The early signs were not promising. I had spent the previous four days pretty much stuck in bed with a dodgy cold/headache combo, and went to bed on friday thinking that the next morning might find me incapable of making the long-awaited journey. However, my fears proved unfounded, and I awoke feeling remarkably good.
CHAPTER 1: THE JOURNEY
The plan was for me to meet a certain Mr. Daniel Hawkins Esquire outside Shenfield train station at 11.45. However, the best laid plans of mice and men…. you get the idea. The bus I caught was supposed to get me to the train station with about quarter of an hour to spare. Instead it got me there with less than ten minutes to spare. Now, as anyone who knows Colchester train station will know, there are two bus stops, one a hundred yards down the road, and one right outside. Of course, this bus only stopped at the one a hundred yards down the road. By the time I got into the station itself, time was running out, and the queue was of course three times longer than I have ever seen it before. By the time I made it to the ticket window, my train was pulling out of the station. I wasn’t helped by the fact that the ticket I wanted wasn’t available and the bloke in the ticket office insisted on showing me the alternative which I had already accepted! I wasn’t as late as I thought I’d be, but I was ten minutes later than planned. This got even later when Dan came to pick me up. He lives a five minute drive away (he reliably informed me), and yet the traffic was so bad that it took him twenty minutes to make it to the high street.
Anyway, that was where the delays ended. For the time being.
We ( Dan, his wife Jackie and I) set off sometime after one o’clock, and picked up Dan’s mate Dave and his girlfriend Zoe. We made good progress, and were on the outskirts of Nottingham by just after three o’clock. Then the delays started again. We got stuck behind someone who thought that the national speed limit sign meant 40mph.
Anyway, we made it into Nottingham, and Dan dropped me off at the train station where I caught a train to Leicester. Being a little bit earlier than planned, I was able to make a brief appearance on Dave’s radio show (he had been left in charge for most of the duration) and so I am now an official ‘Media Whore in Training’ (you’ll only get that if you’re on the LTLF forum), and a minor celebrity in Leicester University. Or at least I’d like to think so. Everyone I met seemed to know I was a Forest fan before Dave had had the chance to introduce me properly, so I assume they were listening to the show. I think I might have sworn mildly whilst on air, but I can’t remember, and if it’s only students listening, it’s hardly like they would take offence had I done so.
Dave and I then killed a bit of time before Emily arrived (my visit coincided with her visit, and yet they didn’t think my presence cramped their style – or so they claimed). Then, after Emily arrived, we ate and played Pictionary with some of Dave’s associates, one of whom was a D*rby fan called Rob. He seemed a nice enough person, but he had a newspaper clipping from earlier this season which hurt my eyes to look at.
The next morning I got up bright and early and departed, leaving Dave and Emily to their own devices, and caught a bus back to Leicester train station. I managed to get off the bus about 200 yards too early because I had no idea how far down the high street the train station was and decided to err on the side of caution. I then caught the first train to Nottingham, which left Leicester at 10.47. It was packed, and by that I mean that there were ten of us standing in the space between carriages which I was forced to occupy. The train had a large number of Gillingham fans on it, and a small group of them were the most objectionable fans I have ever encountered. Somehow they had managed to get themselves drunk by eleven o’clock, and kept visiting the toilet I had the misfortune to stand outside. As they were drunk and mannerless retards, whenever the toilet was engaged they felt the need to bang on the door and tell the current occupant to "Hurry up – Gills fan desperate!". I have never been so glad to get off a train before in my life. Not that I felt scared or anything, but they made me ashamed to be a football supporter.
CHAPTER 2: THE PRE-MATCH MEET-UP
The arrangement was to meet up in a bar next to the river, and about two hundred yards from the City Ground. And we did. I turned up shortly after 11.30 and the bar was closed. Great. So I went for a wander down to the banks of the mighty River Trent, and sat down. Here I put on my beloved Forest shirt and sat there for about another minute. The people about twenty feet away were feeding the ducks, and their bread caused a vast number of pigeons to appear, so I moved swiftly away before they had the chance to crap on me. At this point I espied Winnits (real name Alan) who was leaning over the railings fifteen feet above me watching the world go by. I saw someone next to him, and assumed it was his brother Rich (who I had never met, but had heard a fair amount about). When I made it up to his level (a difficult thing to do as he must be six foot five) it turned out that this wasn’t Rich at all, but Andy who had been a regular on the forum until the summer I guess. Rich turned up later, so I wasn’t denied the chance to say hello. Dan’s wife Jackie was also there (she and Dan had stayed with Winnits overnight), but Dan was nowhere to be seen. Slowly but surely, people turned up, and we enjoyed a pint in the bar when it finally opened at a slightly random time somewhere between 11.45 and 11.50ish. However, it kept raining, and even hailing at certain points, and so we kept boobing in and out of the building with our pints.
CHAPTER 3: ANOTHER (VERY SHORT) JOURNEY
At about 12.40, we started to make our way towards the City Ground. At this point in proceedings, the heavens opened, and threw everything they possibly could at us, temperature allowing. I was soaked through, and at this point my knuckles had turned numb. I finally made it to the shelter of the Trent End with my back and right absolutely drenched. This caused me to sit shivering throughout the game. I made it into the turnstile, and the woman there wasn’t doing her job properly! She was supposed to check that I was eligible for my student discount, but didn’t, she just let me in. You just can’t get the staff these days!
I made it to my seat to find some other bloke sitting there, but he moved without question and pointed out that he had warmed it for me, for which I was extremely grateful.
CHAPTER 4: THE GAME! WELL, STUFF SURROUNDING THE ACTUAL MATCH…
This is the bit I know you’ve been waiting for – that is if you haven’t already given up due to extreme boredom.
The match program made interesting reading, mainly for the news that season ticket prices will be frozen for the next two years minimum, and an apology from the chairman along with the news that he is intending to pay off our debt! This, combined with an apology from the players (see the photo) meant that I at least (and I assume this went for a large number of fans) started the game with a much more friendly attitude towards the players and the club as a whole.
I won’t go into great detail about the game, except to say that it finished 2-2, and combined with other results, this relegated Gillingham by one goal. Eugen Bopp scored the fastest goal I have ever seen, with what was his second touch, and Ross Gardner caused me to almost soil my undies with delight at the quality of his performance.
Outside the pitch, I was greatly amused by several things. The main one was the reaction of the Gillingham fans when they realised they were relegated. It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of people. The second was a bloke across the aisle from me who had brought along a carrier bag full of newspapers, and proceeded to read them throughout the game. He also got up and left five minutes before the end. Strange. The thing which most amused me however, was the sight of the stewards stretching a length of red and white tape around the perimter of the pitch. For anyone who is mildly unsure, it is traditional for the home fans to invade the pitch on the last day of the season. Given the season Forest have had, it would be understandable perhaps if the staff were worried that some of the players might get attacked should an invasion happen. What amused me was the fact that the powers that be thought that a length of tape of the kind which is often left in tatters by high wind would somehow hold back 21,000 determined fans.
CHAPTER 5: POST MATCH
After the game, I was making my way back to Casa and quite by fortune was passing one of the exits as Andy emerged from it. We discussed the game, as all fans do, and laughed under our breath at the fact that we had managed to relegate Gillingham by the smallest margin possible. We met up with the others and enjoyed another get together (though this one was much shorter, lasting only three quarters of an hour or so) before the five of us who had made the journey up the day before adjourned to Dan’s car, and made the same journey back again.
CHAPTER 6: THE RETURN JOURNEY
The bit of the return journey in the car was fine, and all went almost to plan (a bit of traffic on one of the motorways causing us to seek an alternative route, but otherwise fine). ‘Twas when Dan dropped me off at Shenfield train station the the fun began. As with almost every other sunday which I have travelled on the train, there was engineering work happening on the line, meaning that there was a replacement bus service in operation. This took me, as ever, to Witham, where I caught a train for the remainder of my journey back to Colchester. As the train pulled in, there was no bus waiting outside the station, I checked. I went down the underpass, and re-emerged into view of the bus-stop, and there was still no bus. I went down to the bus stop, and checked the timetable, and there was a bus due at 2010 (supposedly). I checked my watch, and made it 20:11. It can’t have been and gone while I was in the underpass, I thought, so it must be imminent. Timing! However, it was not to be. I waited for ten more minutes, and no bus arrived. Knowing that I didn’t have enough money for a taxi, I set off to walk back to my room. This normally takes an hour, and would have done so had I not stopped for a burger in the town centre. Instead, it took me a creditable hour and ten minutes. What robbed me of the good feeling for having managed it in such good time was the fact that three hundred yards from the bottom of the steps leading up to my accomodation block, I was overtaken by the next bus after the one I should have caught. I couldn’t even console myself with the knowledge that I had managed to get home quicker than if I had waited for the next bus. Bastards.
Ah well, shit happens. Sorry, sh’appens.