When the fixtures came out, most were disappointed that one of the trips we were looking forward to the most, Bristol Rovers, had got lumped on Boxing Day. With no trains at all that day, that makes the run down there a bit of a faff from South West London to say the least. Keen to sample the place proper awayday style, we looked into various options but none looked worthwhile. Then, miracles of miracles, the FA sorted us right out and gave us Rovers away in the second round of the FA Cup. We can now do a proper awayday and just drive down for an in and out over Xmas. Bosh, wallop, sorted as Dukey might say.
With us unlikely to be on the telly box for this one we gamble for trains on the Saturday and get in at a half decent price for everyone. Although the party will be small, with just half a dozen of the firm making the hike out West. I rise from my slumber in the morning, feeling a bit grot if I’m honest. I can’t decide if I’m constipated or am experiencing the onset of appendicitis, then I remember the appendix is on the right hand side of my meat bag. So, medical diagnosis complete and usual morning admin sorted, I peck her ladyship on the cheek and head for the bus. Of course, a 407 tries to mock me by being early and flying past on the way to my stop, but I don’t care as I’ve sworn off the big bastard for Croydon runs now. Far too many driver changes 2 stops up the road making me miss trains and making getting to my destination that little bit more stressful.
Of course, the 410 I then get stops top of Croydon, one from the actual bus garage no fucking less, to swop drivers. Prick. Still, where buses let you down, trains are always just as bad if not worse. Of course the services into Victoria are faffing about for some reason or another, so as the ‘due in time goes up and up for the already delayed next one into the smoke, a slightly delayed Thameslink arrives. That’ll do, stay on to Farringdon, tube to Paddy from there. A little snooze later, I’m hopping off for the tube in town and eventually make Paddington with a good 15-20 to spare, lovely. The rest of the mob are here, with 4Days, Magnum, Greek and Indy mulling about on the concourse. Although it seems we’re waiting on Mr X, who’s been delayed on the tube. Which is a bit of a mare as he’s got the train tickets! I kill some time by heading to Sainos for breakfast only to find it shut, reducing me to a minging bacon roll from one of the ‘Delice de France’ type places on the concourse. It costs an arm and a leg and is that horrible, salty, razor thin shit American ‘bacon’. Still, beggars can’t be choosers at this point. A large milky coffe and some Neurofen takes care of the internal discomfort.
Mr X eventually appears in time with the tickets and we board with a couple of mins to spare. The train leaves on time and Magnum and I discuss the annoying ‘bus driver swap’ issue I’d encountered earlier. This is of course greeted with great disdain and loud declarations of being ‘boring’ from Greek. Still, he definitely doesn’t grumble when the same thing happens at Reading, with our driver being swapped and the replacement being late in. There then follows an enthralling conversation about Apple iPhone charging cables, as Magnum’s got his brand spankers 13 on his person today. And not in any sort of protective case either. At which point both I and Greek are convinced that’ll get bounced off a hard surface at some point before the end of today. Being a responsible sort, I put my mask on after I’ve eaten and polished off my coffee, only to realise I’ve put that minging bacon roll on it beforehand and now all I can smell all the rest of the way to Bristol is minging bacon roll. Just lovely.
Stopping at Bath on the way down, we note that despite being on the mainline West, the platforms at Spa are far too short for the trains in use today. This means a load of people piling on standing room only at Chippenham, have to move down 2 carriages to get off at Bath. Shocking lack of foresight there from Mr Brunel. And to think people said he was a genius! One family are properly screwed as they have a little un in a pushchair. Their efforts to lift this above everyone’s heads as they walk down the carriage goes fairly well until the little one loses his shit about the ride quality and they end up having to us our tables to rest the wheels on and extract him from his death defying situation. We arrive in Bristol a couple of minutes late thanks to the wait at Reading and Brunel comes in for some more stick here as Temple Meads station is a right old faff to get out of. Outside, with a large cab rank at our disposal, advice to head towards the ground on Gloucester Road as ‘there’s loads of pubs there’ and the fact that the town will be swarming with Derby fans in for their game with City today, we hop in two sherberts and head North.
We’re dropped outside a boozer we’ve looked up earlier that opens early as we figure that somewhere that is open before 11 would be a good spot to hit to allow all the other local publicans to catch up and throw their doors open for the thirsty PROWS masses. Yeah, about that. We arrive and find our ‘early open’ boozer firmly locked up and 2-3 others in the vacinity also the same. Fucks sake. If you say you open at 11, open at fucking 11! By this point, frustrations as well as thirsts are growing and we head for a place called the Sportsman off the main drag that 4Days insists opens for 11.30. It’s at this point waiting outside that we finally address the elephant in the room of Magnum’s choice of trousers today. Which are a rather unappealing mustardy sort of colour. His protests that “They’re Paul Smith!” and “They’re designer!” carry no currency with the mob whatsoever. Even less so when he lets slip how much he’d actually paid for them as well, where the reaction is largely in the vein of “A HUNDRED AND SEVENTY FIVE FUCKING QUID? Are you fucking mental?”. The discussion is interrupted as we and the small gathering of people with us outside the boozer hear the bolt sliding back on the doors dead on 11.30 and we’re soon indoors with a pint and Mr X and Greek are prodding away at a quiz machine.
We get a couple in here and with Coventry v West Brom getting ready to go on the telly, we discover that the lad behind the bar is a Cov fan. So we apologise for ’89 and pass on our respects for Mr John Sillett who passed away during the week. Mainly as we’d like to keep getting served. Next up is the ‘Annexe’ which is literally next door, separated from the more social club\sports orientated Sportsman by a small courtyard. This is more the old mans beer spot and we settle in for a pint in the warm cosy interior. Here Greek amuses himself by checking out the old pump clips above the bar, before declaring “What’s Old Nutty Hen?”. Quick as a flash, 4Days has replied “Your mum” and much chuckling is had amongst the travelling party, including Greek himself who offers a ‘well played’ Covid era fist bump to his assailant. There’s also a Carling pump on the bar that’s been repurposed to dispense Fosters, this we know from the lovingly hand drawn in felt tip pen red ‘F’ sellotaped to the front of it. We depart the Annexe for the Lazy Dog just as a few other U’s wander in, including a previous Sutton FA Cup hero, Vaggy. We stop for some quick and exceptionally obvious “You’re not playing today then?” banter before heading up the road. Here the pub is a nice little spot, but it’s busy, so we head upstairs to a deserted, more private looking bar. It seems this is required for a private function at 2, but the staff are happy to let us mill about while we neck our pints.
These done, the mob heads next door for one more pre-match whilst I have to get a wriggle on and head to the ground to get a ticket, having missed out during the week. Along the way, I find Gloucester Road packed with literally hundreds of bikers, all dressed in Santa outfits. Now there’s summat you don’t see every day! Ticket eventually sorted I head in and start the usual flag palaver. Everyone’s nice, but for some reason they decide that literally the only place I can put this is on a fence down the side of the terrace. And not over the myriad of empty seats next to the away section behind the goal. I’ve not the energy to argue, so I get the admin seen to and head for my seat. Yes, everyone’s decided to sit down for some reason for today, mainly as they didn’t fancy the open terrace if the weather was shit. Great. The view’s rubbish and of course, any noise being made is gonna be from the terrace on the side. The only other thing of note pre-kick off is the playing of Jeff Beck’s ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ loudly over the PA. Which is odd as I didn’t know they still played old guff like that at football these days outside of the Isthmian League and that Jeff’s from Wallington. Thankfully a burst of Sweet fucking Caroline afterwards is short lived. God that needs to go away and soon.
Bouzanis, Milsom, Barden, Goodliffe, John, Eastmond, Davis, Randall, Ajiboye, Olaofe, Bugiel SUBS: Korboa, Bennett, Wilson, Chalupniczak, Dundas, Bouldewijn
The first half is nowt to write home about, with a cold stiff breeze either coming down the ground or from our left behind the goal, neither side really gets going at all. Although of the two sides, we look slightly the better. Issac having a run and popping in Dave on the run in behind, but despite his shot looking wide, the keeper saves anyway to concede a corner. Apart from that, the only other moment is from Randall getting in behind to the bye line and pulling it back to a fairly well placed Eastmond, but the ball just hits him and rebounds away to be cleared. Most of the rest of the half is broken up with another fussy and rather odd performance from the geezer in the middle. Letting obvious fouls go (for both sides) but pulling up soft little contact stuff. He’s also proper shit with his cards, with Kenny picking up our first yellow for a little clip a good 35+ yards out from goal after the guy turns him, yet Dave getting chopped full flight on the edge of the D after going past a couple of lads is just a free kick without so much as a talking to. Now, don’t get me wrong, reffing is tough, we get that. But fucking hell, some of them really don’t make it easy for themselves do they?
Issac hobbles off not long after a bit of a lunge out on the touchline earns their lad a yellow and Wilson replaces, meanwhile I’ve had enough of no atmos and a shit view and head for the tea hut shortly before the break. A pastie, a piss and a cupa (not in that order!) do the job and I natter with Johnnie and Ryan from the Yoof whilst everyone else filters round for a better view of us shooting towards the far end after the break. And it’s not long after the restart that the contest finally sparks into some sort of life, Omar wins a rare flick for today out wide and Wilson does his man, legging it into space behind. He pulls it back into the box and Randall’s there to roof it from several yards out. Get in there!! As our celebrations ring out around the ground, there’s near silence from the rest of the crowd. C’mon lads, keep ’em quiet now!!
Sadly though, with most of us thinking this would be a dull 0-0 before that point, rather than have a quiet 5-10 after the goal and settle into the lead, we have probably our worst spell of the game. A long diagonal over Milsom’s shoulder gets their man in behind and as he cuts up the bye line, Rob’s attentions from behind bring him to ground despite him not having a lot of options in front of him and after a long think, the ref points to the spot. Five minutes have elapsed since being in the lead. The bloke tucks the spot kick and we’re back to square one. Even worse comes 2 minutes later, when a dead soft free kick is conceded about 25 out on our side. The oddball ref then books Wilson for not retreating, despite the fact he’s clearly 10 yards back from the ball and to add insult, their lad sticks it into the box and a header is guided into the corner. Time elapsed since lead being taken and then frittered away? 8 minutes.
From here, we never really look likely to get back on terms. With the wind at their backs, they defend well enough and have an easy out to stretch the game as we press on for a goal and the nearest anyone comes to scoring again are the hosts, first with us letting a ball run and Bouzanis having to make a double block right on the edge of his area before the danger is cleared and another where the bloke passes up a sitter, running onto another huge ball downfield and chipping the stranded Deano only to see the ball come back off the outside of the post. Sadly though, we’ve had far too many 6’s and 7’s today and not enough 8’s and 9’s and despite throwing on Korboa and Bouldewijn, neither really makes any impact and the game ends after several minutes added and Deano jogging up fruitlessly for a last minute corner. Time to pack up and get beered I think! Flag down, we head back down Gloucester Road and decide that the Golden Lion looks a promising spot, mainly as it’s not full of lads in Stone Island and other gear that screams “Dickheads on sniff and dark fruits”. Here we tuck into a couple of pints, whilst Greek largely pulls down the shutters, now feeling the effects of his Covid booster the day before.
As the pub busies up, we find out that our pens win over Stevenage in the Pizza Cup during the week has earnt us a home tie with Colchester in the quarters (that’ll pack ’em in!) and Mr X goes for a poo, returning all too quickly and after some gentle questioning reveals he’d gone into the ladies by mistake. And only realised when a lass emerged from one of the traps and he noticed there were no urinals. “I did think to myself as I went in that it smelled a bit too nice for the gents!” is the only defence of sorts he can offer. We sink 3-4 here, not fancying heading back out into the cold and the crowd in here being a pretty chilled music oriented bunch waiting for the band for the evening. We look at earlier trains home, but sadly we’re too close to the one at 7 to really make it and the next is at 8 which we were getting anyway. So we organise a plan of some going to Sainos for train cans and some scoff, as there’s nothing remotely takeaway like near Temple Meads.
Another black mark against Mr Brunel there, he might have been able to knock out a steam train in his lunch hour, but he was shite at future proofing his stuff, the stovepipe hatted Victorian twat. With cabs ordered, I head for a pre-departure piss. In doing so, I drop an absolute rasper of a fart at the urinals which causes the geezer at the other end to pause his own admin and applaud. I’ll take that. “It’s been a long day!” is all I can offer by way of explanation. “Better’n a short day!” he replies in a thick local accent. Too true sir, too true!
Back at Temple Meads, the advance party find the remnants of Derby’s hordes departing and it seems they’ve had a well refreshed day out. 4Days and I ponce the barriers to go for a piss and then have to explain to a geezer coming back via a different set of gates why we’ve done so. We then hit M&S for some extra nibbles and it’s here that 4Days, just barely a week after I confessed to a falafel wrap for my lunch, decides that one would not only be possibly suitable for train home munch, but throws a “There’s no mayo!” tantrum into the bargain. Still, he decides whipped feta is enough to swing the argument and buys it anyway. “You wanna watch yourself sunshine, or you’ll be buying fucking strides like Magnum’s before too long!” I advise as we head for our platform. On the train, the rear guard are soon joining us laden with cans and a number of sarnies from Sainsburys near the pub and before long, we’re beginning the trundle back East. The train gets busy at Bath, as other revellers begin their own journeys home and we end up with a small party of young lasses who’ve been on the bottomless brunch and cocktails in Bath all day sat amongst us as we have a couple of spare seats going. Also, we have Doritos and they have the munchies.
Part of the bargain is that we get them to vote on Magnum’s trousers. They’re far too polite though and largely give approval, much to the rest of the crew’s disgust. Here Magnum further reveals that on this retail therapy trip, he’d actually bought 5 pairs of various hues at the same time. We’ll let you do the mathematics on that one based on the info contained in this here blog. We can’t bring ourselves to do it. The lasses depart at Swindon full of Doritos and the train quietens down again and as we trundle back into Paddington with all of the grub devoured and only a couple of cans of G&T left the final verdict on those trousers is delivered from Magnum’s new lady friend. He’s sent her a pic of the garment in question and her response is “Don’t ever wear those out with me”. Right, I think that’s that settled! Off the train in London, Indy heads for Victoria from here and 4Days trots off to Bermondsey to visit a young lady friend, whilst the rest of us decide to pop back to Farringdon and Thameslink it from there. Of course, having committed to this rather fixed route, we then find that everything’s cancelled for the next half hour or so. Greek and Mr X head for a smoke outside whilst Magnum and I head for the platform for a long wait. But, then we notice that there’s a Kent bound train due in a few that goes via London Bridge, so we decide to leave the Sutton bound travellers to their fate and hop that reasoning there’ll be a train to East Croydon from there.
Even better actually. As we trundle from Blackfriars, we find there’s a Wallington train leaving several minutes after we arrive. Which is just about spot on, meaning no hanging about for buses at the other end is required. Lovely stuff. Train is hopped, toilets are used and I wave off Magnum at Waddon before alighting at Wallington myself. The rain that greeted us at London Bridge has passed here, but it’s now just as chilly as it had been on the terrace at the Memorial Ground, so I zip up warm, throw in my headphones, pull up my hood and with the flag bag slung on my back, I march back to the warmth of HQ. Mrs Taz is still awake doing some pre-bedtime reading when I stumble in through the door, wheezing from the freezing hitting my poor lungs on the walk back.
“How was your game?” she enquires.