Club Brugge v Otelul Galati
Mottram Hall / Preseason friendly / 10th July 2013
Is this the most surreal trip I’ve been on since I started this whole groundhopping thing? Definitely.
As I mentioned at the end of my previous blog about Leigh Sports Village, on this July Thursday evening in the midst of this amazing heatwave that we seem to be having, I was due to watch Club Brugge v Otelul Galati. More bizarrely the fixture between the Belgian and Romanian club was to be played at Stainton Park, the home of Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One North’s Radcliffe Borough, and at a 18:00 kick-off for Romanian television. Surreal indeed. Yet little did we know before the game that the evening would turn weirder than we could have possibly imagined. By the end of the evening, thanks to a fussy load of Belgians, a supposedly ‘dangerous’ pitch at Radcliffe Borough and half a lap of Greater Manchester, we would find ourselves in the middle of the Cheshire countryside watching the two teams battle it out on a pitch next to a 5-star hotel and golf course. But first, back to the start.
I left straight from work at 3pm to ensure that I made it to up to Radcliffe in plenty of time for the 18:00 kick off and to enjoy a few drinks before the game. I arrived at Radcliffe Metrolink station shortly after 4pm and my stomach directed me straight to the ‘King of Chips Shops’ in the small town centre of Radcliffe. One portion of chips and a jumbo sausage later and I decided to head to the Victoria pub just around the corner from Stainton Park; a pub I had visited after my second visit to Radcliffe last summer and a brilliant pub I remembered being stupidly cheap (£2.20 a pint).
By 5.15pm I was at Radcliffe’s Stainton Park where I was greeted by Aaron at the turnstiles and then Gibbo and Mark of No Clash of Colours fame once I had paid my £5 entry into the ground. Slowly, a decent crowd was gathering at the home of Radcliffe Borough with 45 minutes still to go until kick off and there was even a TV van outside the ground ready to capture the evening’s action.
Noticeably, on entering the ground, the whole Club Brugge team were standing on the pitch near the changing room entrance and this was the first sign that things were going to go astray this evening. Aaron had informed me as I went into the ground that he had heard that kick-off may be delayed as the Belgian club were not happy with the length of the grass. The lawnmower was already in full flow when I arrived at the ground.
On walking around to take some photos of the Club Brugge banners in the seated stand behind the goals, we spotted former Chelsea and Barcelonaand current Club Brugge striker Eidur Gudjohnsen and we could not resist asking him for a photo. I also couldn’t help bringing up some transfer speculation from a couple of seasons ago.
“I’m a Swansea City fan Eidur. You should have signed for us a couple of seasons ago when you had the chance!” I jokingly retorted to the Icelandic legend.
“Yeah, you’re right there,” replied Eidur. Who wouldn’t regret missing out on playing for Swansea though?
Shortly after this exchange with Eidur, Aaron came walking towards us and said the two words most feared by any football fan.
Damn. A game I had been looking forward to so much all week had suddenly been called off. Within seconds of finding out the decision I noticed that Club Brugge were nowhere to be seen and apparently they had hastily exited the ground, got straight on their team coach and headed off leaving the Radcliffe staff to explain to everyone that there’d be no game this evening. There were numerous reasons going around to why the game was called off. There were originally claims that the Otelul Galati team bus had broken down, but ultimately it came down to Club Brugge not being happy with the pitch, with reasons varying from the grass being too long to it being too hard and not wet enough and a supposed’ dangerous’ surface. It looked perfectly fine to us lot.We decided to at least get a photo with the friendly Otelul Galati fans we encountered as a memento of our trip to Radcliffe.
Sadly, a quick peruse of the fixture list confirmed that there were no other friendlies in the area that night and we began to accept that our night was to be a football-less one. However, that was until Aaron, a referee himself, had a brief chat with the linesman for tonight’s game and soon there was talk that the game was going ahead, but at a new venue. The game was to be played at the hotel where Club Brugge were housed for their tour of the UK – Mottram Hall in the heart of the Cheshire, just between Wilmslow and Macclesfield. I still assumed we’d be going home, but soon there was talk of us actually attempting to make it to the game. Originally, I thought it was a crazy idea, but the craziness of the idea was what made the trip to Mottram Hall all the more appealing. We like a challenge.
Soon enough we were in Aaron’s car circumnavigating Manchester to get from Radcliffe to Mottram Hall (picking up Lewis and Rob Clarke at Radcliffe tram stop en route). We weren’t even sure if we would even be allowed to watch the game once we arrived or whether it would be a ‘behind closed doors’ affair, but we decided to gamble. There was a moment in the car when we all questioned what the hell we were doing heading to such an obscure fixture in the middle of nowhere, but our love of football had clearly possessed us. The things we do for football, eh?
There were optimistic claims that the game would kick off at 18:45, but as we headed south and the clock ticked closer to the planned kick-off time, we realised that there was no chance of the game kicking off at 18:45, as we were only two minutes behind the referees who were also heading south from Radcliffe for the rescheduled game.
We passed Wilmslow and soon we were navigating country lanes in leafy Cheshire with mansions on every side of us – surely, homes of some of the North West’s footballing elite judging from the size of the houses and the cars parked outside of them. By 18:45 we rolled into the entrance of Mottram Hall and the two large team coaches confirmed that Club Brugge and Otalul Galati were indeed in the grounds. We realised that we were in rather grandiose surroundings -surroundings which seemed far too grandiose for a game of football and certainly too grandiose for the occupants of Aaron’s car.
After passing through the golf course, we arrived outside the main ‘hall’ of Mottram Hall with the fountain in front of the main entrance and some Club Brugge fans, who had headed down from Radcliffe, and some golfers enjoying a post-18 hole drink out on the small lawn in front of the bar area. We parked up and went for a wander to find the football pitch which this evening’s game would be taking place on. On spotting some Club Brugge players we followed them to the pavilion next to the hotel, where we once again met the refs who informed us that the game would now be a 19:30 kick-off. On the otherside of the pavilion (complete with Golf Shop) was the pitch and with that discovery we walked back to the hotel to enjoy a prematch pint in the sun before kick off.
The grandeur of the place was emphasised once again as we entered the luxurious bar area – it was a different world to the Radcliffe Borough clubhouse anyway. Predictably, the prices were astronomical as a pint of Becks Vier cost £4.20. However, we decided to embrace our surroundings and try to enjoy the expensive pints.
Sitting in the sun outside Mottram Hall with the fountain and the golf course ahead of us, we were joined by the two Otelul Galati fans who had joined us for a photo earlier in the evening at Stainton Park. It turned out our new Romanian friends had travelled up from London and Birmingham and were now UK-based Otelul fans.
We began to walk back down to the pitch with ten minutes to spare before kick off and it seemed the Brugge players had come up with a more practical way to make it to pitchside by cruising around in the hotel’s golf buggies. None of them offered us a lift though! Our walk to pitchside was even delayed thanks to a steward stopping us walking across the path of a golfer teeing off on the course directly next to the pitch. This really wasn’t your average day at the football! Once we were given the go ahead to continue our stroll, we found ourselves pitchside (and I very literally mean pitchside today) as the game was kicking off.
The strange scene of watching two former Champions League teams play on a normal training pitch next to a golf course was compounded further by the sight of the Otelul subs and squad lying on the nearest green to watch the action, whilst Club Brugge had gone a step further as they formed their very own stand out of golf buggies. There was a contingent of Brugge fans lying on the grass banking next to the pitch using their banners as makeshift blankets to lie on and we decided to find our ‘seats’ on the floor just to the left of them on the far side of the banking.
This was as reclusive and obscure a game as I’m probably ever going to see, but the strange surroundings and the use of the word ‘friendly’ did not stop the game being a rather feisty affair. From minute one the tackles were flying in and the ref was doing well to keep the game flowing, although the Otelul players were regularly furious with the ref’s reluctance to blow for the challenges going in.
By about the 15th minute, after collaborating with Brugge and Otelul fans, Gibbo had compiled a makeshift team sheet and we all began picking out our faves on show. My personal favourite on display was the Otelul skipper Gabriel Giurgiu, a composed central midfielder who seemed to be at the heart of everything; although Brugge centre back Bjorn Engels, a player I was later informed by a Brugge fan had stepped up from the U19s, had also highly impressed me.
The game had been a very even affair and at half time the scores would remain at 0-0.
No half-time pie as 1) I doubt such an establishment sold such things as the common pie 2) If they did sell pies, I’m fairly sure it would be the most expensive pie I’d ever buy and 3) I couldn’t be bothered walking back to the hotel anyway. Instead half-time was spent chatting to a friendly Brugge fan who gave us the whole lowdown on the Brugge team and the coaching staff. Club Brugge’s manager Spanish manager, Juan Carlos Garrido, appeared particularly enigmatic in his double denim combination of jeans and denim shirt. Clearly a very confident man.
The second half kicked off and the game continued in much same way as the first half with a lot of tight play in the midfield and very few real goalscoring chances. I went for a wander around to the other side of the pitch to take some photos and to admire the surrounding fields (we were really in the Cheshire countryside it seemed) and as I made it to the opposite side, Otelul played a ball into the box and Gabriel Giurgiu scored with a great header. 1-0 to Otelul.
However, the lead wouldn’t last too long as Club Brugge pulled a goal back through their no. 97, Shangyuan Wang, a Chinese trialist, who quite bluntly had been awful up to that point. He had even been subbed off, but was allowed to rejoin the action later in the second half thanks to the relaxed conditions of preseason football. The goal was clumsy in itself as Wang hit a shot into an Otelul defender leading to the ball ricocheting up into the air and agonisingly over the heads of the Otelul defenders and goalkeeper who desperately scrambled back to stop it going on, but who instead ended up in a heap in the back of the net with the ball.
Shortly after making it 1-1, Club Brugge took the lead thanks to a finish from a tight angle from the brilliantly named Storm (he did have a first name, but I think it’s so much cooler just to call him Storm).
Aaron, Rob and Lewis had missed the opportunity to meet Eidur Gudjohnsen earlier in the evening at Radcliffe Borough so when we found the Icelandic legend sitting on a water cooler right in front of us, Aaron approached to ask for another photo (I also jumped in for my second Eidur photo of the night). Sadly, Eidur would not see any game action tonight, but he did complete an intense warm-up throughout the second half. By the time we had had our photo the referee was about to blow his whistle for full time.
FT: Club Brugge 2 – 1 Otelul Galati. The second half had been a much better game of football than the first half and the feistiness of the first half still remained.
It was now 21:00 but it was still very hot as we plodded back towards the hotel with the Club Brugge players zipping passed us on their golf buggies and Eidur Gudjohnsen walking alongside us – despite this being the close of the evening, it still all seemed very surreal. On the walk back we encountered Otelul captain Giurgiu and we told him that he was our Man of the Match for the evening; he also seemed to be a thoroughly nice and friendly chap.
As the sun set on the golf course in front of me, I reflected that I’d probably not see football at such a venue again and that the whole evening had been a very strange one, but that the impulsive journey to Mottram Hall had been a worthwhile and special experience. I do not condone the actions of Club Brugge up at Radcliffe and I know certain members of our party got a lot of stick on Twitter for being a ‘disgrace’ by attending the rearranged fixture; apparently, by attending the game at Mottram Hall it somehow meant showing some sort of support for Club Brugge’s actionstowards Radcliffe Borough. Ultimately, we were just a load of lads given the opportunity to watch football somewhere completely unique, albeit it through unfortunate circumstances, and the uniqueness of such a fixture was just too appealing to turn away from in some sort of defence for Radcliffe (I’m not sure how we would have been backing Radcliffe Borough by not going anyway – it’s hardly like we paid Club Brugge or paid any sort of entry fee whatsoever). End of the day, we were just a bunch of lads who wanted to enjoy some football that Thursday evening, something we very successfully did – with a bit of effort.
It’s not your typical football venue, but what a brilliant and random evening we had in the heart of Cheshire. Cheers Mottram Hall.
(Rob also wrote his own blog entry for the game on his new site which can be read here)
Highlights: Watching football at a completely unique location, the beautiful surroundings of Mottram Hall, meeting Eidur Gudjohnsen, the performance of Garbiel Giurgiu and once again the beautiful weather.
Low Points: Club Brugge’s treatment of Radcliffe Borough, expensive prices at Mottram Hall (not too much of a surprise though).