Still, as a wise man once said: "It's a competition lads, not a fucking tea dance" so we'll just have to suck it up and plough on regardless.
|No. Fucking. Trains.|
It's six am and my alarm is beeping away. A swift slap puts an end to its noisy output and I haul my carcass out of bed and into the shower. I really am getting too old for this nonsense. If I hadn't booked this one weeks in advance amongst all the wild eyed excitement of the Irn Bru days, then this is probably one of the trips I'd have sacked off. But, I've lobbed up and now it's time to take my medicine. Stupid stupid ol' Taz. Having failed to scrub the idiocy from my person in the shower, I'm soon wrapped up warm and having pecked her ladyship on the cheek, I'm out in to the cold morning air bound for East Croydon. And I think you can probably guess what's coming next.
Buses. I fucking hate buses. Despite it being earlier that a lot of people probably think possible and there being nothing on the roads, there's a distinct lack of the big red bastards. Two arrivals come and go without hide nor hair of one of the things. Now, I'd built in more than enough time to get to Kings Cross for the train, but that plan hadn't involved spending 15 minutes pissing about outside HQ going nowhere. Getting desperate, when a 463 appears I take a gamble and hop on that. Now normally, I wouldn't bother, as this thing goes nowhere near any place I'd usually need to go to. But it does go to Therapia Lane tram stop, which is then a 10 minute trundle to East Croydon, so there is a method to my madness on this occasion. Eventually at my new destination a quick jog over the road means I'm on a tram with no waiting around and I'm finally heading in the right direction.
|The beautiful North of England|
Trains. I fucking hate trains. Of course, having been pissed about by buses, when I arrive at Easy Croydon, everything's delayed. Wankers. So another 15 minutes of my time is burned waiting for something to carry me into town. By now, this has eaten sufficiently into my planned travel timing that I'm starting to worry about missing the train of Kings Cross altogether. I mean, last week's delays getting to the meet in Baker Street was annoying, but that simply cost me 30 mins VDT. This could cost me over £60 in wasted train tickets. Eventually, Southern grace us mortals with their presence and I'd trundling through the morning darkness towards Victoria at last. With time now tight, I ensure I'm in the front carriage so as to hit the underground as quickly as possible.
A brisk stroll later and I'm on the tube platform in time to see a set of doors close and a train pull out. For fucks sake! Fortunately there's another one in a minute, but by now my patience is being severely tested. Again, I maximise my positioning on the tube when it arrives, ensuring I'm alighting right opposite the exit for the trains. With the Hartlepool choo choo due off at 08:06 and it now being five to, I'll need to get a wriggle on. I leg it from here and eventually emerge into the new concourse at Kings Cross and head for the gates. Here, I find Mr X awaiting with tickets and a "You fucking bellend" look on his boat race. A minute later and having clambered past a womens Gaelic Football team from Hendon (which triggers another bout of PIBCTSD) on what appears to be a busy old service, thanks largely to Southend being away in Sunderland this afternoon. Amazingly, Mr X it seems has finally mastered the art of booking tables on these trips and everyone sarcastically thanks him for this.
The train rumbles out of London on time, but with numerous people still milling about blocking the aisles as they try & sort out seating and reservations. I for one just want them to settle down so I can go to the buffet car for a cuppa and an excessively priced item of food containing bacon. In the end, I wait until we're past Peterborough before making the short stroll for sustenance. "Alright Dave" says one of the COCs further down the carriage as I pass. Everyone's a fucking comedian eh! In the buffet car, my fun packed morning just keeps on coming as having placed my order, the lass behind the jump discovers all the power is off. Marvellous! Just as I'm on the verge of giving up, the carriage jolts on the line and suddenly everything comes back to life. Annoyingly, this isn't the only technical issue they're having as the card machine is busted too, so as she packs up my sausage sarnie and cup of splosh, I dart back to ponce a tenner off Magnum PI as I've not yet had chance to get to an ATM. Upon my return, I add a cuppa to the order for my benefactor as payment for the loan and then the power bloody goes out again. At which point I rest my forehead on the counter and I find it's cold touch somewhat soothing.
Several minutes later however and another jolt thankfully brings the buffet back to life and I'm able to return to my seat with some supplies. Right, can today please stop fucking me around now? From here, the seemingly endless journey North is fairly uneventful. We chat to a few Southend and amongst ourselves to pass the time. But there's only so much small talk we can endure and soon, we're so bored that I and JR take to goading Dr Bell about his lack of Whatsapp on his shiny new and distinctly -more-modern-than-his-last-one phone. In the end, he folds in the face of our childish bullying and hands over the device so that I can first get him a GMail account and then download the app from the Android store. After a few minutes, he's been given a crash course in the popular messaging service and been added to the top secret, VIP members only, Gandermonium group. Everyone in the party is of course delighted at the aged Doctor's arrival into the 21st century, well all except one that is. Dukey.
|They love a head on a pint up here....|
We've touched on his own telephonic issues on here in the past regarding his stubborn loyalty to his Windows powered Nokia, which over the last few months has slowly had all the more popular apps withdrawn and shut down (Twitter, Facebook). Probably because he's probably the only person left who still owns a fucking windows mobile. Despite our mocking of this situation he's steadfastly refused to consider changing or upgrade, even after Belly got his new Samsung. "I can still fuckin' whatsapp" he'd proudly declare "Until Belly's on there, I'm still more fuckin' technologically advanced than he is!", which as excuses go, is up alongside "But the The bus said we'd put 350 million into the NHS!" and "I vos only following ze orders". Clearly his thinking was that there was no way the famously luddite Doctor would ever be able to create a G-Mail account, let alone download the app AND manage to get it working all on his own. But his logic was clearly flawed as he'd not reckoned on us being utter pricks and now that Magnum and I have breached his final flimsy excuse, he's left wide open to attack from the crew. And he's not happy. "Fucks sake, that's more money I've got to lay out now!" he moans. Happy to help mate, happy to help!
Mr X heads off to the buffet on another tea run and shortly after an announcement comes over the PA stating that due to technical issues, said facility is no longer able to offer hot food or drinks. Oh dear. If he's not managed to get a cuppa, he'll be fucking fuming! He reappears a few minutes later, clutching what is actually the last cups of tea that'll be produced on this train today. The jammy bastard! As we near our destination, we're given an ominous warning of the sort of welcome that awaits us as we pull into Selkirk. Is that snow? Christ on a bike, that's definitely snow. We all give a shudder and then thank our stars that we're not the Southend fan who's wearing shorts in our carriage. You must be off your nut mate.
After what seems like forever, we're finally pulling into Hartlepool and jump off with the task in hand of hitting the spoons just around the corner for a much needed pint. As we come out of the station, we're slapped in the face with a literal icy blast as what was probably once sleet has now got a little more solid thanks to the somewhat chilly temperatures. Nice. I decide not to go hunting for an ATM at this point and head for the pub to see if they'll do me some cash back instead. I'm not going back out there until we absolutely have to! In the boozer the first pints don't last long and it's over the second one that Dukey questions Robbo's pint of Coors. "I thought you were on that Stoptober thing?". "I am" shrugs Robbo "Just not today". Everyone looks at each other and refrains from checking calendars on phones, just to check we are indeed still in October. Some cans of worms are just best left unopened I think. Like last year, the pub is slowly filling up with locals who are dressed to the nines and seemingly heading elsewhere, we assume Doncaster races. The number of attractively dressed females on display in here certainly has Dirty Barry purring that's for sure. "He's got the horn!" Keepo helpfully points out. Er, that's lovely mate. Just the sort of imagery I wanted in my head.
A couple of pints down, we decide on making a move round the corner to the Jacksons Arms. Here we find it a little quieter than last year, but decked out in the usual 'spooky' stuff you'd expect for this time of year. A rather drinkable pint of Speckled Hen is my intake here, something I've not had since about 2001. As we all huddle around the proper log fire in the corner, Dr Bell gets chatting to a Pools fan by the name of Dave. "Sutton are you? Ah, do you know that Gandermonium lot then?". Of course, always keen to remain incognito, Dr Bell proceeds to out the whole fucking lot of us. Cheers. Still, it's not every day that we get to meet someone from the other side of the fence who reads this crap. And anyway, a name check for an oppo fan makes a nice change from just dropping in the usual boats from around GGL. Hello Dave!
Pints supped here, we next head a bit further up the road to the Brewery Tap. Another cosy pub, we find Jules, Bob & Cathy enjoying a couple of jars here having done the tour of their brewery. "Did you know they had a lake 200ft under the town?" enquires Jules. Erm, no. I didn't as it happens. Still, I do now! It seems this water source is where the brewery pulls one of it's key ingredients from for the beer, so for that alone I don't mind having discovered this little tidbit. Pints downed and with time pressing on, we start the stroll back to the ground where we soon discover that 'Hartlepool' is (probably) old Norse for "Face numbing gale". What should be a 10 minute walk to the Coits club behind the away end takes double as we're having to battle a force 9 into our fizzogs the whole way there. On arrival, I wait a couple of minutes for some feeling to return to my cheeks before ordering. Our stay is brief, but we do at least get to see a properly comical OG on the telly as Middlesbrough take on Derby. Last minute, bit of knee, bit of shin, under no pressure at all. Oh dear son.
Butler, Bennett, Thomas, Clough, Collins (c), Bolarinwa, Davis, Ayunga, Cadogan, Eastmond, Drinan SUBS: Beckwith, W. Brown, Beautyman, Wishart, Taylor
Outside, the wind hasn't abated and as we enter the away end, it's obvious it's barrelling straight down the ground from our end. The good news is, we should be sheltered from it in our stand, the bad news is that we'll have to defend that for at least 45 minutes. I'm not sure which I prefer to be honest. From the off, despite having that gale at our backs, it's Pools who have the better of the early exchanges with Butler twice pushing away efforts, the first from a decent shot on the turn in the box and the second from a free kick about 20 yards or so out. After this though, we settle more and start getting a few sighters in with Ayunga, Drinan and Bolawinra all showing flashes, but the final ball or touch just lets us down. Then after about 20 mins we win a corner and it's pinged to the back stick. JC gets up, nods back across and then Ayunga heads on goal. A scramble ensues and after what seems like an age, the net shimmies at the other end and a brilliantly Non-League opener is registered. Who scored? Fuck knows! Oh, according to the man on the PA it's Aswad? Fine with me.
|Awww. How sweet!|
From here, we probably have the better of the half, but despite everyone feeling we definitely need a second goal to give us something to cling onto once we're facing Hurricane Baltic in the 2nd 45, we can't quite fashion a killer chance and The best opportunity dropping to Cadogan who's shot is blocked in the box. So we go in just the one to the good at the break and I head for a much needed piss and a pie. In the khazis, Keepo and I discuss the artistic merits of our goal. He's very much of the opinion that it could very well rival Carlos Alberto's overlapping effort in the 1970 World Cup final. What a fool! It was miles better than that! Having scoffed my pie, I'm back in view of the pitch shortly after the restart, but sadly well in time to see what comes next. A minute in a Pools have a corner and it's swiftly followed by a shit bundler of their own to wipe out our advantage. A header near post drops loose and the lad forces it in from a couple of yards out. As starts go to a half, it's pretty rubbish and it soon gets rubbisher. A soft free kick out wide is swung in and catching on the wind it carries straight into the far corner, although later we find out it's clipped Eastmond on the way through. Either way, it's taken about 5 minutes to fuck up all that hard work. We could be in trouble here.
Thing is though, the onslaught we're expecting just doesn't arrive and having seen out the next 10 minutes without any dramas, we start to get slowly back into the contest. There's no real major chances before just after the hour mark, Ayunga turns and bursts from deep in what's becoming something of a trademark for him. The defence backs off and even better, their left back has fucked off somewhere entirely. Jonah takes full advantage and slips in Tombo on the angle and he puts a firm side foot past the keeper and into the far corner. 2-2! Game on! This wakes up the hosts a touch and Dale is probably a bit fortunate to escape a second yellow when he out muscles an oppo going towards our goal, but with around 10 to go, it's the U's who strike again. A ball forward hits Drinan as he turns and drops loose. Tombo forces it forwards and Drinan tries and doesn't quite manage to get it under. However, he spots the late arriving Eastmond behind him and rolls the ball back with his studs for the midfielder to tee it up and curl a beauty into the bottom far corner. You. Fucking Beauty.
|Get in there!|
With 10 to go, it's now time to do our best to shithouse our way out of here with all the points, but despite some pressure, Hartlepool only have a couple of half chances, with the best probably a snap shot from just inside the box that Aswad diverts over with his head. Finally, the whistle comes and there's both elation and relief for the 68 hardy travelling souls at one end of the ground. Meanwhile the hosts are booed off by what remains of the home support. It's about the most noise they've made all day to be fair. It's weird you know, I kind of get why sides like these don't enjoy being down here as it's basically a reminder of past failure, but you'd think they'd put in some effort to try & intimidate us poxy little Non-Leaguers, rather than just let us outwork their boys and sod off with the points. Still, that's a discussion for the train home as we can't be hanging around here getting all fucking philosophical, as we've got a train to catch in a little under an hour and there's beer to be drunk and supplies to be obtained. To the pub!
Admiring the rainbow forming out over the bay to our left on the walk, we're soon back out of the cold and in spoons ordering up a swift pint to calm the nerves and steel us for the long journey back South. Drinks necked, we say our goodbyes to those brave souls spending their Saturday night in the bright lights of Hartlepool and split up into the tried and tested away day foraging teams. Myself and Dukey going for scran with Mr X and Belly heading for the liquid refreshments. Given the complete fucking hash he made of the simple job of carrying the flag bag last year, I decide to lug it with me this time around. Better safe than sorry! Now, last season the chippy around the corner from the boozer here was one of the best we found, what with it's ample supplies of deep fried haggis and black pudding that got some of the crew tingling in areas you wouldn't expect such things to do so, but this season we're to be denied our exotic munchies as it turns out neither were a big seller according to the geezer behind the jump and we're restricted to your average chippy type food. Most disappointing!
With little other choice, we rustle up some sausage and chips along with a couple of other things and still with a good 10 minutes to the train, we hit the road towards the station. On the corner ahead we spy the man of mystery and the good Doctor laden with carriers of beverages. Our haul is complete. Still, I take the opportunity to wind Belly up by loudly asking him where the flag is, getting some measure of revenge for his uselessness last year. It's only when I stride past him that the stream of excuses pouring from his trap ceases and he realises he'd been had. On the platform waiting to wave us off are several of the local constabulary who seem delighted to be stood around freezing their cods off to deal with less than 30 or so happy and slightly pissed U's fans. Hardly Green Street II is it lads?
The COC's appear with 2 gallon plastic containers of god knows what sort of scrunge from the little pub on the platform. Skywalker's cider comes in for particular scrutiny. "I'd want something to drink, not fucking strip a sideboard with" mutters renowned cider aficionado Dukey. The train pulls in and we board before going through the usual ritual of hoofing some bods out of our reserved seats. There's also some familiar faces around as a lot of the Southend lads from the trip up, including Mr Shorts, are present and getting stuck into their own liquid takeaways. Settled in, we start dishing out the grub and the cans. Then things take a turn for the worse "Fucks sake, who bought the bottle of Buckie then?".
The journey home is bearable and we swop stories with the Southend lads, as well as songs about Nicky Bailey. Ours of course deals with his donning of a magic hat, whilst theirs declares their admiration to the point where they'd let him have his way with their wives. Other discussions touch upon Glenn Tamplin ("A cunt" apparently. Who knew?) and Mr X's inability to spell the word 'Steve' on whatsapp, with 'Stege' being the closest he can get despite several attempts. Of course, we check to see if this could be claimed as a real word (hey, we're all big Scrabble fans!) and Google informs us it's in fact a small town in Denmark. The things you learn on these trips eh? Keepo from the COCs emerges from the next carriage down to say hello and inform us of Dirty Barry's latest escapades, which it seems involves him being groomed by 3 young Southend fans who've been plying him with Haribo sweets in return for a swig of his cider. Sounds like all sorts of fucking wrong to me, but then again, horses for courses. Back at Kings Cross, we bid our Southend friends farewell and with a hearty wish that we'll both scrape through the first round of the cup and meet the next time out for more beers and swapping of songs about a balding ginger midfielder.
A quick tube trip later and we're back at Victoria. As we find there's a bit of a wait for a train back to the Republic, we of course head up to the spoons for a quick one. Be rude not to eh? We're soon light a Dukey as he's shoots off to Morden to meet his bird at some Halloween Party. Aaaah, young love. Naturally, the COCs aren't far behind to join the gathering and then we spot our esteemed Chairman and AB below on the concourse, obviously not long back from Kings Cross themselves. Naturally, AB folds the moment we offer him a beer, that 'one' soon turns into 'several' and in the end, we're staggering for the last direct service to civilisation. On the way home there's talk of heading to the Old Bank for another 'one' before closing, but by now I'm out of cash as well as room for beer, so I leave the remaining idiots to their night cap plans and bail at Carshalton. I'm heading home for my extra hours kip!
|Who says Non-League isn't cool?|
Oh and some toast. I'd quite like some toast...