Having took a Seagull size bite out of the Big Apple, the Ballybrack Seagulls set their sights on a new adventure.
Following on from the success of the NYC trip, we needed to aim high and higher it was!
Match day two saw the Ballybrack Seagulls head for dizzy heights of the Swiss Alps to take on the Official Swiss Alp Mountain Rescue Team in our second “International” Football match. We needed a place that had attitude and altitude and you couldn’t get much more altitude than the Ottmar Hitzfeld Stadium, in the village of Gspon, the highest pitch in Europe, sitting 2km above sea level and the home of Gspon FC.
The day selected for match day two was the 19th of August 2016 and the Ballybrack Seagulls set out for their Swiss based team Hotel on the 18th of August from Dublin Airport to Bergamo Airport. Our travel plans would see us take in the scenic landscape of Italian Alps as we travelled to base Camp in the idyllic village of Saas-Fee.
Once again the brainchild of the Seagulls, Mr Wayne O’Sullivan had worked out our travel arrangements to perfection. Numbers had grown within the travelling party following the success of the NYC trip earlier that year, with a number of new recruits to the playing squad along with additional fans traveling, one of which was to become a Seagulls stalwart in later campaigns, Mr Willie "Safe Hands" Devlin.
With a large group we had two luxury coaches on hand to transport us over the Alps on route to the village of Saas Fee. As we looked out of our coach windows and admired the beautiful waterfalls cut through mountain edges from the melting snow peaked mountain ranges, and as we sipped on our ice cold Italian beers stocked up from a nearby services station, we knew this was going to be an epic adventure.
We arrived at the picturesque village of Saas Fee and checked into our boutique Hotel, the scene was set for an epic week.
Speaking of epic, one man Mark “The Chiropractor” O’Sullivan decided in a Denis Bergkamp style way of traveling but this in fact turned out to be more a John Candy and Steve Martin fashioned, Trains, Planes and Automobile trip as he decided to make his own way to Saas Fee and followed out the team later the day. This one man trip was captured beautifully in the following YouTube video here.
As in life, lessons are learned and it was decided following the NYC trip, playing the match on the day you arrive isn’t quite right. You need to get feel of your host country, find out how your host thinks and get inside their mindset! So where is a better place to do this research, than the local bars and nightclubs! The Seagulls found themselves a home away from home when we stumbled upon the Metro Cocktail Bar, in Saas-Fee aka “Donald Sutherland’s Bar”, we enjoyed the Swiss hospitality before dancing the night away in Poison Nightclub!
The next morning was match day and as the Seagulls gathered to prepare for our trip further up the mountain side, it was fair to say some had put more into their pre-match preparation than others but that wasn’t going to deter our brave Seagull warriors, oh no! What was going to deter some of the brave Seagull warriors, was a cable car ride up to the village of Gspon, as this is your only way of accessing the village.
So in scenes, reminiscent of Mr T from the A-Team, we boarded a series of Cable cars and proceeded up to the Village of Gspon, where our host Fabian had arranged a pre-match lunch, which we enjoyed with sun shining down on us and the Swiss Alps as our spectacular back drop.
Game time had finally arrived, and scene was set as a large crowd of locals descended on The Ottmar Hitzfeld Stadium, both teams lined up for their respected National Anthems, with the Seagulls be led by the skipper Carl “The Brack Pearl” Breen. Our Swiss hosts were a big physical team but this was something the Seagulls could live with. It was a tight pitch with no quarter asked or giving! The tight environs of the Ottmar Hitzfeld Stadium was actually playing into the Seagulls hands as a number of the squad had been perfecting the playing skills on the 7 aside circuit over the past year by that stage and this had our Swiss hosts on the back foot for a short period of the first half.
Unfortunately, we fell behind again, caught out by a set play corner and the Swiss hosts took a 1 nil lead. This 1 nil lead got stretched to two nil, a gift from the “Chiropractor” and completely against the run of play. As described earlier, the tight environment of the Hitzfeld Stadium was surprisingly playing into the hands of the Seagulls and our mobile movement couldn’t be matched by our more physical and robust hosts and with that the Seagulls found themselves on the score board as the half time whistle blow. Swiss Mountain Rescuers 2 Ballybrack Seagulls 1.
It’s fair to say half time wasn’t what the Seagulls needed, we had gained the momentum in the match and had the Swiss rocking. The allegedly neutral Italian Referee was leaning towards the Swiss more and more as the first half proceeded and it was expected that this wouldn’t change to much in the second half.
Second half kicked off and again the Seagulls stayed on the front foot. This dominance paid off and Seagulls got their equaliser through a familiar goal scorer, Tadhg Henderson. Was this to be the match that the Seagulls secured there first competitive victory on the road? Alas it wasn’t to be as the Swiss scored the third and decisive strike that saw them hold out the game to take the spoils.
A disappointing end for the Seagulls, who gave it their all but unfortunately just came up short, but the disappointment was short lived as our hosts, laid on a post-match reception in the club house of Gspon FC.
As the sun set on the mountain tops, we enjoyed food and drinks with our friendly hosts in a spectacular setting! Strangely enough the fear people had earlier that day of travelling in the Cable Cars seemed to vanish that night as we made our way back to the buses arranged to bring us back to the village of Saas Fee.
The infamous “Fernando” bus ride, down the Alps singing along to ABBA Gold with DJ Georgie “Skiddely” Downer leading the chorus before leading the team and its supporters back to the Metro Bar!
The final couple of days saw the Seagulls take in the further delights of Saas-Fee, with our very own “cool runnings” remake been had when we paid a visit to Feeblitz, one of the highest Toboggan runs in the Swiss Alps as well as Yeti watching when Cathal “The Viking” appeared on the mountain top glazier!
As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and this was true for this trip to Switzerland but the travel bug wasn’t cured with more Seagulls adventures on the horizon!