"As for Maidenhead, the conga (which was amusing) aside, quite a strange bunch really – some the oddest chants I've ever heard at a football match" ~ localboy86, Amber Planet forum, 26th April 2015

Sunday 23 January 2011

Away Day Diary: Herne Bay 1-2 Whitley Bay (22/01/11)

Battle of the Bays

Two of my highlights of last season were our visits to Chertsey Town to see them play Plymouth Parkway and then Whitley Bay in the FA Vase. As mentioned in earlier posts on this blog, at Chertsey vs Parkway, we met - both in the pub before/ after the game and at the ground - a Whitley Bay supporter called Mark, who lives in Northwood, Middlesex. He was at the match in anticipation that his team would play away to the winner in the next round. We had enjoyed our visit (despite 'our' team - Parkway - having been thumped), and he seemed to be on our wavelength: attending a match between two teams he didn't support, with a beer never too far away. So we agreed to meet with 'Northwood Mark' again, in the same pub, before the next round.

Whitley Bay defeated Chertsey after a replay and made it to the Final. We were there as they beat Wroxham 6-1 at Wembley, cue photographs with Bay manager Ian Chandler and the Vase trophy in a local pub after the game. Northwood Mark would also join us at a Maidenhead home game (as we clashed, some of us literally, with Chelmsford City) before the season was out.

Whitley Bay also has a prominent place in recent Maidenhead United folklore, as many of us who made the long trip north to see the Magpies' 2-1 defeat at Blyth Spartans in the last 32 of the FA Trophy in February 2001 stayed over in Whitley ... and what a legendary night out that was! Memorable moments aplenty, including:

  • Me and Willie T appearing on the now seemingly defunct Whitley Bay Uncovered website (photographic definition of the phrase 'death warmed up')
  • Macleod (M) judging the Miss Whitley Bay G-String 2000 competition (held over to the new year as they knew we were to visit?!)
  • Mr Logic putting his MUFC scarf to good use ("Oh Logic pulled, in Whitley Bay ... ")
  • Craig talking a bouncer into letting a hiking boot-wearing and under-age Leicester Les into a (21-years and over) nightclub on an 'average age' argument
  • Willie's donation, without hesitation, of his underpants to a Hen
  • Yours truly getting punched full in the face (twice) by a 'big boned' lass (thanks, Craig, for the 'oink' noises that got me into trouble!)
  • Landlord Jerry falling up (!) the stairs at his B&B

Etc., etc.

"We're the famous Maidenhead, and we went to Whitley Bay"

In short, it's fair to say that we have a soft spot for the Bay, and their exploits away from home in the Vase (they're unbeaten in competition for over two years now) are ideal opportunities for us to meet with Northwood Mark (one day we'll get our backsides in gear and venture up for a home game). As such, our interest was piqued when this season's 4th Round Draw in December afforded Whitley (or AFC Liverpool) an away tie at Colliers Wood United or Herne Bay. Steve H had been to Herne Bay the previous season with former Maidenhead United Chairman Roger Coombs and his wife Jean (now sponsors - I think - of Flackwell Heath). A 1-0 defeat in the Vase to the aforementioned Heathens. He said that it looked like a decent day out. My parents and other United fans, who visited nearby Whitstable for an FA Cup tie in 2004, have also spoken favourably of this particular part of the world, so a 'Battle of the Bays' - between Herne and Whitley - was our preference.

This match-up came to fruition in early January. After several postponements, Whitley hammered a manager-less AFC Liverpool (profile and average attendance - 178 in the North West Counties League Division One last season - surprisingly minuscule compared to other supporter-formed clubs such as AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester). Train tickets (thanks, in part, to the Network Railcard) remained cheap. Although, when I first investigated the possible routes, there were no trains from Maidenhead, via Victoria, to Herne Bay. They did become available a few days later, but Mark would confirm that they definitely weren't showing on thetrainline.com initially, for some reason, and so, much to my relief, I wasn't completely losing my marbles!) As it was, the alternative option was to get a fast train from St Pancras International to Canterbury West (the train between Victoria and Herne Bay was a slow one) and then embark on a 40-minute or so bus ride to Herne Bay. As we'd enjoyed our bus ride when visiting Cinderford earlier in the season, we quickly booked these tickets and I, for one, was looking forward to the first KSG away day of the new year.

Due to the relatively short notice of the fixture, Macleod (M) was unavailable as he had already bought a ticket for Portsmouth vs Leeds. So there were only three of us making the trip. It was a cold, clear and crisp morning as we met in the Greyhound for sausage/ bacon rolls and coffee(!) before boarding the 10:02 Paddington-bound train minus a carry-out (Murdo would've had something to say about that, I suspect). On arrival in London, we learnt that the District and Circle lines were closed for 'improvements', and the Victoria line was (temporarily) suspended, so good job we were going via St Pancras (and Canterbury), as opposed to via Victoria, after all.

After arriving at St Pancras - rebuilt, over the last decade, at a reputed cost of £800M - Macleod (C) went for a cigarette (bumping into Tartan Army associate and TV guru Jim Brown; small world). Steve and I went to purchase some refreshments for the next leg of the train journey. The terminus was modern, uncluttered, spacious and contained several retail outlets - from Monsoon to Boots - but seemingly no off-licences or supermarkets. We baulked at M&S' over-priced, own-brand Belgian lager and presumed/ hoped there would be a buffet bar on the 11:42 train to Canterbury West. There wasn't.

Fortunately - and as aforementioned - this was a fast train (it was also inordinately long, virtually deserted, almost new and spotlessly clean), only stopping at Stratford, Ebbsfleet (boo!) and Ashford. The landscape, initially industrial, became ever more lush and picturesque as we went underneath a busy motorway (the M25?) and further into the 'Garden of England'. Posters on the Herne Bay FC forum had mentioned plenty of rainfall throughout the preceding week, and the river(s) we passed on our approach to Canterbury appeared swollen. It started to rain, albeit not heavily, as we exited the station and started our 10-minute walk through the city centre to catch the bus. I had read that Canterbury is a relatively lively place, and my immediate impressions of the city were favourable. We passed countless pubs (the High Street - I'm not sure it was *the* High Street - reminded me of Weymouth, the side streets brought back memories of Bath, while the pubs appeared reminiscent, in character, to those on Worcester's Tything). The shops/ restaurants (including Café Rouge and Zizzi's, amongst others) suggested a certain affluence. The shoppers, out and about on Saturday lunchtime, seemed abnormally youthful and cosmopolitan, presumably due to the city's three universities. There were plenty of tourists as well, ogling the impressive medieval gatehouse - the Westgate (which resembled Lübeck's Holsten Gate) - and the world-famous cathedral we walked by.

After finally getting our hands on some lager and pies from a Tesco Metro, conveniently located close to the bus station, we boarded the 13:10 No 6 bus that would take us the 7 miles or so north to Herne Bay. The tickets were somewhat expensive (a fiver each), the Becks Vier was not chilled, the windows partly obscured by condensation, and the traffic congested. However, soon we were winding through the villages of Sturry and Herne and the lively conversation (specifically Steve H attempting to defend Martin O'Neill's transfer dealings at Aston Villa: £12M for Stewart Downing?! £5M for James Collins?! £8M for Curtis Davies?! £5M for Steve Sidwell?! £5M for Luke Young?! £7.8M for Carlos Cuellar etc., etc., etc.) ensured that time flew by as quickly as the scenery. Soon the sea was in view, and just before 2pm, we disembarked the bus close to Herne Bay railway station. We met Northwood Mark in the Heron pub. This place had it all: a sign outside advertising their Christmas menu, Oranjeboom on tap, a small group of Whitley fans, a large group of Chavs with Staffordshire bull terriers straining on leads, a professional-looking dartboard and landlord whom - after bemoaning the increased cost of Sky - gave us directions to the only pub in town with satellite TV, so we would be able to watch the Villa vs Mansour City game later on.

It was a short walk to the - unlike York Road - clearly sign-posted ground. Mark remarked that the location and entrance reminded him of Colston Avenue, Carshalton Athletic's home, and I would concur with this. After taking photos of some bizarre signs (see below) and paying our entrance fees (£6), we joined the 650-odd other paying customers just in time for kick-off. Both teams' home colours are blue and white stripes, so it was difficult to judge how many the northern Bay had brought down, as many were in their replica home shirts as opposed to the yellow that the team (and Mark) were wearing. Indeed, confusion reigned supreme as there seemed to be some Whitley fans behind the 'wrong' goal in the first half. Trouble was never on the cards, however, as it soon became apparent that the noisy home support (seemingly made up of 15 or so teenagers, resplendent in newly-purchased replica shirts) had seated themselves in a covered stand to the side of the pitch. I liked the ground: both ends were covered (albeit just about - the guttering behind the goal Whitley was attacking in the second half isn't going to last very much longer), and grassed open spaces aplenty (which reminded me, somewhat, of M@rlow's Joke Tree Road).

It was an even (and ultimately goalless) first half, with few clear-cut chances, played out on a boggy, heavy pitch. We headed to the bar - a reasonably-sized wooden shed-like structure next to the stand, also containing changing rooms, the boardroom, and the dugouts - that was on the opposite side of the pitch to the one housing the noisy home support) just before halftime. A photograph of a seemingly permanently-hung Herne Bay 'Red Hand' flag and a quick cheeseburger (served by an attractive older woman ... < insert 'great baps' joke > ) en route. As we supped on weak, flat lager, we remarked on the surprising number of Stone Island-wearing, heavy-set, shaven-headed middle-aged men in the clubhouse, watching the game through the small, wire-mesh-covered windows. After a quick toilet break, we were quickly back out (certainly by our standards) for the second period. I would have sworn blind that we'd missed little or no action. More on this later ...

Darkness had quickly fallen, and the weak floodlights made little difference to the impending gloom. There seemed to be fewer Whitley Bay fans behind the goal this half (although that may have been my imagination), and they didn't seem as closely congregated together as they had been at Chertsey, for example. They also weren't as noisy as the home side (props to the Herne Bay Youth, who were an excitable bunch), although this might have been explained by the blue and white-shirted former Tonbridge Angels defender, Tom Bryant, sliding in to score from close range. Immediately after this - and then towards the very end - Whitley dominated and appeared the better side, but never really looked like scoring, seemingly bereft of ideas in the final third and, unlike on the occasions we had seen them last season, more than a little flat. Herne Bay wasn't offering much either, although substitute Byron Walker added some pace and purposeful running with the ball, and they were working noticeably hard for each other. While some of the clearances from both sides' centre halves were, at times, hurried and 'agricultural' (think Steve Croxford, Maidenhead fans), both teams deserve credit for providing a thoroughly watchable and entertaining game of Cup football on a difficult pitch.

As we entered three minutes of injury time, there was a belated moment of attacking inspiration from Whitley Bay: a midfielder rushing onto a through ball to find himself one-on-one with the home keeper. The ball bobbled as he shot powerfully but straight at Herne Bay's number one, who pushed it wide/ over for a corner. The away fans, somewhat subdued up until this point, suddenly came to life and, from one of the series of corners that followed, a cross fell inside the six-yard box to fleet-footed, bald striker Paul Chow. We've only seen a handful of Whitley games, but even we knew the inevitable result: "feed the Chow, and he will score". Cue wild celebrations (on and off the pitch), superbly captured by this video:

The final whistle followed almost immediately. However, while we were expecting extra time, both sets of players began leaving the pitch - the home side looking understandably dejected - and supporters the ground. As such, we surmised that the rules concerning extra time must've changed or that extra time didn't come into play until the next round. So, after joining in with a few final, defiant choruses of "Howay the Bay" and "Whitley Bay, Whitley Bay ... " we also made our way to the exits (passing a herd of fake deer en route!). Content with the thought that Herne Bay would've had the stuffing knocked out of them by the late goal and wouldn't relish the long trip up north for the replay ...

I was pleased to learn of Arsenal's comfortable win over Wigan. And that Bristol Rovers had won for the first time since October (and for the first time under new manager Dave Penney). We soon found the only pub in Herne Bay with satellite TV - the Bandstand - thanks to the directions given by the landlord of the Heron. It was a rather peculiar place, on the seafront (the view of which was affected by nightfall), but it had a certain charm and - importantly for us - more than enough HD TV screens showing ESPN and the Villa game. As Steve rejoiced at Darren Bent's debut goal, I flicked through Mark's commemorative match-day programme (not much of interest, TBH, aside from the list of previous Vase winners) before he departed at halftime (for his return train to Victoria). During the second half - as the 'Martin O'Neill is a w@nker who wasted millions and was rightly denied further transfer funds by Randy Lerner' debate resurfaced - I received a phone call from Mark rhetorically asking the score of the game we had watched. When he announced that it wasn't, as we had previously understood, 1-1, my immediate thought was that it had, after all, gone to extra time and that we'd subsequently missed a winner.


It transpired that Herne Bay's goal hadn't opened the scoring. Whitley had scored first shortly after halftime. Reading the match report on kentishfootball.co.uk, it becomes apparent that we weren't the only ones to miss Whitley's first goal. Of course, the difference between us and the Herne Bay manager is that he found out about it soon after and knew that Chow's 93rd-minute strike had won it for Whitley rather than saved it for them! Not the first (or, no doubt, the last) time that I've missed a goal, but the first time that I've missed one and not learnt about it before the final whistle! Embarrassing, but at least I wasn't the only one!

"1-1, you think the score's 1-1"

We'd learnt our lesson regarding return bus journeys when there is a train to catch, following Cinderford vs Maidenhead earlier in the season. So I booked a taxi (in the name of Martin O'Neill). We were back in Canterbury in time for a bite to eat (Callum and I felt compelled to have fish and chips - as we had, for a time at least, been by the seaside earlier - while Steve H demolished a meat doner in the kebab house opposite the Westgate). The Wetherspoons pub next door to the kebab house was large and absolutely heaving, but, as aforementioned, Canterbury is not short of a pub or two. So we selected one nearer the train station: the Unicorn (similarly busy), which gets the seal of approval (not least from Steve H, if only because it served Doom Bar).

After another carry-out and snacks from a local convenience store, we caught the 21:25 with time to spare (which is a rarity for us these days). The 23:13 from Paddington was packed to the rafters (word of warning: don't sit/ stand anywhere near Steve H on a crowded train after he has eaten a kebab), and we found ourselves in the same carriage as Anchor regular 'Pervy Bob', on his way back from a TV shoot (where, as an extra, he had been playing a judge in a courtroom drama). It transpires that he is to appear as Nikita Khrushchev in the new X-Men film - not every day that you get to sit on a train home next to a former Soviet President!

In summary, this was an excellent day out (as expected). I liked Herne Bay's ground and enjoyed the football and the celebrations that followed Chow's winner (not that we knew it was a winner at the time, despite its proximity to the final whistle!). It was also good to meet again with Northwood Mark and visit Canterbury for the first time. Wikipedia suggests that the city's football team did well in the Southern League during the 60s and 70s but endured financial problems and relegation in the 90s before folding in 2001. The club re-formed in 2006, based in the nearby village of Hersden, and now plays in the Kent County League. Our fixture list for the rest of the season is pretty packed (with games at North Leigh, Ascot United, Dartford and Berwick upcoming), so I will instead keep an eye out next season for possible Canterbury City home games to attend. Alternatively, a stop-over there when MUFC Ltd play in Kent might be an option. Regardless, of more immediate interest is (1) tomorrow's Vase draw (featuring Whitley) and (2) the news that former Magpies favourite Steve Hale is now the manager of Northwood Mark's local side. Yet more fixtures to fit in. Hight time, Macleod (M), to get those Leeds United tickets on eBay!


The Onion Bag said...

most enjoyable read - well done !
By the way the vid link of Whitleys winning goal was taken by me ! glad you liked it enough to use.

The Onion Bag

Unknown said...

The Victoria Line wasn't suspended at all .. I used it a few times on Saturday. But I'm glad you backed up my thoughts about the trainline.com etc as I thought I was going mad then too.


Lenny Baryea said...

The Onion Bag - a truly great video! Fancy trading links to our respective blogs?

Peter - the Victoria line was definitely suspended when we arrived at Paddington, albeit perhaps temporarily so (amendment made)

Thanks for the comments anyway.

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