"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 25 March 2024

Away Day Diary: Rochdale 1-0 Maidenhead United (23/03/24)

Reluctantly but realistically resigned to relegation was my mindset after the Magpies lost heavily at Dagenham & Redbridge, our second consecutive 4-1 away defeat vs a National League also-ran; so, I viewed MUFC's debut trip to the Dale – my mother-in-law's team (well, she was born there, at least) – as bittersweet in the sense I was determined to make the most of it while thinking (1) we wouldn't win (probably lose 4-1) and (2) the only 'Roch' we'd likely visit next season would be Rochester (before and/ or after a National League South fixture at Maidstone United Chatham Town)

Our confidence in TfL being at an all-time low – a result of the lengthy wait to get a tube from Paddington to Euston Square en route to watch the Magpies' win at Altrincham last month – prompted me, Macleod (M) and the Batemans to get an earlier-than-suggested train from Maidenhead, so it was a 6am meet for Macleod (M) and I at the top o' the road (I'd been awake since 04:28, after going to bed almost immediately after finishing work on Friday, suffering with symptoms of the dreaded Man Flu); the Lizzy and Northern lines did their respective jobs, TBF, so we had plenty of time for meal deals at Sainsbury's (hot main + hot snack + hot drink = £3.50), before finding unreserved table seats on the relatively deserted train (no Man United game at Old Trafford, this time, thank goodness) ahead of its 08:13 departure time ... which was subsequently delayed by more than 15 minutes so staff could remove two stowaways ("I'm beginning to think those Sainsbury's meal deals are gonna be the highlight of the day!")

Chilly  and four seasons in one day 20 minutes  as I led us on a quick march from Piccadilly to Victoria for the 10:57 Northern line service to Leeds (the same service, albeit going in the opposite direction, that we've used many times before to get from Leeds to Halifax); after spotting geese and deer ("Look! It's Bambi!") in the flooded fields either side of the M62 motorway, arriving into Rochdale on schedule, and walking past a sizeable mosque, a garage with several badly-damaged cars parked on the forecourt, and down a steep(ish) cobbled street, we were in the Wetherspoons  a former cinema in the art deco style, much to Macleod (M)'s liking  supping our first pints of the day as news came through from Rainey that the supporters' coach was stuck in stationary traffic, adjacent to the Bescot Stadium, on the M6 (yes, of course, I messaged back with a photo of our beers!)

Having been joined by Chris Rad. (who'd been on the same train as us from Euston but had perhaps understandably kept himself to himself), we made our way – shortly after midday, and past a church with colourful primula displays and a stone memorial to victims of the Kobe earthquake in 1995to a former CAMRA national pub of the year; I had high expectations that were perhaps unrealistic, but it *was* good in here (Brightside's Flux Blonde was my beer of the day) and, as I'd planned, the group (supplemented by Stuart, Solihull Steve, and Phil W.) stayed put until Uber rides to Spotland around 14:30, with our topics of conversation having included Maidenhead United kits of yesteryear (prompted by some bloke sat at a nearby table – presumably, a member of the Nottingham Mags aka Alan Dev's Sombrero Boys – rocking a 2022/23 third; next season will be the 100th anniversary of MUFC wearing black and white quarters halves, BTW ... ), our karaoke staples ("'You Suffer' by Napalm Death" perhaps the most notable answer) and Stuart's favourite football clubs from various countries ('Luxembourg' was, I think, the only one fired at him that didn't elicit an immediate response)

Decent ground, albeit (1) the electronic turnstiles didn't work (or weren't easy to use) and (2) it was sad to see an entire stand – running the length of the pitch on the right-hand side as we looked – completely empty; the Magpies should've gone ahead only a few minutes after kick-off, but, somehow, no-one managed to get a touch on a ball across the six-yard box that was begging to become 'an assist' – TBH, the proverbial writing was already on the wall ... and my phone crashed, as it did before the FA Cup game at Weston-super-Mare, possibly in despair

A Devante Rodney goal  eminently preventable  meant the home side led at half-time (we coulda/ woulda/ shoulda equalised before the break, but WDH's header landed wide of the post), and they were slightly better/ not as bad in the second half  after a rocket from their manager, presumably, and assisted by a dislocated finger forcing off our star man (Reece Smith) with our best centre forward (Tristan Abrahams) moved out wide to accommodate the replacement (Shawn McCoulsky); we had something of a late rally, after belatedly switching to 4-4-2 (against mid-table opposition we should be looking to beat if we're going to avoid the drop), but Dev's other substitutions (taking off JML and then Casey Pettit, the latter arguably our best player on the day) were bewildering to me and ultimately counterproductive, and, unlike some other fans, neither Macleod (M) nor I wanted any part of the exchanges that took place after the manager had made his way over to the away section at the final whistle. (Loud and repeated praise of Charlee Adams  in the Dev doghouse since his red card vs Halifax in November  to the tune of a Belinda Carlisle chart-topper from 1988 was effectively public criticism of our legendary leader, hitherto unprecedented from a match-going Magpie contingent. *Not* initiated by me, I hasten to add.)

Light rain outside the ground – preferable to the torrential downpours the players had endured – as we ultimately decided against trying to order taxis, owing to the heavy traffic, and instead trekked back to the town centre (accompanied partway, as we were, by a group of local oiks whose taunts none of us could be bothered to engage with); a quick drink in the Flying Horse (arguably better than the Baum) – situated between the unbelievably spectacular town hall and the atmospheric St Chad's church – before the (slightly delayed) 18:19 from Rochdale, the (slightly delayed) 18:40 from Victoria, the 19:15 from Piccadilly (following a supermarket sweep ft. more Sainsbury's meal deals; conversations with fans of MK Dons, Aldershot Town, and Stockport County), and the 22:38 from Paddington – Macleod (M) and I then braved the cold winds and walked back to Cox Green from Maidenhead station, so I re-opened my front door at 23:40 ... almost 18 hours (and, according to my watch, 22,300 steps) after leaving! (Worth the exhaustion? Sadly not.)

Eagle-eyed and/ or long-standing readers of the blog (don't laugh!) might've noticed that I only started writing regular or semi-regular diary entries – for every match in 2017/18, whether I was in attendance or not, and for every League/ FA Cup/ Trophy away game I've attended thereafter (except, I think, for reasons unknown, the 0-0 draw at Aldershot on NYD in 2019) – since our Conference South title win, and I'd vowed to myself that I'd continue to do so until we were relegated back to the regionalised wastelands (always likely to happen at some point); as such, whilst I intend for there to be future entries covering our annual end-of-season tradition, e.g. #FDXXII at Chesterfield next month (which, judging by discussions on Saturday, not many are looking forward to), I think there's a good chance this will be the final semi-regular, bog-standard Away Day Diary, so, just in case, I shall take this opportunity to thank all of those who have contributed in some way (featured, mocked, read, liked, shared, or whatever) – it's been emotional. M.U.F.F.

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