A rewrite of our post Angry Cops And Belgians, our account of that famous Europa League Knockout clash between Sporting Lokeren and Hull City when the Black & Amber Army came up against the Flanders Law Enforcement. We’re now taking the same match to tell the story of an average FBTG away day.
19.03 – coach departs for Antwerp. Rucksack full of lager and sleeping tablets to get through the journey.
04.27 – coach arrives. Disembark in the cold fog & search for the hostel. Creep in, check in & feel my way into the top bunk of the shared dorm in the darkness.
10.33 – get up, shower, shake off the annoyingly keen Arsenal fan and check out. Explore Antwerp. Annoyed by the fact that the girl working in the Antwerp Tourist Information office struggled to name a single local delicacy, but find a good Belgian stew and Trappist beer.
15.03 – board train to Lokeren. Take note of number of stations between Antwerp & Lokeren for the return journey. Coach back leaves at 23.59 this evening, so need to work out how long it’ll take to get back to the coach stop from Lokeren. One train at 23.10 and another at 23.30. It takes 25 ish minutes to get from Antwerp to Lokeren so to play it safe, it’s gotta be the first one.
15.51 – find the Lokeren main square. It’s full of Hull. Everyone buzzing. Begin the drinking, buying Jupiler cans from the supermarket and openly bringing them into the bars (classy Northerners). All the away day heroes have made it out, some driving for over a day and will drive directly back. Lokeren fans join us and there is no confrontation. Lokeren and Breda (their fan-friendship) hooligans reside over the North side of the square “in case of emergency”, but no one really gives a shit about them. Shirts and scarves get swapped. Good laugh.
18.40 – we march corteo together with Lokeren fans to the ground. Locals are lining the streets as we pass, mood is still peaceful and no trouble. Outside the ground, Hull fans are packed in together so tightly by the stewarding that people can barely move. Each individual is heavily body-searched as we pass into the Daknamstadion.
19.30 – game kicks off. Lokeren fans unveil a “No To Hull Tigers” banner, which gets an enormous round of applause from our end. Atmosphere is electric. But in the second half Allan McGregor gives the ball away cheaply and Lokeren cruise to a 1-0 home win. We’ll simply have to make it up in the following tie next week.
22.27 – leave slightly early to beat the rush. Gates to our end are closed. Frustrated, we ask why. Told it’s for our own safety while home fans clear. Gate opens and we run, turn the corner and swear. The road is blocked with lines of riot police, mounted police and a fucking water canon. I approach a constable and try to explain the urgency of my travel arrangements. No luck.
22.33 – the game finishes and the remainder of the Hull fans turn the corner and see the blockade and riot police. They march toward us. The police become aggressive and Hull fans become impatient. To my right some of them launch themselves at the riot police but are immediately beaten back. The police continue the aggression, as they apparently wait for Lokeren fans to clear the area.
22.36 – the corteo begins to move forward. We approach the Heerenveen pub and it turns out the banned fans & hooligans have been waiting for us. Instead of partitioning or dealing with these fans, the feds simply lead us slowly toward them. Bottles rain down on us. The hooligans can’t reach us, but we remain under fire for minutes. Police continue to restrict our movements, indicating we continue slowly down the road.
22.50 – the corteo reaches a main road and traffic is stopped. Taxis refuse to drive me to Antwerp, but the line of police opens slightly. I seize the opportunity and burst through sprinting, not stopping until I find the station and get on the right platform. The earlier train to Antwerp has not yet arrived, but is due to do so shortly. The counter is shut so all Hull fans simply decide to pay on the train. One hour before my coach leaves.
23.11 – board the train with 45 minutes to get to Antwerp bus stop. Relax slightly and reflect on the day with several other fans. Ticket collector passes through once but then exits again. We stop for a long time, God knows where. More riot police board complete with dogs in each carriage. It turns out the collector got scared at the sight of British Football fans and rang the police, who intercepted the train.
23.35 – train continues slowly stopping at many more towns than the journey to Lokeren. The police refuse to give an explanation for their presence. 15 Football fans are simply threatened and are ordered to remain seated and quiet. My travel arrangements in jeopardy; we have no idea how long it will take to get to Antwerp.
23.57 – we arrive at Antwerp Central. Train stops, 2 minutes before the coach leaves. Launch myself off the train and sprint along the platform, hurdling the dog. Grab luggage, running flat out through an unknown city, trusting my instincts to find the bus stop.
00.00 – turn the corner and see it the other end, lights on, indicating to stop. Scream obscenities, sigh and slow to a jog. Check in with the driver, still euphoric, trying to high-five a coach load of sleeping Frenchman who have no idea why I’m celebrating. Cannot find a free seat, so simply lay down on the floor, my emotional outbursts now completely screwed up. Cute French tourist girl takes a cheeky photo of me.
10.07 – coach arrives. Shoes on, hungover, go straight to work without showering or changing clothes. Boss suspects nothing. Win.