Sometimes the football does not really matter. And for the mid-week jaunt to Cologne, the football was always going to take second fiddle.
A competition than none of us massively cared about, a team already guaranteed to qualify for the next round, and knowledge that we would see a team of second string and youth players, very few of the 4,000 travelling Arsenal fans went for the football.
It might have been Arsenal that bought us to the city of Cologne on a cold November late week, but Arsenal was certainly at the back of the minds for the majority of the trip.
Jager bombs on the 8:54am train from Kings Cross, a couple of hours stop off in Brussels, before reaching Cologne at about 4pm. It was only Wednesday…
Check in then straight to a bar and the carnage continued. Beer after beer. Stein after stein. as the afternoon turned to evening, more and more Arsenal turned up, more and more bars filled up. People spilling onto the street. Trying to steal Laurie and Hardy.
Wednesday night turned into Thursday morning as we found a nice little bar that was £25 entry, all you can drink inside. Nice little spot. Plenty of Arsenal in there.
Game day. The drinking continued. After about 5 hours sleep, we were back out. Bit of food and a few beers on the river, before heading to a few more bars. A few more beers. At no point did the discussion turn to football.
The great thing about the Euro away is that you go with your group, but every bar you go into you meet old friends. Some who you saw just a few days ago at Spurs, others who you might not have seen for a few years. It is like a massive reunion, a Euro away day.
Old acquaintances resumed, new mates made.
Eventually we realised we had to leave for the football. Almost begrudgingly a few hundred of us left the bar to get the tram to go to the stadium.
I imagine to a man, we all regretted that decision to leave the bar.
Half an hour stood outside the ground to get in – 2,000 in the upper tier, 4 turnstiles…standing in bitter cold rain, to then get in and watch a match none of us were interested in.
Some left at half time to find a warmer climate to grab a beer. Others on 75 minutes to get the tram back to the town.
Few more beers. Visit to a rat-infested beer hall. Then back to that 24 hours, £25-all-you-can-drink bar I mentioned earlier.
500 Gooners in there, all singing Sweet Caroline and Gold. The place was going off. I imagine the bar regretted doing £25 all you can drink. Although I imagine they made their money back elsewhere.
It was only Friday, but we felt we had already been in the city for a week. Elsewhere the money we had spent in two nights could have covered a 2 week all inclusive holiday in a warmer climate.
Few more beers before the train home, getting back into Kings Cross at 11pm-ish.
A lot of money spent, Arsenal lost, it was cold, wet and miserable, and one of the best “city breaks” of my life.
The football really did not matter. No one out in Cologne cared for it. It was merely a distraction.
When we made the Europa League, many moaned about the lack of Champions League football. No Madrid, Dortmund, Munich or Barcelona. No PSG or Milan. But those of us that do travel abroad did not care.
Sometimes these smaller games, in smaller cities like Cologne, or backward towns like Belgrade, Sofia or Borislav, you end up with the best away trip.
A great trip, and one that will take a few days to recover from.
Cologne, you were a great host.
Up the Arsenal.