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The Naughty Nineties - Part 1

By: Chris Smith
Date: 24/09/2010 (Last updated: 06/10/2010)

AFTER two consecutive promotions, optimists would have hoped for a repeat of the early 1980s and a third promotion campaign. This would be far from the case, but Town would stay up with a bit to spare. With some cup highlights thrown in, this is another season that can be looked on fondly.

I'd been in my job (which I still miraculously hold) for about two years now, and thoughts of changing it were on hold despite my antipathy as I wanted to keep Saturdays free to watch a successful Town team. Perhaps I should have quit in 1991...

In the pre-internet/mobile phone days, it wasn't easy to keep up with what was happening on Humberside from London although I got a regular supply of Telewag cuttings from my mum each week. I was in suspense regarding the release of the league fixtures in June, hoping for an opening game befitting our higher status. First up was Cambridge, however, who had followed us through the divisions.

A reasonable crowd of 7,600 assembled, albeit half of the size of the last home game against Exeter in May. Games against Cambridge were notoriously dull but this was a 3 4 thriller. Town never led in this one but came from behind on several occasions only to concede a very late goal. Cambridge actually had a few fans there for a change and it was wrenching to see them celebrating as their team found their feet first at this level. My attendance at home games, not for the first time, would result in defeat.

We were able to make amends the following Saturday with an away game at the other half of the Oxbridge "elite". Having said that, the Manor Ground was a ramshackle dump and I never ceased to be amazed at how it had hosted top flight football in the 1980s. The area around the ground was a desert for thirsty fans so it was a case of drinking around the station before getting a bus for the three of four mile journey to the ground. This was a good away day for the London Mariners and many of us lived in the West London/Surrey/Buckinghamshire area. For a change, we weren't using Boots’ free rail ticket offers but using the Network South East railcards which got us to a surprisingly large area for low cost.

John McDermott and John Cockerill scored the goals that gave us a 2 1 win as we got soaked on the open terrace. In fact, we spent the half time interval stood in the cover in the dungeon like toilets to try and dry out. The acoustics were put to good effect as we sang "Drink, drink wherever you may be, we are the drunk and disorderly" to celebrate a particularly heavy lunchtime. I think my denim jacket has finally dried out after nigh on twenty years. I've also just realised that I've never seen us lose at Oxford...

A home draw to Tranmere was followed by two easy away games as far as travelling from London went. A good following of Town fans saw us lose 2 0 at Leicester with a few sharp words from our driver as we sang in the car as we crawled through traffic, forgetting that this wasn't the friendliest of cities. Whilst this game wasn't fruitful, the game at Bristol Rovers would prove the opposite and the trip was eagerly awaited. Drizzle Rovers were playing at Bath City’s ground at this time, and whilst the ground owners don't bring back happy memories, I've been there many times with Town and Brentford and haven't seen a defeat there either.

Paddington to Bath wasn't a long journey and we always seemed to get a cheap ticket that got us there for about opening time which meant we could dispense with any cultural and historical niceties and get stuck in. Mind you, when we drove, we always seemed to arrive at the same time... If the city hasn't changed, Bath is a good drinking town which obviously caters for its student population.

I can't remember how we arrived actually. We either drove this year or trained it the next or vice versa. After a session in the city, we'd toddle up to the ground where we would ask an obliging policeman for a pub he could recommend for away fans. Despite the obvious dishevelment, I've always found Bristol policing to be friendly and realistic. This seems to be lost on some forces. Avon Police would tell you that Bristol City fans police Rovers games and vice versa so they are naturally on the side of the away fans.

They were obviously happy with us as we won 3 2 and wished us a safe journey home. Those really were the days.

To be continued... TWO home games against Plymouth and Pompey came next and a haul of four points. However, all eyes were on a two legged tie against Aston Villa in the League Cup with Rotherham having been disposed of in the first round. This was a must for the London lads and we managed to get tickets for the Main Stand, the only time I have ever been there. The crowd almost tripled from the previous home match although there was a loud and noisy contingent of Villa fans, who were then managed by Ron Atkinson. Town were well placed in the table, having won at Sunderland a few days earlier, and a competitive game ended goalless. The atmosphere was enlivened by Villa fans congaing in the Osmond whilst chanting "Big Fat Ron’s Claarblue (claret and blue) army A-V-F-C!" This had been inspired by West Ham’s magnificent support at Villa Park in the FA Cup semi final the previous season as they were clattered by Forest. The A-V-F-C add on was a Villa innovation (well I suppose it would be, no-one else has those initials!). In current Facebook- speak, Chris likes this (raises thumb) and we decided it would become "Alan Buckley’s blaaaarmy G-T-F-C" and would also be reincarnated for John Cockerill in my favourite rendition. More of that in 1993/4. So now you know where the chant started and we didn't need a f****** drum to get us going.

After a home defeat by Ipswich, who we'd never beaten at this point, cup fever arrived again as Wolves were sent packing in a 1 0 defeat in the Zenith Data Systems Cup watched by 1,593, and no, I didn't bother to travel up from London for that one.

The Saturday game at Watford was to see the first of a series of unsuccessful attempts. Not to win there, even though we lost 2 0, but to get in through the home turnstiles and then feign innocence so that we didn't have to walk around the allotments. This is because we always stayed for that extra drink in what passed for Watford’s town centre. Alas, we were never to get the chance to appear wide eyed and get an escort to the away section as despite our London accents and lack of colours, those stewards just knew. This helped form the basis of our own chant of "We never make the kick off" despite often living a few miles from where we were playing. It’s a bit bemusing as I hate to miss the start of a game nowadays although it would reduce the misery.

Meanwhile, I was getting along to a few more Brentford games and had taken great delight in seeing H*ll City getting thrashed 4 1 at Griffin Park with the only disappointment being the 4 0 half time score not being added to. Incidentally, Buckley scored an own goal for the Bees’ tally.

A few days after the Watford game, Town played Villa in the second leg of the League Cup. Thousands of Town fans turned up and went berserk after Diddy Dave Gilbert scored a penalty. This was the signal for West Midlands Police to arrest fans for the heinous crime of simply being there. Whilst Villa equalised, Town held firm thereafter and we had knocked out a top flight side. For games around here, we used to stop off at the Clock (?) near the Birmingham International motorway turn off and I think we had a fair few there afterwards. For a change.

Two home games followed and we took a car up for the second game against Middlesbrough, who were then top of the table and would eventually finish runners up. A late pick up by Rob (for a change!) meant we didn't leave Watford, where we made another pick up, until midday. When Rob had arrived at Highbury corner, it was opening time and I had just resigned myself to a lunchtime session which meant I got into the car with mixed feelings.

One of the lads had a kidney infection so the journey was broken by numerous p*** stops, with me making a nuisance of myself as well as the cans I'd already drunk made their presence felt. Miraculously, we pulled up near the Imp in time for a few pints. With a 10,000 plus crowd, it was busier than it is now, something I reflected on before yesterday’s Fleetwood game. Neil Woods was the hero as the promotion rivals were beaten 1 0.

We stopped off at Leicester Fosse services where a West Ham fan coming back from Oldham looked incredulously at our Town shirts as we were obviously travelling towards London. Impressed at our loyalty, he introduced us to some of his fellow coach travellers who turned out to be Hammers fans who went to all the away games as they'd been barred from Upton Park following dawn raids many years before. I'm sure away travel was more interesting then and it was a talking point when we had a ritual couple of drinks in the Nag’s Head in Wilmington before staggering towards the tube and a long uncomfortable toilet-free journey home.

Our interest in the Zenith Data Systems Cup was ended at Tranmere which was followed by a defeat at Blackburn.

Our reward for beating Villa in the League Cup was a home tie against Spurs and we ran a minibus up from London. We were accompanied by Urgent the German, a Schalke 04 fan, and a Spurs supporting colleague of mine who subsequently wrote up the day out for their On the Shelf fanzine in which he expressed his bewilderment at Urgent’s presence.

We were in a Firkin pub in Archway when our lift arrived and took our unfinished drinks with us which meant a good watering of the M180 before we got to Grimsby where the London address on the bus meant we had to persuade the police that we were actually home fans as they sought to hold us up at Lock hill. As thirst set in and traffic backed up all the way from Cleethorpes, my knowledge of the rat runs through the town meant we managed to get in the Imp before the game, where we were thankfully recognised given our accents and who we were playing.

We were never really in the game although I thought decisions didn't go our way but 17,000 saw a 3 0 defeat. Our Spurs supporting guest enjoyed the day out and our company, giving us a generous write-up in their fanzine.

We visited the Rutland after the game but left it too late to get to an offy, so we were faced with having to buy some bottles from the pub but without the benefit of an opener. Thankfully, Rich managed to do the necessary to ensure that my alcohol level didn't fall too low. He told me many years later that he retreated as he thought I was so pathetically grateful he was concerned I might perform a sexual favour for him. I hope he’s exaggerating...

Continued in Part 3

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