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Over Land and Sea

By: Chris Smith
Date: 02/12/2009

IN desperate times such as this, it’s heart-warming to report on an irrepressible band of Town fans that will be making a 1700km trip each way to the Dagenham game this Saturday. This group of lads, who also pledge allegiance to FK Austria Vienna, first made their presence felt at Barnet in late 2007 when Town were on a long winless streak.

It was a good game for them to choose. Barnet may not be the smartest ground but it does have good acoustics. I saw Brentford there in the JPT forerunner and it was hard to believe there had only been 1100 in the ground given the atmosphere. When Town played there, the first thing guaranteed was a loud enthusiastic support. I'd come down for the game knowing I'd meet the London Mariners, a group of hard drinking Town fans the like of which will never be seen again among exiles. When Giles said he was up for a "shing shong", I thought yeah why not? (Whilst saying a quick prayer for my voice for the next week or so)

Rich, also an ex-London Mariner and now an unfortunate resident just to the west of the mud rats had happily persuaded his Austrian mates to come over for a weekend of Bacchanalian excess and take in a Town game. It all came together nicely.

Whilst not wishing to disparage the impressive efforts of the rest of Town’s travelling support, we were happily bashing out a few of our old numbers. We pinched the G-T-F-C add on to whoever it is’ Black and White Army from Villa fans at a League Cup game at BP in 1991 and are glad it caught on. As we belted this out in one of the moments that we joined in with everyone else, you could tell that it had caught the imagination of our guests. It still does. One of their number, Lucky, is probably the loudest of anyone at a Town game when it comes to this. If you hear a lone voice trying to start this on Saturday from the Upper Findus, you'll know who it is. Not that he'll be on his own for long as his enthusiasm is infectious.

As the game progressed and Town went on to win three nil, the support got louder. Lucky tells me that he and his mates were "really impressed" with the Town fans’ chanting and the volume, given that "they know they will never win a trophy". Don't take that the wrong way; it is just acknowledging our loyalty to a small team by Premier League standards. The London Branch which I proudly called myself a member of for the afternoon, sang "F*** off to Peterborough" to the "You're grounds too big for you" at Tom N*w*y in response to a transfer rumour and "It’s nice to know you're here now sing up!" to the regulars on our left when they got going again after a rare moment of quiet. Heady stuff indeed and probably the best away atmosphere combined with a good result I can remember for years.

Of course, it would have been rude, in these days when social inclusion is a buzz phrase, not to include Lucky and co in the festivities. When they responded to our tentative chant of "We hear you don't like the Germans" we thought we would be professional Englishmen and trump it with "We hate Germans more than you". We left the ground singing "London Branch we are here" despite several of us living in Grimsby or Yorkshire nowadays. It was homage to happier times and just for a day, I was back in the 1990s when we entered most grounds, even in London, singing "We never make the kick off!" as a badge of dishonour.

Our new Austrian friends obviously enjoyed it as they have been coming back since despite having only the Barnet win to crow about. And I think they have the same elastic approach to kick off.

I like to think I played a very small part in these lads becoming part of our fans’ heritage. Last decade, I bought a book called "Stamping Grounds" which was written by Charlie Connolly and it was about the games he went to concerning Liechtenstein’s futile attempts to qualify for European and World Championships. The book is quirky and caught the imagination of the London Mariners, around who the book was passed around, never to return to my bookshelf I hasten to add.

As Liechtenstein is such a small country, the author got to know a fair number of the inhabitants. One of our number, Gary B, decided he was going over to visit on the strength of the writing and has since spent some happy times over there. Giles, Gary B, Rich and Rob Moss see virtually every England away game and given some happy time spent in Liechtenstein by some of the number, were determined not to miss the game when we were drawn in the same qualifying group. This is how our Austrian friends came to meet Rich who was over there at the time and on a ticket hunt. A friend from their village, Hannes, had tickets he was prepared to pass on at face value despite the extortionate black market price. The only condition was that he came to Austria with him to visit his village, Illmitz. Not bad you might think, given the border is only a few miles away. However, they live at the old Iron Curtain end of Austria, 60 miles from Vienna. It’s described as a bit like Brigg, with four times as many bars and twice as much trouble.

The article continues in Part 2

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