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).

Beer

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

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The Blog Trip

I have mentioned previously that I am part of an online forum of Stockport County fans, and that my involvement with that group is partly responsible for the name of this very blog.

Let me explain. For those who are unaware, my beloved County are known as ‘The Hatters’ (due to Stockport’s proud hat-making history), so my pseudonym/moniker on the forum is ‘Sandbach Hatter’ (it’s not very clever, granted, but it tells you everything you need to know about me really).

It also doesn’t take a genius to work out how I later developed that alter-ego into the name of this blog. In fact, there is nothing genius about the name whatsoever, bearing in mind I rarely talk about the town where I now live, so readers might be forgiven for feeling somewhat misled. In fairness though, did you really think I would be able to write over seventy blog entries about a sleepy market town in South Cheshire? Or have you continued to stick with me until now, in the hope that I might soon discuss the roadworks on Middlewich Road, the desperate need for a crossing person outside Offley Primary School, or the fact that The Wheatsheaf appears to have changed hands yet again? Sorry to disappoint.

As it happens, I have thought about re-naming this blog for that very reason, so that it better reflects the utter (non-Sandbach related) bollocks that I come up with each week, but three things have held me back:

  1. All the clever names that I have since come up with, have already been taken;
  2. A good friend of mine designed the banner which adorns my Facebook page, and I would hate to see his work go to waste;
  3. It would mean re-training mum on how to find the new blog.

Anyway, this is all irrelevant. The main point is, I have been a part of this online community for many years now, and have met a fair few of its members in ‘real life’ – almost all of whom are lovely people and proper football fans. They are like my second family. Well, third family if you count the in-laws.

A few years ago, a random thread appeared on our site, posted by a children’s cancer charity called ‘Kidscan’. I’ll admit that I had never heard of them before – despite their being located relatively close to County, in Salford – and, to my shame, more often than not I would have treated their post as spam and ignored it. However, it just so happened that members of my wife’s family were being affected by childhood cancer at the time, and it consequently struck a chord with me. So I read on.

It transpired that, unlike many charities, they were not approaching us with a sob story, in an attempt to guilt-trip our members into donating (and then pestering us for more money later on, as some sadly do). They were simply asking if any of us would like to take part in a charity bike ride they were organising in Manchester.

For whatever reason, I don’t believe any of us were actually able to take part (a lack of any functioning bicycle, as well as a deep hatred of cyclists, contributing heavily to my own personal absence), but because of the effect the post had on me, and the fact that I hadn’t taken part in a charity event for a few years, I decided to organise something myself.

It struck me that, of all the possible fundraising events I could consider, the easiest – and cheapest – to organise (and certainly the most accessible for the majority of people), would be a sponsored walk. Linking this to County was easy – we would simply walk to an away game. This is not a new concept, as I remembered a group of Brentford fans walking to their last away game of the season, at County, a few seasons earlier (about two hundred miles), so I decided to give it a go.

Now, if someone had suggested to me that we walk a similar distance to those Brentford fans, they would have been met with a resounding ‘fuck off’. As I have already explained, I wanted to make the event as achievable as possible for most people, so a local derby seemed far more appropriate. At the time, this narrowed the choice down to just two away games, and since one match was taking place over the Christmas period, it made the other – Macclesfield Town on Easter Saturday – a clear winner (which is about the only time Macclesfield Town have been the clear winners of anything).

So, on 30th March 2013, the first ever ‘Hatters Hike’ took place. Eighteen County fans (and Bexley, our dog) set off from Edgeley Park in Stockport, and walked the thirteen miles to Macclesfield’s ‘Moss Rose’ ground, prior to our match there. Everyone completed the walk (apart from Bexley, who was collected by my wife at the half-way stage), and we raised over £1,800 for Kidscan in the process. It remains one of my proudest achievements.

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For a variety of reasons (not least of which was County’s relegation from that league at the end of the season), we did not repeat the walk the following year, but then, in 2015, I decided it was time to do it again. So, on Saturday 28th March 2015, almost exactly two years on from the original Hatters Hike, a slightly smaller – but no less determined – group, took part in ‘Hatters Hike to Hyde 2015’. As the name clearly suggests, our destination this time was Hyde FC and, because the distance to their ground was a considerably shorter seven miles, we walked back again afterwards.

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Despite there being fewer participants this time (around half of the original Hatters Hike, in fact), we still raised more than £1,500 for Kidscan, which was again a fantastic achievement.

In organising both walks, I was assisted by a very good friend of mine, who we shall call ‘Hatter in Macc’ (or ‘Maccy’ for short) because, well, that’s his name. It’s not his real name, of course, his real name is Gareth, but he has asked that I refrain from using it, to preserve his anonymity.

I have known Gar… Maccy for around six years now, but it wasn’t until August 2012 that our partnership was formed (not literally – at least, not in the civil sense), when we were invited to take over the writing of an article in County’s match day programme.

Over time, not only has our article become a firm fixture in County’s programme – and arguably the best bit – but we became something of a double-act. I don’t mean that in the sense we toured the nation performing comedy (not yet, anyway), but we were invited to write articles for other teams’ programmes, we represented the forum at various County events, and generally became a well-oiled team (again, not literally).

Our latest venture – ‘Sandy and Maccy’s Big Road Trip 2016’ – is taking place in four weeks’ time, as we endeavour to visit all twenty-two football grounds from the Conference North (as at the 2015/16 season) in just one weekend. It promises to be our biggest challenge yet – by some margin.

Despite its name, the ‘Conference North’ actually covers most of England, so we will be travelling as far as Fylde in the North-West, North Ferriby in the North-East, Lowestoft in the South-East, and Cheltenham in the South-West. If things go according to plan, we will leave Edgeley Park early on the Saturday morning, and return around 9pm on the Sunday evening, having travelled just shy of 1,000 miles.

Here’s our itinerary:

Saturday 25th June 2016

Stockport County – 08:00

Stalybridge Celtic – 08:25

Curzon Ashton – 08:45

FC United of Manchester – 09:10

Chorley – 10:00

AFC Fylde – 10:45

Bradford Park Avenue – 12:15

Harrogate Town – 13:15

North Ferriby United – 15:00

Gainsborough Trinity – 16:00

Alfreton Town – 17:20

Boston United – 19:15

Sunday 26th June 2016

Lowestoft Town – 09:00

Corby Town – 11:45

Brackley Town – 13:00

Gloucester City – 14:30

Worcester City – 15:30

Solihull Moors – 16:30

Nuneaton Town – 17:10

Tamworth – 17:45

Hednesford Town – 18:15

AFC Telford – 19:00

Stockport County – 21:00

I have contacted all of the other clubs in the league to ask for their support, and around half have replied so far, with a handful of those posting an article about the trip on their own sites. I have also done an interview with a newspaper, and Maccy will be appearing on Tameside Radio tomorrow afternoon.

Our aim, aside from raising a huge amount for Kidscan, is to try and meet fans of every team as we go around the country, as well as – where possible – exiled County fans.

This is where you fine people come in. If you happen to live near to any of the grounds we will be visiting, even if you don’t necessarily support that team, we would love it if you could pop along and say hello when we arrive. The more people to welcome us at each ground, the better. Unfortunately, we will only have a few minutes before we have to be on our way again, but there will be live updates over the weekend via Maccy’s Twitter account – @GarethE77815055 – so that people can keep up to date with our expected arrival times, since our itinerary is very dependent on traffic.

If you are able to meet us, I can be contacted at sandbachhatter@hotmail.co.uk, so that your name and contact details can be added to our list.

Last, but not least, it would be awfully remiss of me if I didn’t appeal to your good nature and ask for donations. If you could take just a few minutes out of your day to take a look at the fantastic work that Kidscan do (www.kidscan.org.uk) and then spare a little change to help us reach our target (www.justgiving.com/bigroadtrip2016) we will both be eternally grateful.

Just think, if each of my regular readers donated just £2, we could add something in the region of £12 to our total.

If you donate AND come and meet us to lend support, I might even give you an uncomfortably long hug.

But don’t let that put you off.

 

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