So I awoke on the morning on Friday the 31st October in a great mood , it was a Friday and it was the end of the month payday weekend more specifically . It was fair to say there was a spring in my step and I was plotting how I might be able to slip away early from work when my phone pinged with a new email .
“ Sure Its A Grand Old Team ! Cheer on the Celts ! Flight and Matchday ticket only 55.55 ! “
Ohhh I thought ,, that is tempting indeed , holy crap thats tempting and very reasonable also .
Plus I havent been for years and if I ever was gonna book a trip it would be on this very day , payday , that I would actually contemplate booking anything !
And the missus is going to see her sister for a weekend next month!
Ohh ,,, you know I might just go for this hey , let me look at this in detail , I thought .
Soo,, after a couple of clicks Im in the business end and sure enough the Hibbees are in town on that weekend, happy days . I’ll book her now and be done with it , plus the missus wont complain spending money before Christmas etc as its not much , 50 quid or so wont be noticed.
Alright , flights done , same day return , no luggage , no foods fine , click go to booking page ,, credit card entered ,, final summary ,,,,,,
99 quid !? Hold on its supposed to be 55 ? Let me go back and see how they worked this out .
After a couple minutes research turns out the bassa’s will only give you the 55 deal if you go on the late night Friday flight and return on the late night Monday flight ? Who to f#@k would want that timetable ? Another 30 minutes of clicking around with different flights and weekends shows its not getting cheaper for a day return until next season , unbelievable .
Still , i’ve been thinking about it and kinda building up to it , looking forward to it , so I go ahead and book the 99 quid deal , ticket and flight .
So Saturday 22nd November Im up early and get a lift to the airport wearing the Hoops as is tradition . Entering theres a smattering of green and white which is reassuring .
I join the queue of about 40 and slowly make my way forward with the booking reference number up on my mobile .
After about 20 minutes i make my way up to the Ryanair desk and a very fresh faced young lady says yes while typing and without making eye contact .
I lean on the counter and slide the phone in her direction , and after a quick glance at the Hoops top but without looking me in the eyes she says in a foreign accent , “ the 7.45 am for Glasgow?”
Ah , i’m thinking , she knows the colours , understands what’s going on. “ Yes please “
Her lips turn slightly downwards and she says softly “ Sir today’s flights is overbooked and we are conducting a raffle between all the football fans to seat who gets a seat . Please step into the Raffle room which is behind you . “ All while not even making eye contact and still typing .
Im stunned , pissed , and embarrassed all at the same time and incredulous I raise my voice a level or two and find myself saying “ Hold on a minute here “ and before I can go on I feel a hand at my elbow and a young man in a hi viz vest with a walkie talkie in hand saying in a thick Dublin accent “ Sir raffle rooms this way “ all while scanning the crowd and not even looking at me .
Not really being one for a scene , I decide to take my complaints elsewhere and follow him to a small room , which is half full of Celtic fans , all wearing the Hoops or scarves , muttering betweens themselves . Within 30 minutes it has filled and in walks yer man in the hi viz again head down reading sheets of printouts . Without lifting his head he announces in his thick accent that “ Right turns out theres 14 seats available and I reading 31 here so roughly half of you wont be going today ! Now we will be using a raffle system and as such you have all been assigned numbers . Those numbers where fed into the computer and the computer drew out the 14 winners ! “ Background mumbling becomes a rising tide of protest when he holds aloft the boarding pass’es and starts shouting “ Paul Mc Erlean . Michael O Connor . Colm O’hara .”
There’s almost a surge to get him when a couple of obese fellas rush in and flank him , also in hi viz vest only these say Ryanair Backup and they proceed to form a wall in front of him with about a one foot gap between them . He proceeds to call out the names and then hold the boarding pass through the gap ! A few “ winners “ are there or thereabouts to collect their “ prize “ and I hear my own name being announced . The 2 man mountains both dont even bother to make eye contact , just looking straight ahead , an impenetrable shield through which my sheet of paper is thrust by the young Dub who doesnt look at me but is somehow aware its me ?
I hear someone ask loudly why only the Celtic fans to which he replies you got the deal thats why !?
Then the plane itself is delayed , of course !
“ Only “ 45 minutes we are all told by the young Dub who is now checking his mobile ?
When finally seated and on board , even though its early something stronger than coffee is needed to settle my nerves , and Im starting to think Ive made a wrong decision booking this trip when the drinks trolley arrives .
“ Stella Artois please “ I ask thinking shes just what I need right now , that beautiful Belgian frothy cold kiss , and true enough the girl produces a small bottle , takes out a bottle opener and pops the cap off , sticks a clear plastic cup on top , and handing it down to me announces , without making eye contact and in a Polish accent , 9 pounds or 10 Euros please !
“ 9 pounds !!!! “ I almost gasp “ are you serious ? “
“ Sorry Sir ,, thats the price on the menu and Its already opened “ she softly says .
I hand her my credit card , and hear her say even more meekly , theres 7 percent credit card charge okay ?
“ 7 percent ? In the name of,,,, “ I force myself to calm and remind myself shes just doing her job . I nod at her and she swipes the card and passes me the wee machine to finish the transaction . Incredibly the final price of my wee Stella thats not even that cold , is just under a tenner ,,, holy f#%king crap !!! Last beer on this plane thats for sure .
Getting to the Gallowgate from the airport was fine … few pints and a wander around the place bringing back old memories . Then I felt thoul hunger pangs and thought sure ill stroll up towards the stadium and get a burger or something in one of those vans outside it while taking my time .
Was a leisurely stroll but as I was walking I noticed something was absent ,, it took me about 5 or 10 minutes to figure out what it was ,, no food smells at all ! WTF ?
And then true enough when I get to where they should be they arent there !
What are there is row upon row of salespeople outside their company branded little portahuts , trying to get my to sign up for credit cards ,,, a Hyundai ,,, a chance to win a trip to Vegas ,,, and a gym membership !!!
Im effing starving here , wheres the grub ? So I spy a copper and decide to ask him wheres the food vans these days ? I wander over and ask and he just stares back as if Ive two heads for a minute and says when was the last time you where at a game ?
3 or 4 years ago , before the new owners I tell him . He smirks ,,, nods his head as if in confirmation to himself ,, and just strolls away , still smirking !
This effing day is going from bad to worse !
Feck it , I ve no choice and I am close anyway , I shall head into the stadium and grab a bite , take my seat early . So its through the crowds and into the entry area only to notice something very strange . About one in every ten gates is absolutely packed with punters trying to get in , and the others have no one entering them at all really except the odd straggler ?
Between these huge lines of people , wandering the virtually empty spaces are numerous young girls and men in hi viz vests holding up mobile credit card scanners shouting “ Enter your own gate . enter you own gate only 5 pounds or 7 Euro ! “
What,,,they are charging for entering your own gate ? I dont understand ? So I sidle up to one of these young chaps full of questions ?
As I approach him I notice his eyes searching my hands for something , a credit card no doubt , and before I can open my mouth he states in his thick Dublin accent “ Can’t let you go any further without payment . 5 Pounds or 7 Euro .”
“ Excuse me I havent been here in quite a while and Im not sure whats going on , are you saying I must pay to enter the gate nearest my seat ? “
He inhales deeply and loudly while looking around , and seems to be making some sort of decision . Eventually he points towards the very busy entry gate with his credit card reader and states matter of factly “ Your pass gets up entry there ,, general admission gates . You want to enter gate closest to your seat and ignore the general admission its a fiver but we do take Euro and credit card “
I look to the sky and rub my hands over my head a moment , to try to compose myself before I explode you see .
I decide eff you all , no more sleekit money out of me ! and start to saunter back to the bulging queue out a single turnstile . As Im shuffling slowly forward I hear a fella behind me saying eff this and walks into the empty zone while getting the wallet out .
A quick chat , glance at his pass, and a swipe and the young man balances the machine while handing him the pen to sign . “ 7.50 ? You said a fiver ? “ I hear , to which the reply is extra charges and I only work here , and before the last words has left his mouth he has thrust his reader machine in the air again and soon starts repeatedly yelling “ Enter your own gate only a fiver ! “
When I do get to the turnstile and present my pass the girl behind the screen actually hands me something , a bundle of papers actually . Once Im past I look what it is ,, flyers and ads , she handed me a bundle of advertising !!!
Very confused I look for a bin and there are none anywhere to be seen , but a fella in a hi viz vest walks over towards me and while scanning the crowds coming in states littering is a 200 quid fine and walks on !
It took every bit of strength not to reach out and rip his head off .
So with about a half an hour to go until kickoff I get into the stadium and my first thoughts are some grub and something to drink .
It takes about 10 minutes but I find myself looking at a sign saying food and beverage this way and follow the arrow .
It leads me to an unexpected O’Briens coffee and sandwich shop stall , like something you would see in an airport . Just two fridges , one drink , one food , and a girl sitting beside a till . This is different I thought and went to peruse the choices , only to find mostly bare shelves interspersed with the odd item .
Food first I thought , absolutely Lee Marvin by this stage . And then I take in the names on the wrappers ,,, youve got to be kidding me ,, not one f%#king meat sandwich left ? It takes ten minutes and I force myself to pick up something , anything , as I cannot make a conscious decision between any of the options . Turns out its a Tzatziki , Hummus , and Falafel , sundried tomato wrap , and today is the last day of its best before date . I look to the heavens , take a deep breath and try to calm myself . Same for the liquids , I end up closing my eyes and waving my hand around only to find myself with a pomegranate and blueberry smoothie , honestly !
Then its up to the till where the girl doesn’t look at me and announces in a Polish accent 15 pounds ! FIFTEEN QUID ? I think she senses my rage , as she picks up her phone again and starts double thumb texting while I make my decision .
I opt to purchase knowing I need something in the belly , and an empty stomach could well see me throttle someone if this keeps up .
So I take out the credit card and hand it over . “ 7 percent extra “ she informs me and without waiting for answer slides the card,,, my blood pressure rising dangerously at this stage.
I make my way to my allocated seat number , keeping the food and drink well out of sight just incase I bump into someone knows me . Theres about 15 minutes or so until kickoff and every tenth or so entrance fans are streaming into the stadium and heading all directions .
I find my seat number , and start to actually look forward to taking the weight off my feet and tucking into this strange grub . I go to pull the seat down and its stiff ffs , wont pull dont with just a tug . Ill pulling and pulling and the seat bit won’t come down , its being held up in place by something . At a touch on my elbow I turn to find a hi viz jacket looking past me at the seat with concern on his face !
“ Sorry pal , seats stuck , gimme a hand here “ I say to him returning to the task at hand .
Incredulously he looks at me quizzingly and states in a thick Dublin accent “ the seat will be released at kickoff , when was the last time you were here ? “
“ Years why ? Released at kick off , what’s all that about , I wanna sit down now ? “
He just nods slowly to himself as if that was the expected answer and , whilst surveying the rest of “ his “ area relays to me , in that thick Dublin accent “ If you had checked the T and C’s you woulda found seat is for the duration of the game only ,, not long now “ and saunters away to deal with a seat wrestler about 15 rows away .
This is getting beyond it now , I cant even sit down and eat my ,,,, wrap ! WTF has happened to this place ? I check the watch and decide to just stand and eat then relax thoul legs and enjoy the game . The wrap dripped white stuff that I didnt like yet was all over the place so there was no avoiding it , and the smoothie wasn’t helping wash the food down like it was supposed to , it was thicker than the wrap and the drink needed washed down with an actual drink ffs ! Ridiculous .
A check of the watch and its about to turn 3 ,, teams should be out surely , and where’s YNWA ?
Five minutes after 3 and I start thinking hold on ,, and then notice that nobody else seems to care , they are all just chatting away , no one checking the watch or berating the stewards .
Im thinking theres something not right here , and if it hit 3.15 with no match Im gonna raise hell, even if I am alone doing it for some reason !
Sure enough 3.15 comes around and I look around for a high viz vest when I hear a concentration of noise around the tunnel area,,, ah here we go at last .
BUT the noise is actually a chorus of boo’s and what emerges from the tunnel isn’t the teams but a golf cart that rolling towards the centre circle ? And stops at the centre circle and a fella hops out with a wireless microphone in his hand and asks for quiet , in a thick Dublin accent !
Its O leary ! The fecker himself is here conducting affairs .
He raises the mic, and asks for all our attention , over a chorus of boo’s ?
After a minute or so he just starts talking over the crowd ,,,
“ Dont worry Folks , shows on the way , a couple last minute hitches , sure you all understand , just bear with us please ! “ At this last bit a huge chorus of boo’s arise , and I even join in myself childish though it is , only to see O Leary laugh while shaking his head, climb into the cart , and disappear down the tunnel while checking his phone !
What to f&%k is going on here ?
I’ve had enough I decide after about another 10 minutes and turn to leave the stadium when a roar goes up,,, the teams are coming out ! Eff it , I came all this way , lets just watch the game I decide, fuming inside .
The teams run around for a minute , and I sense a bit of a build up as the Celts all head towards a certain spot on the pitch for that beautiful tradition , the huddle .
This is it , I thought , once you see the huddle you’re in business !
I could feel thoul pulse starting to race , anticipating the feast to come .
Theres someone in the next seat now , and I turn and catch his attention .
‘ Alright pal , hows it goin ? “
“ Alright mate , no too bad aye ,,, should be a decent game ! “
Happy days I thought, seems a decent fella and about my age too .
Next minute the team enters the huddle and a wee cheer goes up , and deciding to put the bad start to the day behind me , I also start cheering . I look to see if yer man next to me is cheering also , but hes just kinda looking at me , a wee bit strangely I must admit .
So I turns to him and says with a wee smile “ I love this bit “ and its true I have always loved the famous huddle .
Strangely he looks at my weirdly still and puts on what seems like a forced smile and says “You never know where you could end up do you ? “ at which its my turn to look at him quizzingly . Be both turn away , attention on the pitch , and I say to myself theres been crossed wires somewhere or something like that , lets just get on with it .
So I resume cheering and watching the huddle , but again something different happens.
Instead of Scott conducting affairs and issuing final instructions , it seems they are huddled around ,,, something ? And then in unison they all start stepping backwards , slowly forming a large circle , and it becomes apparent what they are holding .
After about 6 or 7 steps back each they all hold up their prize at the same time, a Banner !
And as they turn this banner towards every stand , with me dumbstruck by what is going on , I notice what it says for the first time as they angle towards me .
“ Bucharest only 39.99 one way “ !!!
I havent a clue whats going on , and notice yerman in the next seat looking at me .
So I turn to him and quizzingly ask whats this wheres the huddle ? Only for him to almost laugh and ask when was the last time I was here , give a little chortle and nod to himself upon the answer , and turn his attention back to the field .
This is killing me , I am about to lose it totally , and I hear a click ,, and my seat drops a centimeter or so , the latch has been released ! The seat will fold down now , and almost as one the fans all set their seat down and settle with an audible ahhhh .
Just then when the teams step to the centre to kick off I hear an MC , no avoiding him as he was so effing loud , shouting “ Ladies and Gentlemen its kickoff time at the Gateway to Europe stadium ! “ and what is clearly a piped in crowd roar goes up , and the game kicks off properly .
It was pleasant to take the weight off my feet ( at last ) and I settled back and enjoyed the occasion at last , 45 minutes of nice ebb and flow footie .
Was a small crowd though , very small , quarter full I reckoned , extremely disappointing .
The half time whistle came and usually almost as one the crowd rose , to applaud the players off I assumed and I rose also , almost instinctively with everyone else.
When I did however , my seat went back into the upright position and I heard a loud “ click “ .
Sure enough , the fecking thing was stuck in upright again , as soon as I had stood up ffs , and I didnt even want to stand up which made it worse, only did it because everyone else did !
Then yerman next to me puts a hand on the arm that is trying to wrestle down the seat , and says softly “ Theres cameras watching everywhere and believe it or not I seen a fella break the latch once and he got charged 15 hundred big ones to fix can you believe ! “
“ Its fecking stuck mate its not my fault “ I almost yell at him ,,, and he just looks at me strangely ,, and I feel a hand gripping my elbow firmly from behind .
I turn to find a young man in a high viz vest who is scanning the seat , and without looking at me says sternly “ keep that up and I’ll have you thrown out and you’ll be paying for any damage ! “
“ ITS STUCK ! “ I almost yell , at which he raises his eyebrows and says “ Newbie ? “ with a quizzed look and then sticks his hand in his pocket and brings out a laminated replica of a matchday ticket , turns it around and with his finger shows me a highlighted phrase and starts reciting that phrase to me , in a thick Dublin accent .
“ Seating shall be provided by the Plc while the game is in progress only , approved by management ! “
“ No seats at half time ? “ I ask , incredulous .
And then he starts walking away , and I hear one word over his shoulder “ percentages “ !
Sure enough as the second half kicks off , there’s an audible click and the latch is released allowing me to resume seating . It helped my mood very little though .
The game itself ended in a draw and I almost stood with the rest of the rising bodies upon the full time whistle , but caught myself at the last moment , realising it would be the end of my precious seating time, but then noticed a young man in a high viz staring intently at me and when he raised his walkie talkie to his lips I said to myself its not worth it , just let it go , raised myself and shuffled to the exit .
At the exit turnstile though , a serious queue had emerged for some reason , and it was shuffling ever soo slowly forwards . I eventually get close enough to the actual exit that I was able to see the hold up , and my blood started boiling at what I saw .
The exit was about 10 feet wide in itself , enough for several people to exit all together and get the crowd cleared quickly , but a string of obese fellas in hi viz vest with Ryanair Backup stencilled on them had formed a human funnel between the gates , forcing you one at a time into through a small gap . And on either side of that gap stood two young women in business attire with stacked boxes behind them and at their feet , and every person that eventually made it to the gap , got a sheaf of papers and then was allowed to leave !
This is it I thought , the match is over , feck them all , Im gonna say something if they try that on me .
About ten minutes later I had shuffled to the front of the queue , and it was my turn .
I made my face neutral and stared straight ahead , and ignored the girls hand that was pushed my way with a sheaf of flyers in it accompanied by a “ Come back soon ! “ in a foreign accent .
Just as was passing her, and thought I was through a man mountain maneuvered right directly into my path , stands about a step in front of me , again had a high viz that had Ryanair Backup stencilled on it , and quite simply pointed at the stack of flyers and , I kid you not , grunted at it !
‘ I dont want them ! “ I almost yelled and side stepped to get around , only for a hand the size of dinner plate to stop me dead in my tracks as it was placed on my chest ,,, and as I looked up at what owned that hand the owner looked down upon me , with a look I could not place .
After about 10 seconds of silence , I notice someone approaching ,,, its the wee rude shite from Dublin again !
2 of them or not , I am gathering my strenght to explode upon them when the wee one speaks up in his thick brogue , again , “ Look youve been trouble all day , fighting with everyone , argueing , suspected damage ,,, I’m afraid thats you barred Sir ! “ And at that he whips up a mobile phone and takes my picture , and turns to waltz off !
“ BARRED ! “ I explode ,, “ You f%#kers couldnt run a pissup in a brewery !” I yell after his retreating back .
The hand retreats off my chest , felt like I had shed half my weight in an instant , and I seen a bit of a path before me and , like a bat outta hell , made my feet shuffle faster than they ever shuffled before , while swearing to myself “ Ill stick with the f@#king GAA ! “
The above was a fans match day experience in 2021 after a period of sustained pressure by blogs such as this one eventually forced those running the Plc to sell up . And for cold revenge they sold to an increasingly under pressure Michael O Leary .
The moral of the story is ,,,, be fecking careful what you wish for !!!