As I approach my free bus pass years, I can look back on a lifetime’s affinity to transport. If I wasn’t actually travelling on it, I’d just as likely be writing its serial number down in my little book. Trains, planes, and automobiles – you name it, I’ve ‘spotted’ it.
When that youthful passion subsided somewhat, I moved on to ‘collecting’ beers and pubs, each one faithfully recorded in the appropriate ‘bible’. And as regulars to this blog will know, the past decade saw me move onto football grounds in a big way.
But my love affair with railways, in particular, has never really dimmed. It was my main leisure pursuit in the late 1950s and 1960s, when I would spend entire days ensconced on the railway embankment at the top of our street on the off chance that an obscure ‘Conny’, ‘Ossie’ or ‘Brewer’ might just chug past. As I got older I would venture further afield, to places like the Derby Sheds open day, and go on organised trips to Crewe Works, where I’d scuttle down the lines of stationery locos furiously scribbling down numbers to my heart’s content.
My dad would often be coerced into driving me to other lines, such as the former LNER route which passed through Grantham. It was the day of the Deltics and impressive though those beasts were, I always regretted not being born a few years earlier in order that I might have witnessed the mighty A4s thundering along that same line.
I never ever did see a ‘Streak’ in active service. Sure, I’ve encountered them in preservation mode, but what a thrill it would have been to have stood on Grantham station as one hove into view, with all that anticipation of which one it might be.
Those that follow railway events – and even possibly many who don’t – will know that only six A4s survived the cutters torch, and two of these now live as static displays overseas. But 2013/4 has been a landmark period for the marque, as a ‘gathering’ was organised to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Mallard establishing a speed record for steam locomotives never to have been beaten. I saw a couple of the Streaks at York back in September, but today my good Forest-supporting buddy Nick and I are off ‘oop north’ to see the final gathering before dispersal, and of course, take in a game, too. It would be rude not to.
We head up the M1 and A1 on a nice sunny day with the odd sharp shower thrown in. My anticipation of a leisurely stroll round the National Railway Museum outpost at Shildon, near Darlington, is dashed as Nick casually reveals that up to 10,000 people per day have been visiting the attracting at the appropriately named Locomotion.
And sure enough, as we enter Shildon and approach our destination, the number of cars littering every available parking point indicates that this day isn’t going to be any different. And so we join thousands of other enthusiasts and young might-eventually-be enthusiasts looking, touching, photographing and fawning over a multitude of exhibits including the six ‘Streaks’ lined up in the yard. The three still capable of steaming are indeed ‘in steam’ and we eventually join the queue to ‘cab’ Mallard and then I enjoy an informative session sat in the driver’s seat of Bittern as the guide explains how the sat nav system works. Sir Nigel Gresley was even more ahead of his time than I previously thought!
We’re kicked out of the attraction just after 5.00pm, and manage to beat an incoming storm to the nearest pub, also called Locomotion, and a nice comfortable friendly local even though the only cask beer is Doombar, a local brew from nearby Cornwall. We kill time before heading up to the nearby Dean Street ground of Northern League Division One title-chasers Shildon AFC. The bloke sitting near us in the pub cheerfully proclaims that the previous Wednesday’s game was called off (it wasn’t) just to reassure us as the rain beats down outside.
But we needn’t have worried, as the floodlights are burning brightly as we park in the terraced street outside the ground, where upon we retire to the local chippy and a £2 box of chip butty and chips, enough to feed both of us, and probably another family of four too.
The stadium itself is fairly spacious with a sturdy upright main stand on one side, and a long but shallow covered terrace opposite. The entrance to the changing rooms and the clubhouse is down the same tunnel underneath the main stand, and there’s quite a bit of giving way to do as players come and go as part of their pre-match warm-up. The clubhouse doesn’t sell any cask beer but has some bottles in the fridge, curiously mainly from the south coast of England. Not much evidence of pride in their local brews up here – where’s a Wylam or a Mordue when you need it?
A win tonight for Shildon will take them to the top of the table, and with opponents Bedlington Terriers amongst the Leagues also-rans, three points look on the cards, especially when the home side go ahead in the opening minutes. Nick has challenged me to include at least part of the names of the six A4s in this report, so here goes…
The pitch looks very heavy and undulates considerably, reminding me of the pitch at Gresley which appears as if somebody has turfed over ancient allotments. The visiting penalty area is the Dominion of the fast attacking Shildon forwards who work as a Union to keep the Terriers penned into the own half for long periods, with their Dwight flank particularly overrun. It’s only 1-0 at half time, but that situation changes considerably in the first five minutes of the second half as the home side notch two identical goals, with the winger cutting in from the left and crossing for an inrushing forward to score at the far post. Once Bittern, twice shy you would have thought as Shildon repeat the monouvre to make it three. Much as I urge them to push forward to score six – in recognition of the Streaks parked down the road – the home side Mallard duck out of the challenge and settle for a 3-0 final score. Hey, did you see what I did there?
Programme: £1.50 from just inside the turnstile. Glossy and colourful if not particularly thick. Sadly details of opponents is missing, which won’t help me in my name game. 7/10
Floodlight pylons: 4
Bird life: Despite Nicks urgent scanning of the County Durham skyline, not a parakeet is to be seen
Club shop: a wooden prefab near to the main stand. Looks well stocked
Toilets: in the clubhouse
Music the players run out to: none, welcome to the world of the muffled tannoy system
Kop choir: a bit too windy behind the goals
Away fans: none in evidence
What’s in a name: After Mrs Wambeek harangued me during the week for being a little bit beastly towards her son Wilhelm following last Saturday’s match at Chalfont, seems I need to be a bit less bullying in my take on amusing players names lest I should cause grown footballers to blubber uncontrollably. So…..nothing vaguely amusing here!