Unfortunately Martin will be unable to write the blog for a while. We hope you will enjoy the guest blog that follows
Since that game against Fulham nineteen seasons ago, a lot has happened. Got married, had three lovely children, started my own business, got divorced, got engaged, fiance moved out and am now with a very special young lady who makes me very happy and who tries to understand football. She thinks she supports West Ham United. The irony!
For Burton Albion on the opening day the car lines up with my partner Jenna, her daughter Lauren (first match for both of them), my youngest son Jacques, plus regular football companion Adam. At Luton Town we mixed it up, just myself, Jacques and his elder brother Patrick. For Peterbrough United, it was all three of my kids, the boys plus my eldest Anna.
For the first long trip of season the girls in my life planned to takeover. Alton Towers is on the way to Bolton discovers Anna. Before I know it the fifth game of season where we could possibly go top has turned into a girls day out. Jenna, Anna and Lauren have vouchers so I am to leave at 6 am to get them to Alton Towers for 9am. Then I go on, arrive in Bolton at 11 and pick them up after the match. It’s all sorted and I plan the journey as I always like to know what’s happening. I’m 53 years of age and have turned into my dad.
Fast forward to Friday. I’m at Portman Road watching young Jacques play for the Academy Under 12’s against of all clubs, you’ve guessed it, West Ham United. He scores the opener in a 6-1 demolition. Happy days! During the match Anna gets a call to say her GCSE grades are good enough to do A Levels where she wants to. The day gets better and better. Then it’s discovered Alton Towers vouchers are not applicable in August. We must cancel the trip I’m told as full price is ridiculous. Cancel the trip? Some have forgotten why we will be in the North West. So a couple of calls later and the old away crew from many past seasons is back together. Myself, good friends Adam who lives around the corner and his dad Glenn plus his friend Susan. I used to sit with the three of them in Y block for many seasons. I’m now loving it in Sir Bobby Robson lower. We agree to leave at 8.45am. Gives us loads of time.
So Saturday has finally arrived. Thank heavens you are all thinking. I wanted to set the scene though. The Jag is fuelled up, ready to continue destroying the ozone layer quicker than Trump or the Chinese. My passengers are waiting outside Glenn’s house. The first dilemma of the day. Seating hierarchy, “Oh you’re in the front are you?” Susan challenges Glenn. Glenn naturally sits in front, he has been folowing the Town as long as I have been alive. Adam jumps in with an official looking folder and we are away. A quick stop for cold drinks and the away fans bible, the Saturday edition of the Sun. It’s already 23 degrees, bet it’s still raining in Manchester though. I’ve planned our route from Marks Tey, down to Stansted, up the M11, A1, M62, M60. 248 miles. Decided to avoid A14 and M6. We will stop halfway up the A1. It’s all planned and Glenn approves of route.
Now for many seasons we played a game (hense the folder), we would predict the days Premier League and Championship results plus Colchester United. 3 points for correct score and 1 point for correct outcome, plus an ‘It’s a Knockout’ joker match with double points. We played for a fiver each winner takes all, which invariably is Glenn (who wisely has a newspaper with the form). Adam opens folder and we expect printed out fixtures. To our disappointment it’s a blank sheet. We agree the Championship should be replaced by the Third Division (not this League One nonsense). Curiously none of us think Norwich will lose . I boldly predict we shall win 6-0. Adam says knowing us, we will struggle to a 1-0 win. We also predict the starting line up. All agree Holy must start but then think will Norris get the nod. Surely the new lad from Col U must start, if fit. We all agree Chambo will return but not at cost to Woolfie. Kenlock will play but needs a good game as other options will soon be back. We agree Scuse and Downes surely play. But then is it with Georgiu, Judge, Huws, Edwards or Rowe. Agree again with the two up front.
We find ourselves at Stansted Airport in no time and the M11 is running well, much less traffic than expected. The sun is shining and the Mercury continues to steadily rise. All is good. Even the lifetime speed restiction area just past Cambridge passes without significant delay, all is good, plenty of time. Cambridge services come and go, ‘We can do better!’ I confidently exclaim. Within twenty minutes the dreaded red of a hundred brake lights appears on the horizon. We are literally on a junction . Do we turn off? We decide the delay will be brief. One then two fire engines with sirens blaring and lights demanding a through passage speed from the side road and force their way through. That’s not great we think as one. Minutes later two police cars bustle through as well. Whatever has happened is 300 yards up the road. We are trapped between a turn off and an accident involving fire engines. This really is not good. I hope nobody is hurt, but am really more concerned over how long we will be stuck here in the baking sun. 175 miles to go, and over four hours to kick off. We reassure ourselves the ground is just off the motorway so there’s still plenty of time. Twenty minutes pass and nothing. We put some comedy on the radio and chuckle at James Mansfords observational humour. Then we start to move. We pass the scene, run of the mill three car shunt where fire engines appear to have moved the wreckage to the side of the road. Well done lads we all mutter. They’ve dealt with that well.
A few miles up the road we pull in to services at Stibbington, a cafe in a dustbath of a car park. Adam and myself go into the gents where a trucker is washing his smalls in the sink. As we go into the eating part of this establishment I sense this is not quite what Glenn had in mind for brunch. the menu is written messily on a giant blackboard. People were queuing and those sitting were without food. The chef (I use the word loosely) shouted to the guy behind counter, “do us a favour and drop the till on the floor so we can go home. At least a 20 minute wait for food!”. We left, hungry and another quarter of an hour used up. Back in the car the satellite navigation proudly informs us that the M62 is heavily congested. We can cut across the Peak District (an area my father knew well from his walking days). We turn off the A1 near Rotherham and stop at a services that has a Diner. We go in , are seated promptly then ignored for ten minutes. We go to the petrol station for brunch. Glenn chooses a cold pasty. Susan a sandwich, Adam selects a kids cheese and cracker snack and I opt for a Turkish Delight (they’ve shrunk ). We return to the Jag eagerly, raring to crack on, we’ve been blocked in by a delivery lorry. I mutter obscenities under my breath. He’s a nice chap though and promptly moves.
We soon find ourselves crossing the beautiful National Park. Miles of unspoilt by humans countryside. I’m enjoying proper driving roads and for the first time since Cambridge have to check our speed. 70 miles with two hours to go and enjoying the drive. The Norwich v Chelsea match entertains us. Then just by Glossop we join the back of yet another queue. We travel 3 miles at a snails pace. Frantically checking a map for a short cut to the motorway that is close. I turn off up a side road to beat the delay to a set of traffic lights further up. A couple of minutes later we are on a farm track barely wide enough for us. Adam is convinced it will end up in a farm. Desperate, as now time is firmly against us, I stubbornly continue (we have all done this). Incredibly we find ourselves on tarmac. The time is 2.02pm and we still have 37 miles to the stadium. We hit more traffic and we spot a shortcut across an industrial estate to the motorway spur road. Not so lucky this time, we turn around and sheepishly try to be allowed back onto road by those we overtook minutes before. We end up exactly where we were before. 2.15pm and 33 miles. We join the motorway and it is clear. Apart from an elderly man trying to wipe us out, we travel as fast as the law allows us. Car park A is for away fans. The approach road is clear. Fourteen minutes before kick off and we are parked up in a barely half full car park.
After the relief of realising we had made the kick off, a strange thing happened. My memory transported me back to after the 4-1 defeat to Bolton Wanderers in our Premier League relegation season . The defeat and the nature of how we had no fight that afternoon, pretty much sealed our fate. I vividly remember the Trotters supporters goading us and celebrating our demise as if they had won the FA Cup. It was their revenge for the play offs two seasons before. It was in just about the same space in the car park as I was now, “Ipswich scum!” “F**k off you tractor boys!” was shouted at us with real hate in their voices. Here I was now, feeling for them, in the perilous position they found themselves. As we joined the queue Town fans all said thank you to the turnstile operators (normally it was just head down and get in). A good 700 Ipswich supporters were in good voice. Other than that the Macron, or whatever it’s called now, was dotted with clusters of home fans.
What happened next brought a tear to my eye and summed up our supporters, reminding me of when Billy Sharp scored against us days after losing a young infant, the whole ground stood and cheered him.
I’d gone down to get some food and Susan asked for a bottle of water. I see a sign for a meal deal, Burger and drink £5.50. Perfect I think. In front of me at the counter a man appears to be arguing with the young girl serving. I’m trying to eavesdrop but am just out of range. All I can make out is him saying that he has paid for and insists that he had what he has paid for. When it’s my turn the drinks chiller is empty bar a few cokes. The girl explains looking forlorn that as the club hasn’t paid the bills no drinks supplier will supply them. She offers free tap water in a plastic glass, plus £2 for the drink part of deal as refund. I then realised that the man in front had insisted on paying for the tap water as then did nearly all our fellow fans. The girl was almost in tears. That really summed up the mess the people in charge had made of this famous old club.
The match itself really was men against boys. Our lads scored the five they had to to keep up with clubs who had gone before. No wild celebrations just compassion at the end. It now appears the game will be voided from official records as the clocks ticks down to the 5pm deadline to remain part of the Football League. The trip home took just under four hours with a break. We go again Saturday. Take a moment to consider the Bolton fans who will probably never see their team play again.
(Written before the current situation was made public)
ALLEZ LES BLEUS!