With a decent festive period now behind us, we’re diving headlong into 2023 proper with a busy old January and February with a few long away slogs now coming due on the calendar. Next up Matty Gray’s Amber Army is a North West double header with Tranmere and Salford away on consecutive weekends. This would test the wallet, livers and sanity of most regulars alone, but with the ongoing rail strikes, it means that the first one of these just over the Mersey from Liverpool is going to be a bit of a mission.
Before we knew there would be basically no trains, a few eager beavers went ahead and booked accommodation in Liverpool anticipating a weekend on the piss, but with no public transport or at least none that could get them home on the Sunday, it meant that driving soon became the only real option. This also threw others a touch as with no trains, our travel sec washed his hands of the whole affair and it soon became every dickhead for themselves for the remainder. Jokingly, a couple of us looked into doing something dumb, like fly to Belfast Friday and get the ferry over to Birkenhead Saturday morning, but that never really panned out and in the week before the game this ceased to even be a outsider given the cost of flights.
So with Magnum transporting Robbo, Greek and himself up on the Friday, Mr X aiming for a supplier visit in the midlands so he can scab the cost of a hotel off his firm, that left just myself, Indy and 4Days to make arrangements. With the latter needing to be back in London Sunday morning for his odd Dutch sport he plays, he took a gamble on getting the one train running up Saturday morning and taking it from there knowing full well that if Avanti pull an Avanti and bin it off, he’s done for. So, then there were two. I scouted some digs out right in the city centre which also handily had a multi storey right opposite meaning parking wouldn’t be a twat. So two rooms booked, money changes hands and I and Indy have a plan. Leave fucking early Saturday morning in my motor and arrive before opening time as is required.
The recce team made it Friday lunchtime with no fuss, although Ossie and Nat did end up going through the Mersey tunnel for no reason after a slight wrong turn when they got into town, and proceeded to basically spend the day on the gas around Liverpool with Mr X arriving late afternoon having abandoned his original plan, instead doing a half day and driven straight up. As per the Whatsapp comms are sprinkled with all sorts of daft shit that daft people get up to, but the absolute pick of the bunch comes later in the evening when it is revealed that some Danish tourists over for the Liverpool game mistake Magnum for Jan Molby. Now, I can’t say it had ever occurred to us before, but having now seen a couple of pics of him post-playing career, it’s definitely now something we can’t unsee. Naturally that one might just run for a while on future days out.
Fast forward to Saturday morning, I roll over to kill my alarm at the disgustingly early hour of half 4 and thankfully not having woken Mrs Taz, I hit the shower and get my affairs in order. A quick goodbye peck for her ladyship and the already fully fuelled Tazmobile is out on the deserted streets at 5 past 5 and pointed towards Cheam village for my first stop to pick up Indy. I fly through in no time at all and within 10 minutes, my co-pilot is aboard and we’re weaving our way to the A3, onto the M25 and within an hour we’ve firmly thrown off the shackles of the worlds biggest car park and are motoring north on the M40 with barely a soul to be seen. By this point, the small talk has long since subsided and my co-pilot is now back to doing what any sane person should be doing at 6am on a Saturday morning and chucking out the Z’s. As we pass Oxford, the darkness remains and is soon added to by some torrential rain, which is definitely going to be in for the duration.
Just south of Brum, I suddenly awaken my colleague with a nice bit of aquaplaning as we join the M42. “Morning!”. “I’m just checking we’re not dead” is all he adds before returning to inspecting the inside of his eyelids. The M6 toll follows and then the M6 itself and now north of Brum, with the Sat Nav reckoning we’ll be in Liverpool before 9 at our current rate, we decide that a breakfast stop is in order. So we dip off at Stafford and hit up the Greggs there for some nosh and a brew. Oddly, right outside is an express launderette, basically two washing machines effectively out in the open. Very odd. Even worse, the Greggs has run out of bacon. The fuck? It’s not even 8am yet lads!! Ok, sausages will do. As we sit in the motor chomping on our scoff, we ruminate over the laundry facilities on offer. “It’s not a bad setup” comments Indy. “It’s right by the electric car charging points so you can do your undies while your Tesla charges and grab a brew at the same time”. Can’t deny it, he has a point.
We leave Stafford with warnings that the M6 at Stoke may be shut, an issue that caught us out a little post-game up at Crewe earlier this season on the way home. Still, this proves to be incorrect and we fly through no bother at all. And shortly before 9, we’re leaving the M62 and entering the city limits of Liverpool. 5 past and the jam jar is firmly corralled in the Mount Pleasant multi-storey, a somewhat ironic name given the place looks half derelict and that it should have a knife weilding crack head around every corner and we’re lobbing our bags into our digs. Now these had attracted some mirth amongst the firm with Robbo, a renowned snob, making fun of their TripAdvisor rating and reviews, but my own response that the ones I’d seen were fine and actually better than Mr X’s gaff over the road did little to calm things down. We’ll come back to this later.
Having arrived about an hour before we’d expected due to such a clear run and the other mob still shaking off Friday night hangovers, Indy and I decide to go a bit Hobbit and declare second breakfast is in order and head for the Spoons on Lime Street station, passing the RMT\ASLEF picket lines as we go. A quick cuppa and some pancakes in the boozer adds some further stodge for later on. “Did you cross the picket line?” enquires an accusing Mr X on Whatsapp whilst enquiring as to our location. “No, we sort of walked around the end of it” replies Indy. And besides, we’re not using the trains, unlike that dirty scab 4Days. While we wait for normal pub hours, our first pint is ordered and we’re soon joined by Mr X who looks like he’s dropped out of a dogs arse after last night. “I blame the terrible bottle of wine with dinner” he moans. Aye, fuck all to do with what else you lobbed down your neck over 7 hours eh? With people now surfacing, the Ship & Mitre, where we kicked off the festivities last season, is set as the meeting point and after a brief chat with a nice lad in a wheelchair who’s a Tranmere fand and a mate of the B-Team’s Clive, I, Indy and he who cannot be named amble on over at 11 and are the first to arrive. We’re just getting beers in, at least I and Indy are, Mr X insists on a pint of orange and lemonade, when Greek bowls up and adds a pint of blackcurrant cider to the order.
Soon, Robbo appears and finally Magnum puts in an appearance. Here, I call for confirmation on the Jan Molby story from the previous evening suspecting there might be a whiff of ‘utter bollocks’ about it, but no, our resident dick confirms that a couple of Danes had indeed thought he was the statuesque former Liverpool midfielder. “They might have been as pissed as we were” he adds without request. Yes, I’m sure they were. Shortly after half 11, 4Days completes the party fresh from the train which ironically might be the only one Avanti have actually run when they said they would and at the time they said they would for months. With one here done, we head practically next door to the Excelsior and here we’re joined by one of 4Days Wales away mates Matt and his good lady “He’s Liverpool, she’s Everton” announces the Welsh ambassador, which draws a couple of whistles and a sharp intake of breath from all present. There’s general nattering and Greek pointing out the framed picture on the wall that someone has applied googly eyes too and that he’d noticed on last night’s piss up. Also we establish that Mr X might have the dirtiest glasses ever. Here Matt offers one of this wipes to restore his vision to far more serviceable levels. Another one down here, we bid farewell to Matt’s missus and head to the Vernon Arms a bit further up. This is a proper old school boozer and the floor has an amusing slope on the floor heading towards the door, which no doubt helps after last orders.
Here we settle in for a couple and chat all sorts of bollocks such as football games abroad, what a staggeringly good night out Novi Sad is and also the subject of hotels are touched on. My choice gets more abuse, but Matt’s less impressed by Mr X’s choice of the Adelphi. “Killed my nan that place did” he says. Wait? Fucking what?? Turns out that shortly after staying in said digs on a visit, his nan did indeed pop her clogs, so apparently the place is a little bit of a sore subject for him and unlikely to be high on his recommended list of places to stay in his home city. Naturally we discuss if the place really is truly dangerous to grandmothers, although Matt’s not that up for our suggesting he get his one remaining nan to stay there to see what transpires. Can’t think why. Typical of the modern world though if you ask me, no one has time for true scientific thought or methodology any more. Bored of experts and all that. Now, normally we’d kick on from here and book sherberts for shortly after 2 to dash to the game, but through AB we’ve been sorted a couple of comp tickets out not used by players so we decide to cab over a bit early and have one or two in the Tranmere Supporters Trust world famous glamping tent. We’ve no idea if it is actually world famous or not, they just told us it was. And why would they lie?
We say farewell to Matt and a short dart through the tunnel later, we’re getting tipped out by the Prenton pub by the ground, surrounded by other cabs doing similar, but disgorging numerous Scandi groundhoppers who are clearly getting a tick in before heading to Anfield for their FA Cup match this evening. We locate AB, sort our tickets out and pile into the tent for a quick livener before kick off. Here we find the B-Team and numerous other faces in the swim, all having elected to come up on the Supporters Coach this morning. Which I’m sure was lovely. Johnnie from the Yoof did so after an hours sleep following a rather heavy night at a party and it seems a lot of his colleagues are running on similar levels of recharge. As it should be at that fucking age an’all, as I can confirm. you are definitely only young once. With pints downed, we head on in to the ground as a little memorial service plays out on the pitch to remember all those no longer with us going into the new year. I aim for a pie to get my soakage topped up only to find that they literally have nothing but Cheese and Onion. Before kick off. What the hell? Where’s all the good stuff? Seriously Northerners, sort your lives out will you. First Carlisle runs out of Scotch pies and now there’s not even a meat and potato to be had here. It’s bollocks, I thought pies were life up here and all that. State of this fucking country, shambles. Instead I settle for a shit hot dog and wolf it down just in time for kick off. Very disappointing.
Rose, Milsom, John, Goodliffe, Kizzi, Boldewijn, Smith, Eastmond, Randall, Bugiel, Wilson SUBS: Ward, Hart, Beautyman, Fadahunsi, Neufville, Kouassi, Ajiboye
From the very start the lads have clearly found new purpose from that little spurt over Xmas and we’re out of the gates sharpish. The hosts are giving us far too much space and the midfield, especially Ali are making the most of it. An early warning comes when Omar flicks on a free-kick and a defender gets loses his bearings and narrowly loops a header over his own keeper and just over the bar. But before 15 are played, we’re in front. Randall feeds into Wilson just outside the box, he lays off a short one to Omar on 18 and he immediately slots it through to Ali who has the simple task of stroking it home from 8 yards. Steady on lads! What’s with all the tiki taka bollocks eh? We’re big dirty bastards and it’s all set pieces and get it in the mixer long boot stuff remember? People will start getting ideas at this rate. As we bask in the aftermath of the goal, there’s a distraction where a steward comes up into the stand to speak to one of the group. Apparently he’s ‘seen him vaping’ and is asking him to stop. The weird thing is, the person he’s accusing doesn’t smoke at all and despite his protests of innocence to that effect and that of a couple others around him, the bloke’s having none of it and eventually stomps off. That was weird!
We have plenty of ball after the goal, but it’s a tight game and we can’t fashion another good chance before the hosts slowly wake up. They have a couple of sighters from range well off target before Rose finally has something to do, getting down smartly to turn away a low shot towards his near post. As we get into the last 10 of the half, we’re again distracted in the stand as now two police officers, after some confusing pointing from the bottom of the stand, somewhat abruptly rock up and request that the supporter accused of vaping earlier accompany them downstairs for ‘a chat’. Yeah, that’s not ending well is it? Off they go and after a few mins and no re-appearance, I head down for a pre-half time cuppa and also for a nosey to see what the deal is. They’re chatting and it seems details, as is the way with po po these days, are being taken for checking no doubt to make sure you’re not a wanted war criminal or something. As I wait on my cuppa, I can half see what’s going on through the entrance into the stand and that a shot comes from wide beating Rose into his far corner. Fucks sake. 1-1. Once more back in the stand a minute later, I find out that Wilson’s not cleared his lines after a ball in and having been robbed of it, the shooting oppo has appeared. Oh well.
With the break imminent, I now need a leak and head down to take care of business and as I return to the seats again, one of the coppers from ‘the chat’ request appears asking for the accused’s bag. A couple of us say we know him and we’re looking after it, but she makes it perfectly clear he’s getting lobbed out and he wants it. Now, don’t get me wrong here, but if she thought we were letting her take the property of a fellow fan who it seems was about to be lobbed for no good reason, she’s sadly fucking mistaken. So before she can do owt about it, I’ve scooped it up and I’m off back downstairs to deliver it myself. Bag returned, I ask the female officer what the deal is and with her now clearly annoyed by the bag thing, am told it’s “None of your concern”. I try again, but it’s soon clear that as we’re at a football match and I’m a football fan, I am by default a wrong’un and any form of engagement is utterly pointless. Before I leave, I do politely impress upon the officers that this sort of carry on is precisely why we as football fans simply don’t trust them. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. Not unexpectedly, this is the only time during the whole exchange that they’ve got nothing to say or offer a response or opinion on. Facts eh?
At the break, a couple of other fans try similar approaches as myself to try and establish the reason for the action taken, but are met with the same obtuse attitude as well as comments about them ‘acting on complaints received’. The strange thing being, everyone seems to get a different number. ‘Two’, ‘several’, ‘five’. Also, complaints about what?? “None of your concern”. No, of course not. With our compadre ejected, I decide to make a call and get his side of it. Surely they must have at least told him! Apparently, the official reason for his removal was and I quote “Homophobic abuse towards the goalkeeper”. When this is relayed to those around me, the reaction is a mix of incredulous laughter and loud comments of “That’s absolute bollocks that is!”. Now, I’ll state right here, right now that I was stood behind the person accused for the entire 35 minutes he was in that stand. He said nothing of the sort. In fact, not one shout or chant had been aimed the keeper’s way all half.
Nor would he have said such a thing quite frankly as that’s absolutely not his character and he’d even had a pop at someone at GGL a short while back for something similar! And even in the utterly unlikely event of him actually having said owt, he’d 100 percent have got a slap round the nut from me for it. We’re idiots ladies and gents, but we’re not ignorant arseholes. Now, you don’t have to be exactly Hercule fucking Poirot to work out what’s gone on though dear reader. Cunto the dayglo clown thinks he’s seen summat and let’s be fair, even if he has, he’s completely and utterly collared the wrong person for it and is so fucking thin skinned at being told he’s made a mistake that he’s made some awful shit up to his supervisor, it’s got kicked up the line to the plod and let’s face it, these days as soon as you come to their attention in a football ground, the bare minimum you’re getting is lobbed out, which is a touch better than a night in the cells I suppose, but still. It’s all fucking bang out of order and no mistake.
For me, it puts a bit of a downer on the whole shebang and second half, I’m not overly interested in the game and spend most of it sat in my seat. The mood isn’t helped as the hosts start the second half strong and after a fair bit of pressure but not much in the way of chances, they go in front. A ball across the 18 yard line is taken first touch by the striker and it’s enough to get him away from his marker and he slots a tidy effort past a slightly unsighted Rose. Cock it. The goal however seems to shake us awake again and a couple of minutes later, it’s even steven once more. For the first time what seems like ages, Ali gets some space in midfield, drives forward and from about 25 out has a crack towards the near post. The dipping shot looks to us to be a regulation save, but instead the keeper makes a right fucking mess of it and shovels it inside his upright, much to our amazement and no little joy. Unlucky mate! From here, it’s a tight little contest with them pressing and playing some nice stuff in the final third, but without really testing Rose and us playing on the counter. Matt introduces Ajiboye for his second debut and this gives us a little more impetus.
As it turns out, we have the best chance near the death. Randall whips in a corner, Louis gets up highest but his nut on target is hacked off the line by a defender. Dave then collects the loose, but his clipped ball in finds Goodliffe and he has a couple of swings at it, but doesn’t make decent contact and the chance is gone. Still, a point’s a point and the lads are applauded off for their fine efforts. We dip out to the pub next door, being sure not to talk to anyone in high vis lest they once again mistake our cockney accents for homophobia or some such shit and get a pint on. Greek, Robbo and JR have all bunked a lift back to town with Ossie so it’s left just myself, Mr X and Indy. Oh and of course our old buddy 4Days who’s spent the best part of an hour on his jack in the Prenton pub on the corner following on social media for some reason or other. Apparently the barman in there said they get one or two in every week who’ve been binned, which wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.
We neck a pint, check our man’s ok and pass on some details from our end about what we’d noticed and he may not have should things get silly. Then with a cab ordered, we pile back through the tunnel and tip out by the Adelphi. Mr X heads in to change his top and I and Indy go check into our digs whilst 4Days heads to a boozer round the corner. Here, I find out quite why Robbo was taking the piss out of the hotel as I get to my room to find a fire escape door next to mine and a very loud sound of some terrible fucking karaoke coming from the other side of it. Ah bollocks. Well, maybe it won’t be so loud actually inside the room? Oh it is, it very much is. As I quickly change my t-shirt and smelly up, this is all sound tracked by some geezer called Trevor absolutely fucking butchering Paul Simon’s “You can call me Al” on what seems like literally the other side of the wall. Fuck my life! As I leave, I inform everyone on Whatsapp, much to their delight and start googling what time the place closes as we wait for Mr X to reappear. Hopefully I can stay out until after the gaff closes otherwise it’s going to be a tired old drive back to civilisation in the morning!!
We quickly join 4Days there for one in the and then grab another cab back to the Ship as we can’t be arsed with the walk. Here we’re reunited with the rest of the mob and get the evening underway. A couple in here then we head down to the Thomas Rigby for more and watch the Liverpool Wolves game on the telly. “Why aren’t you there?” enquires a local lass watching when she sees 4Days REED shirt. “I’m Sutton love!” he informs her before adding his old man is a Wolves fan though, so she wasn’t far wrong. From here we go to another place literally feet away just across the courtyard, only to be told they’ve called last orders! Before 10pm! What the?? Back to the Rigby then!! It’s a couple more in here and as others drift away tired after a long day and a second one on the piss, the remaining few of us duck into the Ship again for one more as a nightcap.
With most having headed off to bed, Mr X in no mood to go another night and 4Days heading for an overnight bus back to London, we wander back into the centre and as the man of mystery heads off to bed, Indy & I say farewell to the Welsh separatist and head into ‘Bazookas’ for some much needed chicken. Grubbed up, we head into the hotel and fortunately I find to my relief that the bar causing all the racket with the karaoke earlier has mercifully closed and I might actually be able to get some shut eye tonight. Result! Right, what’s next? Ah yes, chicken in face, bed. Plan? Plan. Nighty night! The following morning, my alarm goes off and I haul my aching carcass into the shower to try and prise some life from these not quite as hungover as I’d have expected bones. With this achieved to the best of my ability, I’m up and out to meet Indy sat in reception for 9am to go get breakfast. But, neither of us seems particularly interested and instead the option becomes “Shall we just fuck off then?”. So we do. After eventually locating the proper pedestrian entrance via an alley that no one has ever been murdered in before we load up and we’re off on the road via a petrol stop to juice up. Next stop? Somewhere south of Brum on the M40 hopefully.
Wonderfully, the roads at 9am on a Sunday round here are just as quiet as they are on a Saturday and we make great time with almost no traffic to negotiate. Having flown don the M6 toll, we hit the M40 and by this point I could murder a cuppa, so we dive off at Warwick services and having emptied bladders rustle up a big bacon bap from some all day breakfast place and tuck in. 5 minutes later, Mr X appears holding a cuppa of his own and pockets stuffed full of Ribena and other assorted goodies. Seems he’d left a few minutes after us and is aiming to get home and do his Tesco shop. He leaves us to finish our late breakfast and gets on his way and with my own cuppa sorted, we’re also soon back on the road. Right, home James! Oh wait, that’s me. Bugger.
The rest of the run is fine, although around Oxford we suddenly run in a properly biblical deluge that for a few minutes makes visibility somewhat dicey. Mainly as even at full tilt, my wipers are struggling to keep the screen clear so I can see through the spray, but once again we don’t die and as the sun breaks through as we approach the 25. Of course, having got all that way with not much traffic, the weather screws up the A3 and we’re queueing down by Tolworth for a while. Shortly after half 1 I drop Indy off at his gaff and make my way back to HQ just as the rain returns meaning I’m getting wet when unloading my crap at home. Typical.
Right, I’m off for a nap, I’m bloody knackered.