A five-hour flight. Dennis Bergkamp gags all round. Someone standing next to me starts telling a customs officer at Tbilisi airport that he hasn't missed a Blyth Spartan's away match in five years. He doesn't blink. He doesn't smile. Nor does the customs officer.
Deposited in Republican Square at 9am local time, we make for the Meteche Palace Hotel, temporary headquarters for the Football Association. We hope to breakfast with Glenn and the team but when we get there the players are holed up, out of view, on the ninth floor playing combat video games to ward off homesickness. A sign at the hotel entrance requests that automatic weapons be left in reception. Everyone in the lobby has a moustache. I become confused. Why is John Gorman serving me coffee? Four sailors from HMS Nottingham sit in the bar. I crack a weak gag about having seen Seaman. We get a taxi back into town - a white knuckle ride of the Patrick Kluivert variety. I look closely at the driver in case Tony Adams is fluent in Georgian.
Back in town, we do the sights. We check out the Soviet monoliths, the Armenian Orthodox churches, and the underground. A guy with a Manchester United coat passes us. I ask him if the funicular railway is worth the ride. He looks at me blankly and flashes a smile created by Ken Dodd's orthodontist. "Spartak Moscow," he replies. At least he's not from Hampshire. A Geordie with a guide book tells us to visit the "famous sulphur baths". When we get there we find a shower room packed with naked Georgians, hung like donkeys and grinning like Emlyn Hughes.
Back at base, our fellow travellers have pitched camp in bars a short pass from the drop-off point. The talk is of Christmas trees and wing- backs, Kinkladze and Gascoigne. At the back of my mind memories stir - memories of Max Boyce - "At least I can say I was there." Perhaps he should bring his act to Tbilisi. Judging by the shops they would book him for the leeks. People criticise the beer. Nobody mentions Manchester City.
Six hours after we arrive we are collected by a fleet of FA coaches and make our way under police escort to the Boris Paichaidze stadium. We are told our hosts are "notoriously partisan" and fear the worst. The Georgians start strongly. Our coaches met by a throng of moustaches, clenched-fist salutes and pictures of a smiling Graham Taylor. The police band, attuned by years of Soviet rule to trying mind games, play both verses of the national anthem. After a pause we sing the first verse again. First blood. Ultimately, however, the home support disappoints. We start chanting, "You're supposed to be at home." Perhaps they translate the tone, shooting off a barrage of shrill whistles, which is in turn greeted by ironic applause. As a contest the second goal ends the match - "You're not whistling any more," we sing. We land at Luton at 11pm on Saturday. We miss the last train on Thameslink. 'Judgement Night' ebbs away. But we were definitely there.Reuse content