|When Saturday Comes #8|
Written by wessex_exile on Sunday, 3rd Oct 2021 12:51
I’ve gone back through my archive, and the last football match I attended before last Saturday at the County Ground was U’s at Cheltenham on 29th February 2020 (and covered in LfW11) – In other words a 574 day wait. Others have mentioned about finding other things to do, losing their love for live football, things like that, and certainly my bank balance has appreciated the break from costly awaydays for the best (worst) part of 18 months. If I’m honest, I was slightly worried that I would go the same way, that the attraction would fade after so long, but I needn’t have been. As a result, it’ll be a slightly different format to this [i]When Saturday Comes[/i] blog.
[b]A Grand Day Out[/b]
And so I found myself last Saturday morning on the no. 55 bus into Chippenham to catch the train to Swindon. Already on the train was my mate Craig from Salisbury, and a full day of football beckoned. Normally I bemoan our terrible rail network for delays, but this time it was the bus service, which eventually crawled up to the train station literally as my train was pulling into the platform. With seconds to spare I managed to dive into the first carriage available, no time to seek out wherever Craig was sat on what was a pretty packed-out train. Still, no matter, it was only a short journey before we were reunited à la [i]Brief Encounter[/i] on the platform (obviously Craig is Celia Johnson in that analogy), to be met somewhat appropriately by the Clun Castle.
[b]Match of the Day #1
With no time to waste, we taxied over to the ever welcoming and very busy Merlin pub and found ourselves a seat tucked in a corner next to a couple of other U’s fans to catch up whilst watching the first match of the day, Chelsea v Man City in the lunchtime kick-off. The Beeb described Man City’s performance as “[i]an impressive performance[/i]” – we clearly were watching a different game, because I thought it was a dreary game of football at best – but it didn’t really matter, it was just good to be out in a pub with mates on a matchday. For those that care, Man City won with a goal fairly early in the second half from Gabriel Jesus.
[b]Match of the Day #2
As the final whistle blew at Stamford Bridge, we were ready for the main event and headed over to the County Ground, pausing briefly for a swift half in Bar 71. Though the swift half itself was dreadful eurofizz lager, it was worth the stop just for the opportunity to have a chat with the barman, who turned out to be a Grimbarian, giving my Spireite mate and him a chance for a bit of light-hearted non-league bantz – particularly as Grimsby had the chance to go top if they beat Maidenhead in the 3pm kick-off. All bantered out, we found ourselves a spot towards the back of the well-populated away section, next to the segregation netting, and behind both the shouty lads and a really annoying pillar, and just in time for the teams coming out.
As for the match, well I’ve seen better. The U’s started well enough, controlling possession pretty well, but without really threatening the Swindon goal (sounds familiar). After 15-20 minutes we started to run out of puff a bit, and Swindon managed to establish a bit more control of the midfield, though they too were struggling to create any decent chances of their own, much to the credit of the U’s defence. Even when they did manage to get through the defence, there was Shamal George, who was having a very good game, to mop up everything else.
Into the second half, and the U’s faithful thought we’d had an early breakthrough as Sears dinked one over the ‘keeper for a 1-0 lead, only to be ruled out by the referee, and much to the amusement of the Swindon Town fans to our right. We couldn’t see why the goal had been disallowed at the time, it certainly wasn’t offside or a foul, but it turned out to be for Sears controlling the ball with his hand – the muted protest from the players suggests it was probably the right call.
For most of the second half the U’s were defending in depth and relying on rare opportunities to break out and get up the pitch, but never really looking like scoring. Swindon was almost as ineffective up front, generally relying on long range efforts that either sailed over or George dealt with comfortably. Things did get a bit more frantic in the last ten minutes, Craig reckoning we’d eventually concede before the final whistle, but we didn’t, and the U’s held on for a hard-fought unglamorous but well-deserved point to keep the away form going.
[b]Match of the Day #3
So, two matches done, only one goal between them, and on to the final fixture of the day, Chesterfield v Torquay United on BT Sport – if we could only find a pub somewhere to put in on instead of Brentford v Liverpool on $ky. We’d already drawn the conclusion that was a very unlikely proposition at the Merlin, so headed into town in the hope of finding some quiet back-street boozer that might. And as luck would have it, we did – the Queen’s Tap right opposite the railway station – who were more than happy to switch channels for roughly half of the big screens, so we could settle down with more pints and watch the game. I’ve always had an affinity with railway station pubs, I love that unique subculture mix of (usually) gnarly locals – railway station pubs are never home to the glitterati – and travellers passing through, and the Queen’s Tap didn’t disappoint in the slightest.
On the pitch, Chesterfield were having a good game, though like the U’s struggling to carve out many decent chances. I was particularly impressed with their striker Kabongo Tshimanga, who Craig was telling me wasn’t even their first choice forward. I had no idea at the time that the U’s had been interested in him – on the performance I was watching, I wish we’d closed that deal. The Chesterfield game kicked off ten minutes earlier than Brentford v Liverpool, which in the context of what was to happen, was significant, and whilst our game was 0-0 at half-time, most of the remainder of the pub were raucously enjoying what was to be an entertaining goal-fest at the new Brentford Community Stadium.
Throughout the first half and into the second, we were joined by various other groups, mostly to talk about football (I was in a U’s training top that day). We had some very entertaining chats with a bunch of Swindon Town fans who’d been at the game, particularly when we collectively remembered Razor Ruddock and his shorts – some of them had forgotten he scored his only league goal for them in that match, much to my dismay. One of them, who’d had more than enough already (yet still had a four-pack in what looked like a large dog poo bag to go) was vaguely scary in a wild-eyed slightly unfocused sort of way – early on wanting to know where our mob was so he could have a go – but he calmed down, and all in all it was all very pleasant. Overall, we all agreed that a draw was probably just about the right result, though drunk scary man would often mutter angrily “we should have won that one”.
Not long after they’d departed in walked a bunch of smart casual young lads, no colours or anything, who spotted my club badge and came over straight away to join us. Spidey-senses sensing danger, I needn’t have worried, as they explained (in a thick hard to understand Welsh brogue) that they were over from Cardiff for the day to watch their mate Cameron Coxe play. We talked about the game, and about Coxe’s performance (he didn’t have too much to do to be fair, and what he did was solid). They weren’t very complementary about big Frank, but on that performance it was probably fair enough (don’t worry Frank, I did tell them you were better played out on the left).
On about the hour mark at Saltergate, and at around the time that the young Welsh lads headed off (presumably to meet up with Cameron?), handshakes all round and one departing with his own Welsh interpretation of “Up the U’s”, Tshimanga put Chesterfield 1-0 up. Their places were taken up by a group of Bath rugger-buggers, on their way home from watching Bath lose 13-20 to Newcastle Falcons at the Rec. Still, not to let different shaped balls get in the way, we all nevertheless had a very pleasant time, sharing drinks and talking about the trials and tribulations of following any sporting side. For anyone not familiar with the South West in general, it is almost impossible to go anywhere without bumping into people sporting Bath Rugby merchandise – Bath Clones as I call them. These gentlemen were particularly vexed about the problems with the Rec stadium. Too small for demand, hemmed in and too constrained for expansion, loved by local bars and businesses, loathed by the local residents, and any suggestion of moving to an out-of-town purpose-built facility despised by supporters. I won’t pretend I care that much, but they really are in an impossible situation right now.
By the time the rugby sorts had headed off home to their nearest and dearest, Tshimanga had put the Spireites 2-0 up, and looked to be coasting to a regulation victory and top of the table (Grimsby had blown their chance, drawing 1-1 at Maidenhead). On the other screens Brentford were putting up a decent fight too, with Janelt cancelling out Salah’s goal to make it 2-2, causing considerable commotion in the Queen’s Tap. As the second half wore on at Saltergate, Chesterfield started to sit back, clearly happy enough to defend their two goal lead, though much to the clear annoyance of manager James Rowe. On the other screen Jones had restored Liverpool’s lead, to be followed not too long after by what looked to be Torquay’s consolation goal at Chesterfield, with barely a minute to go – squeaky bum time now.
Into injury-time and what was a completely surreal moment. Amidst all of our various conversations whilst sat in the pub, I hadn’t really paid too much attention to substitutions or such like at Saltergate. In an almost carbon copy of his conversation with me at the County Ground I remember saying to Craig deep into injury-time that if they weren’t careful Chesterfield were going to concede a second. And then commotion in the pub – looking across I could see why, with less than ten minutes to go Wissa had scored for Brentford to level the scores at 3-3. Looking back to our screen, all I could see was Tom Lapslie – large as life – charging across the Saltergate pitch in celebration.
Slightly befuddled, all I could say was “huh, but…but that’s Tom Lapslie?” and looked bemused at Craig – who was just staring in disbelief at the screen…and then the penny dropped. Of course it was Tom Lapslie, Tom Lapslie had been signed by Torquay after the U’s released him, Tom Lapslie had been bought on as a sub after about an hour, it’s just I hadn’t even noticed, and of course Tom Lapslie was celebrating, Tom Lapslie had just stabbed home a corner in the 5th minute of injury-time to snatch a point for Torquay. I was a proper conflict of emotions, delighted for Tom, but crestfallen for my mate Craig.
And that’s how both games finished, an away draw for the U’s and a home draw for Chesterfield. In what might be construed as an insensitive moment, I did remark on the short train ride back to Chippenham that of the two the U’s was clearly the better point. However, I did also point out that at the end of the day it was still just a point. If Chesterfield had been losing 2-0 and snatched a point, Craig would have been elated, rather than feeling like someone had punched him in the guts – but that’s what football is all about. Nevertheless, we’d had a great day out, watched three games of football (four if you count the Brentford Liverpool side-show), met lots of weird and wonderful people, and I wouldn’t have changed any of it for a moment…apart from maybe not disallowing Freddie’s dink.
[b]Chelsea 0 Manchester City 1 (Gabriel Jesus 53’)
Swindon Town 0 Colchester United 0
Chesterfield 2 (Kabongo Tshimanga 58’, 73’) Torquay United 2 (Armani Little 88’; Tom Lapslie 90’+5)[/b]
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