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Story added: 16th October 2019

Tales from the inaugural Canaryball Rally

17 cars completed an epic 2200-mile journey through western Europe last week, calling in at the three venues that Norwich City visited during their 1993 UEFA Cup run, in order to raise money for the Community Sports Foundation’s Build The Nest campaign.

Dan Wynne and Alex Guest from the Foundation’s Communications team tagged along in an attempt to document the remarkable trip.

Below is a trip diary, written by Dan, with accompanying pictures from Alex and several participants.

Day One
Norwich – Arnhem
Day: 423 miles, 9 hours 19 minutes.
Countries: Four (England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands).

It began in darkness at 5am in Sprowston as I picked up a bleary-eyed Alex from his mum’s house. He wasn’t quite ready and blamed her for not waking him up on time, which quite frankly is startling from a 23-year-old, but at 5:11am we set the sat nav for Arnhem and our adventure was under way.

We were setting out over two hours before the main group in an attempt to reach our destination early and catch each team as they arrived at the new stadium of Vitesse Arnhem, the Gelredome. The stadium wasn’t where Norwich actually played – that’s been made into housing – but we figured it would be nicer for photos.

As events transpired we needn’t have bothered; as we emerged from the Eurotunnel into Calais, the talk on the (incredibly active) WhatsApp group was that an unfortunate crash on the M20 had brought the chasing pack to a standstill, and they were in fact to miss their original, and five subsequent, Eurotunnel departures.

An early setback for sure, but a sense of perspective for those caught up in the accident was by far the overriding mood.

This meant that our lead (it wasn’t a race though) had further increased and we allowed ourselves a brief stop shortly after the Belgian border for a comfort break and a spot of lunch. Our first chance to sample some local cuisine perhaps?

“Actually mate, I really just fancy a burger…”

“Two please.”

We were off again through scenery that Alex described as “four hours of the Acle straight in the rain”, as the realisation that the eight hours we’d already spent in the car was less than 20% of the driving we had lined up over the next five days.

News reached us that the majority of the teams were finally traversing the Channel, but the decision was made to skip the stadium visit and head straight to the hotel, as it would be dark before they reached Arnhem.

Not for Alex and me however; we checked into our room and jumped back in the car for a Gelredome scouting mission to make sure everything went smoothly in the morning, before grabbing a bite to eat in the charming centre of Arnhem with a German friend of ours called Valentina, who lives an hour away near Düsseldorf. (Yes, I’m using umlauts now).

Earlier this year she had spent three months in Norwich on a placement with the Foundation’s fundraising team and had been involved in a number of events as part of the early Build The Nest campaign. Even as a well-travelled young woman, who will quite happily nip to another country just for dinner, she was astounded at the trip that lay ahead of us.

As we returned to the hotel, the teams had mostly arrived and were pleading with staff to keep the kitchen open and serve them a well-earned meal. Some of the excitement that had been so apparent on WhatsApp had made way for tiredness but they were grateful to have arrived safely and to have sleep on the horizon.

We kept the details of our leisurely evening in Arnhem to ourselves and retired for the night.

Day Two
Arnhem – Munich
Stage distance: 455 miles, 8 hours 53 minutes.
Total distance covered: 878 miles, 18 hours 12 minutes
Countries: Two (the Netherlands, Germany).

Now, our plan each day was to get up super early (a struggle for both of us) and leave well ahead of the group in order to set up camp at each stadium and get a really cool arrival shot of each car that they’d treasure forever. That was the plan.

The delay on day one meant that the teams met at the Gelredome on Thursday morning instead, where we staged pictures with the cars and captured a lovely group shot of everyone.

It was amazing to see the different cars taking part, including a Bentley GT, a Tesla Model S, and a souped-up, retro-looking Golf. (I must apologise at this point for my lack of motoring knowledge, it makes describing nice cars very difficult).

The trouble is however that most of the cars taking part tended to eat up the miles rather faster than my ‘’slow and steady wins the race’ approach to long distance driving (it wasn’t a race though). While our 2019 plate Skoda Kodiaq, kindly supplied for the trip by Robinsons Skoda, was a delight to travel in for such an extended period of time, I was reluctant to give it the full Autobahn experience as we had to hand it back in one piece. This made it quite tough to get regular pictures of everyone taking part, but thankfully the WhatsApp group was a constant stream of selfies in unusual locations, so our job was done in part by everyone on the trip.

As we crossed the (invisible) German border the scenery improved almost instantly as the roads became tree-lined and the landscape began to undulate in a way that was lacking in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Cologne, Frankfurt, and Nuremberg slipped by and then shortly before our arrival in Munich, the heavens opened with such gusto that we wondered if we’d need to complete the journey by boat.

We reached Munich in beautiful twilight and plotted a course to the Olympiastadion, scene of the most famous Norwich City win of all time, hoping to catch up with those who were already there and perhaps recreate the Jeremy Goss volley with a tennis ball I had in my bag.

Our dreams were dashed as darkness greeted our arrival in the complex car park. The stadium itself was locked up for the night and we were left to roam the Olympic Park while scrolling the earlier stadium selfies that were coming through on the WhatsApp group. We’d had a nightmare; worst media team ever.

We wandered into the hotel in Munich City Centre and shuffled apologetically past the already assembled group, who were waiting for us to head out for dinner. A quick turnaround and we were back with them and following someone’s lead to the Hofbräuhaus, a famous Bavarian beer hall, for a sausage platter and a stein of the Hofbräuhaus original. The resident oompah band made the whole experience beautifully authentic and the weary travellers enjoyed their evening in fine spirits.

Among the highlights on our stroll through Munich was Marienplatz and its neo-gothic city hall (thanks Google) complete with Glockenspiel, which is a popular tourist attraction. I’m sure that many will tell me there are other cool things to see and do when in Munich but we needed to get to bed. We had an early alarm the next day.

Day Three
Munich – Milan (and back a bit)
Stage distance: 331 miles, 7 hours 43 minutes
Total distance covered: 1,209 miles, 25 hours 55 minutes
Countries: Four (Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy) and one principality (Liechtenstein).

There’ll be no repeat today; we were up at the crack of dawn and in the car to begin the (relatively short) 300-mile journey to Milan and the iconic San Siro stadium, at least two hours ahead of the other rally-ers. The now relentless WhatsApp group photo stream suggested that others may have had a later night than Alex and me, so we were bound to make it in good time for a photo op.

As we approached the Austrian border, it was time for young Alex to make his debut driving abroad and he rose to the task admirably. I however, in my new-found role of navigator, almost immediately let the side down by taking us off the beaten path and into a pedestrian-only area of an Austrian garden centre. Some bemused locals gestured for Alex to reverse while I pretended to be furious with him for taking such a ridiculous wrong-turn.

At this point the Alps were in full view and everything began to look how we’d imagined it to be when we first put our names down to take part in the rally.

As we crossed into Switzerland and began to get a bit hungry, I suggested that we hop over the river and see what Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein had to offer; it was probably the best decision of the entire trip. We had a quick stroll around before heading up to the 12th century castle, which overlooks the town from its hillside position. Alex, a very talented photographer, was in his element and captured some beautiful shots from above before we jumped in the car to make our way back onto the Swiss A13.

Cue my trip highlight, as our route out took us past the Rheinpark Stadion, the 7,500 capacity home of the Liechtenstein national football team, the most incredible setting for a stadium you are ever likely to see. Conveniently a large gate was open on one side and we pulled over in the car park, grabbed the camera and wandered in completely unchallenged to grab some shots for the Instagram account. We had been there for less than a minute when a group of lads in tracksuits appeared holding washbags, the unmistakable off-pitch look of the footballer. It was the Liechtenstein national team! What a brilliant chance encounter. This was sure to score us some impressive scavenger hunt points, so we introduced ourselves to two stragglers and asked for a picture. They were, very coincidentally, Daniel (Kaufman) and Alex (didn’t catch his last name) and they were bewildered by our story of how we ended up in their stadium, but they kindly agreed to a picture and explained that they were taking on Armenia and Italy in the European Championship Qualifiers in this very stadium in the coming days. (They were to secure an impressive 1-1 draw with the Armenians 24 hours later. Up the ‘stein!)

 

With Alex (our one) still at the wheel we returned to Switzerland and resumed our course, while I furiously sent the photo to as many different colleagues at Norwich as I could. A series of impulse decisions and directions had led us to selfie immortality, and we were on top of the world. It lasted a grand total of 10 minutes.

“Dan, are they pulling us over?”

Indeed, a Swiss police car had cut in front, slowed down, and was displaying a message reading “follow us please”.

We nervously followed them to a service station – I say nervously, I was quite relaxed as the passenger, and was willing to sacrifice my young co-driver to a foreign police cell if it meant that I could continue with my journey and have the lunch that we’d forgotten amongst all the excitement.

They explained to us that we were failing to a display a vignette that allowed us to travel on the Swiss motorways, and that a 200 franc fine was the potential penalty. I pleaded our ignorance and they graciously allowed us to pop into the service station and purchase one for a mere 40 francs instead, and we gratefully complied.

“Well, I had no idea that was a thing” said Alex afterwards.

“Yeah I did.” I admitted, “I meant to buy one at the border but completely forgot because I was googling lunch options.”

Alex was unimpressed.

We reached the San Siro stadium in good time, well ahead of all but one team, and purchased two tickets for a ground tour. After working on the Norwich City Legends v Inter Forever friendly last year, it was great to see the home dressing room of Inter Milan and then head out of the tunnel pitch-side to take a seat in the dugout and await the arrival of everyone else.

This time we had the opposite problem, we were too early! The journey down had been so scenic that everyone had stopped in various places of interest along the way and most had decided to visit the San Siro the following morning instead. Thwarted again!

Thankfully, we caught a handful including Kyle and Keith from Team Ovamill, and the guys and girls from Team U Pukki, who stood in the stands and reminisced about their visit in 1993. The security guard was very understanding, as we waited patiently in the dugout. It wasn’t a bad office for a couple of hours and we took the chance to video call a few people that we thought might appreciate it.

Technically, that’s where the journey home began as we made the short trip back to Switzerland and our hotel next to Lake Lugano, a scene straight from a bond movie.

A dinner and celebration evening had been arranged for the evening (thanks to Sam from CSF) that included the presentation of a number of prizes, the most popular of which was the Scavenger Hunt trophy, which was awarded to the members of Team U Pukki, who had very sadly lost team member David Powell just weeks before the challenge.

They received the trophy to a large ovation and raised it to the sky in David’s honour. A fitting end to the day.

Day Four
Lugano – the Nürburgring
Stage distance: 429 miles, 8 hours 30 minutes
Total distance covered: 1,638 miles, 34 hours 25 minutes
Countries: Two (Switzerland, Germany)

With all three stadiums in the bag, Saturday was simply a case of getting to the Nürburgring in our own time, stopping when and where we fancied along the way.

I had earmarked the medieval Swiss city of Lucerne as a point of interest as my Dad loves his rowing and it often hosts major events like the World and European Championships. We arrived in the bustling lakeside centre a little after 1pm and not for the first time on the trip, our timing was immaculate. The Swiss equivalent of the Red Arrows began a spectacular display over the lake, with snow-capped mountains as a backdrop, and crowds of people watching and filming on their phones. Very cool, and very unexpected.

Meanwhile, more glorious pictures of Alpine views were flooding in on WhatsApp as a number of teams elected to take in the breath-taking Gotthard Pass as part of their journey.

The lure of Lake Como in Italy was too much for some, and many decided to spend their entire morning there, reluctant to leave. It added more hours to an already considerable journey, especially as traffic issues developed, but every one of them said it was worth it and the pictures confirmed that. I’ll have to visit another time; I’ll definitely fly though.

We reached the Nürburgring shortly after 10pm and joined the teams in the bar as we waited for the tail-enders to trickle in. I glanced at the location map and noticed that peculiarly Team 12, Michael and Ben, who had claimed to be 35 minutes away, were now heading in the opposite direction towards Frankfurt. I sent them a message via WhatsApp to point this out and indeed, their navigation app had let them down.

Their new arrival time was now 1:15am and although our communication was text-based, you could sense their hearts sinking. By this point of the rally, the camaraderie was such that nobody had gone to bed by the time they finally entered the hotel reception to be greeted with a round of applause and celebratory beers.

Day Five: The Homecoming
The Nürburgring – Norwich
Stage distance: 512 miles, 11 hours 47 minutes
Total distance covered: 2,150 miles, 46 hours 12 minutes
Countries: Five (Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, England)

The Nürburgring is an unbelievable place; a playground for motorsport lovers, brimming with history, supercars, and ‘petrolheads’, and all set amongst a beautiful tree-filled backdrop.

It has hosted Grand Prix racing until reasonably recently, and its Nordschleife (north loop) is available for the public to race their own vehicles or even hire something a little more exotic to go around in.

Of course, all of this was a little bit wasted on Alex and me, who found the Autobahn enough excitement behind the wheel for one trip. It was however the pinnacle for several rally-ers and after breakfast the iconic track became a little piece of Norfolk as our teams headed out to test their skill at speeds it makes me nervous to even think about.

Even our very own Emma Fletcher, the driving force (I thank you) behind Foundation fundraising events, jumped in the back of a car for a couple laps. She’s made of sterner stuff than us!

From that point on there’s not a lot more to tell, as we began the long haul back to Norwich through the Netherlands (which Alex slept through entirely), Belgium and France, while reading out the stream of messages on WhatsApp from the rally-ers who were thanking Simon, Fran, Tracy, and Ian from organisers and event sponsors Credo Asset Finance, and discussing the friends they’d made while arranging reunions and plans for next year. Sweden anybody?

A pit-stop for a cuppa at my brother’s flat in Greenwich, and one last convenience meal at Birchanger services (the diet starts tomorrow), we finally rolled back onto Alex’s mum’s driveway where it all began, in the dark once more at 10pm on Sunday night.

This epic journey was not simply for the incredible experience, however. Our teams were taking part to raise money for the Community Sports Foundation’s newly-launched Build The Nest campaign, which is aiming to raise £1 million to build the second phase of The Nest, our community hub on the edge of Horsford. If you’re not familiar with the plans, you can find out more about it at www.thenest.org.uk and perhaps, ever-so-kindly make a donation, which will be matched pound-for-pound by Norwich City Football Club.

We’d be really grateful, and you’d be helping us to make a difference to so many people in Norfolk, which is why we all do what we do on a day-to-day basis. Unsurprisingly, this was a fairly non-standard week for us. But what a week it was.

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