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

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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).

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

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