I am now in severe displacement mode as I watch the clock tick away the seconds until the first ball is bowled at the Gabba.
So, to while the time away, I’ve been thinking about great sporting events at which I have been present. For some reason, I’m remembering 1984 and Heart of Midlothian’s first excursion into Europe for many a long year. We were drawn against Paris St Germain, playing them away in the first leg and I was not going to miss a chance to visit one of the most magical cities in the world for yet another time.
I ended up organising the bus from my supporters’ club. Forty of us on a bus travelling from Embra down to Dover and thence to Paris. It turned out that I was the only one who spoke French and that there were only three of us who had visited France before. The other two had entered the country, aged 19, via Normandy in 1944. I had to explain to them very gently that they were probably not going to get the same value for money for the nylons and chocolate that they had brought with them as they had forty years before.
A manic, drunken rollock through the Borders and then Southron territory. They had to stop the bus to empty the toilet before we got past Hadrian’s Wall and our Club President was comatose for the entire journey. I had arranged the hotel and it turned out to be just round the corner from a red light district but with a couple of good cafes and restaurants on the same street. The boys loved the whole ambience.
Language was not a problem. The lads just pointed at what they wanted by way of drink and then held out a fistful of coins and let the bar staff take what was needed. I know that Parisians have this reputation of being unfriendly and total rip-off merchants but it seemed to me that the total innocence abroad of the Embran Hearts fans disarmed them and that they treated us admirably. I’ll admit that I felt like an overworked sheepdog in charge of a particularly dense flock but I did enjoy the night.
We drank until the small hours and then adjourned to the hotel foyer where we sang our hearts out. My tradition is not fitba’ but University rugger bugger and I had a large repertoire of songs and stories which they had never heard before. I gave it laldy (Scots term meaning that I was the life and soul of the party). Eventually I got them all off to bed and collapsed into my own pit at about 4 am.
The phone rang just after 7 am. It was the manager complaining about the noise from the previous night. I apologised profusely and promised that I would identify the individuals involved and give them a severe talking-to. Crawled down to breakfast and was extremely grateful that it was continental with nothing fried in any way, shape or form. After several cups of coffee, I was ready to face the world in general and Paris in particular.
I reckoned that I had done my bit by getting the boys there safely and that it was only fair that I should be free to enjoy the rest of the day doing what I wanted to do. So, I gathered them on the corner outside the hotel and briefed them. I explained that I was off to do Montmatre, Les Halles, the Louvre, Les Invalides or whatever else took my fancy. I told them what time the bus would pick them up and said that I would see them in the ground.
One of them (Deek) had missed breakfast and arrived half way through my spiel. There was a patisserie behind me and he went in, pointed at a croissant and held out the usual fistful of coins.
Rejoining us, he took a big bite of the croissant and delivered himself of the immortal line:-
‘Some effing country this, by the way, John. There’s no meat in this bridie’. (Scots sort of pasty).