When life gets this good, you have to pinch yourself sometimes to check its real. Looking back (only 6 months or so ago…) this memory will linger long forever in my memory. In many ways, my obsession for football and lunacy reached a peak in Bled, Slovenia. A peak which would have been a good time to call it a day and bow out on. I found myself becoming part of a BBC hyped up documentary following Northern Ireland football fans on route to a match. But not just that. The things we get up to on route to these matches, which in this case was an amazing experience which will never be replicated.
Previous blog posts have detailed my time in Trieste, Italy and my journey to The George Best Pub in Bled, Slovenia. The morning after that story is where the “green and white water rafting army” lunacy began. It was Friday 17th October 2008, and myself, Graham Anderson, Andrew Gilmore and Trudy Gilmore were about to be filmed by the BBC while rafting down a river in deepest Slovenian countryside. Dressed in green. Wearing wigs. Hungover. Having had less than an hours sleep. As we all agreed at the time “this is total carnage.” It was, but nobody stopped to complain. So the story begins…
I grabbed about 38 minutes sleep as did Graham in our small hostel room on the top floor at The George Best bar. We had been drinking the previous day in two countries, on trains, buses and in bars. Not to mention being invited by ‘Holly’ back to her wee flat for more beer and wine in the early hours. Graham and I hung around there till 7.38 am. Or so the video reveals. We were due to start the rafting at 10 am. There was no time to be late. So we both got our 38 minutes of sleep and then I got up, fresh and got a quick shower, walking naked down the hostel corridor not worrying who saw my Northern Irish body. It could well have been the BBC, but it wasn’t. They had already filmed me briefly first thing, topless, by the hostel bedroom, looking half asleep. It was a nice “real” moment and the documentary was unstaged.
Everything was spontaneous, everything was unplanned. The night before Andy and I had sung “Northern Ireland’s green and white water rafting carryout army.” In the morning we had drank so much we didn’t need a carry out. I have no idea where the strength to raft would come from when I got out of bed.
We made it to the front of the hostel, where Warren Bell and Nigel McAlpine from the BBC were waiting. There I lost my wig, then John the owner found it, in the bin in the bar. It smelt really bad so I put it on briefly and decided to leave it. Graham and Andy donned their own special wigs for the day. I wore the blue Northern Ireland away shirt for a change. We boarded a small minibus bearing the words “white water rafting – bled” on it. We met the two guides -Mika and Robbie the rafting experts. One of them drove us up the mountains, past Lake Bled and many rivers and trees. The countryside and the minibus journey was amazing. We weren’t too hungover to appreciate that. We even had time to sing songs about the mountains “its nice but its not the Mournes” came out (Northern Ireland’s very own mountain range obviously being superior to this one…at least in our minds). Another moment was captured by the BBC when Andy and I looking totally dazed and in false reality sang “you are my Donard, my Slievey Donard, you make me happy when skies are grey. So sod Ben Nevis and Mount Everest, please dont take my Donard away…” (the original version of this tune was sung by myself and Richboy in Vaduz in 2007, and included the word “fuck”; at the last minute, for the BBC edit and to make it on, we omitted the sware word. Just as well!) The bus took less than 15 minutes, and the journey involved random banter and we showed no nerves before the rafting experience. Soon Andy had his Ulster fleg up on the window and we were out in the chilled open air with a Slovenian sun belting through awesome trees, countryside and nameless mountains down on these four lunatic Northern Ireland fans now living in the South of England.
The silly comedy continued “Canoe believe it?” I said calmly pointing an oar at Andy. “There’s Jonny Evans” shouted Andy over towards trees where the only sign of life was a Kingfisher bird. Soon we got changed into the wet suits, they weren’t green and white, but blue and black. The green was still apparent though from Andy and Graham’s wigs. Graham’s wig was reminiscent of that from Doc from Back Till The Future. This was the present, there was no sign of a delorian, and fate had brought us four together, in a raft with Mika, the nice Slovenian guide. More filmage was done, before we lifted the raft and hoisted it into the water, jumping into the raft straight after. I had been placed at the front with Andy, and I had the “raft cam” attached to my forehead so I accepted some sort of responsibility for the carnage. I didn’t dare fall out of the raft with the “video camera.”
Within minutes we were oaring our way down the slow, steady river. We all savoured the views and enjoyed the relaxation of it. There were three types of speed, as explained by Mika. Fast was when we wanted to go faster through the dips and rock areas, normal was just light rowing and no speed was when the water current took us down on our own. It wasn’t to strenous at all. None of us ever looked tired or knackered. Surprising given the total lack of sleep the previous 4 nights! Every now and then at various points, Warren and Nigel would pop out in the scenery with their cameras. We sang many songs on the way down through the mountains. The journey took a total of almost 2 hours! But you wouldn’t have thought it. It was calm and peaceful and the best moment was the “bodysurfing” part.
At one point, around the half way mark there was a strong current and Mika slowed the raft down and took it over to the side. One by one then we all jumped into the cool water to surf down with the current taking us down. A lifejacket attached as part of the wetsuit meant there was no need to swim. We just sailed automatically down the river. It was so fresh, so relaxing and the perfect way to delete the hangover from the previous night (and current morning) of Union beer from The George Best Bar. I was second into the water, after Graham. I remember Andy shouting “there’s his wig!!” “atch him go, the docs away…” and that was Graham Anderson floating through Slovenian rivers into a wilderness on a dream which doesn’t end. We all followed down the stream, before Mika called us back over and into the raft again to continue the white water rafting. Which for the day we had changed to “green and white water rafting.”
Soon a heron was following us down the river on a gorgeous day. We often link things back to Northern Ireland and we christened it “the Buttercrane heron”, after an old symbol and advert for the Buttercrane Shopping Centre in Newry, which Trudy later mentioned on BBC. That was a nice moment of nature and beauty in another cultured football trip. We continued to row down the river singing more ridiculous songs and sobering up. We forgot we were on camera and being recorded the whole time though, as Graham often told stories he could have kept to himself. It all added to the humour though and at the very end, we rowed the raft over ashore to where Robbie had driven the van to. We all jumped out of the raft and into the cool river. It was clean, it was relaxing. We sang “Good times never seemed so good” as we floated in the Slovenian mountain water. Very soon though the white water rafting experience was over. It was refreshing, thoroughly enjoyable and a relaxing way to spend a few hours.
We sat down by the trees by the river where we did interviews and match predictions for the Slovenia v. Northern Ireland match. Its a very nice wee documentary the BBC did actually, which really captured the spirit and happiness of it all. We all got given a free blueberry alcohol shot at the end of the rafting, before getting a DVD and CD of photos. Now that carnage was over and done with we had to get ourselves off to LJubljana for some rest before the big match the next night. It was all part and parcel of being part of Northern Ireland’s green and white army, and doing something a bit different on route to an away match. I, for one, enjoyed every moment…
The BBC Documentary:
Who went: Jonny Blair, Graham Anderson, Trudy Gilmore, Andrew Gilmore, Mika the rafter, Robbie the rafter.
Followed By: Nigel McAlpine and Warren Bell from BBC Northern Ireland
Adventure Rafting – http://www.adventure-rafting.si
George Best Bar – http://www.bled.net/index.php?location=1230
Backpackers – http://www.bled-backpackersrooms.com
Mika the rafter – e-mail him – [email protected]