By Gary Walker
“Shit, Gaz wake up you tube! Put the tent up, it’s fucking lashing it down.”
“Oh shit. Where’s the tent?”
“Fuck, it’s In the long grass. With the ants.”
It was 2am on a small grassy mound 500 yards from Munich’s famous Olympiastadion. Lightning tore through the humid air above its iconic, arcing webbed roof, and rain lashed relentlessly down on these two exhausted chancers, whose already shallow reserves of luck were beginning to run out.
We sat, jolted abruptly from the first sleep we’d stolen in 24 hours, short sleeved and cruelly under-prepared, and scrabbled around in the dark, trying to find the few posessions we’d carried with us on this shambolic trip.
We were six days into our World Cup 2006 interrail adventure, and we were royally fucked. A solid week of smashing back Czech and Bavarian beer and crashing in the cheapest hostels and thorniest bushes on offer on a route from Prague, via Nuremberg and across southern Germany, had left Murry and I in a state of hysterical sleep deprivation.
Five hours ago, the group matches between Italy and Czech Republic, and USA and Ghana had finished on the big screen at Munich’s vast lakeside fan park, with the Czechs crashing out of the tournament. Murry had gone for a lag, and to get another couple of two-litre steins.
It was then that the under-cover police had pounced. They ordered me to put my hands up, then emptied my rucksack, the one-and-a-half-man tent we’d found for 10 Euros in a Munich department store, and our sleeping bags onto the grass.
Murry came stumbling back from his piss to find me hands to the sky, being frisked by three German feds and our meagre possessions spread out in front of me. How had this happened in the three minutes he’d been gone? Was it some devilish hallucination brought on by a perfect storm of sun stroke, alcoholic poisoning and sheer exhaustion? After all, we’d had it coming to us…
After much protesting, gesturing and secondary school German, we managed to establish they’d seen me smoking roll-ups and were now convinced that we were drug dealers. Once the strip search came up negative, they begrudgingly left us to our lager and humiliation and made it clear they’d be keeping an eye on us. We had to lie about where we were going to sleep that night – there were no beds to be had in Munich, certainly none that we could afford or get ourselves to at this hour.
So, heavily pissed and a little rattled by this experience, we set off to find suitable lodgings for the evening. We’d already had to sleep in a hostel that did a pretty good impression of a nightclub in a graffiti-covered former Soviet tower block for two nights in Prague.
We’d also laid down our sleeping bags on a grass verge overlooking the sight of Hitler’s chilling 1933 Rally, outside the Frankenstadion in Nuremberg. We’d turned up after a boozy six-hour train ride from the Czech Republic for England’s 2-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago, watched the game in the blistering sun on the big screens over five or six litres of local lager each, and then spent three hours wandering round the pretty Southern German town hunting for a bed.
It had been comfortably the wrong side of midnight before we accepted what we’d known months earlier – that every room in every hotel had been booked up by England fans about six months ago. It’s amazing how inviting a flat, unpopulated patch of grass can look in such hostile circumstances.
I was woken by the manic cries of a drunk and very tired man being roused from his slumbers by a swarm of red ants feasting on his sweaty skin.
And so it was, just two days later, that we settled down again, in long grass in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium, and tried to get a good night’s sleep without getting arrested or mugged. The first obstacle came as I was woken by the manic cries of a drunk and very tired man being roused from his slumbers by a swarm of red ants feasting on his sweaty skin.
We abandoned the long grass, beat ourselves down and made for the top of the mound, where there’d be no ants. Then came the thunder storm rolling in off the Bavarian alps, the torrential rain and our second awakening.
In the darkness, confusion and rip-roaring tiredness, we began to argue and blame each other, culminating with a weary “JUST PUT THE FUCKING TENT UP”. And then we realised we’d left it, in its bag, somewhere in the long grass. Reluctantly, we set off into the night, our clothes sagging under the onslaught of a Munich monsoon to search in the dark amid waist-deep scrub, full of stinging ants for a tent that we desperately didn’t want to put up.
Five years previously in that grand old Munich stadium, Michael Owen had scored a hat-trick as possibly England’s finest performance on foreign soil had torn through Germany and seen Sven-Goran Eriksson’s men break free of three decades of neurotic pessimism to crush the home side 5-1.
That majestic stadium, with its sweeping canopies, built to signify a newly-optimistic, democratic Germany, had witnessed some of European football’s great moments. Gerd Muller scoring the winner in the final of the 1974 World Cup as the hosts came from behind to see off the Dutch, Cruyff, Neeskens et al; Brian Clough leading Nottingham Forest to the first of two successive European Cups, in 1979; Marco Van Basten hammering that unforgettable, audacious volley into the top corner of the Soviet Union net from a seemingly impossible angle in the final of Euro 1988.
What, I wondered as we struggled to stretch our sodden canvas body bag into a habitable shape, within a bush, would those towering football icons make of us now? These two disheveled, shivering men, about to enter this dreadful wet sack and huddle desperately together for the night. It would surely be beyond their comprehension. People shouldn’t live like this.