Blogelona – Part II

FRIDAY 20th OCTOBER 2017

 

12:45pm – The Big Reveal

Well, that didn’t exactly go according to plan. I picked Ollie up from school an hour ago, as arranged with his headteacher (I explained that we would never normally take him out of school, but Monarch had rather fucked up my travel plans), and when the lady from the office brought him out, he was sobbing. My immediate concern was that he thought something was wrong, or he was in trouble; but, no, he was crying because I was dragging him away from his power point presentation to the class.

Once the teacher had confirmed his group could make their presentation after half-term, he was somewhat placated – if a little jittery at being removed from school for a surprise trip. After all, my surprise trips are not always better than school, so he was understandably apprehensive.

However, I took him home and fed him, and then as soon as we got on the train to Manchester Airport, I revealed that we were off to Barcelona – to see his idol, Messi, play against Malaga the following evening. To say his face lit up would be an understatement. Many of our family and friends apparently shed a little tear of joy, when watching the video of his reaction on Facebook, but being the rugged manly-man that I am, I naturally held it together rather well. *lies*

 

9:00pm – Epic Burgers and Shit

Following an uneventful journey (although, after the week I’ve had, anything other than a full cavity search was a win), we arrived safely at the Airport Hotel shortly before 8pm; and, having checked in, immediately headed to the bar for dinner.

Ollie has been buzzing, partly because our hotel room is apparently the best he has ever seen (clearly forgetting the ‘themed’ rooms at Disneyland Paris and Alton Towers, which we paid a small fortune for), with a bathroom described as ‘epic’ – he celebrated this fact, by immediately taking a large shit – and partly because he has just devoured a huge burger (with bacon) and fries, washed down with a glass of cold milk.

I wasn’t sure anything was going to top the bathroom, but the burger appeared to excite him even more, and he kept pinching himself on the arm throughout the meal, to ensure it wasn’t all a dream. Bless.

To be fair, his burger did look amazing, and I only wish I had ordered the same. Unfortunately, being a manly grown-up, I opted for the ‘Blackened Aberdeen Angus’ burger, topped with foie gras, instead. I’ve never tried foie gras before, and to be honest I’m still not 100% on what it is, but it’s safe to say I won’t ever have it again. That’ll teach me for watching Masterchef, and getting all carried away in the moment.

(I have just Googled what foie gras is, and had I known it translates as ‘fat liver’, I would have definitely avoided it.)

We have a very long day ahead of us tomorrow, so we’re off to bed.

 

SATURDAY 21st OCTOBER 2017

 

1:15pm – Hotel No. 2

No, not another of Ollie’s bowel movements, but our second hotel.

As explained previously (https://middlerageddad.com/2017/10/20/blogelona-part-i), I only booked the extra night in the airport hotel, because Monarch ruined our travel plans by going bust, so we are now checked in to our intended accommodation, for tonight and tomorrow.

This hotel is far more ‘budget’, and far less ‘epic’ (Ollie’s disappointment upon first glimpse of our new bathroom was palpable, and not immediately followed by a celebratory dump this time), but when we get back from the football tonight, it will be very late, and we’ll be ready to crash, so this is merely a base.

Time to explore before the match!

 

00:30am – The Camp Nou

Wow.

The Camp Nou was every bit as spectacular as we had hoped – which was for the best, as we spent about nine hours there.

Ollie insisted we get to the stadium early, to look around the megastore and buy some souvenirs, so we planned our route on the metro system, and off we went. Any travel disruption, resulting from the Catalan Independence clashes in the city centre, didn’t materialise, and we arrived shortly before 2:00pm – nearly seven hours before kick-off.

Ok, the megastore spanned three floors, and contained every single item you could conceivably stamp a Barcelona badge on (Barça eggcup, anyone?), but even Ollie would have struggled to fill seven hours looking at red and blue tat, so we ended up sitting in the sunshine having some lunch – and a much-needed (large) Estrella for Daddy.

After a while, we were asked to leave (well, not just us, but everyone in the bar), so security could get the stadium ready. Fortunately, a separate area was open, where Ollie managed to fleece me further still, and we ended up purchasing three photographs of him alongside his Barça idols, as well as ‘signing’ for the club.

NB: May contain trace elements of photoshopping

He then played football for a bit, with a younger Spanish lad (Ollie didn’t ask his name, but did shake hands with him afterwards), and before we knew it, it was time to head into the stadium.

We’d been advised to take our seats as soon as the gates opened, to get those all-important photos, and although that meant queuing for a while (during which I was ‘persuaded’ to buy a Barcelona scarf), it did mean we got a spectacular view of the stadium before it quickly filled.

Having dined on a hotdog and some popcorn (following the Barça crisps Ollie had insisted on outside), our long wait finally came to an end, and the match kicked off.

Messi, in contrast to nearly every match he has played this season, had an uncharacteristically quiet ninety minutes on the pitch, but there were still touches, flicks, and jinking runs, which showed why he is the world’s best footballer. Luis Suarez (former Liverpool striker/cannibal), also had a quiet game, but whereas Messi interspersed his tame performance with brief touches of class, Suarez did the opposite, and his only involvement of note, was to miss an open goal. He then devoured a ball boy (whole) in anger.

The match finished 2-0 to Barcelona, and whilst Ollie didn’t get to see his idol score (well, he did, but it was ruled offside), he witnessed a Barça victory in one of the world’s greatest stadia – even if it was apparently only three-quarters full. We were also directly behind the goal for this:

We had an amazing day, only marred by the fact my camera was stolen on the way back to our hotel. Apparently, Barcelona is the pickpocketing capital of Europe (a fact, it seems, everyone apart from us knew), and I only realised it had gone when unloading my pockets in our room. I thought I had been careful, but obviously not careful enough.

Looking on the bright side (rather uncharacteristically), whilst we have certainly lost some precious photos that I had not yet downloaded, all the ones of this trip were taken on my phone, and it could have been much worse. My wallet or phone could have been taken, and at least we knew nothing about the theft, which is infinitely preferable to being mugged.

After the initial upset and anger had subsided, I consoled myself with the knowledge that, although I will never know what became of my lovely camera, if there is such a thing as karma, then the scumbag who took it will hopefully meet a slow and painful death, in the not-too-distant future.

That may sound vicious, but anyone who steals from a father and son, knowing they are taking not just something of financial value, but irreplaceable memories, deserves everything they get. If that happens to be syphilis, or a flesh-eating tropical disease, then so be it. Fuck ’em.

Anyway, time for bed. Tomorrow, we’re off to the Camp Nou again (no, really).

 

SUNDAY 22nd OCTOBER 2017

 

9:30am – Pickpocket Prevention Pants

Apparently, the nine hours we spent at Camp Nou yesterday were insufficient, so today we are returning to take the official tour. Well, we’re not coming back any time soon, so we might as well make the most of it.

Despite it being very warm outside – as it has been since we arrived two days ago – I have opted to wear jeans, as the pockets are very tight, and far more secure than last night’s shorts (even though my camera was concealed in a buttoned pocket).

If some prick thinks he can rob me today, he’ll have to go past mine to get at anything, and if there’s one thing I will notice, it’s some Spanish reprobate manhandling my chorizo.

 

4:35pm – Camp Nou, Take Two

I’m very glad I paid extra to do the stadium tour, on top of last night’s match.

Not only was it ‘access all areas’ – with the exception of the home changing room – they offer a superb audio guide, with videos, games and quizzes, that kept Ollie entertained for over two hours. We spent ages in the museum, saw the press room, walked down the players’ tunnel onto the pitch, sat in the dugout, then climbed to the very top of the stadium to sit in the media box. It was brilliant.

On the way back, we eventually tracked down the police station, but gave up trying to report last night’s theft, when we were told that not only was there a two hour wait, but we needed our passports to do so (and I didn’t fancy dragging Ollie all the way back to our hotel to retrieve them). Besides, the place was full of Brits and Americans, who had all been victims the night before, and the majority had come off far worse than us.

In the end, I decided it was not worth walking a couple of miles, and waiting a few hours, for the sake of a camera we would never get back, particularly when our time was so limited. Besides, thanks to my security-conscious decision to wear jeans today, it’s like the Amazon rainforest down there.

For our final evening, Ollie has decided we should soak up some local culture and cuisine, by watching Liverpool v Spurs, in an Irish bar, while eating pizza.

 

MONDAY 23rd OCTOBER 2017

 

12:15pm – Bye Bye Barça

We’ve managed to negotiate our way back to the airport in good time for our flight, and we’re now sat playing Gin Rummy (with Ollie’s new Barça cards, obviously), while waiting to board.

We’ve had an amazing time, and I refuse to let a theft spoil that. Actually, I’m more pissed off that Ollie is currently destroying me 304 – 5.

Bonjour Barcelona (that’s Spanish for farewell)

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Blogelona – Part I

This afternoon, I am taking Ollie on a surprise trip for the weekend…. to Barcelona.

The main reason for going, is that tomorrow evening we will (hopefully) watch Barcelona play Malaga at the famous (and enormous) Camp Nou stadium:

Like many kids his age, Ollie is obsessed with Barça, and in particular a certain footballer by the name of Lionel Messi (who, by all accounts, is rather good).

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The last time a Lionel was this globally popular, it was either Mr Richie (of pop music fame) or Mr Blair (of tap dancing, and Give Us A Clue ‘fame’), throughout much of the 1980s.

In fact, a cursory glance through the dark abyss of Google, reveals that after Messi, Richie and Blair, the fourth most popular ‘Lionel’ search is for Lionel Logue who, let’s be honest, no one has heard of (apparently, he was an Australian speech therapist, who treated King George VI in the 1920s).

After that, there is only one other Lionel of note (Canadian athlete, Sanders) before Google assumes your chubby little sausage fingers have failed, and what you really wanted was ‘Lion-O’ from Thundercats.

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Appalling tan-lines

Whilst Ollie has no idea about our trip (although he will by the time most of you read this), it was essentially his idea. By that, I mean he asked me to take him to Barcelona a few months ago, to watch his idol in action, but I told him there was no chance, as it was too bloody expensive (plus, I didn’t want him realising how woefully shit Stockport County are). Don’t get me wrong, I love treating my boys, but I draw the line at extravagant jaunts abroad, purely to watch a football match.

To Ollie’s credit, he knows that he will never get what he wants by begging, especially when I have already – very firmly – said no, so he accepted the trip wasn’t going to happen. As far as he was concerned, the dream was over.

Then, one night, I decided to investigate what it would actually cost, more out of curiosity than anything else – and because, deep down, I kept thinking how fucking cool it would be to watch a match at the Camp Nou.

I wouldn’t say that I was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered, as the total cost (once I added together the tickets, flights and accommodation) was roughly what I had expected, but the more I thought about it, the more I badly wanted to go. I began to imagine his little face, as I told him we were going to Barcelona, to watch the one man he would happily swap his own father for. I can’t wait to see his reaction.

The more I weighed up the expense, against how happy it would make him (and, by association, me), the more I adopted a ‘fuck it’ mentality. After all, he won’t always be this excited about something (in just over five years, he will be a teenager, and then he won’t be enthused about anything), and you never know what is around the corner.

Look, I don’t intend to be morbid, and I don’t want you thinking I have recently received bad news regarding my health (which, unless the wife has been intercepting my mail, I most certainly have not), but you need to make the most of life while you can, and if that means splashing out on a city break to make my son’s year, then so be it.

In the end, whilst I was pretty much convinced we were going, it was a conversation with Ollie a few months ago that eventually made up my mind:

“Daddy, have you heard Messi might leave Barcelona next summer?”

“Really?”

“Yeah, he’ll be out of contract and might go to Man City. So, we could watch him play there instead!”

Fuck that. I would rather re-mortgage the house, to cover the cost of going to Barcelona first class, via Dubai, than take my son to that pathetic moneybags excuse for a football club. Right there and then, I decided we were off to Barcelona.

When I looked at the fixtures, I realised Barça tend to play on Sunday evenings, which meant I would need to wait for a school holiday (not that I particularly wanted to try and squeeze the trip into a term-time weekend anyway). Then, the more I investigated, I realised that there was only one workable fixture – against Malaga, on Sunday 22nd October.

Tickets for Barcelona matches vary wildly in price. The cheapest seats – understandably – are right up in the Heavens, so I decided early on that I would rather spend a bit more to get a good view, and avoid the onset of crippling vertigo. After all, we’re only doing this once.

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Having chosen the price band I wanted, I counted down the days until the tickets went on sale, and then quickly purchased two (and I’m glad I did, as I checked back half an hour later, and could no longer find two seats together – we don’t tend to get that problem inside Edgeley Park).

In terms of our flights, I was initially tempted to book with Ryanair, but three things changed my mind:

  1. The flight home was early on the Monday morning, and since Barcelona matches sometimes kick-off at 8.45pm, there was every chance it would be a late night for Ollie on the Sunday, with only a few hours of sleep before leaving for the airport;
  2. The outbound flight (on the Saturday), wasn’t scheduled to land until 7.10pm, and whilst this wouldn’t necessarily pose a problem, I had read somewhere that La Liga clubs often move their fixtures to the Saturday night to accommodate TV scheduling. If that happened to our match, the Ryanair flight wouldn’t get us into Barcelona in sufficient time to make kick-off – which was a risk I didn’t fancy taking;
  3. Ryanair always appear to be the cheaper option, but by the time you add on the various additional charges (some of which are compulsory), the cost escalates. For example, you have to pre-book seats, and if you want hold luggage, that’s extra too. In the end, by the time I had indicated that, yes, I would very much like to have a fully-qualified pilot please (little did I know, they would soon be in short supply), and once I had answered the question ‘Sure, will you be wanting fuel in the plane as well, will you?’ in the affirmative, the total cost rapidly exceeded the GDP of a small African nation.

In the end, it worked out considerably cheaper to book our flights with different airlines, and because I was already struggling to stay within budget (plus, the flight times were much better), I decided the extra admin was worth it.

I then found a nice – albeit basic – hotel, just off Las Ramblas, and booked the Saturday and Sunday nights to complete our trip.

I’d done it. I had successfully arranged a three day trip to Barcelona, for my son and I to see the (current) greatest footballer in the world in action. All I had to do now, was hope Messi didn’t suffer an injury in the intervening six weeks, because surely that was the only thing which could possibly ruin our visit?…

Just a couple of weeks later, I realised how close I had come to making a serious error with our flights, when Ryanair revealed to the world they had committed what, in business terms, is known as a ‘monumental fuck-up’, by arranging for all their pilots to go off on holiday at the same time. Genius.

The news got better, too (well, for me, anyway), because soon afterwards, Barça revealed they were switching the match to the Saturday night after all. I had come so close to booking with Ryanair, and now not only was there a good chance that flight was cancelled, even if it did go ahead, it wouldn’t have got us to the match in time.

I breathed a sigh of relief.  Thank goodness I had trusted my instincts, and made the smart move. Thank goodness I had paid that little bit extra, and booked our outbound flight with Monarch instead…

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Just in case you haven’t heard, and missed the sarcasm in that last sentence, a few weeks ago Monarch airlines ceased trading (with very little warning). Yes, I had booked our flights with an airline that seemingly had plenty of pilots, and would certainly get us to Barcelona in plenty of time for the match, if only they weren’t about to go out of fucking business.

To cut a long story short, in the last two weeks I have had to not only re-book our outbound flights with yet another airline (at considerable extra expense), but because there were no alternative options on the Saturday, I have had to switch our travel plans to fly today, Friday, a day earlier than I intended. This meant, in turn, that I also had to book an extra night in a different hotel for tonight (our original hotel, where we are staying tomorrow and Sunday, is unfortunately fully-booked).

To make matters worse, I had booked the Monarch flights on my debit card, which offers me no financial (or ATOL) protection whatsoever, and it remains to be seen whether I will ever get the money back.

The upshot is, I have now spent more than twice my original budget, but I keep telling myself that it will be worth it when we get there, and surely nothing else can possibly go wrong?

Oh, hang on. I forgot to mention (and you may have noticed), that Barcelona is currently experiencing considerable civil unrest, following the recent Independence Referendum, which has not only divided Catalonia, but the whole of Spain. Generally speaking, when taking your timid seven-year-old son away for the weekend, it’s best to try and avoid violent protests, riots, water cannons and rubber bullets. If I’d wanted that kind of excitement, I could have taken him to Stoke.

In fact, such is the current turmoil in Barcelona, the last league match at the Camp Nou ended up being played behind closed doors. Imagine travelling all that way, and not being allowed into the stadium for the match.

As I type this week’s entry, I am still worried that our trip could ultimately turn out to be of the most expensive mistakes I have ever made (even accounting for my questionable car history). Or, it could end up being one of the best things I have ever done, and the most amazing collection of memories for my son and I.

You’ll have to wait until next time to find out (or, just watch the news over the weekend).

Wish me luck…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blog It Like Beckham

Last Saturday afternoon, Ollie, our eldest son, was one of the matchday mascots at my (our) beloved Stockport County.

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As part of the mascot package that I treated him to, he received the full home kit (see above), went on a tour of the ground, and then got to meet the manager and players, before walking out with the team prior to kick off.

The tour included the Directors’ Box, Boardroom and Sponsors’ Lounge, not to mention a visit to our brand-new museum, and a glimpse – for that was all that was required – of County’s trophy cabinet. I would love to say it was a trophy room, but we barely have enough silverware to fill a small cupboard, so a whole room would have been entirely unnecessary, and as sparsely populated as Kim Jong-un’s imminent funeral.

In the changing room, Ollie got to meet the entire squad, add to his collection of autographs (which included telling certain existing – and rather despondent looking – players, that he didn’t want their autograph, without going on to explain that this was because he already had them from last season), before posing for photos.

Admittedly, there was an element of being somewhat star-struck, tongue-tied and shy, but once I got over that, I managed to speak to some of the players (and our manager, Jim Gannon) with a moderate amount of composure and decorum.

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Just look at his little face (Ollie seems quite chuffed too)

Following the tour, Ollie was then allowed to warm up with the players on the pitch, before being ushered (along with the other mascots) down the tunnel shortly before kick-off, so that he could walk out with the team alongside his favourite player – and County’s current top scorer – Jason Oswell.

In Ollie’s words, it was epic. It really was.

Look, I know what you are thinking, and no, this was not some pathetic attempt to re-live my childhood through my son. Ok, sure, I wouldn’t mind being a mascot myself, but at 37 I rather feel my opportunity has now passed, and it would almost certainly look like I was leading the player out onto the pitch, rather than the other way around.

I assure you, Saturday was entirely Ollie’s idea, and something he has wanted to do for a long time – much in the same way that (although he perhaps doesn’t know it yet), he really wants a Lego Millenium Falcon for Christmas.

I don’t really understand why Ollie was so desperate to walk out onto the pitch with Jason Oswell, though. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met Jason twice now, and a nicer bloke you could not wish to meet, but he only signed for County a couple of months ago, and there were players in that changing room on Saturday who have been tremendous servants to the club over the past few years.

Had I been the mascot (ah, if only), I would have almost certainly wanted to walk out onto the pitch with our goalkeeper, Ben Hinchliffe. Please don’t think for one second that this is because I am in some way attracted to him (although, like myself, he is quite the dish), but I was a goalkeeper throughout my playing days (after school, 4-6pm, Deva Fields, Poynton, jumpers for goalposts, isn’t it?, marvellous), and so I have always felt an affiliation to ‘the man between the sticks’.

I think this is because the goalkeeper is often the understated hero. The rock at the heart of defence. The last bastion of the team. In much the same way, I have always fancied being a drummer, rather than a lead guitarist or singer. This is because I enjoy being a leader from the back, commanding my troops into battle (whether in a sporting or musical arena).

Ok, that’s a lie. The truth is, I have always fancied being a drummer, because I really want to be in a band, but can’t sing, and have no musical ability whatsoever (apart from a surprising amount of rhythm). Equally, the only reason I was ever a goalkeeper, was because I was shit at football, but freakishly tall.

Sadly, when you are seven years old, being a goalkeeper is not always considered the most glamorous position on a football pitch, because you want to be the player scoring all the goals. The star. You are drawn to what excites you, and for some inexplicable reason, that means you would rather scuff the ball home, off your shin from two yards out, than pull off a fingertip save in the final minute of the match, to preserve your team’s 1-0 lead.

Being a seven year old boy (or girl for that matter) is usually about three things: scoring goals, dinosaurs, and space. Often, because of those obsessions, you make some questionable life choices (like when Ollie recently had the chance to watch any Bond film of his choosing, and he selected Moonraker, purely because it is set in space – he soon realised his mistake). In time, he will learn to appreciate the finer things in life: a good red wine, mid-afternoon naps, goalkeepers, and Holly Willoughby (for I feel certain she will still look good in around ten years’ time, when he realises all girls do not, in actual fact, ‘smell’).

Anyway, I digress.

County normally only have four or five mascots for most home matches, for but some unknown reason our fixture against North Ferriby proved extremely popular with the younger fans, to the extent there were no fewer than thirteen of them on Saturday. This was, in itself, quite impressive, but made even more amazing (or amusing), when you discover our opponents attracted just eight travelling fans.

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Ok, North Ferriby is some distance from Stockport (for those unaware, it is near Hull), and the village – yes, County play village teams these days – has a population just shy of 4,000, but their away following was outnumbered by our mascots. So, whilst County had too many children walking out onto the pitch to ensure they could each have a player to themselves, if North Ferriby’s entire away following had decided to walk out with the players prior to kick off, they would have been three fans short.

Look, I accept they are very firmly rooted to the bottom of the league, and a two-hundred-mile round trip to watch your team almost certainly get beaten (which they did, 4-1) is never appealing, but then again neither is Hull. I have been to Hull (just the once – and I think it was shut), and whilst North Ferriby happens to be a quaint little village, nothing like it’s larger neighbour, I would stop at nothing to get as far away from Hull as possible – even if that meant traversing the country to watch my football team get humiliated, and even if it meant going via Bradford to do so.

As such, I think the eight poor souls who made the journey should be applauded. In fact, there were only seven of them as the game kicked off, since the eighth fan was evidently caught in traffic, and he arrived shortly before half-time, by which point his team were already trailing two-nil.

There is nothing quite so heartbreaking (read: secretly hilarious), as watching a stressed man hurry into a football ground, upset that he has missed half of the match due to traffic, only for him to glance expectantly up at the scoreboard, notice the score, and slump into one of the many vacant seats, completely dejected. I shouldn’t have laughed, I know I shouldn’t, but I swear a little wee came out.

I instantly felt bad for finding the situation funny, but in my defence it is extremely rare for Stockport County fans to have the opportunity of looking down on another team these days, and we have suffered more than our fair share of jibes and jokes in recent years. In fact, I seem to recall some North Ferriby fans bragging when they got promoted at the end of the 2015-2016 season, only for them to come crashing straight back down after just one year. Karma, it seems, can be a bitch sometimes.

The main thing is, I had a great day (and, of lesser importance, so did Ollie). Even my mum and sister, who have not been to Edgeley Park in years, but wanted to watch Ollie on his ‘special day’, seemed to enjoy it – despite paying so little attention to the actual match, that they missed at least one of the goals. In fact, my dear mother informed me part way through the second half, that the last time she had seen County play, she was pregnant with me. That would have been during the latter stages of 1979, or very early 1980. Let’s hope it’s not another 37 years before her next visit.

Watching the game last weekend, which admittedly County won quite comfortably (without actually playing well), Mum could be forgiven for wondering what the appeal of our little team is, and why Ollie and I still get giddy with anticipation every other Saturday morning. The truth is, I’m not entirely sure.

I suspect, once you fall in love with a football team, it’s like hard drugs (not that I have ever tried drugs) – you know it’s bad for you, potentially harmful to your health, and seriously bloody expensive, but you just can’t help going back for more, week in, week out. It’s an addiction.

This is no doubt easier to understand, when you look at fans of successful Premier League teams, compared to a club currently residing in the sixth tier of the English game, but that doesn’t mean our passion is any less. If anything, our fans are even more committed (or, from a psychiatric perspective, probably should be), because the appeal of watching County is, in theory, a lot less.

Thankfully, Ollie gets it. He understands that his football team is utterly crap right now (albeit not quite as crap as North Ferriby), but they will still always be his football team. My only hope is that, one day, Isaac will also become infatuated, because at the moment he doesn’t seem to quite grasp the (not so) beautiful game.

How do I know this? Well, during the second half on Saturday, he firstly announced to everyone around us that ‘football is boring’, then decided to ‘rest his eyes for a bit’, before finally asking Ollie which one of our players was Messi.

If only.

 

 

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Blog In Play, Now!

Ok, this week’s entry is about football, but not in the way you might expect, and certainly not in a way that should discourage those who don’t like football from reading on.

Essentially, whilst wondering what this week’s blog could be about (I had a few ideas, but the kids haven’t provided any comedic material of late), I noticed something of potential online.

Then, when I’d finished watching that, I spotted a post on the Facebook group ‘The Football Conference North’ (the league my beloved Stockport County appear to now be trapped in for all eternity), and it really made me chuckle.

Essentially, this Facebook group is a vehicle for fans of teams in the Vanarama National League North (sounds prestigious, doesn’t it?) to rip the piss out of each other as much as is humanly possible. That may not have been the original intention of the group’s creators, but that’s certainly what everyone seems to use it for – often with hilarious consequences, but for all the wrong reasons.

This form of online abuse is widely referred to as ‘banter’ (or ‘bantz’ for the fully lobotomised), and generally involves some window-licker posting an inflammatory comment, with the sole intention of getting a rise from fans of opposing teams. Such behaviour is known as ‘fishing’, or, more commonly, ‘being a twat for the sake of it’, and there are usually dozens of people queuing up to take the bait.

Unfortunately, being as anally retentive about spelling and grammar as I am, reading posts in this group can sometimes be a struggle (there are actually people out there, who wouldn’t know an apostrophe if it came up and clamped itself firmly onto their ball’s – yes, that was deliberate), but the same can be said for most of the communities on Facebook, and this particular group’s one saving grace, is that it is just so damn entertaining at times.

Anyway, the post which made me chuckle earlier this week, was from a Tamworth fan (who, in fairness, seemed a decent enough chap), and was along the lines of ‘Watch out Brackley, the Lambs are coming to get you Tuesday night…’ – this being a reference to Tamworth (The Lambs) travelling to play Brackley on Tuesday evening.

Now, it wasn’t the prospect of Tamworth beating Brackley away from home which tickled me so much (although, invariably, whenever someone shares a pre-match boast like this, it almost always comes back to bite them firmly in the arse – and, sure enough, the game ended 0-0), but more the mental image of a lamb being used as an instrument of terror.

Of all the football club nicknames, surely ‘The Lambs’ is one of the least frightening? For the same reason, you tend to find that supporters of clubs like Norwich City (‘The Canaries’), Bournemouth (‘The Cherries’), and Morecambe (‘The Shrimps’), avoid using their nicknames to intimidate opposing fans of teams like Sheffield United (‘The Blades’), Hull City (‘The Tigers’), and Millwall (‘The Fucking Lunatics’).

Which got me thinking – if tomorrow afternoon’s fixtures in County’s league, were decided purely on the respective nicknames of each club, which teams would come out on top, and would it be worth sticking a few quid on? So, without further ado….

VANARAMA NATIONAL LEAGUE NORTH FIXTURES

SATURDAY 9th SEPTEMBER 2017

               AFC TELFORD             v           HARROGATE TOWN

Telford: Here come the Bucks!

Harrogate: Your nickname is ‘The Books’? Like in a library?

Telford: No, B-U-C-K-S. As in the male of certain species, like deer, and rabbits.

Harrogate: Hardly intimidating though, is it?

Telford: Well, deer have antlers, so they can do some damage. Why, what’s your nickname?

Harrogate: Town.

Telford: Town? Not very imaginative. Besides, there’s nothing scary about a town.

Harrogate: You never been to Blackpool then?

Telford: Fair point.

RESULT: HARROGATE WIN

         ALFRETON TOWN       v       GAINSBOROUGH TRINITY

Alfreton: Hi, we’re the ‘Reds’.

Gainsborough: Boring. We’re the ‘Holy Blues’.

Alfreton: Ah, so a battle of the colours. Well, clearly red is more menacing than blue.

Gainsborough: Why? Blue can be scary too. It’s associated with cold things.

Alfreton: And Smurfs. Besides, red is associated with heat and danger, and look how menacing the bearded fella on our badge is. That’s some scary shit, right there. Plus, ‘Holy’ Blues? Where did you get that from – Robin?! ‘Holy Blues, Batman, it’s Gainsborough!’ 

RESULT: ALFRETON WIN

          BLYTH SPARTANS          v            BOSTON UNITED

Blyth: Behold, the mighty Spartans! One of the most feared armies throughout the whole of history! 

Boston: Shit. 

RESULT: BLYTH WIN

BRADFORD PARK AVENUE     v    NUNEATON TOWN

BPA: Ok, before you say anything, we’re well-aware that our nickname isn’t very original.

Nuneaton: Why, what is it?

BPA: The Avenue. What’s yours?

Nuneaton: The Boro.

BPA: Oh. Equally unoriginal then. Hey, why does your club badge have a bear slow-dancing with a cactus?

Nuneaton: Piss off.

RESULT: DRAW

          CURZON ASHTON   v   FC UNITED OF MANCHESTER

Curzon: No doubt about it, we win the most original nickname – ‘The Nash’ – beat that!

FCUM:  Might be original, but it’s not exactly intimidating, is it?

Curzon: Kate Nash was pretty scary. Why, what’s your nickname?

FCUM: ‘The Reds’.

Curzon: Like Man United?

FCUM: Not really. They’re the ‘Red Devils’. We dropped the devil part.

Curzon: At least devils are evil.

FCUM: Go on then, what’s a Nash?

Curzon: It harks back to a third team that used to play in our town.

FCUM: Your nickname relates to a different team?

Curzon: …..

RESULT: DRAW

               DARLINGTON              v              LEAMINGTON

Darlington: Darlo, Darlo, Darlo!

Leamington: Is that your nickname?

Darlington: Well, no. It’s ‘The Quakers’ really.

Leamington: Like the oats?

Darlington: Spelled the same, but the nickname actually comes from our original links to the ‘Religious Society of Friends’.

Leamington: Boring. We’re the ‘Brakes’ – named after the Lockheed brake manufacturing company. That’s more exciting.

Darlington: Does that not imply you’re slow, though? You should have paired up with the company that makes accelerator pedals. Or horns. Or spoilers. It’s hardly intimidating.

Leamington: What, and a religious organisation dedicated to equality and peace is?

Darlington: Touché. But why is there a windmill on your badge?

Leamington: It refers to the 17th Century Chesterton Windmill, which is actually a Grade I listed building on the outskirts of Leamington, just off the M40. Depending on whether you’re travelling Northbound or Southbound, you’ll want to come off at either junction 13 or 14…. 

RESULT: DRAW

    NORTH FERRIBY UNITED          v         CHORLEY

Chorley: Ha! The Villagers?! Really?!

North Ferriby: And what’s so intimidating about a fucking Magpie?

Chorley: They steal stuff – like three points.

North Ferriby: That’s just a myth.

Chorley: Plus, they bring good luck – like three points.

North Ferriby: Also a myth.

Chorley: Magpies! Magpies! Magpies!

North Ferriby: Oh, what’s the point….

RESULT: CHORLEY WIN

              SALFORD CITY          v             BRACKLEY TOWN

Salford: Go on then, give us a laugh.

Brackley: The Saints.

Salford: Isn’t that Southampton’s nickname?

Brackley: Hang on, Chorley were here a minute ago, and they’re called the Magpies.

Salford: True, but we’re not playing Chorley. Anyway, our nickname is definitely unique: ‘The Ammies’.

Brackley: Surprised it’s not ‘The Beeb’, to be honest. What does ‘The Ammies’ even mean?

Salford: It comes from our old name of ‘Salford Amateurs’.

Brackley: Amateurs aren’t intimidating.

Salford: And Saints are?

Brackley: You should have gone with ‘The Lions’. At least then your badge would have made sense.

RESULT: DRAW

                SOUTHPORT     v      KIDDERMINSTER HARRIERS

Kidderminster: Harriers are deadly birds of prey, or fighter jets. Either way, we win.

Southport: Thought you called yourselves ‘Kiddy’?

Kidderminster: Not for the purposes of this, we don’t. Remind us of your nickname again?

Southport: ‘The Sandgrounders’.

Kidderminster: Ooooh, we’re quaking!

Darlington: Huh? What?

Kidderminster: Never mind.

RESULT: KIDDERMINSTER WIN

                TAMWORTH           v           SPENNYMOOR TOWN

Tamworth: Ok, let’s get this over with, shall we? Yes, we’re ‘The Lambs’, the least intimidating of all the nicknames in this league.

Spennymoor:  Hahahahahahahahaha! I mean, ours, ‘The Moors’, is pretty shit, but….. hahahahahaha!

RESULT: SPENNYMOOR WIN

                  YORK CITY           v            STOCKPORT COUNTY

York: They’ve saved the best until last – the battle of the giants!

Stockport: Only by Conference North standards. Our big crowds aren’t going to help either of us here.

York: Rubbish. We’ll piss this tinpot league.

Stockport: Yes, so your fans keep reminding us every few minutes. We used to say that, too, and we’ve been in this league a few years now.

York: Not us – we’ll be up by Easter! Anyway, this is all about nicknames, and ‘The Hatters’ is a rubbish one.

Stockport: Coming from ‘The Minstermen’?! Ok, which of the Minstermen are you – Mr Tickle? Mr Bump? Mr Might Realise How Tough This League Is By Christmas?  

RESULT: DRAW

So, there you have it – Eleven matches, eleven predictions. Normally, when I try to predict County games, I’m woefully inaccurate, so let’s see if this system is any better – might even stick a tenner on it, just in case…..

What do you think, Ray Winstone’s massive floating head?

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Now, that’s intimidating.

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Supporting The Underblog

I don’t always receive feedback for my blog, but in the first year of ‘Sandbach Chatter’ (oh, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten already), it quickly became clear that I should avoid two specific topics, particularly if I wanted to retain – and attract – followers: listing my favourite films or albums, and anything to do with football.

The lists, I understand. Even though I enjoyed writing them, I can see how they became tedious, and it’s safe to say they wouldn’t feature on my ‘best of’ compilation (not that I’m planning one, don’t worry).

In contrast, the general indifference towards any entries about my beloved Stockport County, was harder to accept. This was primarily because it was the enjoyment I got from writing about County for another (football) blog, which got me into this in the first place, and even though I knew it would be hard to maintain interest in a sixth-tier team, many of my initial audience stemmed from those articles.

However, as I amassed new followers (predominantly women), it became clear that I would rapidly lose them again, if I continued to discuss football. This is not because women don’t like football, you understand (bullet firmly dodged), but more that they have very short attention spans (bullet well and truly back on course – calm down ladies, it was a joke).

I soon realised that entries about my boys were considerably more popular, especially the hilarious shit they often come out with (not literally). From this, I have hopefully settled into a style of writing that appeals to people, and whilst I would not want to pigeon-hole myself (it sounds painful), if I was to focus on one particular genre of blogging, it would be parenthood. Well, it’s such a bottomless pit of comedic material, isn’t it?

So, if writing about my sons is generally well-received, yet writing about the other love of my life (County) is not, I am inclined to wonder how an entry combining the two will fare. There’s only one way to find out, I guess… (oh, and before anyone gets on their high horse about me not mentioning my wife as the other ‘love of my life’, not only has she expressly forbid me from ever writing about her, but she knows County was – and still is – my first true love, and she cannot possibly compare).

Now, before those of you who don’t like football lose interest and bugger off, I would like to explain that this entry is more about me sharing my passion for County with my sons, rather than football itself, so you might still enjoy it. Besides, if you stop reading now, how can you be sure I won’t slag you off later?

To provide some background to what follows, I will give those of you who are not familiar with the recent history of Stockport County (which I assume is the vast majority), a brief timeline of the major events leading up to our eldest son, Ollie, being born:

2008 – County win the League Two Play-Off Final at Wembley, in front of more than 35,000 spectators, and are promoted to League One (the third tier of English Football).

2009 – County are placed into administration, following a failure to repay a loan of £300,000 (a sum roughly equivalent to the weekly wages of many Premier League footballers).

2010 – Relegated back to League Two. Takeover by new consortium. Ollie born (all within a couple of months).

In the first season of Ollie’s existence (2010-11), County’s off field problems worsened, and as the campaign drew to a close, it was becoming increasingly apparent that we would be facing another relegation – only this time, from the Football League. Our 106-year stay, in the top four divisions of English football, was about to end.

When it became clear that we would not survive the drop into non-league football, I made the decision to take Ollie to his first ever match before the end of the season. I was desperate for him to be a County fan, like me (it was my main reason for procreating in the first place), and I was adamant that his first visit to Edgeley Park should be a league game. At the time, I had no idea how long it would be before we returned to the league, if ever, and I definitely didn’t anticipate our situation getting even worse.

25th April 2011

Ollie was just under three weeks away from his first birthday, when I took him to County’s game against Northampton Town, knowing that anything other than a win would effectively seal our fate (even though it was not mathematically confirmed until the following weekend, when we lost to, of all fucking teams, Crewe).

It was, and still remains, one of the proudest, yet saddest days of my life. Ollie was too young to understand what was happening, and got a bit upset when I overly celebrated a goal, but even though I don’t mind admitting I left Edgeley Park in tears, I had taken my son to see our football team, and I will never forget that.

My only hope, was that he would one day watch County back in the league – assuming he chose to follow the same team as his old man. Oh boy, did he.

20th April 2013

Fast forward two years, and County’s fortunes had taken an even greater nosedive, as we suffered yet another relegation, this time to the Conference North.

To put this into perspective for non-football fans (and I include in that category those who support a Premier League side), the Conference North (and South) is where clubs go to die. It is the scrapyard of football, full of teams that, in my ignorance, I had never previously heard of. This is not because they have obscure names, but because they are from places so remote and tiny, only the people who live there have heard of them. I was going to use North Ferriby and Guiseley as examples here, but they’ve since been promoted, and it’s too painful to think we’re now a league lower than what are essentially village pub sides.

As a general rule, if you have to Google the team you have just lost to, to work out where they are in the country (I initially thought Brackley sounded like it was in Yorkshire), it’s time to question your support – but County fans didn’t. We have such a fantastically loyal fan base, that even though some supporters admittedly disappeared (and I’ll be waiting to give them a slap, when they crawl back following our return to the league), we continued to attract crowds well over 2,000, several times what the teams around us were getting.

Hand on heart though, if it hadn’t been for Ollie, and the fact that he was slowly starting to enjoy the football (rather than his half-time hotdog), I can’t promise I wouldn’t have taken a break from County myself.

8th August 2015

As it was, by the time we got to our opening fixture of the 2015/16 season, a home match against Boston United, Ollie now wanted his own shirt, beginning an expensive tradition of buying him the kit of his choice each season, with his name and age on the back:

Not only that, but I forked out for season tickets – an expense I was only too happy to incur.

9th January 2016

If Ollie’s inaugural visit to Edgeley Park was depressing, then there are no words to describe how I felt after Isaac’s first match – a loss to Telford United, in the Conference North, in temperatures so cold you could have cut glass with my nipples.

You can tell from the number of empty seats (these photos were taken shortly before kick-off), precisely how keen people were to attend Edgeley Park that day. It was, however, another memorable moment as a father.

I have taken Isaac to a handful of games since, but it was not until last Saturday, against FC United, that he saw his first ever win. Of course, he’s two, so he is still very much in the ‘what food has Daddy brought?’ stage of football spectating (closely followed by the ‘I’ve eaten everything now, so I’m going to run around like an escaped chimp, and kick the shit out of some seats’ stage), but I’m persevering, in the hope that one day he will match Ollie’s enthusiasm.

10th September 2016

Having marked the dates I took Ollie and Isaac to their first matches, it seems only right to acknowledge the third occasion in the trilogy – the first game they attended together: Boston United (again) at home, earlier this season.

It’s safe to say that, whilst Ollie is now very well behaved at County, and focusses intently on the match, the combination of both boys together, on my own, was a fucking nightmare. Admittedly, I would apportion blame somewhere in the region of 85:15 in Isaac’s favour, but I was physically and emotionally exhausted by the time we got home. Still, look at their faces:

These photographs somehow numb every painful memory, of what was a hellish ninety minutes of frantic parenting.

18th February 2017

Last Saturday, as I have already mentioned, I once again braved taking both boys to Edgeley Park, for our ‘derby’ (although it pains me to say it) against FC United.

Although Isaac was once more a handful (read: utter dick), at least he got to see his first win, and enjoyed the very finest in pre-match cuisine: a Gregg’s sausage roll in a bag:

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I only hope that, when he reaches Ollie’s age in  a few years, Isaac will have the same love of our team, because Ollie is nothing short of obsessed.

He goes to his weekly football club, proudly wearing his shirt, and, when it’s his turn to be a team captain, he insists on playing as County (against the likes of Unit*d, C*ty and Barcelona, because some kids just don’t know any better).

However, for the finest example of Ollie’s obsession, I shall leave you with the following:

On Wednesday, he went to a half-term sports club, and soon after arrival, the kids were introduced to their guest coach for the day – an Altrincham player. Presumably, the poor lad thought he could hide the fact his team are currently rock-bottom of the Conference North, and wasn’t expecting any fans of that league to be there, so imagine his horror when, not only does Ollie announce to the rest of the group that Altrincham are rubbish, but he then insists on singing a song…

“Staly’s bad, Alty’s worse, we always put the County first….”

That, right there, is why I had kids.

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The Blogs Are Back In Town

Last week, I told you about the first day of the charity road trip that my friend Gareth and I took part in at the end of June, and when we left the story, Gareth and I were retiring to bed (separately) at my in-laws in Norwich…

Sunday 26th June 2016 – 08:00

After breakfast, our trip continued very much as it had finished on the Saturday evening – bang on time. We aimed to depart my in-laws at 8:00am, and depart at 8:00am we most certainly did.

Realising it would not take us an hour to get to our first destination of the day, Lowestoft Town (even allowing for the fact we might have to pass through some kind of passport control to get there, being situated, as it is, somewhere near Holland), we decided to visit yet another bonus ground – Norwich City’s Carrow Road. Little did we know that, upon leaving ‘The Canaries’, we were about to encounter an entirely different kind of bird altogether….

#12 – Lowestoft Town – 09:00

Lowestoft

Our arrival at Lowestoft Town was greeted by four people, including a lady who was easily the best dressed of the entire trip (even accounting for the gate-crashed wedding reception at Boston the night before).

‘Helen’ (I’m calling her that because, well, it was her name) looked resplendent in a long purple ball gown, complete with giant beehive hair-do. Quite what possessed her to dress like that, in order to meet two strangers in a football ground car park, remains a mystery, but we soon learned that she often ‘overdresses for the football’, and had not, contrary to our first suspicions, simply crawled out of bed from whichever party she had attended the night before.

Two things struck me about Helen, and I suspect they both struck Gareth too, such were their size. It was like she had smuggled two bald men into her very low cut dress, and neither of them were especially keen on staying in there. I hope I speak for both Gareth and I when I say we are not perverts, but if we looked anywhere within a five metre radius of Helen, passers-by would naturally assume we were ogling her boobs. They were so big, I would not be surprised if they had their own gravitational field.

It then transpired that the other lady in the group was the club photographer, and they had kindly opened the ground to take official pictures on the pitch. As Gareth and I stood on the centre circle next to Helen, she began to glance downwards (in hindsight, I suspect she was simply adjusting her scarf), before suddenly asking ‘Oh, and have you met Matthew and Daniel?’

Now, it later transpired that she knew two Stockport fans who had travelled down the previous season, and she wondered whether we also knew them (we don’t), but our initial assumption was that she had named her breasts ‘Matthew’ and ‘Daniel’ (or, presumably, ‘Matty’ and ‘Danny’ once you got to know them better).

#13 – Corby Town – 11:45

Corby

Having waved goodbye to ‘the Trawlerboys’ (Lowestoft’s nickname, rather than another unfortunate sobriquet for Helen’s chest), we faced our longest journey of the weekend – just over two hours to Corby Town.

Having briefly stopped at another bonus ground en route (Histon) we arrived only slightly behind schedule, and were met by another exiled County fan – ‘Market Harborough Hatter’ – with his two young daughters. Not only did his daughters produce some bags of change to go in our collection tins, but he then presented us with a County shirt worn by one of our legends many years ago, which he was generously donating for us to auction.

The five of us then entered the ground, to be greeted by the sight of balloons, flags and colourful bunting. Initially overwhelmed by such a gesture, we then spotted a large bouncy castle on the pitch, and realised none of it was for us.

Sure enough, we had now managed to gate-crash a children’s birthday party too, although when the chap behind the bar found out why we were actually there, it turned out he had heard about our trip, and kindly invited us in for a quick drink.

#14 – Brackley Town – 13:25

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Fuck me, that’s bleak.

Chalking up yet another bonus ground on the way (Northampton Town’s ‘Sixfields’ Stadium), we arrived at Brackley just under half an hour late. ‘The Saints’ had certainly not come marching in to meet us however, so we managed to take a quick photo of a stand which closely resembled a Cold War bunker, and then got back on the road to try and make some time up.

#15 – Gloucester City – 14:45

Gloucester

Gloucester City’s ground was badly flooded a few years ago (making it easier to bring their subs on, arf!), so they currently play their home games at Cheltenham Town’s ‘Whaddon Road’, which was actually a bit nearer for us, and enabled us to restrict our tardiness to just fifteen minutes.

We were met by Gareth’s sister-in-law and her partner, but realising we still had most of the Midlands still to conquer, we were unable to spend as long with them as we would have liked.

#16 – Worcester City – 15:50

Worcester

Like Gloucester City, Worcester also spent last season residing at their neighbours’ larger property, playing their home matches at ‘Aggborough’ – the home of Kidderminster Harriers. Here we met a good friend of Gareth’s – ‘Kiddy Andy’ (being a reference to his supporting of the Harriers, rather than anything more distasteful) – but again we were sadly unable to spend very long with him.

Andy kindly presented us with a bottle of beer each to enjoy when we got home that evening, and we bid him farewell (making a quick detour to Worcester’s new ground in, erm…. Bromsgrove, before our next stop).

#17 – Solihull Moors – 17:00

Solihull

Solihull were the other team to be promoted from County’s league last season and, like North Ferriby the day before, their ground was also a disappointing cesspit. Continuing my tradition of christening certain grounds, I again took a piss behind their stand (although, unlike at Stalybridge, this was a urinary protest), and away we went.

#18 – Nuneaton Town – 17:30

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I think this picture says it all really. Shut. Shit. Move on.

#19 – Tamworth FC – 17:55

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Prior to our trip, I had joined as many online supporter groups as I could – in an attempt to spread the word of what we were doing – and while the response from Nuneaton’s fans had initially been very positive (even though no one bothered to actually donate or turn up to meet us), their bitter rivals Tamworth were the complete opposite.

In fact, I only received one reply to my post on their forum, and it was more of a pro-Brexit rant than anything else, so my view of Tamworth was not particularly favourable before we arrived. However, that was all about to change.

One Nuneaton fan had jokingly referred to Tamworth’s Lamb Ground as ‘the tip’ (even promising to donate, if we would take some of his garden waste with us to deposit there), but having subsequently seen Nuneaton’s ‘Liberty Way’ ground from their rusted and locked gates, his comment strikes me as very much ‘people in fuck-ugly glass houses….’

In fairness, The Lamb Ground was hardly the Taj Mahal either (a delightful looking curry house we had passed on the way), but that was mostly due to the fact they were laying a brand new pitch at the time. What matters, is the welcome we received.

Unlike at Harrogate and Lowestoft – where we had anticipated some form of greeting – we hadn’t had any contact from Tamworth whatsoever, so when we arrived and saw a few cars in the car park, we initially feared a repeat of the ‘Glanford Doggers’ from the day before.

However, it turned out that, far from being unsavoury sex-pests, the five Tamworth fans who had braved the rain to honour our (late) arrival, were the loveliest of people. Not only did they invite us in to the ground to have more official photographs taken, but they then presented us with a huge bag of goodies, including snacks, drinks, and even a signed football for auctioning.

As a result, Tamworth – rather unexpectedly – joined Harrogate and Lowestoft in our top 3 clubs of the weekend.

#20 – Hednesford Town – 18:35

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The only downside to such a nice reception at Tamworth (when we had been expecting a quick photo and hasty departure), was that we were now badly behind schedule again. Fortunately, not only had I over-estimated how long it would take to get to our penultimate ground, Hednesford’s ‘Keys Park’, but it was again locked and deserted, so the quick photo we had planned at Tamworth, merely got delayed by one stop.

Determined to try and get as near to the ground as possible (which looked more like a factory than a football stadium), we parked up at the gates, leapt over them, and ran down the track that lead to their main stand like we were on ‘Challenge Anneka’ (or another more current – and less camp – reference).

We posed, comically, outside their main entrance, before noticing the signs which warned that there was constant CCTV in operation. Oh well, that should give the security team something to talk about (although not, I would imagine, as much to feast their eyes on as their counterparts at Scunthorpe).

#21 – AFC Telford – 19:15

Telford

Our last ground of the adventure before heading back to Edgeley Park. No official welcome again, but we were met by our good friend and fellow County fan ‘Shropshire Hatter’, who posed for some quick photographs, before making his way home in the rain.

And that was it. The race was then on to get back to Edgeley Park for our scheduled arrival time of 9:00pm.

Edgeley Park – 21:05

Ok, we didn’t quite make it back on time, but turning up only five minutes late, having driven over one thousand miles, was not to be sniffed at, and we had two good reasons for being ever-so-slightly late.

Firstly, we were very nearly involved in a nasty crash, when I came around the bend on a country lane to be greeted – very abruptly – by the mangled wreckage of a car blocking the road. Thankfully, not only did everyone appear to be ok, but my reflexes were not as subdued as they might have been after such a long drive, and we were able to safely navigate around the crash without further incident.

Any confidence in my driving ability was, however, rather short-lived, as a far more serious incident occurred only moments later. Remember how I mentioned, at the start of last week’s entry, that there had been a murder on the trip? Well, I was the murderer, and my car was the weapon.

Actually, ‘murder’ is a little extreme a description, but I may not have held your interest for so long, had I more accurately referred to the crime as ‘vehicular avian slaughter’. In fact, technically, it was vehicular avian suicide, and that is certainly what I would argue in a court of law, but I doubt the surviving family members (the ones who didn’t bounce off the front of my car and end up in a hedge) would see it that way. Oh, the guilt.

Still, we had a deadline to keep, and we arrived back at Edgeley Park tired, but ultimately very proud of what we had achieved.

The total amount raised has now exceeded £2,000. Not bad, considering we essentially spent the weekend dicking around, whilst eating sweets and listening to music. To everyone who donated, no matter the amount, thank you so very much. We’ll be in touch about our next big adventure soon!

Oh, and for anyone outraged at me for senselessly murdering a door-to-door make up sales lady, that’s Avon you twat. ‘Avian’ means ‘bird’.

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Notorious Blogging Spot

As some of you will know, last weekend I embarked on a rather elaborate road trip with a good friend of mine, who we shall call Gareth because, well, that’s his name.

I won’t go into detail explaining what it was about, who it was for, and why we were doing it, as I covered all of that in entry #71 (‘The Blog Trip’) but, briefly, we were attempting to visit all twenty-two football grounds in Stockport County’s league (as at last season), in just one weekend, to try and raise funds for local children’s cancer charity, Kidscan.

Now, I could sum up our trip in just three words – ‘we nailed it’ – but that would not be doing the adventure justice, and would not be telling the full tale. And, oh boy, do we have some tales to tell….

Saturday 25th June 2016 – 08:00

Start

We aimed to depart around 8:00am and, as became something of a trend over the weekend, we were bang on time. Waved off by the two ladies who run County’s club shop, Gareth’s wife and son, and another County fan, ‘Northyorksexile’ (who is, thankfully, an exiled County fan living in North Yorks, rather than a North York ‘Sexile’ – whatever that may be), we set off.

In the two days which followed, we visited all twenty-two ‘official’ grounds (plus eight ‘bonus’ ones); took a thoroughly underwhelming trip across the Humber Bridge; gate-crashed a wedding reception and a children’s birthday party; and witnessed an enormous pair of breasts, a murder, and some dogging. Now, if that doesn’t make you want to read on, nothing will…

#1 – Stalybridge Celtic – 08:25

Stalybridge

We arrived at Stalybridge’s ‘Bower Fold’ ground, on time, to find it locked and deserted. I took a piss behind one of their stands (I was strangely desperate for the toilet already, rather than this being any kind of urinary protest at the absence of anyone to greet us), and we were back on our way.

#2 – Curzon Ashton – 08:45

Curzon

It was, sadly, the same story at Curzon – only without the piss. We had initially received a very enthusiastic response from the club a couple of months ago, promising an official welcome and photographs on the pitch but, alas, this never materialised. Bizarrely, however, the ground was actually open – presumably because they felt there was nothing worth stealing – so we managed to go in and take some photos anyway.

#3 – FC United of Manchester – 09:10

FCUM

To complete the hat-trick of disappointing Greater Manchester clubs, the ‘Old Trafford Deserters’ also hadn’t bothered to welcome our arrival – whether that be fans of the club or anyone more official – and the gate to the car park was locked, so we again just took a quick photo and left.

#4 – Chorley – 10:00

Chorley

Before arriving at Chorley, we decided to stop off at our first ‘bonus’ ground of the day – Bolton’s ‘Reebok Stadium’ (I refuse to call it the ‘Macron Stadium’, in the same way I still insist on referring to the ‘M.E.N. Arena’ and ‘Opal Fruits’), before heading on to Chorley.

In contrast to the first three clubs on our travels, we didn’t really want to meet anyone at Chorley, since – as a result of some recent transfer dealings between them and County – they don’t seem to like us very much. Consequently, even though a couple of their fans had already been supportive and donated, we rather feared that any ‘Magpies’ (their nickname) turning up to greet us, may very well do so fully-armed. One for sorrow, two to kick the living crap out of you…

Imagine our terror, therefore, when we arrived in the car park, only to have someone tap on my driver’s side window shortly afterwards. Having damn-near shit ourselves, we were relieved – and surprised – to discover that my brother had driven down from Preston to say hello and bring supplies.

Again, Chorley’s ground was left fully open, so the three of us had a quick look around, I took another piss behind the stand (I don’t know what was the matter with me, but I appeared to have developed the bladder of an incontinent pensioner) and we gave our heartfelt thanks to my brother, before heading off.

#5 – AFC Fylde – 10:45

Fylde

At AFC Fylde’s ‘Kellamergh Park’ (which appears to be situated in the grounds of a pub), we were greeted by another County fan, ‘Bringbacklenwhite’, and his lovely wife, who had also brought more supplies – two bottles of beer and some cakes. As we arrived bang on time, and since our next ground was a bit further away, we were able to spend a little longer with them in the glorious Lancashire sunshine.

#6 – Bradford Park Avenue – 12:15

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Bradford Park Avenue was another ground where we expected something of a more formal welcome, as I had been in touch with the club only the week before to ask for permission to lay a white rose at their ground. One of our donors had requested that we do this for her, in memory of her fellow Yorkshirewoman, Jo Cox MP, who was murdered recently.

Sadly, the only person at the ground when we arrived was there by chance, and was in the process of cleaning their club bar. It’s fair to say he was more than a little perturbed by two blokes in Stockport shirts turning up to ‘decorate’ the ground with foliage, but the club had said it was ok, so tough.

#7- Harrogate Town – 13:15

Harrogate

Remaining in sunny Yorkshire, we then travelled northwards to Harrogate, which was our planned lunch stop for the day. The only reason for selecting this ground over any other, was because our ETA was 1:15pm, and ‘lunch’ was expected to be snacks in the car, but the welcome we received was a fantastic surprise.

Not only were we met by some guys from the club (as well as aptly-named fellow County fan ‘Harrogate Hatter’), they then brought out a platter of sandwiches and cakes (which were delicious, and I’m not just saying that because they may read this) as well as some drinks from the bar.

Even better, as we were leaving, they informed us that a group of their fans had clubbed together, and would shortly be making a generous donation to our Just Giving page.

Harrogate Town, from that day onwards, will always have a special place in my heart (unless they beat us in next season’s play-off final, then they can fuck off).

#8 – North Ferriby United – 15:15

North Ferriby

If Harrogate was delightfully surprising, North Ferriby (who, Gareth and I often quip, are our ‘favourite of all the Ferribies’) was very much the opposite.

Not only was it a tiny, run down ground – which, having won promotion via the play-offs, will depressingly see North Ferriby play one league higher than County next season – there was no one around apart from a cricket match on the adjacent field, and they didn’t seem the types to take kindly to two blokes asking for donations.

The one good thing about North Ferriby? It was so shit, we could take a quick photo and get back on the road.

#9 – Gainsborough Trinity – 16:30

Prior to our arrival at Gainsborough Trinity (of which I have very little to say), two ‘highlights’ of the weekend took place. The first was planned, as I took my inaugural trip across the Humber Bridge (the best £1.50 of someone else’s money I have ever spent), and the second was very much not.

Gareth had consulted the map, and suggested we could detour, ever-so-slightly, to take in Scunthorpe’s ‘Glanford Park’ ground. I was keen to do this for two reasons: firstly, I have never seen it – and with Scunny being a League One side, I had hoped it would be more impressive than some of the grounds we had encountered thus far – but secondly, it gave me a rather childish (and entirely unoriginal, I imagine) idea for a ‘selfie’.

As we parked up next to two other cars in the secluded car park, Gareth went one way to take some photos of his own, while I positioned myself under the ‘Scunthorpe United’ sign, to try and line up the shot for my comedy photo.

As I stood there, with my phone at arm’s length, I can appreciate in hindsight that it may very well have looked like I was pointing the camera at the cars opposite. This didn’t occur to me at the time, as I had assumed they were unoccupied, but all of a sudden, a rather embarrassed looking man got out of one car, half-jogged to the other car, got in and drove hurriedly away, while the woman who was left in the first vehicle followed seconds later.

I don’t think my grinning and shouting “Oi Oi!” as they raced away will have helped, either. I bet they’re nervously waiting for my photographs to appear on some ‘doggers caught in the act’ site. And in a car park in Scunthorpe too – hardly showing a girl a good time, is it?

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(Side note: doesn’t ‘The Glanford Doggers’ sound like a terrible folk band?)

#10 – Alfreton Town – 17:30

Alfreton

I have never been to the centre of Alfreton, but if it is anything like the area where the football ground is based, I can only hope it is twinned with an industrial wasteland in Siberia, otherwise the partnership is distinctly unbalanced.

In truth, Gareth and I – perhaps unfairly – hated Alfreton long before we arrived, purely because it was so far out of our way when we were making good progress down the eastern side of England. And, when you have already agreed between you that ‘Alfreton can go fuck itself’, it needed to be especially pretty to change our minds. Unfortunately, on the prettiness scale, Alfreton Town’s ludicrously-named ‘Impact Stadium’ is some distance below Susan Boyle, and its only ‘impact’ is to make you want to gauge your own eyes out with a rusty spoon.

To make matters worse, as we pulled into the car park we were watched by a rather unsavoury looking chap who was sat, by himself, on a nearby wall. He was, as Gareth quite rightly pointed out, very similar to the character ‘Tom’ from Father Ted. If you have never watched the show, or have forgotten Tom, here is a (rather poor quality) clip:

‘Alfreton Tom’ continued to stare at us, as we parked up and began to hurriedly take photographs. Alarmingly, he then started walking over towards us, before standing with his hands in his pockets and grinning. I am sure, in hindsight, this was a grin of friendship, but at the time we both feared it was the last smile we would ever see.

We quickly tried to explain what we were doing, before he interrupted us to say that he knew why were there, as he had been following our progress on Twitter, and had some change to put in our collection tin. You should never judge a book by its cover, folks, and I feel rather guilty that we jumped to the conclusion we were about to be made into a nice new coat for him to lounge around his cave in.

Alfreton Tom (not his real name), we salute you, Sir.

#11 – Boston United – 19:15

Boston

Our final ground of the day and, unlike the two which preceded it, Boston’s ‘York Street’ was all rather uneventful – save that we accidentally gate-crashed a wedding reception in order to try and use their toilet. Deciding against spoiling the happy couple’s big day, we instead made a hasty departure, keen to get to our overnight stop with my in-laws in Norwich.

We arrived almost exactly on schedule, filled the car up with fuel ready for the morning, ate a delicious meal cooked by my father-in-law, drank the beers given to us by my brother and Bringbacklenwhite, and crawled off to bed (separately, mind, we’re not Bert and Ernie).

Beer

And I shall tell you about the remainder of our adventure next week….

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