Clive Hayward – @Byehorse
Clive talks about his day out in Wales
Do Carlsberg do away days? Probably not, but I can recommend Strongbow ones!
Saturday in North Wales really did have it all. A full house, friendly locals (some more than others) and a battling point for the Gulls.
“We’re on our way…”
It was an early start from Newton Abbot, in the company of my good friends The Tax Man and The Mechanic, along with several younger lads who brought the average age down and show great commitment to the ancient art of #drinkingontrains.
The first leg was Cross Country up to Birmingham, with the promise of a first pint in The Shakespeare, a regular haunt across the road from the handsomely redeveloped New Street shopping centre-cum railway station.
Disaster appeared to have struck when one of our younger members received a text message saying that his mate had left their match tickets at his Mum’s. Various contingency plans were hatched before it was revealed to have been a prank. There was a certain amount of unparliamentary language at that point.
From Birmingham we were treated to a scenic ride through Smethwick and Wolverhampton. No, hang on a minute…checks notes…ah, yes. The post-industrial grot of the Black Country gave way to the green loveliness of Shropshire, through towns that got smaller and names that got sillier as we went. Shrewsbury, Gobowen and Chirk slipped past before we rolled into Wrexham just after one o’clock.
Torquay here, Torquay there…”
I had a cheerful reunion with @MattyHayward96, who is up North loving being taught how to teach the youngsters of Cheshire. It’s time to make a confession. I still like Wetherspoons, and Wrexham has a decent example of the genre. But my opinion was in the minority, the place was heaving and like the good democrat I am, I joined in the search for an acceptable alternative.
Our initial choice was spectacularly unsuccessful. Slippy slate floors, no real ale and no cider on offer. Thanks but no thanks! We ended up at The Long Pull, which I believe is named either after a good cricket shot or a single man’s Sunday morning routine.
After a few minutes minding our own business in a quiet corner by the pool table we were approached by a couple of friendly local lads. They looked to be in their thirties, and obviously hadn’t just popped up as new Wrexham fans. They knew the league, loved their team and were buzzing about the impetus which Reynolds & McElhenney have brought to the club, the town and the region. They very kindly decided that they were going to buy all of us (high single figures) a shot. It would have been very rude to refuse, and the risk seemed very slight. It was a kind gesture and much appreciated, even though if I go the rest of my life without another dose of licquorice and alcohol I won’t feel I’ve missed out! I promise I tried really hard to refill their Guinness glasses, but they were determined to get to the ground to enjoy the pre-match party.
Before I write a little bit about the football, would you mind a quick digression about glasses? I have always worn them, but I’m referring here to the receptacles from which pubs serve cider. For the life of me, I cannot understand the design of a Strongbow glass. They are ridiculously tall and thin, like a Stephen Merchant of the beaker world. They feel all wrong. I don’t want to drink out of a tube. Please, publicans, decommission them and use them as vases instead!
We missed the Hollywood love-in, and arrived in time for the minute’s silence. Perhaps it’s just me, but it seemed a bit early to be honouring our war dead. I think clubs now feel as though they have to do it, and I will always participate, but it was October 30th. I doubt that the friends and families of those brave men & women would really feel too disrespected if they only happened in the week or so before Armistice Day and not every club did one every year. They’re not hard to find if you are a hardcore poppy enthusiast.
Once noise was allowed, there was plenty, all afternoon! Understandably the Wrexham fans were full of it, and they produced a crackling atmosphere. In the early minutes Torquay were very much lambs to the slaughter and we obeyed the script (get it? Holywood??) when we failed to clear a Ben Tozer hand grenade to send the Recreation Ground into raptures as Wrexham opened the scoring from close range.
Clearly it was going to be a long day, but there was a real togetherness amongst what we now call the Yellow Army. This was obviously true in the literal sense, because Wrexham had sensibly ensured that they sold as many tickets to home fans as Welsh Covid rules permitted and thus put us in a small part of the lower tier between penalty box and goal-line. There was also, though, a really good feeling that we needed to give the team the best support we could against overwhelming out-numberment. We shouted, we sang, we encouraged, and generally did the best we could to implore the black and white stripes to hang on in there.
Half time brought a meat & potato pie which delivered better taste and content than I had feared, and we got ready for another 45 minutes of “Zulu”-like resistance.
Wrexham fans remained boisterous and in between rousing renditions of Men of Harlech and Hymns and Arias (a Swansea song, surely?) they kept up a steady and deeply annoying chant of “Torquay get battered, everywhere they go”. I have to say, I dislike that song intensely. It’s probably because of the memories of Yeovil ramming it down our throats a couple of Christmases ago, when we followed up our 6-2 surrender by losing to 10 men a couple of days later. To use a common phrase nowadays, I think a lot of us are “triggered” by it.
Sometimes, though, you get as much or even more than you deserve from a game. As we know, this one had a happy ending. After defending pretty well and inching our way back into it we suddenly got in a great ball from the right hand side, and it looked as tbough we had numbers at the back post. It could only be The Lemon, couldn’t it? The Welsh Wizard has played like a drain most of this season but he got on the end of Chiori Johnson’s inviting cross in that time-honoured, home fan- baiting way of his.
Cue absolute limbs in the away section. Fingers were pointed, shirts were removed and “Torquay Get Battered” was sung right back into our tormentors’ faces. A few of them in the top tier didn’t take too kindly to this, and sad to say a few Torquay fans were struck by missiles. I copped some lukewarm coffee on my left love-handle but most of hit the bloke behind me (sorry Keith!!).
We had to see out another 10 minutes but it never felt that Wrexham had enough to come again, and the final whistle has seldom sounded so sweet.
You’ve had your fun, now **** off home…”
There are few better feelings than silencing a large, hostile crowd and it was lovely, when eventually allowed, to strut out of the ground with beaming smiles on our faces. Matty and I had a laser focus on “tins for the train”, and thus somehow avoided the police escort (which, to be fair, did ensure the safety of our travelling companions but also saw them back at the station without those essential post-match supplies).
A quick trip to Sainsbury’s garage ensured plenty more Strongbow for me and some Nelsons (Mandelas = Stellas) for “Sir” (as nobody yet calls Matty). Please don’t judge me for this, but I did do some low level Wrexham trolling on the way back to the station, passing the ground again. I stopped more than one of them and asked with the straightest face I could muster: “Excuse me mate, did you go? What was the score?”, and then replying with a solemn: “Oh, no way: I thought they’d go alright today”. One father and son were so downcast that the old man gave me his programme! If he’d given me a right hander instead I could hardly have complained.
The train back to Birmingham was packed: completely Sergio Ramos in fact. We had to stand. It was a sweat-box and I feel slightly better about myself as a human being for having given out the tins in a UNICEF type disaster relief strategy.
The journey home was uneventful and stress free. The mechanic and I wandered up the hill from Torquay Library in high spirits. We hadn’t indulged in any late night book borrowing: that’s where the Newton bus stops. It was time to reflect on a fantastic day out. It had been as far as you can imagine from boring Bromley or horrible Havant, and the very best sort of trip for a cynical old Torquay fan. It can be fun after all!