European Football - UEFA Europa League - Round of 32 1st Leg - FC Augsburg v Liverpool FC“ALLE ersatzteile, jungs?” or for non-German speakers: “Any spares, lads?”

Right, you are going to have to go with me on this, it’s been a while, writes KEITH SALMON.

For those who don’t know, I wrote the fabulous We Had Dreams And Songs To Sing in 2009. I have decided to start writing again and the guys at the Anfield Wrap have been so kind to allow me to ride on the backs of their fabulous writing posse. I need to do them justice.

For all of you familiar with the TAW writers you may recognise the name; well, the second name. My talented brother, Ian, writes great stuff on here. Don’t expect the same — his writing is cultured, structured, well thought out and he will hit you with real thought-provoking stuff. My writing? It’s honest and just spills on to the page and I keep my fingers crossed it makes sense. You can be the judge.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 18.40.39This then is the story of Augsburg away. Or is it?

I’ve realised this is actually about belonging. Do I still belong? What do I belong to? And more importantly what do I want to belong to and where do I go from here?

This is a real crossroads in my time being a Liverpool fan. I hate to say it but the sense of disillusionment is silently creeping in — don’t even ask about whether I am going to Wembley. The next 10 days is a defining time, I fear. Who knows which way it goes. Do I belong? Have I given everything up, is modern football losing one more old fan?

European Football - UEFA Europa League - Round of 32 1st Leg - FC Augsburg v Liverpool FCI used to be someone when I went the match regularly. I got tickets for everyone, I organised the travel, I was the ‘go-to man’ in my group of mates (and often beyond). That was 20 years ago. Now I question my existence as a fan.

Anyone outside of my match-going mates who knows me thinks I am Liverpool’s biggest fan, but that just isn’t true any more and if I am honest hasn’t been for many a year. I am living on past glories and that has been painfully exposed over the last few weeks. I have been fluking cup final tickets for longer than I remember all because I used to go the match. I used to go everywhere, but as I said that was 20 years ago.

Germany then. Europe is the best thing to do as a football fan — meeting your mates in a far foreign land, seeing the sights, drinking the local beer and watching the Red Men on a patch of the green stuff is the greatest experience. I have been lucky enough to see the Reds play — and win — in the San Siro, Bernabeu and the Nou Camp.

As the Reds finally came through their Europa League group I was ready to hit Europe again. If they got a good draw I was up for it. Both Bordeaux and Sion had been on my radar but work put paid to both of them. The December draw for the last 32 was going to be interesting. In the pot there was some nice little trips. Dortmund, Sevilla, Sparta Prague, Porto, St Etienne, Marseilles and Valencia.

As the draw started there went Valencia, first out, then Dortmund and Porto. Tottenham go to Florence and United go to Denmark. Hold on, there goes Liverpool as the away team. Who are they away to? Augsburg…

Who the fuck are Augsburg? Where the fuck is Augsburg?

Google it. Only half an hour from Munich, brilliant. I have wanted to go to Munich ever since Howard Gayle ran them ragged in 1981. I have been waiting for Bayern Munich for over 30 years. It’s not Bayern but half-an-hour from the best beer gardens in Bavaria? That will do nicely.

WhatsApp buzzed into life and by close of the day four of us were up for it.

Back to belonging. I left Liverpool 16 years ago. I left Liverpool but it’s never left me. Now I live in the Isle of Man so getting to Augsburg needs to be planned with military precision; as cheap as possible, and in as short a time as possible. Getting the pass off my wife is one thing but being away for a week and it costing a fortune is never going to happen.

A Tuesday flight from Isle of Man to Gatwick is £60. Gatwick to Stuttgart early morning Wednesday flight is another £60. Throw in a Premier Inn at the airport for £40 and a train from Stuttgart to Munich and back from Augsburg after the match (£40) and top it off with one night in Munich (£40).

So for less than £250, which is less than the cost of a normal European away in-and-out-in-a-day job, I get two days in Germany with my mates and see the Mighty Reds.

Tickets should be easy. Who wants to go to Germany mid-week, especially with a potential Capital One Cup final appearance and an expensive trip to Wembley around the corner. Should be loads of tickets available…

Then the club only got 1,100 tickets and you needed six European away games in Europe to qualify. No chance on that score.

European Football - UEFA Europa League - Round of 32 1st Leg - FC Augsburg v Liverpool FCCutting a long story short, it’s now Tuesday afternoon — two days before the match. We are still three tickets short and watching it in a bar the most likely outcome. I’m gutted. The craic around the day is brilliant but you want to see the Reds play.

Work can’t go quick enough and I am off to the airport for my 8pm flight. Leaving the rock in the middle of the Irish Sea that I call home, it’s a bit wild out there and rain is lashing down.

Considering the kids don’t want me to go the goodbyes are surprisingly easy. Little Izzy has her head stuck in some game on Nick Junior and Charlie has his head rammed in the fridge looking for something else to fill his hollow legs.

My wonderful wife (well she will read this) drops me off at the airport and I dash the whole 20 yards into the airport managing not to get blown off my feet or dripping wet from head to toe.

The departure board shows only a five-minute delay. I will soon be on the way to Gatwick for the last decent sleep until Friday. I am not as young as I used to be and the thought of the journey home is already haunting me — a 4am train from Augsburg after the match. Lovely.

I take a seat in the glass cage that is the departure lounge and it’s creaking like my knees after football training. Combine that wind with the lashing rain and this is going to be a hang on to your hats departure.

19:35: “Bing-bong. EasyJet would like to invite all passengers for flight blah blah blah to the departure lounge.”

19:40: “Bing-bong. EasyJet regret to announce that flight blah blah blah for Gatwick has been diverted there will be a further update at 20:00 hours.”

Further update? No, don’t bother. We are not going anywhere! “Further announcement” means get ready we’re going to have to find hotels and taxis for a whole plane-load of people.

What happens next? Are there any flights getting out? Where are they going to? Can I get to Gatwick? This late at night you are basically knackered — you are going nowhere until tomorrow morning. So my 7:15am flight to Stuttgart is done for, as is my hotel at Gatwick and my non-refundable train ticket from Stuttgart to Munich.

See, military precision. Don’t you just love it.

20:00: “Bing-bong. EasyJet regret to announce the cancellation of flight blah blah and you must come back at 10:45 tomorrow morning.”

And there you go, my Germany trip ripped to shreds after months of planning. An hour later I am back at home trawling the EasyJet website for help.

Two hours later, and at a cost of £105, I am booked on the 17:55 direct to Munich on Wednesday.

A little over 12 hours later and the glass cage is a much quieter place, winds have died down and the plane’s on time. Augsburg away take two.

“Alle ersatzteile, jungs.”

Just keep practising. The big fella up there owes me a little luck, seeing I am missing out on the all day delights of Munich.

I travel a bit for a living and get used to time in airports but today is to be a mind-numbing six hours. Good job I am writing this then. By the time I land in Munich I’ve already been gone 12 hours.

The 45-minute journey from the airport seems to take an age but at least my mate is meeting me. Quickly drop the bag off and sample the sights Munich has to offer.

The Hofbrauhaus closes at 11.30 and it’s gone 10.30 already. I want to see if it’s like the Bierkeller in town was all them years ago.

I am glad to say it wasn’t. The oompah band were all German, with no-one pretending to be Klaus but really being Billy from Old Swan.

I had printed best German tourist phrases off but all I could blurt out was “gis two of dem big beers over there” as I pointed to a table of lads nursing the dregs of theirs.

As the oompah band strikes up the beers arrive. They are literally as big as your head and behind the drum beat I am sure he just said 16 euros. He did — cheers! When we actually worked it out we got probably four pints for 16 euros so not bad for a tourist trap.

proxy-image-2The beer hardly touched the side and they had called last orders, so back out to the cold and you probably know what’s coming next…an Irish bar. Lots of locals are keen to talk about the game — Herr Klopp’s return is big news.

They stopped serving at 1.30am so it was off to our home to start again in the morning. That was the plan but we stumbled across a bar by the hotel. A typical small bar that you find by train stations across Europe, hardly big enough to swing a cat but we could see some young Reds in there.

That’s a bit of a novelty nowadays. It seems Reds in their early twenties are outnumbered by people like me. Our away support average age must be on the high side — I still see many of the old faces from back in the day; greyer, chunkier but still doing what we all love to do.

Remember the question I asked? Do I belong? Aye, I still belong to this.

The young lads had driven across via Brussels, taking in the sights of western Europe and they were having a great time. It was 3.30am and four or five extra bottles later my bed was calling.

Just about had a clear enough head to check my e-mails and there it was: a ticket had popped up.

It was from a fella who I have never met in person but our old fellas used to talk football while the bingo was on in the local club.

Anyone who knows about Liverpool social club bingo knows that can go on for hours. My dad gave his mate my book as he knew he was a big Red and he e-mailed me saying how much he liked it (which is always great). We have stayed in touch and when I put the feelers out he said he would see what he could do.

Well that’s what he can do! A hotel in Augsburg with a concierge called Helga or Helmut and a ticket with my name on it. As my head hit the pillow and I must have had the biggest smile in Bavaria.

I still needed the tickets phrase though: two more.

“Alle ersatzteile, jungs.”

My mate is banging on the door, if we want to see some culture the Rathaus-Glockenspiel goes off at 11 and it’s the must-do thing in Munich. The glockenspiel is in a building in Marienplatz in the city centre, part of the old town hall. It is like a giant cuckoo clock, with no cuckoo, but figures that move around in circle. So that would be nothing like a cuckoo clock then. Google it if you like. All I will say is that’s an hour of my life I am never getting back — you might only lose five minutes.

Only one other thing we fancied doing before we moved off to Augsburg — we headed up to the Allianz Arena and the home of Bayern Munchen and 1860 Munich, although you can’t see any sign of their presence.

GER, UEFA CL, FC Bayern Muenchen vs SSC NeapelOne of the lads and his little lad are all booked to do the ground tour so we are off to meet them. As with many new grounds, the walk from the station to the ground is long and soulless — no pubs or shops just a wide open expanse of concrete leading to the mothership, the Allianz Arena.

By the time we got to the stadium we had already had enough. I couldn’t even face the hair of the dog that was on offer. Braved the Bratwurst but it looked like an old man’s knob in a bun. I ended up having the bun with tomato sauce on it. Back to Munich and on to Augsburg it was then.

proxy-imageNow for the tickets. Two lads had the official ones and had to go to show 14 forms of ID or something to get their tickets. This seems to be the start of how tickets will be handled in Europe.

Day turned to night and it was clear there were so many looking for tickets it was going to be a tough ask for the remaining lads without.

My mate decided he wasn’t arsed now and was resigned to watching in a bar. We headed up to the main town square where trams would depart for the stadium every few minutes after 7pm.

A little bohemian coffee shop caught our eye — well, the beer in the fridges did. After four or five, it was heading to 8pm and we still hadn’t moved. We hit the tram with loads of other Reds and the somewhat bemused Augsburg fans already on the tram didn’t know what to make of it as Reds crammed in the door.

It was obvious from the chants on board that many were foreign Reds. Poor Scouser Tommy certainly had a few looking for the song sheets. I know the content was maybe not totally appropriate for Germany but it’s the best song we have in my humble opinion.

European Football - UEFA Europa League - Round of 32 1st Leg - FC Augsburg v Liverpool FCSo many people were raving on about German efficiency — until we got to the ground.

It was a shambles of an operation and nigh on impossible to see where you had to go in. As it turned out my seat was in with the Germans.

The stadium became a sea of red, green and white flags. Normally I don’t buy into the plastic flag thing but Augsburg are not Chelsea and this was the biggest night in their history (as their fans had kept telling us). They created some noise and I fully expect the same at Anfield on Thursday. They are coming to enjoy themselves.

The match was a load of rubbish. The second half was particularly memorable for being absolutely freezing — it couldn’t end quick enough for me and my frozen toes.

At the end I was desperate to get in the Liverpool end so I could head away with a bigger group of fans but an officious steward was having none of it.

I convinced him and joined the throngs cramming on the buses that were then escorted away by the police escort. The police vans followed our every move. Later in the evening the same police were following a small band of 30 or so black-clad locals intent on a little bit of bother.

We headed back to Cafe Maxime and as normal after a game it’s about meeting up with others and slowly coming to life again. A match really seems to draw the energy out of you but two or three bottles of beer later and we were back to life joined by The Anfield Wrap’s very own John Gibbons.

I only know of John through our kid but he has become part of a legendary night in a small town in Bavaria.

The move into a back bar made the evening rowdier with Germans drunker than the Scousers (well, maybe). Angels, by Robbie Williams, mixed with drunken renditions of “Jürgen Klopp, na na na na na, Jürgen Klopp” sung by English and German alike.

It was good people having a great time and many of my new German friends are heading to Anfield and can’t contain their excitement. Stefan and Markus if you get to read this thanks for your hospitality and enjoy our wonderful city. Mr Gibbons promised to look after you, which he will. As the clock hit 3.30am it was time to go — it was now or never with the train departure time approaching. Danke, Augsburg you were great hosts.

With German punctuality the ICE train came to a halt at the station and two drunken Scousers staggered aboard. As bums hit seats one was out for the count.

As we hit the platform at Stuttgart, the reality of the long trek home dawned. Snoozes on airport floors and departure lounges would be all we would get for the rest of the day. I am too old for this now, I know that, but what a great time.

Just a little under 72 hours, one false start, three countries, four plane journeys, three trains and numerous underground journeys and I am back in the heart of the family. Charlie has still got his head in the fridge.

Some things don’t change, and meeting my mates in a far foreign land is one of them. They are the ones I have shared the greatest of times with.

I do belong. We are Liverpool.