Clive Hayward – @Byehorse
Clive chats about his day out up North
Well I never. What an interesting trip that was!
The plan was simple enough: train to Alty and back with a wet Saturday to break up my otherwise “impeccably observed” Dry January.
My companions were my old friend and travel agent Andy and two younger members of the ticket-splitting club, James and Josh.
With the organised efficiency he always brings to the task, Andy presented us with bundles of tickets half an inch thick for (imaginary) changes of train at Taunton, Cheltenham, Wolverhampton and Stoke as well as real ones at Birmingham and Stockport.
Dear old Stockport. We will return there later. In a sense.
Five minutes from Birmingham New Street is a pub called the Shakespeare, which is a handy stopping off point for long distance away fans. It’s a cut above your average railway-adjacent boozer and a couple of 10am pints slipped down nicely, although regrettably they had nobody in to do our traditional fry-up this week.
The West Coast service from Birmingham to Piccadilly was absolutely heaving. Standing room only: completely Sergio Ramos. It turned into the funniest 90 minutes I’ve shared for a long, long time. James, Josh and I found ourselves in a crowded vestibule with fans of Man Utd and West Ham (2 mates travelling together to Salford), a couple Fulham geezers and a diffident young Stoke City fan who – bless him- clearly wished he was in a quieter spot. We put the world to rights with many comments from James which can only fairly be described as bringing the game into disrepute, took the mickey out of each other and shared a bottle or two.
We collectively decided that Torquay would win, that Fulham would beat Stoke and that West Ham would batter Man U. In the week that Meatloaf left us, it was very much: “Two out of three ain’t bad”.
I had a good chat with a Macclesfield fan too. He was 62 and off to see them play at Charnock Richard of all places. He and his son had watched their club implode but are enjoying the fightback. Apparently a local businessman has put in £4 million but Robbie Savage is working hard for them and apparently spent £5000 on a player recently. The town are getting behind the new club with crowds of 3000 a big increase on what they drew in the Football League!
We had left Devon as a foursome. After an enjoyable stopover in Stockport we became a seven piece and when Matty arrived in Altrincham via tram we were a merry octet. Getting off the train at Stockport we met a nice young lad – another Josh – who was spending his day off from the RAF watching the mighty Yellows. He’s enjoying his time in the military and doubtless will be able to spread the word of Armani Little’s magnificence far and wide.
We recruited a couple of Sheffield Wednesday fans too. They didn’t fancy the cross Pennine rail replacement bus to Hillsborough and decided to join us instead for a spot of the proper stuff.
Moss Lane is an old fashioned football ground, largely unlovely and our open terrace behind the goal offered the sort of away experience that was commonplace when I started following the Gulls.
Matt Orton did a lovely job of the match report, including an Asa Hall review which certainly bears repetition:
“Asa Hall: 7 – Sat deep protecting the back four, spreading his wisdom, experience and telling stories in the same way Jesus did”
Jesus had his name taken in vain when the Lemon spoilt a lively performance with the miss of this or most other seasons. I compared it with Aiden Newhouse’s infamous Exeter Boxing Day effort. Now you’ve seen it you’ll know I was right!
I thought we deserved the win, and it was great for the 300 of us who had come again from far and wide to support the lads.
So far, so cheerful. Things now took an unexpected turn. Josh and I were chatting away on the train a few seats down from Andy & James, and we unfortunately took our eye off the ball- big time! We needed to get off at Stockport but completely failed to execute, and by the time James was frantically banging on the window to let us know, it was too late.
My first thought was that if we went through to Piccadilly we would probably be able to get on another train home. A quick check online revealed that we were in fact stuck- the earliest we would be able to get back was 9am on Sunday!
Time for plan B, which was to activate the “sleep on Matty’s floor” option. He uncomplainingly came to meet us and shepherded us back to his student flat. We re-grouped. Matty went off on a pre-arranged attempt to drink Didsbury dry with friends. Josh and I repaired to a nearby pub for a couple of vaguely morose pints interspersed with giggling about what complete prats we were!
I do feel 53 sometimes these days, especially 300 miles from home after a long day. After some very welcome non-franchise fried chicken I retired hurt. Josh was having none of that, not unreasonably wanting to explore the famous Manchester nightlife much more thoroughly. Although he will admit to getting very lost, he was somewhat coy about what actually happened between midnight and 6am. I admire his stamina, anyway.
After a day and night like that the only sensible solution was a big Spoons breakfast. Black pudding is my go-to hangover cure!
It was time to hit the tracks again. I’m not sure a £70 single ticket can really be described as a bargain but it was by far the cheapest option. There was a reason for that though. Josh and I were coming home the pretty way. No M6 corridor or Black Country grot for us. We were headed for Newport, via Shrewsbury, Hereford and Abergavenny. Is there a lovelier word in the English language than Abergavenny, especially when spoken by a local? We heard plenty of it all morning because we were joined at Crewe by a bevvy of delightful Welsh ladies on their way back to Gwent. They were wedding planning, and their happy, lilting conversations were a tonic for my waxy old lugholes!
A nice cup of tea and a sandwich went down very well as we meandered through the scandalously underrated Shropshire Hills, past a peaceful Ludlow with its racecourse.
One of the passengers leaving the train there was a blind chap with a jaunty yellow and blue woolly Solihull Moors hat! As Matty rather unkindly quipped later: “I’ll be thinking of him on Tuesday night, crying to his dog when his team get mauled by the Yellas”.
Three hours after leaving Manchester we trundled into Newport, that muddy old South Wales river port which has little to recommend it, other than being the birthplace of anti-football legend Tony Pulis. There was time for a restorative pint before we boarded the legendary Sunday afternoon stopper from Cardiff to Penzance. This is a service that explores almost every inch of the Severn Estuary and offers unparalleled opportunities for enthusiasts of small Bristol railway stations to do their thing. We stopped at Patchway, Filton Abbey Wood, Bedminster, Parson Street and don’t even get me started about Nailsea!
On a sunny day it might have been fun, but with a facemask and a headache on a dank afternoon it wasn’t exactly Britain’s Greatest Railway Journey.
Anyway, we did arrive back in glorious Devon eventually, and my thoughts are now turning to what may be another epic trek to Kings Lynn!
COYY – Clive