Football: Wish you were here: You'd love the footy

Madrid: Juninho meets Muzzy
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The Independent Online
Sunday: In a song about the empty hotel life of the travelling performer, Elton John sang that it was always a 10-minute drive to the Holiday Inn. Football being the new rock and roll, I get the same feeling as I leave the one in Leicester this morning for Filbert Street, then East Midlands Airport as we embark on the Uefa Cup campaign that last-gasp goal of mine against Middlesbrough in the Coca-Cola Cup final has earned us.

It is a glamorous tie - Atletico Madrid, and another meeting with Juninho. But we don't really like all this "romantic adventure" stuff. Although it may mean that teams under-estimate us, it does ignore our quality and professionalism. Mind you, not very professional of me to forget my tracksuit and I have to buy one in the shop at the airport.

Pleasant flight, though nowhere near long enough. I have taken pounds 1,300 off Garry Parker, Scott Taylor and Tony Cottee at cards and could have done with the plane going on to Russia, such is the streak I'm on. On arrival, our club coach, which has been driven down through France and Spain, is waiting to take us to the Eurobuilding Hotel. An armed guard accompanies us. Madrid must have been alerted to Neil Lennon and Muzzy Izzet - nicknamed the Kray Twins.

Dinner is undercooked steaks and after a walk with Robbie Savage followed by The Saint on the pay-for movie channel, it is head down on the two pillows I always bring with me on away trips.

Monday: Forty-five minutes to the training ground outside the city in the middle of nowhere. I have a nightmare in the five-a-side, but then I usually do; it is training after all. Though it is a pleasant sunny day, I keep my tracksuit on. If I didn't, I would have to daub on sunblock. Because of the medication I take to control a heart murmur, my skin is hyper-sensitive to sun.

On the way back there is some sightseeing, with our manager Martin O'Neill and his assistant John Robertson pointing out the many grounds on which they scored goals for Nottingham Forest in Europe. After an afternoon of sleep, it is training again in the early evening at the Atletico stadium, a bit bigger and grander than Filbert Street but with a worse pitch. U2 played on it recently and they apparently scuffed it up with their long- ball game. Late dinner is the undercooked steaks we sent back the night before. Luckily there is a TGI Fridays round the corner and the whole squad troops off there. I order a hamburger "Bravo" - well done. High old life, this football.

Tuesday: Back to the middle of nowhere for a light training session, old 'uns v young 'uns at eight-a-side. Oldsters win for the ninth time in a row. Then it is sleep until 6pm, followed by corn flakes and toast.

I am disappointed to be named only a substitute and don't think I will get on, especially after Ian Marshall gives us an early lead. Then a nasty injury to him means me being thrown on after half an hour. Might even have doubled the lead before the break but I lob on to the roof of the net. The ball seems so much lighter over here and just will not come down - that's my excuse.

As the game gets more frantic in the second half, we can hardly break out. I feel the referee loses his early control. Juninho pokes them level before Christian Vieri - not pounds 12.5m worth, to my mind - gives them the win with a highly dubious penalty.

Wednesday: Most teams in Europe travel back straight after the game but I suppose because we don't get out much in Leicester, we string it out as long as we can. This tie is far from over, I think on the plane home. Atletico are no better than Liverpool, who we have beaten this season. They will not like the way we come at them. They may now know all about us, but that doesn't mean they know how to stop us, does it?

Steve Claridge's updated `Tales from the Boot Camps', written with Ian Ridley, will be published in paperback by Vista (pounds 5.99) on 23 October.

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