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A Day Out in Cheltenham - Part 2
By: Chris Smith
WE came to the Beehive and found that we had a little gem on our hands. The landlord was showing a party of oriental schoolchildren around and explaining what a good English pub was about.
Fine, we thought, tapping our feet a little impatiently, but what about a drink? As it turns out, the pub didn’t open until 12 so we sat in the courtyard/ suntrap garden for ten minutes. It hadn’t escaped our attention that a local was nursing a large glass of wine on the bar and he probably felt uncomfortable about telling us that the place was shut. Having said that, he looked to be nursing the mother of all hangovers, which took me back a few years. He still looked rough when we left a few hours later. I realised he may have still been incapable of speech when we arrived. I noticed the bar did two different types of cider which bought back hazy memories. Wonder if he’d been on that?
The place was exceptionally quiet which meant we were served quickly and the food was spot on. If we play Cheltenham next year, we’ll come back here. Our very own GrimRob turned up as well, armed with a map and compass. We then slagged off everyone who posts on The Fishy for a good hour or so. Not really, but I had you going.
Armed with Rob’s navigational aids, we left for the ground and were struck by how quiet the place was. Had it not been for the glorious sunshine, we could have been forgiven for thinking the game had been called off. Between us, me reading the map upside down and Rob confirming with his compass that we were going northeast, we hit the main road 5 minutes or so from the ground and had the reassuring sight of Town fans going in the same direction. We’d heard a racket to our right which I’d assumed to be our fans in the Studely Arms but was told in the ground that Humberside Police had shut the place at 2. No-one knew why.
We’d walked past quite a few back street boozers on the way but apart from a muted "Red Army" in one, you’d never have guessed a game was on. I was pleased to see the manky old pub near the ground had closed since my last visit, presumably on environmental health grounds. It was just a matter now of getting a programme before going in. Having now read it, I have to say that I preferred Hemsworth’s issue on Wednesday with its "One for the boys" page which featured…a blackboard with naughty girl written on it a la Simpsons opening credits, and… a naughty girl! You’ll have to go and buy one.
I haven’t been here since they put a roof over the away end. I first came here in November 2002 to see Brentford play. The terracing where it existed was so shallow it was difficult to see what was going on. This prompted a very inebriated Bees fan to spend over 20 minutes tunelessly shouting " Non league scum off our streets" which we have adopted for the really cr*p grounds in this division. He even got a mention in the Bees’ next home programme; such was the volume and venom. Cheltenham won 1 0 in the last minute in that game but I saw us win 3 2 in January 2005. A local Oldham fan friend of mine went to this one and the 3 0 win for us next year which I missed. He even saw us at Cardiff. He likes singing "We are Town, we are Town", simple as that. He couldn’t make today’s game as he was watching the Latics. Both our games here have been Friday night affairs, so it hasn’t previously conflicted with watching his team. He likes our support and would have enjoyed today’s.
It was nice to see the away end almost packed and a carnival atmosphere. I spent the fifteen minutes before kick off saying hello to friends and acquaintances and bumped into our Austrian contingent. A few "Who are ya?" s were exchanged as the end filled up even more and mates passed by.
This is what I like about away games. The results are nearly always worse but there is something in that extra shared experience of traipsing all over the bloody country watching your team. I wish I hadn’t written that last bit. I’ll have to keep going now.
The support was deafening as Town came out to the new season. As for the game, Rob has already written a report on it, but the first half did remind me a bit of Darlington away in the first game of the 2004/5 season. We absolutely battered the home team and it was looking like we weren’t going to the breakthrough until a brilliantly worked goal led to Baz scoring right in front of us. Cue going berserk in the front of the stand. Then cue "where the bloody hell are my shades?" An occupational hazard of wearing glasses is they tend to get knocked off during frenzied goal celebrations. The clumsy two-eyed tw*t who knocked them off also nearly managed to knock my considerable hooter off my face as well. I actually know the lad, bless him, and am biding my time until he gets short-sighted so I can return the favour! Thankfully, they were unbroken and I could continue bouncing up and down, something I’m not in the slightest bit self-conscious about despite being only three years away from a Saga brochure.
It was a shame we didn’t go in further ahead at half-time as I think we deserved it, but spirits were high. When we heard the home fans trying to make a noise, we’d made an inference that they were Welsh and therefore incomprehensible. This bought a rebuke from a steward. She was Welsh and didn’t want to be associated with the local yokels! Incidentally, from what I saw, the stewards were fine about our fans’ high spirits which is always good to see. When some fans were getting out of their seats and remonstrating, there was none of that heavy-handed nonsense from them to our side of the goal.
Unfortunately, Town came out for the second half looking like a different team and that is fatal when you are playing a team managed by Martin Allen, who I have a lot of time for. Whilst he took Cheltenham down last year, he had very little in the way of resources. He has been quoted in the papers as saying that Cheltenham surviving this year would be a good result but I’m not sure how much of that was kidology. Brentford stayed up at our expense in 2004 because they made an inspired managerial appointment and we got Nicky L*w. He then took the Bees to two consecutive play-off campaigns despite his best players being sold. Any team he manages will not be short on effort and so it proved to be.
Town did very little in the second half, and the equaliser was no surprise. Things could have been even worse had it not been for some N*weyesque finishing from their number 11 who seemed determined to take out as many away fans as he could. Call me a pessimist, but I prefer realist and I thought from this point that we would lose and a second goal inevitably came. As Rob pointed out after the game, we are particularly nervous fans given the experience of the last few seasons. I think the players pick up on this as well. I couldn’t rustle up the enthusiasm in the second half and nor could most of us. It was all too disappointing.
Positives? We scored. If we could have kept up that first half performance and got that extra goal, we’d no doubt have been celebrating a win. It looks as though a good run of form would see plenty of support behind the team. Negatives? I think we really need to get that first win chalked up as the confidence from that will be invaluable. That’s confidence for the fans as well.
As we were walking to Gary’s motor (he offered me a lift back, bless), a couple of locals commented on the size of the policing operation. At first I unkindly stated they were hardly likely to get such a reception given their travelling support to Grimsby, but then said our fans seemed to be policed as if it was still the 1980s. It must cost everyone a fortune.
The only gripe I had about Cheltenham itself was the cost of admission. £20 is far too much at this level. However, the ground was welcoming, the stewards friendly and the fans seem okay as well.
I continued to whinge about the cost of away days to Gary for a lot of the journey back. As usual though, once we have put a certain number of miles between us and the ground, that infernal optimism creeps back. Arrangements are then made for the next game, some coarse exchanges are made and we’re suddenly home. Then, I remember that it is always about trying to enjoy a day out with friends and that a win has always been a bonus and not a prerequisite for a good laugh. I’m still optimistic that we’ll be okay. That annoying Bradford fan who invades our forum will be having a worse Saturday than me, that’s for sure. And the other 15,000 City fans (yawn) who went to Notts County.
Lets see if we can get some revenge at Tranmere!
Chris is a regular contributor to the Grimsby Town Supporters Trust web site
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