It’s been a funny couple of weeks. Having finally emerged blinking into the light from the National League’s somewhat taxing Christmas Fixtures schedule, which is a bit like Non-League’s answer to the Royal Rumble where the games come at you thicker and faster than artics at a fox that’s strayed into the middle lane of the M25, we found we have a shitload more points than we had going in and something called ‘a week off’. Buggered if we know what one of those is, anyone?
Sadly, this opportunity to catch our breath and recharge our batteries (or in Dukey’s case, get dragged round the likes of Matalan with the Duchess) was a little too much for some of us. As they say it’s not the speed that kills you, it’s the effect of the sudden stop upon hitting an object that does. And on Saturday morning the extremely sad news reached us that Derek, better known on these pages as Sean Connerys’ Stunt Man, had passed away in his sleep overnight. Now, he’d not been well over the last year and had just racked up his 80th trip around the sun, so it’s not like he was exactly cut down in his prime, but still it was a little bit out of the blue. If you’re a Gandermonium regular, you’ll know Derek was a proper awayday firm member despite his advancing years. So much so he wrote himself into blog legend with THAT night out in Newcastle. In fact, in the end the reason for him retiring from the madness that is Sutton United on the road was not so much he couldn’t keep up with us younger pups intake on the days out, oh god no, the old goat could still put away as many pints as I or any of the other herberts. It was more the annoying ‘moving from pub to pub’ bit that taxed him more!
|Cold and early|
Still, he’ll be much missed by all on the firm, by all at Sutton United in general and most of all by the Guinness Brewery’s South Eastern sales rep, who’s now no doubt sat in his office, quietly panicking at just who the fuck will be funding his five star all inclusive three weeks in the Bahamas this summer. Indeed, such was Derek’s love of a pint of the black stuff, we’re half expecting the lads in Dublin to send a representative over for the funeral. Rest easy mate, we’ll catch you in the big clubhouse in the sky at some point. Save us a seat with a decent view of the big old Pye TV in the corner will you? Cheers.
Life goes on however and despite this sad news and the U’s not being in action, the People’s Republic was still ablaze with footballing fervour as our tenants at GGL, Sutton Common Rovers, were in FA Vase action down in the New Forest. Of course, with nothing better to do and not wishing to suffer a fate worse than Dukey’s, a number of Shoebox regulars along with assorted COCs boarded the SCR charabanc to cheer on the lads and came home happy after a few pints, a 2-1 win and a place in the last 16 in the bag. There was of course much rejoicing across the PROWS when the conquering heroes returned.
|Ugly hen do|
So, Stockport away. With our first visit to Edgeley Park coinciding with the 40th birthday of the man of mystery and anonymity, Mr X, it was decided that an overnight stop in Manchester was in order so that the event can be adequately celebrated. Some were in fact so keen to sample the cultural delights of the northern city that they went up on the Friday and got hammered in Popworld. Classy. Most of us though did the usual and got up really fucking early and traipsed up to Euston for the train. For myself, this involves heading to East Croydon from HQ and for once, everything pans out perfectly. The bus arrives bang on time, the train arrives as I hit the platform and I stroll straight onto a tube at London Vic, complete with a properly monged out clubber on board with his eyes rolling back into his head. Lovely stuff. So unsurprisingly, when I emerge into the cold London air at Euston almost an hour before our train leaves, I’m the first to arrive. So to kill some time I take a stroll and go sticker spotting as there’s a couple of hotspots nearby and when I wander back a few minutes later, a homeless chap approaches and asks for some change. Sadly I don’t have any shrapnel on me to give him, so instead he changes tack asks for a fag. Sorry pal, I don’t smoke! “What about a hug?” he offers. Yeah, sure, why not.
Greek appears during this tender moment and looks understandably confused. “Mate of yours?”. Mr X isn’t far behind, having gone to St Pancs up the road by mistake and finally Dukey and Belly emerge from the cafe with bacon and with the train available to board, we head on into the warm to get settled. Soon we’re rumbling northwards and there’s signs of life on the top secret, VIP, invite only, private Whatsapp wotsit from the advance troops already there, with JR mostly complaining about rooming with Robbo. “He’s got fucking Ceebeeies on. And he’s singing along to all the songs!”. In his defence Robbo states this is because he’s a ‘different element’, which we reckon is simply a flowery way to say ‘proper fucking wrong un’. The rest of the trip is uneventful, although a Monster Espresso coffee charged Greek (Is 3 cans too many? Asking for a friend) does produce a bottle of prosecco to help get the mystery one’s birthday shenanigans started early. Sadly, all this does is make us look like the ugliest hen do ever. Dukey keeps himself well clear of this and sits in a corner reading up on WW2 tank battles on Wikipedia. Probably not a bad choice if I’m honest.
|You have arrived at your destination|
Finally in Manchester, we set out for the apparently short stroll to our hotel. Sadly, the birthday boy is leading the way and his directional sense can only be described as ‘shit’. So naturally we go completely the wrong direction and it takes three times longer to find the place than it should have done. Idiot! Still, we’re back at Piccadilly sharpish and on a train back to Stockport shortly after opening time. Well, opening time in other towns that is, as sadly most of the town pub wise seems to be shut until 12. In the end we locate the Chestergate pub and settle in for a couple of scoops to get us started with me lumping for a pint of Guinness in Derek’s honour. Finally with the hour passing noon and the pubs coming to life, we set out for the Ye Olde Vic up the road. Along the way we spot the local ‘Hat Museum’, which is sadly closed and a bit further on a horse dragging a very large tyre, as you do.
The Vic is a cracking little boozer that’s wearing it’s age well and is stacked full of all sorts of odds and ends that you can pass the time exploring as you sup. From here we head to the Armoury, a packed boozer that’s clearly a lively pre-match spot. Next on the list is the Pineapple, which from the outside looks derelict. It’s not much different inside and it’s certainly an interesting experience! Further down we skip the Robert Peel as we’ve been advised it’s a little on the ‘lively’ side. Instead we pop into the Prince Albert a short distance beyond and find another boozer full to the rafters with locals having a pre-match pint.
|Just a horse dragging a tyre. Nothing to see here, move along now…|
We chuck back a couple here and natter to some home fans, but with time then pressing on, we make a move for the ground mainly as most of us don’t have tickets yet and it’s one of those places you can’t buy on the turnstiles. So we head for the ticket office and thankfully the queues aren’t bad and finally briefed up, we head for the turnstiles. Once inside, I’m sure to take a couple of pics for Totts so he can feed his fetish later. First order of business here is to get the flag up. Now this can vary from ground to ground. Some places like Hartlepool or Chesterfield are ready for you and fine with you lobbing it over seats. Other places you have to ask and like Stockport, this can take time as the stewards need to ask someone else and invariably they need to ask someone else as well. Eventually it’s all sorted and I can apparently whack it up on a fence down the side of our section. I head over and as I start to go up the steps and get started I take a bit of a tumble on the wet concrete. And by a bit of a tumble, I mean I go properly arse over tit much to the consternation of three stewards nearby.
Thankfully the pre-match ales have had the desired effect and not only is my brain suitably dulled for 5th tier football, I’m a little more, shall we say, relaxed so it doesn’t particularly hurt. Tomorrow however? Yeah, all the pain. But that’s future me’s problem right now. Having assured the stewards I’m fine and not likely to die and fuck up the public liability insurance premiums, I get the flag sorted as the sides get us started out on the pitch.
Tzanev, John, Wyatt, Barden, Goodliffe, Reid, Ajiboye, Davis, Bugiel, Beautyman, Wright SUBS: Bolawinra, Rowe, Dundas, Milson, Jarvis.
We start well and for the first 15 we’re on top with Dave being a pain in the arse down the right. He has one cross deflected and it takes a decent nod away from a defender to clear the danger. Omar also nuts a cross over but it’s Tommy who has the best chance, chesting down Dave’s cross, but the ball won’t drop quickly enough for him and he volleys over the target. After this though, we drop a bit deeper and the home side come into things more. They have a lot of ball and what seems like an endless supply of corners, but the most dangerous moment for Niko is tipping a free kick comfortably around the post.
At the break I head for a much needed pie and scoff it whilst the lads have a tab and obscure a couple of the stewards whilst they sneak a gasper of their own. Don’t worry gang, we won’t tell! There’s also the sight of a little birthday gift for Mr X from Nat & Ossie, which is a little bag of treats from Ann Summers. I don’t want to know! The second 45 is much like the first, with both sides mostly cancelling each other out although we probably have the better sighters. Omar diverts one wide and Tommy has a dig from the 18 yard line that tests the keeper. It’s the little fella who has the best opportunity too when Kenny lifts a perfect ball in over Tom’s shoulder between the two centre backs. But he rolls the effort down his shin and it’s straight at the keeper where any sort of decent contact would surely have been a goal. So, in the end we have to settle for a pair of ducks thanks to both our meetings finishing 0-0 and another point but it’s at least a clean sheet on the road and takes us up to 40 points for the season so we can’t really grumble.
We head back to the Armoury to reconvene, but the gaff is packed out so we divert to the Olde Vic once more instead. This is also busy but at least we can get in and there’s plenty of familiar faces in here from the away support including Bob & Cath who are sampling the Mild, so we enjoy a couple of beers and take a little more time to enjoy this lovely little boozer. Well, some of us are. Greek gets a pint of Stowfords bought for him and he moans that he doesn’t like the stuff, so when his next order comes round he asks for a pint of perry which by his reckoning is even worse! It’s also a challenge for some as the couple running the place apparently don’t like bad language being used, despite this however us yobs manage to keep our potty mouths mostly under control right up until the end when the landlord overhears Greek use a naughty word and steps in to warn him. Dukey takes great pleasure in this and of course can’t resist going in two footed with a loud exclamation of “Unlucky! You’ve properly fucked up there mate!”. There’s always one isn’t there. Drink up lads, we’re going.
The train whisks us back to Manchester and with a quick duck back into the hotel to drop stuff off we then head over the road to the Lass O Gowrie boozer to team up once more. Here I and a couple others bag some dinner and Mr X leaves us here to head off to an old Uni mate’s birthday drinks elsewhere for an hour or two. It seems he wasn’t keen on a load of pissed up non-league fans rocking up. Can’t think why. Next stop for us is the Salisbury down by Oxford Road station. This is a bit of a rockier place and whilst I and JR feel right at home, the likes of Ossie and Nat aren’t quite so pleased with the music on offer! Next up is the Font, a more studenty place with the prices to match and it’s here roots are put down. Mr X reappears from his other do and then Beckett and the B Team appear to join the festivities. Here things start to go a little hazy as all sorts of fucking odd drinks appear including the sweetest thing I think I’ve ever tasted which is so sugary it has bloody jelly tots floating in it. Beckett also persuades the barman to knock him up some evil concoction for Mr X using beverages that basically spell out his name. It stinks something rotten, but admittedly doesn’t taste quite as bad as you’d expect.
|A growing pile|
By now it’s touching 2am, the Font is closing and I for one am pretty much done given I’m entering my 20th hour on the go. Some want to head off and get food, me included whilst others want to carry on elsewhere in a club. I Google takeaways on Yahoo and find a gaff round the corner called Archies that apparently does good burgers. That’ll do for me! I toddle my drunken arse off to the place and discover on arrival that no one’s tagged along with me. Ho hum. Triple burger and a vimto please!
Eventually back in the room, I pull up a chair and devour what is a pretty damn fine burger just as the effects of my little tumble earlier on start to kick in. I’ve a bloody great graze on my shin, the beginnings of a proper purple monster of a bruise on my hip and my shoulder is fucked. Damn you past me, you useless clumsy bastard! That’s gonna really hurt in the morning. Belly re-appears just as I’ve polished off my supper and I leave him to get himself sorted as this tired little hector needs to head off to Bedfordshire.
The next morning I awake with a sharp pain in my shoulder and a mouth like a tramps armpit. With sleep really required I take a quick shufty at the hotel info brochure to see when breakfast is served until. Up to noon? Fuck a doodle do, I’m having another hours kip sunshine! Eventually though I have to get up and leaving Belly showering I head downstairs for what is ultimately a disappointing offering. It’ll do though. Right, time for a shower and a power nap before the train home!
Ensuring a very hungover Mr X is not in charge of navigating the way to the station, the walk is brief and once on the concourse, the hunt is on for Ribena and other surefire cures for a night out on the piss. Thankfully our train is on the platform waiting nice and early so we all board and settle down for what proves to be a pretty quiet trip back to the smoke. I spend some time knocking up this shit on my laptop before weariness sets in and I knock it on the head to catch up on some more kip, which seems to be the order of the day for everyone, especially a minging birthday boy. A couple of hours later, we roll into Euston early and despite living relatively close to each other, all go our various ways for our routes home.
|Scary shower gel?|
Right, I need my sofa and a takeaway. Pronto.