I left on a jet plane, and unlike Peter, Paul and Mary in the John Denver classic, I did know when I would be back again. Wednesday to be precise, but prior to that, the latest adventures from the champions of Wales began early on a Sunday morning.
In fact, very early indeed, and to continue the musical theme you could add Sunday morning at six o’clock as the day began. It was definitely a case of good day sunshine though, as the long and winding road took me to Park Hall, then Bristol and Bologna airports before finally arriving destination San Marino.
In the last twelve months, the world of football has taken me to some amazing places: Faroe Islands, Hungary, Italy and Rhyl. Joking aside though – and by the way I do love the Denbighshire coastal town – it has been an incredible journey. As I wrote in my recent feature here in the Advertizer, if you’d have told me two years ago I wouldn’t have believed you.
I had more of those experiences as well this time round. Did you hear the one about the Albanian, the Croatian, the Sammarinese and the Swede? No, it’s not a joke, that was the international cast on the stage for the UEFA delegates’ meeting that I attended prior to the game.
Not only was I one of the dozen or so people there, I ended up with the official notes for my ever-growing Welsh football memorabilia collection. I’ve always liked football-related stuff, ever since I started buying programmes way back in the 60s. The best thing about my latest items though is that they’re all very personal. I was there, and involved.
As well as my debut at the above, I also attended my first press conference hosted by European national champions. Held in a hotel in San Marino, a small group of journalists gathered to question the SP Tre Penne manager and captain. Although it was in Italian, the San Marino Football Federation provided a translator.
Our hotel was great and I spent a couple of hours one afternoon in the roof-top pool. With the temperatures consistently around the 30C mark, there I was thinking to myself that I was living the footballer’s dream. But without even having to kick a ball.
The nation is so beautiful and I really enjoyed myself there. I’m also a keen naturalist and so, when we all went for a couple of hours stroll through San Marino City, I took my binoculars with me. Killing two birds with one stone you might call it, as I saw the likes of nightingale, serin, Italian sparrow, hoopoe and peregrine falcon.
Loving the commentary can I have some virtual cake? Richard. Nuneaton #TNSRadio
— richard powell (@richardpowell99) July 5, 2016
Then, of course, what it was all about. The game. If I love going with TNS to the likes of Aberystwyth and Bala, imagine what it’s like travelling to Europe for Champions League ties. This was my fifth such fixture with the club, and the amazing fact is that, over ninety minutes, we’ve won four. And the one we lost was just 0-1.
I often joke I’m now a Champions League veteran commentator. Well, jesting or otherwise, it’s another one of those if-you-had-told-me-two-years-ago experiences. It was such a proud moment to be in one of the press booths, relaying another great moment in the history of TNS around the world, courtesy of the club radio match-day station.
— Maddie Ottaway (@MaddieOttaway) July 5, 2016
With listeners from as far afield as Canada, Romania, New Zealand and the USA, it was indeed another truly international affair. The interaction and feedback was amazing. It was brilliant to see a number of fans there as well, gathered around a giant Welsh flag. At the final whistle they joined with the SP Tre Penne supporters and celebrated with the international language of football friendship.
It was fantastic watching them all together. No trouble. No fighting. No stand-off. No aggression. Just smiles and laughter. We might not have crowds to rival Manchester United, or even Colchester United, but what we lack in quantity we certainly make up for in quality.
If you live in the area – or even if you don’t – why not pay us a visit and find out for yourself. You’ll get a Champions League welcome for sure. And that’s something that even Man U can’t give you this season.