"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

Monday 31 January 2022

Away Day Diary: Wrexham 1-1 Maidenhead United (29/01/22)

Since Maidenhead United's promotion to the National League, all the Away Day Diaries published on this blog have been acrostic. The reasoning is that this style (1) helps keep my writing (somewhat) constrained and (2) acts as something of a USP. To date, my last free-from Away Day Diary detailed the title-winning party – Fancy Dresslemania XVII – at Margate in May 2017. Wrexham last Saturday was an 'away day for the ages', though, and seven paragraphs wouldn't cut it. (Furthermore, as much as I love the band, I'm getting fed up of having to shoehorn references to XTC into posts about Halifax and, as it would be, Wrexham.) So, as a one-off special, I'm going to ditch the format! (This will essentially be a rehash of the relevant matchday thread on Twitter, so head there if you'd prefer the abridged version!)

Where to start? Come back with me, dear reader, to early December 2017. Our first visit to Wrexham. A decent away day, overall, despite the result. But an "underwhelming matchday experience, despite amicable stewarding and the Racecourse Ground being as beguiling as I'd hoped". The long journey (via Crewe), the unappealing town centre, and uninspiring pubs were other factors that accounted for the fact I had little or no desire to return. As such, this one remained uncircled when the fixtures were released last summer.

Willie T and Gav Villa had (randomly) booked a joint 40th birthday party for the 29th of January. Before cancelling when the Omicron variant first emerged. First Minister Mark Drakeford blocked fans from attending sporting events in Wales because of The Science. Before relenting when the country had "passed the Omicron peak." Still, I wasn't going. Macleod (M) was, though, on the train and – if need be – by himself.

Then, Craig (who would be in Scotland on the relevant weekend and so never going) posted suggested train times and the relatively reasonable cost. I was intrigued. Maidenhead upset Chesterfield at York Road and in Stripes afterwards, Macleod (M) – my Two Together Railcard partner, lest we forget – mentioned the possibility of pre-match drinks in Shrewsbury. And Alan Massey pointed out that, barring suspension or injury (the former more likely), Wrexham away was set to be his 300th appearance (Nb. all starts) for the club. I was now even more intrigued. In fact, not unlike Drakeford, it was dawning on me that my current, rather pig-headed stance was making me look like a right wally.

Stef now lives in Shropshire – henceforth he shall be known as Shropshire Magpie – and I contacted him to see if he'd be up for pre-match beers in Shrewsbury (which, I'd noted, has eleven entries in the 2019 edition of the Good Beer Guide). He was. Solihull Steve was also keen. So, I informed Macleod (M) that we were on and, after printing off the various train times from the Split Ticketing website, bought the tickets at Maidenhead station as the Macleods (M + P) and I waited for a train to Cookham on Friday 21st. (We were meeting Craig and Jinxy for a curry. My new coat – a Christmas present from the wife – would be stolen from the Old Swan Uppers, where we bumped into Stef Shropshire Magpie [!], visiting and staying with his daughter for the weekend, and Magpies' legend Dave 'Harry' Harrison.)

The following day, another Maidenhead upset (vs Halifax at York Road) whetted the appetite. But, there was a bombshell on Monday morning when Macleod (M) shared the news that he now couldn't accompany me to Stockport on Tuesday. And his status for Wrexham on Saturday was also in doubt. I enjoyed ticking off Edgeley Park and was proud of our efforts, both on and off the pitch. My subsequent dilemma: could I face the aggravation (and expense) of changing the train tickets ahead of another long trek northwards if Macleod (M) was out?

He *was* out – confirmed on Friday morning. "You'll regret it if you don't go," he wisely prophesied. Shropshire Magpie and Solihull Steve were both still keen. Alan Massey's 300th was on. The wife had made plans to entertain the kids. "OK, let's do this!" So, after finishing work on Friday and reading the kids their bedtime stories, I made my way back down to Maidenhead station ...

... and spent the best part of 30 minutes sorting out the swap! Each leg had to be voided, signed for, refunded etc., separately! I then had to re-purchase them, of course, at a higher cost! Shout out to Ravneet – she was efficient (or as efficient as procedure allowed). And apologies to anyone stuck behind me in the queue! (TBF, Ravneet wasn't the only one working in the ticket office.)

Craig and I had worked out on Friday that the 08:15 from Reading, which he'd initially proposed, had been cancelled for whatever reason. So, there'd been a decision to be made: catch an earlier train (more drinking time in Shrewsbury) or a later one (less drinking time in Shrewsbury). No prizes, etc. As such, my alarm went off at a truly ungodly hour, and I left the house at half five. I arrived at the station in good time for the 06:31 from Maidenhead, but I wasn't the first one there! Owen, AKA the Holyport Donn, was already in situ. I initially didn't recognise him – having met for the first time, I think, at Halifax in November – but should've guessed from his box of beers that he was football-bound! "You know my uncle," he said. That's right, 'Uncle Darren' and I went to primary school together! I'm getting old. TWS arrived, and I sorted out his tickets (to/ from Banbury – he would buy the rest at Reading), saving him a decent wedge. The Holyport Donn had spent £102 on his. Some of these young 'uns have more money than they know what to do with ...

... as further evidenced by the first beer of the day (opened before 7am) getting binned after only a few sips! I think that the Holyport Donn had the arse (pun intended) because he'd sat on some chewing gum, which had left noticeable white stains on his trousers. (Of course, TWS didn't miss the opportunity to point out what it looked like!) While the Holyport Donn moped (and wasted lager), TWS and I honed the lyrics to an Alan Massey chant that I'd put together (to the tune of a traditional Scottish song). The departure of the 07:15 to Manchester Piccadilly couldn't come quickly enough for the other passengers! (Thankfully, there wasn't very many of them.)

Sat alongside us was a 21-year-old Swindon Town fan from Bedwyn, called Jack, travelling to Aintree to watch a friend compete in a show jumping event. The Holyport Donn kindly supplied him with two or three beers as we passed through the likes of Coventry, and it became clear that Swindon Jack liked a flutter on the gee-gees. "I've got a tip for you," he claimed. "Small Print in the 3:48 at Lingfield". TWS immediately lumped on, and I spread the word via Twitter. Stay tuned for an update on how it fared! (Swindon Jack had guessed that I'm a 28-year-old, which perhaps tells you all you need to know!)

Split Ticketing had suggested change at Wolverhampton, but we disembarked at Birmingham New Street to meet with Solihull Steve. I grabbed an Americano from Costa before photographing the gang waiting patiently for the train. The Holyport Donn was still sulking, although – as TWS helpfully pointed out – the chewing gum plastered to his backside and leg was turning a rather fetching shade of purple; so no longer resembled "a load of spunk ... unless someone had overdone it on the beetroot!"

We arrived in Shrewsbury on schedule (10:21). A brief phone call revealed that Shropshire Magpie was already in the Shrewsbury Hotel. (Wetherspoons, so Craig wouldn't have approved, although I'm not sure – nor, truthfully, do I much care – what other options were available at that time.) After a short walk (or 
– as he was thirsty – a run in Solihull Steve's case) and a photo of #yeractualcultureinnit, we joined Shropshire Magpie (and Colin – Bell End regular; Shropshire Magpie's house guest) for breakfast. (My pint of Exmoor's Antler wasn't great.)

Grope Lane (above, top left): a fine example of a town centre street lined by historic, timber-framed buildings (reminiscent of Chester). We had left the young 'uns feeding the fruit machines (more money than yada yada yada). They could catch up with us in the Three Fishes. We admired the nearby churches (Nb. plural) as we waited for the barmaid to finish her cigarette, take our group photo, and open up. The pub was a bit dingy, TBH, and my pint wasn't the best (not Titanic's Steerage, either, which is what I'd asked Solihull Steve to order for me). But picturesque, at least from the outside, and an enjoyable walk there. Shrewsbury town centre looked an architectural delight, in stark contrast to Maidenhead town centre. (That's Maidenhead now, let alone after the construction of more multi-storey monstrosities.)

The Salopian Bar, brightly painted yellow and blue, was our third and final stop: a top-notch sports pub ft. friendly barmaids (one of whom had to keep walking away, a la Sally Phillips' character in I'm Alan Partridge, in response to Shropshire Magpie's 'dad jokes'), a decent selection of beers (Salopian's – when in Rome – Oracle for me: quaffable), football memorabilia dotted about (good juju re the red and black hoops), and a sizeable outside space (where Rainey – wearing a black leather cap – and Maurice Khan [sic] would join us). We had a couple of rounds in here, the second of which was bought by Solihull Steve. He sent me to the bar – I was only too happy to oblige, on account of those friendly barmaids – with his card, for which contactless didn't work. I was, though, able to correctly guess the PIN! (Donuts, on Twitter, worked out how!)

It had rained earlier – while we were in the Three Fishes – but bright sunshine gleamed through the window as I enjoyed a slumber on the 13:27 to Holyhead. (Dreaming of an Alan Massey winner!) I also enjoyed having a telephone conversation with the wife and both of my boys, who had stopped to eat snacks partway through a walk around Cliveden. Everyone – back in Berkshire and on the train – seemed to be in good spirits.

Tim from Fearless in Devotion, selling copies of his fanzine on the way to the ground. Several of our travelling party shelled out. I think most, if not all, believed that they were buying the official programme! (Take that as a compliment, Tim!)

Match tickets sorted (after only cursory glances at our proofs of addresses). Most entered the ground. I went to try and find TWS and the Holyport Donn – I presumed that they had headed to the pub beyond the nearby petrol station, as recommended by a home fan chatting to Solihull Steve on the train. It was busy – inside and out – with a DJ playing in the car park. I couldn't spot them. I did, however, spy the Bootlegger. No photo with him, though, as I don't know who he is (and nor, one suspects, would I care even if I did.) Time for a visit to the Gents. Then the sending of pre-prepared tweets to commemorate the skippers' 300th appearance (confirmed – starting line-ups were out) on the short walk back to the ground.

Match action. Less than five minutes on the clock when star striker Paul Mullin 'slipped', with Josh Smile's chest making contact with his studs. As the Maidenhead midfielder feigned injury, the incompetent and 'scared' referee prepared to issue an unjustified caution. Only for a linesman – who couldn't have seen clearly from that distance away and under barely disguised instructions from shadowy National League figures to help keep Wrexham in this division for as long as possible – overruled. Mullin dismissed and, on this occasion, there was no Bryce Hosannah – or another sacrificial lamb – to save him. We serenaded and waved him off. He, in turn, gestured to indicate how many times, so far this season, he's watched a teammate take a red card for him. Fair enough. You give it. You take it. But probably not a good look for him and indicative of questionable temperament.

The Magpies – with the man advantage – were as poor at Wrexham as they had been as good (first half) at Stockport. It was no surprise when the home side soon took the lead, with perfect execution of what seemed to be their only plan: win a throw-in, steal as many yards as possible, get ex-Cheltenham skipper Ben Tozer (£200K transfer fee; three-year contract) to toss the ball into the goal. Ex-Carlisle vice-captain Aaron Hayden (undisclosed transfer fee; three-year contract) got the credit for the crucial touch, on this occasion, after 17 minutes. Decent noise from the home crowd, as you would expect, bearing in mind that there was 8,700-odd of them, but not as loud as the roar that had greeted Stockport's opener. (TBF, we had made more noise at Edgeley Park as well.)

Respected broadcaster Bryn Law has written on Twitter that this was "the best 90-minute performance I've seen from Wrexham this season". That is, quite frankly, astonishing. Phil Parkinson – very animated on the touchline, giving a decent impression of a man struggling to cope under pressure – should be gone already. Anyway, my phone had run out of battery by half-time. (Too many pre-match photos, and poor signal when trying to check-in to the ground on Facebook). Craig and Macleod (M) – listening to the radio commentary – would have to go without my additional observations via Messenger. TBH, there wasn't much to report during a largely uneventful second half ...

... until the 92nd-minute when – with Maidenhead effectively playing with ten men themselves after Ryan Upward had picked up an injury with no substitutes remaining – the 46 away fans went nuts! After finally building up a bit of pressure, 'Upward the unsung hero' – on one leg – crossed from the right, and recent signing Shawn McCoulsky McGoalsky made no mistake with a free header from close range. #ProperScenes Video footage on BT Sport and the like will show yellow-shirted Maidenhead players bundled on top of the goal-scorer, with an empty and decrepit terrace in the background. So, fingers crossed that the documentary camera crew will have captured the celebrations – #ForTheAges – from the travelling horde. Josh D. held me aloft, and we (gently) bumped into a passing Wrexham official. She had a moan. Here's an idea, Doris: if you don't want to get impeded doing your oh-so-very-important work, then perhaps don't dawdle right in front of the away fans when they're celebrating an injury-time equaliser. Just a thought.

There was barely any time left. We were full of it now, as you might imagine, while the home support went eerily quiet. Remarkable stuff. Coxy has posted a short video on Facebook – it's brilliant! The final whistle prompted the usual songs that greet positive Maidenhead results, while we rolled out a few extra special ones for Wrexham: "We'll be back again next year," "Non-league, and you know you are," "Ryan Reynolds, he bought the wrong club!" etc., etc. We also serenaded our skipper, at length, with his new chant blasted out on a loop. The documentary camera crew were lapping it up! The stewards weren't, though, and eventually, they persuaded us to leave – with a stream of police moving in the opposite direction. Word on the street was a 'disagreement' in the home dressing room, which might explain why their Assistant Manager – not Parkinson – was on post-match media duty?

To the nearby Sainsbury's superstore – weaving our way through gridlocked traffic – for supplies (ten cans of Thatchers Haze and two chicken and mushroom pies for me). Then a march – seasoned away dayers will, I'm sure, be able to picture the straggly line! – back past the ground to the station. (I missed chances to say goodbye to Mr Logic and or Les.) Jovial conversations with home fans (incl. an on-duty copper) and resounding cheers as someone read out selected other NL scores while we waited for the 17:45 to Birmingham. It was packed, but I was at least able to perch on a luggage rack  and start charging my phone using a nearby plug socket – as Phil Rad. regaled us with stories about his Mum and Dad (both of whom would make for intriguing subjects on episodes of Who Do You Think You Are?).

Shropshire Magpie and Colin – plus several other passengers – left the train at Shrewsbury. I was able to sit across the table from Solihull Steve and turn my phone back on: taking an amusing photo of TWS (and uploading it to the MUFC Fans page on Facebook) while also calling through to Mark Drakeford in the Senedd with a belated report of daylight robbery.

Solihull Steve and Steve J. bid us farewell at Brum, while Rainey – the wily ol' fox – had given us the slip (at Wolverhampton). The Holyport Donn went for a cigarette. Mo Khan was still with us. TWS and I manoeuvred our way down the relevant platform (3B) to await our train. Ahead of our departure, the 19:47 to Rugeley was there and filling up fast. The state – of inebriation and undress – of most passengers getting on! I've never seen anything like it! TWS and I were left genuinely open-mouthed. One woman, for example, would make Linsey Dawn McKenzie feel flat-chested.

After that train had gone, another group joined us as we continued to wait for the 20:04 to Bournemouth. Long Itchington Ladies FC – colours: black and white stripes 
 had been on a team-bonding drinking session in town. It had become far messier than originally-intended after their game on Sunday was reportedly cancelled. (They later found out that the game was on!) Their left-back could barely stand, kept dropping her phone on the floor and wanted to show that she could knock me out with one punch. (The latter is not necessarily an indication of drunkenness, TBF.) Her Australian teammate was, thankfully, less confrontational!

We sat with them on the train surrounding a group of Reading-based Bolton Wanderers fans (understandably giddy after their team's remarkable 6-0 home win over Sunderland). Immediately to my left were two non-playing ("drinking only") members of the Long Itchington posse. They showed me how to make a Tik Tok video. It seemed to consist of them lip-syncing over a list of items that someone might have for breakfast, then a strange shriek at the end sounding like a pained velociraptor. Please don't ask me to explain further!

We wished the ladies luck for the rest of the season as they disembarked at Leamington Spa. The Bolton fans – up to this point – had seemed to be your run-of-the-mill football lads: boisterous but ultimately harmless. However, one of them – possibly egged on by his mates – started to make questionable comments to a nearby passenger. I caught the gist rather than specifics, but I'm still ashamed to report that I didn't directly intervene. Instead, I made a point of moving to sit next to – and chat with – the target of abuse/ ridicule.

He was a lovely fella, called Parvan, originally from Hyderabad in India; a big fan of Bollywood movies, the Indian Premier League (albeit RCB, rather than Sunrisers, because of Virat Kohli), and cooking for (and eating with) his mates. He was en route to visit friends in Bournemouth, having just finished a Masters degree (his second!) in Business Administration at a Manchester university. He said that he hopes to continue studying – for a third Masters degree?! – at the University of Texas at Austin. It was humbling to witness him, willing and able to turn the other cheek when it came to the moronic verbals from the Bolton fan(s). But he shouldn't have to. I enjoyed our chat and am pleased we parted on excellent terms after hopefully showing that not all football supporters are f**king idiots. Next time that I go for a curry, I will endeavour to eschew my usual (lamb saag) and instead try – as he repeatedly recommended – one of his beloved biryanis.

^^^ Back at Reading. IYKYK.

The 21:52 was one of those new TFL trains that you can walk all the way along (and which – as Craig found out to his cost on the way back from Halifax on opening day – doesn't have any toilets). The young lady sitting opposite me in the above photo is a gymnast; capable of performing some impressive swing moves using the hanging straps on the train, which had initially caught our attention. Meeting with this infectiously excitable and likeable foursome rather summed up the day for me. They were all 17-year-olds – bar one 18-year-old (the only one permitted a can of my cider, obvs.) – on their way from ten-pen bowling in Bracknell (!) to a house party in their hometown, Taplow. Apparently, 'no look' photos are a thing ... although I suspect most didn't want to be caught on camera with us!

TWS and the Holyport Donn talked about going for more drinks in town, but I walked straight home knowing that the BELTdown on Twitter would be the best yet and keep me entertained for hours! It was glorious. Far too many to recap on here. So, instead, just one (above): a classic of the genre from an account that has now sadly blocked me. (Comedy gold, whether intentional or otherwise.) Another Wrexham fan mocked our wild celebrations ("like they win [sic] the champions league") as "cute". Don't apologise, Maidenhead United fans, for celebrating goals and results such as these. *Now* is a golden age for our club. I get that people are understandably excited about a potential new stadium and what Alan Devonshire might be able to do with the windfall from a Max Kilman transfer (significantly better than Phil Parkinson at Wrexham, one imagines). But it'll be just our luck to end up playing league derbies vs Sl*ugh or M@rl*w (in front of hundreds), rather than Reading or W@nky Wanderers (in front of thousands). Life is short and sometimes rubbish. Football is supposed to be fun. Enjoy these moments. Savour them.

It wasn't until the following day that I realised I'd let an away draw pass without a customary repeat of the Dennis Greene line, which again rather summed things up! #NothingBetter It was also the following day when I remembered those who'd taken Swindon Jack's betting advice – incl. Solihull Steve and, it transpired, a couple of the Gandermonium lot – should probably have checked the small print! (Arf.) Presumably, the horse in question is now on its way to the glue factory. Or will soon be playing centre-half for Livingston.

I'll finish here with some appropriately no-nonsense words on Alan Massey: a top player and a top bloke.

No comments:

Post a Comment