I’ve been struggling these last couple of weeks to put out the content I’d like; recording the live pod has just been one of the many tasks that have built up on me.
If I’m being brutally honest, I’ve not been in a great place for a week or so. My partner wasn’t back this weekend just gone and we’re having the bathroom done too; the house feels like a bomb site, I’ve not stopped tapping away on the keyboard and the dark nights have just made me feel a bit claustrophobic and caged-in. As a freelance writer I don’t get to share in the usual Christmas build-up, no parties to go to, no ‘Christmas jumper days’ to indulge in and just a general feel of things not getting festive, but in fact getting on top of me.
In the run-up to Burton away my only real thought was; ‘I could do without this’. I was going to have to drive to get Andy’s Bus, meaning I’d probably be the only one to get to Burton and not order a pint. It felt like I was being cheated out of what I thought would be my own Christmas do. When Jane Chamberlian swooped in and offered me a lift, she saved my soul a little I think. My last away day of 2019 was on and instantly the feelings of gloom started to lift.
I woke up in the morning full of excitement and as I said in my match report that doesn’t usually happen. Something felt right and I spent the first hour of my day eating cheap bacon on dry bread and getting my house ready for 10 hours without me in it. That’s a task too; the fishpond needs food, the chickens needed letting out, feeding and watering, the dog had to be (reluctantly) taken for a walk and I wanted to feed myself too. I even filmed the start of an away day video too, but the final scene was me leaving the house. After that, shit just got real.
Jane stopped to pick up my Dad and we were at Gala Bingo before you could say ‘it’s a bit early isn’t it?’. I’ve never been on Andy’s Bus but the 8.45 am departure time did, on retrospect, seem early for a 3 pm kick-off at a ground little over 60 miles away. The excuse given early on was that the Christmas Market traffic might be an issue, but with the market not opening at 8.45 am, we were alright.
Going back to the feeling of a Christmas do, the clientele of Andy’s Bus did give me sensations of catching up with old friends. Dave Martin and I have shared a few drinks before at different events and he was sat in front with John Dexter, whose house I’ve also eaten at twice. Steve (from the Anglers as I know him) was on board too so the football chatter was of good quality. It went downhill a bit when everyone’s favourite internet troll Tom Duggan got on the bus, but you’d be surprised to find he’s a likeable lad when he’s not in front of his keyboard.
The journey flew by but the topics of conversation interested me. I probably have a fairly closed group of friends with whom I chat football, so to hear talk about the previous manager as much as the current one surprised me. I suppose it’s the ripples of his departure still being felt and maybe this game was where the ripples reach the edge of the lake and finally finish.
We hit Burton before opening time and planned to go to the local Wetherspoons, but as I chatted to Tom outside a few of the party went in, saw only one serving and came out. Next door, we were told, did a cheap pint and so we decamped there with a promise to move on if it was rubbish. We stayed put for several hours.
Beer was cheaper than in a supermarket and my dad and I got a spot in the beer garden, soon to be joined by Danny Nez and later members of the 617. I don’t often get to shoot the breeze with Connor and Nick, mainly because Connor is usually mullered when I see him and I pass Nick as we go into and out of the Supporter’s Board meetings. To sit and have a pint with the lads was good and always lively. There were a few songs going off and a bit of excitement around the pub as the beers kept flowing. Now, recalling the fact I don’t drink much and had only really drunk pints once all year, I wasn’t really paying attention to the number I was sinking. I felt the away day perhaps more so than any other since MK Dons, the atmosphere even felt similar. I remember sitting outside a bar opposite the MK Stadium and seeing the same faces and having similar conversations too. Maybe I don’t get to the right away days, but Burton began to emerge as one of my all-time favourites.
It was helped by decent locals. At one point a group of five or six lads sat down and started chatting to us, a couple of them looking like they knew their way around a ruck. They joked a bit about things kicking off and for a minute you just wondered if they might be wrong ‘uns, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. As 2 pm drew closer we asked them directions to the ground and found out rather than a ten-minute walk, it might take 45 minutes. As my eighth pint went down, I didn’t need any minutes to proceed the word ‘walk’ to be put off. One of the Burton lads, wearing a grubby Christmas jumper and the air of someone not averse to a few lunchtime pints in the week, offered to order us a taxi.
It’s a bit of a gamble saying yes, he might have been sending us to a housing estate to be met by a couple of rogues looking for an easy take, but we took the risk. he said it’d be ten minutes, told us where to go and fifteen minutes later it hadn’t arrived. Just as we thought he’d be having a laugh at our expense he came out and phoned the taxi company stating he didn’t want us to think he was a prick who had set us up. When the taxi arrived, I gave him a fiver to buy a beer, but in Burton, that’s probably three beers.
When we got to the ground I found myself being reminded of Crawley. It’s on a roundabout, not the biggest and certainly not one you’d expect to have hosted Championship football. Getting in was easy enough, the usual search didn’t turn up any contraband on me and we were soon in the bar watching Huddersfield getting beaten by Leeds, drinking more beer. Dad almost got chucked out before we started, he wandered in pulling on a cigar as if it were no bother, but a security guard came and informed him it was a no-smoking stadium. You have to laugh, he’d had it one whilst being searched and nobody said a thing.
Huddersfield got beat, some of the red and white shirts cheered Leeds’ goal and I even heard a chant or two of Judas. People are entitled to their opinion, but had we not benefitted from the Terriers boss for three years instead of eight pints and 1300 at Burton, it would have been eight pints and 13 at Boston. Think about it.
We made it to the terrace a little late by virtue of me struggling to get the beer down. The terracing surprised me, it all felt a bit cobbled together and quite how they accommodated Sunderland I don’t know. I’ve stood on bigger terraces in League Two and the lack of a walkway at the front made it feel quite restricted. I was gutted to miss Malcolm Johnson, our historian here on the Stacey West, but it was impossible to see where he was.
I eventually got stood behind Jack Mulhall who I suspect had also had one or two. he told me that we were going to agree beforehand we’d watched a different game, such are our contrasting views at the time, then he turned to the game to shout ‘Fuck off Quinn’ at Stephen Quinn for the first time but absolutely not the last.
That took us to the game which I’ve already written about, but the one aspect I didn’t cover was the smoke bomb after the early goal. I’ve no doubt the club will get a fine for that and I can’t condone it at all, but the feeling of elation, being in that mass of people celebrating an early opener, was accentuated by the red smoke. I’m a grown man and I should know better but the goal certainly brought the special feeling of the day around again.
Half time came and those pints wanted an out, so I made my way down to the toilets. I shouldn’t laugh at this, but I stood next to a lad called Adam and as I got little Gary out to do the honours, he leant forward a little towards the urinal, only to see his jumper drop off his shoulder and land squarely in the trough full of piss. I pissed myself laughing, so it was handy I was stood at a urinal whilst doing so. After that, I snuck out for a cigar (gave up drinking and smoking I tell people…) and a chat with Roy, content manager of the Real EFL and a good friend. Jimbo was there too, another top lad who travels home and away. Again, it was just nice to be seeing loads of different faces in happy moods. No fun sponges were talking about losing games or Michael not being the right manager.
The second half passed, we won the game and applauded the players off before returning to the coach. I grabbed a bottle of water on the way, thinking I might need a bit of refreshing on the journey. What I actually needed was medical attention, almost. Whilst everyone else had been drinking all day and were in the mood to carry on doing so, I began to wane. The bus was hot and so was I, I began to feel dizzy and came out in a sweat which my old man said was ice cold. My smartwatch told me my BPM dropped to 50 and the beer started thinking about coming out the entrance, rather than the exit. How embarrassing would that have been, vomiting on my maiden voyage with Andy’s Bus?
I held it in by virtue of my Dad moving to show everyone pictures of his dog and me getting some much-needed shut-eye, before getting back to Lincoln and smashing a ham and cheese sandwich from a newsagent. Jane picked us up, a great gesture as she’d been back a while and on the supporter’s coach before I finally arrived home around 8 pm to a thoroughly hacked off dog and cold house.
Away days, don’t you just love ’em>