Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Geordies Regaled at the Embassy

Newspaper article Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)

Geordies Regaled at the Embassy

Article excerpt

Byline: By Miles Starforth

As ambassador's receptions go, it was unusual to say the least.

Inviting dozens of football fans round to your private residence for cold beers isn't an everyday occurrence.

But this was the Toon Army and things are never boring following Newcastle United, not least in Belgrade.

Firstly, United's travelling fans were locked in their hotel for their own safety shortly after arriving in Serbia, then several hours later they were invited to British Ambassador Charles Crawford's house following frantic representations that went out to the country's Deputy Prime Minister.

It wasn't what the 108 fans who jetted in on the Toon Travel flight had expected in Belgrade, a city still showing visible signs of the NATO bombing of 1999.

With temperatures soaring outside, they planned to don their sunglasses and soak up the pre-match atmosphere in the city's many cafes and bars.

But, after a long wait to exchange vouchers for tickets outside the Intercontinental Hotel, they didn't expect to be locked up inside a small basic Excelsior Hotel, located bang in the middle of the bustling city.

However the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and indeed United's opponents Partizan Belgrade, had different ideas.

The riot police who had welcomed Newcastle's loyal fans at the airport and escorted them to the hotel remained at the entrance and blocked it off as everyone checked in.

And, with the Police Commander not speaking a word of English, it was left to a flustered tourist guide to placate United's supporters.

He said Partizan were fearful of being fined by UEFA or even being thrown out of the Champions League if there was any trouble, and added that 10,000 home fans were massed nearby in the public square.

But a few black and whites outside the Excelsior, which was becoming Belgrade's answer to Fawlty Towers, told a different story and didn't encounter any problems.

Some fans escaped from the hotel by hook or crook while others searched in vain for a fire exit. But there wasn't one.

More worrying still, one fan tried to set off a fire alarm to get the Excelsior evacuated - but the alarm didn't work. …

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