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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Andy Mitten's football diary, Part 2: A missed train to Dortmund after trips to Watford and Brighton

Our European football correspondent will be at eight games over eight days. This is the second installment of his trip diary.

Next on Andy Mitten's itinerary is a trip to Germany to watch Borussia Dortmund's Uefa Champions League match against Tottenham Hotspur. Martin Meissner / AP Photo
Next on Andy Mitten's itinerary is a trip to Germany to watch Borussia Dortmund's Uefa Champions League match against Tottenham Hotspur. Martin Meissner / AP Photo

Because I’m an idiot, I’m sitting in St Pancras International station in London having missed a train to Brussels and an onward connection into Germany and Dortmund for Wednesday night’s Uefa Champions League game against Tottenham Hotspur.

I arrived 35 minutes before the 6.47am departure, not realising that you have to check in 30 minutes before. Eurostar journeys and I don't get on. The last time I used them in 2010, I was trying to help my Brazilian-in-laws negotiate British passport control inside Paris’ Gare du Nord.

The passport officer looked at me as if I was the dirt on his shoe, as I explained that the in-laws were making a first trip to England on holiday, not looking to set up an illegal racket importing Brazilian footballers with no passports.

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The journey to Dortmund hasn’t been made any easier given a couple of thousand travelling Spurs fans have pushed prices up, but I was cheered to receive a text on Monday stating: “I’ve got a ticket for you.” Further messages read: “On the wall – with me. For a German home game it’s expensive – 15!”

Tim is a Dortmund fan I met outside the Emirates in September when Koln played Arsenal. I made a point of mixing with some of the 20,000 Koln fans before the game, most of whom didn't have tickets but who were perfectly well behaved and friendly and not at all like some of the hooligans described by sections of the English media.

After interviewing Tim for a while, he looked across a road packed with travelling fans and quietly said: "I’m a Dortmund fan. I came to watch the game at Wembley last night. We get on fine with Koln."

I’d rather be standing on Dortmund’s famous Yellow Wall, a 25,000 capacity terrace for Bundesliga games, than sit in the press box. I hope to get there, but this is the first spanner in a flawless trip so far where I have been treated to some very entertaining football matches.

Borussia Dortmund's stadium, Westfalenstadion. Wolfgang Rattay / Reuters
Borussia Dortmund's stadium, Westfalenstadion. Wolfgang Rattay / Reuters

At Watford on Sunday, I was warned by the journalist John Brewin not to pith my hopes too high. John has watched Watford regularly – and even he was surprised at how well they played against David Moyes’ West Ham United, with the Brazilian Richarlison the star.

Moyes, who was frank when talking to the media after the match, has a tough task in East London, where the away fans were singing ‘Sack the board’.

He wasn’t a popular choice with West Ham fans and that’s perhaps understandable given his record at Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland. But I like him. There, I’ve said it. As another journalist who shares a similar opinion to me said: "He does a good job of covering up what a decent man he is."

Despite being probed by journalists, Watford manager Marco Silva also tried to do a decent job of covering up that he’s likely to join Everton. He’s only been in charge for 12 games, but he’s doing well at Watford.

Given that Watford change their manager every season, could you blame him for accepting a three-year offer to manage Everton, a bigger club who could double his annual wage and who play in front of twice as many fans as Watford?

Tom Cleverley knows what it’s like to play for Everton and Watford. I bumped into Tom’s father Andrew and his partner Claire at Vicarage Road and they invited me for a drink.

Andrew attends almost every game his son plays and has racked up over 500 matches watching Tom turn out for Manchester United, Leicester City, Watford, Wigan Athletic, Everton and England. Andrew also keeps Tom’s memorabilia.

Tom’s had a decent career as a Premier League footballer. There aren’t too many English Premier League footballers. Tom’s happy at Watford and he’s playing well too. He plays every minute of every game.

I continued heading south via London and Brighton was next. There’s a piano inside Brighton’s train station that’s free for users to play. A man with a Brighton and Hove Albion bag walked up, played the piano very well for three minutes and then walked off to catch the train. A great moment.

In the streets outside, a depressingly high number of homeless people sought shelter from the November drizzle coming in off the English Channel. Dividing my time between England and Spain as I do, I am struck by how the numbers of people on the streets in English cities seem to have multiplied every time I return and how young so many are.

I spoke to one man from Leeds. He had lost his job and struggled to pay rent. He ended up sleeping in a tent, claiming a minimum job seekers allowance and eating handouts. He explained that he has access to a hostel only when the temperature drops below zero.

The headline on the Brighton Argus talked of a mystery human body being pulled from the sea, while I met two Stoke City fans, Steve and Tony, who had travelled south to watch their team.

The Monday night kick-off meant they had needed to take two days off work. They told me how much they disliked Manchester United because of "glory hunting fans" around the world.

I explained that United, a big city club, have been very well supported even when there was no glory. I also explained that while they could easily access away tickets, the demand meant that thousands of United fans who wanted to attend away games were unable to. They hadn’t thought of it like that.

Steve and Tony weren’t optimistic about Stoke’s chances, but they were in for a surprise. The game was another cracker, a 2-2 draw in Brighton’s smart Amex Community Stadium.

I was in the press box – not my favourite way to watch a game but I do enjoy meeting other people working in the media.

Geoff Shreeves, the man who interviews footballers and managers for Sky Sport,s asked me when Basel, where I’ll be in Wednesday, had become Basel, pronounced ‘Barle’. I’m not sure of the correct pronunciation; my other language besides Mancunian is Spanish, not Swiss.

Danny Higginbotham, a Manchester lad who played for Manchester United and Stoke, talked about United’s tactics under Jose Mourinho. Danny’s doing well in the media and one reason is because of the preparation he puts in. He could tell you five things about a full back at Brentford.

I’m waiting to see if I can get on a later train while an English woman on the next table asks a French woman what Manchester is like. The French woman had lived and studied there, the English woman has never been to "the North" and talked of it as if it was a dystopian other world.

The French woman put her right, explaining how it was a “nice place, quite small, but friendly.” It’s a good job she hadn’t asked the Stoke fans about my home city.