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Away Days – San Marino

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This is my second away days article regarding my trip following Wales – I hope most of you enjoyed reading my previous effort. I had a really good time on my journey to Bratislava – I caught the Wales away ‘bug’ so I decided a few weeks ago to go to watch Wales play San Marino (as the Swans didn’t have a game scheduled on the same day).

I left Swansea on Monday night at 10pm, there were five of us this time – you won’t know who they are but I’ll mention them anyway: They was my dad’s mate Howard, whose speciality is card tricks, Gerald – one of Wales’s oldest fan at the ripe age of 73. Lastly there were two women (I won’t mention their ages) called Paddy and Angela, who were watching their 1st Wales away game – all of us travelling were Swans fans.

We arrived at Stansted Airport at around 4am all bleary eyed. One of the first things I noticed were loads of people sleeping on the floor in airport, it did look very strange – any pickpockets there at the time would have been in paradise.

I had never flown from Stansted before, luckily I don’t very often as there were huge queue for all the security procedures – I know it’s better to be safe than sorry, but it just seemed a long and drawn out process.

It only takes around 2 hours to our destination; it went very quickly for me as I managed to get some sleep – which is unusual for me as I can never sleep on transport. We had a very bumpy landing in Forli, Italy at around 8:00 local time.

There was then a half hour train journey from Forli to Rimini, then a quick taxi ride to our accommodation. The hotel was called ‘Le Meridien’ in the tourist resort of Rimini; this was the same hotel that the Welsh players were staying in.

As Howard the organiser couldn’t book a three bedded room, only 4 of the party were officially booked in – The two days were spent with 3 of us sneaking up to the room for two, as well as going one by one to breakfast in case we were sussed out. Thankfully nobody found out.

Rimini was a nice place, the weather was in the 80’s during the day but very cold in the night time. Rimini had a very long beach stretching for miles by the look of it. It was just a little bit nicer than Swansea Bay!

There was a very tense atmosphere in the hotel with the players, not much laughter or conversation, so I didn’t bother the players beforehand – I was going to wait until after the game. There did seem to be a split in the camp for whatever reason, maybe it was nerves or the pressure from the media was getting to them a little.

My dad’s mate Howard is very good at card tricks, how he does them I do not know but the hotel staff were impressed and we had a free round of drinks! This saved us a few Euros, as it was quite expensive, for anyone who may be interested to go in the future.

On the day of the game, most of the Welsh fans met up in the ‘Rose and Crown’ would you believe. I imagine that the pub must be British owned with a name like that. There were four coaches, organised by ‘World In Motion’, we left the pub at around 2pm for the 30 minute journey to the top of San Marino.

San Marino was bigger than I imagined, it only has a population of around 30,000 people. Our coach went up hill after hill after hill, so it’s not a place for anyone who has a fear of heights – but I’d recommend visiting it to anyone.

There were also no barriers on the roadside, so one wrong move or a coach that has dodgy breaks and the outcome could have been interesting to say the least!

San Marino is a really amazing place, with wonderful views and historic buildings. I don’t know why it was build it so far up though! There was something strange I noticed though – San Marino has a baseball ground, which I thought was a bit bizarre, but after researching afterwards I found out they do actually have a professional baseball team and are fairly successful (better than their football team anyway)

There’s a little fact for you folks!

The pubs had good atmospheres before the game, there were massive flags tied to trees and on the walls of pubs. Along with Welsh fans playing football in the street, blocking traffic in the mean time, there were also loud cheers when Russia scored two goals against England – which brought chants of ‘You’re going out with the Wales’

I was disappointed with one flag that was hung up. It had the Welsh Dragon strangling a Swan (similar to the one at the Liberty with a bluebird in place of the Swan).

I felt that was inappropriate for a Welsh game, but I did laugh at one comment from a Cardiff fan who said to his mate ‘I have only ever seen one Jack at an away game’ I was only 5 yards away from this guy when he said it, I was so tempted to say I was a Swans fan, but it really wasn’t worth the hassle.

I did wonder how he knew that Swans fans don’t travel to watch Wales, do all Swans fans have an extra finger or something to make us recognisable for example?

We left the pubs at 7:00 to leave for the ground, which was in a place called Serravalle. The stadium is nothing special and it doesn’t hold more than 6000, there were more Welsh fans than San Marino fans and I think there were more in the brass band than in the stands.

The Stadio Olimpico had two covered stands (which was more than Slovakia had) which was surrounded by an athletics track and there was also a moat most of the way around the ground – not filled with water though!

Before the game I met three Swans fans who travel away with Wales quite a lot, so hello to you three if you’re reading. They seemed to know my alias on, which was a bit of a surprise.

The less said about the game the better – there were some entertaining moments. The way the tannoy announcer pronounced the Welsh players names – Lidley (Ledley), Eee-vans (Evans) and Ree-kettes (Ricketts).

The streaker provided mild entertainment – it must have been the first instance of it’s kind in San Marino. It took three policemen to arrest the man, who turned out to be from Porthmadog (of all places!! I didn’t think anyone lived there). The things people do when they are drunk eh!?

I did see something rare on my visit – a San Marino International goal, it was only their 16th goal in 86 Internationals. They celebrated the goal as if they had just won the World Cup.

I thought the Welsh fans chanting was embarrassing – it wasn’t as bad as Bellamy made out, but as it was a small ground the chants could be heard clearly. It seemed to me that it was a 50-50 split between the fans.

The small minority were chanting ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’ and ‘Toshack Out’ the rest started chanting ‘Wales, Wales, Wales’ and got behind the team. Some were chanting for Savage to return, then most replied with ‘Savage is Amankwaah’ (Well sounded similar to that anyway).

I agree it was a frustrating game to watch and the performance wasn’t that great, but San Marino had 10 men behind the ball all game. Wales didn’t have a player to create anything, plus 4 of the Welsh team were teenagers.

Then again on the other side we were playing a team full of Government workers, bankers and they were managed by a P.E. teacher – so we should have possibly won by more, but it is never as easy as that. Cyprus and the Republic of Ireland only one by a single goal against the same opponents.

We left the ground straight after and arrived back in Rimini around 10 o’clock, we saw the players arrive back at the hotel, but they looked in a bad mood, so unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to chat or have photos with the players – unlike Bratislava.

An early start followed the next morning; the five of us all landed safely in Stansted around lunchtime, there was one little drama before we left, we forgot where we parked the car in the car park – it was 4 o’clock two days previous, no body thought of making a note of the section were we in. Luckily one of the women with us, Paddy, took a lucky guess at the letter ‘R’ and it was right.

Had it been wrong, I think we’d still be in Stansted car park looking for the car now, amongst 10,000 others. Phew! We and arrived back in Swansea at 6pm.

I enjoyed my short little trip to Rimini and saw a bit of culture, I still have a 100% away record while following Wales – it may only 2 games, but still, not many other Welsh fans can say that I would imagine. I’d like to say thanks to Angela for driving the long drive to Stansted, I would also like to thank Paddy, Gerald and ‘Magic Man’ Howard for the company.

It was also interesting to hear other Welsh fan’s journeys through Europe, some travelled from Cyprus to Rome and then to San Marino, others went back to Wales from Cyprus and travelled back! There’s commitment and dedication for you – some would call it madness.

I hope I didn’t bore you all too much; I look forward to having some more interesting stories and good insights from Frankfurt next month, if I go.

Cymru am Byth.

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