As a result of our scheduled opponents from the Humber managing to get through to the FA Cup sixth Round and our home league match being brought forward four days to accommodate them visiting the Sussex Coast we were without a match. Stay at home and do those chores that have been put off for the last number of months? Of course not! Saturday during August and April is always been and always will be a footy day and this blank Saturday gave me the chance to ground hop and tick off another ground. I have two remaining left in the old National League to re-complete it, Altrincham (missed due to Covid restrictions) and York City (they have moved into their swanky new ground and were promoted last season from the North division).
The former were away at Eastleigh but York were home to our fellow County FA cousins Dorking – touch! Sounds easy – train it up and back in the day and have a nice relaxing day wandering around York with some footy in between – what could go wrong?Ah that is until you realise that Mick Lynch & Co has called for train crew to be on strike and the mainstream media going full on reporting that very few services will run. Oh well, best laid plans eh, I guess I’ll go and find somewhere more local instead.
Monday evening prior comes and I decide to casually look on the off chance to see if there are actually any trains running between London and York, to my surprise LNER are running a half hourly service to Edinburgh and Grand Central are running a full timetable too. So on the spur of the moment advance singles both ways are booked with Grand Central for sum of £30 each way. The following evening, post Grimsby defeat in the 1898 bar drowning our sorrows myself and Paul from the COC’s are exchanging where we are disappearing to on Saturday and my choice sees him draw in a deep intake of breath when I add I have booked with Grand Central – “They’ve let me down a couple of occasions and don’t trust what they say”. We’ll see.
I forget all about Saturday for the rest of the week whilst I concentrate on my day job until the computer is switched off at 5:30pm on Friday evening. Right, look up travel options to get to Central London, Plan A – get a train from local station to London is possible as Southern are running a service from my local, but the last service in their ‘emergency timetable’ is leaving the smoke at 5pm. Slight problem there I’ll still be in York! Right then get out of the drawer Plan B – drive from the Downs to Epsom, park the car there, bus it to Morden, Tube to Kings Cross and checking everything is possible and no engineering works, etc everything set including a 7am alarm.
Alarm goes off right on time, quick shower and I’m out the door at half seven with me trying to get the 293 to Morden a couple of minutes past eight. My plan is to dump the car in one of the town centre car parks for the day – first option I go for is the one behind the Town Hall one and I immediate turn foot when I see the tariff is £25 for the day, so I end going just around the corner and having a choice of over 300 spaces in the Depot Road car park for the more reasonable sum of £6. Just the £19 difference between car parks barely 300 yards apart!
Right, need to get going as I have wasted valuable time trying to park up but I manage to get to the bus stop in the middle of High Street with five minutes to spare, ah, but it appears that overnight Thames Water have been digging up the bus stop with the bus lane coned off but not told Surrey County Council or Transport for London – a fellow bus passenger is sat in the stop and said “I’ve seen three buses so far and all of them have just sailed past”, on that news I hot foot it round the corner to the stop outside the Rainbow Centre to wait for it there. The timetables show an expected off-peak jouney time from Epsom to Morden Station to take 42 minutes, I think Lewis Hamilton must have been driving or the bloke he wanted an extended tea break as we make it inside half an hour!
Now on to Phase II, the long tube journey through South London suburbs to King Cross St Pancras – slight problem encountered as a large group of French exchange students have decided to go through the ticket gates but then stop to have a conflab meters inside the gate line stopping anybody else from getting through, but the matter is soon resolved with station staff shouting for them to move to Platform 2 for the next service – they misinterpret this as they all head for Platform 5 which is the second train going to leave and using the side stairs I manage to skirt round them and reach the tube on Platform 2 seconds before the doors close. Fifty minutes of uninspiring travel later and I emerge out of the tube into the throngs of Kings Cross. Now I have two hours to kill until my train departs – schoolboy error or too much leeway built into my travel plans? I will allow you the reader decide there.
Normal ablutions, a danish from Waitrose and a water from WH Smith purchased and what now can you do for an hour and half still to go until the train leaves? Watch from the upper food court at the non-stop endless amount of tourists queueing up below for a scarf to be wrapped around their neck, them to hold a glorified piece of pipework sticking out of the wall with their left hand, a wand in their right touching a black sign that says “Platform 9¾” and a lady in ‘Harry Potter experience’ uniform wafting the end of said scarf and releasing it at just the right moment to allow the capture of a photo making it appear that they are magically travelling through the wall to Hogwarts or somewhere. Apparently they charge £10 upwards for a photo that is all set-up and done inside 45 seconds or so! Nice money if you can get it.
Eventually, the 11:27 service to Eaglescliffe is prepared and ready for boarding – on-board information screens say that the service is going to Sunderland but the female train manager comes over the PA apologising profusely that they are unable to change the destination announcements on-board as they don’t have actually have an Eaglescliffe destination announcement recorded and that those with tickets to Hartlepool and Sunderland will have a very comfortable onward bus replacement service from Eaglescliffe!).
110 minutes later and we arrive in York. This brings memories flooding back of the visit when Sutton had just got promoted from National League South and the hosts were on their way in the opposite direction through successive trap doors from the Football League to National League North. Schoolboy error, I admit I had forgotten to look up the travel directions from Station to ground but I at least know that the old and new grounds are on completely different sides of the city. When in doubt, get out the old trusty Google Maps I say. The hop on hop off buses it says are available had long queues so I decide as it is a nice day to use my own leg power instead and follow Google Maps out to the ground. I start to get worried as it starts to take me basically on the same route that you took to get to Bootham Crescent for the first half mile but instead of going left at York Minster and through the arch gateway to get to the now bulldozed Bootham, it tells me to go right and up through the old town and out on to the A1036. Hope there’s pavements!
After what seems like an eternity, at last there is yellow information signs for “New Stadium and Retail Park” that direct you off at a roundabout and into that retail park and large park and ride campus, but with no obvious sign of the stadium. So I ask somebody, “where is the stadium mate” and I get a reply “tis right in front of you mate between Cineworld, Marks and Spencers and Next but t’ve made too good’r job camouflage t’it have they” – he ain’t half right! Only if you are properly eagle eyed can you see the words ‘LNER Community Stadium’ on the side of the place.
Ticket sorted, I head straight for the turnstile, despite saying neutral please they appear to have given me a ticket for the away end, I assume as I did not have a Yorkshire Accent they probably thought I was an away supporter trying to blag my way into the home end. Right, after that trip and the walk out, I’m parched so once inside I order a Dark Fruits. “t’at’s £6 love”. Blooming’ heck that is even dearer than Sutton. And they’re in the National League and located in the North of England! I thought it was supposed to be cheap up here? Pint sunk, time to take in the atmosphere – first impressions of the Stadium – basically the North’s cousins of Plough Lane – I assume it was designed and manufactured by the same people as they are practically identical just with different colour seats.
It’s my first time watching Dorking Wanderers since we played them pre-season at Meadowbank and they seem to have recruited a few National League and ex-Football League players during the season but both them and York are sitting perilously close to the relegation zone with York coming into the game two points ahead of Dorking. York were out of the traps quickly and came close in opening few minutes but took deserved lead after seven minutes when a speculative shot hitting the post and bundled in somehow by Manny Duku (Sutton have come across him as opposition forward many times in National League campaigns where he has been around the circuit at Hemel, Hayes & Yeading, Barnet, FC Halifax, Torquay and last season with Dos at Havant). Couple of minutes later and the referee stopped the game in mid-flow and ran to the 4th official – after two minute of conflab a red was shown to Dorking Manager Marc White. I assume something he said about the opening goal? Which given some of his post match videos was probably quite sweary.
York should have been out of sight by half-time as on three separate occasions passes literally split the Dorking centre-backs to allow home player to run in on goal with only the keeper to beat, but all the final efforts were miles off target. Apart from this, both sides really cancelled each other out for majority of the first half, all three of the other notable events in that half being the Dorking fans on each corner saying that the ball was not in the quadrant (only needs to be overhanging lads!); the Dorking and York drums trying to out-drum each other and the poor pitch side camera operator that had “Press/Media” on his hi-viz where Dorking supporters took it in turns to come down the stand, lean over the barrier and press his shoulder blade – the first couple of times he took it in good jest, but by the sixth or seventh time it was just not funny anymore, even for us onlookers!
Half-time checked all of the silent notifications received during first half and hoping that one of them was not the dreaded one from Trainline that the return train had been cancelled – checking the app, it said that the return train was still running – phew! The referee was either enjoying his half-time cuppa too well or something else was happening as we had a 20-minute half-time break with the second half eventually starting at 4:13pm – what’s happening to modern football that the second half never kicks-off at 4pm anymore! Dorking made two changes at the break but it was the hosts that doubled the lead on 56 minutes, a lofted ball across the box seeing Ryan Fallowfield from the edge of the box drill the ball through a crowd box and the keeper as well.
Dorking supporters had changed their tune about ball placement on their own corner kicks in the second half, the same placement as the York lad and not a peep from the Chicks followers. There must be something being put in the water in Yorkshire and Humber regions, after the injury feigning non-gamesmanship by Grimsby on Tuesday night in the second half, the York # 24 Mark Ellis from the 65th minute onwards seemed to repeatedly get tackled by the ball every time he touched it as he went down in crumpled heap yelping and seeing numerous visits to the pitch by the home physio. York failed to defend properly on 86 minutes as a glancing header by Dan Gallacher found the bottom corner to give the visitors hope and Dorking then had a shot hit the bar in the first minute of injury time and vociferous protests of a handball waved by the referee two minutes later which did look like a stone-wall penalty to me as the arm was definitely not in a natural position, but after nine minutes of injury time eventually played the ref sent the home fans happy.
Football done, so time to make tracks back to York station with fingers and toes crossed that the train turns up and gets back to London. Bus queues are again horrendous, obviously everybody’s trying to get back to York station before the last LNER train departs at just before 6pm, so I opt for the return toodle along the trusty A1036 using shanks’ pony. York is a fine place to visit if you have not already partaken a weekend away and has many magnificent buildings and of course the splendid York Minister which is sadly currently cloaked in Scaffolding whilst being renovated.
A quick circumnavigation back around the old town, passing York minster and York station is reached bang on 6pm – the last LNER departures in either direction departing some ten minutes before which left the departure boards with an unfamiliar look on a Saturday evening of just two departures both of which were Grand Central – the 18:45 to Eaglescliffe and my service, the 19:02 non-stop from York to London Kings Cross which is literally the last departure for the whole day from York, is running and on-time! The staff of the only remaining outlets open – WH Smith and York Tap – all look bemused that there is still people turning up for trains that are not operated by LNER who also operate York station. Looking at National Rail Enquiries app, it appears that the franchise holders have decided to shut down operations at or around 6pm to try to pacify Mick Lynch & co but those operators running Open Access agreements appear to have decided to run a normal days timetable as there is also a Hull Train and later in the evening, a Lumo from Edinburgh that is non-stop from Newcastle to London and another Grand Central from Bradford.
Network Rail appear to be funnelling everything through Platform 9 as two Trans-Pennine Express terminators arrive with full loads of youngsters (probably ready to hit York’s nightclubs) and the empty trains despatched off to the local depot. Mick’s not interrupted the Rail tours today either it appears either as one trundles through. With nothing ahead of it coming up from London, the Grand Central service to Eaglescliffe arrives a good ten minutes ahead of its departure time and after sitting on the platform chugging out Bio-Diesel fuel it eventually wends its way northwards allowing the platform to be unoccupied ready for the 19:02 to head for the smoke. When booking the tickets it said that it was mandatory for a seat reservation to be held for this service; on boarding I go looking for my seat but as I get close to where my reserved seat is located there is a loud commutation taking place and a Chinese couple who got on at Thirsk are refusing to move; turns out that they have not got a seat reservation, the couple who’s seat they are occupying are told to sit in the seats across the aisle by the Chinese Couple – one of which of course turns out to be my reserved one and there are a number of people trying to calmly explain that in Britain that it is polite to sit in the seats that have been reserved for them and if you do not have a reservation you then wait for everybody else to be seated and then find a space, but they are taking none of this advice. Situation is diffused quickly as I say to the couple to use my seat and I decide to move to the other end of the carriage where there are a couple of empty seats anyway.
The journey is calm until the train manager comes along checking tickets and it turns out that the Chinese couple have got on the train with split tickets for an LNER service that must stop at Peterborough; they are politely informed of the error of their way and the train manager relieves them of some more of their sterling travel money. Despite leaving York on time and being the only train to have left York in the London bound direction for a good half an hour we are slowing down between Doncaster and Retford as the Rail tour I saw earlier seems to be running very late and also slowly forcing the signaller to move the rail tour on to relief line platform at Retford to allow us to pass and run at line speed all the way back to London – our five minutes late coming through Retford turns into a ten minute early arrival at London King Cross that is completely devoid of trains apart from our Class 180 – what is happening to Saturday night arrivals back into London being early in the last couple of weeks?
Although there are no more train departures and the station concourse and platforms are completely empty – there is still a healthy queue at 9pm on a Saturday evening for visitors queuing up for their picture to be taken at Platform 9¾ at ten quid a go – the world has literally gone mad to still have such a tourist attraction open and raking it in still at this time on a weekend evening!
Right, should be straight forward now to get home, just the hop down the Northern Line to Morden and then a return 293 bus through Lower Morden, North Cheam and Ewell to get back to Epsom. Did I say straight forward? Get on the platform and the next Northern Line service to Morden is shown as 9 minutes – heck. Eventually the next service arrives, and the journey southwards has a smattering of colourful personalities come and go that you see most Saturday evenings after having too merry an evening out. We eventually rumble into Morden at ten to ten. Another check of the app tells me the next 293 is three minutes away, which is fine. The only problem I have is that I have never before caught a 293 from Morden station – do you think I can find the bus stop for it – no of course I can’t! Out the corner of my eye I see a 293 suddenly cross my path going towards the Police Station and I run after it around the corner and I’m within 100 yards of it when he puts his right indicator on and pulls off the bus stop opposite the Civic Centre – blast! Right next one should be maximum of 20 minutes – check the timetable poster which says after 9:56pm, it goes to half hourly service pattern – unbelievably unlucky by seconds.
Twenty nine minutes later and the next one turns up, there are no empty seats so looks like standing for the majority of the way to Epsom then, the bus goes around the one way system and at the next bus stop I have not seen so many people standing waiting for a bus, the queue must have been at least 50 to 100 meters long. Even longer than for the hoppers in York – the bus driver is forced to leave half to two-thirds of the queue behind as the single decker is full to capacity and the majority of the passengers that boarded at the stop appear to be Kurdish or Afghan authenticity. Guess there’s been something going on locally?
Within seconds of the bus starting off the bus stopping bell rings and then it rings again every ten seconds or so. The bus stops at the next stop and nobody gets off; the bus stopping bell is repeatedly ringing every 10 seconds or so to the next stop, again nobody gets off. After six or seven stops repeatedly the drivers is obviously getting irate that the bus stopping bell keeps ringing but nobody is getting off and he can not let anybody else on as he is at capacity so he comes down the bus pleading with everybody to make sure they do not lean on the bell. Eventually a number of people do get off in the North Cheam area. In Ewell Village, every time that the driver tries to shut the doors the bus stopping bell goes off which prevents the door locking from working – again he comes down the bus pleading for people to stop touching or leaning on the bus stopping buttons so we can actually do bus things.
Finally after the bell interrupted journey, we arrive in Epsom Town Centre a couple of minutes past 11pm and the whole mob practically empties out in one go – oh great the Co-Op and Chinese are now shut, so it’s a quick pit stop to pick up Chicken & Chips for dinner enroute to retrieve the car from the car park and drive back up to the Downs and home.
Mansfield on Saturday will be a doddle after that lot!