I don’t always write up an away day, there’s little point.
Often, it is a case of driving to a town, finding a pub, drinking coke whilst Dad has a beer, watching a game and driving home. Who wants to hear about that, right? I’m sure plenty of you don’t want to know about this weekend either, but sometimes, a trip is worth documenting.
I’m surprised I have time after this morning’s graft. I’ve done almost a full day of articles for my real job, as well as spending a couple of hours tearing up laminate flooring and cutting out bloody underlay, which I didn’t envisage first thing on a Monday. Still, here I am, writing an article that is loosely based on Lincoln City.
Sometimes, rather than going away in a car, Dad and I go on a bus. Our friend Shane used to take a minibus, which was always interesting, and we’ve been on Warren Ward’s bus a few times too: Arsenal and Ipswich stand out. In December 2019, we went to Burton Albion on Andy’s Fun Bus, and when the chance arose to do the same this weekend, we took it.
There are pros and cons to going on someone’s bus, the pro being you don’t have to drive and the con being you’re given a timetable which you have to stick to. Andy’s Fun Bus is one that operates on a similar principle to me; it’s better to be an hour early than a minute late. That’s why we set off at 8 am, and that’s why I had to be up before 6 am in Louth. I had to walk the dog, clean a dead slug off my barefoot (don’t ask), and do the whole shower, shave and evacuate thing before making the 45-minute drive to Lincoln.
I know people on the bus, but at 8 am in the morning, with no beer down, I tend to be a little withdrawn. Much of the journey there feature us chatting to a couple of lads around us, mostly about why we’d set off so early. A combination of good traffic and a driver who didn’t hang about meant we reached our first destination by 9.30. That wasn’t Cambridge though, instead we stopped in St Ives.
There’s a good reason for that. Cambridge is not a city geared up to welcome away fans. There’s no fan zone, few (if any) friendly pubs near the ground and the city centre is at least 30 minutes walk away. 4,000 of the 124,000 or so people that live in Cambridge seem to care about football. That’s not enough to provide basic facilities for away fans, sadly. That’s why, at 9.30 am on a Saturday morning, a busload of football fans turned up in a little market town and caused quite a stir.
We made an entrance that was as impactful as Hulk Hogan at an early WrestleMania. Our driver took us as close to the centre as he could get, which meant some very intricate driving from him, some of it the wrong way up a one-way street. Hats off to him, he managed to get the coach in and out without any damage, in a space I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have turned my car around in. We disembarked and immediately broke my new rule of not going into Wetherspoons, by going into Wetherspoons.
I didn’t start drinking straight away, no point when you’re a lightweight, but one thing I do not skimp on is breakfast. To be fair, the pub dealt well with us. I guess they might usually get ten or fifteen in at that time, but instead fifty-odd dropped by and service was still quicker than The Ritz, the pub was far cleaner and our plates got taken away. I’ve come to the decision I can’t judge all Wetherspoons on the god-awful Lincoln pub. It’s still a pub I’d prefer to avoid though. That said, Dad still get a bit short-changed. His breakfast didn’t have two eggs, but everyone else’s did. Boy, did I hear about that one.
I’ll definitely be avoiding the St Ives Wetherspoons in future, but not because of Dad’s missing egg (I had two, cheers). No, it’s because I went to the bar to get my first pint (Brewdog Punk IPA, nice), and stood next to a lady. When the barmaid came to me I indicated that the lady next to me was first by saying the words ‘this lady is next’, loudly. The lady heard me and as I turned to smile at her and be thanked for my kindness, I saw it was a bloke. Long-haired, lady-shaped in places but with a beard and no smile of thanks. Awkward. Even more so when, after chatting to John Daulton for a bit, I went to find my Dad to discover he’d settled on the table next to said not-a-lady. Double awkward.
We were soon asked to leave Wetherspoons on account of the noise, and travelled across the market square to a pub called the White Hart. It was a bit more traditional, signalled by the fact a round of two drinks cost £8, not £4, and there was no IPA option. One by one the whole party headed over to a pub definitely not frequented by more than five before lunch on a Saturday, and over time, those five left. They didn’t like the repertoire of Imps songs and I don’t blame them. If it had happened in a Lincoln pub, I’d have been miffed, but powered by three or four more beers I shrugged off my coat of respectability and joined in with the rest.
Who were the rest? Well, Andy’s Bus is frequented by a lot of different faces, most known to me only by their Twitter handle until Saturday. It’s a great group of fans though, all very welcoming and top fun. We had a group photo outside the pub and doubtless caused a few people on the local St Ives Facebook site to get a bit angry. There wasn’t any aggression or trouble though, that’s not what this bus is about. It was all friendly, even when we were asked by a passer-by if we were playing St Ives Town that afternoon. Not these days, no.
The White Hart soon got a little tired of the singing and constant requests for shots they didn’t have (not from me), so they told us there was a pub ‘just around the corner’, called the Seven Wives, that could accommodate us. Dad boldly claimed to some of our new friends that I could down pints with ease (never done one before), so I downed my pint and immediately wanted to throw up. Still, we had a short walk to another pub, a chance to swallow down and keep my dignity. I swallowed down, but having just necked a pint for the first time in my life, aged 42, at 11 am, I think dignity is a stretch.
I’ve lived near St Ives and I’ve been out for a few beers there and I don’t recall a pub called the Seven Wives, and there’s a reason for that. It isn’t just around the corner, it is almost a mile. The walk seemed to take forever, as it does when you’re between beers and thirsty, but when we arrived we found it was well worth it. The sing-song on the road was quite cool too, complete with passing motorists beeping and a couple making wanker signs. Why not, I’d do the same from the comfort of my car.
The Seven Wives is a big pub with a massive outdoor area at the back. There was a baby shower scheduled and the poor girl sat alone in the back room didn’t know what had happened as we streamed in, got glasses filled and then made our way out back. I had a quick chat, asking her if it was her baby shower (it wasn’t), and quickly running out of things to say. Within minutes, almost all of us were outback in what can only be described as a perfect away day pub.
It had a dancefloor, it had the Spurs and Palace game on a big screen. It had The Specials playing loud (and not just one song but an album’s worth), it had a covered area, more pouring points than the fan zone and finally (and importantly for some) a bouncy castle that the landlord let us use. Happy days for those not afraid to let the inner kid go. I never let my inner kid go, but plenty did, without problems.
Before long everyone had joined us and we spent a good couple of hours in the pub, enjoying the last of the summer sunshine in what felt like a carnival atmosphere. The baby shower started, without incident, and there was just a great vibe throughout the early part of the afternoon. I did have to refuse jaeger on more than one occasion, especially when Clark brought eight to the table! The truth is by the time 2 pm arrived, I could happily have stayed in the pub, but there was business to attend to; City away.
Even though we left St Ives at 2 pm, we got to the ground with ten minutes to spare. You know the rest, right? If not, reading this match report will get you all you need to know.
I know there has been criticism of Cambridge’s hospitality, but I’ll give them some credit. Just after half time, feeling like the six pints I’d had might not have been a great idea, I went to find some water. The refreshment booths were all closed, but a lady heard me asking a steward and came out with some water. “Here you go love,” she said. “Can’t have you getting dehydrated, can we?”. Sure, she charged me £2, but she could have just ignored me completely. I get that the facilities weren’t entirely geared up for 1,100 fans, but that was a nice touch.
That’s that really. There’s not much you can say about a ride home, is there? Drunkenly, I messaged Anthony Scully on the way home to congratulate him and thank him, and he messaged back pretty much straight away, which was nice. He’s not only a great player but a lovely lad too. When I lived in Cambourne (Cambridgeshire, not Cornwall), he lived in the street behind ours. He would have been maybe 14, and although our paths never crossed, we did keep the odd football that came in the garden. For him, the win would have been sweet as it came in a city he called home for a long while. I felt that a little too, Cambridge was home for me for a year or so and I am fond of the city. I think heading to St Ives and only getting dropped off at the ground helped keep the day feeling like an away day, not a return to somewhere familiar.
All I want to say as a finish is thank you to Andy Pearson, the main man at Andy’s Fun Bus. Him and I do have a great relationship on Twitter, constantly biting and poking each other, but that’s all it is, fun. He puts a lot of effort into the bus, making sure everyone is safe and looked after and it makes them a great place to be. It’s a bus on which everyone feels like a friend, and I’ve certainly made some new friends from the journey, as well as enjoying time with old ones. I’m not naming everyone by name, but they’re all a great bunch.
That’s the first away day of 2021 sorted, and it might be a while before we have one that was quite as much fun.