This week’s blog entry kicks off with a Champions League excursion into Europe. I know for most football fans it’s the group stages that hold the real interest. However, it’s the qualifying rounds where you will find the champions, rather than the second through fourth teams that many nations have representing them. As someone who grew up with the European Cup, I remember when it was – other than the holders – just the first-past-the-post team that made it. Now it’s more of a who’s who of European football competing on the big stage.
Flying from England we landed in Bologna, Italy, and from there a coach journey took us to our destination. The world of The New Saints FC is certainly taking me to some interesting places, and I can now add San Marino to the list. Prior to the game itself I was at the SP Tre Penne press conference, UEFA delegates’ meeting and the TNS training session that was on the pitch at the National Stadium, where the game proper took place. I’ve always been a football fan, but now I’m involved it’s on a whole new level.
It’s like the difference between watching angling programmes on TV and actually going yourself. Talking of fishing, in with my travel bag went a newly-purchased telescopic rod and reel plus a few items of tackle. With the rod being a telescopic one that drops drown to eight inches, and the reel although decent enough, a very small one, it meant that I could get some fishing in. However, there was no water within a reasonable distance of the place where we stayed. My last Champions League outing was in Hungary last season and there was a lake right on the doorstep of the hotel.
Having to travel very light, there’s no way I could take ‘proper’ fishing gear, so the rod and reel I’ve now bought is perfect. You can see it in the accompanying video, that also includes more photographs from the trip. Although I wasn’t able to cast a line, I did do some birding though while I was there. That’s much easier, of course, all you need to do is open your eyes and look.
I saw nightingale, serin and Italian sparrow, which are all ‘lifers’ for me. In birding terminology that means it’s the first time I’ve ever seen them. In addition a hoopoe flew over our hotel one evening. The last time I saw one of those was in Wall Heath, which is right on the edge of the Birmingham/Black Country conurbation, earlier this year. While in the press box in the National Stadium of San Marino, where the game took place, I spotted a deer that crossed the road, about 20 metres away. Imagine seeing one that close to Wembley!
It really is a beautiful country, and like Hungary and especially the Faroe Islands last season, highly unlikely that I would ever visit otherwise. Already, football has been very kind to me. I’m still having those if-you-had-told-me-this-two-years-ago-I-wouldn’t-have-believed-you experiences. I keep thinking to myself, what’s next. Well, in the short-term a trip to Cyprus is on the agenda, as the 5-1 aggregate victory against SP Tre Penne means that Apoel FC are the next opponents.
I didn’t arrive home till late on Wednesday, so no fishing took place. I’d been awake and travelling for fifteen hours, so watching Wales take on Portugal on TV was my entertainment for the evening. Although the reigning club champions are still in, unfortunately our national team is now out. Although I’m English, I do have distant Welsh heritage that I’m very proud of. That’s one of the things I love about TNS, we have a good balance of both nations at the club, whether players or staff.
Talking of fans, our supporters were amazing in San Marino as a small group of them made their way over to watch the game. Gathered around a giant Welsh flag, their support was incredible. What was great to see was how, once the final whistle blew, they made their way over to the Sammarinese fans and they all celebrated together. No fighting. No aggression. No stand-off. No arguing. Football can either push people away, or it can bring them closer.
Although I enjoyed the trip, it was great to get back on the canal the next day. Fishing a very simple set-up (you can see it in the video) I had a bite every cast. It was probably just as good that I didn’t take my camcorder on this outing as I would have been too busy to use it. That’s a nice problem to have isn’t it? Fishing worm on a size 10 hook over chopped worm and brown crumb, the fish were very obliging. Apart from one roach, the others landed were perch, my target for the evening.
I also had a number of hook-pulls from decent fish as well. I don’t usually get many but sometimes these things happen. As you can see from the photographs, I caught a few good ones though. Mostly I just take shots of fish in my hand being released but if there is one that’s worhwhile then I do a pose-style photograph. The session was very short, just a couple of hours up to dark, which goes to show that it’s all about being in the right place at the right time.
I managed a second, and final outing as well, the very next day. Back on the canal, you can catch that session via the video at the head of this blog entry. Again I caught consistently throughout the outing and in fact I lost count of the number of perch that I landed. That’s another nice ‘problem’ to have, although I know exactly how many bream I banked. One. Back to football now though. Fancy the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a photograph with the Champions League trophy? Well, this coming Tuesday (July 12) that dream can become a reality.
As TNS take on the champions of Cyprus, Apoel FC, we will have the cup at Park Hall. Check out the details HERE on the TNS website. Hope to see you there! Finally, you can like my Facebook page and follow my Twitter account via the links elsewhere on this page. In addition I’ve got a personal Facebook account, so feel free to send me a friend request. You can access that by clicking here: Personal Facebook link. Have a good week and I’ll be back next Saturday. Why not subscribe to this blog and get the entries as they are published? There is a link in the top-right corner of the page.(Published July 9 2016)