And so it came to pass that conspiracy theories abounded the bars frequented by Ulster fans in Brussels on Saturday night. Suddenly with one foul swoop Paris had got exactly what they wanted, a match in Paris with no Ulster Supporters.
Don’t believe a word about the heavy snow fall, this was French shenanigans at their best. The men from the FRU arrived on Friday morning on the 0650 hrs flight from Dublin to be met with glorious sunshine it had snowed on Thursday but we met with no trouble travelling to our chosen hotel.
Fortunately the ERC had also decided to place the referee and all his little helpers in the same hotel. It soon became apparent that something was up as the usually gregarious Mr White was followed by a rather large unsmiling person, allegedly a referee assessor, who monitored his every move. So much so that he forbid Mr White entry to the hotel lift when the only other person in the lift was Raging Raven, who pretending he was returning to his room for some flags, was hoping to get truth out of him. Sadly it was a chance missed.
No snow fell in Brussels on Friday, at least not in any of the bars we where in, but something began to bother us. We had be sampling the local delights, of which there were many, for some eight hours now, and something was missing … there were no Stade supporters! What did they know we didn’t?
The men from the FRU didn’t give up their search going from bar to bar, cafe to cafe, restaurant to restaurant in search of the nearly extinct Stadus Supporterous.
I cannot lie, we had casualties along the way and Raging Raven convinced he was being haunted by the ghosts of referees past, was one of the first to fall.
A bar bill of 168 euro for 6 glasses of champagne saw Raven retire gracefully taking with him young Christopher on this first FRU outing.
Next to go was the Juntys, Paul and Stevey bumped off by a a mixture of Cherry beer, actually quite nice, and hot whiskeys. It is reported that Junty senior spent a lot of the night close to pristine Belgium porcelain.
That left Big Al, Wee Davy and the Knox twins to continue the search for this fabled supporter. The search continued even after entry was forbidden to some establishments and they had to sink lower and lower into the seedier side of Brussels. Luckily the boys, veterans of previous trips to France, Paris (4), Biarritz (2) Bourgoin and Toulouse, knew where to find their prey. They quickly donned their disguises, tight shirts, red cowboy hats and flashing glasses and headed to the Gay Bars of Brussels! Sadly the boys failed in their search but did manage to find 3 men from CARRICKFERGUS RFC (No disguises were necessary!)
And so it came to pass that all returned to the Inn for the night.
Match day arrived all to quickly and the more responsible members of FRU fans arrived, the Derg’s, the Love’s and the Texel-King’s. But already Raven was starting to rage, tipped off by a group of pensioners from mid Ulster, all was not well in the Referee’s camp. One had been told, “pack your bags son you won’t be needed” the others told you are going to Paris! Steam now rising from Raven he tried ring the Branch at Ravenhill no answer, what did he expect it was a Saturday! Another idea… the Ulster web site… nothing, what did he expect it was a Saturday!
By now his fabled iphone was red hot calling every contact he had like a Mafia Don and soon we got the news we had been dreading … match in Paris tomorrow at 1500. Ulster had tried to have the match to be played in Perpignan after the Munster match but to no avail.
Now, King Baudouin Stadium in Brussels is the home of the Belgium national football team and rebuilt completely after the Heysel disaster in 1985 so one would expect it to have under soil heating but even if it didn’t it was no colder than Paris 160 miles away all that was required was that the snow covering the ground be removed as it was in Paris on the morning of the match. But the French and the hosts seemed unwilling to do this, blaming each other for the mess (the bottom line was they didn’t want to do it.)
As most fans had booked to fly home on Sunday it wouldn’t have mattered if the match was in Timbuktu they couldn’t have made it but for some of us flying home on Monday it did. The train fare to Paris from Brussels was 176 euro return with no guarantee for a return to Brussels that night so after much soul searching it was decided to give it a miss, not for us the life of a blazer travelling first class on the 0837 Brussels to Paris on Sunday morning.
Stade and Ulster missed a massive publicity opportunity by not organising one coach to travel to the match from Brussels I’m sure they could have done it for less than 176 euro per head! But then what have Ulster Rugby ever done for you the supporter? Provided pitches, teams, under soil heating as Monty Python might say!!
And so match time arrived, no TV, but we knew this the previous day as the TV ref had been sent home, and 10 Ulster supporters and perhaps the real reason it was moved back to Paris only 3,700 stade supporters, no wonder we didn’t see any in Brussels there were none!
Conspiracy theories my arse!
View more pictures here.