Thursday 2 May 2013


European jaunts away with men you met off the internet is the way forward, seriously. It's hard to explain that first sentence, but those of a similiar ilk will grasp I'm sure, the fact we all seem to get on so well is just part of it. The last weekend gone, we visited Italy for an extended weekend, Thursday until Tuesday to be precise. We flew from Manchester to Milan; two industrial cities I'd say were pretty similar in many ways, though less designer dogs, scooters, trendy old men and shady beggars around our side of the world, only just though. 
Getting off the plane it was proper holiday weather, out came the shades and shorts, alas, it wasn't to last all weekend though, no bad thing as I was getting a sweat on. Taking in the second largest city in the land, browsing it's famous stores, sights, bambino's - (babes, not babies), architecture and taking in a few bars along the way, one being the Magenta - the oldest in the city. Being the beer snobs we can be it's always nice to try other stuff too though, having been lucky enough to see more of Europe this last couple of years, you've got to just dive in, even if it's different to the norm. So 8.5% bottles of beer in the afternoon it was, you can allow hangovers on your holidays. I hadn't planned on going shopping, though I reluctantly bought a 'friendship' bracelet from a street seller, who was somewhat unfriendly, ironically! I spotted a very nice titfer in a posh department store, at 100 Euros it was far too much dosh, especially ahead of a 'lads weekend' but my love of hats is well documented and I still wanted to go back for it on the way home. I did pick up a couple of Benetton polos too, nice basics at a decent price, especially with 20% off. The striped ones took my fancy, but the colours were all a bit too Lee Nelson for my liking.
We met up with our guide, Dom 'the Fish', to give him his wiseguy moniker, his other is the urban rambler and he wasn't wrong! We found that out after quite a few rather lengthy hikes, he either loved walking or didn't know where he was going! The first of many proper Pizzas and too much Moretti later, we drifted back to the hotel for a proper night's kip. Next stop, the coast. 

We jumped on the train down to Genoa, aka la Superba! A coastal city on the Ligurian industrial triangle, here we met up with our good friends from Our Culture who had travelled from Stockholm. Just under two hours later and a nice scenic trip across the mainly flat land in a proper train, not unlike ours from the olden days; where you get your own carriage (Quadrophenia and Trading Places style), a few cans of the favourable Moretti and many a curious glance out of the window as Italy flew by outside, later and job's a good 'un, Genoa bound. 
Our hotel was situated opposite the sea, though a massive fuck-off Ferry Terminal in the foreground and cruiseliners in the background put paid to actually seeing the ocean, a shame but we'd go and look for it at some point. 
Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse. It's fair to say it pissed down a lot of the time, but we're from an area famous for drizzle and each of us had brought about four coats each anyway, by chance most of us had seemingly packed a yellow one too. It didn't faze us, nor did the rain. Here we met up with good pals from all over, including England, Scotland, N Ireland, Sweden, Rome and Sicily, Connoisseurs, Our Culture, Stand and everything in between. 
Lads came from Rome, Siena and Etna (and anywhere I've missed) to meet up, great lads who I knew from various photos, but meeting them and finally putting faces to names and engaging in conversation was really great, despite sounding like a cross between that man from 'Allo Allo and Steve McClaren when he did that fucking daft accent. Despite a small language barrier, mainly on our part, completely on our part atually, *learns the lingo* everyone was pretty much the same. Props to the lads coming up all the way from Etna in Sicily, great, knowledgeable guys. There was some well turned out lads, with lots of compasses back on show, back in vogue, 'when in Rome...' as they say and more facial hair and hooded anoraks than the Northern Quarter.
We took in the Old City, with it's spiralling narrow alleyways and bars like little caves. Typically, the apt meeting point was a British themed pub, the locals recommendation though, not ours! The best of both worlds though as cultures clashed perfectly this time, with a stench of chip fat inside and an aroma of coffee and cigars outside it was actually a good place to start a long evening. Though none of us opted for the obligitory and ridiculously strong Tennants Super that everywhere seemed to have on tap, and McEwans Export which I've not seen in the UK since I was about eleven. No wonder they all drink wine over there.

Saturday morning saw breakfast in a real Paninaro Cafe Bar, scooters outside, panini's inside, after trying to explain what a cup of tea was, it was time for another mooch about the town and then to the afternoon; where we had lunch in a restaurant, everyone ordering various dishes - Gnocci, Ravioli, Penne etc, me ordering what must have been from the kid's menu as my Margherita arrived cut into little squares with plastic cutlery! Come to think of it the menu was laminated too, with daft little illustrations. Drinking our way across the city undaunted by the pissy rain, nipping into the odd shop along the way. I was asked where I was from in one old school Menswear shop, 'Stockport' I replied, 'Ah, relegation' was his reply as he pointed his finger downwards, nice one County! We were above Leeds three years ago. Towards the evening we met up with some local Ultras, one or two in our ranks had connections through their own respective scenes, we drank in a Sampdoria bar just down from the stadium and shared tales of the game and how it compares in our own areas, nice people, good folk.One notable touch - pretty much everywhere we went was the free food with every drink order. Beer and big bowls of crisps, pizza etc what's not to like? Saturday night saw a big meal, up to twenty of us sat around a long table, Beer, Wine, chatter, Italian food, going on until the turn of Sunday morning. A great night, onto Sunday, it was time to take in a game, Serie A or Blue Square Premier? a tough choice...

Sunday afternoon and match day, a trip to the Marassi. Aka the Stadio Comunale Luigi Ferraris, one of the great old school stadiums in Italy. I always remembered from watching Gazetta on telly on a Sunday in my younger days. As we approached the ground to a smoke bomb billowing in the wind, I left my recently purchased Samp bobble hat in the hotel, but bought a little pin badge as a show of support. Several locals exchanged handshakes with a few already aware of our label and one or two telling me how my original 'countylads' site was an inspiration to Italian football fans, I was chuffed.
Shared by rival clubs Sampdoria and Genoa, the stadium opened in 1911 and was half rebuilt for the 1990 World Cup. Host to many big games and big names over the years too (we don't mean Danny Dichio). This didn't disappoint, in England, flat way overpriced, shitty beer is the usual half time tipple; over here it was little shots of Espresso and just one Cornetto. The crowd was great, the 'Gradinata Sud', situated to our left was non stop, great noise and passion from the Sampdoria fans with their tops off like slimmed down, tanned Geordies and the odd one or two risking life and limb to perch on the fence from the top tier. Flags and banners were waved throughout the duration, Jim Morrison being an unlikely terrace icon. Fiorentina were the visitors, they filled their allocation and made plenty of noise with the old Guinness Toucan being theirs. With 'the Viola' eventually winning 3-0, to be honest, the overall experience outweighed the game as I tried to take it all in, taking photos and trying to keep up with the slower paced football. As I was no stranger to seeing the home team (my adopted team for the day) in blue and white shirts, take a bit of a beating. I'm used to that. We held out a STAND AMF banner printed in Sampdoria's club colours, the classic red, black white and blue strip, many curious glances came our way, as did plenty of thumbs up. As I type, Germany has just shown the rest of Europe how football should be done, with an all German Eurpean cup final and a game which is very much done correctly, or at least how it once was for us. The banner making a point many of us feel needs making. The ground was good, bucket seats bolted on terraces, fences in front, sit down, stand up, your choice, no stewards or heavy handed police waiting to pounce, relaxed and enjoyable.

Sunday evening, the beer flowed well, too well. We headed towards the Marina and got drunk by the sea, a DJ played a mix of OK tunes and complete and utter shite, but it didn't really matter, everyone had a good time and the locals, posh English yachting twats and fellow tourists just stood on and watched as we took over the bar, someone even asked if we were pirates!
I never thought I'd be knackered from dancing, never thought I'd even type that, but that's what happened. Drunk and not a care in the world, the occasion and the excitement just took over! Soon it was time to head back, not before a takeaway stop mind, typical Brits. Suddenly each of us were doing a rendition of our own club's favourite chants as we marched along the Piazza, once again to the bemusement of any locals still out. We sat around a square doing a rendition of the Wanderers theme tune at one point, I guess you had to be there, we'd have given One Direction a run for their money had we not been told to shut the fuck up as it was Sunday night!
As we Taxi'd it back to the Hotel, the Carabinieri actually escorted us back and made sure we all went in for the night, I didn't know whether to take that as a compliment or be embarrassed, no, I took it as a compliment! some of us went back out to check the local *ahem, talent, who were waiting along the road waving at passers by! 
An amazing trip with great company, here's to the next Connoisseur European Vacation. DC

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