Filed: Saturday, 14th August 1999
By: Dan O`Rourke
A Lost weekend, in a hotel in Helsinki.
Friday morning 8am - well some time early, Martine and I were ready to go...
My friend Dodge (recently reappeared post Berkovic) rather kindly dropped me and Ms.Gibbs at Terminal 3 to begin the long journey to Helsinki. We checked in with ease, and with only a bit of hand luggage we were raring to go on flight SK712 bound for Copenhagen. After a half an hour delay we were away and up into the air. First off a big shout to SAS they do the most fantastic veggie stuff (Tino - Ms.Gibbs - got fresh salmon).
A brief stop in Copenhagen and our first sighting of others in the claret and blue, obviously in the bar! Again another easy flight out and more good food although Martine didn't eat her "noodle thing" as she feared the meat in it may well once have been one of Rudolph's mates.
We eased into Helsinki airport and through the high security (I think someone looked at our passports). We emerged into bright sunshine and, rather than enjoy the Finnish air, 'Tino dived into a packet of fags like they were more than going out of fashion. How she's going to survive a flight to the Maldives is beyond me (but if you do decide not to go Martine, you know where I am....). We hung about looking for a bus into town as the lack of cash was looking like it might be a problem. It seems there had been a run on the Finnish Mark earlier in the day, so we were going to have to survive on 50 quid for the rest of Friday. We started a queue for the 615 bus into town (I only knew this because the bus stop sign was also in English). Strangely, 15 minutes later we found ourselves last onto the bus to town, behind a particularly ignorant bloke, who seemed quite fond of his own image, but seemed to us more of a twat than anything else. Anyhow into town and then we were lost! Somewhere out there was our hotel, Secret Squirrel like Martine and I went about our business of finding the Raddison Hotel Espiria... after being spotted by some fellow Hammers, who had clearly been in town a little longer, we jumped into a cab and made the short trip to our palatial weekend residence.
Upon entering our hotel Martine spotted what she thought was the team hotel which happened to be nextdoor , already I could see the cogs whirring in the Gibbs head. We checked in and admired the surroundings of the room. Basically, it was bloody huge.... After a quick settling in and amusing ourselves with the fact that we were really in Finland, we set off for the bar, with me scheming a way to embezzle beer from it and Martine with plans of luring me into the Hotel next door to cop a look at Neil "(Oh he's so nice/butch/sexy)" [and married] Ruddock.
Whilst pottering around in the lobby, me not quite in the hotel bar, Gibbsy not quite in the Hotel next door an unusual spectacle greeted us - Roger Cross and about 30 kit bags! I thought "odd", Martine thought "Christmas" (well in the land of Reindeer what else), and Crossy probably thought "shit" and the now awestruck Ms.Gibbs tried to remain calm. I seized upon this weekness in her defences and headed for the bar.
We set up camp and just as we settled in for a bit of Razor spotting Frank Snr wandered past and Gibbs took off like a bat out of hell, realising that she, yes she and I don't know if anyone else has heard this, had Razors shirt upstairs and a camera, briefly stopping at the bar to pinch a marker pen, she was off to the lift to fetch said shirt and her camera. I made do with Finnish lager and fighting the desire to smoke. Not an inconsiderable amount of time passed, when bored with the urge to smoke I took to lift watching - nothing very exciting until out of the lift emerged Frank Lampard Jnr with our very own Martine, whos grin was so huge I'm surprised she didn't get stuck in the lift.
The next hour or so involved eagle-eyed Gibbs (a take off of eagle-eyed Action man), watching hawk like for players. We managed shots and autographs of Frank Snr, Harry, (what a top bloke) Redknapp, Sir Les Sealey, Abooooooooooouu (who was seen several times wandering trance like from one end of the hotel lobby to the other).
Eventually even the Gibbs had to eat and we got a cab into town to catch up with other Hammers - big shout to Anders who was our guide and entertainer for the evening. We camped out in the fantastically Finnish named Molly Malones, where our friends the 'band' were trying to play. I don't think the lead singers ego could handle so many rounds of bubbles. Quite a few beers were consumed by me and just when I thought I had the courage to ask the girl with the red hair if she wanted a chat, Martine decided to dislodge a contact lense and we had to head back to the hotel. I think Ms.Gibbs was actually after sneaking into some player or others wardrobe for the night. The contact lense was found and so was the Bouncer (Ian Offers, fellow Hammers traveller). A couple more beers in the hotel bar and we headed to bed, for some serious snoring and dreaming of European victory...
Up bright and early saturday morning and we headed to the hotel restaurant. I had a mind only for hash browns after the awesome plateful I ate at the Worldnet tournament the previous week, Bouncer had just food and The Gibbs had nothing but Claret and blue - Martine's first and only breakfast victim was Stan (Oh he's got the blues now) Lazaridis. Bouncer and I (after an unusual breakfast) returned to the room for a freshen up whilst Martine continued her stalking. Even she had to eventually give in to the power of soap as she was beginning to honk like Razors shirt (did anyone hear about the time Martine got Razor's shirt).
The morning was spent in the bar collecting autographs, pictures etc.. which was all very amusing. Eventually even the team tired of being hunted by the great white Gibbs. The team went off for training and after great investigative work, Martine led the way as we headed off to watch them. Martine, being a bird, doesn't have any sense of direction and the 3 of us headed the wrong way around a very substantial lake - which was very nice. We caught the players just as they finished their session.
Eventually we gave up player stalking and headed into Helsinki for bit of sightseeing. Helsinki is a really nice clean and friendly place - I spent most of the afternoon trying to work out if Finland was invaded by the Germans and why it wasn't Communist - no answers were forthcoming. There were however some impressive buildings (a fantastically impressive church and a really nice harbour area where we took a boat trip for an hour round some rather amusingly irrelevant Islands). Once back on dry land we pursued an FC Jokerit shirt as Martine had got it in her mind she wanted one. When we realised they were foul we didn't bother and headed back to the hotel to a) wave the team off and b) finish Martine's autograph hunting. Both were achieved and contented we remained in the bar for a few more beers before heading about half a mile down the road to the stadium where we were greeted by a pub (the name of which I have forgotten) resplendent in Hammers flags and full of West Ham fans along with a couple of Man City supporters and a bloke in a Villa top? Very odd. A quick beer in there (which took an age for the Bouncer to get from the bar) and we were off to the Olympic stadium (which was empty). Those Hammers that had come over with tickets were placed in a fenced off guarded area, where the security looked like a load of Finnish runners up in Finland's strongest man competition. The stadium holds something like 40,000, but I don't think there can have been 4,000 in there.
The game itself was a dour affair; Rob Jones made what might be his only start for us and he didn't do too bad (managed to get himself booked mind). In the early stages we looked like we would score and perhaps close the game out - a couple of gilt edge chances were wasted, inability to score within the box seems to be as much trouble to those on the pitch as it is to me!
Bizarrely Jokerit took the lead midway through the first half, which did nothing to silence the Hammers. Most of the game was actually spent abusing the Hammers guardians. The security types refused to smile - well they tried to refuse until one then two and eventually three stewards cracked and the chorus of "there's only 3 happy stewards" rang around the empty ground.
Half time 1-0 down and much amusement as hungry Hammers munched into roasting sausages in frozen buns.
The second half wasn't much better to be honest. Di Canio won the free kick which lead to Frank's excellent goal, but Di Canio spent much of the second half doing a dying swan impression - shortly after the free kick which led to the goal he managed to get a Jokerit player sent off for doing a most impressive dying bird act. Michael Carrick was the second most notable event of the second half, he came on for his debut first team performance.
Game over and we were held behind for about 40 minutes for what seemed like no apparent reason. Eventually and happily enough we returned to our hotel to freshen up and hit Helsinki town. Many of the Hammers were once again in Molly Malones (all that way for an Irish bar). Bouncer, Martine and I instead went for classic Finnish cuisine - one of the nicest Mexicans I've had in a while.
Martine left Ian and I about one(ish) and we headed into town for a few beers, madness. 1am and into town for beers, how cool! We ended up in the wonderfully named "Happy Day's bar" where random Hammers were spotted in and around the dance floor. I met a girl from Dublin and spent about an hour talking to her whilst Bouncer wondered where his beer was.
The most amusing thing about our time in Happy Days was the "West Ham 3" on the dance floor who all had eyes for the Finnish ladies. By 4am the West Ham 3 became the West Ham 1 and a big shout to him who ever he is as he wouldn't give in.
Just as Bouncer and I began to hit the vodka's the bar closed (4.30 am) and we headed out into the streets and began the walk home whilst searching for a bar that might be open. As dawn begin to break the streets of Helsinki filled with people and all of them on their mobile phones - bizarre. Everyone wherever we looked was chatting - at 4.30 am to whom I ask?
Bouncer and I got back to the hotel at about 5 where I found a couple of Norweigen girls sat chatting in our floor lobby. They were duly joined by me where we talked (well I talked all kinds of dross until they couldn't put up with it any more - perhaps a bit like this banal rubbish). I hit the sack at about 6.30am.
All our intentions of getting up early were made a mockery of as around midday we all emerged from our slumber. We packed our stuff up and headed out into the Finnish air and caught a cab (driven by a particularly mad and distracted cabbie) to the airport. The journey back passed us by uneventfully and we were back into Heathrow almost seemingly hours after we left. Bouncer kindly dropped me back to Cambridge where I spent the rest of the Sunday evening telling everyone and anyone about the time we spent with the team in the bar until I was thrown out of it.
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