In the latest addition of a series of questions to Irish football journalists about working abroad, Owen Cowzer discloses stories of being ditched by a taxi driver in Bucharest, getting food poisoning in Armenia, and seeing London being taken over by Shamrock Rovers fans.
Travel Bug by Owen Cowzer (Irish Sun)
Can you remember your first working trip overseas?
Brian Kerr’s last games as Republic of Ireland underage manager when his Under 20 side won a mini-tournament against South Korea, the UAE and France in Abu Dhabi in 2003. Ireland were there in the build-up to the World Youth Championships with a squad that included future senior internationals Kevin Doyle, Stephen Kelly and Wayne Henderson.
Did you learn anything in particular from that trip?
Call Vodafone before going away to sort out roaming. The phone bill wasn’t pretty.
Favourite place that you have visited on a work trip?
Israel in 2005 when Kerr’s senior Ireland team drew 1-1. The game was in Tel Aviv but a group of journalists hired a bus and visited Jerusalem on Easter Sunday. An incredible place that is both fascinating and unsettling at the same time.
Have you returned to any city when not working?
Have you visited any country during a particularly turbulent period?
Georgia in 2003. President Eduard Shevardnadze was overthrown in the ‘Rose Revolution’ a few months afterwards. It was a fairly grim place and there were security warnings before going about not taking unofficial taxis (though they were the only way around) because of the risk of kidnapping.
The BBC reporter on the trip was actually sent on an anti-terrorism course before flying to Georgia. But, apart from a few lads being held up by police as they looked for a bribe off a taxi driver, I think everyone got on okay.
Best result a team has achieved on your travels?
St Patrick’s Athletic’s 2-2 draw with Elfsborg in 2008. The Swedes had a few internationals in their side and had beaten Hibernian the previous year so they would have been expected to win comfortably. And they were 2-0 up at half-time, but the Saints were great in the second half and deserved their draw. That was the start of St Pat’s being Euro specialists as well.
Any cities or countries that you still want to visit?
All of them. Have passport, will travel.
What is the best hotel you have stayed in?
A palace in Bucharest when Shelbourne faced Steaua in 2005. Nikolai Ceausescu had levelled a quarter of the city before rebuilding it to look like Paris and this hotel was in the middle of it all. The whole area was way over the top; a similarly impressive building next door to it had been converted into a car park.
And what about the worst?
A dump in London for the Ireland versus Oman game. Tripadvisor ranked it in the worst 50 hotels in London, which was generous. Windows didn’t close, the toilet didn’t flush and there were five beds in my room with springs popping out of the mattresses from three of them. And worst of all, there was no wifi!
What is the best meal you’ve had on your travels?
I mentioned this question to a colleague who reckoned I’d say it was a plate of chips somewhere. He’s wrong. It was actually a kebab in Stuttgart. I don’t really do fancy food.
What is the best stadium you have worked in?
I love the Municipal Stadium in Poznan, Poland. A proper football ground that is not symmetrical. I hate bowls. All football grounds should be boxy.
Best experience while working abroad?
Seeing London taken over by Shamrock Rovers fans for the Europa League tie in 2011. London is used to the big European clubs doing that, so it was great to see Covent Gardens full of Rovers shirts that afternoon.
The look on Harry Redknapp’s face after Stephen Rice gave Rovers the lead was priceless. He told Gareth Bale and Luka Modric to get warmed up and both would probably have come on had Rovers held onto the lead for another few minutes.
Any nightmare trips?
Armenia in 2010. Yerevan is a fantastic place but through a mixture of the local food, the drinking water, and one or two (or three or four) beers, I got a bad case of food poisoning. I spent the six-hour return flight to London on the toilet.
Strangest experience while working abroad?
Getting ditched by a taxi driver at a truck stop on the outskirts of Bucharest. A group of us had dinner at a restaurant when a colleague accidentally caught a waiter getting, ahem, serviced by a waitress in the toilets. When we later asked this same waiter for directions to a Karaoke bar (don’t ask), he mumbled something in Romanian to a taxi driver, which I assume meant ‘I had a personal moment interrupted. Take these louts and leave them for dead at a truck stop.’
Worst place you have visited?
Oswestry, Wales, where Bohemians lost to TNS in 2010. The town itself had nothing going for it and the weather was terrible, the ground was a local sports complex rather than a football stadium, and then Bohs stunk the place out.
What are the three must-need items when working abroad?
An acceptance that you will get lost at some point, a calm head when you inevitably lose your internet connection as you are about to file your report, and a two-pin plug.
Best advice you could give to a new journalist going away?
Talk to the local press, they could come in handy for bits of information or just helping you get past security guards. Also, avoid Irish bars. What is the points of going away if you just want to pretend you are at home?