At last - a proper away day with a lovely long trip to the frozen North! Part of the joy of these long trips is the anticipation that, on arrival, you will see the usual "hard core" supporters who travel the length and breadth of the country. It has been discussed many times before, but there is a different atmosphere at these away games and the performance of the team this year has only served to make that atmosphere that little bit better. To add extra spice there is the possibility - or probability - that there will be a healthy helping of Strays to meet and greet.
This time last year we had the excitement of our record breaking third round FA Cup visit to Blackpool. This year the Seasiders were to succumb to Barnsley, so fortunes change everywhere. We had to put that all behind us and "concentrate on the league" (and the minor cups).
So, having warmed up Morris Minor for the long chug in store, I set off to collect my travelling companion. The first indication that you are in for a long trip is the voice of Brian Mathew on the light programme with his Sounds of the Sixties programme. He manages to play some very different tunes on the wireless does Brian, and it is such a refreshing change to hear a true professional just doing his job instead of that irksome self publicist Jonathan Ross who follows him at 10.00. Fortunately the volume can be turned down when "Wossy" comes on because we are deep in conversation by that time.
And what conversation it was for our four hour marathon. I found out that, sadly, Roscoe appears to have a bout of tendonitis. Before you start looking up Accrington Stanley's result and find that he played on Saturday, we are talking about the other Roscoe - Bill's collie dog. Best wishes with the treatment Roscoe. Following that disturbing news, genealogy, archaeology and all sorts of other "ologies" were on the menu as we discussed the tracing of our personal heritages. It was a bit surprising to learn that BillB is actually a hologram and related to Arnold Rimmer of Red Dwarf - but I may have heard that wrong! In any event, the journey was a very pleasant one in the bright morning sunshine - and it was good to see Watford gap services in all its resplendent refurbished glory. I still think nearly £2 for a biscuit is a bit steep though! We passed a Repton's executive coach on the way up and gave it the customary blasts on the hooter - I hope it was something to do with The Shots!
Using a combination of fading memory cells and the good old AA route planner off t'internet we arrived in the industrial estate in good time for the pre-match socialising. Stopping to pay the car park attendant I saw "that" sign. "Welcome to Marston Arena - home of Manchester United Reserves and Northwich Victoria". Just imagine if we had a sign like that on the High Street at Aldershot - substituting Reading for Manchester United and Aldershot for Northwich Victoria of course (for the pedants out there!). I would imagine it would last approximately ten minutes before being sawn down. It says something about the Vics that they are prepared to put up with that; they are obviously very commercially minded when it comes to the facilities that, at the front of the ground at least, are excellent. It is a sad thought that such a friendly and well run club find it impossible to attract the attention of the local population. Discussing the take over and new regime with one of the staff in the beautiful bar, we found out that there is a condition that the Vics will play there for at least 25 years (I think). I have a horrible feeling that they may struggle to survive long enough to enforce that caveat if the present situation doesn't change quite soon. A disappointing 500 odd home fans was all they could muster for our visit - and Manchester United were playing away. Of course, the ground should have been renamed the Mark Moseley arena - for it was at this ground that he finally found the back of the net!
Once in the car park BillB decided to seek out Mrs Charlie Warley on the "rebels" coach. He had warned Charlie on the message board that he would do so to collect the money for Charlie's round at the bar and Bill would never miss a chance like that. Mrs Warley took it in good spirit, but Bill failed in his mission to get the money - or a photograph! Once in the bar it was handshakes and greetings all round with some familiar faces, but Bill's main target - Beijing Red - was nowhere to be seen. We did find Oompah Loompah and Northern Monkey among others, so our day was looking good. We decided to carry on regardless and hope to contact Beijing once inside the ground. When the Alex formerly known as Flagboy turned up looking very much the worse for wear we had our first memorable moment of the day. Good old Alex had had such a good time the night before that he had missed the RBA coach (Bob waits for nobody, not even
Flagboy Alex) and had to travel up with the official supporters coach. As an aside, that's a good effort by the various supporters' organisations, to take three coaches all the way to Northwich. Special mention must be given to John Lawrence. We discovered that John has only missed three away games - at Burton, Cambridge and Grays! Now if that doesn't make him a lucky charm I don't know what does. I think he should be given free away travel for the rest of the season.
Managing to find the only open turnstile, which, to be fair is one better than last year, we made our way to the catering facilities. It was shades of Burton last season as I managed to grab the last meat and potato pie to go with my chips and gravy. Others behind me had to settle for burgers or an unidentified pie thing. The ladies behind the counter were asking each other what these mysterious delicacies contained - it was, apparently, either meat or cheese. Good luck to anyone who chose that option! The down side was that I was told they had also run out of mushy peas - a scurrilous lie that was exposed by the evidence of the people coming out later with the green nectar covering their chips. I was, however, fortunate not to have chosen the curry sauce - not a good choice at all by all accounts! Once on the terrace we found our old mate Wakefield Shot looking fit and well and anticipating a good game - another Stray to tick off our list for the day.
The game itself was pure Aldershot - dominating the game without scoring enough to make us relax and then being scared to death towards the end. Three points will do though, and Kirk Hudson's sublime chip of the goalkeeper was worth the trip in itself. What else did we learn from the football itself? Well, we learned that an Adam Ant signal (crossed arms over your head) at a Northwich corner means he is going to deliver it straight to the first defender. Alex starred in the mickey taking and the little winger stopped that little trick once he noticed that! We also learned that Alex should be playing centre half. His header to return the ball into play was top stuff - although his goalkeeping after a similar effort went over the bar left a bit to be desired. Another bonus of the game was that Tom Hark didn't attend - but that controversy is for elsewhere.
Bill's efforts to find Beijing finally bore fruit. Having received a text he deduced that Beijing was in the posh seats with his family and decided it would be a good idea to wave his scarf above his head to attract attention to himself. Imagine his surprise when he got a tap on the shoulder from Beijing Red who was watching the game two rows behind us! Bill was spot on when he told me Beijing was great bloke - a real pleasure to meet you sir and have a safe trip back east.
Satisfied with our day we said our goodbyes and pointed Morris south. The conversation continued once the boring Aston Villa game started on the wireless. The journey south ranged from poetry and prose to chances in journalism. The time flew by and we decided on a comfort break at Watford Gap again. It is exactly half way between Kent and Cheshire, so it is always a good target. Imagine our surprise when, in the coffee queue, we met three England football internationals! The small striker, tall midfielder and tiny defender sat and chatted with us while we supped. I told Bill nobody would believe us when we told them, but we did undertake to preserve their anonymity. They were all playing in the FA Cup on Sunday and I am pleased to report that the midfielder and defender both scored in their game. Sadly, the small striker didn't.
Arriving back in Kent a full 12 hours after we departed, we both agreed that yes, we had a REALLY lovely day the day we went to Northwich.