More than just a football ‘trip’

heinekenIt is not often a person finds himself in a modern day version of ‘Plane, Trains and Automobiles’.

While Steve Martin wasn’t my travel companion of choice on this occasion and I certainly wasn’t desperate to get home for Christmas, I was hoping the good people of Heineken would ensure the simple journey from our Barcelona hotel to the footballing theatre that is the Camp Nou, was relatively trouble free. Little was I to know that our 1pm pick-up from our Grand Hotel, to show us some beautiful Catalan sights would end up being a part of a wedding, whisked off to some yacht in the Mediterranean, as well as being arrested by Spanish police alongside a group of circus performers. Heineken don’t do anything by halves and they proceeded to give myself, and a group of fellow journalists, arguably one of the greatest experiences of our lives.

I suppose I should have smelt a rat the minute our state of the art Heineken bus broke down in a country lane on the outskirts of town. It wasn’t so much the shock horror of modern machinery failing us, but how quick our rescue vehicle was at hand in the shape of a mini bus of circus performers. I have to admit that I never envisaged that within the space of 30 minutes of leaving the hotel I would have a clown and a contortionist sitting on my lap as I belted out a solo rendition, with the assistance of a couple of musicians, of ‘No Woman, No cry’. Surreal isn’t the word and little was I to know that this was just the first part of what was to prove a truly epic journey.

While it is clear in some quarters that my rendition of this Bob Marley classic was a crime in itself, I didn’t really expect this to prove a reality. Cruising along the back streets of Barcelona we became aware of flashing lights and sirens and having pulled over we were subsequently being dragged out for questioning. Armed with only ‘Hola’ and ‘Si’ in my own Spanish repertoire, I left our own Spanish speaking organisers to attempt to reach a compromise. Having been a great fan of The Bill over the years and watched the likes of PC Reg Hollis arrest hardened criminals and refuse to strike deals; I found the attitude of the Barcelona Constabulary rather lenient in comparison. Thoughts of spending the evening of the Champions League semi-final in a Spanish cell were quickly replaced with the offer of freedom, should we be able to defeat them in a penalty shootout. While the prospect of any English team being able defeat a Spanish team on penalties is near on impossible, we did fancy ourselves on the sandy beaches of Barcelona. After a tense battle and the fear at one point of sudden death, our tour guide Alice scored the decisive kick that left the Spanish police walking off with their truncheons between their legs, and us free to continue our journey to the Nou Camp. Little did we know what was facing us some 500 yards way – in the shape of a ranting bride to be and her frantic father. If we thought our journey was surreal up to this point, then it all gets a little crazy hereon in. Having never been asked to be a part of a wedding party, you can understand how willing I was to accept the groom’s invitation to be an usher. While seemingly a Spanish native, with a hint of Bethnal Green creeping through in his voice, I proceeded to understand my requirements for his special day. With the sun beating down, it was the perfect wedding and we had more than played our part in the proceedings and as the beer continued to flow, we were content to enjoy the wedding party, with little thought about any other possible twists and turns ahead. Heineken had other ideas and arguably the biggest twist was yet to come. The father of the bride was internally grateful for our intervention into his daughter’s wedding and wanted to invite us to his yacht to continue the party anchored in the middle of the Mediterranean. In true James Bond style we were thrown in a power
dingy to take us to the yacht and continue our party in style.

As the alcohol continued to flow, it was easy to forget that a Champions League semi was a mere two hours away and as we cruised along living the dream, we could think of few places that we would rather be. Only Heineken could take us to the Nou Camp in such style, although arguably the biggest twist was yet to come. As the power dingy docked up next to the yacht we knew we were finally on the home run, but little did we know that we had helicopters awaiting our arrival on dry land – we were finally en-route to the Nou Camp, but from a slightly different angle than we otherwise expected.

The pitch was in sight and so too the end of our magical journey. We had finally arrived at our destination in a journey of true Heineken style that would have simply ‘Opened Your World’.