One of my biggest fears in groundhopping is to target a match, duly arrive, and then have it postponed before a ball is kicked. There’s the cost involved, the time wasted, and the tendency to beat yourself up over the match you COULD have gone to.
It happened to me as recently as last season, of course, after a wind-fuelled monsoon scared the referee to death at Margate. Previous to that I’ve traveled as far as Exeter City on a New Year’s Day, only to find the pitch frozen and unplayable. I can also recall a trip to Wigan’s old ground back in the pre-internet and pre-mobile (me anyway) days of the late 1980’s when I left a Football Supporters Association meeting in Direby to drive up to Springfield Park for an evening fixture, only to find the ground in total darkness when I arrived.
For a lot of my winter traveling over the last two years I have gone armed with contingencies. Not only the first choice game, but maps and travel plans for anything up to a further dozen matches – not too difficult when heading for London. Elsewhere I’m more cautious, even to the point now of not scheduling anything in the first 3 months of 2011 (a Berwick match excepted) until I get to see what kind of winter we’re in for. Early November, though, you would expect to be relatively safe.
Or so we might think as my brother-in-law Simon and I finish a business meeting in Burnley and get drenched making the short dash to the car. It’s stair-rodding it down and windy with it. We’re supposed to be finishing the day by going to Morecambe’s new ground, but even I have my doubts. I call the Globe Arena and a helpful lady assures me that the match is 100% ON! Indeed, as we arrive at the stadium – and park virtually outside the door – the rain has stopped and it’s not that bad an evening. The gates not being open, we do a circuit of the new ground, have a browze around the compact club shop, and dive into the bar to check out the offerings.
An officially-dressed doorlady enquires if we are Home fans. “We are tonight!” is my enigmatic reply. The bar is modern and although not very large affords us some seats. There’s a selection of freshly filled sandwiches for £2 each, and the same coin buys you a pint of handpulled Brysons John McGuinness Bitter, brewed in the town. There’s another pump selling Shrimpers Ale, brewery unknown. With Live footy on the big-screen TV, this is certainly one of the best clubhouses I’ve visited.
As we leave the bar we emerge into the mother of all rainstorms. The wind has whipped up again and is dumping buckets of water on what nonetheless looks an immaculate playing surface. I begin to sweat. 100% ON the lady had said, but I’m not so sure. My groundhopping criteria insists that I have to see SOME meaningful football when visiting a ground. If the match is postponed without a ball being kicked, it doesn’t count. When the match kicks off – even if it’s abandoned ten seconds later – I can relax. I’m not sure it’s going to go even that far, and I’m urging the referee to get things going. A minute’s applause for somebody who has recently passed on doesn’t help, and Simon is amused at my plight.
The whistle finally blows and I breathe a huge sigh of relief. The rain stops right on cue, which is just as well as much of the game is played in a cloud of spray, due to the deluge we’ve endured thus far. Had it continued for even ten more minutes, the match would surely have been listed as A-A on the results sheet, frustrating the reasonable crowd of Stockport fans who have showed up for the evening. It’s not to be their night, however, as the visitors are reduced to ten men barely eight minutes in. Seasoned journeyman Phil Jeavons slams the first of his hat-trick from the spot and we are heading for a convincing result.
I am impressed by the way Morecambe are playing, despite the conditions. Slick passing moves and direct running slice through the County ranks at will and the home team are three up by half time. I am particularly taken by the skills of the right winger Mark Duffy, a former Liverpool trainee who’s finally making a career for himself in the Football League. He’s on fire for much of the game and is invariably prominent as his side notch up two more strikes before taking their foot off the gas. Commendably, most of the Stockport fans stay until the end, despite their team taking a hammering.
So my day is not wasted and once again I am one ground away from a set of 92. The lady was right, the game was 100% ON. But it was a close-run thing. Maybe next year I should schedule nothing after October 30th until April 1st. Hey, what the hell – let’s live dangerously!
Programme: £3 glossy and readable – I buy mine from the club shop
Parakeets: weather even too bad for the shitehawks
Club Shop: Outside the main stand.
Tannoy music: I really didn’t notice
Toilets: near the snack bar behind the main stand. The snack sells a wide selection of pies er sorry, no, just meat & Potato
Player with the quirkiest name: Stockport’s Matty ‘Stupid Boy’ Mainwaring