So, the real drama starts on Bank Holiday Monday with a text from Coach Forrester at 6:10am advising that Ahmad and Victor were stuck in Chicago having had their flight cancelled and would not therefore be arriving with Kyle from Belfast at 10:15am.
This rather put a different slant on things with Fab expecting everyone at Newcastle College at 1:00pm for first full team practice.
Undeterred I met Kyle at the airport and if I hadn’t known it was him I would soon have guessed as a fully laden trolley with four, yes four suitcases on it and a back-pack confirmed his rookie status! Trey Moore once told me you can separate the rooks from the vets when they come in.
Vets know what to pack and rooks bring their life belongings and the kitchen sink. Never mind, on we go. Kyle is domiciled, fed and picked up along with Jamal and it’s off to practise. Nice to see Eddie again and obviously everyone else is in except those aforementioned.
Fab puts on a good session whilst Forrester and I chew the cud. Turns out that Vic and Ahmad were sitting on the plane in Chicago for three hours before having to get off and having the flight cancelled. We still now not why.
Never mind, the ever efficient, unless he’s booking accommodation and meals, Coach Forrester has it sorted. They’ll now fly from Chicago to Warsaw and then on to Brussels and meet us in Brussels the next day. Welcome to the pro ranks Ahmad but at least it’s not our fault!
Second practise takes place later in the day and Monday passes in to folklore and we await Newcastle Airport mid-Tuesday afternoon. Eric and I arrive in style courtesy of Crown Taxis and check-in. Darius and Coach Macleod are next and gradually everyone is assembled in the pre-departure lounge.
A couple of young fans recognise the guys and ask for photos. Wonder how they recognised us? I mean tall people all in the same tracksuits with our logo emblazoned all over it is probably a giveaway, right? I’m questioning the wisdom of Drew being included in the photos of course as he’s not officially signed!
On to the plane, all safely secured and despatched to Amsterdam for the first leg. Nothing of remote interest and we arrive safely and disembark. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Schiphol Airport or not. Those of you who have will know and for those of you who haven’t let’s just say it’s large!
Probably just as well we had 90 minutes before out connecting flight as it took almost half that time just to cross the airport to our next boarding gate. Still, it gets the step counter up and means you have to stay awake.
Several hours later and a few hundred kilometres tramped we arrive at the boarding gate. Nice conversation about The Eagles Hall of Fame between a couple of players and I. Who should be in, who’s jersey should be retired and what should the criteria be. Makes for an interesting and thought-provoking debate.
Buckled in the next plane and off to Brussels. I swear we’re on the ground longer than we’re in the air. Barely 25 minutes after take-off from Amsterdam we’re in Brussels and off the plane as quickly as we got on it. Is this the way to travel? Who knows but what I do know is you have to be fit to do these trips.
Yep, you guessed it, it almost and in fact may have done, took us as long to walk to baggage reclaim as it did to fly between two countries. Belt 8 the TV said and of course, Belt 8 just happened to be the one that was the biggest distance away from the disembark as the step-counter revs on.
Bags collected despite a heart flutter from yours truly as I somehow managed to miss mine going around twice. Not much of a panic and in my defence, it was new but, a little bit of an anxious moment or two before we go through the exit gates.
Passport control somehow seems to be missing in Belgium but perhaps the time of day and the fact that there seemed to be half an African nation greeting the other half off another flight may have been the cause.
We all thought that it was some kind of convention and some famous celebrity was arriving but, it appears not as our congenial host Thomas has met us and explained it’s just a usual ritual that happens but it did make for a colourful and large sight.
So, now you’re asking or at least thinking of Ahmad and Vic again and did they make it from their globe trotting experiences. Answer is and was yes, thank goodness and now we have the full party together it’s time for another route march as Thomas leads us out of the airport to the luxury coach for our onward journey.
At this point I should mention that Coach Forrester has had to stay at home as his day-job is calling and demands his time. Sometimes in life the choices you have to make are not always the ones you want to but you have to do what you have to do.
Our host is from the Sporting Camp/Youth Facility that is hosting us which is in a tiny village called Neufchateau which literally and I kid you not, translates to Newcastle! What are the odds? Thomas tells us that he thought his Manager was playing a joke on him when he was told who we were. Small world I guess!
Now, Fab, Ian, Eric and to a lesser extent I play our diplomatic and negotiation roles to establish what the port of call and procedures are to be. Practice times and facilities are discussed at the front of the bus whilst players relax further back.
On the road and the first service station of the season is closed as most things seem to be in Belgium at that time. The next one is open and we pile in. I swear the guy behind the counter will be in line for employee of the month as we empty the sparse, late at night, inconvenience store of most of its “healthier” options.
Perhaps it did make some of us appreciate Woodall Services a bit more. Fed and watered, sort of and now the time is way past midnight and it’s time for bed. We arrive at our charming little village and stop on the road outside.
Yep, you guessed it, another mini-route march entails as we make our way in to the accommodation. We eventually get everybody allocated to their rooms and settled down after a long trip which has involved cars, taxis, planes and coaches and a lot of walking.
Eventually as the clock ticks past 2:00am with the prospect of first breakfast in six hours we draw a veil over day 1+ and await the morning.
This is a trip which will present a lot of opportunities for everyone and one where we can start our journey as a team and work as a team and it’ll certainly help with the bonding as we plan and train for Friday night and the first game against Spirou Charleroi.