Postcards from Group K
You could forgive our welcome visitors from Europa League Group K for being a bit disappointed with our city: with due respect to The Bargate and Mayflower Park, Southampton doesn’t have the same attractions as the sights of the Holy Land, Milan’s chic or baroque Prague.
Stuck away at the northern edge of the Negev Desert, Be’er Sheva is never going to why you might visit Israel, but there’s no reason not to check out the more interesting sights even if the purpose of going is Europa League football. I’ll admit to being jealous of the London Saints members who trekked out from Be’er Sheva to the Dead Sea, but you can’t see everything and Tel Aviv’s beaches are great, while the city is in easy reach of Jerusalem – and that just has to be done. Nothing can really prepare you for the sight as the tour guide leads you out of a nondescript part of the Walled City’s Jewish Quarter onto a viewing balcony: on the left is the gilded Dome of the Rock, next to it the Western Wall (and attendant wailers), to the right is the Al Aqsa mosque and in the background beyond the walls is the Mount of Olives – so much history across so many years and three religions in one vista.
The morning after the night of Southampton’s defeat at the San Siro, and the red and white army could be seen wending it’s way home from various points around Milan’s central station. Quite a few foot soldiers had clearly opted for the extra day, judging by the familiar badges (including some sported by warriors from the LSSC brigade) seen around Milan’s oh-so-smart downtown area on a fine October afternoon, and there’s a rumour of a Francis Benali sticker being attached to a pillar in the impressive cathedral – but you do rather hope that isn’t actually true, and we didn’t see it. The view from the Duomo‘s rooftop terrace is a must, the array of statuary in the museum a bit of an acquired taste, but this is Milan and what’s the point of being in this league if you don’t go to see all the treats on offer? So ended a fixture that meant so much to Milan’s hotel trade, and quite a few selected bar owners as well: we came, we saw, we lost. Arrivederci Milano.
Prague‘s hilltop castle and old town areas are unspoilt by world wars or unsympathetic town planning during the decades that blighted some of capitalist Western Europe’s finest sights. Realistically, though, it’s not architecture that makes Prague a destination of choice for so many stag and hen weekends – it’s the booze. 2016 Bohemia didn’t disappoint, although the additional choice now available doesn’t necessarily make it better than when the London Saints football team toured there nearly 25 years ago. Then it was more or less just Plzeňský Prazdroj in differing strengths and the beer is still the top seller, but now internationally owned and invariably marketed under its German name, Pilsner Urquell – still a classic, but not as good as I seem to remember. The newer choices have included a number of brew-pubs in the city, and some offerings from smaller rivals, just sometimes of slightly less than top quality – but this is one of the world’s great brewing nations and no-one would stay in business long if they produced rubbish! Back in 1992 there was another choice – at the historic U Fleků brewery and restaurant. It’s still there, and still producing one of the greatest dark beers you’ll ever taste, even if you have to put up with higher prices, smaller measures, miserable waiters and occasional cheesy accordion music. Of course there’s more to Prague than beer tourism, or even trundling round from sight to sight on the frequent trams, and we managed to chalk up a bit of local culture with a hockey (ice, of course) game at Slavia Prague’s stadium – didn’t have a clue what was going on most of the time, rather like figuring out where Saints’ next goal is coming from.