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‘Why all Newcastle United fans need to do their duty by Athletic Bilbao fans this weekend’

3 weeks ago

I was interested to read the article on The Mag about the Barcelona away match in December 2002.

Eight of us got tickets at the last minute, so flew scheduled BA from Newcastle to Heathrow and on to Barcelona.

We booked a night in a hotel on Las Ramblas for the night of the match and were scheduled to fly home the following morning.

Match called off and, despite multiple attempts – obviously because there were dozens of fans trying to do the same – and with the phone lines being constantly engaged and mobile phone battery life not being what it is today, it was impossible to change our flights.

Six of our group decided to return on the designated flight and the only really wealthy one amongst us paid for new flights.

No way could I afford that but there was also no way I was going to miss the rescheduled match the following night and attend the match I did.

Fast forward to the BA desk at Barcelona Airport the following morning, where I arrived at 4am so was first in the queue when the shutters went up at 6am.

By then, there was a queue of suited and booted businessmen behind me.

“Good morning,” I said to the young lady, smiling, “I’ve come to collect my replacement tickets to Newcastle,” as I handed her my passport and yesterday’s tickets.

She clicked away at her keyboard before saying “I’m sorry, Sir, but I don’t appear to have any record of this flight being changed.”

Cue my outburst aimed mainly for the benefit of the businessmen behind me in the queue – “THIS IS TYPICAL BRITISH AIRWAYS!! EVERY TIME I USE YOU THERE’S A PROBLEM!! I CONTACTED YOU……”.

My outburst was cut short by a pleading girl behind the desk.

“Please, Sir!! Please, Sir!! Don’t worry. We’ll sort it out!!”

She asked me to see her colleague at the corner booth who, she assured me, would get to the bottom of the problem.

After five minutes with her colleague who, understandably, was unable to do so, I launched into another extremely loud tirade condemning BA to their listening business-class customers.

This tirade was also ended by a pleading BA agent.

Long story short, I was flown back to Newcastle via Heathrow on the next plane at no extra cost and – bonus – the Barcelona/Heathrow leg was business class – still the only business class flight I have ever enjoyed.

What a 36 hours!! Only surpassed on The Day Of The Dead (1/11/94) by 36 hours in Bilbao on a Keith Barrett charter flight.

That’s a story for another day but I would like to share this small part of it for the time being and ask any Toon fan at the Bilbao friendly on Saturday, to buy a drink for any Athletic Bilbao fans they see. Their hospitality to the Geordie hordes of the Toon Army back in 1994 was truly overwhelming as, I’m sure, anyone there will testify!

When we arrived in Bilbao we were met off the plane by a delegation from the British Consulate, who were all working despite it being a Bank Holiday over there, in anticipation of the perceived “threat” of football hooliganism.

They read and translated to us the full front page of their “RonnyGill” which was an open letter from the Mayor of Bilbao to the citizens of Bilbao. It read words to the effect of:

‘Citizens of Bilbao, today we have two battles on our hands.

The first is on the sacred pitch of San Mames where the Rojablancos will easily beat NUFC.

The second is on the streets where we must show even greater hospitality to the “Geordies” than we were shown by them in Newcastle.

THIS WILL BE EXTREMELY DIFFICULT as the hospitality that the Basques received in the city (of Newcastle) was the finest I have ever experienced.’

As anyone who was there will attest, the citizens of Bilbao did not let their Mayor down.


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