A fan’s-eye look at the heady rush of a European away day as Celtic travelled to Rennes in the 2011/12 Europa League. Featuring pints, pish, pyro and ham pieces.
It was my first and only day working in the posh coffee shop. I meet Kev off the train after work and we head straight to the Night & Day for a few pints with my brother who couldn’t get the cash together for the trip to Rennes. We get nice and pissed before heading back to Piccadilly for the train out to Knutsford, spotting our first fellow travellers on the way, two Das with carry-outs in plastic bags. We don’t stop for a chat but give the wee nod that says we’re all going the same place.
It’s gone 11 and we’re walking around Knutsford trying to find a place that’s still serving. We get in for one before last orders and we get them to call a taxi for the service station when we’re done. Cue an argument with a taxi driver:
“Knutsford Services, please, mate.”
“Aye, the service station.”
“Why do you wanna go there?”
“We just do. We’re meeting people there.”
As it happens we meet the two aul boys there, unwrapping their ham pieces from tin foil. Kev fancies himself as a cook and never lets a chance go by to tell folk that he’s actually from the States so he’s made us burritos. The aul boys look on with disdain. We’re halfway through eating when someone from the services comes to turf us outside, you can’t eat your own food here and there’s no drinking too.
The Ardrossan Garryowen pulls in after 2 and we’re welcomed aboard. It’s the standard setup: Das at the back, young team towards the front, smoke everywhere. Someone is racking lines on a flip-down table and we’re offered a go. Kev is in on the action but I’m already past the label on my first bottle of wine so I pass. It’s the last good decision I’ll make for a long time.
Hours later it’s light and we’re pulling up to the tunnel. Buses decant steaming blokes across the tarmac. Pyro smoke drifts across the line of trucks and cars. It’s half past seven on a Wednesday morning and the faces of the guys on the bus jar with the lorry drivers who’d rather be anywhere else. The customs folk are probably meant to check the buses for something but can’t see the back of us fast enough. We’re France’s problem now.
The bus batters through the countryside, stopping only to let us get drink and have a piss. By lunchtime, we’re at a Formule 1 motel on the outskirts of Rennes. The back-of-the-bus old guard have had enough and go for a kip, but we head into town. This is no time for sleeping, not that anyone would be able to if they tried. We jump a train with the standard destination of Tims abroad: main square Irish bar. It’s possible that there’s a city somewhere in Europe without a main square and adjacent Irish bar, but if there is such a place, Celtic have never played there.
Rennes’ might be the Moon Under Water of Celtic pubs abroad. It’s directly on the main square, surrounded by kebab shops and absolutely heaving. The square is set down a little from the street and probably two thousand Tims are already here, spilling out of side streets. A chorus is being led from blokes on opposing sides of the square: one dressed as Beetlejuice, a boy on a stag do who came down on our bus; the other is wearing a Pope outfit. “Come on, you Bhoys in green!” screams Beetlejuice, “Glasgow is green and white!” answers His Holiness.
The bar is typical for football trips abroad, in that its clientele is almost entirely male. Kev’s a mate who lives in Rennes and he’s brought some colleagues from the school where he works to get a taste of it. One of them, an American girl, is not impressed. “You’re awfully obnoxious,” she says of the crowd, who are dusting off the songbook. “Actually, this one is about the Spanish Civil War and the guys from Ireland who went to fight in it,” I reply. “There’s a war going on in Spain?” she answers.
Day becomes night and we still haven’t slept. A guy pishes on my trainers in an alleyway and when I look to see if he’s going to apologise, he boaks on the floor. Best to let it pass. The Irish bar punts people out and there’s chaos in the streets, nobody knows where they are and how to get to their digs, or if there’s another bar, or anything really. It’s raining. We follow Kev’s mate to another bar, but the conversation goes swiftly downhill as the drink catches up. One second of slowing down makes the last 36 hours drop on my consciousness like a ton of bricks. Eventually, we go back to his gaff and collapse on his wooden floor with a tricolour as a blanket.
There are still 20 hours until kick off.