‘TT Groundhopping’ returns and Matty Hayward is back in charge, as he talks us through AFC Fylde (a):
Matty Hayward – @MattyHayward96
AFC FYLDE (A)
From Monday to Friday, even as a student, getting up is an arduous task. You lie on your bed – a soft cloud of comfort; covered by your duvet – a warm embrace from a grizzly bear; you rest your head in your pillow’s bosom, drifting in and out of consciousness, sometimes for hours, knowing that the world outside is cold, spiky, dangerous.
Saturdays are different, especially away day Saturdays. The bed becomes a trampoline: as soon as you lift your head you are expelled onto the floor. The world outside is rosy. The worst that can happen today is your football team lose and you’re hungover in the morning. The best is that they win, and you’re hungover the following afternoon.
So as the automated rooster on my phone’s alarm clucked its way into my bedroom last Saturday, my emotion was not of dread but of hope and excitement. I may have been the most excited anyone has ever been to be going on a two-and-a-half-hour Northern Rail journey to Kirkham and Wesham.
From Monday to Friday, we’d categorise that as a 150 minute trip with cramped leg room and limited plug-socket access. On Away Day Saturdays, that’s time for four cans, two ham and tomato bagels and a right good stare out the window.
Northern Rail gets a bad name, and a lot of that reputation is deserved, but I wouldn’t have been on my way to Fylde at all if it wasn’t for their “January Flash Sale” of tickets, making my lengthy round-trip cost an inviting 16 pounds. I must credit Luke Hunter for flagging that up to me, because he opened the door to a smashing away day.
This train journey was remarkably unremarkable. One of the beauties of away trips, especially on trains, is that you bump into fans on your journey who are traipsing up and down different parts of the country to you and sometimes you try to predict who you might intersect. I think one of the reasons why my journeys on Saturday were so unremarkable was that there was little potential for such occasion and I don’t think I shared a train with any fans on their way to games, which was naturally disappointing. The only interaction I had with any other supporters was hearing a group of Portsmouth fans singing “Play up Pompey” in Preston Railway station as I urinated next to a Charlton fan.
My only other thoughts from the journey were that Halifax looked as bleak as I remembered, Preston Railway Station felt as cold as it’s reputation suggests, and the most notable feature of Accrington was it’s reasonably large cinema. After changing at Preston, I pulled into Kirkham & Wesham at just after 1pm, absolutely desperate for a wee. The toilet on the train was out of order, and there were no facilities in the station. Pubs beckoned.
I managed to locate the Royal Oak, not far from the station, but I deemed it only suitable for a toilet stop. I was sure Wesham (seemingly the actual town in which AFC Fylde is situated) had more to offer. It didn’t really, and I found myself at the ground by 20 past 1.
I can say this for Mill Farm, it’s great if you like big clocks that don’t work, open ends, ALDIs, KFCs, buying a ticket in one place then having to scan that barcode in another using a temperamental bit of technology, hypothermia, children waving flags in the centre circle for five minutes before kick-off for absolutely no discernible reason, over-enthusiastic announcers, empty seats and a looming feeling of nostalgia for Danny Rowe. I imagine the ground also appeals to fans of erotic fiction, given the number of shades of grey on show.
In fairness to them, the ground is very clean and modern-looking. Their toilets put Plainmoor’s to shame and the overall feel of the club is broadly pleasant. The peak of their achievements is the Sports Bar underneath the main stand which is excellent and served me a nice cold pint of Fosters (sorry dad) for £3. There, I watched Leeds have three points stolen from them at Loftus Road (sorry dad) and Spurs’ limp performance against a resurgent Watford (sorry Grandad) on their impressive multi-screen set-up. I do worry how sustainable that business model would be if they returned to regional football which, by Saturday’s showing, looks relatively likely.
Don’t tell that to any of the staff there, though. When I bought my ticket from a woman who I’d describe as reluctantly pleasant, she informed me that they wouldn’t offer student or concession tickets until they were in the Football League. In my naturally witty style I responded, “good luck with that,” to which she said that they’d be promoted by 2022.
For the rest of my experience at Mill Farm (which is surely a made-up name, but is probably marginally better than the BET 24/7 365 ALL THE TIME ARENA or similar) I was bombarded with this number, 2022. Everything from their beer cups to the flags on the (quite) empty terrace had the number 2022 on. Even the team’s shirt sleeves were adorned with this number. It is an all-encompassing, almost cult-like obsession that has clearly been drilled into the football club from above. Apparently, this had already been pushed back from 2020 – I’m tentative to say another rethink (and remake of the cups) might be in order soon.
The game itself was excellent, as many of you will have either seen or read about on our site, dampened only by our ridiculous decision to wear a navy kit against a team in all white. Asa Hall doing Asa Hall things in the middle of the park, Kalvin on the way back to his best, Reidy clinical, Whits everywhere, etc.
After a nervy last ten minutes, the Sports Bar beckoned again. A swift pint with some of Yellows Twitter’s finest went down a treat, then it was time to trudge back through Wesham – via the Co-op for some diet-defying refreshments – to the railway station.
The train home was just as disappointingly uneventful – I was quite in the mood for some jubilant away fans or ebullient parties to leap on and be almost unbearably raucous – but no dice. The fifty-ish minute walk from York station to my house felt like fifty seconds, because the Gulls had won away for the first time since early November, I had the new Courteeners album in my ears, and I knew I had paracetamol in the drawer for the morning.
AWAY DAY RATING: 4.5/5