I’m not sure the offer of a lift to Tamworth has ever cheered anyone up as much as it did me late Saturday afternoon as I trundled through the Nottinghamshire countryside, returning from a Boston United match that never happened.
Having seen no football that day, the promise of a game on Tuesday was the perfect antidote to the frustration of a wasted journey. “I can’t guarantee both teams will show up,” the WhatsApp went on to warn, which was fair enough given what had just happened.
Of all the rubbish ways to ruin a perfectly good Saturday, somehow failing to see a football match after braving the Nottingham-Skegness summer service is right up there with attempting to feed a worming tablet to a violent cat. Or watching rugby. It was only as supporters began arriving at the Jakemans Stadium in numbers that news of Spennymoor’s unfortunate vehicular mishap, and the resulting delayed kick-off, began to spread.
Depending on who you spoke to, the coach had either suffered a flat tyre around Wakefield, or was a Bluesmobile-style smoking ruin just south of Brompton on Swale. Or Scotch Corner. Or Wetherby. Take your pick, it didn’t matter: it was all bad news. Someone claimed the Spennymoor players had refused lifts in cars. Someone else said the squad had got on the supporters’ bus and that had also broken down. Another reckoned Boston’s rivals had never even left home. As the wild rumours and Chinese whispers spread, it was only a matter of time before someone claimed Spennymoor didn’t even exist.
A 4pm start was mooted. “Not a chance,” someone muttered. Then people started talking about 6pm. 7pm. Even 8pm. It didn’t take long for things to get very gloomy. “This game ain’t happening,” said one bloke, gulping down his drink at the bar in preparation for a swift exit. His mate dismissed the ominous prediction. “Nah,” he replied. “I’ve never seen a team fail to show up before.”
Moments later, a member of staff yelled over the din of Watford-Liverpool that the game had been postponed because Spennymoor had failed to show up.
I stared into my pint and thought terrible things about bus maintenance depots in the north of England. Soon enough, the bar began to empty as Boston fans confronted the dreadful reality of having to source alternative entertainment for the afternoon. A few supporters drifted off to watch Boston Town’s match, but most simply trudged disconsolately back home. Lawns across Boston were about to get an angry mowing.
All I could think about was having to get on the train back to Nottingham without seeing a ball kicked. Not even the thought of buying some irresponsibly strong Polish beer on the way back to the station could cheer me up.
Match postponements are, of course, an occupational hazard at all levels of the game, and most of us expect to suffer this kind of disappointment at least once or twice a season. But not in August on a bright sunny day that was perfect for football. And late postponements are the worst. Many of you will recall that last season’s home match against today’s opponents was scrubbed similarly late due to frost, another occasion when most supporters only found out as they arrived for a pre-match pint.
But if we felt hard done by last Saturday, spare a thought for the Spennymoor fans who had already arrived at the ground after their three-hour drive. After barking incredulously down their phones to those at the scene of the coach meltdown, they told anyone within earshot that they were ‘embarrassed’, as if admitting the whole debacle was somehow their fault.
But no-one was interested in apportioning blame. No-one even really moaned. Instead, the stadium gates were thrown open as stewards and caterers got on with the job of packing up and going home. Somewhere in the ground Adam Murray was busy informing his players that, no, they couldn’t nip off early – they were going to have a training session instead. Lucky them.
To compound the misery further, I checked the next home game and realised with horror it was Chorley. If you’re reading this in the away end, please understand it’s nothing personal. It’s just that merely seeing the name ‘Chorley’ brings the events of those cursed play-off games swirling back: getting trapped on M62, weeing down my own leg in front of a bus full of amused onlookers, that ludicrous overhea- nope, not happening; I can’t go back there. It’s not a happy place. Frankly, I think I‘d rather worm that cat.
Enjoy the game – if there is one.