The Football Neutral: Match Fifty – AFC Wimbledon vs Cheltenham Town

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…I walked from Norbiton station to the ground just as the City game kicked off.  My phone soon buzzed to reveal a message that read “what a start” from my Dad.  Well, this could mean anything so I asked him to elaborate – City had scored after 47 seconds.  My Dad can’t spell “Ulloa” because the difference between spelling and correct Spanish pronunciation baffles him.  I think he typed his name as “Uoohchuhuoaaah”.

I also had time on my walk to think about the plight of Cheltenham Town, already relegated out of the league.  I watched them more than any club last season (three times) and I found their fans to be really good people.  I sincerely hope that they bounce straight back, and they’ve at least got a manager with good pedigree in Gary Johnson.  I spotted a fair few of their fans on my stroll, and it was encouraging that they took so many supporters to their final game of such a disappointing season.

I collected my tickets from a small Portakabin before meeting Paul.  I pulled out my phone to get my confirmation and the nice lady said “don’t need it love, just your surname”.  What a pleasant thing to see, a bit of trust that I wouldn’t be after anyone else’s tickets!  That is very rare these days, bearing in mind how many clubs have asked me for ID when buying tickets at the ground on the day of a game in case I was there to cause trouble.  I’m obviously not, but I can understand why people sometimes jump to conclusions, what with me being a tattooed skinhead and all.  It’s only if you look closer at the tattoos and you realise that they’re all daft and that I’ve only got a shaven head because my hair is falling out.

The club shop is another small building, and it’s clear to see that the current Wimbledon kit is GORGEOUS. Not only are they sponsored by every supporters favourite waste of time – Football Manager – but it’s a lovely blue with awesome 1980s style pinstripe AND it’s made by Admiral.  My first ever Leicester kit was made by Admiral, so the memories it brought back were fantastic.  I had to stop myself from buying it.  I’m thinking about going online and buying it now.  It’s a truly smashing kit, only rivalled by the Forest Green Rovers away shirt….

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The Football Neutral: Match Twenty One – Portsmouth vs Cheltenham Town

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This is now an edited version of the original blog… you can read the full one by downloading my Football Neutral 2013/14 season review on Kindle.  Well over 300 pages of daftness. Less than £2! Thanks!

…The last time I went to Fratton Park was for a 2-0 Leicester win. It was just over ten years ago, and was a Premier League encounter.  It was probably a bit of an upset us picking up the victory, as Portsmouth’s side that day featured the likes of Dejan Stefanovic, Alexei Smertin, Steve Stone, Patrik Berger, Tim Sherwood, Ayegbeni Yakubu and Teddy Sheringham.

In 2008, Pompey won the FA Cup. I remember watching their victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford in the quarter finals on a TV at the King Power Stadium, everyone cheering wildly when Sulley Muntari scored the winning goal from the penalty spot – because everybody loves an upset.  That was six years ago.

Somehow, Pompey are now mid table in League Two.  The fourth tier.  How on earth did this happen?  I know as a Leicester supporter that we’ve experienced some boom and bust times, but the fate that has befallen Portsmouth in recent seasons is as dramatic and cruel as it could possibly be.  Whilst as a Leicester supporter we have never got on with the Pompey fans (once me and my Dad got chased out of the away end, the first time I’d ever seen my old man run at the time.  I think I was 19), you can’t argue that they’re amongst the most loyal and loud in the country.  In fact, when I said that I was going to Fratton Park (a consequence of having two gigs on the Saturday evening in the area) I got a load of tweets from football fans waxing lyrical about the great atmosphere down there.

I have memories of it myself, remembering a City defeat down there in the 1990s where the roar of the Fratton End celebrating a goal was about as loud as I’ve ever heard, even in a relatively small stadium.  I really fancied going to a match that would be LOUD, and properly so, and I knew this would be the case.  Portsmouth had decided to make the game incredibly cheap (just a tenner for adults, as little as a quid for kids) and when researching stuff ahead of the game on Friday I realised that it may well be a sellout.  This was excellent news indeed…

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The Football Neutral: Match Twenty – Newport County AFC vs Cheltenham Town

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This is now an edited version of the original blog… you can read the full one by downloading my Football Neutral 2013/14 season review on Kindle.  Well over 300 pages of daftness. Less than £2! Thanks!

…When I got to Newport, I realised that I once performed at a kids gig in the arts centre there.  This isn’t a knock on Newport itself, but it is the quietest arts centre I have ever been to.  I imagine it’s called “The White Elephant”, or something like that.  Rodney Parade is much less empty, with the fans in yellow and black making a bee-line (shut up, I know that’s a weak pun) to the stadium as I drove in from the M4.  Trouble is, there’s so many of them and so little parking that I needed to drive a bit further afield to find somewhere to stash my car.

Helpfully, there is a pay and display car park next just down the road from the ground that is just £2 for a whole day. Unhelpfully, it’s pay and display and the only coins I had were Euros.  As a side note: How small are Euro pennies? They are tiny. I imagine many children within the EU have eaten them. Often by complete accident.

I was left with the task of finding a car park where I could pay on my exit, ideally by card because I never have any actual change.  Any cash that I do have often finds its way out of my pockets and into the deepest, darkest recesses of my car, never to be seen or spent again.  If you stole my car now you would easily find £8,000 in change within it. And I’ve only owned it for a year.

Parking in the main Newport shopping centre, I found my way out, went to a cash machine to get my ticket money, and crossed over the River Usk right next to the aforementioned arts centre, tumbleweed blowing out of its doors.  This was a hefty 15 minute walk, most of it spent behind three Cheltenham fans who kept stopping to pose for ridiculous pictures whenever they could.  When there was nobody else around they were quick to sing Cheltenham songs and act the fool, but the minute they saw anyone they suspected to be Welsh then the bravado stopped.  To their credit, at least they weren’t employing the ludicrous sheepshagger stereotypes that I’ve detailed in earlier versions of this blog.

As we crossed the footbridge, two youths approached with mildly terrifying dogs.  They barked and lunged at the Cheltenham fans, one of whom screamed in a most effeminate and amusing manner.  Then a policeman on a bike rode past and the dogs turned on him.  Instead of screaming he merely said “ah, dinnertime is it lads?” and rode away, winking at me as he went….

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The Football Neutral: Match Fifteen – Cheltenham Town vs Hartlepool United

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This is now an edited version of the original blog… you can read the full one by downloading my Football Neutral 2013/14 season review on Kindle.  Well over 300 pages of daftness. Less than £2! Thanks!

…Whaddon Road is in the middle of a housing estate that feels quite un-Cheltenham.  Of course, football grounds are only ever in two places: In the middle of a housing estate or on the outskirts of a town.  The former are always better.  If you’re watching football in Germany or Portugal you can add two other places: in the middle of a forest or on the side of a mountain.

Saturday was also a big racing day at Cheltenham, and the town centre full of Christmas shoppers so traffic around the ground was a little slow.  Did wonder if Town struggle for a decent attendance on days where the racing and the football clash.  I’ve done gigs at the racecourse in the past and even though it’s on the outskirts of town, racing is a seriously big deal in these parts.

I parked up on a side street and headed to the ground with about 20 minutes to spare.  There were signs everywhere saying that parking restrictions are in place during matchdays.  These signs are clearly a massive lie, because you can park where you want quite safely and for free.

The Prestbury Road End was where I was headed, another terrace behind a goal for me to rejoice in.  Luckily it was covered, because even though the sun was out the wind was swirling around enough to make me put up both of my hoods.  I’m a two-hoods kind of guy on a blustery day, that’s for sure.  Didn’t seem to be too many people around, even close to matchday.  Didn’t see a single Hartlepool fan, although I reasoned there would be some, even if I could probably count them on one hand.

The smallest away support that I ever saw before I started my challenge this season was actually at a top flight game.  Must have been around 1994 or 1995, and Sheffield Wednesday were hosting Wimbledon.  I went to the game with my Owls supporting Uncle and my schoolfriend Andrew.  On the journey there, Andrew threw up all over the velour seating in the rear of my Uncle’s Saab 900, then when we got to Sheffield city centre a water main had burst and several streets were flooded.  Eventually in the ground at the Kop End of Hillsborough, I spent a few minutes counting the Wimbledon fans in the Leppings Lane end.  Thirty six in total.  That’s not even a busload…

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