2017 - Madrid
There was a building sense of foreboding and panic as Easter 2017 approached. Curiously, the tour skipper appeared to make no attempt to formulate anything resembling a plan in the days and weeks leading up the trip to Madrid. Perhaps it was his two years of dedicated and efficient admin as fixtures secretary, perhaps it was his steady stewardship during his two years as 2s skipper, or perhaps it was his meticulously planned tour of Sofia in 2013; something gave Harry Woolley enough faith in 2017 Tour-skipper Jack Orr-Ewing to hold off having a mini-meltdown until 24 hours before flights were due to take off.
In truth, feverish activity was bubbling below the surface, with Gioffredo Taunton Collins and Harry Gibson working hard with the infuriatingly Spanish attitudes to pre-match admin from our contacts in Madrid. On the eve of departure, however, the team were provided will a well formatted, resplendent itinerary, emblazoned with the OHAFC crest and using a Rockwell typeface.
The touring party this year boasted an impressive blend of experience and youth, with an old guard of Orr-Ewing, Woolley, Lederman, Taunton Collins, Walsh, Khan and Gordon providing the know-how and avuncular pastoral care for the troubled adolescents forming the second half of the group. Cuddle-me Kapoor, Send-it Smithy and Chicken-nuggets Chuka provided the bulk of the contingent by sheer volume, but were accompanied by regular sized OHs Walker, Gibson and a hitherto unknown fellow with whom the group would soon we well acquainted. Al Yoghurty, whose last tour in Hamburg raised more questions than it answered, dragged along first time puppy dog Ludo Callander, who bounded around Madrid like a randy Alsatian for most of the long weekend.
The usual high-end hostel was chosen by the tour skipper, the very welcoming Las Musas in the centre of town. Famous for its splendid roof-top terrace and relaxed attitude to cleanliness, the tourists arrived in drips and drabs, acquainted themselves with long-term resident and short-term bedroom companion “Mustafa”, then headed into Mercado San Miguel for some tapas. After some beers in the square, the group moved onto Joy, where they were shown to a large table next to the dancefloor, where they could peruse the other customers from relative safety. It was at this time that many of the squad first became aware of a short, tanned chap, wearing a crucifix yet showing few signs of Christian asceticism, who, by a process of elimination, was assumed to be Charlie Robson. 5 minutes after arrival in Joy, he bounded back to the group to announce, “we’re done for here, boys, none of the birds here drink”. Understandably worried, an anxious Taunton-Collins asked for some qualifying evidence to support this claim, to which Robson replied that he’d asked every girl in the room to join the table for a drink, and they’d all refused. It was rather sweet that he’d put this down to their intolerance to alcohol, and not the threatening group of lads forcing rum down their necks as quickly as possible. In the end, his persistence paid off, and like a poorly trained gun dog, repeatedly came bounding back to the table with an assortment of semi-conscious birds, most of whom scurried off into the underbrush as soon as they’d been released.
Everyone made it back to the hostel in one piece, after some of the squad had tried to find some sugar and spice, and all things nice on the way home. A leisurely start the following day was well advised, and the team were allowed to indulge themselves in the comfort of their tiny, creaky framed, overcrowded bunk beds. Mustafa was conspicuous by his absence when his roommates awoke, and was lucky to miss Callander’s energetic wake up routine. A shy, lonely Chinese girl had, unfortunately for her, mistakenly booked herself in the room, and cowered sheepishly in her bunk, refusing to share the punnet of strawberries she’d treated herself to. In the other dormitory, a primitive courting ritual had been performed by the troupe for the benefit of their resident queen bee, displaying their manly physiques in the hope of being selected for mating. Fortunately for her, this was short lived and half hearted, with the key protagonists quickly becoming disinterested and retreating into bed. Orr-Ewing then led the team to lunch at a lovely rooftop at the Mercado San Anton; looking splendid in their Prostar branded tour kits, the team were apprehensive about the faff of the afternoon activities. Gibson ruled himself out of all football related events, citing a knee injury, and Ilogu revealed a pre-historic elephant hoof he was passing off as a foot, but bravely proffered his services in some capacity. “No discernible ankle” whispered Woolley.
The first event of tour was an intra-squad friendly of Bubble Futbal. This was a first time on OHAFC tours, a fact verified by Lederman, who on his 20th consecutive OH tour has become the Microsoft Encarta ’95 of tour-related information – factually correct, poorly formatted and long-ago out-paced by modern life. In 28-degree heat and still suffering the effects of the night before, few of the squad relished the prospect of wedging themselves into a claustrophobic plastic balloon. However, after the initial charge and the tremendously enjoyable sight of seeing Walker knocked about 15 feet in their air, the team threw themselves into a semi-competitive game. Smudger Smith was particularly well suited to the game, using his considerable weight advantage to knock aside the defence and slot home. His trademark “Shearer-hand” celebration was barely noticeable in the bubble, but the more perceptive could see a few delighted digits poking out from the top of the Zorb. Gibson directed scenes from the touchline, encouraging anyone who’d listen to enact illicit off-ball zorbs on Khan.
Exhausted from the exertions of the game, it seemed somewhat absurd that the next activity was a 2 hour 9-aside match against a local side. A combination of Israel Sevillano and ex-pat Chris Jones pulled together a strong side to face Harrow, and the sides were evenly matched. The write up can be found in the fixtures section. The game ended 4-4 after Khan showed his trade mark military coolness under pressure in the final seconds, tripping over his own feet to allow the opposition skipper to rob him and equalise. Charlie Walsh performed genuine heroics in the shootout, saving 3 penalties and helping the visitors record their first on-tour win in many years.
After a few beers in the sunshine, the lads put on their best clothes, with Gordon convincing his co-dormitory companions that he was going to bust out his 100% shirt. Unfortunately, his exertions on the pitch earlier that day had rendered him statuesque and in clear pain. Only his hunched gait gave away the level of discomfort he suffered, stoically refusing to burden his companions with his back issues. After getting lost in some high-Catholic Easter parades, the team settled into a classy restaurant, where steaks and paella were delicious when served initially. Fogarty paid the price of sending his meat to be re-cooked, and was then hugely disappointed in the chewed up, mangled fat deposit that replaced it. Tequila shots and weirdly blue G & Ts got everyone hyped up and re-energised for the evening ahead, and despite the growing complaints from some of the group of extravagant spending habits, a very reasonable bill gave a boost of bravado to the already emboldened gentlemen.
The second night’s venue had a more grandiose feel to it; seven floors of nightclub in the impressive Theatro Kapital offered plenty of hidden spots for the team to explore. Our table on the second floor allowed panoramic views of the atrium, and gave some of the tour members an opportunity to dribble what remained of the spirits onto the adoring crowds below. Taunton Collins, always leading, showed some of the younger members how it’s done, and woo’ed with some skill. Robson struggled with the logistics of herding the various waifs and strays he found through the narrow corridors and indistinguishable floors back to the original base, and at some stage everyone abandoned HQ and mingled freely with the multi-national clientele.
Smith took his award of man-of-the-match very seriously indeed, and celebrated in style by getting completely binned and falling asleep in multiple non-prone positions. Walker and Orr-Ewing both lost their phones during the evening, with some stories being more plausible than others for how they were misplaced. The fact the skipper was wearing tight white jeans and a black turtleneck may potentially have invited any nefarious causes upon himself.
One of the obvious downsides of losing the tour captain’s phone became painfully obvious the next morning, as the squad aimlessly followed people around and repeatedly suggested that we find somewhere to eat lunch. Fortunately, Taunton Collins, with a spring in his step and glad to have had unfettered access to the communal power shower earlier that morning, took the lead and found a wonderful place for lunch. Smith and Ilogu developed a close bond with the barman at Las Musas and their elixir of choice, the ‘Rona, and arrived at the restaurant in fine spirits. Questions were raised as to the exact whereabouts of Kapoor, which were only somewhat answered by a curious photo of him sitting for a portrait with a suspicious side-eye that betrayed his own difficulty in finding good reason. The resulting work of art bore predictably little resemblance to him.
Unlike the previous day, where fresh legs and an enthusiasm for exercise carried the hungover touring party through a competitive match, the prospect of Saturday’s football double header filled few people with anything other than abject fear. So much so that only 7 of the 15 tourists even made it to the pitch on time, with the rest sheepishly arriving 5 mins late. Despite having more substitutes than players, there was barely enough fit men to furnish a fully standing side by the final whistle. Walsh showed the sort of enthusiasm for an outfield run out that you would expect from someone confined to his goal-line for so many years, bounding up and down the flanks and seeing a lot of the ball in the early stages. Unfortunately, his fitness was also that of a man who has been confined to his goal-line, and he waned quickly and invented an injury. Gibson took his self-styled “gaffer” image a bit too literally, and smoked consistently through the 2-hour stint. Only Walker showed any real fitness, and was supported for most of the match by Woolley and Lederman, who really just played out of an unquestioning sense of loyalty and relentless desire to add to their impressive OHAFC caps. Meanwhile Azhar Khan alienated himself from the rest of the squad by shooting from long range a dozen or so times, with increasingly loud complaints seeming to spur him on.
On the last night, there was a degree of formality to proceedings, with a high-end restaurant Habaneros hosting the Harrow boys with tasteful ambiance and top notch food. Taunton Collins looked very strange indeed after greedily slurping down his squid-ink pasta, grinning maniacally through jet black lips. The overall mood in the camp was buoyant given the tribulations of the previous two evenings, and Orr-Ewing hastily re-arranged a table in Kapital to host the team following dinner. The usual fines ceremony was completed huddled around the bar, and after a short flirtation with remaining in Habaneros for a longer stint, it was decided that another night in the Teatro was the only thing for it.
On arrival, the security staff recognised an overly boisterous vibe in the gang, and demanded that we sober up and act sensibly if we wanted to gain entry. Suitably becalmed, the more sensible members of the group gave heartfelt promises to the bouncers that immaculate behaviours would be observed at all times. Within minutes of being shown to our table, everyone had spontaneously stripped off their shirts and were baring their chests in the vague hope that someone would take notice of them. Khan took this a step too far, and proudly showed himself to Foggy, and requested private viewings of some of the shyer members of the squad. Well-practiced by this stage of the weekend at the fine artistry of going out, the well-seasoned squad performed admirably in the dying embers of the tour wildfire. Dynamic duo Foggy and Callander were particularly adept, with the latter managing seduce his soul mate without the use of his voice, which he’d earlier surrendered, in much the same way as the Little Mermaid did, in the honourable pursuit of love. Fogarty, perhaps aware of the suspicious, doubting minds of his team mates, of perhaps out of some misplaced loyalty to his roommates, deliberately eschewed privacy in favour of socks-on exhibitionism.
On the final day, the squad swapped stories and bid farewell to one another as groups left for home. A strong contingent of Gibson, Kapoor, Ilogu, Walker, Smith, Robson, Orr-Ewing and Khan enjoyed some beers in the exquisite sunshine, but fundamentally regretted the decision to take the late flight home. Weird list nominations trickled in through the day, and Lederman tallied. On tenterhooks as they landed back in London, the squad were not surprised to hear that Khan, a matter of weeks before joining Sandhurst, where any slight deviation from the norm is strictly punished, was crowned with the dubious honour of weirdest on tour with a score only Bobby Tindall has beaten. Callander and Fogarty came second and third respectively, although the word “respect” within this context should be used with some caution. Oddly enough, Woolley and Lederman registered 9th and 11th, perhaps signalling a gear shift in their tour contributions.
Future touring captains will take note that Catholic countries are difficult places to arrange Easter tours, but should take heart that the interest in this OHAFC tradition remains ebullient. I’m fairly sure we’ll see Robson on another OH tour.
- tour captain
- Jack Orr-Ewing Azhar Khan
- Geoff Taunton-Collins David Lederman
- Harry Woolley Harry Gibson
- Charlie Walsh Theo Gordon
- Nick Kapoor Alex Smith
- Chuka Ilogu Alec Fogarty
- Ludo Callander Oli Walker
- Charlie Robson