I was having a large espresso this morning and reading “99 Stories About Klaipeda” by Vygantas Vareikis* (excellent book if you are interested in Lithuania and particularly the history of Klaipeda) when I came across a page about football in the city and read the following “nevertheless, the main team of Klaipeda sailed to deeper waters, and met Moscow Spartak and FC Bradford City – teams that earlier could be seen in the stadiums of Klaipeda only in a dream.”
As I live only a few miles from Bradford I was quite fascinated by this statement as I had no idea that the football team had played in any European competitions let alone travelled as far afield as Lithuania.
After a little research I found an article about the match between FC Bradford City and FC Atlantis (Isaiah Rankin entered the Bradford City history books on Sunday 2 July 2000 when he scored the Bantams’ first ever goal in European competition as City beat FK Atlantas 3-1 in Klaipeda (Lithuania) in the UEFA Intertoto Cup).
Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey was managing director of Bradford City at the time when the Yorkshire club was drawn against FC Atlantis of Klaipeda in the 2000 InterToto Cup. “We could not believe how excited they were about a game against Bradford City,” he recalled.
“Their fans even chartered an Aeroflot plane specifically to come to the game. The trouble was, there were 54 fans on the plane coming out to the game – only 34 got back on it afterwards. Pretty soon I was fielding calls from the Home Office and police. Needless to say there was a significant inquiry led as to what had happened to the fans who had not made the journey back. I’m not sure if they ever caught up with them.” Even the first match between the teams in Lithuania had been dogged with problems.
“The plane we chartered blew an engine leaving Luton Airport to come to Leeds-Bradford,” Harvey said. “It left me with a full squad of players, 20 fans, assorted members of the media and two policemen trying to find an aeroplane to take us all to a military airport in Klaipeda. Initially, the only one we could find had a propeller and was only big enough to take the players, so off they went. Then a second plane finally arrived five hours later. It was a Swiss Air private airplane and the reason it had been delayed was that it had been used by the family of Aga Khan earlier that day.
The fans got on board to see sofas spread along the fuselage and a proper bar area. The wine was like something in a Michelin-starred restaurant. In an instant it went from a disaster to the best European trip ever.”
* 99 Stories About Klaipeda – Vygantas Vareikis (Publishing group Druka, Klaipeda)