Back when we got the fixtures for this League 2 stuff we found ourselves in, one of the main ones we looked for was Bradford away. For most of us, it was a first time visit to the city and also a chance to see our bunch of Non-League bastards play at a former Premier League ground in Valley Parade in front of a properly big old crowd. The Bantams having the biggest attendances in the division by quite some margin. Should look good on Insta if nowt else.
As with all of these Northern jaunts, the requirement is to be local by 11 for maximum pubbage. So this means only one thing, a properly early alarm and leaving HQ when it’s still dark out. Lovely stuff. I’m up at 6 and all set ready to go by half past, rustling up a sherbert as I don’t fancy trusting buses at that time of the morning. I’m rushing a bit for no real reason and end up darting out the door leaving a vitamin C drink on the side in the kitchen that I’d sorted before jumping in the shower. That’ll confuse Mrs Taz a little later when she gets up no doubt!
I’m at East Croydon in no time and hit the platform to find Steve already waiting. He’s not exactly hard to miss in his bright orange jacket! A train the St Pancs rolls in and we spot Chalmers further down, hainv got the same train from out in the sticks. So naturally, we walk up and jump on him like the absolute children we are. 25 mins later, we’re off at St Pancs and with tons of time to kill, head for McDonalds and a grotty breakfast. As we head in, Magnum is on his way out and heading back over the road to the station. A quick hello and we’re inside stuffing our own faces before crossing to Kings Cross ourselves and after admiring a stunning sunrise that lights up the sky with colour, we find the usual mob waiting. There were due to be 13 on this weekend odyssey, but we’ve had some fallers as the great pingdemic continues, with Loffers and Lee both confined to quarters in the last couple of days. Greek was also a late runner, getting a negative PCR back overnight allowing him to travel.
With platforms sorted, the gang heads for the train and I go to grab a cuppa for the journey. This proves harder than imagined and requires the efforts of no less than four people to make happen. Seriously lads, it’s hot water and a fucking tea bag in a cup. Not rebuilding a Formula One engine. Beveraged up, I make for the train myself, seeing that my seat is F40. Oooh, Ferrari! Although I’d be the first to admit it’s not as cool or as fast as whoever got seat F15. As I head up the platform, a cheery announcement is played over the PA wishing everyone a Happy Christmas etc and being full of festive cheer, I greet this warmly, muttering “Fuck off, it’s only the 11th December” under my breath. On the train, everyone’s settling in including a rather tired 4Days who was out on a piss up until 2am this morning and is feeling the effects and also a tubby shaven headed chap in a flat cap. Yes, ladies and gents, Dukey has managed to tunnel out of the nursery and nappy duty to join us on this adventure. Of course, everyone’s happy to see him, me included. “Hello mate, I’m Dan” I announce before shaking his hand “You’re a mate of Robbo yeah?”.
The train departs and soon Mr X confirms to Greek that he had indeed gone ‘home’ to his Air BnB in Mitcham and not home home on Tuesday night and as the big lad had predicted. He’s having a new kitchen put in and didn’t fancy living on a building site for a few days. As we trundle North, Magnum is the first to nod off, with 4Days commenting it’s probably because he’s not wearing his loud trousers today. And I manage to have completely missed Indy getting on the train and ask where he is despite him being sat 2 seats away across the aisle from me. Fucking idiot! Given the early hour, it’s reasonably subdued chatter wise, although the time is passed with me showing old man Magnum how to find and add our 1993 FA Cup tie at Moreton Town on the Futbology app on his phone. And Mr X does a tea run, only to return and realise he’s not bought himself one!
We roll into Leeds on time and with the smokers having popped out to top up their habit, we’re on the 2 carriage diesel service out to Bradford Interchange. Here on the socials we enjoy a read through of all the locals expectations for today. It seems their form is not great and they’re expecting to get turned over. Meanwhile, we’ve no idea who is actually going to play and where, with several players facing fitness tests today. This might not be a classic! Soon after, we’ve arrived at our destination and go in search of our digs a short stroll away. Then with bags dropped in the Premier Inn, we next go in search of a pub, which Greek has selected. The Ginger Goose. I swear he did that only to have a pop at me! Here we get the first beers in of the day and I enjoy an immaculate pint of Saltaire. It’s so good in fact even beer snob and publican 4Days is impressed. Don’t hear that often! Magnum and Greek have a little flutter on the horses here as it’s on telly and they come up trumps with a £65 quid 1-2 on the first race and an each-way second in the next. We put away two pints here and then next up we head for the Exchange, a cellar bar and craft beer gaff up the road.
There’s a crowd in and we get another beer finding Dirty Barry and Keepo sat up the back by the shuffleboard. DB obviously getting a bit mixed up on that front. Here we find some locals and their outlook is as bad as we’d seen online earlier, with most predicting away win. I bloody hope so!! Some of the lads try a seriously fruity Strawberry cider and give it the thumbs up whilst we also tuck into some pork pies available from the bar for donations. Just as we’re finishing up to head on, Alan and Nutsack appear from the City Vaults around the corner, which is exactly where we’re heading now. Coming? The Vaults is far busier and harder to get a pint, but we find spaces and more locals eager to give us their pessimistic view on todays match! With the place being so busy, we neck one here and our next stop as we meander slowly towards the ground is the Juke Bar. A little American themed dive place that does an odd honeycomb beer from Camden brewery. Here we down two more, I add some colour to the toilets with some stickers and Indy is smacked in the face by the hand towel machine, with the cover flipping down and hitting him on the bridge of the nose, drawing blood. Of course, we’re all hugely sympathetic. Steve’s new Adidas pumps are now starting to rub quite badly and he bizarrely obtains a couple of plasters from behind the bar. Got everything here!
With time pressing on, we decide that there’s not really much time for more pints, so we call it a day and begin the walk to the ground. As we get closer, the pubs are busier and the pavements full of people. There’s even geezers hawking knock off gear from little trollies along the way. Certainly a first for us for a home game! Normally we’d need to get to the 3rd round to see stuff like that! The ground looms into view and it’s pretty impressive stuff for a load of Non-League shite like us. “That stand’s bigger than our whole ground” mutters 4Days as we head through the turnstiles. There’s a load of stairs to negotiate and once we’ve all stopped panting from the unwanted workout, we’re into the seats. The ground’s impressive and certainly further proof if any were needed that we ain’t in Kansas anymore Toto.
Bouzanis, Wyatt, Barden, John, Goodliffe, Milsom, Smith, Ajiboye, Randall, Bugiel, Wilson SUBS: Dundas, Chalupniczak, Sho-Silva, Bennett, Korboa.
Thankfully it seems a couple of the lads having fitness tests have made it through giving us a slightly stronger than expected line up. Ali Smith returns to midfield and Louis is fit enough to return to the defence. It’s a welcome boost. The game underway, there’s not masses going on early doors. We’re finding it hard to get going and they’re looking like a side with 2 wins in 20 or so. The first moment of any note is one of their lads trying to chip Deano from just inside our half. The keeper pats it wide to be sure, but it looked to be going well wide. Donovan has a sniff soon after, Omar with a little hook in behind and he spins off his man, but fires wide of the far post. We’re growing more into the game though and after half an hour, a breakthrough. Their skipper dithers on the ball 30 yards out and with Omar lurking, he’s robbed of the ball and with the big lad through, he blatantly hauls him back inside the box with no attempt to make a challenge. Pen and a red card! Robbie Milsom steps up and thumps the pen high to the keepers left. 1-0!
Sadly, the lead is short lived. Randall fouls about 25 or so out far side, the ball in is headed on target and despite Bouzanis getting a hand on it, the ball sneaks inside the far post. Naturally there are bad words said amongst the away following. Can we just keep it tight for a few lads? Please?? We get back to work and soon, the officials are once more making their presence felt. The lino our side flags for a corner far side of the goal, which the home fans are not impressed by. Randall put it in, it causes chaos and Louis gets his head on it and it looks in all the way, just waiting for the net to ripple and all that and then it’s cleared, to huge protests from the lads in green who seem to think it’s over the line and a couple are also claiming handball. Nothing doing though other than a caution for Louis for dissent. So, level at the break. We’d have taken that this morning, but this is here for the taking.
The second half never really catches light either to be honest. Despite the man advantage, we look a little leggy and can’t really make much headway, meanwhile they look ok on the ball and move it well but they lack that real edge up top. It’s looking like we’re probably meandering to a draw with about 20 to go when Matt injects some life on the left and replaces Randall with Korboa. Ricky’s only on a couple of minutes when Omar wins it deep, has a little maraud and slips the ball into the channel for the winger. He cuts inside, then back outside the defender to work some space and tries his luck with a rising shot. The keeper makes a right mess of it and simply pats it out for Ali arriving late to nod it straight back into the back of the net! 2-1. At this point, my delight at the goal is just too much for my Levis and before I know it, I’ve torn the gusset out of the fuckers. Uh oh, I’ve got a night out on the piss after the game, I can’t sit around Sharon Stoning half of Bradford! Still, it could be worse, I could be Clivie G from the B Team who goes toppling down the stand end over end like a big ginger slinky. He seems unharmed, but he’ll definitely be sore in the morning!!
With the lead snatched back, what we need now is a steady few minutes. Take the sting out of the game lads, see it through. Don’t give ’em anything chea…..oh for fucks same they’re level again! Less than 5 after the goal, they work the ball around the box, it gets wide and the low ball across is met back post by Carshalton born Lee Angol. Bollocks. Now I’ve got my knackers exposed to the elements AND we’ve just binned off 2 points possibly. Cracking stuff. We introduce Bennett late on to try & see if we can nab another before the end, but the best we can manage is an Omar header from a set piece that bounces wide of the target.
A point it is then and we applaud another big shift from the boys. Just got to keep battling on and push through the injuries and keep picking the points tally ticking over. With all the flag stowed, we depart and start heading back down into town to drop crap before some of us head out for a curry. As we do, I’m frantically Googling the Yahoos for gaffs still open at this time on a Saturday afternoon where I can obtain a slightly less ventilated pair of strides. Fortunately, the shopping centre in the middle of town is into Xmas opening hours and there’s an H&M there. So handing Steve the flag bag, I peel off down a more direct route to get my junk re-covered. In the store, I quickly locate the geezers section and am browsing the jeans available. Ah, ‘relaxed’ fit, I’m a fat fucker, they should do! I head for the changing rooms and am soon testing out the structural integrity of the new garment. Few squats and lunges later and convinced these won’t shit the bed easily, I change back and head out to pay. “You seem a bit flustered mate” says the fella behind the jump “Bad day?”. And once he’s stopped pissing himself laughing after I’ve explained my little wardrobe malfunction, he finally rings me up for £25 quid and I’m heading back to the hotel, thankfully only a short walk away with some new Dougie Housers under my arm.
A quick change to make me less likely to get nicked for indecent exposure, I join the others in the bar downstairs, neck a quick G&T and then we take the 10 minute walk to the Curry place nearby. A decent feed later and it’s back to a pub nearby that we passed on the way. Here Ossie and Greek catch us up, with the latter preferring a short nap and a shower to the curry. A quick beer later and some Ice hockey lads in from the rink just around the corner, we head back into town and revisit the Exchange from earlier in the day. It’s a bit quieter than earlier and we find a spot in a corner for some pintage. A couple of rounds here follow and with the meal either having given some of us a second wind (me, Magnum & Indy) and put everyone else in a coma, they slope off to bed whilst we walk up to the Juke Bar again as it’s open until 1. A band is just packing up as we arrive and we get stuck into the remainder of the whip we’ve been left with by the others. Here the world is generally put to rights before come half 12, the place is empty and we’re the only ones left. So the gaffer decides that’s that for the evening and pulls the plug a touch early. So finishing our drinks, we head back out into the cold damp night and head back to the hotel.
With an 11am train back off Leeds the next day, a slightly early start is required on the Sunday and I haul my carcass out of bed at 8 and start pottering about trying to get my head going. Showered and all other admin sorted, I’m down for breakfast as some of the earlier risers are heading back upstairs to no doubt desecrate their lavatories. I join Steve for scoff and wolf down a pile of bacon whilst we check socials etc. Here we get the answer to the ‘goal or handball’ incident from the day before and it seems the answer is ‘both’. Many locals claiming it to be well over and cleared by one of their lads hand. Great. Fucked over again! Scoffed, we go to pay for our meal, but my guts are rumbling and in the end I have to leave Steve to cover mine whilst I dash back upstairs to a most urgent session of Angry Birds.
We hit the station and before long, armed with a copy of the FL Paper and 2 bottles of Ribena, we’re back in Leeds awaiting our train back to London. Here we realise that Dukey is wearing shorts “It’s fucking December you twat” scalds Greek and other jibes follow along the lines of “Why are you robbing from Robbo’s wardrobe” and “Don’t invite your mate again Keith”. The train leaves bang on and after Chalmers spends a good few minutes faffing about what seat to take and generally getting in everyone’s way, we make good time. Until we stop at Retford. Which is weird, as we’re not actually due to stop here. Uh oh!
It turns out there’s a points failure at Newark and we’re a long way back in the queue to trundle through the area. Marvellous. What follows is pretty much 2 hours of sitting around doing fuck all. Naturally, we make our own entertainment, with Robbo going on a tea run and despite Magnum’s demand for 5 milk sachets, he gets him only 3. Eventually a spare is found but Steve grabs it and rather than adding it to his coffee, rips it open and downs it like a shot. Most of the lads also tune into the Grands Prix on various devices. And where they were only expecting to see the first half hour, they actually get to see the whole race. Eventually though, we creep through Newark and are back on track arriving back in London after 3pm when we should have been here just after 1. Mr X collects all the tickets outside so we can have a full on claim up from the delay. Then with some smokers feeding their habit, the rest of us scatter heading for Victoria. Here Steve parts as he goes for East Croydon, whilst I join 4Days on the train back to Sutton way, hopping off in the badlands so I can get some bits from Sainos for dinner today.
After a brisk stroll avoiding the forces of darkness in the occupied territories, I stumble through the front door at HQ. “Are you decent?” chuckles Mrs Taz, jokingly covering her eyes as I enter.
Yeah, just about love. Just about.