Mr. East Midlands Trains has finally pushed me too far! Ridiculous fares of £50 or more for an Easter Monday trip to London forces me to look elsewhere in the form of a National Express coach ‘fun-fare’. The upside? Just £9. The downside? I have to drive to Loughborough at 6.00 in the morning, share a coach with students (and a cat on the way back), and constantly have to close the toilet door because the imbeciles using it can’t seem to do it properly (too technical for students).
The coach drops me at Victoria and I make a beeline for the Willow Walk for my regular Wetherspoons brekkie, washed down with some Moorhouse’s – luvverley! Then I forget which station I’m supposed to be travelling from and end up at Victoria looking in vain for the Tonbridge train. My brain clicks belatedly into life and I head off for Charing Cross instead. I decide to break the journey at Sevenoaks and get so engrossed in a TV game that I’m late for the last leg to Tonbridge. No worries, the Angels are in the play-offs already and the crowd won’t be too big, surely!
There’s a good 30-minute trek from Tonbridge rail station to the ground. I walk up the High Street which is full of shoppers even though most of the shops are shut. It’s Bank Holiday and shop staff simply MUST have the day off. Notwithstanding that we’re in a recession and a good trading opportunity has been lost. Even Woolworths is closed! Whadyamean… have I missed something?…
When I finally arrive at the ground, the sun is shining, the car park is full and the signs are not good. The programme shack inside the turnstile has indeed run out of product. I can feel the panic welling as I check out the other possibilities; the club shop, the bar… no joy. My mind flashes back to Droylsden two years ago when I made two attempts to visit the ground and still ended up programmeless. On the second occasion I hit on the idea of offering a lucky punter a fiver for his booty, and it was when I found myself asking a youngster and holding out the note that I realised it could be badly construed. I’m not doing that again.
Suddenly I notice a couple of guys in official looking attire standing at the door of a directors suite. I explain my predicament and one of them returns with the holy grail, asking just that I buy some raffle tickets in exchange. My life is saved and I can get on with the other essentials. Oh, the prog retails for £2 (if you can get one) and is one of the better ones I’ve encountered this season.
The only way I can describe Betterview Longmead Stadium is that there must be a better view somewhere else. It’s a bit flat. The main stand is long but not very high and suffers from the Dover disease (too many roof supports). Behind each goal there are identical mini-kops but everywhere else is flat standing. Most of the punters are leaning on the fence, as they might do at some Sunday morning park pitch. My sense of duty takes me into the bar where I can see a handpump with the clip facing away – either stocks have been depleted or the pump is just for decoration. My luck is in on the food front, however, as the catering van has vegeburgers. There’re a bit pricy at £2.70 but beggars can’t be choosers.
The game kicks off with Tonbridge, already in the play-offs, securing an early lead against hapless Hastings United, who are hovering just above the relegation zone. It all looks pretty straightforward until the home No5 decides to even things up a bit by collecting a red for a penalty box aberration that leads to an equalising penalty. No worries, Tonbridge can still win it with ten, duly retake the lead and are cruising with five to go. Out of nothing Hastings grab their second leveller, doze off to go behind once again, then thump in to make it 3-3 as the final whistle is about to blow. A hectic finale to a so-so game. Hey, but I’ve seen six goals, I got my prog and it’s a sunny day to boot. They do say it shines on the righteous.
Floodlight pylons: 8
Parakeets: Not one. Obviously too warm for them. Plenty of pigeons, though
Club Shop: A shack not far from the main entrance.
Toilets: Allegedly behind one goal but also in the club house.
Tannoy music: Too busy reading out Easter raffle results
Player with the quirkiest name: Hasting United’s Greg ‘Loch’ Nessling