie cameramen, who were replaced in Leipzig by a German newspaper reporter who didn't stop talking for the rest of the 5 or so hours - an hour's delay not helping - although as it was football stuff, I didn't really care.

After an interesting game of sardines, which in fairness was notable really only for watching the chaos - almost at Shanghai levels - of people trying to squeeze on to an empty train, we headed off into the German suburbs, with everybody else (mostly Brits and Germans) complaining about how cramped the train was, whilst I marvelled at how empty it was in comparison to Moscow or Tokyo rush hours... Munich's spanking new (ok, a year old) Allianz arenA really is spanking new, and stunning. Resembling a kind of, erm, dunno really, Maybe a large white alien craft?, it certainly doesn't look liker a traditional stadium. Entering was surprisingly easy, with no ID checks at all, although my water bottle didn't make it, and finding my seat was simple. I had ended up in the middle tier, right in the corner above the flag, with a great and unobstructed view.


Munich's Allianz ArenA exterior and the stadium filling up prior to the game

Oddly, and despite FIFA's later protestations that it was a 66,000 sell out, there were large chunks of empty seats. Many were in the side reserved for corporate sponsors, who, I'm guessing, being underwhelmed by the two teams on offer had decided not to bother, but were too arrogant to actually return the tickets for real fans to use, whilst even my row of 24 was half empty. It was also a very strange crowd. Of maybe 55,000 people actually there, probably no more than about 5,000 were actual patriotic fans. The rest of us were essentially random football fans (huge numbers of English, lots of Germans, sprinklings of virtually everything else) who had managed to get tickets and were there because it was the world cup. It was great fun, but a strange atmosphere as there was little of other partisan cheering and support that tends to heighten the atmosphere.


The teams line up before the game starts, and some of the Tunisian fans cheering on their team

The game itself was decent and entertaining without being amazing, although most of the crowd seemed more interested in starting Mexican waves than actually watching the game. Technique and talent seemed to be lacking a bit and it wasn't the most technically amazing game at all, although as there are few African-Asian competitive Arab matches, they certainly weren't taking it easy. The Tunisians went 1-0, and then 2-1 when the veteran Al Jaber, formerly of Wolves scored seconds after coming on with less than 10mins to play, before Raidi Jaidi of Bolton equalised right at the death. Both teams could have won it, but i thought a draw was fair. And with Ukraine (who I've bet on to reach the semi's, woe betide me on that showing) oddly capitulating against the Spanish earlier, a draw certainly gives both sides a decent chance to progress to the next round.


Action from the game


The Saudi fans cheering on their team after Jaber's goal, and Me at the end of the game in the emptying stadium

I watched most of Germany v Poland in the Station awaiting my night train back to Berlin, and was amazed to see some common sense and thinking being applied by DB, German railways. Not only were they putting on extra trains on the four core internal routes away from Munich (to Stuttgart and Frankfurt, Köln and the Ruhrgebeit, Hannover and Hamburg and Berlin) to help people to get home after the game, But they had delayed all night trains leaving by between 10 and 30mins until after the end of the German game to allow fans (and staff) to finish watching it. And as Germany didn't score the only goal until the 91st minute, that extra time was definitely needed...


Crowds of fans leaving the game, and then heading into the U-Bahn station at Fröttmaning after the Tunisia v Saudi Arabia game

Posted by Gelli 05:39 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Welcome to Fan Fest 2006

After spending a happy afternoon in Copenhagen on my way south, revisiting old haunts, watching football (an unexpected and oddly great atmosphere and high number of Angolans for the Angola - Portugal game in the station sports bar) and spending a couple of hours catching up with Camilla (for those with really long memories, I had met her in Romania, and she was there when my wallet was swiped, and had trawled through Rubbish bins with me) it was time to head to Germany.

I had failed to find free accommodation in Copenhagen at such short notice, but had then come up with a cunning plan. I had a ticket which was valid from the following day, and had expected to be on the 07.45 train, but it occurred to me that my ticket started at midnight, and Denmark has a few trains leaving Copenhagen and Kastrup airport in the early morning which I could use, thus saving on accommodation and getting to Berlin earlier to boot. Thus, at 00.30, and with typically convoluted indirectness and cunning (or, perhaps, "me-ness"), I headed from Copenhagen to the German capital via Aarhus, Fredericia - and yes, i did indeed go to all the way to Aarhus for no reason at all except to double back about an hour to Fredericia. I did say it was convoluted me-ness - Kolding, Padborg and Hamburg, eventually winding up in Berlin. An amazing city, and one of my favourites, and I was delighted to be back, football or no.

When I had been killing an hour waiting for my train from Copenhagen, I had farted around online and actually managed to score tickets to another World Cup game. Thus it was shortly after checking in to my hostel, I headed to the Olympiastadia to queue for several hours to receive my ticket for that heavyweight battle to top all others, Tunisia v Saudi Arabia. Annoyingly, it meant that i missed the Australia v Japan game, but that couldn't be helped. Fifa not showing their own football in the ticket centre until huge pressure changed their minds was odd, so i saw it was 1-0 with 81mins gone. I should have actually stayed to watch the last 10mins, of course, but I didn't and only discovered later that Hiddink had inspired a 3goal comeback. Pah!

Instead, i headed to the fan fest in Berlin's central Brandenberg Tor, a mass of colourful fans watching football on some huge screens whilst enjoying German sausage and beer, which thankfully as it wasn't in the stadium, was real German beer, instead of the American cats p1ss cr*p that has to be served within the stadiums due to a certain 'beer' company being one of the official sponsors. I have no problem with official sponsors, and even one who's slogan says 'you do the football, we'll do the beer', except that to have such a slogan, surely they should actually supply beer, and not whatever the heck the water stuff they actually do is.

Despite barely seeing her 2weeks ago on my second pass through Siberia, it was great to catch up with the mad Masha again, although tragically she was neither wearing her superb wellington boots or any fancy multicoloured socks. Gutting. I'm sure that shouldn't really be allowed. Masha had been doing a bit of work in the city, but was now free to enjoy herself, and also celebrate her recent acceptance to Edmonton University. I don't know why, but most of my Eastern European/Russian friends seem to be in the process of moving to Canada. Me thinks at this rate, a new trip will have to be planned very soon... Amongst other things i learned that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the human Trotskyist (the hero in this little tale for those who have no idea what I'm talking about http://gelli.travellerspoint.com/90/ ) had lost his job on his release. You might think that a little harsh for somebody that didn't even have to fight an attempted terrorism rap, but when you realise that he was a primary school teacher, it becomes a bit more understandable...

Assorted freelance entertainment outside the Brandenerg gate included this group of break dancers etc

We spent the afternoon watching football in the square (Czechs looking good), meeting up with random other friends of Masha's - by the end we were a Welshman, Russian, German Polish expert, Italian, Brazilian and handful of Spaniards - and seemingly constantly walking back and fore between Brandenborg Tor and Fredericksraße S-Bahn station, utterly confusing the guards outside the American embassy on the way and probably appearing increasingly suspicious to boot.

Oh, and Kiki is pregnant. With twins. And Christian is not the father.

Croatian fans preparing to face Brazil

The following day can probably be summed up in the way that many subsequent days will be. Football in the fan fest. 3 games over an 8hour period where i did little except watch and take in the great atmosphere. The final game was Brazil v Croatia, the first to be played in Berlin, and also the first time I saw the Berlin Fan Fest properly packed. As with the previous day, their were fans from almost every conceivable country, including many from countries not even in the finals. Probably 70% of the crowd were wearing Brazilian tops or waving Brazil flags, although suspiciously high numbers of them were English speakers or Germans, and probably the number of real Brazilians there was very low. The remainder included large pockets of noisy Croats plus lots of Swedes (who play here in a few days time), who added to the general yellow-ness. And even a fair few Scots, including one with a simple yellow T-Shirt with Brazil in big letters, followed by the line 'because my team is rubbish'. It's still slightly odd how such a successful team can attract such affection and support from virtually ever other nation, but that sums it up really. The game itself wasn't great, but the atmosphere was, and it was a heck of allot of fun.

Brazilian fans with musical accompaniment passing through Berlin's Central Station

Croatian fans in central Berlin "celebrate" the pitch invasion by a random naked guy...

And the pregnancy (why the heck does everybody i know - without exception - have to have complicated kids. They either have twins or triplets, have one parent missing, unknown, in prison, or some other twist, and even in one case, a single mother still utterly convinced she's a virgin despite obvious evidence to the contrary... Why the heck am i seemingly incapable of knowing a happy couple who have a single child at a time????) wasn't even the twist I was going to tell you all about if the response had been that you wanted to hear about it. That one is even better!

Pictures, like so much of the last few months, will follow at a later date, but for now it's gone 3am and time to try and sleep. I haven't really in 2 days, and I have a 6hour trip to the other end of Germany to watch an Arab game tomorrow.

I get reminder's of the whole Kiki thing everywhere...

Posted by Gelli 08:50 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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