You never forget your first Lions tour.
For me, it was 2001 to Australia - a mere 14 years ago - a blink of an eye in Gullivers' terms! I can still vividly remember the moments of ecstasy at the Gabba in Brisbane, as Jason Robinson skated in for his try right in front of us - sat, as we were - a handful of rows up from the corner flag. I equally remember the agony of a series defeat at Stadium Australia, Sydney - three phenomenal weeks later - sitting dejected in my seat as John Eales addressed the Wallaby fans and thanked them for their support.
This was tinged with a bit of irony, given the Wallabies' victory was secured in front of a massive army of red shirted Lions followers packing out every match, drowning the players in a sensory blanket of support.
”You’re only wearing yellow ‘cos it’s free” we chanted, as we walked past the ARU promotions team in Melbourne busily handing out complimentary green and gold scarves to try and address the visual imbalance in the stands.
The Lions' last visit to New Zealand in 2005 was an equally unhappy tale in terms of the on-field results. From the fan’s perspective, I remember the tension in the bone-chillingly freezing Christchurch air as we, and the Lions, awaited the first Haka of the series. Some two minutes after the first whistle, we were on our feet, blood boiling (along with thousands all over the rugby planet) screaming blue murder following the inversion (and destruction) of our fearless Captain, Brian ‘Waltzing’ O’Driscoll.
This was the tour when we chartered our own floating clubhouse - the Pacific Sun P&O cruise ship - which followed the team from Christchurch up to Auckland stopping frequently to re-stock the bar, of course! The events and atmosphere were treasured memories for those on board and remain a strong part of the Gullivers history. Many of those staff are looking forward to returning in 2017.
12 years on and the Lions have begun making their preparations for a return to the home of the world champion All Blacks. At Gullivers, we are currently preparing for the series (pending our appointment for the 10th time as an Official Agent for the tour) but the speculation in Fiddington Manor is already underway. McCaw and Carter’s retirements will leave some big holes in the AB’s arsenal. Who of the new cap generation of the 2016 RBS 6 Nations will be putting their hand up for early consideration?
The first and third tests will be in Auckland. Those who witnessed the third and final test dismissal of Clive Woodward’s team will testify that Eden Park is a cauldron of excitement from minute 1-80. Auckland itself is wonderful city with great links to the surrounding country. One for the bucket list of every true rugby fan. Tickets to the 2nd test in Wellington’s “Cake tin” will be like gold-dust, given there are only 34,500 seats and rather fewer hotel beds than necessary!
Our prospective 2017 tour marks the 10th Lions supporters tour arranged by Gullivers, our first being back in 1980 following Beaumont and Millar to South Africa. With nine tours under our belt, we are aiming to make number 10 something very special indeed, celebrating our history and legacy along with that of the fantastic British & Irish Lions.
We have 37 years of experience in delivering authentic and unforgettable Lions experiences. If you’re considering travelling to New Zealand we hope our experience and reputation will persuade you to review our packages when we go on sale in a few weeks.
Gullivers expect to be launching a range of supporters travel packages in mid-February 2016, pending our appointment again as an Official Agent.