In August 2010 three Maidenhead United fans were banned from attending home games, by a kangaroo court, for crimes they didn't commit.
These men promptly encountered a jobsworth security blockade, and so escaped to the non-league underground.
Today, still stigmatised by the MUFC Ltd hierarchy, they survive as supporters of fancy.
If you enjoy a train away day - and if you can find them - then maybe you can share a drink with ... the K-team!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Away Day Diary: Truro City 1-2 Maidenhead United (03/09/11)

TRU ROMANCE


When the Blue Sq Bet South fixtures for the 2011/12 season were announced, in early July, the KSG - not unlike most other fans in the division, I'm sure - only had eyes for one game.

Truro City. Away.

Fancy Dress away day (i.e. the last away game of the season) was preferred, but would surely prove too much to hope for. Instead, sometime early season - when the weather should be OK - would, I reckoned, be a more than acceptable alternative.

As such, Saturday 3rd September - one week before my 30th birthday - was met with some excitement. Stopovers at both Newquay and Penzance were considered but quickly dismissed and, after Macleod (C) had confirmed he would be journeying over from Ireland for the weekend, four tickets on the Friday night/Saturday morning sleeper train from Reading were booked within days of the fixtures coming out. The prices initially quoted seemed very reasonable and it was only at the very end of the online booking process that it became apparent they were for reclining seats, rather than bunks. It was later to transpire that the seats didn't even recline ... and that 'sleeper' was certainly NOT an accurate description!

Like all of my travelling companions (the aforementioned Macleods plus Steve H), it was to be my first MUFC Ltd game of the season. I was rather looking forward to it ... right up until the Bank Holiday weekend beforehand. Then, after a really busy week at work and following the onset of a heavy cold, the last thing I wanted to do come Friday evening was leave home, full stop, let alone on a train journey to Cornwall ... returning 24 hours later!

I won't lie, it was a real struggle to drag myself off the sofa and down into town. I was late arriving for drinks in the Anchor; England (wearing their horrendous new blue away kit) were already 2-0 up against Bulgaria in Sofia, as I walked through the door, and would add a third shortly after.

Macleod (C) was back on the Anchor jukebox (0408, 8815 etc.) and rounds were shared with the non-travelling Scouse Mick, McKendrick and others including - in a brief sojourn to an increasingly-in-need-of-a-refurb Bell - Macleod (M)'s mother-in-law (on her first ever night out in Maidenhead!) and her niece (who kept disappearing for a cigarette with a certain someone!), before it was time to stock up on Guinness and black, en route to the station to catch the midnight train to Reading and then the 00:37 sleeper to Truro.



I think all of us were expecting the sleeper to be more or less empty - rather like the late(ish) trains that we have gotten back from places like Worcester in the past - which would allow us to chat and drink and, in due course, stretch out and sleep. We were in for a nasty shock. Every seat was taken - including our reserved ones; we had to turf people out - and, despite not being particularly noisy at all, we were being loudly shushed before we had even sat down!

Now, Macleod (M) is a master at falling asleep on trains anyway but, with an exhausting early morning work flight to the Dominican Republic booked for the Sunday, he had come fully prepared and quickly donned his eye mask. Macleod (C) and I, however, were getting a taste for the drink and so had to stumble through the darkness - and then prop up the bar at the buffet car - to chat and slurp on our cans of G.

The less than enthralling conversation with the rather attractive older lady serving - albeit intermittently and certainly not us - behind the bar went something like this:

MILF: You can't stand there.
KSG: Why not?
MILF: You just can't.
KSG: We're just talking. Why is it dark in here?
MILF: This isn't a normal train.
KSG: Everyone's asleep.
MILF: That's because it's a sleeper.

Eventually we returned to our seats and, with jackets over our heads to drown out the cacophonous snoring (and perhaps shield us from the rather disconcerting reality that we were sat in the dark, on an uncomfortably packed and slow running train, with a load of strangers), just about managed to get some disturbed sleep between stops of various lengths at stations such as Exeter St Davids.

Unsurprisingly - and despite foggy heads and bleary eyes - we were delighted when daylight broke to reveal the towering Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was just before 7am and our arrival was greeted by Bobby P, waving frantically from the window of his B&B opposite the station; he had woken especially! Rainey and Bob had arrived the previous day in time to watch the England game in Bunters Bar alongside a load of Truro City fans who, the latter explained, were keen to meet us later for a few beers. He directed us into town before - sensibly - heading back to bed.



It was overcast, damp and deathly quiet as we sauntered downhill - passing some absurdly named shops (see photo, below) - on the hunt for a greasy spoon. After a decent fry-up and teas/coffees at a cafe on Kenwyn Street, we wondered lazily through the prettier-than-expected streets towards the aforementioned cathedral, where we rested on benches outside the entrance (scaring some of the early morning shoppers, who probably thought us tramps and/or junkies). It transpires that the local Wetherspoons - the Try Dowr; located on Lemon Quay and complete with the usual array of red noses, tattooed cleavages and shopmobility scooters on display - had been open since our arrival in town, but it wasn't until after 9am that we entered, ordered fruit juice (i.e. Kopparberg, various flavours) and found a table next to plug sockets which enabled us to re-charge phone batteries (particularly useful for photographing an OAP who had a hair-do to rival an 80s heyday Tina Turner).



Phones now fully operational and KopparBURN kicking in; time to find another pub. Walking back towards the station we stopped at the Wig & Pen which, thanks to it's large sandpit out front, had caught our attention on the way down. The others got stuck into the local cider while I, rather lamentably, had a couple of shandies. This pub is highly recommended; the decreasing amount of available tables as lunchtime approached testament to it's understandable popularity.

Light rain was falling as we made it back to the station, where we met again with Bobby P. He introduced us to Brian Thomson - Truro Independent Supporters Association Chairman - who had been one of his drinking buddies, in Bunters, the night before. Brian, it transpired, had recently been banned by Truro City FC following the fall out of 'derogatory and offensive chants' directed at the TCFC Chairman, Kevin Heaney, during the game with Dorchester Town the previous weekend. TISA were holding an Open Meeting to discuss this - and TCFC's subsequent banning of all red and black colours* at their ground - as Brian was kindly signing us in, as visitors, to their bar (the delightfully Anchor-esque Truro Railway Social Club).

*TCFC used to play in red and black before Heaney, I think, changed the colours to white, black and gold; what is it about Chairmen changing team colours?? TISA's logo and merchandise, incidentally, remain red and black.


The following couple of rounds/hours, chatting with Brian and the other TISA members once their meeting had finished, was probably the most interesting and enjoyable part of the trip for me. Who'd have thought that we'd get on so well with independently-minded, beer-loving, long-standing supporters who feel mistreated by a moneybags owner and his seemingly spineless, sycophantic Board of Directors?? Some TISA members had decided, in support of Brian, not to attend the game. Most were going, but had vowed not to chant/sing in protest. That seemed a little odd to me - the club had objected to chants and so, in protest, they weren't going to chant?? - but I suppose it is no different to us, last season, protesting at our bans by deciding against returning to York Road, once they had been lifted.

TBH, the old skool surroundings, pleasant company and steady stream of Guinness and black - not to mention creeping tiredness - meant that I was inclined to join those who weren't going to the game but, eventually, we began a rather forlorn trek up an ever-steeper hill - past a huge Sainsbury's and possibly the ugliest Council buildings in the country - to the entrance of TCFC's Treyew Road ground. Here we posed (like many groups of travelling away fans have done/will do, I'm sure) for a photo with the cathedral - which, several hours previously, we had rested outside - in the background and commented on the disproportionate police presence (thanks, in part, to an ultimately-unfounded internet rumour that some Plymouth Argyle fans - angry at Heaney's proposed takeover of their club ... or angry at how long his proposed takeover is taking? - were going to try and get the game abandoned).


Then, after paying our money and passing through the turnstiles, we were left stunned. Not by MUFC Ltd's horrid yellow and blue away kit (we had prepared ourselves for that stomach-churner) but by the ground itself. I have said in the past that York Road is the worst ground in the league. Well, it's not. Treyew Road is. It must be. I have moaned in the past about MUFC Ltd spending money on the playing surface and the likes of Ipswich-based Ashley Nicholls (Ipswich to Maidenhead? Approximately 100 miles), rather than on improving York Road's decrepit facilities. But I'd probably slit my wrists if I were a Truro fan; their playing surface is superb (like a carpet), Barry Hayles is apparently based in London (London to Truro? Approximately 300 miles) while at least the facilities at York Road include covered terracing behind both goals. Two temporary stands (one uncovered, the other behind one of the goals), a small stand and covered bit of concrete (à la Eastleigh) - plus copious overgrown weeds and lack of proper fencing - left us distinctly underwhelmed (to put it mildly).




The shockingly poor ground (you got the impression that little or no money had been spent on it, as it is earmarked to be sold with the football club moving to a new stadium; sound familiar??), the lack of noise from the rather sparse crowd (obviously not helped by TISA's protests - both silent and stay away), the increasingly wet weather and our lack of sleep, meant that we were rather unenthusiastic as we settled down - soon to be joined, among a smattering of TCFC fans, by Les and Logic - in the covered temporary seating behind the goal that MUFC Ltd were attacking.




Fortunately for us, the first half was rather sleep-inducing; two evenly-matched sides creating little in the way of scoring chances. Maidenhead were neat and tidy throughout, however, and some decent passing football involving Will Hendry, Bobby Behzadi and Manny Williams led to Martel Powell opening the scoring with a tame, mishit centre that home keeper Tim Sandercombe virtually threw into his own net, just minutes after we had finished our half-time burgers (home-made, apparently, but expensive and ultimately disappointing).

Williams looked particularly sharp and Maidenhead had chances thereafter to double their lead: Daniel Brown having a volley deflected over, Alex Wall connecting (painfully) with the post, rather than the ball, following a low cross and Williams himself going close. As the game wore on, though, the home side began to dominate possession, as Maidenhead seemingly tired. This perhaps wasn't surprising, bearing in mind that Johnson Hippolyte had decided to take his side down on the morning of the game (we had arrived in Truro before the team coach had even left!), rather than journey down the night before*

*Players unable to get time off work was trotted out as an excuse, but the bottom line was that the players and management wanted to stay the Saturday, rather than the Friday, so they could have a 'team bonding' night on the booze on the Cornish Riviera. Drax would comment in the Advertiser the following Thursday that the result had justified this decision. That's a bit like going on holiday without any travel insurance and then saying, after returning home without any accidents or illness, that you were right not to get any in the first place.

Truro equalised through Bristol Rovers great Barry Hayles, but then proceeded to huff and puff; Maidenhead keeper Billy Lumley not having a save to make (largely thanks to the Truro captain putting a diving header wide, when it seemed easier to score). As Macleod (C) and I sat in the rain, in the uncovered temporary stand - and Macleod (M) confronted Mark Steward (and laboured the point??) about the made up accusations contained in last August's infamous letter (which Rasher now claims he signed, but didn't write ... which is another lie in itself) - the game appeared to be petering out to a draw.

Instead, a Truro corner was half cleared, Daniel Brown won a tackle, and another lightning fast Maidenead counter-attack was on. The ball swiftly found it's way to the left wing and a player with convictions for animal cruelty and affray. It was obvious that Anthony Thomas was going to cut in onto his heavily favoured right foot but, instead of shepherding him towards the touchline, the defender did the opposite and, when Thomas curled a shot towards goal, Sandcombe again exhibited spaghetti arms; 'possibly unsighted' the unnecessarily polite way his second howler of the game was reported elsewhere.

2-1 to Maidenhead; little or time left.

The delighted yelps of the players, celebrating right in front of Macleod (C) and I, were clearly audible throughout the ground. I'm sure that the 25 (I counted) other Maidenhead fans were jumping for joy, but it's safe to say that there wasn't a deafening roar from the away support which, not unlike the last game I had attended (Thurrock away), had been noticeably quiet throughout.


Tiredness was really kicking in now and, jolted somewhat by our ambivalence towards what was clearly a winning goal, Macleod (C) and I rose from our seats and - quickly joined by Macleod (M) and Steve H - left the ground (slightly) prematurely. Not in anger, or disappointment, that Maidenhead were winning; as aforementioned, I always want Maidenhead to win. But it had been a funny afternoon. A cathartic afternoon. A watershed moment, perhaps? Again, I'm gonna throw tiredness out there; I really was quite grouchy at this stage. If we were staying over - and there was a night on the town to look forward to - then perhaps I wouldn't have been so bad, but the prospect of another five hour train journey certainly didn't appeal at this point.

That said, I had been surprised - I think we had all been surprised - by how disinterested in the game we were; how little we were bothered that Maidenhead were going to win. I think there was a moment, sitting in the rain in the uncovered temporary seating during the second half, watching players I don't know/can't relate to, wearing a stupid kit that I abhor, in the vicinity of other supporters who I don't much like, hundreds of miles away from home, when I wondered what I was doing there. Really wondered what I was doing there, not jokingly or even half-jokingly wondered what I was doing there. Not for the first time of late, I found myself longing for the clichéd good ol' days of yore. The days when Maidenhead @ Truro would've seen decidedly more than 25 or so people make the long journey, with the vast majority standing as one, chanting until their throats were sore and celebrating like certifiable maniacs if/when a late winner had gone in ...

After another quick drink with Brian and the TISA mob back in the Railway Club, this time with added Les and Logic, we boarded the return train to Maidenhead not long after 6pm. Thanks to the noddiness of the Blue Sq Bet South fixture abacus, we were due to play Truro at home only a few weeks later ... on a Tuesday night! Brian and his TISA cohorts were planning on making the long journey and asked if they would see us there. As it happens, I would be in Santorini on holiday, jet-setter Macleod (M) in the Netherlands with work, and Macleod (C) back in Ireland. So we all had genuine excuses. The truth is, I don't think any of us would've gone even if we were available, not even out of respect for TISA's hospitality. They are top lads, though, and I wish them all the very best.

The train ride back was actually the second most enjoyable part of the trip for me, after the pre-match drinks with TISA in the Railway Club. A handful of MUFC Ltd officials, coaching staff and players were on the same train, but they unsurprisingly ignored us. Instead we admired the view from the Royal Albert Bridge, drunk the train dry of Guinness, played another marathon game of Goldie Lookin Chain (with added MUFC Ltd) Top Trumps, caught up with some sleep (some of us, at least!) and debated all things MUFC Ltd (yawn!)




Les (who was to travel all the way from Erith to Truro, and back, in a day!) and Logic both remarked that they were finding following the football club less and less enjoyable. The latter also commented that he had conscientiously stayed away from York Road, over the summer, for the first time in years. I openly theorised that perhaps the incident on the opening day of last season had merely speeded up a process of disenchantment for the 'Ebbsfleet 3' and that others will get to the same stage in due course ... 


I remember a conversation I had with Peter Griffin, then newly involved with the club, in Stripes after relegation from the Conference South had been more or less confirmed following a 4-2 home defeat by Weston-super-Mare in April 2006 (Neville Roach and Chico Ramos had both made their debuts, I seem to recall). Trying to sound upbeat and looking to the future, he'd commented:

"We are going to attract lots of new fans next season"

"Forget about the new fans, just make sure you look after the current ones!" was my response.

Haha!

Average attendances are up (of course they're gonna be up; we're playing in a higher division, with bigger teams bringing larger away followings) and MUSA efforts to publicise games are to be applauded. As are the Family Fun Day initiatives. That said, Weston-super-Mare at home was an ill-advised choice of fixture this season and 375 a poor return for the efforts put in (particularly when compared to the 1,332 crowd Sutton United got for their recent Community Fun Day, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police). Furthermore - and perhaps more pertinently - when I was first taken to York Road as a toddler by my Grandad, it wasn't face painting, bouncy castles and/or performing X-Factor rejects that first enticed me, or kept me coming back. And I'm sure the same is true for countless other regulars, including the 40 or so kids that were (note the use of past tense there) a constant fixture at home games a season or two ago. 

People move on, new supporters replace them. I get that. But I think MUFC Ltd have lost/are losing too many supporters; those who would turn up week after week (regardless of whether it's discounted entry or a Family Fun Day) and travel away to (and make plenty of noise at) places like Truro. The discounted entry and Family Fun Day games do, I'm sure, raise the profile of the club - and maybe some of those encouraged along will return (especially if we were to ever perform well and win one of these games!) - but I sometimes wonder whether we don't recognise (or don't really want to recognise) our target audience.

Would a disillusioned and/or exiled Rangers fan from Ayrshire, Partick Thistle fan from Glasgow, Everton fan from Liverpool, Aston Villa fan from Birmingham or QPR fan from West London - and Maidenhead is a commuter town, so there are plenty of these exiles about - who happened to venture down to York Road after seeing coverage of a Family Fun Day in the paper, for example, be encouraged to return and become a regular, die hard supporter (not spectator)? As things currently stand, I doubt it.

In summary, then, MUFC Ltd won despite (not because of) the selfish and unprofessional decision to travel down on the morning of the match (and stay the night after). The yellow and blue kit is horrible (in the sense that Maidenhead United should play in red, if they cannot play in black and white). On our day - when free of injuries and suspensions - we can beat anyone ... especially when opposition keepers are as hilariously inept as Tim Sandercombe! Sadly, an ever decreasing amount of people seem to care. Here's hoping that Weston-super-Mare away is more enjoyable. I'm not gonna hold my breath ...

Truro town centre? Better than expected.

Truro's ground? Absolutely sh!te.

Kevin Heaney? No smoke without fire.

TISA? Top lads.

Sleeper train? Never, EVER, again.


Further reading HERE

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