Apr 112008
 

Johnny kindly sent me this brilliant article from this week’s Limerick Leader.

Campervan is your only man to transport Red Army Troops.

John Hogan, Limerick Leader.

How does one go about having all the fun of a Heineken Cup weekend but on a shoestring budget?
Having booked flights to England for the Munster Gloucester clash without so much as a thought about how we’d afford to stay the weekend, my Bruff RFC teammates and I had decided the answer to this question was to combine our transport and accommodation costs with one solution in the form of a seven-seater campervan.
While all the other Munster supporters jumped into buses and taxis after landing at East Midlands airport on Friday morning, we were collected by Gary, the burly but friendly owner of the campervan rental company, in an old army jeep that looked like it had sustained fire during Desert Storm.
After seeing the look of disgust on our faces, he reassured us that the jeep was merely to transport us to the camper depot and not where we would be laying our head for the next three nights.
Perhaps it was the unusual sense of pride he seemed to have in his vehicles or maybe he saw it in our eyes that we were new to the campervan scene, but Gary insisted on giving us a meticulous tour around our new home before setting us off on our merry way from the depot in Derby.
The Famous Camper Van.
“This is where you turn on the cooker,” he started.
“We’re probably not going to do a huge pile of cooking this weekend Gary to be honest.”
“Ok, well this is how you turn on the DVD player.”
“Don’t think there’ll be many DVDs watched either Gary. In fact it might be better for all concerned if you just took the TV out of the campervan for the weekend.”
“Do you want me to show you how to get out the picnic chairs and tables?”
“No that’s fine thanks.”
“Er…alright, what are you guys doing exactly with the campervan ‘cos it doesn’t sound like your going camping?”
“Well we’re going to a rugby match, hence all the red shirts and the giddiness.”
“O right, well bring it back in once piece, won’t you lads?”
The deafening silence in response to this question lead Gary to next ask which one of us would be providing the credit card for the £1,000 deposit.
With all our contracts signed, credit cards handed over and promises of good behaviour made, we took off with a, by now, seriously worried looking Gary growing smaller in our rear-view camera.
For fear he would have a change of heart and come looking for us, we decided to set up camp in Leicester for the night, before congregating with the rest of the province at the gates of Kingsholm the next morning.
After a shaky few hours involving the near remodelling of the camper and a terrifying excursion the wrong way up a one-way lane, we got the hang of the seven-seater.
By the next morning, we had gotten confident and were powering, perhaps a little too confidently, down the A40 with our Munster flags billowing on both sides. What had been beeps of indignation from motorists peeved at our less-than-perfect driving gradually turned into beeps of anticipation though as our fellow supporters’ cars began to flank us on the road to Gloucester.
With a few hours to spare before kick-off, we found a space in a huge retail car park only a five minute walk from the stadium. Seen as we had the time, and the night before in Leicester had left us looking like we’d already played a rugby match, we decided a freezing cold splash in the campervan’s shower would do us the world of good.
Inevitably though, towels were thrown out the door while the owners were in the shower and other users of the car park were subsequently exposed to more skin than what one is normally used to in a Tesco car park on a cold Saturday morning.
Some Playful Exchanges between Shiner and Mikey.
We spent the next few hours before the match soaking up the atmosphere – and ingesting the refreshments – that Teague’s, across the road from Kingsholm, had to offer. The propieter of the bar, and former England number 8, Mike Teague, must have needed the whole Gloucester pack to carry out the amount of money he made over the weekend.
Walking into the Shed shortly before the game, we may as well have been taking our place on the popular side in Thomond Park such was the volume of Red Army supporters taking up space on the home support’s traditional stomping ground.
Atmosphere and Soaking, in whatever order :-)
Throughout the game, it was difficult to decide who was chanting louder given the similar sounding names of both sides but there was no doubting which side was playing the better rugby.
The Game
With 15 minutes left to go the roars started to subside as both sets of supporters realised the result had already been decided. Some Gloucester followers had also started to make their way towards the exit leaving their Munster counterparts to bask in the rainy glory of another great European victory.
As the final whistle was blown, the Sky Sports cameras captured Dermot and John-Stephen, two of the more thirsty members of our travelling party, making a dash across the pitch in an attempt to get back to Teague’s before the rest of the travelling support. Not being completely without manners however, the pair did pause briefly to say well done to their clubmate John Hayes.
At the game.
“Fair play to you Bull, you did us proud,” they shouted over their shoulders while galloping towards the front gate, showing a better turn of pace than most of the Gloucester backline on the day.
The rest of us arrived not long afterwards to find the celebrations already in full swing, with a lone guitarist right down in the back of the pub taking requests from the giddy audience. I stopped counting how many times the poor musician was forced to play ‘The Fields of Athenry’ but the repeat renditions carried on well into the night.
Pied Piper, and the Musician.....
We trundled into East Midlands at 7.30 on Monday morning to meet Gary, who had kindly agreed to collect the camper from us at the airport instead of at his base in Derby.
Using whatever socks or boxer shorts we could find lying around, we had wiped down the inside of the camper on the way to the airport and had it looking surprisingly clean by the time we arrived.
Just as we were about to hand over the keys to Gary, I realised that we had forgotten to carry out the most horrendous part of the clean-up, namely emptying the toilet. Leaving that little present for Gary to dispose of was not an option as it would mean us incurring an £80 fine on our deposit.
So through a process of bullying and intimidation, I was selected as the candidate to dispose of the collection potty which was located at the back of the van.
Praying that nobody was watching from one of the overhead planes, I found one of the more deserted waste ground areas on the outskirts of the airport and disposed of our foul cargo while my friends fell about themselves laughing.
With that last vomitous act completed we bade our farewells to Gary, who seemed genuinely shocked to see the campervan -and all of us – back in one piece.
To a man, we fell asleep within minutes of boarding the plane, collectively feeling the wear and tear of the weekend as if we ourselves had spent all day Saturday tackling Lesley Vainikolo.
However, we fell asleep with smiles on our faces, content in the knowledge that while the weary bones and scraggly heads would last a few days, the memories of another great Heineken Cup weekend would be around a lot longer.

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