European Football Weekends is an absolute treasure trove of away days around Europe, from the San Siro to the Dripping Pan. The man behind it all, Danny Last, speaks to Dave Hartrick...
The European Football Weekends website was described by the Guardian as ‘a perennial source of pleasure’ and to be honest, I can’t think of a better way to put it. The man behind the headline is Danny Last, who’ll talk you though his adventures in some of the biggest and smallest football grounds Europe has to offer.
Whether it’s a Real Madrid or AC Milan that floats your boat, or if you need something a little more Slovan Bratislava or FC Petrolul to get you interested, Danny’s visited them all. After traveling to France, Holland, Scotland, Turkey, Germany, Italy, and Denmark amongst others, he agreed to take one of his biggest journeys yet – an interview with IBWM.
Thanks for your time Danny, the obvious question first - where did the idea for the site come from?
It made its sorry way onto the Internet by trial and error really. I'm a luddite when it comes to computers, but after returning home from a particularly memorable trip to Romania three years ago, I thought I'd try and store a couple of photos and write about it for my own amusement. I quite enjoyed reliving the memories, and so I carried on, and on.
It’s now read by journalists, fans, and bloggers, and like ‘Zonal Marking’ has become somewhat of a benchmark in the community. Did you ever see it becoming the force of nature it currently is in the online football world?
To be mentioned in the same sentence as Zonal Marking makes my tummy do a little rumble. Even though I haven't the foggiest when it comes to talking tactics and stuff I love that website, despite the fact his and mine are chalkboard and cheese. A force of nature you say? I'll stick that on a t-shirt if you don't mind? The fact that Barry Glendenning, John Ashdown, Sean Ingle and others at The Guardian have endorsed EFW fills me with pride to be honest. Those guys are my heroes.
How do you pick your trips? Is it something that piques your interest in passing or have you got some epic list you’re slowly ticking off one by one?
The only list I have is one of all the grounds I've seen games at, and I've only got that because I get regular emails from mad German ground hoppers asking me where I've been. The trips fall into three categories; romantic trips with my wife in which I try and negotiate a golden pass to see a game. Matches that I get invited to - which happens fairly often these days - and then there is the EFW Oktoberfest: an annual football fiesta in which we see as many games as possible - in bizarre and wonderful places - and to which everyone is invited.
From your many trips to the continent, who has the best home fans in Europe that you’ve witnessed and similarly, who’s brought the best away support?
If there is a team that has more vociferous fans than Besiktas in the Fiyapı İnönü Stadium then I'm booking my flight right here, right now - they were unbelievable. I couldn't watch any of the game there because I was mesmerized by their fans. In terms of away support - I've traveled with both Borussia Dortmund and Royal Antwerp fans to away games and they travel in huge numbers, and make a helluva noise – just brilliant. I've also seen Napoli away at both Empoli and Inter Milan. Their fans provide thunder and lightening, but can also be very, very frightening.
What’s the best derby you’ve been to for atmosphere?
Other than Brighton v Crystal Palace, obviously? The first overseas derby I went to was Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid in 1996. That was in the days when the Bernabéu had terracing and an atmosphere. There were fire crackers, streamers, home made bombs and everything. Nowadays, you could hear a pin drop in that stadium which is a crying shame. It terms of mentalism, I'd have to say the Spakenburg derby between SV Spakenburg and IJsselmeervogels. It may not have the best atmosphere when the game actually kicks off, but for pure entertainment with regards to off-the-field shenanigans and the all important after-derby parties, it rocks. The day after the Spakenburg derby, I awoke with a scarf from both teams and an SV Spakenburg Viking helmet - complete with flashing horns. It's that sort of derby, and made up for the fact that Stuart Fuller, editor from The Ball is Round, was in the adjacent bed - snoring for England.
Football in Eastern Europe in particular has acquired a reputation for hooliganism. Have you ever witnessed anything to confirm the stereotype or do you feel it’s a little bit of scare mongering (as per usual) on the English press’s behalf?
Obviously it does occur, but I must have been very lucky. I've never seen any major trouble on my travels. If there is a game that is likely to attract trouble, I try and contact someone from the home club to act as a chaperone for the day. The real joy of running EFW is that I now have contacts at lots of clubs throughout Europe. Additionally, the EFW Facebook group has members from hundreds of clubs, and we all try and help each other out with accommodation, tickets and travel tips.
What’s the best European Football Weekend you’ve ever been on?
I genuinely enjoy them all but if pushed for a couple of stand-outs; I'd go for my stag do in Gelsenkirchen when we stood with the Borussia Dortmund fans to witness their first win over their fiercest rivals Schalke 04 in umpty thrumpty years. And for my anniversary (I know) I went to Fenerbahçe with my wife as a guest of Colin Kazim-Richards. We had the best seats in the house, the use of a chauffer in Istanbul for three days, and at the end of the game he ran over to me and gave me his shirt in front of 30,000 fans. We had to feed his dog before the game mind you. And his shirt was really sweaty.
Anywhere you would heartedly recommend avoiding?
Paris. It's a beautiful city but how can you lay claim to being the capital when you've only got a couple of teams to dish out between a couple of million inhabitants? Shame on you Paris.
Each country brings something different to the experience of watching a live game, what’s the one thing you’ve witnessed you would love to see English fans adopt?
Only one? Can I crowbar in a few? Well, fans in Germany get into the ground hours early. Why? Because the club blasts out an hours worth of the teams anthems which the fans lap up. There is none of this 'you can't take your beer to your seat' nonsense, oh no. In Germany they have chaps walking around the stadium with jetpacks full of beer encouraging you to drink, and have a good time. Have a good time and enjoy yourself in a football ground? Who knew? The thing I love the most about games abroad though, is that if your team wins, the players take time out to go and celebrate with their fans. In England they just trudge of with the occasional two-second overhead clap. That isn't good enough for fans that give up everything to see their team.
As you’re a Brighton & Hove Albion fan I’ll offer you this choice - a Saturday afternoon watching a team many football fans won’t of heard of at a terrible little ground full of strange accents and weird food, or instead of a home game at the Withdean, a Saturday afternoon having a European football weekend instead?
Cheeky scamp. Actually, I gave up my season ticket - which I'd had for 20 years or more - around three seasons ago. Something had to give. I'd been to Barnsley, Birmingham, Bradford, Brentford et al loads of times with the Albion, and I'd paid top-whack to sit in that athletics stadium watching my team. But paying that amount of cash and watching football abroad doesn't add up. I resorted to watching non-league football at Lewes FC which was relatively cheap and freed up funds for my, ahem, European Football Weekends. I've since fallen in love with Lewes. What's not to like about supping a pint of Harveys Ale on the terracing in the best ground in the country? I didn't want to get swept up by another club, but now I'm hooked. I contribute to the match programme and helped to turn the clubhouse [The Rook Inn] into a shrine to European football.
Gus Poyet – some sort of genius? If this turn around continues, can you hang on to him?
Of course he’s a genius, and of course he'll leave. They all do. Any manager that has a smidgen of success at the Albion wipes their feet at the door and moves on. As do the players. Loyalty in football is pretty much a thing of the past and fans should, I suppose, get over it. They call him the radio by the way, because you can't turn him off. Good old Gus.
Thanks for your time again and the closing question anyone agreeing to the IBWM treatment has to answer – favorite Maradona moment?
In the days when England friendlies meant something to me - yes, I'm talking 1980 - he came to Wembley as a 19-year old and cast his spell over me. I tore out the picture of him in Shoot Magazine and pinned it up in my Subbuteo room. I also loved it when he returned home to Boca Juniors - who he played surprisingly few games for - in 2001 and wept his way through a testimonial match before making a speech about football, Boca, and Argentina being better than undergoing surgery for a dog bite or something like that. Oh, and the pleasure was all mine. Cheers.
You will all have visited europeanfootballweekends.blogspot.com but go again, I promise there’ll be something you’ve never read before. Danny is also on Twitter (@DannyLast) but I’ll warn you, if you follow him like me, what starts as an innocent relationship can lead to you talking about sneaking Peter Crouch dressed as a giraffe in Harry Redknapp’s garden. Don’t say you haven’t been warned…
If you’d like to read more from David, please visit his fantastic blog, I know who Cyrille Makanaky was.