I’ve had better evenings!
When we were relegated at the end of the 1989/90 season, our second demotion in a row, I saw it as not all bad. The cloud had a couple of silver linings. First of all we’d soon be moving to Bescot Stadium – the “most modern stadium in the country” – complete with just as many view-obstructing posts as Fellows Park, no under-soil heating and no cantilevered roofing. Still, it would be ours(!) and it wouldn’t be likely to fall down during the next strong wind.
The other advantage would be that we’d get to visit a fair few away grounds that we’d not been near in years. Places like Rochdale, Stockport and Scunthorpe. And Hartlepool. I spoke to my gaffer about getting the day off for the Monkey-Hangers game – it was a mid-week match – and I was okay as no-one else had already booked it.
Come the day and I boarded Roy Randle’s coach at Bloxwich to mutterings of the game possibly falling foul of the weather. Roy announced that we’d stop at the services – I’ve no idea which one – to ring Victoria Park and if the game was off we’d instead change course for Merseyside where the youth team were due to tackle Liverpool in a F.A Youth Cup replay. He rang and was told that the game was still on so we headed for the north east and another tick on my list of grounds visited, taking me well into the 80s.
It’s a long journey so we were all glad of the chance to stretch our legs on arriving. The coach pulled up right by the ground and as we got off one of the locals, with a hint of a chuckle told us “I wouldn’t bother lads, the flipping ref’s just called it off.”, only he didn’t say ‘flipping’.
Frozen pitch, apparently. He wasn’t joking. The gates into the ground were open so a few of us wandered in to have a look and I took the opportunity to step over the wall to test the playing surface for myself. No-one tried to stop me and no-one seemed to mind, so I walked right over into the centre circle. The pitch was as hard as concrete and there were actually frozen tyre tracks from a tractor all over the place. There was no way that the pitch had ever been playable at any time that day. Absolutely no way. As I turned to leave the pitch, imagining admiring thousands standing to applaud my match-winning hat-trick, who should be coming the other way but Kenny Hibbitt, clearly furious at the wasted journey and sympathetic to the hardy band of fools who’d made the trip.
Nothing for it but to re-board the coach and set off on the four million mile journey home and find that my Walkman batteries had given up the ghost and to imagine the mickey-taking I’d get at work from the Dingle legions. They didn’t disappoint!
However, things suddenly seemed brighter a couple of days later when I found out that the two clubs had agree to pay the admission fees for the re-arranged game for those of us on the supporter’s club coach and the travel would be free as well due to the insurance scheme run by the federation of supporter’s clubs.
I went to the gaffer again and explained the situation, only for him to announce that someone else had booked that day off, and, no, he wouldn’t bend the rules just this once because everyone else would moan.
Should I phone in sick on the day of the game? Not really an option as I’d done it a few times previously and he hadn’t believed a word. This time he’d be ready for it and a written warning would be guaranteed. If I woke up on the day to find my legs had fallen off during the night I’d still have to cycle to work before he’d buy my excuse. I just had to put the whole fiasco down to experience and grin and bear the renewed mickey-taking.
And, no, I’ve still never seen a game at Hartlepool…