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Over land and sea...
Lithuania tour diary
By Adrian Spender
It was during the cricket game against Abbots Langley that myself, Pete Fincham and Don Fraser decided we would follow the 'Orns on their pre-season trip to Lithuania. With only five working days to get things sorted we had to move fast. Investigations revealed that you don't need a visa to go there. Result! However, after phoning Lithuanian airways on the Friday to inquire about flights, I found that there was only one flight out of Heathrow a day and, for the Friday we intended to go, there were only 4 seats available. After some frantic phone calls and arranging the time off with our respective bosses, we booked the flights and found ourselves £290 lighter.

We were flying out at 4:15 on the Friday. Pete called the club and discovered that the players were booked on the same flight. However, they were to return on the Monday whilst we had to stay around a day longer. We had all decided that we would leave sorting out accommodation until we arrived. We didn't even know how we were going to get from Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, to Kaunas where the tournament was held - a journey of over 100km.

Friday came soon enough, but started badly. I had been in work until midnight on the Thursday. I then had to take my car in for an MOT, pick up the currency, pack my bags, and collect Pete and Don before driving to Heathrow and arriving with enough time to check in and peruse the duty free shops. After grabbing a bite to eat we were making our way to the departure lounge when Pete suddenly zoomed off, pushing Don in front of him. He had spotted Tommy Mooney and a couple of the other players and was intent on having a good chat. Later on in the departure lounge, I came back from looking for a pair of sunglasses to find him and Don talking to Graham Taylor himself.

Our flight was called and we made our way to the gate with Mr. Taylor. One of the amusing parts of the weekend for me was the way in which Pete and Don addressed GT. Pete always used Graham whilst Don steadfastly stuck to Mr. Taylor. Although we did get him to slip up a couple of times. Anyway, as we waited in front of the gate, GT went to sit on some chair on the left. We deliberately went to the right, but he then came over and sat with us!

The flight took two and a half hours and was fairly uneventful, apart from the food which consisted of a salad of raw bacon. Towards the end, we got the video camera out and Pete, who had failed to join the Mile High Club, interviewed GT. Once we had cleared passport control and reclaimed our baggage, as well as rebuilding Don's wheelchair, it was 9:30pm. GT had asked us how we were planning to get to Kaunas and when he found out we had no plans he offered us a lift on the team coach which we gratefully accepted. During the journey the coach driver told us that our first game was against Alania Vladikavkaz. This was greeted less than enthusiastically by the players as the Russian team were in the middle of their season and had also played in the Champions league.

We arrived at the players hotel at about 11pm. On inquiring about a room we were told that one double was available at £50 but they would not allow three of us to stay in it. We therefore decided to chance our arm and wandered into the city. We tried a couple of places and had no luck. Everybody saw three foreigners at a very late hour and decided they could take us for a ride. We found a taxi driver (who spoke no English) and managed to get him to take us to some more hotels. To cut a long story short, he managed to communicate to us that we could sleep on his floor for $10. An offer which we thought was fair enough, but we were a little dubious when he drove us out of town. Our apprehension turned to fear as we pulled into a typically run-down Soviet style tenement area and were greeted by a very large (thankfully muzzled) dog. Thoughts began to creep into our head that perhaps he had taken us to meet his mates or something. However, they proved unfounded as he took us into his apartment and even gave up his bed and his bottle of Vodka. The price however turned into $10 each, although we were in no position to argue.

Awaking in the morning, we were anxious to get back to the city as soon as possible. Unfortunately communicating this to our host was not so easy and he had already begun phoning his English speaking friends who tried to sell us guided tours and other places to stay. Eventually we got back to the players' hotel where we dumped our bags and set off with the number one priority of finding somewhere to stay for the night.

As luck would have it the first place we tried had a triple room available for 140 litu (about £20.) Sorted. Happy that we were at no risk for the night ahead our thoughts turned to the game, due to kick off at 4pm. Leaving Don on the street outside the hotel, Pete and I dumped the bags off and cleaned up. When we returned outside Don informed us that a child had come up to him and given him some money. We soon discovered why as walking down the main shopping avenue we attracted a lot of stares. It seems that the sight of a wheelchair is very rare in Lithuania.

With a few hours to kill we settled down outside one of the proliferation of cafes and grabbed a couple of beers. One of the major plus points of the trip was the cost of accommodation, food and beer. Three pizzas and a beer each would come to a couple of quid. However, from talking to British people working out there, we soon realised that the average wage is about £40 per month.

The stadium was about a kilometer from the players' hotel, up a steep hill. We managed again to get a lift with the players and even got into the stadium through the players' entrance. We got out onto the pitch through the tunnel and decided that we would stay on the running track surrounding the pitch. The local police, who were out in force, didn't seem to mind this and only got a bit shirty when we got some beers in. Looking for somewhere to sit we decided on what must have been the directors' box. The other people in there must have got a bit of a shock when we started the first of many recitals of "You are my Watford..." We had also managed to convince the officials that we were press and they said they would allow one of us to stay pitchside during the game. Pete and myself took turns with the video camera. Pete even captured a half time interview with GT, and a shot of the players emerging from the dressing room.

After the game, and an endless speech from the President of the host club, we made our way back down the hill towards the town, getting caught in a tremendous downpour on the way. However, spirits were lifted after a few beers and we then headed down to a pizza restaurant we had discovered earlier on. Whilst eating, we were joined by about ten of the players who had decided to pass on the food in the hotel. During our scouting around earlier we had also discovered a good bar with live music that would be our home for the night. Pete, determined to pull during the weekend, actually came quite close with a local girl who was the spitting image of Mariella Frostrup.

Sunday arrived with a heavy head. Watford were due to play the losers of yesterday's other game, FC Gas Bardejov of Slovakia, in a play off for third place in the afternoon. Pete had arranged to meet his new found love at midday and so it was panic stations as we awoke at 11am. He rushed off whilst Don and I took our time. We met him at the bar where we discovered he had been blown out. We consoled him by going for another pizza where we sat and watched the streams of gorgeous women passing by. Whoever started the rumour the Eastern European women are invariably similar to Russian shotputters should visit Kaunas and prepare to be amazed.

We made our way to the game after chilling out at another street-side cafe which had a live jazz band playing. Although we didn't arrive with the players this time, we were given the same treatment. Due to the fact that the video camera batteries had run out we decided that we would just take our place in the directors' box and watch the whole game with a view to discovering the talents of the new players. However, before, and during the half time interval, Pete and myself wandered onto the pitch to have a kickabout with the ballboys. We also gave an impromptu performance when the tannoy played Whigfield's Saturday Night. Don says our dancing got a few laughs from the players, as well as the local police.

In the evening we knew the players were being allowed out and figured they would head for the nearest bar to their hotel, a supposedly Irish bar. In fact its only claim to Irishness was the fact it served Guinness and Kilkenny. After a couple of pints, we decided to go onto the spirits, mainly due to the fact that the bar served cocktails. After a Fuzzy Navel or two, we got the Tequilas in. A few British truckers, whom we had met the night before turned up and chatted to us for a while but there was no sign of the team. We thought about heading down to the bar we had been in the previous night but we were informed by the truckers that it was closed. A few more Tequilas followed and when the bar shut we thought we would head towards the players's hotel to get some more drinks. After purchasing a bottle of wine we sat at a table outside. After about five minutes we were joined by GT himself and we chatted with him for the next hour and a half. The players had been told that as long as they were on the coach back to the airport at 11am the next morning they could do what they wanted.

After returning to the hotel Pete and I decided to take a walk. We staggered down towards the main bridge, just off the centre of the main avenue, where we attempted to climb it. Heading back we decided to have a race towards the fountain in the middle of the avenue. We raced along, ripping our tops of and jumped in. Well, Pete did. I managed to stop to remove my boots. Pete, splashing around, suddenly froze as two policemen headed towards us. Then from out of the darkness came the shout of "Fincham! Get out of the bloody fountain" and Darren Bazeley, Alec Chamberlain, and Darren Ward appeared. The police decided that five versus two was not good odds and lost interest. Talking to the players as we walked back to the hotel with them we discovered that they had all spent the evening at the bar we were at on the Saturday. The one which the truckers had informed us was closed!

Our plan for the Monday and Tuesday was to head towards the capital, Vilnius. We made it to the train station and bought our £1.50 tickets. Getting Don on and off the train turned out to be problematical as the concept of platforms had not been fully understood.

Once we arrived in Vilnius, the first sight as we left the train station was the golden arches of McDonalds. Vilnius turned out to be a disappointment compared to Kaunas although we did not really have enough time there. We spent the Monday Evening in the company of a Glaswegian student called Nicky who showed us around, as well as explaining what a Tequila body shot is (but sadly not demonstrating) and telling us what she uses her right hand for. For the night we had checked into a hotel which even had an English speaking news channel and Eurosport.

The plan for the morning was to visit the KGB museum. However, that required a walk into the city centre, and then back up the big hill to the hotel. We settled for having a quick scout round for souvenirs. Then we made the discovery of possibly Lithuania's only snooker club underneath our hotel so our last hours were spent over the baize.

Arriving at the airport in plenty of time for our 2:15 flight home we discovered possibly the most unfriendly environment for disabled people you could imagine. Apart from the check-in desks all the facilities were up two flights of stairs with no lifts or escalators. When checking in, Don was told that he would have to wait by the desk for an hour so that he could be driven out to the plane. It was only after a lot of arguing that they allowed him to go through to the departure lounge and duty free area. The flight home proved to be better than the flight out and the food was actually quite nice. Not that Pete noticed. He was suffering the effects of eating some local food the night before.

And with touchdown at Heathrow so ended our five day Lithuanian adventure, and what proved to be the best time I have had for a long while. Okay, so we came fourth in a four team tournament but to be honest the actual football came second to the overall experience of being there, meeting and talking with the playing and management staff of the club, and looking at all those gorgeous women.