^^^ I received a message on Facebook, post-match, asking if I had been one of the five Maidenhead fans - mentioned by the commentators, apparently, on BBC Radio Cumbria - standing and singing in the rain, behind the goal, during the second half. Of course! #hardcore
There had been some consternation, in the days leading up to the game, as to the numbers (or lack of) that we would take up north. TBF, you cannot blame Maidenhead United fans for failing to keep a proposed FA Trophy date free! Fortunately, unlike Macleod (M) for instance, I had no plans and would definitely be going. It wasn't decided until the preceding Thursday, however, that Will H, Rainey and I would be driving up with Mr Logic and then - as our chauffeur would be staying overnight in Yorkshire with an old friend - letting the train take the strain on the way back.
It was a bright and breezy morning as Logic picked up Will H and I from the car park of the
Windsor Loser Castle public house. Surprisingly enough, he was only a few minutes late and, after collecting Rainey, we were motoring up the M40 before 9am. We made good headway and - despite several unnecessary and increasingly-infuriating speed restrictions on the M6, plus a pit-stop at Charnock Richard services (named after a West Indian fast bowler?) - were on the A590, following signposts for Barrow-in-Furness, after what felt like only a couple of hours or so (probably much longer for Logic!). The A590 seemed to wind on for ages, however, but eventually the picturesque hills marking the edge of the Lake District gave way to some rather ugly-looking housing estates. Then, to our left, appeared the huge floodlights of Holker Street. We headed on - past the Travelodge I had considered staying in - towards town, where we had agreed to meet with Les (who had travelled up as far as Preston, on an apparently leaky Megabus, the night before). "Find a decent boozer and let us know where you are," I had instructed him by mobile phone ...
^^^ The Old Bank, Duke Street. If this constitutes a decent boozer, in Barrow, then I'd hate to drink in a sh!t one. All the locals seemed transfixed by the television - showing the Man City vs Arsenal game - even after the half-time whistle had sounded, shortly after our arrival, and repetitive adverts played. There was little in the way of an atmosphere, the room smelt damp, and I counted two large blue-bottles buzzing around. Still, the drinks tasted OK and were inexpensive. Plus it was a refuge from the rain which, as forecasted, was beginning to fall (not that it bothered the scores of kids playing football in the middle of streets, lined with terraced houses, in scenes reminiscent of an LS Lowry painting).
^^^ Caption competition? A smashed-up Dell keyboard to the winner ...
^^^ Safe to say that the North West Evening Mail had seen Drax's interview with the Advertiser. 'We have to earn the right to play' plus other cliched guff. "He's Johnson Hippolyte, he says what he wants"
^^^ Will H kindly offered to go in the boot - so Les could have a lift to the ground - but, in the end, the latter decided to walk. During the five minute car journey we passed Simply Pleasure, apparently 'the best adult shop in Barrow'. I half expected them to have a full page advert in the match-day programme, a la The Honeypot/ Maidenhead United, but no deal. Perhaps the Bluebirds are above such tawdriness? Good on them, if so. En route we would also pass the train station and a statue of local boy Emlyn Hughes, whilst the radio brought news of Man City's sixth goal (back in the pub, at 3-2, I had predicted a 6-3 final scoreline ... should've called Ray). We would use the Soccer Bar car park - an old gentlemen appearing, seemingly out of nowhere, to charge a bargain £1.00 - directly outside the ground ...
^^^ ... of Furness Rovers FC, who were playing in a West Lancashire League game! (Barrow AFC's ground was next door) The massive Asda, in the background, would come in very handy later on ...
^^^ You had to go into the rather swish Ticket Office before heading for the turnstiles. Don't ask me why they didn't just sell tickets on the gate. Anyway, I genuinely couldn't understand the accent of the girl on the desk. I gave her two notes - a tenner and a fiver - and got £2 change :-O
^^^ Club Shop Guy would be drooling ... and rightly so.
^^^ In the ground. Could be twinned with York Road. Well, the toilets at least. Fortunately, the photo of the urinals didn't make it past the GMOSC censors.
^^^ Floodlight Fancy
^^^ I liked Holker Street. It reminded me a bit of Worcester City's (old) ground ... although, upon reflection, that probably had as much to do with the colour scheme as anything else!
^^^ Minus points - obviously - for two uncovered ends, but the bar (which, it transpires, was on the second floor of this building) wasn't bad. The pitch, meanwhile, looked the part and held up impressively.
^^^ The Holker Street End. The Barrow 'Kop'. The Barrow 'Bell End'. Down there, second half, pouring rain or no pouring rain.
^^^ We were stood in the cowshed, during the first half, alongside the noisy home support. Fair play to 'em, they had a good range of songs (many celebrating successes at Wembley - "We always win at Wembley!" - in 1990 and 2010). Plus they had a rattle! I struggled to understand much of what they were saying, in truth, but some of the words can be found in this thread. We were rather subdued, at first (perhaps somewhat intimidated by our close proximity to the home fans), but Logic did lead us in a few chants as the opening half wore on ... prompting the northerners to mock - by impersonation - our 'cockney' accents; they sounded like the love children of Danny Dyer and Dame Edna Everidge.
^^^ The teams emerge.
"Farnborough Town vs Reading?? Sh!t, we're at the wrong match!"
It don't run in our blood
That kind of luxe just ain't for us
We crave a different kind of buzz
^^^ Match action.
Reading Barrow had much the better of the first half. Twice they hit the side-netting ("You/ we thought you had scored, you/ we were wrong"). Maidenhead could barely string two passes together and Richard Pacquette was isolated up front. Harry Grant was wearing 10 - and playing in the traditional number 10 role - but looked a little lightweight. Meanwhile his fellow Gillingham loanee - Devante McKain - was having an absolute nightmare, out-of-position, at right-back. Jacob Erskine, conversely, appeared surprisingly assured at centre-half. My pre-match prediction of 1-1 was looking pretty good at the break.
^^^ Love this. Apparently Barrow finished 8th, under Colin Appleton, in the old Third Division back in 1967/68 and spent a total of 51 seasons in the football league.
^^^ The view from the bar at half-time. The rain got noticeably heavier, ten minutes or so before the interval, and the noisy element among the home fans departed - virtually en masse - for the clubhouse. On his way past us, their chant-leader - their Macleod (M) - stopped and re-iterated several times that we were more-than-welcome to join them for a drink in the bar. It wasn't a threat. And we didn't need much encouragement! I/ we have actually encountered Barrow fans on a few occasions - when they beat us at York Road en route to winning the Trophy in 2010; when Macleod (M) and I went to Wealdstone vs Barrow (also in the Trophy); in a pub somewhere in London as our paths crossed on the way back from respective games (I remember they had been at Ebbsfleet ... or at least agreed that Ebbsfleet are ####s). Despite a reputation to the contrary, I have always found the Bluebirds to be a good bunch of lads - still the only away fans to voluntary donate to the Anchor scarf mural, let us not forget - and it was no different on Saturday. I certainly wish them all the best. On another day we might've stayed with them in the (reasonably-priced) bar and drank through the second half. As I commented, though, to the aforementioned chant leader (a native of Aberdeen, incidentally) we hadn't come all that way to spend the afternoon indoors; the terrace behind the goal beckoned. He understood.
^^^ Their keeper may have saved this shot but he had been helpless, moments before - just as we arrived in position - as Pacquette coolly drilled home a low shot to open the scoring. Buoyed by the goal and with the wind increasingly in our favour, Maidenhead's confidence seemed to soar and we began to dominate proceedings.
^^^ The wind was howling and the rain was sheeting down, at this point, but several blasts of "You are my Bell End!" kept the blood circulating. "Can we play here every week?" also got an airing.
^^^ The corner flag, above, kept getting blown over. At one point the referee dispatched one of the Maidenhead bench to return it to an upright position. It didn't last long. "Call it off!" we joked. The locals, in contrast, were getting increasingly restless. After last week's 6-0 home reverse, patience was understandably in short supply. New manager Darren Edmondson looks to have a very tough job on his hands. TBF, the wind was blowing the ball from it's spot every time their keeper tried to take a goal kick, whilst clearances from their centre-halves were barely making the half-way line. Maidenhead also had the bit between their teeth now; a crunching tackle from Adrian Clifton, and a spectacular sliding block by Erskine, typified the commitment shown and suppressed the standard 'southern softy' jibes from the crowd. Barrow were there for the taking and I thought we could've tried a few more pot-shots, bearing in mind the conditions. As it was, the win was secured late on when Danny Green - clearly returned to his early season good form - guided an effort into the top corner, sparking delirious celebrations on the terrace. The departing home fans were soon serenaded with the obligatory "We can see you sneaking out". Several wished us good luck in the next round. I, meanwhile, proposed a conga. Rejected. Probably for the best.
^^^ Much applause from the players at the end. Well deserved. They deserved our applause, in turn, for it had been a wholehearted team display in tough conditions. A comment on the Barrow forum, however, sums things up rather neatly:
"Good luck in the next round Maidenhead, decent fans who made the long trip, you too have a rubbish team but not as spineless as ours" ~ barrowaberdeen
^^^ Big ups from Danny Brown and Harry Pritchard, as well, on Tw@tter. Good lads. Much appreciated.
^^^ The grandstand after the final whistle. It was then back to the bar for another quick pint (I was disappointed to learn that Rovers had lost, to a late goal, at nearby Morecambe). Here we would chat with another home fan. When asked what had gone wrong - Barrow, after playing at both Middlesbrough and Sunderland in the FA Cup in recent years as well as winning the Trophy in 2010, are now staring at their second successive relegation and have seen average attendances drop from 1,500 to 500 (547 was the attendance on Saturday) - he replied "To answer that would take all night". I think most readers will be able to guess the short answer: one of the Barrow players on Saturday had reportedly journeyed from his home in Skegness! It is disgraceful, really, what has happened there. Some people should be ashamed of themselves. They probably aren't. I suppose it does put the likes of Chairman Who Knows His
Football Swearing, Drax etc. into some perspective ...
^^^ Will H and I finished our pints in double quick time and headed to the aforementioned Asda superstore for a carry-out; 20 cans of Guinness for £16. We tried to find some brandy and cigars - in honour of Drax - but time was against us. After a brisk walk down Holker Street we met with Rainey, Les, Educated Left Foot plus Chris Rad. and friend ahead of the 18:03 Northern Rail departure.
^^^ While Rainey and the Youth were headed for Preston, the rest of us were changing at Lancaster. I've read that the University of Lancaster has, in the past at least, a disproportionately high suicide rate. Strange, as the place looked anything but depressed. We certainly didn't have to walk very far to find a boozer in which to spend our spare 45 minutes, passing several fancy-looking restaurants before entering the Robert Gillow. In here there was a woman in white cowboy boots playing a guitar, several people eating generously-portioned pub grub, and ...
^^^ ... a massive wine fridge! Really, what is the world coming to??
^^^ After helping a couple of American students, with their suitcases, back at the station - gents that Will H and I are - it was all aboard the (slightly delayed) 19:44 to Euston. Topics of conversation - as we steadily made our way through the Guinness - included who we'd like in the next round (favoured were - in no particular order - away ties at Grimsby Town, Lincoln City, Guiseley, Tamworth or Cambridge United), the Baader-Meinhof gang (I'd watched the rather excellent film, the night before) and shared experiences of Desborough School teachers (Desborough boys on tour!). We also chatted with the Queen of the South first team squad - who got out at Wigan en route to their Christmas party (weekend) in Liverpool - and a group of middle-aged guys from Chorley (who face a replay in the Trophy with Forest Green Rovers).
^^^ Initially, those who had changed at Preston weren't sat with us. I went and fetched Rainey (from first class) and also Chris Rad. and friend (he did tell me his name, so my bad). Return train tickets - not cheap - for these two (or at least one of them) were apparently early Christmas presents. Eat your heat out, Santa! For this had been an away game for the ages. I think that the long distance, the fact that so few of us had travelled - and the importance of the game (season over if we'd lost) - had created just the sort of 'us vs them' spirit that, as Macleod (M) pointed out in his recent blog post, we've been missing for some time. A togetherness - a bond - that had been further augmented by the team display and, ultimately, the result. Educated Left Foot and I, for example, sat alongside one another for the entire journey between Lancaster and Euston and not one angry word was exchanged! Yes, it was that type of day. Football, eh? (sometimes, at least!) As per The Streets - "They could settle wars with this, if only they will". Educated Left Foot perhaps summed it up even better with the following Tweet (which I would've re-tweeted, but I think he's blocked me, so I can't):
^^^ Anyway, a can would be raised for those Magpies who had wanted to be there but - for one reason or another - couldn't make it. Next round, boys, next round.
^^^ Back to the Big Smoke and a short walk, in the rain, to the tube station. Road to Wembley closed? Nope. And it goes via Cleethorpes. In January. Dare to dream.
Match highlights HERE
Match highlights HERE
PS. My euphoria was further enhanced, upon finally reaching home (just after midnight), when I discovered that Macleod (M), Willie T and I had made the GLC Tour Blog (again). Next to a photo of a rather horrific-looking zit, unfortunately, but nevermind. #famousasfuck
PPS. Macleod (M) - any chance of the Daventry Town blog post making an appearance, any time soon?? Already a round late ... ;-)
PPPS. I was there! #barrowtwelve