"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 30 December 2012

Festive Stand·ard

(Belated) Season's Greetings, one and all!

Sadly but predictably, the pre-Christmas home game with Sutton United fell victim to a waterlogged pitch. Bad news for my liver, my wallet and any performers at the On Trial UK 'Anchor Christmas Bash' who fancied a drunken heckle-free night.

MUFC would follow this up by coming from behind (!) to draw 1-1 against Hayes & Yeading United on Boxing Day (Att 123) before smashing 6 (six) unanswered goals at Staines Town (Att 303).

Apparently the contingent from Berkshire made up over half the crowd at Woking and the Youth comprehensively out-sung the 'home' support (TBF, 'ayes - in my experience - 
only ever have one song). 

Meanwhile, a good LCG turnout - plus legendary York Road management team Alan Devonshire and Carl Taylor - were amongst those present at Wheatsheaf Park.

Former Bristol Rovers flop Jerel Ifil was sent off for the Swans (albeit with the Magpies already 3-0 up). Expect Drax to sign him sometime soon! Seriously, our recent defensive additions have obviously had a positive impact (Youth team coach Aaron Steadman singling out Brentford loanee Alfie Mawson, on Tw@tter, for praise).

Also good to see David Pratt's name back amongst the goalscorers, with his 20-odd minute substitute cameo resulting in a brace. He must now be close to the mark - 12 league goals - that would trigger my charitable donations to the Link Foundation.

Interestingly, Advertiser reporter Charles Watts would highlight, again on Tw@tter, a bet between Drax and Dereck Brown. Who will score the most goals, this season - Pratt or Alex Wall? Drax has apparently backed the latter. Might this explain why the former has spent time on the right wing and, more recently, the bench?!

Anyway, the Magpies jump 8 places to 9th. A mere 9 points now separate 4th and 20th place in the Conference South table. Proof of a competitive and/or mediocre division? Does anyone care? (the aforementioned attendance figures would suggest not many)

Our improved form, of late, will likely ensure that the sheep on the Mothership are soon bleating about possible promotion, rather than replacing Drax. As such, focus will once again turn to the (latest) proposed new stand. Has anyone, as suggested by Ground Hopper, thought of a name?

I have.

It came to me, last night, in a dream (sad but true).

I think it should be named after Peter and UNA.

I've even designed a logo:

Happy New Year! See everyone - figuratively, of course - on 1st January 2013 ... if the HAYU re-match survives the wet weather. 


Friday 7 December 2012

Agent Provocateur

In the past I/ we have been accused of/ credited with (delete as appropriate) being the wit behind @therealdrax.

Not the case.

Initially, it was also suggested that I might be 'Ground Hopper' (another back-handed compliment, IMO ... although has anyone read this week's column - the Devonshire Stand, WTF??)

Again, not the case.

Now it seems that one person (at least) suspects me of being an 'Agent Provocateur' re correspondence, sent to the local rag, concerning the (latest) proposed new stand at York Road.

In the Advertiser last week there was an inaccurate, easily-mocked - but probably best ignored - letter from a supposedly-lapsed Magpies fan named 'P Brennen'. The letter could justifiably be categorised as 'anti-club', generally, and 'anti-new stand', more specifically.

"My suspicion is this P Brennan person is not quite what he claims or who he claims to be" wrote one fan, on the forum.

"Yes I thought he might be one of the GMOSC folks playing agent provocateur" replied the 'Magpie Webmistress'.

Oh, the irony!

The latter is, it should be noted, the person who took it upon herself to make unauthorised and uncredited edits to my posts (and others), prompting the Chairman to declare - via a Private Message to me - that "your access will be removed if you keep opening new accounts and posting previously removed material". 

The Chairman would soon apologise - again, via PM - "in this instance" but, shortly afterwards, changes were made so that you had to become a Club Member (on Pitchero) to even view the forum, let alone post. "Due to person or persons unknown disrupting the site by impersonating other posters" was the spin official reason, given at the time. 

'Persons unknown' my arse. 

I haven’t posted on the forum since, and so many (myself included!) would no doubt heartily thank MW for her underhandedness (consequences intended or otherwise).

If I were still posting, however, then some of my recent comments, on the same old, same old hot topics of the day, would read as follows:

*** The stand

FAN: "Surely it is time for action, no more talking"

DIRECTOR: "Unless you have the magic answer as to where to obtain the six figure sum"

GMOSC: Easy. From the playing budget.

("I'd rather spend money on players like Ashley Nicholls")

*** Family club / foul and abusive language

FAN: "I have to say that I am getting really fed up with the abuse the opposition goalkeepers have to put up with at York Road this season. Personally I think its embarrassing for the club particularly as we are portraying ourselves as a family club. I understand bantering with the opposition players or even giving a player a bit of stick if he has past history with the club or has injured a Maidenhead player. But there is a difference between this and what I saw today, the completely unfunny "banter" that their keeper was subjected to during the match was extremely off-putting and at times bordering on homophobic abuse. This is not the first time that I have felt uncomfortable behind the goal as this has happened several times over the last few years although it was just terrible today. I realise that it is up to me to say something against this during the match but I would feel very uncomfortable doing this particularly as the "fans" often doing this are drinking on the terrace. One of the main reasons I first started supporting the club back in 1997 was the enjoyable atmosphere at the club and the often funny chants and banter in the crowd which sadly I feel has been disappearing over the last few years (with a few exceptions such as Aldershot away last season) to be replaced by just abuse"

DIRECTOR: "please come and talk to myself or Mark Stewart about this next time you come to York Road"

GMOSC: As we don't know your address and so cannot post the banning order.

*** David Pratt

FAN: "Thought David Pratt worked extremely hard again today but he really needs a goal"

("It's always our fault. It's always our fault. Why don't you ban us? It's always our fault".)

Seriously, the aforementioned letter from 'P Brennen' has prompted a slew of replies. Many are featured on pg 20 of this week's Advertiser. This, supposedly, is good publicity for the club. I’m not so sure ... although perhaps it is. Regardless, this blog post - from 2012 - is still applicable, as far as I'm concerned. Crucially, it could probably have been written in 2009.

Or 1999.

Let's hope it's not still relevant come 2019.


Friday 30 November 2012

Away Day Diary: Wuppertaler SV Borussia 2-2 Rot-Weiss Essen (24/11/12)

In recent years, long weekend trips to Christmas markets in Germany have become a tradition for my wife and me, plus both sets of parents. In 2010, we all went to Köln (and some of us to 1. FC Koln vs Eintracht Frankfurt). And last December, we all went to Hannover (unfortunately, no live football for my Dad and me as Hannover 96 vs Hamburg was a sell-out, and no other local sides - e.g. VfL Wolfsburg, Eintracht Braunschweig - were at home).

However, there was some doubt that we would go anywhere this year as my parents are jetting off in early December to spend Christmas with my sister in Australia. Both sets of parents were seemingly very keen, though (remarkable, as we had to persuade them to partake in the original jaunt to Köln), so we booked a November trip. Düsseldorf was the destination, as the Christmas market there seemingly opens earlier than all others (probably something to do with their continuous game of one-upmanship with Köln!).

Fortuna Düsseldorf would be at home against Hamburg on Friday night. But I wasn't particularly interested in that fixture: it was unlikely we'd get tickets if the Hannover experience was anything to go by, and I thought - correctly as it turns out - that watching the local side on TV, in one of the many Altstadt bars, would be good fun in itself. No, of far more interest to me was that Wuppertaler SV Borussia would be at home, at the Stadion am Zoo, on Saturday afternoon ... against hated rivals Rot-Weiss Essen, no less!

I had been to Düsseldorf before, in April 2009, for my Stag weekend. The destination was Craig's idea, and he also suggested we visit nearby Wuppertal, taking a ride on the world's oldest monorail electric elevated railway with hanging cars - as Michael Portillo did in last week's episode of Great Continental Railway Journeys - to a game at the Zoo (to be clear, Portillo did take the monorail, but not to the Zoo!). An excellent weekend also saw us attend Bayer Leverkusen vs Werder Bremen at Fortuna's ground (then called the LTU Arena, now the Esprit Arena), where, incidentally, we would chat with some Rot-Weiss Essen fans outside. 

However, standing in the sunshine on an open terrace as WSV lost 1-0 to SC Paderborn 07 in front of a sub-5k crowd (and then being taught to chant in Turkish by my mate Timur outside a delightful little bar close to the central monorail station) is perhaps my favourite memory of the weekend (one of many good uns - Scouse Willie T's crowd-pleasing rendition of Don't Look Back In Anger, in a gay karaoke bar on the Bolkerstraße, remains a definitive 'I was there' moment ... )

^^^ Arsenal (a), Carlisle (a), Fenerbahce, Italy (a), Togo, Rangers, Reading, Exeter, Dortmund (a), Maidenhead ... in case you were wondering!

After the game, Macleod (M) kindly bought me a WSV scarf as an early wedding present. I would wear this as we visited SE11's excellent German pub Zeitgeist - ahead of a Conference South forum meet-up at the Wheatsheaf in Southwark - earlier this month. The scarf was the catalyst for some German youngsters, spending a weekend in London and an afternoon in Zeitgeist, to come over and chat with us. As Macleod (M) and Craig regaled them with stories of KSG visits to Lübeck, Chemnitz, Jena and the like, I proudly informed them that I would be at Wuppertaler SV vs Rot-Weiss Essen the following Saturday. Their incredulity - manifested by guffaws and open mouths - was matched by my excitement.

^^^ Can you guess the three Conference South scarves?

As aforementioned, Düsseldorf's 2012 Christmas market was the first in the country to open. Wuppertal's, in contrast, was still in the throes of erection (ooh err!). This, plus the rather drab weather and the lack of welcoming cafés around the stadium - after our journey on the monorail from the town centre - meant that the in-laws would join the wife and I, plus my Mum and Dad, at the game. My father-in-law is not a football man. Not a sport man, full stop, TBF. The F1 highlights on TV - and the occasional egg-chasing corporate freebie at the Millennium Stadium - are usually the extent of his sporting engagement. Now he was to experience a live football match for the first time ... and a Regionalliga West (German Div 4) football match at that! He must love me!

^^^ Bring out your riot gear!

TBF, the game wasn't bad; the second half, in particular, was action-packed. Furthermore, the standard appeared higher than the last time I'd seen WSV (then playing at a nationalised third level rather than the regionalised fourth tier). And if the match action wasn't interesting enough, then both sets of supporters proved to be eminently watchable! The game was obviously a big deal; both uncovered ends were significantly fuller than my last visit (although the announced crowd of 5,480 was only 636 more than the attendance against Paderborn in 2009), while TV cameras and crew were also prevalent (certainly more so than I'd expect for a typical Regionalliga game).

UPDATE: It transpires the game was shown live on TV!

The away fans took the early initiative, pre-kick-off, with loud chanting and choreographed flag-waving. In stark contrast, WSV were almost silent. Then, very strangely, both sets of supporters went quiet once the match had gotten underway. A Guardian Sportblog post by the always enlightening Raphael Honigstein, which I read shortly after my return to the UK, shed light on this (and helped explain the flyers handed to us upon paying our EUR 15.00 each to enter the impressive - and reasonably packed - main stand). More on Honigstein's article later ...

^^^ 12 Minutes. 12 Seconds. Silence.

My Dad and I had spent the small hours of the previous night drinking Altbier at the bar and listening to Die Toten Hosen (mainly) on the jukebox in the FC St. Pauli pub (bizarre, I know) close to our hotel. As such, both of us were hungover and, rather shamefully, gave beers at the football a miss (the sausages were excellent, though). I was genuinely struggling to keep my eyes open during half-time. Thankfully, the game exploded (almost literally) into life during the second period ... both on and off the pitch!

^^^ Too much of this ...

^^^ ... equals head in hands!

WSV took a two-goal lead, largely thanks to the contributions of, IMO, the game's two standout performers: the No. 8 - captain and influential midfielder - Tom Moosmayer, had two assists while the hulking, bald No. 9 Christian Knappmann would have had two goals, but for a RWE defender diverting the game's opening strike past his own keeper. The WSV supporters behind the goal would replace their rather bizarre and inexplicable (to me, anyway) cardboard banners with flares. Certain, no-colour and largely cap-wearing RWE fans would attempt to scale the fences, separating them from the WSV fans in the stand, only to be repelled by brief squirts of a police water cannon.

Despite being two down, my Mum and Dad thought RWE to have been the better team. I strongly disagree with that assessment (they're Chelsea fans, so what do they know?!). However, as stated by the WSV-supporting American author of the excellent Abseits blog, WSV looked golden ... But you knew they would start sucking. Seemingly out of nothing, still inevitably, RWE pulled a goal back. Thanks to the enterprising Konstantin Sawin, they were soon level, with a little over ten minutes left. With RWE bringing on the lively Marvin Ellmann and WSV replacing the seemingly exhausted Knappmann (Danny Cornelius - who had caught our eye during VfB Lübeck vs VfL Wolfsburg II in October 2010 - was, incidentally, one of the WSV subs), the away side looked the (more than) likely winners. To the home fans' relief, WSV appeared to have weathered the storm, though, as goalkeeper Christoph Semmler pushed a last-minute, bundled effort past the post ... only for the youthful referee to point to the spot!

I still don't know what for.

Around the ground, all WSV fans (virtually every one of them a chain smoker, it would seem) went mad. Some - to our far right (no pun intended) - climbed fences to remonstrate. The away end, in contrast, prepared to erupt with joy ... only for Ellmann's kick to be well-saved by Semmler! The referee immediately blew for full-time and hurried down the tunnel as a torrent of abuse rained down from the stand. Neither side seemed happy with the result, although the giant Knappmann punched the air (making the wife swoon?) as he prepared for an interview - in front of us - with an attractive, blonde TV reporter.

We walked to the nearby main-line station rather than heading back into Wuppertal town centre on the monorail. That is where we would (eventually) catch a train for the 30-minute journey back to Düsseldorf. Thanks, I presume, to the sizeable contingent from Essen being herded to their train(s) - all others were running (slightly) late. Which, in Germany, felt rather strange! Something else that would, I'm sure, feel rather strange in Germany? Attending a professional football match without (1) a reasonable entry price and (2) large area(s) for excitable fans to stand and create a great atmosphere. Worryingly, however, after I had linked on Facebook to the aforementioned Honigstein article - commenting that I hoped any upcoming German 'safety' reforms wouldn't go "too English, too family club" - a friend, who attends more German football than I, replied to say that "the party is over". It'll be a shame if that turns out to be the case.

There were flares, ultras, and passions running high at the Zoo on Saturday (while we also witnessed, live on TV, a delay in the Fortuna vs Hamburg game due to an HSV ultras' flag catching fire). But I would much rather that than the sanitised, over-priced, elf 'n' safety obsessed 'entertainment for the masses' often served up in England. I'm sure the father-in-law would now vouch for that as well. OK, maybe not! Seriously, I hope a sensible compromise can be agreed. Flares (hidden within flags and banners, hopefully, rather than certain bodily orifices ... ) can be dangerous. But stewards (at W@nky Wanderers, for example) not allowing flags in (non-smoking) grounds unless accompanied by fire certificates? Fick Dich!

^^^ ... AND YOU?

< PS > 

^^^ The KSG's contribution to the awe-inspiring scarf collection decorating the ceiling of 


It would seem that the pyrotechnics and offensive banners at the Zoo last Saturday caused some rancour if a selection of recent (Google translated) articles on the official WSV site is anything to go by:

This rather bizarre snippet also caught my attention: 

Count the Sl*ugh T*wn fans

All together now - "there's a Sl*ugh T*wn staying down, tra la la la la ... "

Banter aside, the paltry attendance - 151 - is rather sad, esp compared to times when, on occasions, 400+ would watch us play in midweek B&B Cup ties at York Road (eg. the 1997/98 Semi-Final v M@rl*w). 

Furthermore, I wanted to link above to the match report on the MUFC website ...but there wasn't one.


Tuesday 6 November 2012

Away Day Diary: Salisbury City 1-1 Maidenhead United (03/11/12)

As recently as three weeks ago, the KSG was seriously contemplating not going to Salisbury - one of only a handful of decent away days in the Conference South. I'm glad we did: thanks to some new faces and characters encountered en route, an enjoyable day was had ... despite the 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 was 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 representing the 'Youth' and had seemingly also embraced the 'Refer A Friend' initiative: accompanied by a 17-year-old three-weeks-away-from-his-18th-birthday Dan (whose name, rather embarrassingly, I kept forgetting ... even though he had it tattooed on his neck!). Dan has apparently been a York Road regular of late, but this was to be his very first MUFC away game. That 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 in Salisbury in time for the lunchtime TV kick-off (Arsenal @ Old Trafford). However, the 10:34 train was late. (A scene all too familiar for those reliant on the rail network for their workday commute.) 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 cancelled one after), but its tardiness meant it would be a struggle 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 remain on the platform for what seemed like an age (but 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!

Worse still, there was rail replacement between Basingstoke and Salisbury - not something 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 (a decent pub in Basingstoke shock!) 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 are worse than feared.

Charlie Stoke would defy the ban within minutes of the train leaving the station, rather gleefully (?) announcing van Pr$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.

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' 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. Also, 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 sad 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 via 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 provided us with a taxi number, and, following a prompt 14:45 pickup, we entered the ground just after kick-off.

^^^ Err, lads, do you 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 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, standing 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. He got in Murdo's face after we equalised (or so I'm told - 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, in the end, to shake hands).

We debated staying put for the second half but eventually decided against it (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, etc., 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" ("And we're still stuck in the middle ... ") - by a moustachioed neutral who, along with his teenage son, had 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 bleak place to be on a Saturday afternoon in November. Someone - who had counted - said there were 17 Maidenhead fans there (all standing together, which made a welcome change). Some familiar faces were conspicuous by their absence (including club officials). Perhaps 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 equates to 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 with 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 was solid rather than spectacular and not called upon to do anything exceptional.

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.

Otherwise, it was a case 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. The announcement of the attendance - an unbelievable 755 (about half as many were present, IMO) - prompted the usual response: "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 scatter-gun. We were missing the orchestration of 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 eight minutes left, we turned to a tried and tested old faithful. An admittedly ring-rusty "Johnson Hippolyte's Magpie Army" 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 bounced 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"

^^^ The players applaud the fans at the end. Not a given.

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 Venison 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!

The 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 ... )

Conversely, Macleod (M), Dickie, Dan and I decided we would stay on. 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 popular with Spanish tourists) and then the 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! 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 homeward ...

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 in 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 what they got! 

^^^ Chelsea and Leeds United - no love lost, as per usual.

While not of the 'Tarquin and Sebastian' variety, it was interesting to note that one of the Dorset-based Blues had been to Stamford Bridge when the away end was still an open terrace or had stood (rather than sat) in the Shed. In contrast, both Macleod (M) and I had. #johnnycomelatelys

Thankfully, there was a train from Southampton that was stopping at Basingstoke. While getting on, Macleod (M) chatted with a woman with a rather pleasant Scottish accent. We offered her a beer, and she sat with us. It transpires 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 makeup to my face - lipstick, eye-liner, blusher, the lot! (I have a newfound 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 unsettled 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 bevvy 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 Wetherspoons-loving taxi driver from earlier!

^^^ Only one of them with underwear ...

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 standing nearby) for a photo. The 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 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 - "take 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 worldly-wise Macleod (M) and I completely open-mouthed! :-O

Only 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, they were those afforded a police escort from the station, to the Anchor and onto the ground! He commented that many Reading fans he knew didn't 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 -

"The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be" ~ Marcel Pagnol

We finally arrived in 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'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 have a tough act to follow: