Mathern Casuals Belgian Tour May 2016
After an excellent sales pitch by John ‘Nobby’ Nowlands, we decided to follow his recommendation and take Mathern Casuals Vets over to Belgium to take part in a football Happening. This was to be a festival of football covering all age groups run by a Belgian football fanatic called Willy Hauben, and be based at Millen, close to the borders of Holland and Germany.
Around 70 teams were to take part, all playing just for fun and with nothing at stake other than national pride and the chance to live the dream of playing abroad! As this is an annual event, Willy has asked me to spread the word to our fellow Casual teams should anyone wish to take part in the future. And, after giving my legs and liver chance to recover, I can heartily recommend it as an accessible, friendly and reasonably cheap overseas tour.
Obviously, with the sun out we headed to the nearest bar to sample the vast array of Belgian beers. I don’t think I had quite appreciated what a religion beer drinking is to the Belgians; your average bar will have a menu of anywhere from 90 to 300 beers to choose from. Each will have its own, specific glass that it must be drunk from along with its beer mat. We tried hard, we really did to stick to the lower strength beers but temptation and curiosity got the better of us!
And what great beers we had! Blonde, Bruin, Fruit and, oh sorry back to the football. On the Thursday night we found ourselves in a sports bar watching the Liverpool semi v Villarreal.
It was possibly one of the most surreal evenings I’ve ever had – a bar full of Belgians singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at the top of their voices, led by a Jurgen Klopp look-a-like! Great fun all helped by some really nice beers that I think mentioned before…
The next day saw us heading off in hire cars to Tongeren, which was to be our base whilst the tournament was on. Tongeren is a beautiful old City with its roots dating back to Roman times. We had a healthy pasta lunch – as if that was going to make a difference – before heading off on the short journey to Millen.
The set up at Millen was very relaxed and friendly, with a large marquee and bar set up next to the two pitches being used. Games lasted an hour each, all the while being serenaded by tribute bands and singers from the marquee.
The standard was pretty good – as we soon found to our cost! The French side Wenheck were first up and they gave us a bit of a lesson on keeping possession on a hard, bouncy pitch which, combined with the referees interpretation of it being a non-contact sport, made it a steep learning curve. They ran out comfortable winners 4 – 1 as we struggled and sweated out the alcohol under the hot sun…. it must have been all that pasta ..?
Soon after that we had our second game of the day against a Dutch team called Beekse Boys. This proved to be a much closer affair, ending 2 – 2 and with both sides happy to head for the beer tent.
All that running around had given us a thirst and after sampling a few beers we headed back to town for a leisurely meal and an early night. But, you know how it is on tour; there are always 14 or 15 people who want to make a night of it and think they’re 18 still.
Cue breakfast next morning and a large number of no-shows. In fact, one player hid in his room all day to avoid having to play again such was his suffering. Will we never learn?
Anyho, those that could headed off to visit Maastricht – a truly beautiful town just over the Dutch border, famous for being one of the oldest cities in Holland and the heart of the European Union. We wondered the streets enjoying the beautiful sights with hardly any traffic other than several million cyclists! The Dutch and the Belgians have really embraced the bike as an everyday means of transport and it was quite an eye-opener.
Suitably refreshed by a touch of culture we headed to back to the hotel ready for the game, determined to give a sober account of ourselves. Unfortunately, the hotel had laid on free champagne for us and then the “Eau de Vie” the French boys had given us the previous day came out… 40% pure rocket fuel. Bugger.
Bizarrely enough we started the next game like a train and raced into a 2- 0 lead against another Dutch side (Lindenheuvel). We then made the mistake of sobering up and the Dutch snatched a late equalizer with the last kick of the game. Ah, well. At least we made some more friends.
And that is really what the tournament is all about – turn up, run around with some blokes swearing in a different language and then go drink some beer. So, just like the Casuals league with subtitles.
More beers and a late night visit to the oldest bar in Belgium – Café Rembrandt - rounded off a perfect tour. Our host, Edgar gave us a lovely lecture on the Belgian beers, interspaced with an in-depth knowledge of every English profanity he knew.. and there were quite a lot!
A speedy return home on the Sunday completed what was a logistically simple tour to arrange and one we shall all look back on with fondness when we emerge from rehab.
Should anyone wish to take part next year you can contact Willy Hauben (email@example.com) and I would be happy to advise on the travel arrangements for probably no charge at all! Overall, it cost us under £300 each including flights and accommodation, quite reasonable for a 4-day/3-night tour, staying in really good hotels.
So, thanks to Willy for a superbly organized tournament and also to Nobby for the suggestion. I hope we lived up to the Casuals ethos of promoting friendship and alcoholism through football. Whose turn next?
Mathern Casuals Vets