Having passed my 11+ exam at the tender age of 10, my parents naturally had great aspirations for me, and pointed me in the direction of a grammar school with the expectation that I was destined to become the first member of our ‘working class’ family to attend a university.
Although for various reasons a fee-paying establishment was outside of our means, I ended up at Loughborough College School which was seen as just one step down. The school had a policy of placing its ‘elite’ pupils in A and B classes, with the rest shuffled into E and W (east and west, as I recall). The upside of the latter was that they got to play football, whilst the As and Bs – which sadly included me – were forced to endure the pleasures of rugby union.
Much as I enjoy watching rugby, having to play it is another matter indeed, and if there was ever an incentive to flunk your studies and drop into E or W, then that was it.
Our particularly sadistic PE master took great pleasure in ushering out us shivering schoolboys in all kinds of inclement weather so we could freeze our nuts off whilst being unceremoniously flung into the mud at frequent intervals. I generally positioned myself on the wing so I could use my speed to good effect, and it’s amazing how much extra pace you can summon up with half a dozen grunting Neanderthals bearing down on you.
One particular day sticks in my mind, a session played in the teeth of a howling snowstorm where mercifully somebody broke a leg and, notwithstanding the pity we felt for the poor unfortunate, at least it would bring an end to the torture. Not a bit of it. They carted him off to hospital and we were forced to go back out in the blizzard and continue the game. “C’mon you wimps!” urged our ever-popular PE master.
All this comes back to me now after yet another day battling the elements in order to see a game of footy. It starts off with there being no trains between my home town and Nottingham, due to a signal failure. The flustered railwayman at Long Eaton station is trying to get information about replacement buses and has a pack of disgruntled would-be travellers baying at his heels. I take up the initiative, gather a posse together, and we head off in the direction of the bus stop and the Sawley Flyer, which thankfully gets me into Nottingham in good time for my pre-booked train to Peterborough.
In Posh it’s off to the Drapers Arms for a Wetherspoons brekky and a pint of Grainstore 1050 whilst I scan various Twitter feeds to see what local games in the United Counties Premier might still be on, given the previous night’s deluge. The 1050 is an interesting brew as its supposed to be the nearest modern-day equivalent of the original Ruddles County, brewed as it is by former Ruddles men. Forget today’s version of County, a pale not-even-close imitation. I used to travel miles in the 1970s for a pint of the original County, served in a tankard glass and with no real head, just a bit of scum on top, and tasting not unlike a barley wine. Pure nectar. The Grainstore 1050 is a good effort but is a little over-sweet and I doubt it’s hard-pegged for 12 days, as was the practice amongst the old Ruddles publicans.
Although the match at league leaders Holbeach is confirmed as being on, my primary target today is Yaxley and a quick phone call determines the game goes ahead. There’s just time whilst in Peterborough to check out two pubs – new to me – within 5 minutes of the rail and bus stations. The Beehive is a bit of a foody, ‘style’ bar where drinkers appear to be tolerated. The two beers on handpump include one from the local Castor Ales brewery, Old Scarlet, a reddish beer at 4.6%, and palatable if unspectacular. The other pub is the Ostrich, a modernised local just off the city centre, where foul-mouthed natives seems to be the order of the day. There are 5 beers on tap but nothing really LocAle.
I take the no 5 bus for the half hour trip to Yaxley and it drops me off outside the Duck and Drake on the edge of the village. It’s an old-fashioned village local which seems to have received its last internal upgrade back in the 1970s and although there’s a telly showing the live game, ‘quiet’ is the best description I can give. Of the four beers only the Batemans Rocking Rudolph really interests me and although I’m slightly dubious about buying a Christmas beer at the end of January, it proves to be a drinkable drop.
I look in at the Farmers Arms on the main road, but any hostelry that greets you with a sign that says ‘please wait here to be seated’ is alien to me and I head off back down into the village and the Three Horseshoes, another locals haunt but much busier than the Duck. The three beers are mainstream East Anglian but I like Adnams Broadside and that’s what I choose.
Yaxley Fc’s In2itive Park ground is just outside the village, down a narrow country lane with no pavements for 200 yards or so, so could be a little hairy for foot-sloggers in the dark. There’s already a game underway in the field opposite – presumably another Yaxley team – and I’m interested to see a live webcam feed of it being streamed into the clubhouse – novel! The In2itive stadium consists of a covered two-row bench seating area just outside the clubhouse, which itself is positioned in the corner of the ground. Two bike sheds serve as covered standing on either side of the pitch.
I am heartened to see a handpump in the clubhouse but the clip for what looks like Old Speckled Hen is turned round and the barman explains they only stock cask beer for the ‘big games’ which I struggle to imagine at this level. There are however bottles of OSH in the fridge. There’s also a burger bar outside with chips for the non-carnivore.
The pitch looks heavy but is certainly playable and despite a howling gale and heavy rain for much of the middle part of the game, plenty of reasonable football is played with the home team having the better of it to beat visiting Long Buckby by two goals to nil. But the highlight of the day comes on 40 minutes when the darkening skies suddenly unleash a bolt of lightning, a clap of thunder, a mini whirlwind and the mother of all torrential cloudbursts. To a man (and woman) the crowd, plus all 22 players and the 3 officials turn tail and make a mad dash for the nearest available cover. What is the world coming to? Wimps!!!
Programme: a double sided A4 sheet today, but the man on the turnstile block (which also serves as the Club Shop) explains that they normally produce a much bigger colour publication, but the current threat of bad weather postponements means they have to be financially prudent.
Bird life: lots of pigeons heading for cover, a forecast for the meteorological onslaught approaching.
Floodlight pylons: 6
Club shop: see above
Toilets: at the end of the changing rooms block and also in the clubhouse
Music the players come out to: Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys are Back in Town’ was on the decks just prior to the players emerging.
Kop choir: no
Away fans: a few dotted around.
What’s in a name: How about Yaxley’s Ricky ‘The Iceman’ Hailstone and Long Buckby’s Ridge ‘BoyBand’ Esslife?