I have no doubt that virtually all of you reading this will agree that supporting Wivenhoe Town FC over the years has been, at times, a harrowing experience to say the least. For most of you it has probably been bad enough, when things have been going against the Dragons, trying to summon up the enthusiasm to attend home matches and then when you have finally announced to the wife that you are going to Broad Lane for the big match against Dorking, struggling to come up with a reasonable answer when she asks that dreaded but simple question “why?”. Attempting to convince somebody who is of sound state of mind that your team “needs you” at the game and that by shouting at the opposition you can help influence the final result in your team’s favour just brings a look of sheer disappointment. The fact that the kids no longer want to go with you to the match or, for that matter, even be seen in your car with its “Don’t Follow Me, Follow Wivenhoe Town” sticker in the rear window tends to suggest that your entire family view you as something of an embarrassing git. However, even you in your defence can say that at least you haven’t abandoned your family to follow the Dragons away every other week, travelling countless miles at the end of which (during certain periods of time) you would probably have had a better chance of being able to witness an alien space craft landing on the King George Playing Fields than seeing a Wivenhoe Town victory (or even a draw for that matter).
Numbers and individuals prepared to follow the Dragons have varied over the decades. Back in the day at least 20 to 30 all-singing all-dancing lunatics regularly went to games no matter how awful some of our performances and results were. As time has passed numbers have dwindled to the “hardy handful” (ooer missus) who still ensure that the club has some supporter representation at far flung outposts in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. Those who have followed the ‘Hoe away on a regular basis probably themselves deserve some kind of award as, looking back on my own experiences over the years, just getting to the game can be an ordeal in itself.
The first thing to decide is what method of transport to select. Basically it’s a choice of three – car, coach or train and since not many people are willing to throw themselves on the mercy of British Rail at the best of times (plus “The ground is 5 minutes from the station” usually turns into something akin to the Jarrow March) that rules out the latter for 99% of us unfit bods. Several years back for a couple of seasons travelling by coach was also out as the management duo of the time did not like the fans to travel with the team as it was considered “unprofessional” and also, apparently, had some sort of derogatory effect on the players’ performances which was fine apart from one little minor detail….it was total bollocks and what it really meant was that they didn’t like sitting for 2 and a half hours with a bunch of “plebs” stuffing their faces with sweets and drink, steaming up the windows (once again, ooer missus), and asking unwanted questions such as “Why haven’t we won for 6 games?”. So, back in those days, travel was limited to car or, well, car really. Travelling by this particular mode of transport can have its drawbacks. First of all obviously the driver can’t drink (but then again so what, as no bastard used to be able to get a bloody beer at Dorking’s Meadowbank ground…not that I’ve held a grudge all these years) which, on occasions, needs tremendous willpower and self control especially after you have just lost 1-9 having been hammered 0-8 at home three days earlier which would be enough to encourage anybody to reduce themselves into an alcohol induced coma. Secondly, unlike the coach, there is no access to a toilet which can cause severe problems (not to mention a complete re-upholstery for the back seat !) as was experienced by poor old Frank on one particular journey many years ago. Having announced he wanted a wee 5 minutes after we set off from Broad Lane (Isn’t that always the way ?) he then declined the offer to stop at the Dartford Tunnel. There was no bridge in those days and, unfortunately, no southbound services on the M25 either so Dave’s promise to stop at the next available opportunity didn’t appear to hold much water (excuse the pun) to Frank as his situation progressed from desperate to critical. By the time we eventually managed to locate a service stop following much traffic congestion, we were almost at our destination…Basingstoke !!. It was now well over three hours since we had set out and poor Frank resembled a Question Mark in stature as he staggered across the car park, doubled up in agony, and off towards the toilets. There then followed the most spectacular (and longest) display of free-style wee-weeing I have ever seen in my life which, as Frank’s relieved tuneless whistling echoed around the white tiled walls, so impressed the others in there that they rushed off to fetch their families and friends to come and see the human version of the “Brussels Boy” statue who appeared to possess a bladder the size of a storage tank, and we left just before the Hampshire County Standard turned up for an interview and pictures !.
Lack of toilet facilities also cause a problem when the travel sickness sufferer amongst your party decides that half way along the motorway is a good time to re-enact their favourite scene from “The Exorcist”. Usually such disasters can be avoided if the said person is allowed to sit in the front seat, however, when you get two “vomit mongers” in the same car, one of whom only announces his impending intentions to “bean up” from the back seat saying; “Perhaps I should have mentioned before that I get travel sick” and immediately follows this enlightening statement up with a bout of loud deep breathing and frightening change of facial colour, sheer panic can ensue within the confines of the vehicle. This particular situation happened when we gave a reporter from the paper a lift to a night match at Bishop’s Stortford many moons ago (yes, believe it or not, we were considered so much on the up at one time that the local paper even used to send someone to cover a few away games). The sight of a white Rover screeching to a halt and an “Evening Gazette” hack being hurled from the car almost before it had stopped drew some concern from local householders, although not as much concern that was shown by the geezer whose wall our journalist friend was hanging over attempting to bedeck his garden gnomes out in fresh puke !.
The last problem associated with car travel in the distant past was that you did not always manage to get hold of the directions to the ground at which point on your journey there one of those in your little group boldly announces that it’s no problem as he has been there before. Having driven around the town for the best part of 25 minutes and asking whether any particular landmark strikes a bell, our man finally reveals that; “It was a village last time I was here”. “When was that?” you enquire…..”1947″ comes the chilling reply. Five minutes of silence can be worth a thousand swear words. If you have not got Mr. Local Knowledge with you then you are bound to have the highly dangerous Amateur Cartographer amongst your ranks who comes along armed with a selection of shaky images that appear to be the work of his four year old daughter drawn on tattered pieces of paper and the backs of screwed up envelopes which fail to show those minor details such as one-way systems, dead ends etc. In any event, just as with Mr. 1947, it’s always reduced to the desperate measure of all eyes to the skyline and “Look For Floodlights” !. Even having the official directions is no guarantee of being able to get to your desired destination without trouble as in the case of travelling to Grays Athletic’s old ground as no matter who held the map and navigated or who was at the wheel of the car, for some strange unknown reason we always got lost going there, following the same wrong route through the town while at the same time recognising all the familiar wrong landmarks from the year before, and ending up down the same cul-de-sac asking the same bloke where the football ground was from his house (you would have thought that after three years on the trot he would at least have had a cup of tea ready and waiting for us upon our arrival on his doorstep). Several years later finding Gray’s ground proved no problem for the team on the coach, they went straight there….only problem was we were playing away to TILBURY !!.
This brings us to the last mode of transport, the aforementioned coach which, as you can see doesn’t guarantee at all that the navigator is going to be any better than your mate in the car (but at least with the team on board you’re safe in the knowledge that the match can’t begin before you get there). To start with all the impressive bravado in the Broad Lane car park from the front seats of; “We should go this way” is immediately replaced by; “I can’t see that, I haven’t got my glasses” when the map is offered and claims that; “Reading while going along makes me travel sick” abound, so the task of navigator is usually bestowed upon the poor sod who hasn’t got a clue and wasn’t able to vacate the front four seats quick enough as he was getting his sandwiches out at the time. The most staggering effort put in by a reluctant navigator that I have seen (I wasn’t on the coach for the Tilbury via Grays trip) occurred when we were on our way to a “Load Of Crap Trophy In The Evening” (Loctite) Cup tie at Hitchin Town. Having managed to persuade the driver this Junction was the best one to come off at, as we reached the built up area our reluctant hero was gaining confidence in his abilities and proceeded to take his directions from his map; “Left at this junction…right at the roundabout….straight ahead up this road” then suddenly DISASTER. “No wait ! We should have turned left a couple of streets back”. As we tried to double back the flustered navigator saw salvation; “The floodlights are over there !” he exclaimed. With time beginning to press upon us we headed for the lights at full speed….and promptly found ourselves looking at a massive work’s car park. Thankfully someone came along at that point. “Where’s Fishponds Road?” we asked. “Do what ?” came the reply. Great, a local who doesn’t watch his local team. “You know, Hitchin Town Football Club”. The man paused, looked at us and then at the coach, puzzled. “I should say several miles in that direction…this is Luton.” Getting back on the coach, stunned, one wonders how one kindly tells the navigator that he’s got the wrong town as he sits there smiling expectantly up at you. Having worked out the most tactful way to break the news in you head, it is with great self shame that “GIT” is the only word that seems to come out of your mouth before returning to your seat. Having at last located the correct urban development, our man took over with his street map again; “Right here….straight over these traffic lights, it’s about another three miles yet.” At this point a sudden shout of “There it is !!” from the back seats brought the coach to a halt as we were about to continue past the ground and away to god knows where. Yes, you’ve guessed it, our hero was in fact directing us towards a bloody tea stain on the map which he had mistaken for a mark indicating our destination !!. Not surprisingly I went home by car.
Going on the coach during one particular Manager’s reign was also something of an experience as it was like taking a trip with the Keystone Cops with no one knowing who was being picked up where, people always seemingly running about aimlessly all over the place in total confusion, and the coach driving around roundabouts several times before heading off back from whence it came to pick up those who had been left behind or randomly got off to go and get chips and fizzy drinks (players pre match diets seemed to have changed a bit now !). It once took us an hour and a half to get from the Broad Lane car park to the other side of the Albert roundabout (of which only 15 minutes was actual travelling time) as our Boss and his sidekick went through their entire “Looney Tunes” routine which included driving alongside the coach down Cowdray Avenue flashing their headlights and honking their horn after being left behind at the club, “losing” the new goalkeeper, trying to get run over on four occasions, jumping on and off the coach a total of 16 times, and finishing off their act by leaving the side door open so that all the kit fell out on the road as we eventually tried to drive off…I’m telling you, these blokes would have been better off with a “Play Bus”.
Now days of course getting lost should not come into play as we have the wonderful invention of the Sat-Nav to see us safely to our destination. Unfortunately, this piece of equipment became available too late for “Daddsy”. Notorious for ending up lost in the middle of industrial estates on away trips and coming home from East Thurrock via Stansted after missing his junction while fiddling with the radio trying to get rid of “Woman’s Hour” and find some bangin’ tunes for him and Rustic to enjoy, he now lives in Barcelona due to the fact he took a wrong turn on his way to Bognor Regis.
We first used a Sat-Nav a few years back when we visited Potton United in the F.A. Vase. My brother Bob provided the in-car entertainment by arguing with the Tom-Tom lady on the way there, her automated voice seemingly getting more agitated by the second as he refused her instruction to turn left for the third time. “You have now arrived at your destination” (although I’m sure that was just a technical glitch and not the word “arsehole” I head at the end) we were informed as my Bro slammed on the breaks and swung a right turn, although none of us could recall BP Garage (away) being in the fixture list !. We backtracked to the next entrance….Nope, Mr. Dodhurst of 46 Biggleswade Road hadn’t entered the F.A. Vase that season either. Further investigation led to a “blink and you miss it” turn next to Mr. Dodhurst’s residence which eventually proved to be the entrance to The Hollow, home of our hosts for the tie. Having witnessed a 3-1 victory it was time for our homeward journey to begin and my Bro to resume hostilities with Mrs. Tom-Tom who proceeded to get revenge by showing us how lovely Shingay-cum-Wendy was at that time of year (amazing isn’t it ? Man can’t find a cure for the common cold yet he can develop a Sat-Nav with a built in grudge !).
Finally, one unique added bonus/drawback to being a travelling Dragons fan is that at times you would have the opportunity to totally immerse yourself in the game (literally) because as times got increasingly desperate on the pitch and we suffered from severe player shortage, if you were one of the dwindling few who turned up to travel on the coach and were not an OAP there was a distinct possibility that you would actually be asked/ordered to sit on the substitute’s bench to make the numbers up !!. On one occasion a horrified Richie had to point out to our Manager that without his glasses he was basically blind (this is perhaps the only time that I have been grateful for my beer gut as it seemed to immediately rule me out for consideration) and although that got him off, poor old “Daddsy” obviously wasn’t paying attention to the conversation due to his hangover and before he knew what was going on he was making his debut/farewell performance (yes, he GOT ON!) at Bedford Town to gain legendary status amongst the “SOBS”. Mind you, he would achieve world wide adulation if he ever repeated this feat with his current local club Barcelona. Now I would travel by car, train, coach, plane, boat, child’s tricycle or aardvark to witness that !!!.
“SOBS” ON TOUR
Feeling fabulous at Felixstowe after a 2-1 FA Vase Victory
Traumatised at Tilbury
Happy at Hungerford
Aggravating at ‘Arlow – The aftermath of the litter lout revenge mission
Balloons (Buffoons) at Broad Lane ……… home sweet home.