Writing

Curry Bard 2011

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Daniel Ford has been named Curry Bard 2011 by the National Curry Week following a countrywide poetry competition. His poem about curry included some of the places he’s eaten the food…

National Curry Week

It’s early, it’s early
Very early and it’s breakfast time
The Delhi train rattles us on its way
A hawker’s fruit slice. A metal thali tray
The curry day is ready

It’s midday, it’s midday
Exactly midday and it’s lunchtime
The sun hits us sharp on the Durban sand
A bunny chow’s the order in this land
The curry day is underway

It’s afternoon, it’s afternoon
Dark wraps us up and it’s dinner time
Smart jackets here in Bermuda don’t you know
Masala’s the choice but the red is for show
The curry day is full on

It’s late, it’s late
Stars are our guides and it’s supper time
London’s partying’s all done
Closing time choices. Madras won
The curry day has ended

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Gambling glamour

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Privé (Autumn 2010)

This is the part of the magazine where all women should make a cup of coffee (or pour a large glass of something stronger), sit down and prepare to shake your head at us boys and then say something about us not really ever growing up. And I do mean boys, even those of us who have long since forgotten what a school was (unless it’s a card school, of course).

We all long to be James Bond. Yes, I know you might have heard that mentioned before, but I mean we ‘really’ long to be James Bond. It’s shallow and it’s obvious. Good-looking, the fast cars, the women, all those languages he knows (without ever practising), all those gadgets he gets to play with; he is basically a collection of all the parts every boy wants in his personality and life. Ian Fleming invented him for us.

But however good Bond is behind the wheel, in bed or stopping a plot to ruin the world, it all amounts to nothing when compared to 007 at play in a casino. That’s when we ‘really’ want to be Bond. Is it any wonder so many scenes are shot with the backdrop of the green baize, colourful chips and rolling dice? And that the plot of the first novel (Casino Royale 1967) that set the hero on the road to stardom revolves around the action in the French casino at Royale-les-Eaux? James Bond belongs in a casino. In fact, let’s be honest, Fleming invented him for the casino, not us boys.

So here we are then. It’s so dark outside it’s purple, while inside the soft lighting round the tables is sultry and sexy, like the women in the long, oh-so-classy dresses that dance round their ankles. Bond is wearing an immaculately fitting black suit with crisp white shirt. He orders a martini (did you just say “shaken not stirred”? Thought so). The man is a risk-taker. This is no spy scuttling around the back alleys with a hood and a brown bag filled with documents. This is a man who, bold-as-brass, marches up to his enemies and tells them his name (this is the bit where you say, “the name’s Bond, James Bond”).

Then he buys a large stack of chips and settles down in a chair to enjoy the action. He doesn’t even stop playing when he has to switch the conversation using a strange foreign language or two or when turning down the attentions of the best-looking women in the place (at least for now, anyway) because he’s busy gambling and enjoying his martini.

Most of us come to play the tables in a casino to take a risk and to escape. We come to the tables to enjoy that touch of glamour surrounding us. And we come to the tables to feel that we are part of a movie scene just like the one described above.

Not everyone one of us can drive a car really fast, not everyone can attract the hottest women in the world and few of us get to play with really cool gadgets (sorry, your iPhone doesn’t count unless there is an app on it that sprays oil onto the road to deter the Russian spies who are trailing you). But around the tables we can be our own version of James Bond. Or for you girls who enjoy a touch of the high life, the girl who wants Bond. Or even Jamie Bondette if you prefer.

It is here, when sitting around the table with our pile of chips in front of us that we get to take our own risks. We don’t just want the thrill of winning; we also want the rest of the place to look up and wonder who we are when we are winning. Who is that well-dressed stranger, swanning into the place, tossing those chips around and really enjoying the whole occasion?

So when you’re next out playing, move around the tables and see the glint in the eyes of different players who are in the room playing their own film role. There’s nothing glamorous about being the kid at the back of the class who never moves seats the whole term. Sneak glances at the couple playing Blackjack who gentle whisper to each other between deals. Watch the group of tall men discussing tactics on the roulette wheel in the middle of the room. And cast a glance the ladies sipping drinks at the bar as they chat loudly about which table to hit next.

Play big sometimes, play small sometimes. Enjoy the games. Order a cocktail. Hell, make it a martini; everyone else wants to really, trust me.

Dress up. Men for seduction, women for romance. Catch someone’s eye as they win, smile when you win and accept the congratulations from around the table. Really soak up the atmosphere; we’re all here to grab our own slice of glamour and romance after all.

• • •

The People

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Win a copy of A Fan’s Guide of World Cricket, thanks to this competition that appeared in The People in September.

Are you showing the game?

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JetAway (June 2010)

No matter where you are in Europe this summer, someone will be showing the World Cup. Daniel Ford selects 10 key matches and where to watch to them

South Africa v Mexico

11 June, Manchester

The poor old South Africans have had it in the neck ever since winning the right to stage the 2010 World Cup, but 11 June is the day when, after 80 years, football’s big celebration arrives in Africa. It’s Friday afternoon and the first match of the tournament – will there be an office open anywhere in Europe? Watch the hosts (the lowest FIFA-ranked side in the tournament) in the first ever Revolution (90-94 Oxford Road, Manchester. 0161 236 7470, www.revolution-bars.co.uk). With its swish bar and comfy seats, this smart vodka venue, opened in 1996, beats standing up in the Dog & Duck any day. Pre-book your World Cup burger and drinks on 0800 6300 800.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Nkosi sikileli’ iAfrica!/God bless Africa!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Springbok (half Baileys or Amarula cream combined with half crème de menthe)

URUGUAY V FRANCE

11 June, Paris

No one will be heading home early after the opening game, especially on a Friday night, so continue to soak up the atmosphere as the flair of the French takes on the rugged Uruguayans. Watch outside on the big screen with the locals in the beautiful surroundings of Place de l’Hôtel de Ville (City Hall Square, 29 rue de Rivoli, 75004 Paris). Situated near the Seine and surrounded by fine architecture, the square used to hold public executions, including that of Jacques Clément, the assassin of the French king Henry III, in 1589.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Est-ce que Thierry Henry à utilise son pied maintenant?/Did Thierry Henry use his foot this time?

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Pastis

ENGLAND V USA

12 June, Paphos

Every four years England wait in hope of World Cup glory. Every four years they are disappointed. The disappointment might as well come in the sun at Aces (Ayias Anastasias, Kato Paphos. 00 357 269 36400, www.acesbarpaphos.com), a popular bar with English football fans. If there’s one game the Three Lions could lose in their weak group it’s this one, so make sure you get into the much-coveted position where you can see the game but still sit in the sun (the holy grail is to have some shade on the head, lots of sun on the rest of the body but no glare on the screen).

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Rooney!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Anything

ITALY V NEW ZEALAND

20 June, Rome

The highest score in a World Cup match is 9-0 (Yugoslavia v Zaire, 1974). Can Italy go one better against the massively outclassed New Zealanders? Flann O’Brien (Via Nazionale 17, 00184 Rome. 00 39 06 488 0418, www.flannobrien.it) is a popular Irish bar for fans of English and Italian football, boasting numerous screens to watch the (no doubt) numerous goals in classic pub surroundings.Your main problem, however, will be getting the attention of the waiters.

Post-Match Celebration Cry:Dieci!/Ten!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Grappa

SLOVAKIA V PARAGUAY

20 June, Prague

The Czechs didn’t make the finals but their former country-mates and now neighbours Slovakia did (for the first time) and the city’s large Slovak population will be aware that this game could decide who qualifies with Italy from Group F. In an area with a few sports bars dotted around, Sports Bar Zlata Hvezda (Ve Smeckach 12, Prague 1. 00 420 296 222 292, www.sportbar.cz) has a good mix of expats, locals and visitors, and claims to be the first of its kind in the city.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Kde je Paraguaj?/ Where is Paraguay?

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Pilsner Urquell

SPAIN V HONDURAS

21 June, Benidorm

It’s unlikely that favourites Spain (4-1 to win the cup) will be shaking in their boots playing Honduras (1000-1), but at least they’ll be able to console their Central American opponents in the same language. The Winning Post (Calle Girona, Benidorm) is a big bar attached to a betting shop, selling cheap food/beer in basic surroundings but at least you can put a few euros on Torres to score first and Spain to win by more than four.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Ole!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Sangria if it’s a hatful, San Miguel if it’s not

GREECE V ARGENTINA

22 June, Crete

Despite the name, the locally owned and run Sky Sports Bar (Agios Nikolaos, Crete. 00 30 28410 82860) is a traditional venue in which to line up the ouzos as the Greeks look to topple Diego Maradona’s Argentina. When the sides met in 1994 Maradona’s manic goal celebration into the camera was later found to be fuelled by substances more than adrenaline and ended his World Cup career.

Post-Match Celebration Cry:Ouzo!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: More ouzo

AUSTRALIA V SERBIA

23 June, Ibiza

There are nearly 100,000 Serbians in Australia (Holly Vallance and Jelena Dokic among them), so who should they support? A young energetic bunch heads to Hogan’s Aussie bar (Carrer Bartolomé Vincente Ramon, San Antonio, Ibiza.www.hogansibiza.com) for cocktails and to mix with a sexy crowd in the heart of Ibiza.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi! Oi! Oi!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Cocktails

CAMEROON V NETHERLANDS

24 June, Amsterdam

One of the most attractive games in the group stages, this one will be attacking football all round. Expect plenty of goals as you merge into the sea of orange in Amsterdam. Join backpackers from around the world and locals in Belushi’s (129 Warmoesstraat, 1012 JA, Amsterdam. 00 31 206 231 380, www.belushis.com). The international nature of this bar means there will plenty of shots and strange-coloured liquids flying around, but try to keep one eye on the game. Based in the red-light district and attached to the Winston Kingdom nightclub, you won’t be short of after-match entertainment should the strange-coloured liquids start to kick in.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Hup, Holland, Hup!/Go, Holland, go!

Post-Match Celebration Drink: Some more strange-coloured liquids

PORTUGAL V BRAZIL

25 June, Albufeira

The world’s big Portuguese-speaking derby. Who needs sun? Escape the heat and watch the game in Diamonds Sports and Karaoke Bar (Rua Alexandre Herculano 33, Albufeira. 00 351 289 542 952), then follow up what has to be the best clash of the group stages by belting out your favourite karaoke number to cheering football fans. Maybe.

Post-Match Celebration Cry: Goooooooaaaaal!

Post-Match Celebration Drink:Superbock

Interview on Colombian TV

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DATAiFX (Colombia) April 2010

On a recent visit to Bogota, Daniel was interviewed for Colombian TV. The interview will be broadcast a number of times throughout April and May.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sK6W0RVSMgQ

Kick off Euro style

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JetAway December 2009

With Man United one of the favourites in the Champions League and the World Cup salivatingly close, JetAway asked footie fanatic Daniel Ford to educate us on Europe’s stars, stadiums and scandals.


The big concrete terracing at Akritas Chloraka (bottom of Cyprus Division 2) is baking hot so I’m sitting on a stray bit of cardboard. There are maybe 100 fans dotted around in the area where my cousin Lewis and I, and thousands of flies, have settled to watch the game against the second-placed side from Larnaca. Just in front of the children aiming toilet rolls quite accurately at the halfway line is a guy hopping about selling tickets. But whether they are for the match we’re watching (the turnstiles were unmanned) or for a raffle is unclear. About the same number of people are dotted around on the terraces behind the goal, a bit of concrete that seems to hang on the hillside. Well, actually, it does hang on the hillside, as the whole stadium is cut into a massive drop from what is little more than a village, situated a few miles from the tourist town of Paphos. The stadium is rubbish, the football is rubbish and youngsters from the home side’s youth team are throwing things at the opposition bigwigs who are sitting in front of me. But I adore every minute of it because I am a football lover.

I’m doing my mid-life crisis thing and living in Cyprus for a few months, running on the beach in the mornings, working in a bar in the afternoons and generally loafing about. Akritas Chloraka’s “stadium” is just a short walk up the hill from my local (where I drink not work). The other ex-pats in the bar can’t believe I can be bothered to trek up the steep hill in the ridiculously hot (winter) heat; copies of this morning’s Mail On Sunday have just arrived and the air-con is turned up high. They order more beers.

A couple of weeks later I jump in my Jeep and drive to the capital, Nicosia, to watch Cyprus hold Germany to a 1-1 draw in a European Championship qualifier. It’s become a habit: I get on a plane, I watch football and visit stadiums. I’ve seen the FIFA Five-a-Side World Championships in Hong Kong, wangled my way into a corporate box in Gothenburg while watching the England under-21s, marvelled at the mad Boca Juniors fans in Buenos Aires, strolled down the tunnel at Real Madrid, even managed an inter-island under-18 match while on honeymoon in Mauritius. Like football? Me?

So you’ll forgive me for believing that the greatest thing to happen in the travel industry was when jumping on a plane to Europe became easier than catching a bus to Huddersfield. Passport? Check. Toothbrush? Check. Football ticket? Check.

Today, when football fans scour the fixtures for matches to watch it’s not just the English leagues they check out – it’s open season on Spain, Italy, France, Hungary and beyond. Here’s some things I’ve learnt about European footie and where to soak up the atmosphere when the game’s over.

THE WORLD’S (SECOND) RICHEST CLUB

With a revenue of £257.1m in 2007-8, Manchester United would have been sitting at the top of the pile in Deloitte’s annual money-making list had the pound not fallen against euro in that period (Real Madrid got the top spot). Expect local rivals Manchester City to leap up from their current position of 20th when the new list is published early in 2010.

THE BEER SPONSORS

Dutch beer brand Heineken sponsors the UEFA Champions League so it’d be downright rude not to show a little support, don’t you think? Luckily for beer drinkers and football fans, Amsterdam is home to one of the most attractive sides on the continent. AFC Ajax, four times European Cup winners, built their reputation by developing home-grown talent (including one of the world’s greatest players, Johan Cruyff ) and gave birth to the phrase “total football”, where players change positions freely during the game. Sadly for them, a 1995 ruling in the European Court of Justice, commonly known as the Bosman Ruling, meant that players out of contract could move clubs for nothing, so the Ajax of the present can be summed up by the phrase “young, gifted and leaving”. Still, console yourself with the fact that the Ajax players you watch today will be the Barcelona and Inter Milan stars of tomorrow.

NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY

Oh dear, Milan football, where to start? Inter Milan (who play in the blue and black kit) and AC Milan (who play in red and black) both call the legendary San Siro stadium home, and both have histories littered with, shall we say, noteworthy events. Clouds hung over Inter’s European semifinal wins in 1964 and 1965 when the team were accused of bribing referees, while just over four decades later AC had points deducted in a similar scandal. Then there are the fans: in 2001 riot police had to stop Inter Milan supporters pushing a motorbike off the second tier of the stadium, and in 2005 a player was injured with a f lare, the same year racist chanting caused an Ivory Coast defender to attempt to walk off the pitch.

Some years earlier, the entire AC side walked off to try to force a replay in a European Cup quarter final that they were losing to Marseille when some floodlights failed. The match was awarded to Marseille and AC were banned from competing in Europe for a whole year.

WHERE’S THE BAR?

It’s certainly not hard to find a bar in Budapest. But boy will you struggle to find the best ones for a cold, post-match Dreher Classic. And it’s no wonder, because the best bars can be found in abandoned buildings, often move locations and are renowned for not advertising. You’ll have to ask a local. Or try the iconic Szimpla (Vll Kertész u 48; 00 36 1 321 5880). You’ll have less trouble finding Stadion Hidegkuti Nándor, which is just a couple of miles east of the river Danube and home to MTK Hungária, a club owned by Gábor Várszegi, a former rock star who gave up his musical career in Hungary to deal diamonds in Los Angeles. As you do…

ART IS FOOTBALL

The first time I went to Barcelona my art-loving companion made me walk a lap of the city admiring the influence of Gaudi and Miró. Then, in the evening, we circled the restaurants to find one Picasso used to frequent. It was mobbed so we ended up eating tacos in a small Mexican place instead. This is where it truly hit me what football means in this city. A group of fans we chatted to made it clear that the club not only represented their Catalan identity but also that football was about winning “beautiful”. The Picasso museum is the second most popular in the city. The first? Barcelona FC, of course, where art meets football.

Daniel Ford is co-author of A Football Fan’s Guide To Europe (New Holland, £14.99). He is pleased to report that Akritas Chloraka have been promoted to Cyprus Division 2 once more

TRAVEL INFO

AC Milan
San Siro, Via Piccolomini 5. 00 39 026 2281. To get there: Metro on Line MM1 (stop Lotto Fiera 2). Tram 16.

Ajax
Amsterdam Arena, Arena Boulevard 1, 1101 AX Amsterdam Zuidoost. 00 31 20 311 1444.
To get there: Metro Line 54 (stop Strandvliet). Buses 29, 59, 60, 62, 137, 158, 174, 175 (stop Bijlmer).

Barcelona,
Camp Nou, Carrer d’Arístides Maillol. 00 34 902 189 900.
To get there: Subway Line 3 (stops Maria Cristina, Palau Reial, Zona Universitària) or Line 5 (stops Collblanc, Badal).
Buses 7, 15, 33, 43, 54, 56, 57, 67, 68, 74, 75, 113, 157, 158, L12, L14, L50, L56, L62.
Trams T1, T2, T3 (stops Avinguda de Xile, Palau Reial, Pius XII).

Inter Milan (as AC Milan). 00 39 02 487 7761.

Manchester United
Old Trafford, Sir Matt Busby Way, Old Trafford. 00 44 161 868 8000.
To get there: Metrolink tram in direction of Altrincham (stop Old Trafford).
Train from mainline stations (stop Manchester United FC Halt).
Buses 17, 114, 115, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256, 257, 263, 264.

MTK
Hungaria Stadion Hidegkuti Nándor, Salgótarjáni út 12-14. 00 36 1 333 8368.
To get there: Metro M2 to Stadionok, then tram 1.

Paris St Germain
24 rue du Commandant Guilbaud, 75016. 00 33 1 4743 7171.
To get there: Metro Line 9 (stop Porte de St-Cloud). Line 10 (stop Porte d’Auteuil).
Buses 22, 32, 52, 62, 72, 123, 175, 189, 241, PC1.

Oh dear, it’s 9-0

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Equinox (South Africa) January 2010

It hurts to lose. But it really hurts to lose 9-0. Just ask Zaire, sub-Saharan Africa’s first qualifers for a World Cup finals in 1974.


 

“When I signed for my first club I was over the moon.” No, no, these are not the words of a top football player looking back on his earliest steps onto the ladder of stardom; they are straight from my mouth. Granted, I was eight at the time and my mum actually did the signing on my behalf in the local butcher’s shop, but the sentiment is still the same.

So there I was as usual, kicking the ball around on the steps at the back of our house; whacking it as hard as I could and trying to control it as it shot back at me off the angles when my mum told me the good news. Well, I could have wet myself. Maybe I did. Me? Signed for a proper club?

What she failed to tell me was that, somewhere between the pork chops, the lamb mince and the sausages, she’d actually signed me up for an under-12 team. Me and my friends, all aged eight, all the players in the teams we played against, aged 11. I think you might get the picture. It was boys against men, or at least little boys against boys who were not so little. Okay, I should come clean here: we did have one 11 year old in our team. He was called Tom. We all called him Big Tom. But what could he do, just one giant against many every week? We were like those munchkins in the Wizard of Oz, running around aimlessly, up against boys who had already started big school and were soon to have hair in places we could never even imagine.

Needless to say we got walloped every week. Lots of goals one week, and even more the next. We managed to hold one team down to six one week and I’m sure our parents applauded us off.

This is why I have a great empathy with the Leopards of Zaire, pictured here playing Yugoslavia in the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. Because despite the amazing acrobatic efforts of Illunga Mwepu (just how did he get into that position?) poor old Zaire lost the game 9-0. It remains, to this day, the heaviest defeat ever by a country in a World Cup finals match. (I just love that it’s a record between two countries that no longer really exist playing in another one that no longer exists).

Do you know how hard it is to lose 9-0? It’s pretty tough, it’s like losing 100-zip in rugby. The attacks have to be relentless and the scores have to keep on coming. Basically to lose 9-0 you have to be rubbish. Or eight years old.

Yet Zaire of 1974 were not exactly rubbish. Yugoslavia was their second match in the tournament but they’d only lost their first match 2-0 to Scotland, and they even recovered from their thrashing enough to keep a Brazil that included legends such as Rivelino, Edu and Jairzhino down to three goals. They had got to the finals – becoming the first sub-Saharan African side to ever qualify – by beating a good Zambian side and overwhelming the favourites Morocco.

So what went wrong? They can’t use my excuse of being too small because they were strong and fit, as well as skilful.

Well, it didn’t help that Mulamba Ndaye was sent off after 22 minutes and it can’t have helped that the Yugoslavian player in the photo, Dusan Bajevic, scored a hat-trick with goals in the 8th, 30th and 81st minutes. And it certainly didn’t go unnoticed that Zaire had a Yugoslavian coach, Blagoje Vidinic (and boy, did he get some stick).

But the truth probably lies in fear and money. Speaking about the game many years later, the acrobatic defender Mwepu told the BBC:

“Before the Yugoslavia match we learnt that we were not going to be paid, so we refused to play.”

He was right there. They might have eventually decided to turn up and put on their distinctive green and yellow kit but they certainly didn’t play.

There was also the threat of a certain Mobutu Sese Seko hanging over them. He might have showered them with gifts (a car and house apparently) when they qualified for the finals but the players can have been under no illusions as to how their country’s dictator could turn nasty when things didn’t go his way. You may recall 1974 was also the year Mobutu’s money (that he took from Zaire) brought Muhammad Ali and George Foreman to fight their famous Rumble in the Jungle in Kinshasa, so he certainly knew all about using the positive image of sport. But fear rarely brings the best out in sportsmen and so it was with the Leopards that day against Yugoslavia.

After the game the same man that had lent them use of his presidential jet to fly in style to away matches, asked his strong men to go and have a little chat.

“After the match, he sent his presidential guards to threaten us,” Mwepu remembers in the same interview.

“They closed the hotel to all journalists and said that if we lost 0-4 to Brazil, none of us would be able to return home.”

Well, return home they did, but with a record of played three, lost three, goals for zero and goals against 14, it’s fair to say it wasn’t to another new car and house.

It was left to Tunisia, Africa’s qualifiers four years later, to start rebuilding Africa’s shattered reputation. Thanks to their performances and strong showings in subsequent World Cups from the likes of Nigeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Senegal and others, 2010 will see Africa represented by six nations at a World Cup finals for the first time.

• The date of Zaire’s record-breaking 9-0 defeat in 1974 was 18 June, the same date that Cape Town will host a Group C match in 2010. DR Congo (Zaire) have not qualified for the finals in South Africa.

Review… TheBookseller.com

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28 September 2009

New Holland takes footie fans on a tour

by Graeme Neill


Football fans could be taking in Las Ramblas alongside the Camp Nou thanks to a new travel guide from New Holland.

A Football Fan’s Guide to Europe, by Daniel Ford and Bill Edgar, offers football fans a selection of European tourist sights to visit alongside facts and trivia about the continent’s top teams.

In the Barcelona listing, it has a short history of the current Champions League winners and two short biographies of two of their greatest players, Johann Cryuff and Ronaldinho. It also provides fans with a guide to the city, highlighting bars and the essential tourist spots, such as the Museu Picasso and Las Ramblas.

Steve Connolly, managing director of New Holland, said the book was a response to the recent successes of English teams in European competitions. He said: “European competitions have become so popular in the UK and across Europe. So football fans are travelling around more than they maybe used to, visiting places they haven’t been before and know little about.”

The book features more than 60 teams but alongside heavyweights such as AC Milan, Liverpool and Bayern Munich are lesser known European teams such as Debrecen in Hungary and Wisla Krakow in Poland. Connolly said: “There are so many more teams playing regularly in Europe than you would expect. We haven’t intended this as a thorough travel guide. It’s more a fun guide offering travel tips.”

http://www.thebookseller.com

Introduction

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The big concrete terracing at Akritas Chloraka (bottom of Cyprus Division 2) is baking hot so I’m sitting on a stray bit of cardboard. There are maybe 100 fans dotted around in the area where my cousin Lewis and I, and thousands of flies, have settled to watch the game against the second-placed side from Larnaca. Just in front of the children aiming toilet rolls quite accurately at the halfway line is a guy hopping about selling tickets. But whether they are for the match (the turnstiles were unmanned) or for a raffle is unclear.

About the same number of people are dotted around on the terracing behind the goal, a bit of concrete that seems to hang on the hillside. Well, actually, it does hang on the hillside, as the whole stadium is cut into a massive drop from what is little more than a village, situated a few miles from the tourist town of Paphos. The stadium is rubbish, the football is rubbish and youngsters from the home side’s youth team are throwing things at the opposition’s big wigs who are sitting in front of me.

But I love every minute of it because I am a football lover. And if you love football, you know going to a game is about way more than football itself. It’s about laughing at the opposition striker when he misses an easy chance (come on, that’s the best bit), the beer before the game (hang on, maybe that’s the best bit) and providing the perfect excuse for getting home late (sorry, that’s the best bit). It’s about discovering there’s a second division team called Akritas Chloraka just up the road from where you are staying and astonishing the locals that you even care. And strolling up the road to watch them, then following their results on the internet for years to come.

Akritas Chloraka are not featured in this book. But football lovers across the world are always looking for any excuse for a beer, a plane trip and a chance to laugh at the opposition striker missing a sitter.

So welcome to this offer of 26 countries, 49 cities and 61 clubs not a million miles from where you are sitting right now.Featuring clubs from Barcelona and Real Madrid to IFK Gothenburg and Lyon; cities from London and Milan to Villarreal and Haifa; and countries from the east of Europe to the west, north and south. They’ve been chosen for their footballing ability and the city’s visitability. And also because more of us than ever want to go away, watch a match and enjoy ourselves in a place that isn’t where our season ticket tells us to go and who to watch.

Of course there are some clubs missing. Is it anyone’s fault Uefa has expanded more than the Roman Empire? But hopefully this is a list to tempt your taste buds and stretch your Easyjet account.

 

Slowly slowly

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Signature magazine (South Africa) 2009

Ever considered investing in whisky. Now you can…

It’s something investment guru Warren Buffett certainly advocates. Patience. And if you’re ‘investing’ in barrels of whisky you’re going to need plenty of it. So… deep breath, because this is how it works: first you choose the country you want your whisky to be made in (take your pick from Scotland to America to Australia), hand over your money, see your whisky get put into a barrel and stowed in a warehouse, and then you wait… And you wait. Five, ten, 12, even more years if you are the really patient type before you get your whisky.

So, quite clearly, if you’re after a quick buck then this whisky ‘investing’ is not really your thing. Look, I’m going to drop these quotation marks around ‘investing’ now if it’s okay with you? I think you might have gathered this is an alternative investment. Whisky is not the first, and certainly not the only thing you should put your money into. That said, once you’ve got your RA, stocks, dollars and property in your portfolio what’s wrong with having a fun investment or two? It’s certainly not impossible to make money out of whisky but you shouldn’t bank on it. But you should bank on some great fun and great whisky.

David Cox, who runs the The Macallan En Primeur cask programme (www.themacallan.com), explains what a buyer can expect.

“Those who sign up are invited to the filling day sometime in July or August where they can watch their new spirit being filled, then stowed in one of the warehouses. They will be our guests for the day, joining us for lunch and depending on numbers might be able to stay on site, and finishing off the day with a dinner together. When they leave each owner will take away an oak box with a logbook inside which charts the history of their cask, including the photos of the people who have been involved in the making of their whisky, from those who grew the barley to the team involved in the malting, the mashing, filling, and then stowing of the spirit. In the box will be a small sample of the spirit. Then, 12 years later, the owner will be given another sample so he can compare the effect the ageing and the wood has had on the spirit.

“Periodically the whisky will be checked and nosed by the whisky-maker and the notes relating to the nose and colour will be sent to the owner, which they can put into their logbook.”

It’s not exactly the type of love and attention you receive when you buy some mining shares now, is it? But whisky, through time and good marketing, is a product that has risen above being viewed purely as a commodity. A trend I identified in the South African Whisky Handbook 2008 (SchreiberFord Publications), is that people are looking for VIP experiences when it comes to their whisky: they want to feel special and have something to brag about when among friends. It’s this same reason that will lead you to decide to put you money into a cask of whisky and not more unit trusts, where your only interaction with your money is looking up the latest value in the Sunday Times over breakfast each week.

“Oh that’s good darling, up another two points this week. Another slice of toast and cup of coffee?”

Not quite the same as…

“Oh, I’ve booked our tickets for your business trip to Europe for next month. I left a couple of days free so we could pop up to Scotland and have lunch with our whisky-maker.”

Macallan has been selling casks to individuals for three years and at the time of writing have 25 people signed up. They will only ever accept 20-25 a year.

“At those numbers this is clearly not a big money-making scheme,” admits Cox.  “We are looking to build a tight and exclusive club of Macallan lovers, who want to work with us in choosing the cask and getting to know the people who work here.”

It all goes back to having something special and fun as an investment. A big part of this, as Cox mentioned, is choosing the cask your whisky is aged in. It is the wood, its characteristics and what it was used for before, of course, which play a major part in creating the whisky you will end up with in your bottles.

Macallan offers a choice of wood in which to age with Spanish oak offering flavours of dried fruit, citrus orange and spices, while the American oak which gives coconut, floral and vanilla.

You also choose the size of cask you want. So, are you paying attention at the back? Whisky Casks Lesson 101: a butt and puncheon holds 500 litres, a hogshead 250 litres, and a barrel 200 litres (see costs in box).

An important thing to remember is something called the Angels’ Share. This is the rather cute term the whisky industry uses for evaporation. You can expect to lose approximately two per cent of your spirit every year. Now you know why a 21 Year Old Whisky costs so much.

But a humourous warning when the wait for your whisky is over. Whisky writer and broadcaster Tom Morton recalls being invited to the 21st birthday of his friend’s son. The star attraction at the party was a cask of whisky that the friend had bought proudly on the birth of his son all those years before. Now, 21 years later, it was here, ready to be enjoyed by everyone on the day his son became a man. Where was his son? In the corner with his friends drinking alcopops.

Ah, but what do youngsters know? And, as Tom told me during his story-telling, “Let them drink alcopops. More good whisky for the rest of rest.”

So, just how patient do you have to be with your whisky? If you buy a cask from Macallan you must wait a minimum of 12 years to taste the fruits of your patience. At 12 years you can decide to leave the whisky to age longer if you prefer (like the 21st birthday alcopop man) but extra strorage costs will be incurred on top of your initial fee.

Other distilleries such as Bruichladdich (www.bruichladdich.com) simply state that the ageing period is up to you. Bear in mind the spirit has to be in the cask a minimum of three years to be called Scotch so don’t go getting thirsty a couple of weeks into this venture. Bruichladdich’s initial fee covers insurance and storage for the first ten years after which you will be paying extra.

Michael Thompson from the Bruichladdich distillery supplied the following information:

“After ten years your whisky can be either bottled, sold, part exchanged or

further matured. Whisky evaporates from the cask and the alcohol level falls from the filling strength of 70 per cent to 40 per cent after 40 years; the longer it is kept for, the less there is – but the better it gets.”

On the subjecy of selling your whisky he adds: “In accepting this order, the company expects the purchaser to offer the distillery the opportunity to reacquire your cask if it becomes surplus to your requirements on a ‘first refusal’ basis, at the market rate prevailing at that time. The cask will need to be regauged to confirm it’s current contents [following evaporation]. Once the contents are verified, a price per Regauged Litre of Alcohol (RLA) is employed to work out the offer value for the cask and its contents. The price offered will depend on the actual regauge figure, the type of single malt, the cask type age and market value prevailing at that time. No taxes are due [in the UK] if sold under bond.”

There is also an option to sell back part of your whisky to cover bottling, labeling and duties, so what you receive will cost you no extra, albeit this being  a smaller amount of whisky than you initially purchased.

What you might have noticed is that the costs do not stop once you have bought the whisky. There are storage costs if you age your whisky beyond the original offer (when these kick in and how much varies from distillery to distillery), there will be bottling and labeling costs, delivery, and importantly, duties and taxes. There can also be some sundry costs such as change of ownership and regauging the barrel.

Tullibardine (www.tullibardine.com) the distillery in Perthshire, also offers a chance to buy a cask in the barrel, hogshead and butt sizes together with a certificate, photograph of their cask and their name stenciled onto it.

Glengoyne (www.glengoyne.com) near Glasgow is another distillery to offer casks for sale. Here, you have a mind-boggling 11 choices of wood in which to age your spirit, from fresh bourbon, fresh American sherry and fresh Madeira to second-fill Spanish sherry, a cask that has previously been filled with dry oloroso sherry then Glengoyne whisky. Choices, choices, mmmm.

Scotch not your thing? The iconic Jack Daniel’s (www.jackdaniels.com) also offers a chance to buy a cask. Not the classic No. 7 mind (that of Jack and Coke fame), so make sure taste some Single Barrel and like it, because this is what is on offer from the famous Tennessee distillery. For Jack fans what could be better than a trip to Lyncburg where the whiskey is made, a meeting with master distiller Jeff Arnett and choosing a barrel that will eventually yield about 240 bottles for you?

And for something completely different how about a Tasmanian whisky? The Australia whisky-makers Nant (www.nantdistillery.com.au) promote the same buy-a-cask offer with the smaller 100-litre variety and a maturation period of between four and five years.

So there are certainly some choices and fun to be had but is there really money to be made? Scottish Master of Malt John Lamond warns people to keep their eyes open for ‘get-rich-slowly schemes’ that involve whisky.

“There were a lot of rogue brokers around in the 1990s and this gave the selling of casks a bad name. But things have improved and if you deal through an established distillery you should be fine. But certainly be aware of the size of the barrel you are buying and evaporation rates. Promises of riches are to be avoided.”

Bladnoch (www.bladnoch.co.uk) another distillery offering the chance to buy a cask even gives this warning on its website: “If the only reason you are purchasing a cask is for ‘Investment purposes’ Don’t.”

Macallan’s David Cox repeats the warning. “Some 15-20 years ago the selling of casks was a common thing and a few rogues were involved. Brokers were offering sure-fire investments, and as we know there is no sure-fire investment in anything. This gave the practice a bad name but I think to a large extent that has gone now with people dealing directly with distilleries. We never sell these casks as an investment; this is something to be enjoyed.”

It’s pretty clear that buying whisky casks is no easy-riches scheme (or I wouldn’t be telling you about it) but neither is it rip-off (unless you get caught in a scam like any other venture). This is an investment that can be financially solid and also offers some enjoyment along the way.

“Typical financial assets such as RAs, units trusts and so on might bore you to death but you most probably will find enjoyment from your art and stamp collection. Such assets are typically referred to as “hard assets”. They can, however, be highly speculative and generally require specialist knowledge in a particular field,” says Charl Ten Oever, investment advisor and author of Beat the Crunch (Two Dogs).

“A more recent concept and trend for those investors who would like to expand their investment horizons, personal satisfaction and potential returns in “hard” or alternative assets, is by investing in whisky barrels.

“The benefits are exclusivity, personalised enjoyment, distinctive ‘One of a kind’ concept, possible hedge against future inflation and depreciation, and a fun investment still rendering a good return over a period of time

“The disadvantages? Buyer beware!, can the whisky go bad? In the continued economic crunch can you sell the bottles?

“As with all financial matters, and most things in life, the attitude you chose to adopt when considering investment decisions is vital. Don’t think of investing as a means to make a quick buck, rather learn the ground rules, do your homework and look at this type of investment as a long-term journey to personal satisfaction and enjoyment…”

What it will cost*

First payment: to cover the cost of the new make spirit, the cask, and forward charges for 12 years to cover warehouse rental, storage, insurance etc.

Butt/puncheon (500 litres) £9,000 (R112,500)

Hogshead (250 litres): £4,900 (R61,250)

Barrel (200 litres): £3,800 (R47,500)

Second payment: to cover bottling, label design and origination (a forecast).

Butt/puncheon (500 litres): £4,200. Approx outturn after 12 years at 40% abv is 784 bottles @ 75cl.

Hogshead (250 litres): £2,100 Approx outturn after 12 years at 40% abv is 410 bottles @ 75cl.

Barrel (200 litres): £1,700 Approx outturn after 12 years at 40% abv is 313 bottles @ 75cl.

Third payment: delivery and duties to SARS

* Costs are an example from Macallan. There are many other conditions and each distilleries terms vary.

The cheaper alternative

Investing in whisky without spending a fortune

If you’re not quite ready to plunge into the whisky futures market but still want to dip your toe into it there are some cheaper alternatives that will still leave you with a warm glow.

• On certain commemorative bottles of Jack Daniel’s you can register your bottle online and receive a certificate of registration (www.jackdaniels.com).

• How about a personalised bottle of whisky? You get to bottle the spirit from a pre-aged cash, cork it yourself and have your name written on the label and recorded in a logbook in the Visitors’ Centre. Benromach (www.benromach.com) offer this option but you have to be there to do it! £50 (R625)

• Johnne Walker, through the Whisky Exchange (http://www.whiskyexchange.com) offer you a bottle of their whiskyn with your name engraved on it. Choose your words online and preview it before buying. Go for a bottle of Blue at £135.70 (R1696)

• Don’t even care about the whisky? Buy a used barrel at Euros 150 ex delivery (R1500) and put some plants in it maybe? Or dare I suggest you just fill it with ice and Amstel lagers next time you have friends round (www.barrel-shop.com).