In February 2014 something very exciting happened to Swansea City Football Club, they qualified for the knock out stages of the Europa League. As a man that had grown up dreaming about a big European game, our plum tie against the giant club Napoli meant one thing: a chance to have a mini trip to Italy with my mates on the booze. Watching the Swans on the big stage was a close second to this prospect of sampling some Roman culture.
My first problem was that the Europa games are played mid-week and I had to do some thinking about how I could manipulate some time off. I had been on call over Christmas and was owed a week’s leave, the Napoli week in question didn’t appear to have any vital training scheduled so I applied for the time off and received it.
The weeks leading up to Napoli I was getting badgered by my old mate, Shaun. It was his 40th approaching and the old goat was on some trans-American trip trying to relive his youth or kill himself or something. I had promised if I was able to make it out to meet him then I would, he would be in NYC the weekend before Napoli so I set him up with a place to stay with my friend Luiggi and took to searching for reasonable flights.
London – New York JFK – £300 return. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I glanced at Skyscanner whilst en route to London. It was the Saturday before Shaun would be in NYC and I was on route to a birthday party in London. This flight had just appeared far below any other prices I had been monitoring. Booked! I hadn’t even worked the plan out in my head but it meant I would have a weekend in NYC before the Naples trip. The logistics, once I studied them, although complex looked perfectly achievable to me in my inflated view of my own ability. “Yeeeaa, I’ll be able to crack that no probs.” I said. In a way I have to admire my own optimism and belief in myself, I honestly backed myself to be able to pull it off and in no way considered the fact that I am useless as soon as I excitedly step foot into an airport. I’d booked my Italy flights a month previous so had to weave the trips together, I’m laughing out loud just reading back the itinerary that I thought was achievable.
Sat 22nd – Heathrow – JFK – Arrive Saturday afternoon. (3 nights with Shaun and Luiggi)
Tues 25th – JFK – Heathrow – Arrive 0900, Wed 26th.
Wed 26th – 13:00 Depart London Gatwick – Rome – Arrive – Train to Naples.
Wed 26th and Thurs 27th – 2 nights in a Hostel with Swansea mates and the Match.
Fri 28th – Train to Rome and 2 nights Lone Wolf around the Italian capital.
Sunday – 2nd Rome – London Gatwick.
I arrived in NYC without issue and had a good few days hitting the bars and wandering the city. The trip is a full story on its own and has been documented in a full chapter of a book about these tales. However, my final day in NYC forms a key part of my descent into complete disaster, which was also waiting for me with the lads suffering an equal epic in Naples. My complicated itinerary of travel started with one very simple task – catch my flight back to London. As it turned out it wasn’t that simple.
The day of my flight I had some time to chill out, it was later that night from JFK. In Manhattan, Shaun and I had found upon an open air rickshaw to take us across the city; not for any experience seeking reason but that no taxi would stop and we were desperate to get to Hooters. I had bought Shaun a massive bottle of Capt Morgan Black Spiced Rum for his birthday and he rightly pointed out that I’d necked most of it myself, that morning. The result was that come mid-afternoon I was a mess, Shaun was even getting annoyed with me. The pinnacle was when I’d rounded up all the Hooters waitresses and began singing to them along with the Beyonce song on the jukebox. To complete my embarrassment I was draped in an American flag that I was getting people to sign. I soon found I was running short on time and quickly darted out of the door heading for the subway. I then darted back to collect my rucksack I’d left behind.
A summary of the next few hours would go like this: I accepted some advice from a tube driver instead of checking the board myself, got into a fight with a Russian scammer who flashed his willy at me and ended up having this conversation with the little old lady sat opposite me:
Lady – “I say, where are you going on this line with that large rucksack?”
“JFK” I replied.
Lady – “Oh, are you checking out Coney Island before heading off for your flight?” she questioned.
“No, this train’s going direct… isn’t it?”
She chuckled before then displaying a look of concern.
“This is going all the way to Coney Island and then heading back… all through Manhattan and Queens before JFK”
“Shit” I whispered as I looked at my watch.
With all hope of making my flight now gone I made my way to Luiggi’s. I wasn’t even sure if he’d be home and the look on his face when he answered the door was a cross between confusion and imminent laughter. I explained the episode of the day to him and decided the only practical thing to do was sleep; with no plans in place I decided to start fresh in the morning. My slumber was briefly interrupted by Shaun coming back blind drunk, walking into my room and standing there laughing at me; he didn’t even speak, he just stood and laughed, hysterically.
Taking stock of the situation I deducted what was fact and what the options were. I had missed my flight to London and now also the connecting flight to Rome from London which was to enable my onward move to Naples, fact. Therefore I could either:
1. Stay in NYC for the rest of the week and get a flight on Sunday.
2. Cut my loss on a disastrous trip, get a flight home and save any more drama.
3. Try and get a flight from NYC to Naples at new extra cost.
4. Have a brain transplant to prevent anything like this happening again.
5. A combination of any of 1, 2 or 3 accompanied by 4.
I did consider throwing in the towel and going home but this was the Swans, the Swans in Europe for the first time since the 90’s, all the lads were going; I couldn’t miss this. I found a flight that would get me to Naples, which was the good news. The bad? It would cost £335.49 one way. Of course I would only need one way as I still had a return booked from Rome, which I had to get to after Naples! Added to this was the prospect of an 8 hour stop over… in Istanbul, meaning I would fly past Naples to then have to fly back. Throw in that because of the flight time, wait over and time difference I was going to lose the first night in Naples and only arrive the afternoon of the match. I clicked ‘Confirm’, picked up my already packed bag, necked the rest of Shaun’s birthday present and set off on my epic Euro adventure.
I was sat at the airport bar reflecting on things. My tendency in these situations is to not dwell on the matter and push it to the back of my mind, have a little laugh at it and carry on. The money is gone, the deed is done… why ruin what’s left of it by sulking. I then do some strange justification measure, working out the money I’d paid for the new flight and deducting costs that I would’ve incurred if I went with the original plan; so, I started justifying… No doubt I would’ve been in a flap when getting to Heathrow and then paid over the odds to get to Gatwick quickly… so let’s call that £35. I then would’ve had a few pints at Gatwick… £15. I’m gonna miss a full night out in Naples with the lads – £150. I probably would’ve snuck some soothing water bottle wine onto the original Kuwaiti flight – £20. Train drinking from Rome to Naples with three of the lads – £40. So the whole episode only set me back £75.49. I tip more than that in Hooters.
After a hungover meltdown in Istanbul airport I had finally arrived in Naples, been relayed a destination for the lads and was walking along the Port area from the bus stop. Passing a large castle on my left I wandered for about an hour looking for the prominent (and in no way common) landmark that Stuart had confidently advised me to find… a pizzeria with tables outside and an Italian flag!
Eventually arriving at the pizzeria… after about 20 false hopes I noticed it was next to a massive, bright white, highly visible and unique monument! I was greeted with jeers of “Waaaaaaaaaaaaa”. Feeling like a moron I was slightly buoyed by Luke, who I enjoy a generally harsh and unforgiving relationship with, saying “Fair play, Herculean effort to make it mush, I had you down as a no-show, a task beyond you like.” A bit of pessimism from his ending of the statement but definitely a positive comment, for him. I was soon to be delivered a pint and cheered up by some unanimous evidence that I was not the only bell-end failing at going abroad this week.
The ‘Slugs’ as we are collectively known as and assembled under in our Whatsapp group are a group of mates from Swansea that I have mostly known since school. Their 24 hours on this trip had so far, in chronological order, encountered this:
They had played a trick on our mate Davies – a recent 5-figure lottery winner – by hiding his plane ticket and then getting everyone to show them at the gate in an overt display to make him aware that he didn’t have it. Once letting on to him that it was a wind up, they then realised they had actually lost Davies’ ticket. Although Denty claims he gave it back and then Davies lost it there will forever be disagreement as they were all steaming and can’t quite remember.
Three of the lads Wayne, Hursty and Stuart had arrived on time at Gatwick airport, on presenting themselves to the desk they were informed that it was the wrong airport, they should’ve been at Heathrow.
The Slugs were threatened with removal from the aircraft when one of them ‘brushed up’ against a Janet Street-Porter lookalike, who then proceeded to moan at them non-stop. Denty then canvassed the rest of the passengers for a whip around to bump Street-Porter up to first class and out of the way.
On the first night in Italy and after being warned by the UK Government about the viciousness of Napoli fans, Denty decided to take off on a scooter with some local… not to be seen again until morning where he was still in possession of the scooter keys.
Stuart had a three hour bath.
Bryn had violently kicked a hostel door in as a result of being too stupid/drunk to operate it. A family upstairs had complained the next morning that they’d never heard so much noise in their lives. When confronted by the staff and the accusing family, Bryn and the lads’ reasoning angle to the accusation of “You kept us up all night” was “Like fuck did we keep you up all night, we didn’t get in until 4am.” closely followed up with “And anyway, what the fuck are you doing in a hostel with your family, you tight bastards?”… they had to pay for the door and were ejected from the Hostel and had to go and find another one. Bryn was not feeling too popular.
Hursty woke to realise he had lost his wallet, containing his match ticket and money. He already had the local Polizi on speed dial as this type of drama seemed to happen every time he went away. He had also lost his passport. On returning from his ordeal at the station reporting it he realised he hadn’t paid any attention to where the hostel was and spent an age locating it with the help of an expensive phone call to the lads. Back in the room he observed as Wayne woke up, rolled over and revealed a passport shaped crease on his face.
While laughing at these stories I had a sudden pang of worry as Hursty mentioned his passport; I rapidly started patting myself whilst half listening to him. “You alright Mush?” Hursty said. “Funny you mentioned your passport mate, I haven’t seen mine since the airport and I’m usually good at checking for it.” I replied worryingly. Feeling like an absolute tool I now had to announce to the Slugs that I’d lost my passport. That £75.49 I had whittled the extra episode expense down to, well double it back up on phone calls to the British Embassy.
Naples is a shit-hole. The Port area is quite nice in the sunshine, looking across to Mount Vesuvius, but Naples town is a shit-hole. Every building or spare wall is covered in graffiti, I can appreciate cool art in any form but this wasn’t art; it was just tacky gang land words. The good thing about this and most other continental European towns is that they sell beer everywhere; cafes, shops, souvenir stands, food carts, everywhere… I half expected a copper would be willing to flog me a can. The liberal attitude towards alcohol was well received by us though; we were travelling via police arranged coaches to the ground, well in advance of kick-off and would not be permitted a drink once boarding.
On approach to Naples Port I had dropped back slightly with Hursty and Davies, strolling along while (slugging a bottle of Peroni) taking in the clear spring day and panoramic of the bay. This serene moment was shattered by what I would relate to as a re-enactment of Pearl Harbour. I had clearly arrived in the epicentre; a large flat square of concrete, where I was witnessing the fall-out. There were groups gathered together assisting people flat out on the ground, people slumped against a fence, people wandering around on their own – looking like they were in some sort of need for help but if you asked them you’d never understand the response. People stood, looking up, screaming at no-one in particular and police and medical staff trying to maintain order. Brits abroad hey?! In honesty though it was good clean fun and everyone was having a ball; a real carnival atmosphere with plenty of singing. Soon enough we would be processed towards the coaches for an Italian job; one long ordeal of grim proportions.
The third time we went over the same dual carriageway bridge I started to get really frustrated. I was stood wedged between the other Swansea fans at the front of a coach and we had been moving for 2 hours… on a 20 minute journey from the port to the stadium. When we arrived we were channelled by riot police straight into the stand; not once did anyone check my ticket. Swansea were 1-0 down by the time we arrived and not surprising considering they had played nearly 30 minutes of the game without any support. When Swansea equalised, putting us in the lead due to ‘away goals’ we all went wild, wild, wild; full grown men jumping around in ecstasy. Our joy was short lived as despite an honourable display we ran out 2-1 losers, just to top off my 24 hours of despair.
The experience with the Napoli official coaches and the police left a large amount of disgruntled Swansea City supporters, except one bloke I spoke to, who said “Fuck it, I only came for the pizza and ice cream anyway”. It seems we suffered due to the fact that Napoli has a hooligan problem and as much as we weren’t a bunch of hooligans, the actions and treatment by the club and the police threatened to create a volatile atmosphere within us. Leaving us crammed on overcrowded buses for so long was also irresponsible and plain rude to a bunch of people coming to spend money enjoying their country. I’m sure there was a motivation to keep us from the ground to aide their home team also. It all seemed unjustified and just way over the top; they even took Stuart’s phone charger off him and confiscated it, animals!
Living by my mantra I was determined to not let the events spoil the remainder of the night, we debussed and headed for a pizzeria. Sat, around 10 of us at a large rectangle table we got stuck into the red wine; ‘the calm before the storm surely’ I thought. I was incorrect, soon after all but a few of the group headed back to the hostel. I was a bit disappointed to say the least but could understand with all the goings on in the last 24 hours. I had been through an epic to get here so decided to stay out with a few of the lads and we mingled with some locals. I won’t name and shame the early nighters… apart from Luke, I will take pleasure in exposing him. His justification of “I was tired from all of the travelling mush” drew an inquisitive look from me. Ha!
I was still without passport, come morning. I was also alone when the hostel cleaner booted the leg of my bed; the lads had set off for home. The rest of the Slugs all had families and responsibilities back home so the short trip was over for them. Not so for me and I had another two nights of leisure and maybe more if I didn’t resolve my passport situation. I was in two minds whether to stick around for the night in Naples or head to Rome, so I approached the hostel desk to enquire about an extension. Suddenly I was back in my meltdown state from the airport in Istanbul. Negotiating with this bloke was beyond my abilities at that moment so I just turned and walked off. “Sir… Siiiiiiir.”
The British Embassy were useless, to me anyway, very productive for O2, my phone provider though. I spent over 20 minutes talking to various people who obviously had a script and were in no way in possession of a free thinking or helpful brain:
“I’ve lost my passport, I think I dropped it in the airport.”
“OK, I will put you through to the department to issue a temporary one, it’s 20 Euros.”
“No” I said. “I just need you to enquire with the airport; surely you have a liaison officer?”
“The application is 20 Euros, do you have enough cash?” she replied. “It’s 20 Euros.”
“Yes, I have 20 Euros, but……”
“It’s ringing Sir, ensure you can pay the 20 Euros.”
A male voice answered and I explained the situation again.
“You need to come in, it’s 20 Euros for the process” he said.
“Are you lot on commission or something mush?” I snapped. “I need someone to check with the airport people, if it’s there then we are sorted.”
“You can go to the airport Sir, but come here first, make sure you have 20 Euros.”
I was getting nowhere so I decided to make a joke “I’ve got 20 Euros mush but the bus costs 1 Euro, will you take 19?”
“Can you walk Sir, it’s 20 Euros?”
I put the phone down and headed for the airport.
The weather was bright and mild but requiring a jacket and the one I had was a reminder of the disaster in New York. While at a karaoke bar with Shaun I placed my jacket in the corner for a while; it was a much loved tweed, Tommy Hilfiger blazer effort that was my regular choice to wear, until that night when somebody had stolen it from the bar. In its pocket it also contained my phone charger, headphones and a mobile charge unit I had borrowed from my friend. It cost me $80 to replace them at the airport and a grovelling apology to my mate. My jacket though, was replaced by a smart black one from Luiggi’s lost and found collection of items left by his regular couchsurfing travellers.
Finally, a stroke of luck; the airport police had my passport. I had placed it down on a bench and when I received a phone call from the lads I had stood up and walked off while talking. Pleased with the news, I set off for the train station to purchase a ticket to Rome:
“Certainly Sir, the 13:15 to Rome, that’ll be 20 Euros… aaaaand I need some identification.”
I had a little chuckle as I reached into my pocket and said “20 Euros, no probs… Passport OK?”
Typically, I had not booked any accommodation in Rome and on leaving the station I was greeted by the imposing sight of the Colloseum… covered in sheets and scaffolding.
Even though from the moment that I left London right up until seeing one of the wonders of the world resorted to a building site, it had been one blunder after another, I still managed a giggle on the plane home; and I still laugh about it now. On returning home I had more news of buffoonery to comfort me and make me laugh. Davies and Bryn had been in charge of the slugs train tickets to get home from London to Swansea… £80 each… between them they had also predictably lost the lot of them which they would have to pay to replace. Good old Slugs… good old glorious, useless, Slugs.
In one final act of cruelty and kick in the nuts, Bryn found the tickets the next day in his wallet. He then kept this fact hidden from Davies for six months allowing Davies to be wracked with guilt thinking it was him that lost them. Hahahahahahaha…
This Italian disaster will live long in the memory of this useless group of Swansea City fans.
My book “Trampface: Homeless By Choice, a true story about living undercover on the streets is now available on amazon in eBook and paperback or direct from myself.