Nightmare preseason road trip
I like preseason. It's a bit like ordering a starter when you go out for dinner. It keeps you going while you're waiting for the main course but it's never that amazing and doesn't matter if it's actually a bit rubbish.
It serves a purpose and, just like watching preseason football, I rarely get starters because I'm only really interested in the main course (and dessert which, in this case, I'm guessing is a decent cup run).
Anyway, this weekend I had my worst experience of a preseason starter ever which might put me off eating out altogether and just lead to a life of takeaways and football on television.
Crystal Palace played their last friendly of the summer in Germany at Bundesliga side Augsburg and, having missed every other preseason game so far on account of either working or not being bothered, I decided it would make a fun weekend trip to go and see Tony Pulis' boys playing in mainland Europe. Heck, I'd never seen Palace ever play anywhere but on English soil, so it was going to be something to remember.
I cobbled together a gang of my mate Andy, my brother Seb and my dad who, despite being an fan since 1956, had also never seen Palace play anywhere other than England. (In 1971, he decided at the last minute not to go and see Palace play at Inter Milan in the Anglo-Italian Cup, where two Bobby Tambling goals made the then-"Glaziers" the first British team to win in the San Siro. Oops!)
So off we set on a mini adventure at 1 a.m. on Saturday morning down to the Eurotunnel in order to get to Augsburg's SGL arena for around 2:30 p.m. local time, an hour before kickoff. That would give us time to buy our tickets, have some local beer in those giant mugs and generally have a grand old time.
Getting to the Folkestone-Calais crossing was a dream and the train raced under the channel in no time. We stopped off for a coffee and a croissant at a motorway service station and raced across the northeast of France, excitedly trying to predict the team Pulis would pick for the game.
That's because, actually, as meaningless as the preseason entree is, it's also the first time you get to experience a football day again after a couple of months off and you forget just how much of a laugh that is when it's finally back. Chuck into that a mini European road trip and you've got a memorable weekend. Or so we thought.
With dad and Seb sharing the driving and Andy and I sleeping in the back, we crossed over the river Rhine and into Germany ... and that's where our journey became less "Homeward Bound" and more "Lord of the Rings," thanks to miles and miles of roadworks.
We sat in traffic for hours, painfully watching the clock tick and knowing we were getting ever closer to missing kickoff. Meanwhile, as we frantically looked on Google maps for alternative routes, the Palace fans with more sense than us who had flown into town the night before, were calmly sipping beer in the German sun.
Eventually we battled through the roadworks and raced into Augsburg at 3.45, 15 minutes after the game had started. Frustrated but relieved that we were going to see at least 75 minutes, we approached the ticket stand only to be told by a confused looking lady that they didn't accept credit cards and that there were no ATMs at the SGL arena!
We had tried to get cash out at a motorway stop a few miles back but the machine hadn't worked -- it was almost like the footballing gods didn't want us to see any football on the day. It meant we had no way of getting in apart from sweet-talking some stewards into sneaking us under the gate with a sob story about driving all the way from England.
It turned out that they didn't care for that so we had to jump in the car, Google "ATM" and drive into residential Augsburg looking for a cashpoint ... ANY CASHPOINT!
Meanwhile Palace and Augsburg were playing out a fairly mundane first half in a typically slow preseason clash, although, for all we knew, it could have been an end-to-end goalfest.
Thankfully we spotted an ATM a mile or so away and duly slammed on the brakes. No matter that it was four lanes of traffic and a tram line away -- that didn't stop us and, after a passable impression of Jason Bourne, we dodged the obstacles and withdrew cash.
Having made it back to the stadium, we finally got to our spot on the terrace just as the referee blew for half-time. Annoyed at still not having seen a single minute of football -- but relieved it was 0-0 -- we finally grabbed a beer and started to relax.
Typically, the second half also had no goals but it didn't matter. It was good to see our first Palace game of the season and they looked quite good; resolute as before but keen to break on the counter.
New signing Brede Hangeland was solid at the back and Fraizer Campbell worked hard up front. Like last season, Dwight Gayle caused problems when he came on and did actually score a goal but, almost like the officials had been told not to give us anything to cheer about after our nightmare journey, it was disallowed.
The return trip to England was, of course, a breeze and a more sane person would be put off going on the road to see Palace again but, meh, footfall fans and sanity rarely combine in beautiful harmony.
Thankfully, though, the next away trip is much closer to home -- at Arsenal -- next weekend as the Premier League season begins.