According to a survey conducted on behalf of London City Airport earlier this year, the average Briton has been to seven countries outside the UK. I'm thirty-three years old, and thanks to the chaotic and directionless nature of the first thirty years, I already have twenty-five foreign destinations under my belt. Since 2009, most of my excursions have been built around #Football matches.
This year, I've finally realised a few home truths: if I want babies, I'm going to have to start living differently, including but not limited to not spending all my salary and trying to put some away. That doesn't stop me dreaming, and here are the five games I would attend this season if money were no object.
1. Bournemouth vs Liverpool (17 December 2014)
Simple reason: Boruc and Balotelli. Two of the footballers I would like to meet, befriend, and see what comes next. In fact, they're two members of my Friends-style laminated list, which only exists mentally, you'll be glad to know. (The other three, if anyone cares: Slaven Bilic, Goran Ivanisevic, Usain Bolt.) Anyways, the only real reason I can't attend that game is that I'm a teacher in Yorkshire, and the school term finishes two days later. If I became a millionaire between now and then, I'd keep working - I need structure - therefore I would fly from Manchester to Southampton after school, take the train down to Bournemouth for the game, and hopefully cadge a lift northwards in Balotelli's Ferrari. Keep dreaming, woman...
2. Besiktas vs Galatasaray (4 January 2014)
I really must ask my line manager if it's okay not to attend the training day on the fifth; then I might actually be able to do this one if I ask for the flights for Christmas. Attending football in Turkey is time-sensitive. The stupid government has unveiled a stupid ID card scheme, which means the supporters are boycotting. Season ticket sales for Besiktas have declined from 40,000 to 2,500 as a result. However, I know a member of Carsi who's invited me to this game, which he wouldn't have done if no serious fans were going to be there. He knows how I tick. If you have a passion for vocal support and a little disposable income, get in there this season, before it's too late. It's already too late in Cyprus and Croatia.
3. Legia Warszawa vs Wisla Krakow (14 April 2015)
A similar ID card scheme has made tickets for Polish football hard to come by for foreigners. Fortunately, Polish ultras see no need to boycott over this scenario and are madder than ever before. If you have any connections in the capital, ask them to arrange a ticket for you, and head to Wizzair to see if you can get a good deal. I've had a fascination with Legia ever since I went to their friendly against Arsenal in 2010, and interviewed some of their supporters for my Masters dissertation project afterwards. They got me very drunk.
4. Al-Ahly vs Sewe Sport (6 December 2014)
Good teachers should never stop learning, and this week I have learned that Al-Ahly fans have been banned from league games ever since the Port Said disaster in 2012. This, I feel, is a little unfair, since the riot was started by the El Masry fans and allowed to take place by (deliberately?) incompetent police. I was in regular contact with an Al-Ahly fan at the time, who placed the events in the context of the Arab Spring and the government's desire to silence the football fans who had become very politicised. Still, the ban on Al-Ahly fans ends next year, and they have been able to attend international club matches such as this Confederations Cup final. I've always wanted to attend a north African match in the ultras section, and am considering going to watch Olympique de Safi of Morocco at some juncture, since I also have a friend from their Ultras Shark.
5. Croatia vs Italy (12 June 2015)
No, I don't want to throw fireworks on the pitch, although I've always wanted to light a cheeky flare, safely, in a stand where that kind of behaviour is expected and my actions won't harm anybody. When I wrote my article about Italy-Croatia - during the match - I didn't know about the politics behind the protest. I thought of writing a follow-up piece to explain it, but I couldn't put it better than Aleksander Holiga already has.
Dinamo Zagreb are my second team, but I haven't been to a game in three years because there's no point if the real fans have either been banned by Zdravko Mamic or are boycotting games until he's gone. You might be wondering why Dinamo; you might also be wondering if I'm a Nazi (no: the complete opposite in fact). It's a long and personal story, but I'll tell you that I was taken to my first Dinamo game by a man who used to vote for the Social Democrats, but got so fed up with all the corruption that he wrote 'love' on the ballot paper. The vast majority of Bad Blue Boys have no interest in the Ustase.
If Mamic didn't exist, Dinamo vs Hajduk would either be on this list - although the game kicks off in an hour's time, so I'd need a lottery win and a heavily modified Delorian to attend - or, more likely, checked off already. It was in a fit of frustration at the prospect of a Vjecni derbi with no Dinamo fans that I bought my flight to Belgrade and watched Partizan-Red Star in April. (Well worth it - do it!) Internationals, then, are the way forward if I want to get my Croatian football fix - and don't even suggest switching to Hajduk. Ugh. Why the Italy match? I think you already know...
Right, if I'm going to win this lottery thing, I suppose I'd better go and buy a ticket. Good luck, everyone!