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A Day Out in Cheltenham

By: Chris Smith
Date: 10/08/2009

I GOT back from Cheltenham just over an hour ago and could say I’ve been well and truly reality checked. However, the funny thing is that the expectation had worn off as the week before the game wore on.

I think we’ll do a lot better than last year but couldn’t say where we’ll finish and I think today’s results have borne out that there are no easy games in this division.

I’m often away at the start of the season so made the decision to go when it looked unlikely I’d be sunning myself in the Med this week. I think that’s possibly why I’m not as revved up for it as I always used to be. I have been optimistic lately though. I knew we would be awful last year because of the way we ended 2007/8 and the obvious unfitness of the players in pre-season but how we did today was always going to be hard to call. One of my brothers lives in Newport so this was a nearby game for him and I decided to make a real day of it and arranged some discounted train tickets earlier in the week. If I ever get round to writing an away day preview, I’ll include tips on train travel as I halved the cost by changing at Derby on the way down and have got quite crafty about cheap travel over the years. Another factor in longer away journeys is managing diabetes and I struggled a few times last year when we had delays. Whilst I like the odd meat pie as my regular reader knows, I can’t really afford to live on football catering because I’ve turned up late because of traffic problems.

My journey started with a local chavcab into Donny where I got some snap before getting the Cross Country service to Derby. I have a travel pass that covers all of the People’s Republic, so only paid from Sheffield, and then had a 40 minute wait at the building site that is currently Derby station. It makes a change to travel alone these days and hint at the team you support without being killed here as Derby holds a few bad memories for near-kickings for me. I don’t tend to wear the strips nowadays but was wearing what I consider to be a natty blue "Donny Mariners-We p*** on your fish" polo shirt that I had made up in Malta. I’ve a few of these and they come with the St George’s Flag on the right sleeve. Tasteful.

There were quite a few Celtic fans on the move who I later found out were going to Man City. I’d also disembarked at Derby with a group of teenagers getting stuck into Becks, with the loser of the draw carrying a box of the stuff in a bin-bag. I’ve never quite understood drinking bottled beer as an ex-pint swiller myself and I went for strong high tension cider anyway so Becks was certainly below my radar but I wished them luck anyway. I never asked who they supported but they were going to a game. I could just sense it. I hardly travelled by train last season on the way to games, but it was good to be back on them today. A few decades ago, you might spend your time on a railway platform trying to look inconspicuous. Now, you can be a fascinated observer, trying to guess what team an unfamiliar strip represents or wonder where someone else is going to.

After 40 minutes of sitting in hot sunshine on the platform, the Nottingham to Cardiff train turned up and the last leg of the journey beckoned. The train was fairly empty, bar some fractious kids further down the carriage. I’ve come to think of my inability to use public transport without being tormented by bawling kids/chavs (they don’t have to make any noise, their presence is enough) or users of mobiles who seem to think they are doing us a favour by letting us hear their ringtone in its entirety, as a form of karma. After all, as a heavy drinking fan in the past, I’ve done my fair share of annoying and it must now be payback time. Actually, it wasn’t that bad, I just wanted a rant to make up for losing.

I did clock a couple of Scunny fans at the end of the carriage, Mark and Melanie, who travel to a lot of games from Nottingham. I didn’t say that they must form half of the contingent going to Cardiff. They are both wheelchair users and I took my hat off for the effort they make to get to games. After all, I remember mocking Cheltenham for the 57 or so they took to Grimsby one Friday night. But why mock the 57? There’s nothing wrong with their support. They might do more games than me. Mark and Melanie hope they do better this time round in the Championship whilst I was uncommitted about our prospects. I just didn’t know. It is a shame that they were meeting friends and going straight to the ground as they didn’t think it’d be a good idea being out and about in Cardiff itself. Whilst my trip back wasn’t going to be joyful, theirs was to be worse after a 4 0 caning. I ended up chatting to them until my train pulled into Cheltenham and hope they enjoyed what they could of the day. We’ve met fans on trains before who we would normally think of as bitter rivals. However, they are fellow fans at the end of the day, lest we forget.

Given Cheltenham is a salubrious place, the station looks a bit worn. I didn’t see any Town fans around which was hardly surprising given I hadn’t taken the normal train route and the virtual impossibility of long distance train travel from Grimsby at the moment. However, Tony was waiting and had printed off a map of the place and had assiduously marked off places of interest. We were looking for a hostelry that met three criteria:

  1. A beer garden as it was a nice day
  2. Real ale for Tony who is a connoisseur but thankfully not what I call real ale Nazi, you know the sort. If he ever gets a round, he spends that long expounding the qualities of every available brew that you start hallucinating with dehydration (or the DTs in my case)
  3. Good nosh.

The article continues in Part Two

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