As a country never visited before I was delighted to have been selected for this event and eagerly awaited the day I would fly. Little did I know the chain of events that would follow ! So, the official invitation arrived and flights were booked. Going via Dusseldorf on Eurowings, never heard of them and a direct flight back on Jet 2.
Wednesday morning arrived and the alarm went off at 3.30am. Bags packed I said my goodbyes to the wife and dogs and drove to Manchester Airport arriving in good time. My first mistake was to think that the check in desk was upstairs at terminal 2, this was not the case I eventually found it tucked away downstairs in a corner. For once there was no queue at the check in and I was promptly through, watching nervously as my bag was taken into the depths of luggage handling. The immortal words still ringing in my ear, no need to collect your luggage at Dusseldorf sir it will be transferred automatically.
Although still early there were quite a few people around at border control, and it took more than half an hour to finally move into the departure lounge. Now for breakfast, just a sandwich to keep me going. 45 minutes to take off still no details of the gate I need but then the flight is finally called, gate A1, where? Nearly 15 minutes’ walk, thank goodness no heavy hand luggage to drag with me just my trusty rucksack with one set of clothes for the tournament just in case. Finally at the gate I am sat watching wondering where our plane is, nothing at the stand as yet. 20 minutes to take off and the Eurowings plane turns up. Will it be ready on time? Will we be delayed? Will I make my connection? Then even more delighted as I see my bag being loaded on the plane. On board at last and amazingly we take off on time.
A pleasant flight of about 80 minutes to Dusseldorf, off loaded and into border control, oh no the automatic barrier has not recognized me, I'm stuck no way back or forward, I feel panic setting in like a trapped animal, pheeew the barrier opens and I'm beckoned to a kiosk by a stern looking German officer checking me over. Did my passport of ten years of age differ that much? At last I'm given the all clear to move on. Now to find my new departure gate for the flight to Krakow, wow it’s not more than 10 steps away, great. I check my watch still more than 90 minutes before my flight. Coffee needed and a walk around the terminal duty free.
I return some 20 minutes later and to my surprise I find the gate for my flight open. What an idiot, I have forgotten to put my watch forward one hour, never mind no waiting and soon on board my second flight. Feeling tired now, but soon we are taking off and on our way to Krakow. After 90 minutes or so we are landing and disembark onto the bus to take us to the terminal. Once in the airport I find my way to the luggage conveyor and the bags begin to appear, but horror, no sign of the camouflaged bag I last saw in Manchester. After about 30 minutes of searching around my fears are confirmed, no luggage.
I look for the lost luggage counter in hope they may be able to give me details. Alas no such luck in fact they do not know where my bag is. The language barrier is difficult and I phone the tournament direct for help, thankfully they are able to explain and my details are taken. I am told to call later that day when they will be able to update me. Our mini bus arrives to take us to Beirun the city in which the tournament is being held. A journey of about 60 minutes so plenty of time to reflect, how glad I am that I packed separately a uniform to umpire in.
We arrive at the Hotel, a strange place with five floors but no lift, and yes, you’ve guessed I am on the top floor. The room is basic, but clean and tidy and my home for the next 5 days. I settle in then decide to make some phone calls to find my luggage, no signal upstairs so I go downstairs to the reception and bar and get a beer, about £1.20 for half a litre, think I might like it here !
Finally, after several options and a 15-minute wait in a phone queue I find out they have tracked my luggage to Dusseldorf. I think I could have told them that as I saw my bag loaded at Manchester on the same plane I flew in. We will update your details and let you know tomorrow I am told. I meet a few of my fellow umpires and explain my predicament, very kind offers of shampoo, deodorant, socks etc. are made but declined, I have all the necessary for a day.
Following the briefing that night and a takeaway from a nearby Polish kebab house it’s time for bed, I’ve been up for nearly 20 hours and feeling the strain, tomorrow will be a long day again with the qualifying rounds.
Its Thursday and 9.00am and were ready to start I am handed the first match on court four, mixed doubles, Polish v Danes. Oh no the Polish coach is persistently talking during rallies I’ll have to have a word. He continues to chatter and the arm goes up, the Polish deputy referee arrives at my court, I explain the situation, Polish tournament, Polish coach, Polish Referee. Have I blown my chances of a final already?
Thursday PM and still no sign of my luggage, this time a wait of over 40 minutes to speak to a customer service person at Eurowings. Disaster strikes, although they have found my luggage it will not be flown to Krakow until Friday 1.30pm. I let the tournament referees know and ask if they could let me go at some time to buy new pants, socks and other essentials. A little while later I am off to a local shopping Centre with two young females. We arrive at Carrefour and how embarrassed am I as Zuzzana checks out the pants and socks with me. I find what I need and pay at the till. At least I have clean under clothes now and my case should arrive the next day.
First on court and now last on court 1, last quarter final of the qualifiers, and contrary to popular belief I finish in 2 games a close match but never really in doubt, its 8.00pm and back to the hotel for a drink or two, I try and get another update on my luggage but nothing on the internet, have they really found my luggage or is it lost forever.
Day two and competition starts at 9.00, again first on but no dramas, first rounds go smoothly, there really are a few good players here. Later I ring Eurowings again and yet another 40-minute wait, to be told my luggage has arrived at Krakow and should be sent by courier that day, hopefully I will have clean clothes tonight. I am again last on at 9.00pm, it’s been a long day umpiring and this time I go to three close games. Tonight, I just need my bed and hopefully my luggage. Back at the hotel and no sign of the case, now I am worried tomorrow is Saturday and couriers do not normally delivery, I ask our Polish referee if he will speak to the people at the airport. I call the lost luggage, they explain the courier picked the case up that evening, they say they are not sure why it has not been delivered, so they will try and find out, they do come back to me and inform me it will be delivered by 11.00am the following day, Saturday.
So, Saturday arrives, round of 16 and quarters today and still wearing the same shirt and trousers, not sure how close people now want to get to me, 3 days of umpiring in the same uniform is not good. I have tried spraying with deodorant but there is only so much you can do. 12 Noon and I am finally told my case has arrived and off I walk back to the hotel to change. What a relief, there it is in the reception looking a bit worse for wear. I change and ohhh so glad to be out of those 3-day old clothes. Saturday finishes with me last on court 1 again I think the organizers have it in for me having to take timeout. But no, they invite us all out for a free beer or two at a local pub. We have food, chicken strips and chips and a bill of about £20 for 13 of us, so so cheap.
Semi and finals day arrive and I now proudly strut around in a clean uniform awaiting my duties, a semi-final down, men’s doubles, not impressed but wait does this mean I have a final. Yeehaa, Mixed doubles first up and umpiring, Danes v Dutch, my first European final. Two long games taking nearly 50 minutes but the Danes eventually prove to be too strong.
And now it’s time to say my goodbye to new and old friends. I get the mini bus back to the airport and check in, saying goodbye once again to my luggage. Will this be the last time I see it or will it arrive at my destination? Should not have worried after a very rowdy 3-hour flight back with several drunken holiday makers there it is, my luggage first off the carousel. I drive the 40 minutes home and settle down in my own bed to reflect on a very eventful tournament which will live long in my memory.