Branch History - Chapter 8

The Saga of Munchengladbach

Jim Gardiner who was one of the committee members on the bus which caught fire tells the story.

The Excitement and the The Preparation

By the time the semi final draw came through we were experienced European travellers and Germany seemed well within our capabilities. We were now feeling confident so we held a committee meeting and agreed that we would mount a major effort to take as many supporters as possible to the semi final. Richard set up a deal with the travel agent which included an overnight stay in Germany and we advertised our offering in the Dundee Evening Telegraph. We were swamped with bookings and soon had enough for 3 buses including one of these modern double deckers. In total we had 175 bookings with many of them from Dundee these being supporters we did not even know. In fact, we discovered during the journey that one of the supporters on our bus was Jimmy Briggs who was inducted to the United Legends list in 2008.

This was a busy time for the committee and the phones never stopped ringing. Our ambition had given us a big problem but we were astute enough to know that the one thing we had to do was to get the money in first. We organised a meeting at a hostelry in Dundee and 3 of our committee went up to collect the money. As the tickets had also to be paid in advance quite a few thousand pounds made its way back to Edinburgh that night.

The Problems Begin

It was at this time that things started to go seriously wrong. The travel agent came in with bad news that due to problems which had occurred earlier in the season with Rangers supporters in that part of Germany our bookings had been cancelled and nobody else in Germany would take us. As a result we were to be booked into accommodation in Maastricht in Holland and even that was only possible after some hard work by our travel agent. Unfortunately the accommodation would be of lower standard as it would be in Sport Hotels with dormitories . As time was short we had no option but to accept and this led to a few dissatisfied customers among our travelling support but worse was yet to come.

The Journey Begins, No Problems

The great day came and 2 of our buses headed off early to pick up our supporters in Dundee before meeting up with the 3rd bus in Edinburgh and leaving in convoy. around 6pm. It was Germany here we come. We were scheduled to get a ferry from Dover about 8am and arrive in Munchengladbach around lunchtime to enjoy the prematch entertainment. Our first stop was at a service station near Carlisle and everything went according to plan. That's how it continued for 2 of the buses but unfortunately not for the 3rd one which happened to be the modern streamlined double decker with 65 supporters on board and 62 of them coming from Dundee. Ken Smith and Jim Gardiner were the committee members in charge of the bus.

Catastrophe

Things were going quite well until about 2am on the M25 when there was a smell of burning. This was traced to an electrical fault in a compartment under the stairs . The bus had to stop on the hard shoulder and we all had to get out and stand about on a very cold and frosty night. It really was Baltic. Finally the police arrived and arranged for buses to take us to a hotel in Essex. We were not booked in as guests and arrived there about 6am.

Initially we were standing about in corridors and reception areas and the paying guests were wondering what on earth was going on as they headed down for breakfast. Then the manager opened a function room where we could settle down and he then produced a master stroke by producing bacon butties and cans of special brew. By this time Ken was trying to contact our bus company back in Scotland so that they could arrange a replacement bus from a local company. After a couple of phone calls I can remember to this day Ken's voice as he spoke to the bus company "You think you've got problems you should see the problems I have here. 65 dissatisfied football supporters who are really giving me what for. Some are even threatening me if we don’t get a replacement bus, so you'll better get a replacement here asap". Typical comments from the fans were “You took our money so you will better get us there in time for the match or we will sue you” and, “Look you must have insurance so use it to hire a plane to get us there”.

By this time the fans were really getting restless and the hotel manager produced a football which resulted in an early morning match on the hotel lawn and helped to pass the time and ease the tension. Things were getting desperate and there was nothing we could do except try to assure everybody that we were doing our very best.

Hope Returns

By this time the fans were really getting restless and the hotel manager produced a football which resulted in an early morning match on the hotel lawn and helped to pass the time and ease the tension. Things were getting desperate and there was nothing we could do except try to assure everybody that we were doing our very best.

Finally we got the word that the replacement bus was on its way but we knew that if it did not arrive by 10.00 we would not catch the 12.30 ferry and would not get to the match in time. As time passed some of the supporters were getting desperate. The next hour was spent with everybody pacing up and down and watching and listening for any sign of a bus arriving. Then at last it was there, the bus had arrived and there was a real buzz about the place. The only problem was that the driver felt that there he would be pushing it to make the 12.30 ferry but he would do his best. Meanwhile Ken got in touch with our travel agent in Edinburgh and made him aware of the situation.

Dover Here We Come

It was now full steam ahead to Dover and we got word that the ferry might wait a bit for us. This was fantastic news and after a great bit of work by our travel agent unbelievably arrangements had also been made with the police in Dover to stop all traffic and get us through (see newspaper article in photo gallery UEFA cup section).

It was an unforgettable sight to see all traffic at a standstill as the police on points duty waved our bus right through to the ferry and at last we were on albeit around 20 to 30 minutes behind schedule. Now that we were on the ferry there was nothing we could do but sit back and relax a little and treat ourselves to some food.

Germany Here We Come

We had told everybody to get back on the bus in plenty of time so that there was no hold up in getting off the ferry and everybody co-operated. So it was full steam ahead to Germany with fingers crossed. Getting to the match on time was still going to be a problem as we had originally been booked on the 7.30 am ferry and we were now on the 12.30 which was also running late because of the hold up while they waited for us at Dover. We still had to get through northern France , Belgium and Holland before reaching the German border and this journey seemed to take for ever Fortunately two of the supporters on the bus had been with the army in that part of Germany and new the area well . They had even been to the football stadium. As there were no “Sat Navs “ in those days it was quite easy to get lost so as we approached the border they took over. As the German border guards were likely to come and look around the bus everyone was warned to keep quiet , behave themselves and no nonsense. We were running out of time and could not afford to lose time at the border. Our supporters were becoming more and more anxious as they worried about not getting there in time for the match.

Get Me To The Match On Time

Fortunately we got through fairly quickly and our navigators headed for the ground. At this point they came out and said “things are looking up and I think we can make it in time”. When word of this got around the bus the mood changed and everybody’s spirits were lifted. It was then decided a collection for the driver was the order of the day as he had done really well, against all the odds , to get us there in time. I have to say this must have been the biggest collection a driver has ever received as it was well into 3 figures.

We had one more big problem to overcome though. We did not have tickets for the match. All we had were vouchers which had been issued at Tannadice and we were supposed to go to a hotel in the town to meet Peter Rundo and exchange the vouchers for tickets. It soon became clear there was no time to do that but we got a message to go straight to the ground and someone would meet us there. We arrived outside the ground 15 minutes before kick off and we were met by a German with a massive handful of tickets. We gave him the vouchers, received our tickets and ran into the ground. The crowd was tight packed but we got in, found a place to stand on the terracing, took a deep breath and the referee blew the whistle to start the game. Talk about a close shave!

The Match Itself

The ground was one of these tight grounds where the fans were close to the players and there was a big United support helped by a good turn out from the British Army who were stationed in that part of Germany. There was a lot of tension among the support as the first leg had been a nil-nil draw and we were not overly confident. To be honest we were not quite with it to begin with as so much had gone on during our journey.

However, when Ian Ferguson scored the first goal the place erupted. Fans were jumping about (no seats at that time) and the excitement was just tremendous. We knew we had that all important away goal and our opponents now needed to score twice to get through. After that it was bite your nail time for most of the match but our defence held firm and then when Ian Redford scored the second goal a few minutes from full time we knew we had made it. Against all the odds the corner shop team had reached the UEFA cup final. Things couldn’t get better than this.

After The Match Was Over

At the end of the match there were emotional scenes on the terracing with a mixture of tears and joy. The players came over to our end to applaud the fans and it was quite some time before things quietened down and we made our way back to the buses in high spirits. We then discovered we had a problem. Two of the supporters from Dundee who were on our bus said they had not got into the match. They had ended up watching it in a pub near the ground and by the state of them they had more than enjoyed the hospitality of the locals. Now they were claiming a refund of their money or they were going to sue us. A quick discussion of the situation by the committee concluded that there was no reason that they did not get in as they had been given tickets and it must have been their decision to go to the pub.

I can well remember Richard saying to them in forceful fashion “It was your own fault, You can either come back with us or sue us and make your own way home”. This did the trick and they got on the bus along with the rest of us and we headed back for the Dutch border and our overnight accommodation. A very strange thing about this trip was that we had gone to Germany and back and the only Germans we came into contact with were the border guards and the guy who gave us our tickets.

A Dutch Welcome

We arrived back at our “hotel “ after 11.00 and the Dutch were well aware of the score and offered their congratulations. There was a very large bar area and all the beer taps were quickly covered in United hats and scarves as the bar staff joined in the fun. The singing got started and brought the house down. We did have a bit of a problem however. Everybody was dying for a drink and wanted to celebrate the victory but the bar shut at 12.00. I remember one supporter saying ”I’ll have twa o’ yir beers” but when the barmaid came with two bottles he said no I mean cases. And that was how the night went everybody ordered beer by the case and I believe the drinking went on well into the night. I decided not to say up too late as we had a lot to do in the morning.

The Morning After

Part of our agreement when we got the booking for the accommodation was that our committee would look round the rooms with the Manager of the complex before we left to make sure everything was in order. Just to be on the safe side Ken and I went round the rooms ourselves first and what we saw did not make good viewing. There was a lot of broken glass about and things were in a bit of a mess.

We went to the manager and asked him for a brush and a shovel. He said “it’s OK I will arrange” but we insisted that we would do it and that is what we did.By the time the morning inspection came everything was spick and span and the manager was delighted.

Homeward Bound

All we had to do now was to round everybody up and get them back on the bus. This was easier said than done as there were a lot of sore heads and hangovers but at last they were all there and off we set for Dover. The return trip was fairly uneventful as most of the fans were fast asleep and only wakened to get on the ferry and get something to eat.

We then had to change buses at a service station on the M25 as our bus company had sent a replacement bus down to get us home. At this point the driver came up and said I cannot get one of your supporters off the bus. Ironically we discovered that one of the pair who were going to sue us had carried out the old trick of lacing a bottle of cola with a half bottle of rum and was out for the count . We had to more or less carry him off one bus and on to the other and at last we were ready for the final leg of our journey. We said our thanks and goodbyes to our replacement driver who had done so well to get us to the match and off we went heading back north to Scotland. We arrived home relieved, exhausted but exhilarated around 6pm. I remember sitting in my house in the evening thinking about what had happened and saying to my self was it really worthy it. The answer was, of course, it certainly was. We had won the match and had the UEFA cup final to look forward to. Tomorrow the phones will start to ring again and the mad scramble for tickets for the will start all over again.

Reflections

There is an old saying that life is full of ups and downs. For everybody on that trip there were enough ups and downs to cover many a long year. If someone had written a fictional story about a football supporters’ bus trip to Germany there is no way they could have dreamt of the incidents that occurred during our adventure. This trip sure added to our experience in how to deal with problems and irate customers and highlighted the importance of good organisation and having good contacts.

The memories of the excitement before we left, the fire on the bus, the stressful wait for the replacement bus, the joy when it arrived, the sight of the traffic cops stopping all the through traffic in Dover to get us to the ferry and getting to the match on time against all the odds are memories I will never forget. As the old saying goes I know because I was there. One final point. There is a newspaper article in the photo gallery 1986/7 about this trip and the author is non other than BBC’s “Mr Your Call“, Mr James Traynor.