"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 7 May 2017

Away Day Diary: Margate 0-3 Maidenhead United (29/04/17)

Fancy Dresslemania XVII

^^^ When the 2016/17 Conference South fixtures were made public on July 6th, I noticed straightaway that Fancy Dresslemania XVII would take place at Margate. My instant reaction? The KSG should go as Only Fools & Horses characters in homage to Jolly Boy's Outing (the classic 1989 Christmas special). By month's end, I had purchased a sheepskin coat from eBay for £10 (which my in-laws collected, on my behalf, from Herefordshire). Over drinks at Christmas, it was agreed that in addition to me as Del Boy, Macleod (C) would be going as Uncle Albert, Macleod (M) as Rodney, and Willie T as Trigger. The Magpies were leading the league at Christmas. There was talk that if we were lucky with injuries and suspensions, we might have a chance of promotion. But I don't think many believed we'd last the pace at the top. We certainly didn't back in July; you'd have been laughed out of town for suggesting that Maidenhead United would be title contenders. Indeed, exactly that happened when Ryan D said, during a conversation with me in the clubhouse at Weston-super-Mare immediately after Fancy Dresslemania XVI, "Forget the playoffs, (next year) we'll get automatic promotion!" The equivalent of "This time next year, we'll be millionaires ... "

Someone said on the train to Bath City at the beginning of April that people probably think the lack of posts on here has been down to Maidenhead doing so well under Alan Dev. To confirm, that's not the case.  I've written before to explain that greater responsibilities at work and at home mean I haven't the time required. If things were different, then this calendar year alone would've resulted in several Away Day Diaries of note: Gosport Borough, Hungerford Town, Chelmsford City, Weston (again), Bath itself, Truro City (ft. Hampton vs Wealdstone and a weekend in Newquay), plus accounts of home games with Slough Town (#stayingdown), Eastbourne Borough, Oxford City and, of course, Ebbsfleet United. (Perhaps a Season Review, during the summer if time allows? UPDATE: FCVideo's excellent montage is worth a watch in the meantime. I particularly love the stand bouncing at Truro just before the 1-minute mark!) As it is, I genuinely wonder how the likes of Gandermonium can be so prolific while having to make do, myself, with four photos and 140 characters on Twitter. Indeed, the increase in the number of people watching Maidenhead these days, coupled with the continued saturation of social media - incl. vlogs, Facebook Live, etc. - has led me to think of the blog as somewhat outdated. Regardless, a post re the Margate game was a certainty. As Craig quickly reminds me, it's all about the fancy dress!

^^^ That's how big this game was!

^^^ Usually, the KSG will be on a train departing Maidenhead an hour or two before the hordes. Last Saturday, however, the platform was heaving with fans - in fancy dress and already in good voice - awaiting the 08:47. Earlier in April, I attended a 'Speaking with Impact' training seminar with work. Our task was to prepare a five-minute talk on a topic of our choice. I'd opted for Fancy Dresslemania, discussing its increased popularity over the years and how proud I felt, seeing as we (re)started the tradition in 2001. 'From a handful to hundreds' was a phrase I used, adhering to one of the pointers - use of alliteration - given to us. 'Hundreds' was artistic licence ... or so I thought. I was pleasantly surprised by how many were in costume, particularly at this hour!

^^^ You know it makes sense!

^^^ Some of the other costumes. I was resigned to there being at least one other Del Boy. Nope, just me. Lovely jubbly!

^^^ Uncle Albert has presumably been on a computer course!

^^^ Britney Spears?

^^^ We were joined at Slough (#stayingdown) by ex-player Mickey 'Vialli' Creighton - 198 starts, 78 goals - with his better half, both in costume, and Steve A. (More on him later.) Plus, this doughnut.

^^^ Disaster at Paddington. No, not bumping into Corey Jesus and some other HAYU fans dressed as Power Rangers. Instead, our lack of experience in travelling in large (ish) groups got the better of us, and we inadvertently splintered.

^^^ Travelling on the Hammersmith & City line.

^^^ Some (incl. Rodney) legged it for the 10:06 from St Pancras. Del, Albert and Trigger managed to catch the scheduled 10:22 departure with time to spare. Others only just about made it. Shambles. Del wasn't happy. Mon Dieu!

^^^ To be fair to Rodney, he did get off the quicker and earlier train at Ebbsfleet to join us on the slower and later train. And he did take the opportunity to pose for a photo with LCG Sanjay and an inflatable trophy. The only one held aloft in Ebbsfleet that day!

^^^ Elsie Partridge?

^^^ Arrival in Margate, as planned, just before midday.

^^^ This mural was around the corner from the train station, on the A28, overlooking the seafront.

^^^ The cue for several photos, incl. one that made it to the Football Away Days page on Facebook.

^^^ The travelling hordes set up shop in the Wetherspoons while the KSG went to find our Airbnb accommodation. Fair play to Albert for proposing it as an option, with the Premier Inn and other budget hotels all booked up. (It was, after all, a bank holiday weekend.) We ended up with a characterful, three-storey, four-bed, Victorian terraced house close to the Old Town. Cost? £28.75 each.

^^^ Alcohol drunk. Songs sung. Dan Darlington's ears, if not his eyes, could attest to this.

^^^ The KSG's first port of call, though, post-check-in, was the Lifeboat. Decent, reasonably-priced ales, but we were joined on the benches outside by a particularly crazed Jakey. 'Why didn't you just go inside?' I hear you ask. Cloughie was in there.

^^^ Grim, one of our good friends from Wealdstone, had thoroughly recommended Fez and the Harbour Arms. The former was just around the corner, and so we headed there. What a place! Up there for 'pub of the season'. Their quality ales were just £3 a pint. Of course, we stayed until taxis ferried us to the ground just before 3pm. ("Derek Blow's my Grandad" :-D )

^^^ My first visit to Hartsdown Park. Up Down there with Poole, Whitehawk, Concord, East Thurrock, and Truro in the crap Conference South grounds list: no terracing behind the goal we were attacking (thankfully) in the first half, as shown above by the LCG Subbuteo team photo.

^^^ I decided to head for the burger van. I started queuing before Harry Pritchard opened the scoring with a free kick in the 14th minute. Between a Havant & Waterlooville fan and a chicken, and behind a gaggle of non-playing members of the MUFC squad: Kieron Forbes, James Hammond, Josh Kelly, and Charlie 'Surf Dud' Wassmer (the GMOSC Player of the Season). I was still waiting as Rodney jumped the queue to join me after the halftime whistle had sounded: abysmal service. "We get an early goal, second half, and it's party time," I remember saying ...

^^^ Carnage. Everyone knew what this goal likely meant, not least the players.

^^^ A third goal - Pritchard's second (via a Sean Marks deflection?) - sealed the deal. Conga time! Dan Darlington called it.

^^^ Snippet from the Non-League Paper's match report the following day. Libellous statement: we hadn't touched a drop of water! Conga tweet #1. Conga tweet #2 (Trigger and his broom! :-D )

^^^ Delirium. Singing, hugging, the collective shaking of heads in disbelief that 'it' - Maidenhead United winning a league for the first time since 1962 - was actually happening. This last half hour or so is probably as good as it will ever get. Those wanting to re-live the moment are lucky, as Maidenhead Taxi OntimeCars was live!

^^^ You are my Bell End. "Please keep off the pitch," was the gist of an announcement made over the tannoy. Fat chance! Links to videos of the inevitable pitch invasion: @fc_video, @MUFCYorkRoad, @Stax1970, @BBCBerkshire, @TheNationalLge.

^^^ Drax - this, my man, is a half-decent goalkeeper! (Carl Pentney, not Del Boy!)

^^^ Rodney had headed straight for the changing rooms, and Alan Dev. He's name-checked by the manager approximately 10 minutes into an interview on the Advertiser podcast. Promotion to the Football League is, apparently, the new target. Chateauneuf du Pape!

^^^ As Christian Smith mentioned on Twitter, the celebrations were tiring!

^^^ Too much for some! (Scouse Mick, BTW, had gotten in as a 'consession' [sic])

^^^ I called my Dad between taking and tweeting this photo. He pointed out that my late Grandad, who first brought me to York Road as a toddler in 1985, would've been overjoyed by this title win. Indeed. It made me think of other absent friends. #emotional Anyway, the tweet prompted a slew of congratulations. Callum, the Dover Athletic fan, was among the first. 'One long whinge fest about who's club is more shit,' he had written on his blog to describe the post-match beers that followed our 2-2 draw at Fancy Dresslemania XII in 2012. (And he wasn't wrong.) Next season, Dover vs Maidenhead will be a National League fixture! Pas de Calais, Rodney, pas de Calais!

^^^ To the clubhouse, eventually, and my Only Fools & Horses 'In Your Pocket' voicebox - which had been delighting me and unsuspecting members of the public (if not my travelling companions) - ran out of juice. Rodney mentioned that a Fancy Dresser-of-my-experience should've had a miniature screwdriver and spare battery to hand. He had a point. It was Margate's end-of-season awards, and one steward kept shushing us, even though the bar staff made the offending noise. Still, Margate FC were excellent hosts in general. I wish them all the best and hope they return swiftly to the Conference South.

^^^ This photo was taken while Trigger, the Creightons, and Steve A. waited for their taxi (and before the Trotters waved off the team coach en route to Wembley and the big fight).

^^^ Steve A. is the younger brother of MUFC Hall of Famer Garry Attrell. Banned from watching his hometown team - Slough Town (#staying down) - or at least from travelling on their supporters' coach, he had hopped on the Maidenhead bandwagon. And I bet he's glad that he did! He's a welcome addition to the group, if only because of his amusing Facebook updates!

^^^ The Trotters, Craig, and the Smiths walked back into town. Several Whitehawk stickers were Bellended as we went.

^^^ Most had caught the train home - jumping out at a certain station en route to point out, in song form, that a certain football team had finished second with 96 points f**ked it up - by the time we made it to the Wetherspoons. Kevin - a long-time mate of Craig's from the Tartan Army and Chelsea - bought us a bottle of champagne. Tres Bien ensemble!

^^^ We left the Wetherspoons shortly before 9pm. Del Boy went onto the beach for a selfie. Both of the above photos were taken at more or less the same time. The noticeable difference in light and colour is probably best explained by Del's mobile phone - made in Albania.

^^^ Back to Fez. 'York next season then?' texted the wife expectantly. Alas.

^^^ Craig, Albert, and Rodney watched the boxing in a packed Imperial Lounge, which was as godawful as its name suggests. Del sat outside, overlooking the beach and chatting with a hen party, before leading the way to the Nag's Head Wig & Pen. Conversation, whilst sat outside here (above), centred on 'turning points' of the season. The nominations included Whitehawk in August (our first away win in nine months), Ryan Upward's late winner vs the same opposition in mid-Feb (on the back of a defeat at Hemel), and the 1-0 win at Chelmsford in early March (which took us back to the top, a position that we wouldn't relinquish). Unlike, for example, Weston, this seaside town wasn't lively, especially considering this was a bank holiday weekend. The only nightclub in the vicinity appeared to be Kabuki. Japanese for 'hellhole', one imagines. We went back to the Airbnb (via a kebab shop), arriving shortly after midnight. Albert raided the fridge for cheese and Bailey's. Del and Rodney fell asleep on the sofa. It had been a long and monumental day.

^^^ We were up bright and early (!) on Sunday. After a fry-up at the Old Town T Stall, we headed to the Stone Pier.

^^^ The Harbour Arms was, sadly, shut - which summed Margate up - so we had coffee in the artisan cafe next door.

^^^ All smiles. Still champions!

^^^ < insert 'Maidenhead in Dreamland' caption here >

Dreamland, of course, is the National League. Possible destinations for Fancy Dresslemania XVIII include Hartlepool, Gateshead, Macclesfield, Wrexham, Torquay, Chester ... or Sutton for a third time! Incredible. There will be an open-top bus parade on Saturday, which puts the achievement into perspective. (Don't laugh!) The last time Maidenhead players took a bus ride around town was when Drax attempted to end another York Road winless run by pretending we had an away game!

^^^ Thanks to the players and management for helping make the dream a reality. Also, to the KSG & friends (particularly those who have provided photos for this piece) and other members of Alan Devonshire's Black & White Army, who have contributed immensely to the experience. And to those from other clubs who have sent their congratulations. See you next season!

*** MORE MARGATE PHOTO GALLERIES: Maidenhead Advertiser, Marc Keinch, MUFC Facebook.