Bideford – Saturday April 6th 2013 (525)

'There's a widely-held belief that the great-grandson of Houdini is alive and well and living in Bideford....

‘There’s a widely-held belief that the great-grandson of Houdini is alive and well and living in Bideford….’

Coach trips to the seaside may have had their heyday in the 1960s, but it can still be a good, cheap way of reaching a distant new ground, so hey, don’t knock it! In fact I’ve had my eye on the Devon town of Bideford for some time, and the fact that the resident football club are currently in the same Southern Premier division as Barwell – a Leicestershire village side about 25 miles from where I live – set me thinking. It also helps that an old companion from my Darlo-watching days now goes to every Barwell game, home and away. A quick text, we’re booked on the bus, and my Magical Mystery Tour awaits!

Now there’s a film that polarises opinion. Amongst the Beatles’ finest in my eyes, a real mess in those of others. Does it follow the Blue Jay Way? Your mother should know…..

I’ve not been out and about much for the past few weeks, the result of letting a bout of flu take a serious turn for the worse after shivering my way through trips to Royston and Maidstone. And it’s just stayed too damn cold to be standing around in draughty non-league stadia. Yep, I think I’m becoming a fair-weather groundhopper. The plus side is that I’ve lost a few pounds, most of it beer gut.

Our coach – the Barwell FC team coach in fact – leaves the Kirkby Road Sports Ground at 7.45am containing a motley collection of supporters of varying age and agility, plus a couple of players, the rest to be picked up in Coventry. Before switching his undying allegiance to his local club, my pal Steve barely missed a Darlington FC game, home or away, for many years, despite being unable to drive. Public transport, lifts, and lots off time of work were key to his passion, sadly dimmed by Darlo’s unjust descent to the Northern League.

A couple of comfort stops en route ensure we arrive at Bideford’s Sports Ground stadium at the appointed time of 1.30pm, to be met by bright sunshine, a chill wind …. and no sign of any programmes. Readers of my blog will know that a printed prog is essential to my visits, and I find it difficult to relax until I have one safely nestling in my shoulder bag. Just round the corner from the ground is the town centre, and Lacey’s Ale House, which internet posts had led me to believe was closed. Not so. It’s a large, echoey bar with TV sport and a choice of three real ales on handpump which include two from the local Country Life brewery, and one from another Devon brewer, Forge, this being a nice, brown 4.0% bitter, Maid in Devon, at the very agreeable asking price of £2.50 per pint.

Back at the ground the programmes still haven’t showed, and after checking out the upstairs clubhouse – complete with a Stannah stairlift which no doubt comes into its own after a particularly heavy post-match session – and noting the Country Life Old Appledore Ale – a good amber drinking bitter – on handpump, I return downstairs to join other concerned hopping types milling around outside the club offices. The story is that the progs are printed, but a cock-up on the delivery front means they are still at the printers at 2.00pm, the printers being the other side of Devon in Exeter! A club director in a speedy car has been despatched to collect them, and his triumphant return at 2.55pm is heralded by the tannoy announcer. “I was sweating a bit,” says I to the director as I clutch my newly-acquired prog. “You weren’t the only one…” is his reply.

And so we can settle down to the game, played on a hard pitch with a gusty breeze lurking. Visiting Barwell are looking for a play-off slot and make much of the early running, going ahead on 5 minutes courtesy of a flick-on from a long throw. The same tactic pays dividends halfway through the second half with Barwell’s winner, but before then the home side threaten to make a game of it after pulling it all-square with a penalty just after the break. The game could go either way, but Barwell hang on for the point that sees them sneak into the final play-off berth.

And so the journey home, after the players have had their post-match snack and made a start on the beer. In fact, most of the occupants of the bus seemed to have enjoyed sampling the local firewater, judging by the level of vehement argument inspired by relative trivia. Me, I’ve got my headphones on, listening to the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour. That’s how I want to remember MY coach journey to the seaside.

Programme: £2 straight from the club director’s car!  Nicely designed with lots of facts and figures.

Floodlight pylons: 4 of the distinctly tall, old-fashioned type. Possibly the most attractive part of the ground.

Parakeets: No, just seagulls.

Club Shop: A hut next to the turnstiles, mainly selling old programmes

Toilets: Upstairs and downstairs in the clubhouse

Music the players run out to: None

Kop choir: No

Away support: About 25 or so

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