As recently as three weeks ago, the KSG were seriously contemplating not going to Salisbury; one of only a handful of decent away days in the Conference South. I'm glad we did as, thanks to some new faces and some interesting characters encountered en route, an enjoyable day was had ... despite the very best efforts of
First Great Western Last Worst Western, and the like, to ruin everything.
Macleod (M) and I were to be joined by James and Will from the LCG, who were bringing along a couple of mates: Dan the Oxford United fan from Reading (who endeared himself by looking after the flag bag, throughout much of the outward journey) and Charlie the Stoke City fan from High Wycombe (who didn't endear himself by stating, early on, that he "used to be a Man Utd fan" and also by not having heard of the Tony Pulis Rap).
Dickie West was also present - representing the 'Youth' - and he had seemingly also embraced the 'Refer A Friend' initiative, accompanied as he was by a
17 year-old three-weeks-away-from-his-18th-birthday Dan (who's name, rather embarrassingly, I kept forgetting ... despite the fact that he had it tattooed on his neck!). Dan has apparently been something of a York Road regular, of late, but this was to be his very first MUFC away game. This reminded me of our mate Foxy who, to this day, has only ever been to one Magpies game. The venue? Leyton Pennant. Nuff said!
We were due to get the 10:34 from Maidenhead, arriving into Salisbury in time for the lunchtime TV kick off (Arsenal @ Old Trafford). However, in a scene all-too-familiar for those reliant on the rail network for their workday commute, the 10:34 was late. And it kept getting later. And later, and later, and later ...
|^^^ Macleod (M) ripped up the train times before we travelled. |
The 10:34 did eventually arrive (unlike the next one, which was cancelled), but it's tardiness meant we'd be struggling to make the connection at Reading. We sprinted (not a pretty sight, I'm sure!) to make the relevant train to Basingstoke, only for it to then remain on the platform for what seemed like an age (but was probably no more than 5-10 minutes). I didn't think anything of it, at the time, but this would mean that we would then miss - by a matter of seconds - the train to Salisbury from Basingstoke!
To make matters worse, there was rail replacement between Basingstoke and Salisbury - not something that we'd been aware of when booking online - and the next train (rather than bus) didn't depart for an hour (and would take us via Southampton). As such, we went to the nearby Queen's Arms (decent pub in Basingstoke shocker!) to kill some time. We'd now miss much of the Arsenal game. All talk of it was banned by yours truly, with '£1.50 per mention' fines the intended deterrent ...
|^^^ That's the KSG Christmas card sorted!|
|^^^ Education standards in Basingstoke worse than feared.|
Charlie Stoke would defy the ban within minutes of the train leaving the station, rather gleefully (?) announcing van P€r$i€'s opening goal. Moments earlier, someone had nudged me when walking past my seat, causing me to spill Guinness down the front of my yellow and blue AFC 1971 Cup Final retro shirt. A bad omen, clearly.
Phone signal then became intermittently poor, interest in the game waned (thankfully, from an Arsenal fan's point of view!) and conversation instead turned to 'Away Day heroes' of the past, specifically Willie T (or Zippy, as he is known to the LCG). The 'newbies' were regaled with legendary tales, such as the time Turner spent (needlessly, unbeknownst to him!) part of the car journey back from a game at Purfleet in the boot of Macleod (M)'s Peugeot 405. Another concerned the occasion when he had to rely on a Clay Oven business card to get into the Czech Republic! Truly inspirational stuff.
I had planned on us frequenting - following recommendations from DaveTSCFC on the Conference Premier forum - the Old Ale House and/or G&D's, pre-match, as these boozers were most likely to be showing the game on TV. Instead we headed to the Mill, which Murdo, Craig and I had very much enjoyed on our last visit. I'm saddened to have to report that it now resembles more a restaurant, than a pub; I certainly don't remember it being quite so 'poncy'.
Here we met with LCG Dave, who had journeyed down by car, with his wife and child (I'm not sure what his old friend - KSG Callum - would have to say about that!). After a couple of rounds the helpful barmaid then provided us with a taxi number and, following a prompt 14:45 pickup, we entered the ground just after kick off.
|^^^ Err, lads, you do realise we'll be playing in yellow and blue?|
Regular readers of this blog - and/or people who have been to the ground before - will know that it is not a good one; miles out of town and basically comprising of one large(ish) stand, one covered end and
a fancy electronic scoreboard two fancy electronic scoreboards. Like last season, we attacked the covered end in the first half and so had to stand alongside the home fans (who, perhaps not unreasonably, don't change ends). Unlike last season, the Whites are currently doing rather well in the league (runaway leaders, in fact) and, buoyed by an early goal (which I missed, queuing for a decent enough cheeseburger and chips), their supporters were (slightly) louder and less restrained than before.
One gentleman, in particular, needed putting in his place; apparently he got in Murdo's face after we equalised (I say 'apparently', as I missed this goal as well; in the toilets!), while he also exchanged words with me (non sweary ones, honest!). Renditions of "We're
sh!t ginge, but the score's 1-1" and "You must be sh!t ginge, you're drawing with us" - in response to their rather half-hearted "You're sh!t, and you know you are" - plus "You're staying down with the Maidenhead", "You're Welsh, and you know you are" and "If you all pay your taxes, clap your hands" - among others - seemingly did the trick (and perhaps prompted 'Mr Angry' to seek us out, at the end, to shake hands).
We debated staying put, for the second half, but eventually decided against (uncovered ends are a bug-bear of mine, but not changing ends at a non-league football game is the height of ignorance!). Before taking down the flags and decamping we were complimented on the Scotland flag by an exile and then also on our 'witty banter' - "If you've only got one hand, clap your hand", "Can we play Truro every week", "The Conference South is upside down" ("we're still stuck in the middle ... ") - by a moustachioed neutral who, along with his teenage son, had apparently seen us at Godalming Town last season (he reckoned we were missing the "dread-locked striker" - Ashan Holgate? Manny Williams?).
It wasn't quite as cold this time, down the uncovered end at the Ray Mac (forgive me), but it was still a desolate place to be on a Saturday afternoon in November. Someone - who had apparently counted - said there were 17 Maidenhead fans there (all standing together, which made a welcome change). Some familiar faces were absent (including club officials), leading me to think that others had also encountered travel problems?
Regardless, big points to Dave L, Chris Rad. & friends, and everyone else who made the trek from the Royal County ... particularly as the game, it has to be said, was pretty dull. Others have suggested that the relatively small points differential between the 2nd and 21st placed teams is proof of a competitive division. I would counter that it is indicative of abject mediocrity.
|^^^ Putting up the flag, or trying to escape?|
The runaway league leaders understandably looked the better team and had most of the play - accusations of Maidenhead coming for a point are also probably accurate (David Pratt playing right-wing?) - but they created little in the way of clear-cut chances. The (convivial) stewards commented, at the end, that Billy Lumley was MoM and, although he might well have been, he certainly wasn't called upon to do anything truly exceptional; solid rather than spectacular.
Indeed, the longer the game went on, the more likely I thought we'd get a winner. In the end, I don't think we even got a corner! I think we had one shot during the entire second period - Bobby Behzadi (good to see him back in central midfield, BTW) hitting the new(er) scoreboard with a wild, hopeful effort, early on.
It was a case, thereafter, of 'make-your-own-fun' - "Top of the league, you're having a laugh", "12th in the league, we're having a laugh", "£13, you're having a laugh" and "What a waste of money" gave an indication of the quality of football on display, while the announcement of the attendance (an unbelievable 755 - about half as many were actually present, IMO) was greeted with the now-customary "
Sh!t ginge ground, no fans", "Is this all you get at home/Is this all we take away" and "You're only here cos it's Maidenhead".
Whilst we were relatively noisy, I would concede that our chant selection was rather scatter-gun. Obviously we were missing the orchestration of the aforementioned Willie 'I know 72 Maidenhead United chants' T (who, incidentally, informed me the other day that he has now seen precisely 148 Exeter City games!). As such, with the old(er) scoreboard showing 8 minutes left we turned to a tried and tested old faithful, beginning an admittedly ring-rusty "Johnson Hippolyte's Magpie Army" (which would last for 13 - unlucky for some - long minutes, bearing in mind the five minutes of added time).
Heartfelt blasts of "We love you Maidenhead" then defiant chants of "Berkshire! Berkshire! Berkshire!" and "We'll be back again next year" followed at the end.
I couldn't see Drax (who could only just about be bothered to <UN-ENDORSED> wave at us, when encouraged to do so earlier in the afternoon) but Simon Lane very clearly instructed the players to acknowledge the support at the final whistle. TBF, few of them needed any encouragement. Indeed, Danny Brown was literally bouncing up and down, in the centre circle, as Lumley soaked up well-deserved applause. Perhaps a certain ex-Maidenhead United manager was spot on, when he famously said "There's nothing better than a point on the road"
|^^^ Players applauding the fans at the end. Hasn't always happened.|
Unlike last season, we didn't hang about after the game. Another
7 seater 8 seater scum bus was waiting to take us back into town (there was traffic all the way). I told the taxi driver that the Haunch of Vension had been recommended to us (again by DaveTSCFC). He replied "I'd give that a miss, if I were you, and go to the Wetherspoons instead". His misguided praise for the ubiquitous chain pub more or less confirmed to me that the HoV was going to be good!
First stop, however, was the Chough - the barmaid here commenting that Macleod (M) didn't need to show any ID as he had "old person jokes". James, Will, Oxford Dan and Charlie Stoke (the latter, in conjunction with Murdo, able to answer my prized away day quiz question - "In addition to Steve Ogrizovic, name the three other players to have featured in the top flight of English football in four separate decades") would soon depart for the station (belated Halloween parties and wedding receptions to attend, apparently ... )
Macleod (M), Dickie, Dan and I, on the other hand, decided we would stay on and catch the last train at 20:26. We would head - as per the 'pub crawl list' - to the Ox Row Inn (a bit 'meh', but clearly popular with Spanish tourists) and then the aforementioned Haunch of Venison (a cracking little boozer which reminded me of a German pub, for some reason).
|^^^ Dickie and ... darn it, what was his mate's name?? |
|^^^ This week's obligatory 'yer actual culture, innit' photo:|
St Thomas of Canterbury parish church, dating from 1220 ... so almost as old as Macleod (M)
After a round in each, and then legging it - via a quick pit stop at an off licence for lager and lard - to the station, we arrived with over half a minute to spare ... only to find that the doors wouldn't open and, to our horror, that the final direct train to Basingstoke was departing EARLY! Nice. As you might imagine, Macleod (M) had some choice words for the station staff! In fact, I only just about managed to drag him away in time to catch a train to Southampton, where we hoped to be able to jump on something (anything!) heading vaguely homewards ...
On the way to Southampton we would sit with six Chelsea fans, returning home to Poole (!) from their game at Swansea City. They'd been on the train since 6pm and looked like beaten men - perhaps not surprising, bearing mind their team had conceded an 88th minute equaliser ... and their match tickets had cost them £45 each! The last thing they probably needed at this point was an anti Ken Bates lecture from Leeds United fan Macleod (M), but that's exactly what they got!
|^^^ Chelsea and Leeds United - no love lost, as per usual.|
While they were certainly not of the 'Tarquin and Sebastian' variety, it was interesting to note that, while both Macleod (M) and I had been to Stamford Bridge when the away end was still an open terrace - and had actually stood (rather than sat) in the Shed - none of the Dorset-based Blues had. #johnnycomelatelys
Thankfully, there was a train from Southampton that was stopping at Basingstoke. While getting on, Macleod (M) got chatting to a woman with a rather pleasant Scottish accent. We offered her a beer and she sat with us. It transpired that Sarah was a 28 year-old psychiatric nurse from Stirling who had recently moved down to London, from Glasgow, with her other half. To say she was fiery and contrary would be a massive understatement!
|^^^ All smiles for the camera ...|
After a discussion about Gordon Brown (during which I had repeatedly and deliberately mispronounced 'Kirkcaldy') she snapped at me, sarcastically asking "You got a degree in Politics or something". When I replied - admittedly rather smugly - "Funny you should say that ... ", she pinned me against the window and (as per the photo at the top of the page) applied a liberal amount of make-up to my face - lipstick, eye-liner, blusher, the lot! (I have a new found respect for women who wear mascara, as it's surprisingly heavy!) Sarah seemed a great girl ... albeit perhaps only in small doses! She'd drive you crazy otherwise! I was somewhat perturbed, therefore, when Macleod (M) claimed she was my "female equivalent" :-O
|^^^ Macleod (M)'s pulled!|
Finally back at Basingstoke and a facepalm moment when it became apparent that the Youth had inadvertently left the carry-out with Sarah on the London-bound train! We dispatched them to buy replacement cans. TBF, they would swiftly return with a bag-load of cold Carlsberg Export ... and a bevy of blondes in tow! These girls, wearing 'far-too-little-left-to-the-imagination' outfits were, it transpired, from Canterbury. I'd passed through Canterbury when some of us went to Herne Bay vs Whitley Bay in the FA Vase and commented that it seemed like a good night out. The girls guffawed. I was reminded of the Wetherpsoons-loving taxi driver from earlier!
|^^^ Only one of them wearing pants ...|
What on earth were they doing in Basingstoke, we asked? Apparently they were staying with some blokes they'd met on the internet (!) and a night out in Reading was on the cards (and the rest!). Said blokes appeared soon enough and I gathered everyone (including a random Asian gentleman who was also standing nearby) together for a photo. Alpha male was called Andre (although the girls kept calling him Aston, due to his supposed likeness to a member of JLS) and he seemed like a nice guy.
|^^^ The line-up for the new series of I'm A Celebrity ... is unveiled:|
incl. Aston from JLS, Russ Abbott, Dappy, The Saturdays and Channel 4's Krishnan Guru Murthy
I got the distinct impression, as
Aston Andre, his mates and the girls went on their merry way at Reading station, that he was beginning to wonder if he'd bitten off more than he could chew! They'd all been playing a drinking game - "have a sip of your drink if you've ever ... " - on the train ride and some of the responses from the girls left even the reasonably wordly-wise Macleod (M) and I completely open-mouthed! :-O
One leg of the journey left (thank goodness!) - Reading to Maidenhead. One more character to engage with - a Reading FC season ticket holder, mid-to-late 20s, who got off at Twyford. He was mightily impressed by the fact that we'd been 'all the way' to Wiltshire to support Maidenhead. He said he'd been to York Road with a group of RFC mates for the FA Cup game with Aldershot last season. Apparently it was they who were afforded a police escort from the station, to the Anchor and onto the ground! He commented that a lot of Reading fans he knew didn't really enjoy the Madejski and Premiership/Championship football, instead longing for the 'good ol' days' of Elm Park and the lower divisions. Playing Devil's Advocate here -
We finally arrived back into Maidenhead around 11:30 and I headed straight home. I would later discover that Dickie went to the Smoke ... on his own! TBH, I can't blame him for desperately wanting/needing more alcohol - it had been one of those days!
An FA Trophy match up with Gloucester City - at Cheltenham Town's Whaddon Road ground - is next on the Magpies' fixture list, this coming Sunday. Apparently there will be rail replacement around Swindon, so I think I'll give it a miss! I read on Tw@tter that the MMS were keen on attending, so they can pick up the slack. If the SCFC Chairman - as reported by Roy the Boy on the MUFC Forum (below) - is to be believed, then they've a tough act to follow: