Monday, 4 June 2012

In Bruges

How on earth did we get to June so quickly? It seems only weeks ago that we were celebrating Mels 40th in January. Yet when I think about it, so much has happened already this year which probably explains my lack of posts. There are times for reflection and capturing the moment but there are periods where you just want to live in the moment, when you just don't feel like stopping to catch a breath. This year has been once continuous whirlwind of activity both in my professional and personal life. But due to circumstance, I am taking most of my annual leave in a 4 month period which hopefully will allow me enough time and space to do a little more writing than has been possible of late.

In May, Mel and I decided to do something special to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary. Since watching the film 'In Bruges' we have been borderline obsessed with visiting the City. One evening, after a particularly intense day Mel offered to do all the organising and get our weekend away booked. At that point, Manchester City were eight points behind United and as far as everyone was concerned the title had gone for this season at least. So when Mel suggested that we travel on the 12th and 13th of May I didn't object. The flights and hotels were booked and we were both really excited at the prospect of a long weekend together. I'm away 3-4 nights a week through work and consequently we've reached the stage where we have to plan quality time together.

It was only as the dénouement of the season began to play out that my hasty decision became apparent. United dropped points and City edged nearer and nearer. By the time the derby game at the Etihad stadium arrived I began to realise what a huge clanger I had dropped. I hastily scoured the internet for early flights back on the Sunday morning (I haven't mentioned this to Mel so don't tell her....) but to no avail. I was to miss the final game of the season, the biggest in my lifetime, a chance to witness us sealing the Premier title.

Resigned to my fate, I gave my ticket to my sister, who doesn't get to go much since having a family but who used to be an incredibly enthusiastic supporter back in the 90's at a time when frankly there was not much to be enthusiastic about. I could have sold my ticket for a small fortune but that wouldn't have been right, it deserved to go to someone who had suffered the bad days so that was that.......

We left early on the Friday morning, flying to Brussels and then an hours train Journey to Bruges. We were in our beautiful and luxurious hotel by lunchtime and out exploring all afternoon. Bruges is if anything even more fascinating and atmospheric than I had imagined and being so early in the tourist season it was reasonably quiet.

After lunch and a few drinks we headed out to to a bar that was well rated on Trip Advisor, down a quiet back street and away from the main tourist drag. The Cafe Rose Red is a place I'll always remember and always long to go back to. Serving the finest beers known to man, with impeccable service and knowledgeable help with our selections it is by far the best way to sample Belgian beer. Unfortunately Mel has now acquired a very expensive taste for Liefmans Cherry beer which is far nicer than I expected.The price was fairly reasonable there but costs £4 a bottle from Waitrose.

Saturday was a full day of exploration of this amazing city. We must have walked several miles through the cobbled streets and unusually for us, we took in all the cultural highlights including Michelangelo's Madonna and Child. There was so much to see and do and we worked up a thirst that could only be quenched with a return to the Cafe Rose Red.

We had pre-booked dinner for the Saturday night at the Park Restaurant which was the perfect way to celebrate 5 years of marriage. A perfect evening in a great restaurant with impeccable service really helped to mark the occasion and Mel and I laughed, ate and drank our way through the evening.

Sunday was a completely different affair. I had managed to block all thoughts of football up to this point but I awoke early on the Sunday morning in a blind panic. Mel attempted to distract me by taking me on a horse drawn carriage tour of the City which was lovely but didn't really distract me from the drama ahead.

We checked out and got the train back to Brussels and thanks to an old School-friend who recommended a bar off the beaten track we were able to settle down to watch the game in the company of several neutrals and a lot of United fans. By this point I was almost hyperventilating with nerves and every fibre of my being was wishing I were at the stadium.

The first half passed in a blur assisted by a few drinks and going in 1-0 up at half-time helped to settle the nerves a bit. However, early in the second half disaster struck, first conceding an equaliser and then worse going a goal behind. I don't think I've ever sworn so much and the crowd in the bar began to enjoy my pain. So much so that with just a few minutes to go, I doubted my team more than I have ever done before. I told Mel we were leaving, I just couldn't take the disappointment. To her eternal credit she demanded we stay. I loitered at the back of the bar, not wanting to be part of anyone else's entertainment. When Dzeko scored to even matters in the 91st minute I just became more infuriated. How could they do this to me? 'Typical City' - words I had uttered many times before......then from the darkness came light.....Aguero to Balotelli, back to Aguero then..........well I don't really remember the next few minutes. Mel said I cried a lot as we jumped and danced our way around the bar. I literally could not take it in......

"Drink it in, you will never see anything like this ever again..."

Somehow Mel got me back to the airport, I just couldn't function any more and had simply reverted to repeating the words 'I can't believe it....' over and over again. I spoke to friends at the game and we hastily arranged to meet and celebrate as soon as I landed. We made our way to the gate, boarded the plane and were just beginning to be moved to the runway when suddenly a loud bang rang through the cabin.

'Apologies Ladies and Gentlemen, you may have just heard the sound of the nose cone being hit by the tug vehicle......we think it will be OK but are just waiting for an engineer to check it out....."

Two hours later, we were still sat on the plane and our worst fears were confirmed. The flight was cancelled and we disembarked, collected our luggage and made our way to a hotel at the airport. I couldn't be persuaded to eat with the other passengers and instead we had room service delivered while I consoled my celebratory self by watching Match of the Day before drifting off into a victorious coma......only to be awoken by a gut wrenching stomach pain that consequently turned out to be food poisoning. How I made it through that journey I'll never know and by the time we landed in Manchester the following morning I was a husk of my former self. Exhausted, delirious and absolutely ecstatic, I somehow made it through the day and was able to get the train in to Manchester to witness the trophy being paraded around the City.

There will always be a part of me that regrets not being there but equally I will always remember the weekend and the broad spectrum of emotions I went through that weekend. Plus I was able to share the moment with my soulmate who understood what it meant to me and had the fortitude to make me stay until the end and witness the most electrically charged moment of my entire life.


  1. Al you part timer!! I bet you were gutted

  2. Only just read this, Alan. Your account made me share your pain and (eventual) elation. I was there and will never forget it. Don't stop writing, will you? I've dried up again!