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by Peter Hooton
As thoughts turn to Barcelona here is an account of a previous trip.
It’s hard to believe but it’s all true!
SNAFU (this is the headline they use in the States meaning Situation Normal Another Fuck Up so due to recent events I have decided to use this for headings.)
SNAFU No 1
It started with a phone call about five in the morning. The answer machine responded before anyone in our house was able to. I turned over and went back to sleep. Shut eye is important the night before a big European away as everyone knows .When I checked the answer machine at about 8am it was a familiar voice from Halewood. “Listen Peter one of the lads from Garston has brought his wife’s passport by mistake can you get round to his and pick his passport up and bring it down to Stansted he’ll be waiting for you here, we are getting on our plane right now so I won’t be able to ring you again.” A phone number was left on the answer machine, International rescue was under way but we didn’t have much time as we had to leave for our afternoon flight from Stansted ourselves. Our trusty driver Sean J was sent around to Pee’s house in the Garston to pick up his passport and then to pick up myself and Christie D from Crosby and Roy from Kensington. The show was on the road! Oh how we laughed how could someone be so stupid not to check their passport before leaving the house. How could anybody do that when the Nou Camp was at stake! Three others cars in our party made the trip from Liverpool to Stansted for Sammo’s cut price bargain tour to Barcelona via Nimes (France) and we met up in the airport departure lounge. I scoured the area for Mr P but he was nowhere to be seen so I eventually decided to ring his house to see if the arrangements had changed. To my astonishment Mr P answered the phone. He hadn’t been told by Mono that we were bringing his passport down, so he had gone back to Liverpool to get it. It was an almighty cock up in communications. Unique even for Mono’s mighty cock up tours of yesteryear! I had a cunning plan though! I’d send the passport first class in the post and it would arrive the morning of the match so then he could get a day trip or a flight from Manchester- all was not lost. But Pee was now drained and dejected. It was the stuff of nightmares and he just wanted the fiasco to end. “Ok” I said on the phone “I’ll keep hold of it and give it to one of your mates at the match” he agreed it was for the best.
SNAFU No 2
Sammo thought it best he checked us all in together just like he used to in the Farm tour days. “Passports please” requested our inimitable leader. I checked through my pockets nervously as all travellers do as they try to remember which secret pocket they have hidden it in. I pulled it out and opened it. The colour drained from my face as I stared open mouthed at my wife’s smiling face…….. arghh……………oh no…..NO it can’t be….. I frantically looked in other pockets I must have picked up two passports by mistake, but no I hadn’t. In my rush to sort out the Mr Pee’s problem I hadn’t even checked mine. I had just grabbed a passport in MY cupboard, but we had just moved house and both passports had been put in the draw next to my bed for safety.DOH! What an absolute DICKHEAD! What made it worse was the fact that we had all been laughing about the lad who had brought his wife’s by mistake. Sammo thought I was joking but the look on my face said it all the Nou Camp dream was disappearing. The vision of that mighty stadium was evaporating in front of me.
Then Sammo aka Blackadder/ Dick Dastardly came into his own. The man with the golden tongue was the calm in the storm. I was inconsolable, emotions turning from rage to self hate to sheer panic. “Look” he said confidently, “we can get around this”. “I’ll check you in as Mrs H and you can get through on Mr P’s passport, it’ll work, trust me.” I had heard those words many times before usually before another impending disaster on a Farm tour. “Fuck off Kevin I look nothing like the lad on the passport he’s wears glasses and has got blond hair, it would be easier disguising me as my wife.” But Kevin has a way with words and he calmed me down and explained how he would check all eighteen of us in together and they wouldn’t even want to ID Mrs H (remember this was five months before September 11th 2001). Of course they did want to ID Mrs H before they would hand over the boarding pass and it was now that Sammo performed at his brilliant best. Pretending that Mrs H was a first time flier he informed the check in staff that she was being sick in the toilets after taking enormous amounts of valium. “But we must see her before we can give you the boarding card Mr Sammo,” they insisted. He asked several times for the pass but to no avail as the boarding time grew perilously close. I witnessed proceedings from a safe distance as Kevin grew more animated. By this time I was in my hilarious disguise, of baseball cap and sunglasses. Suddenly as the final boarding call was announced they relented and handed Kevin Mrs H’s boarding card. He had promised to get her immediately from the toilets. It was then I was gripped by sheer TERROR! I had a boarding card and a passport that didn’t match, if I got caught what would I be looking at! Presumably it’s a serious offence false passport /using the identity of another UK subject. Ah fuck it I thought. I was carried away by the sheer audacity of it and the supreme confidence of Sammo. Anyway nothing was going to stop me seeing Liverpool play Barcelona.
Here goes I thought its either unbridled joy or handcuffs and interrogation. I sailed through the first security check and with my confidence increasing I approached the final check. Most of the eighteen lads went before me, high spirited and excited. Then the dreaded words Mr P your boarding card doesn’t seem to match the name on your passport. I said nothing- I froze! Shit! Ah well I thought at least I had a go. What could I say which wouldn’t land me in it deeper, so at that split second I pretended to be deaf and dumb and just pointed at my mates who had gone through security. Then a miracle happened, the female officer pointed to my comrades who were all fearing the worst “oh you must have got it mixed up with one of your mates, are you with them lot, the ones who have just gone through?” I was literally dumbfounded! I just nodded pointed and grunted. She waved me through “have a good trip Sir” she said I felt like hugging her. My heart was pumping, my blood pressure rocketing but I’d made it. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Nervous laughter was followed by more panic attacks as I boarded the plane expecting the hand on the shoulder at any time! I just kept on thinking “how the fuck did I get away with that.” There was only one thing for it, hit the vino and calm the nerves. Kevin reassured me “that’s it you’ve done it, unbelievable but you’ve done it.” I wasn’t convinced I still had to swerve French security ……I convinced myself I was doomed. Surely the French wouldn’t be so easily fooled. I started to fear the worst and was certain that I would be on the next plane home in handcuffs. I felt like a mule with stomach full of Class A. COLD SWEATS!
Lots of our group on the plane all took turns in telling me I’d made it. But I felt like Steve McQueen in the Great Escape though when he’s on that motorbike with only one last barbed wire fence to clear. Nimes Airport looked like it was on a war alert. It was, if the truth be known. Against British foot and mouth disease! Not only was the security more rigorous than usual they were spraying everyone with a disinfectant. Oh no that’s it I thought! I spotted a guard who looked disinterested and headed for him. He studied the passport looked at me and then waved me on. I was a free man. The relief was unbelievable. I would after all, be seeing the Nou Camp. Nothing could possibly go wrong now –or could it. As we approached Hertz car hire. It was a feeling of unbridled joy! We split up into these cars!
SNAFU No 3
The four hire cars raced to Figueres and our hotel. It was uneventful journey apart from a clash of personalities between Ste (the pisstaking Evertonian from the Dingle along for the ride) and Jegsy. As they tried to find some common ground and started talking about ‘hard’ estates Jegsy came out with the immortal line ‘No one has ever taken Moreton’. Whether that is true or not is immaterial as Ste just latched onto the saying, declaring it to be the funniest thing he had ever heard and he would repeat the phrase to anyone who would listen in a loud exaggerated Wirral accent. This would become the theme of the trip. ‘Don t mess with MORETON’ shouted Ste at every available opportunity in his put on poncy accent. There was no escape for the Wirral contingent as Ste Potter was in their car and he is one of those complete bastards who doesn’t let go until the teacher has a nervous breakdown (get the picture). The first car mishap occurred as one of the lads smashed into a pillar in the hotel car park. One car down, three to go.
SNAFU No 4
Figueres on a Wednesday night was not happening at all. We went there on Sammo’s suggestion it being the home of Salvador Dali boasting a museum to the great man. In the only place we could find open, we walked in and within seconds a local man dropped dead at the bar smashing his head open on the tiled floor. There was blood everywhere. The omens weren’t good!
SNAFU No 5
Some knobhead thought it would be a good idea to park the cars in Figueres station and get the train to Barcelona about an hour away. Why this was a cock up will become clearer later. Steady asked the ticket collector how much to Barcelona. It was dirt cheap and Steady came out with the classic line to the collector “That’s only about two Penga in our money.”
SNAFU No 6
After a great night in Barcelona’s Albert Dock equivalent where we re-enacted scenes from The Quad, one of our group (me) jumps off a causeway by the water. Just like a jockey at Bechers Brook I misjudge the drop, fall over and chip a bone in my thumb. To this day it still kills me.
SNAFU No 7
DAY 2 (day of the match.) One of our party collapses in city centre, twatting his head and has to go to A&E. He misses the game as do a couple of his mates. Warren J gets mugged by a family of gypsy’s near the Ramblas. Serves him right for going near McDonalds in a city of food . The rest get smashed in the Workers Champagne bar on Cava and fall asleep at match. Remember it was Gerard Houllier.
SNAFU No 8
Return to Figueres station Friday. Two cars are locked up in car park due to the siesta. It wasn’t the station car park after all it was an AVIS car hire lock-up. Panic sets in. Locals inform us that section of the car park won’t open until 5pm leaving us no time to get early evening flight from Nimes. Car 3 agrees to stay and help. As usual Car 1 known as the ‘Slink mobeeeel’ gets off. We ask around shops if anyone has got a key to the lock. We are greeted with bemused looks. We ask if we can get a train to Nimes and abandon the car. But this would mean two train changes and wouldn’t give us enough time anyway. We try to buy a lump hammer to knock the wall down to get the car out but no shops are open! The clock is ticking! It’s like a ‘Carry On/Pink Panther Film’. After about an hour a local comes with a key and opens the car park. Unbelievable, we’re out! The flight is in about 3 hour’s time and the journey by motorway is about 2 hours. We could make it. Roy who is very ill declares a local knowledge- he once worked in a bar in Callela. “Head for Portbou,” he grunted in between pukes. “Are you sure we ask him?” “I know this area like this back of my hand” was his angry reply ‘TRUST ME.’ We are forced to bow to his superior knowledge as we have no map. A dual –carriageway soon peters out to a winding coastal road. Beautiful as long as you didn’t have to catch a flight. It’s the fucking scenic route not a motorway in sight. Panic sets in! Roy is sick out the back passenger window after the umpteenth hairpin bend. Think Italian Job type road!
SNAFU No 9
Driver is a good jockey. We’re all sick as dogs but we make good time and we link up with the Nimes Airport motorway toll with about twenty miles to go and 1 hour 15 before the flight. The mood is ecstatic! I have an idea. We have to return with the fuel tank full. Let’s stop and fill up at the last petrol station before the airport, namely The Montpellier toll. I go for bottles of water. Christie fills up with a relieved smile on his face. Roy is asleep in the back still grunting like Father Jack. We set off again relaxed and happy. We stop at the final toll. The car stalls and the driver can’t get it going again. We all get out to find out what’s wrong. French drivers beep their horns furiously as we hold up the queue. We ask Christie what fuel he’s put in the car. ‘DIESEL’! he replies. Let’s see the keys. ‘It’s fuckin green. GREEN, GREEN, GREEN, it’s the international sign of unleaded! OH NO! OH NO! We all start to kick the car John Cleese style and we wake Roy up but he’s unconcerned and just asks for paracetamol. More people beep their horns but they don’t understand. We’ve lost it! After all the traumatic events this was the final straw. We were so near, yet so far. No taxis no lifts it was back to the passport feeling! PURE PANIC! We rang people on their mobiles. Two cars had already reached the airport and one we couldn’t contact. They must have gone through cos we went the long way. That’s it we’re fucked. Then all of a sudden a VISION! Car no 4 was approaching the toll. Get in! Abandon our car and jump in, it’s the Cavalry.
SNAFU No 10
Ecstasy, joy, euphoria you just couldn’t describe the emotion- we were knackered but we were going home. We entered the airport with about 50 minutes to go before our flight. Nobody was going to believe this tale, you just couldn’t make it up. The driver of Car 4 saw the speed bump and slowed but with the added weight of four people the suspension just collapsed. We heard an almighty bang. Everyone pissed themselves laughing! What else could go wrong? We limped to the Hertz Car Park. Two cars were destroyed and one abandoned. The only one untouched by the chaos was Car No 1 who sailed through the trip with not so much as a hair out of place constantly getting off and missing the chaos. We explained to the Hertz attendant about what had happened. “Where is the car,” he demanded to know. We told him, “Five kilometres away near the last toll, it broke down mechanical failure, you will be hearing from our lawyers.” Christie screamed at him “you told us it was Diesel, I heard you say DEISEL,” and Sean agreed. We left the keys and scurried away. They would take a week, or so they claimed, to find the vehicle and would charge us the full amount for damages on the credit card after constantly ringing Christie from France asking ‘Where is our car?’ So much for the cheap route!
I saw one of the Urchins, a mate of Mr P and returned the passport and checked in with my temporary passport I’d picked up from the British Consulate in Barcelona. There was no way I would get back into Blighty disguised as Mr P. We flew home after one of the most eventful trips ever. Due to the things that went wrong I fully expected the flight to run into some sort of difficulty and was relieved to arrive home safely even though there was a minor disturbance on the plane involving the back seat mob!
SNAFU No 11
We sailed through customs and searched for Sean’s car in the massive car park. It was pissing down and we couldn’t find it. Eventually we located it. Happy days we’ll soon be home. Sean put the key in the ignition and turned it. NOT EVEN A SOUND! The battery was flat! He had the car for ages before and after this trip and the battery had never been flat or was ever flat again. He just can’t explain why it happened. We just laughed and laughed. Then suddenly as had always happened on this momentous trip there was a VISION! .Incredibly an AA van just appeared from nowhere in a massive car park it just happened to pass us. We flagged him down and he jump started us. We were homeward bound and we didn’t even crash on the way home! Unbelievable!
SNAFU No 12
The next day Sean and Ste P the Everton fan who had been with us to Barca asked a few of us to go and watch the Grand National in their local Kelly’s Bar in Aigburth. We watched in disbelief as the whole field of runners fell, apart from four horses including mine, the winner Red Marauder. After a week like that I thought I deserved it. Someone was watching over me!
It has taken me nearly six years to write this up simply due to the fear I could not do it justice, The Champions League draw motivated me to record it for posterity. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I could have exaggerated but I don’t think the story needed it. In fact I’ve understated some of the events to protect the innocent.
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