Thursday, 11 July 2013

Day 2- D-Day has Arrived

At 9am we made it down to a buffet breakfast, not sure whether the general feeling that morning was due to travel/lack of sleep or the effects of the previous night! Breakfast was nice, there was one other couple in there. There was a good choice- Dad went for the continental style breakfast, I stayed with the safer option of cornflakes and toast! We also managed to sneak some biscuits back to the room :P We got changed and decided to do some sightseeing of the somewhat limited sights in the city.
Dad outside the hotel with our homemade flag

In typical Dad and I fashion, we decided to rely on our natural sense of direction, and just follow where we saw a general crowd of people. We saw the university and some statues, which we took photos with the football flag- nothing that exciting. Dad needed to exchange money so we attempted to find a bank, but without much luck (the one we found didn't have good English and there were long queue's). Since I haven't been on a beach holiday in a couple of years, my main aim for this trip (apart from watching the football of course) was to go to the beach. Since all the road signs are in Latvian and neither of us know a single word of Latvian, we saw a word we thought translated to 'beach' so followed it. Luckily, we were correct!
Liepaja University
We had a stroll down the beach and I braved the cold waters of the Baltic Sea. We caught sight of a beach bar- something we'd heard the other members of the trip talking about, but figured no-one would be there since it was only 11.30am and we'd had reports that they hadn't got back to their hotel since 5am this morning! Anyways, there were a group of about 10 of them sitting at the beach bar, so we decided to join them for a bit and enjoy the sun and sand. It then decided to start throwing it down with rain, it was as if we'd never left home! After a quick relocation to inside the marquee, we were joined by a few more fans- this bar became the central meeting place of the day, especially because the drinks were cheap and it was within staggering distance to the stadium.

Feeling the cold waters of the Baltic Sea before the rain arrived.
With no signs of the rain stopping, me and Dad made the decision we'd just stay in the bar all afternoon. We hadn't planned to do this- I hadn't got my camera lens suitable for sports with me, and Dad was wearing his Man United shirt which he didn't want to wear for the match. After a quick message to Martin to bring an extra t-shirt for Dad and me deciding that it's not the end of the world without the 'good' camera lens, we settled in to the bar and started to warm up the vocal chords ahead of the big game tonight. Luckily, the rain stopped around 4pm- the game was set for a 7pm kick off. We took the party back outside much to the pleasure/displeasure of some rather confused tourists. Tea was from the same place we got lunch from- a rather luxurious (note the sarcasm) food hut next to the beach bar. They serve the spiciest chips I have ever tasted, having a bit of a tikka masala kick to them!

Me and Dad decided to go to the ground quite early, before warm ups, to see if we could catch up with Martin. We saw him (I can now say I've actually walked on that pitch) and joined in the quick Skype session to the family back home. The team seemed to be in a very positive frame of mind, and like the fans, there was such a strong belief that we could win this thing tonight. I showed them the videos of the fans singing back in the bar which seemed to put a smile on their face :P We met up with a couple of fans who had missed the joys of the beach bar all day, and suddenly we hear the dulcet tones of 'We are town, we are town, we are town' from the other side of the stadium. I guess the rest of the fans had arrived.
Us travelling fans showing the Latvians
 how to make some noise

The noise didn't stop there. We sung and sung and sung (my favourite being 'Liepaja, Liepaja, where is your choir?' in response to their lack of vocal supporters). We had come into this fixture 2-1 down from the home leg. We needed to score at least 2 away from home to progress, and if it was going to take us fans losing our voices, then it was a sacrifice we were willing to take :P The opposition took an early lead in the 17th minute during a fairly uneventful first half (my exciting part was taking over the club twitter account for 10 minutes). At half time, one of our fans put a 33-1 bet on us winning 2-1. 2nd half started and we looked confident. One of their players got sent off around the 60th minute, same as during the 1st leg. We pulled a goal back in the 77th minute. We went wild with uncontainable excitement. 1 more goal. That's all we needed to put the tie into extra time. And that one more goal we got, thanks to our player-manager in added time (the time added was due to their player taking forever to get off the pitch after being sent off). Again, we went wild, and counting on adrenaline for us to control our nerves through extra time! (Also having the dilemma of needing the toilet but not wanting to miss any of the action didn't help- family trying to get updates on the game from home instructed me to firmly stay in my seat :P)
Celebrating our second goal.

Extra time was uneventful, both teams pushing for that one vital goal that would send them through to the 2nd round of the Europa League. Neither team got the goal needed, so the game progressed to penalties. At this point, I had no voice left, needed the toilet badly and had a few grey hairs growing. The opposition miss their first penalty. We score. We score our first 4 penalties. The opposition step up to take their 5th penalty knowing that they have to score this to stay in. They miss. Our little club has made history. We've made it into the 2nd round. Pure joy and elation sets in as the players pile on top of each other and then come over to us fans. I was in the middle of the celebrations but got too scared that my camera would get smashed so I jumped up onto the bank to celebrate instead.
The team celebrating with the fans.

Most of the fans go back to the beach bar. Me and Dad walk back to our hotel for a change of clothes and to charge our phones as we'd been out all day unexpectedly. We get word that the after party was going to be in the same bar as the night before, so we headed back over that way to join in the celebrations. The locals definitely found out about our victory, nothing to do with us singing in the bar and the band joining in, honest! Free drinks were all around for the team, and the fans made the most of another night of £1 a pint beer! Martin kept passing me half of his drinks, so God knows what I actually drank that night! Me and Dad got a taxi back to our hotel around 1.30am and in attempts to avoid/lessen the hangover the next morning we raided the breakfast stocks in the hotel kitchen. After some toast and biscuits, we called it a night ahead of a 7am wake up call for the journey to Riga the following day.

What a day! 11th July 2013- Victory in Europe Day.

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