It always fascinates me when we travel away how the Scarlet diaspora coagulate in this week’s desired location, people flying, bussing and floating in from all parts North, East, South and of course West. For this trip we met up with resident Belfastian Steve Morgan again and Mark, a Scarlets fan from Cwmbran. Being where Belfast is most of us had flown in; Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham being some of the lucky airports to host the Scarlet hordes. Four of us flew from Birmingham with the easy plan of meeting up with Steve and Angie’s plane from Bristol which was due to arrive five minutes after ours. Unfortunately, my well laid plans were scuppered by Belfast having two airports, yep they were at the other one.
So we arrived at George Best airport where a short taxi ride deposited us at the Travelodge in Belfast City Centre . A quick bag drop and we were away to the centre. Progress was slow as the ladies amongst us took advantage of the shopping opportunities that Belfast offers. Our number had grown to six by the lunchtime and we found ourselves in the Fountain Bar and Restaurant on Fountain Street, a short walk from City Hall. It was a good place to stop and I enjoyed a very reasonable “pizza and a pint” offer for only a fiver.
So it was off to meet Mark and take the Belfast City Tour. Well worth bartering with the salesmen especially at this time of year with not many on the tour. The tour itself is well worth a go and the murals and peace wall make interesting viewing, especially for those older fans who will remember these places featuring prominently on the news in years gone by .
The tour over a little bit of warming up was needed so most went to check-in and shower before meeting up in Robinsons a lovely pub in the City Centre. A good 20 or so Scarlets fans were gathered there enjoying pre-match drinks in a friendly atmosphere.
And so it was finally off to Ravenhill. Those of you planning a future visit may want to note that there is no version of “the knowledge” in Belfast and whereas one might expect a black cab driver to know where the one time European Champion province’s rugby ground is, many Scarlets found to their cost that they didn’t.
First stop at the ground was the beer tent and here the Scarlets could really learn a lesson. Well stocked with good tasting beer that was served quickly by staff with whom you could engage in a bit of banter. Draught beer (in my case Murpheys), tasting good and a good selection of food from vans with short queues and, Scarlets are you listening? CHIPS!!!
It was in the tent that we met up with Dai from Pontyberem an Ulsterman/Scarlet depending on the occasion. Some of you may have met Dai in Northampton and you would know that here the fun had started. A good friendly place to drink pre-match was the tent, much smaller than our barn and more suited to a post-18 audience but enjoyable nonetheless.
The Promenade terrace runs the length of Ravenhill and we found ourselves a place on the 22. I won’t describe the match but it probably turned on a fairly harsh sin binning of Dan Evs and the Belfast weather which flows straight down the pitch towards the beer tent behind the goal. The banter on the terrace was good natured and funny at times with not a even a hint of malice. Hands were shaken at the end and they responded well to the noise we inevitably make all over Europe.
Away fans are invited into the clubhouse bar under the main stand and we were made to feel very welcome by some top rugby people both at half-time and post-match. A really great time was had by all and, with the obvious exception of Northampton away, this was probably my favourite trip of the season.
Taxis, who actually know their way, are abundant outside Ravenhill and here our party split as a few of us made the short journey to the House Bar at Stranmillis to meet up with the aforementioned Ulster Dai, whilst the rest headed into town. A good friendly bar was the House and a good time was had by all. It would suit younger SF members (20s/30s) really well but even us older ones enjoyed it. It is at this point that “what goes on tour stays on tour” kicks in so it’s time to bring an end to the story of Friday night.
Saturday morning and time for the Scarlet glow to disperse. There was one last pleasant surprise in meeting the Scarlets team at the airport. Was great to see and speak to Steven Jones who, even though he looked a bit bruised battered from the night before, was a gentleman as ever. Nigel too took the time to come and chat which was also much appreciated.
A good trip all in all and at £50 return with BMI Baby and hotels from £19 one that is very affordable. Belfast is much, much easier on the pocket than cities in the South while still feeling that little bit different from home yet very friendly too. A great trip made all the more palatable as we came back to take home a valuable bonus point too.