Our D3D4 Morecambe Correspondent Roger Fitton has been at it again, travelling the length of the country to watch his beloved Shrimps, this time in the FA Cup against Shrewsbury Town…
Virgin On The Ridiculous.
Pastures New for me today. Or should that be New Pastures? The last away game I attended as a Morecambe supporter was at Forest Green Rovers whose ground is called the New Lawn. Now, just a month later, I found myself – spookily enough – at the New Meadow. Where next? you might well ask; The New Field? (I can’t think of any football grounds by this name and the only Old Field I know of is someone called Mike who apparently has Tubular Balls. Sounds painful. Or maybe I’ve misunderstood that… ) But I digress…
When the FA Cup draw was made earlier this month, I was immediately taken back to a time when I wrote comic scripts – and whatever other ideas occurred to me – for a pretty basic and very precarious living. Once, I had an idea for a Horror Film script. In it, following a nuclear holocaust, huge mutant rodents converged onto the place where the sole remaining humans who had survived the global catastrophe had gathered together. Here, these unfortunates were clinging onto life in a walled city through which a large river flowed. And here too, having found them, the mutant rodents started to dig. And dig they did, throwing massive amounts of soil with their enormous back paws over the city walls and gradually entombing the doomed inhabitants under millions of tons of earth. You can imagine the scene: children crying. Mothers screaming. Lots of unexplained explosions and random fires all over the place. (It was supposed to be a Horror Film after all… ) It would be a bit like Pompeii but with mud instead of ash. And no Frankie Howard. As a story, it was somewhat derivative and hardly very original, I must admit. But I didn’t think it merited this response from the editor I sent it to:
“Been done before, mate!” he wrote. “Never heard of Shrews Bury Town?
Oh dear. Anyway…
The first job was to carefully check that these Shrews didn’t follow the same formula as Forest Green for dealing with Away supporters. (Dearly Beloved, for the heinous sin of eating flesh, Thou art to be cast into the Outer Darkness of the West Terrace for all eternity. Well – maybe not for all eternity but for at least ninety minutes -which would probably feel like an eternity if it happened to be raining… )
They didn’t – they even let old fossils like me rest their weary bones by sitting down instead of having to stand up for an hour and a half.
Last time I went to an away match, I was surprised to find that Forest Green Rovers effectively ban the infirm from their Brave New Lawn for reasons which might not unkindly be described as of the Eugenic variety. At Shrewsbury, however, they take a more subtle approach to putting off visitors from elsewhere:
In recent home games we have had three cases of fans suffering from hypothermia and with temperatures set to fall even further for this weekend’s FA Cup clash with Morecambe, it is more important than ever that fans layer-up before attending the match.
Crowd Doctor, Kevin Eardley, explained how important it is to keep warm at the football.
“Don’t forget to wrap up warm when you come to the game, we have had three cases of hypothermia in the crowd over the last two games, don’t become number four”, said Kevin.
“Inadequate clothing, the cold weather and alcohol on an empty stomach are perfect recipe for increasing your risk of hypothermia, even an exciting game won’t prevent it if you’re not prepared.”
Blimey – I thought I was going to Shrewsbury, not Siberia. But I gathered-up Baltic – my lead Husky – and the rest of the pack nevertheless and set off the seven miles south to Lancaster. And went to Shrewsbury from there on the train.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? But as things turned-out, it was far from it…
The night before, I had a strange dream. I’d looked at Google Maps before I went to bed and noticed that Shrewsbury General Hospital is near the New Meadow. In this dream, I approached a reflective-jacket clad Steward and asked: “Shropshire Lad?”
He looked blank. “A.E. Housman” I added helpfully.
He looked even blanker until a light bulb came on in his head.
“You’ve come to the wrong place matey!” he said. Pointing towards the hospital, he added: “There’s lots of housemen and all sorts of other medical staff in the Accident & Emergency there!”
But what do we really know about Shrewsbury Town in the real world? We know that Morecambe’s Academy coach, the peerless Stewart Drummond, once played for them. Here he is pictured in a Morecambe shirt on the front cover of today’s Match Programme:
There was also a large feature about Stewart: they love him there. We also know, conversely, that they hate Morecambe Manager Jim Bentley. Why? Because he had the temerity to play for nearby Telford not too many moons ago. It is common knowledge that their old stadium will forever be – for a certain generation – Julian and Sandy’s favourite football ground. Yes, at Gay Meadow, the club actually employed the legendary and now late coracle maker Fred Davies to use one of his craft to retrieve wayward footballs from the adjacent river.
I think they missed a trick here. Forget about the half time so-called ‘entertainment’ favoured elsewhere. (Lottery ticket draw with Mr Personality Peter McGuigan at Morecambe. Hit the crossbar with a free kick from the penalty spot at Bradford. Pelt the Carnivore with rotten but organic fruit & veg at Forest Green. String-up the Monkey at Hartlepool – and countless other quaint folkart traditions elsewhere. ..) At Gay Meadow, you could have put a ball on the centre spot at half time and challenged people to DELIBERATELY boot the ball into the river. Have a panel of celebs to judge it. I can just see ex-Strictly Come Dancing Supremo Len Goodman both voting and educating us about the river at the same time – wait for it – “SEVERN!”
Anyway, with the River Severn firmly focused on my mind along with the club’s dire warnings about hypothermia, myself, Baltic and the rest of the Huskies arrived in Lancaster in due course. I tethered them up somewhere in town. At the station, I was then able to persuade a machine to disgorge the tickets I needed to travel to Shrewsbury via the 0956 Virgin service to Crewe. According to these, I would arrive there at 1137 on the dot. So far, so good: everything had worked precisely as it should.
Suddenly though, the omens were not quite so promising.
“Virgin Trains would like to apologise for the late running of the 0955 service to Glasgow Central.”
By `one hour and thirteen minutes’ precisely apparently. Oh dear – not a good start. But the southbound train I was waiting for arrived only a few minutes late. I got on and off we went towards the first stop on the way to Crewe: Preston, about twenty-five miles away.
Difficult though you may find this to believe dear reader, I have reason to believe that some of my fellow passengers on the supposed Glasgow Central to London Euston service had already been partaking of alcoholic beverages. And even though it was relatively early in the day, I suspect one or two of these people had already consumed more than a single helping – or even a double or more – of the said refreshments on offer…
The train stopped at Preston as scheduled. But not Crewe because there weren’t any. That is to say, the replacement crew due to pilot the train southwards from this point had not showed-up. What I’m sure her bosses would describe as the `train manager’ then spoke to us over the public address system in a lovely Scottish brogue. She explained that she had only just discovered this upon arriving at the station. She sounded genuinely distraught and I share her pain in a situation not of her making. (Several of her countrymen were less sympathetic though. They disbelieved her explanation. One old fellow near me suggested that the cancellation was actually due to `special wee leaves’ on the line. Another said it was probably due to lots of another sort of wee on the overhead ones, although he phrased this slightly differently…)
But every cloud has a silver lining. And mine was called Michael. He asked me if I was going to Shrewsbury (clues given away by my Shrimps hat, Morecambe shirt and scarf, Dr Watson) and he became my pal for the day. And probably longer. Michael used to work in the railway industry and had a special app on his phone which told him precisely what every train in Britain was doing (or not doing to be more accurate) at any particular moment in time. (Which, I have absolutely no doubt, is more than the managers of this alleged service on the Virgin Islands or wherever they actually exist could tell you at any given moment…)
We had to wait for an hour for the next connection as the station arrival boards played musical trains with the platforms. The service was due to arrive at Platform Four one minute, Platform Six a few moments later only to revert to Platform Four before the sardine can on wheels actually arrived at Platform Five.
Despite the crush, we were able to get seats again. (This due to the next train manager’s presumably unilateral decision to `declassify’ all spaces on the train. This allowed people to invade the First Class clientele’s airspace at no extra charge. He also promised full refunds to the toffs among us who would thus be faced with the considerable indignity of having to endure the proximity of The Great Unwashed for a few moments of their very important lives.)
At Crewe, when we finally got there, there was another delay. So – as we drank tea and I consumed a local Cheshire delicacy – um pastel de nata – Michael consulted various Morecambe-supporting train drivers he knew as other football fans (Crystal Palace and Everton for example) milled about. Despite the chaos which was apparent everywhere, there was a good humour among the people affected by it. I’ve no doubt – as the old saying `Lions Led By Donkeys’ entered my head, that the railway staff were genuinely doing their best to retrieve what for them must have seemed at the time to be a totally hopeless situation.
The next train – to deepest, darkest Wales – was not run by Virgin. Which is probably why it was on time. It took us to Shrewsbury in no time at all where we emerged from the station right on schedule for a proper cloudburst which even I can’t blame on Virgin.
(Shrewsbury’s even more impressive station).
What I saw of the town, which I’m not familiar with, struck me as pretty impressive with some very striking architecture. But there wasn’t time to admire it, which I’d hope to do before setting off this morning. Instead, we trudged through the wetness to the nearby Bus Station to catch an elderly double-decker which I wanted to take a photo of but was deterred by the torrents falling from the leaden skies above. This bus had the words Mae’n ddrwg gennym nad ydynt mewn gwasanaeth brightly lit on its front. (This may not be accurate: I’ve got this translation from Dai Google. Thanks to him, I also know that a bi-lingual sign in Swansea which should read `No entry for Heavy Goods Vehicles, Residential site only’ actually says in Welsh: “I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated.”. If it’s similarly wrong then I apologise to any Welsh readers we might have: I just hope it’s not offensive in any way.) What does it mean? Well – I know what it’s supposed to mean and we shall return to it in due course…) We paid our £3.80 return to get to the football ground and, having pointed another visitor who I recognised as a Steward from the Globe Arena at home onto it as well, set off.
We arrived over an hour before the match was due to start. The luxury team coach from Lancashire had already arrived:
As had other luxury transport for fellow Shrimps supporters:
We bought tickets from nearby:
(It was Cash Only throughout the ground, surprisingly enough…)
Then we headed towards where the only place seemingly available for the weary traveller to refresh themselves was situated – the beer tent.
But we paused on the way to admire this: was it another omen? (Answers on the back of a Druid please to Forest Green Rovers…)
However, unlike my experience at Forest Green, the two tribes from Morecambe and Shrewsbury were allowed to mix freely here:
Against the background hubbub of Northern voices and those which might be extras from the Archers, we had a drink.Thinking back to my experience at FGR last month, I considered asking for an organic beer which was guaranteed to be free of all animal produce. But – fearing that references to certain very specific animal produce might be suggested in any reply I might get, I desisted. Instead, I bought two pints of the local cask ale. This turned-out to be Woods beer, poured direct from the cask which I assumed had been shaken-up before being shoved onto the bar a few minutes earlier, not allowed to settle and dispensed as it was, sediment and all. It certainly tasted like it. I expected that in our honour and referring to Morecambe’s current plight perilously close to the bottom of the EFL, they might have even come up with a fancy name to attract away supporters to try this brew. Something like “Not Out of the Woods yet…” But they didn’t. The Match Day Programme told us, though, that this local brewery have also produced a special seasonal bottled ale called Yule Log (you know, as in: Yule Log from the Woods). Clever, innit? Actually, it isn’t and they haven’t: I’ve just made that bit up. And if the brewery suddenly start to make one with this slogan, they shall be hearing from my solicitors…) Their actual brew is called – with a truly startling lack of imagination – Shropshire Lad. Well, ten out of ten for originality (4.8% to be exact according to the label) there then.
Anyway – reverting to Forest Green Hippie mode again – I was more concerned (as a veggie myself) with Shropshire Lard when we went for refreshments within the stadium at half time:
( A Quorn pie and an organic Lapsang Souchon please…)
Given that the reality of being able to buy a Portuguese delicacy at a station buffet in the middle of Cheshire shows that anything is possible, I thought about chancing my luck here. But I suspect that if I’d actually asked for a Lapsang Souchon, they would have probably given me a meat pie: apparently there is a dog breed by this name as well as a strong black tea. Astute readers will notice an advert for a veggie roll or something on the back wall. I’d sooner eat my own mattress as they say: the food looked absolutely disgusting and the place had all the charisma and charm of an air raid shelter, right down to the toilets:
( Is there a metaphor here?)
The away supporters were all herded into seats directly behind the goal which Morecambe hero Barry Roche occupied during the first half. (And was extremely fortunate to still be occupying at the end of it.) Many of us made the obligatory loud noises in support of our team throughout the game and the Shews’ fans nearest to us – all standing-up in a seated area – responded in kind. When some of our lot suggested that the team they supported wasn’t very good –or words to that effect – they drowned us out with repeated chants of “We Are Staying Up; You are going Down!” which was done in such a way as to actually make me for one laugh.
(Our Lot. )
But the genuine banter which resulted in a long rendition of the Beatles’ `Twist and Shout’ – where they sang one line and the Shrimps’ following sang the next one – was the most memorable thing about the entire day. It was brilliant and I’m sure everybody in the ground loved it too. Good luck to Shrewsbury: I hope they win League One, even though their catering is absolutely appalling.
( Later: have the Stewards frozen?)
It was raining by the time we went back to the double-decker and returned to the station. We got talking to a Northampton exile who now lives in Wales and follows Newtown but had gone to the Morecambe match just because he likes football. His next plan is to visit a club in the Highland League who were currently losing 16-0 and had lost at home 1-12 or 1-9 or something last week. And after we’d trudged through another downpour (is there a raincloud permanently moored over Shrewsbury station?), we got talking to supporters of Chester FC. They had also gone to the game, presumably to watch old boy Kevin Ellison, who – very ironically – wasn’t even on the Shrimps’ bench today. We had the opportunity, too, to admire the following excursion which was apparently both on-time and not overcrowded. I suspect I know who was not responsible for it…
But back at Crewe again on another train with Welsh language notices and adverts for shops in Cardiff, we discovered that Virgin trains were still running late. So late, indeed, that we were able to catch a severely delayed one which got us back to Lancaster at about eight. This was three hours’ earlier than I had expected and it saved me, at least, a 50 minute coach ride between Preston and the county town. (This is a service I would not be at all surprised to find cancelled altogether, the way things went today.)
The Huskies – even, immensely sadly, Baltic – had expired of hypothermia by the time I went to collect them. Where is Doctor Kevin when you most need him? But fear not, they did not die in vain. I intend to sell their carcasses to the catering department at Shrewsbury to be converted into a tasty alternative to their Lapsang Souchon pies. (Slogan: Baltic – only a Sea (sorry, a `C’) short of a Balti. You might well groan but I suspect you would moan for a totally different reason if you actually ate one.) Oh – and to return to the Welsh language sign I saw on the bus at Shrewsbury Bus Station earlier, I humbly suggest that Virgin Trains should think about adopting it as their own new slogan.
It doesn’t mean Is Your Journey Really Necessary? or even Why Not Drive? – it’s Quicker! It actually means (I think):
“Sorry – Not In Service”…
But I digress again. To go back to where we started and extend the Shrewsbury theme a bit more, would the game I had watched earlier really take the biscuit? Or – to extend the analogy probably beyond breaking point – would it prove to be a cracker? My report follows…
Read Roger’s article on his trip to Forest Green Rovers here: