Hereford Road Trip Part 1: Losing Myself, Giving Up Football, Settling for Hereford Away
Forgive me (which you won’t) but this story (which will be split into a few parts) is pulled entirely from memory so I apologise in advance for the glaring errors and inaccuracies within. I will not apologise for its lateness or relevance in 2012. Quite frankly, this is my blog and the memory and stories are written as they come fresh into my head. Can you believe I still haven’t documented my departure from England in 2009 properly, nor my time staying in Soweto in South Africa, nor my first job in Asia, they will have to wait and move over. This is Hereford’s time to shine. And rightly so.
English towns maintain a mix of tradition and modernity in perfectly equal measures. Welcoming change but conservative enough to know “you don’t go knocking down our town hall without a fight”. The posh and the working class Brit would share these sentiments, more than likely. I had fallen by the wayside and was losing touch with what mattered most in life (and what always has for me – family and health aside). To understand who and what I am, you have to look at what actually REALLY makes me happy. The next paragraph sums me up. If you’ve met me, I hope you’ll understand. If you haven’t, many other people are the same as me…
I love football. I love my mates. I love my pubs. I love my adventures. If there’s a football stadium in heaven with a bar nearby that involves some kind of random adventure, that’s where I’d like to end up. The rest you can dream it all up for yourself.
I’m graced with good friends in life. Without them, I actually would be nothing. The biggest problem is, I haven’t always been the best friend to people. Mainly due to my selfishness and time constraints. I enjoy sitting on my own with a cup of tea looking at the football results. And I often do that. BUT I’d much rather be in a pub with my mates. So, drift away from your millionaire football stars, oversized stadiums, hyped up holidays, normal days out and find yourself awakening at 5.49 am for a “Road Trip” to Hereford. Are you mad? (Yes, but just a bit).
Before I go on, I’m an AFC Bournemouth fan. And always have been (despite not watching them live until 2003) and always will be. They are my team. Win, lose or draw. Supporting a football team is more than 90 minutes. It’s wearing your shirt, reading your programme, being in the pub, missing your train, buying the round, watching “the scum” lose as their results filter through, singing your heart out. Actually being a football fan is a rather eccentric hobby. Find a sensible person that goes to a country you’re not even playing in, on route to a match in the country you’ve just left. Me and my mates did that. Twice.
The first time was May 2008. Our emotionally charged group dressed up in relegation and elation regalia in equal measures for a trip from Bournemouth (where we all lived) to Carlisle. Bournemouth is in the very south of England, in Dorset, ferries from next door (Poole) take you to France, Carlisle in its historic bliss, lies some 500 miles north, right on the Scotland border. Research showed that it was cheaper and faster to fly from Bournemouth to Glasgow, then get a couple of trains (one of which was a “bus”) to Carlisle than either drive ourselves or bus or train it. That trip had been an amazing one off the field, however tears overshadowed the lunacy of the journey as our beloved Cherries bit the final bullet and got relegated on the day, despite what would normally have been an EXCELLENT away point at Carlisle. You take a point when you travel that far north. But it wasn’t enough to salvage us from relegation. On the day, Dan Darch a Cornish Cherry had donned a jailbird’s outfit, hoping the Great Escape could be pulled off (ironically it was a season later, though I wasn’t there to see it). Millwall convert for the day (and for manys a day) Neil, had sported an Elvis outfit complete with microphone. The theme Elvis isn’t dead couldn’t save us. Nor could my tartan Scottish attire (which also featured a ‘snake’- I twisted fate with that one – in a game of snakes and league ladders, sadly we slipped out of the third tier). Patrick Hogan, from Corfe Mullen decided not to join in the fancy dress and choose to wear blue for the day. Carlisle’s colours. Hmmm…From England to Scotland, back into England, back into Scotland for a flight back to England, that adventure had pushed our football fan limits to the core.
Fake Hungarian smiles
A year later, football and beer and my mates had left my life. Probably for good. I had given up an entire half season of watching the Cherries, with it went my season ticket and Saturday afternoons of dedication. Between January and May 2009, I attended 2 out of 10 AFC Bournemouth home matches despite having paid for all ten. It’s not a regret, it’s the way life had panned out for me. It didn’t feel like I was missing anything. Of course I was wrong. A shy half hearted text message to Dan Darch from Debrecen near the Hungary – Romania border asked “did we stay up?” about a day after the Cherries had a “must win” game to stay up. I can’t remember who we played or if I was happy we had stayed up. Life had changed me and I had found a new ‘love’ – my mates had gone, my football days out had gone, I didn;t touch a drop of alcohol on British soil for 6 months and that Carlisle trip was just part of my crazy past…
Love found me and lost me within that 6 months of no alcohol, and I was a downheartened man.
My jobs saved me. I worked every day solidly for about 3 months, taking it in turns between serving beer, tea and lasagne on board your England to France ferries and selling ice creams on the beach in sunny sunny Bournemouth. I had forgotten my mates, my football and the pub. I had ruined myself. I even still lived with Dan, who must clearly have thought I was only a part time football fan, a “now and then” friend and not the same man he had met two years previously. He would have been right – at that particular moment.
Then I booked my tickets to Taiwan. Then I decided to travel round Malaysia and Singapore and end up in the crazy land down under. My old Estonian friend Natalja (pictured above, in Kuala Lumpur) came in as “some kind of substitute” for my Hungarian lover Noemi who had decided my sacrifices, worldly manner and enthusiasm were not enough for her quiet, leisurely life. This was all still 2009. Then one day, a customer in work left behind a newspaper with the Division 4 fixtures (League Two) for the upcoming season. It was the start of August 2009.
I can’t remember if it was a text, a phonecall, a facebook message or a real conversation with Dan, but I told him I was leaving England after 6 years, but wanted to squeeze in an AFC Bournemouth match before I went. It felt I was asking to be “let back in”, but I just wanted to give it one last farewell as I had never properly said goodbye to English football. The photo above was taken just after Bournemouth beat Shrewsbury 1-0 at home in February 2009. That was my last Cherries home league match (and still is). If you look at the photo you can see the danger. Everyone is happy and smiling. My mind is on other things. I wasn’t that happy.
So when we looked at the fixtures, it was hard to find one that suited, my flight out of the UK was the first week of October 2009, up until then I was working solidly (except for a 2 day trip back to Northern Ireland to “drop some stuff off” and say bye to my family). I couldn’t even get a home match in. My last match of 2008 – 2009 being a 1-0 league win over Shrewsbury Town in February 2009. Leave it at that, I had thought. We won.
I did turn up out of sorts at the Bournemouth v. Tottenham friendly pre-season (July 2009) but my heart wasn’t in it. I sat in a different stand. Without Austin. Without Dan. Without Shep. Without Rich. Without Patrick. Without the lads I knew week in week out for home and away trips. I was with my work friends from the cross channel ferries. I don’t even think I sang. I didn’t enjoy it. We lost 3-0.
Then Dan and I both agreed on Hereford. And that was that. I committed myself to it, scheduling in a day off on my last week in the UK “just for the football” as I explained to my manager of five years, Matt Calkin (Bournemouth Seafront Catering – a job which I ghosted in and out of for 4 summers: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009). Day off granted, road trip planned and we were going to Hereford. Edgar Street. Near the border with Wales.
It would have been simply ridiculous not to make my final hurrah to English football an away trip to an unknown town, allowing us to border cross for a pint in Wales, dress badly and support the mighty Cherries for the last time. And a certain “Ulster Cherry” would bring his Northern Ireland flag. If not for show, but to dry up my tears of a love lost for my beloved football team.
“Football is not a matter of life or death. It’s much more important than that.” For one day it would be. Sorry, was this a documentary about a football trip? I’m sorry, life and emotion got in the way. Can we get back to the football please?
OK then, I worked on the Monday night until 6pm. It was the 28th September 2009. When I finished work I printed my flight tickets, packed my bags and prepared for Taiwan and leaving England for good. I still owned my car, and needed it for work that week, so I fired some of my stuff in the car early doors. (My parents came over and picked that up just before my flight out). I had Tuesday as a day off and would work the rest of the week before a night out on Friday and a flight to Taipei (via Bangkok) on the Saturday. It was hectic. But it was doable.
My alarm went off at 5 am and I had my Cherries stuff ready the night before. I didn’t feel like a real fan anymore. I hadn’t been at the important matches that kept us alive in the football league. I was driving on the day, probably more as a favour to myself if anything. Richard was also driving so there would be 2 cars running side by side, front by front, in unison on the road trip. We all had each other’s mobile numbers so would contact throughout the trip to detail petrol stops, pub stops, countryside pisses, sightseeing etc. Part of my life had come back.
I must have picked up Austin (Aussie/Ozzy) (“Ozzy Ozzy Ozzy, Oi Oi Oi” “Austin Back of The Net”) and Tom (one of the new gang who I had missed meeting due to my absences…) before sun had broken over Poole and Bournemouth. The road trip had begun. We were off to Hereford…via Abergavenny…
From – 31 Lowther Road, Charminster, Bournemouth
To – The Road to Blandford Forum
Via – Tom’s house and Aussie’s house
Transport Used – My White Hyundai Accent 1.3 L (CKZ 7861)
Miles Travelled – About 30 (this will all be approximate for the day given it’s from memory only)