I had a ticket well in time but had to keep travel arrangements flexible right up to the weekend, which meant the car rather than the train, and a trip on my own on Saturday afternoon. After watching Forest Green see off Margate I headed north, pressing the search button on the radio to pick up sundry football channels as I made my way up the Ms 57, 58 and 6.
First came radio Stoke, which after some local minor-league chat provided commentary on their game against Watford, but that only lasted about 15 minutes before it faded out. A brief interlude, in which Smooth FM and Hotel California made me think of omens and supporting Sunderland
– this could be heaven or this could be hell,
you can check out any time but you can never leave –
was followed by some unknown station giving a report on Wigan v Bradford and that took me near to half time, when it cut off and was replaced by radio Cumbria, which among updates informed me that Barrow and Chelsea had both just had a player sent off, that Jose appeared to be in trouble and that Kendal and Kirkby Lonsdale, both unbeaten, were playing a rugby derby.
And so I turned east and onto the As 684, 66, 67, 688. FM radio’s not so good in the hills so it was AM and radio five, only to find that there was another rugby match going on, as if I cared. Still, despite iffy reception, I managed to pick some news and reached Brough believing Villa were winning and ‘Boro were losing.
There’s a chip shop in Brough that’s worth a visit. Properly cooked chips wrapped in newspaper, eaten in the car with the football results on the radio. A trip back in time, only the reception was so bad I missed half of the results – the second half of them, because I’d already missed the first half through being in the chip shop.
Reception improved after Bowes Moor as the East-coast stations came in. Radio Teeside informed me ‘Boro had won, Radio York played some music and then I found the Arsenal-Everton game, which took me through Barnard Castle, around Bishop and on to the A167 and Birtley, where I enjoyed a couple of pints and the bonus of an extra hour’s sleep. Just as well as, with an appalling time to have a football match, we had to make the earliest of early starts.
So it’s Sunday, it’s not yet eleven in the morning, we’re in a pub in Sunderland, and on our second pint. I suppose I could refrain from drinking before the game but that wouldn’t be right, would it? It would stop us downloading the team and having a bit of craic, and if we hadn’t done that no one would have heard my prediction that Coloccini would be sent off.
I suppose I could tell you about the game, now that I’ve got this far. We were rubbish in the first half hour. Borini was missed, Toivonen was well off the pace and Pants, especially, did not inspire. That said, the horse-punching marauders from the north of the Tyne didn’t look like scoring, despite renegade Jack’s endeavours. For me he was their best player, even their best attacker. And then came that penalty, that red card, and a different second half.
I can now recognise about half of the team. Of those I know, Pants grew throughout the game and made some good saves; the clean sheet will no doubt help his confidence. Coates made a couple of iffy tackles when he first came on but then did nothing wrong; he became invisible in the second half, and I mean that as a compliment. Jonno ran and harassed – his shot against the post was a lovely lesson in technique – while Fletcher also ran around and made a nuisance of himself, although sometimes too fancily, with Yedlin and Jones supporting them well, as did the ever busy, ever dangerous, Jermain Defoe.
But for me, Catts was the star man, edging out Kaboul for the verdict. Kaboul had an excellent game but Catts was everywhere. Breaking up play, winning tackles, holding the ball, moving it forward and, above all, exercising control and leadership in the middle of the field. More like this, please, and well done Big Sam for getting that bit right when John O’Shea went off.
No football on the Monday return trip, so it was just a journey round the radio and a diversion down the A 683 to rejoin the M6. Heart FM (I think) provided somebody who sang “Lifting” (don’t know the proper title) and then Cindi Lauper with “Time after time” but I continued to press the button, which is how I left County Durham to a classical station and the strains of “Land of Hope and Glory”.
Maybe there is some glory in winning six in a row. Maybe with Sam there’s hope. At Everton next Sunday? We’ll see, but for now I’m smiling.
Six in a row, and I was there: