With only international football available at senior level, Pete Sixsmith followed personal tradition and went in search of a decent Saturday game. He went in vain (I sensibly waited until Sunday and saw my daughter Nathalie score a brilliant goal for Acton Ladies during a (wo)man-of-the-match performance, as voted by teammates, that helped secure a 2-1 win over a club glorying in the name of London United). But back to Pete and his journey into the footballing void …
When you reach the age I am now at, (58 a couple of weeks ago), you know that the good friends you have will remain so until that great referee in the sky calls you to the dressing room. Hopefully, He of the omnipotent ways is not as clueless as the likes of Rob Styles and Steve Tanner – but that’s another story.
I have a few really good friends who I could count on in a crisis. They are the ones who would mortgage their houses to bail you when the internet poker sites will no longer take your credit cards or when the bank refuses you any more money to spend at will in Threshers.
Pete Horan falls into that category. We have known each other for a long time and have been good mates for the best part of 30 years. We have watched Sunderland in Spain, Ireland, Torquay and Burslem. We like beer, The Guardian and the occasional good day out. But lately, I have to say, PH has become a bit of a Jonah.
A Jonah is a character who, whenever he turns up, is the catalyst for impending disaster. Sailors who had a bad record of sinkings were known as Jonahs and there was a splendid strip of this name in The Beano. “Oh no, it’s ‘im,” sailors would shout as their vessel made a detour to Davy Jones’s Locker.
Pete has the same effect on football. The last few games we have travelled to have included the 7-0 drubbing at Everton, a downpour of biblical proportions in Dublin and a non-game at Marsden in July.
As we set off to watch New Mills play Colne on Saturday, postponements were as far away from our minds as Michael Owen’s is for a new contract at SJP – it never entered our heads. A smooth journey to Manchester by Trans Pennine Express, a discussion about the crude, tasteless but amusing joke that his sophisticated youngest daughter had sent to us both and a waiting connection to New Mills augured well.
We bought tickets on the train to New Mills Newtown and were told by the guard that we could not travel back from New Mills Central on the ticket because “it was on a different line” despite the fact that both stations are in the same town and are served by the Northern Rail franchise. So, we asked for singles only to be told that a return would be cheaper. They always reckon that explaining the rules of cricket to a foreigner is the hardest task that an Englishman will ever encounter. That has surely been superseded by attempting to work out the way that the railway fare system works.
We arrived at New Mills, a working town in the High Peak (and the place where Love Hearts and Refreshers were made by Swizzel/Matlow), wandered into The Queens, sampled a couple of pints of Robinsons and then walked back to a chippie for a sit down lunch. While troughing away at cod, chips, mushy peas, tea, bread and butter there was a torrential downpour which turned to hail and then progressed through sleet and a touch of snow to bright sunshine.
This was when the alarm bells started to make a faint ringing noise. A friend of mine had said earlier in the week that it (the ground) “wasn’t a good drainer” and that it had a history of postponements. As we walked up a hill, past the cricket ground and bowling green, towards Church Lane, the home of New Mills FC, those words flashed through my mind.
We arrived at 2.30 to the sound of silence. No footballs being whacked around, no footballers laughing and joking as they did their warm up, no referee lapping the pitch. In fact, the referee was leaving the changing rooms pdq to a barrage of hostile comments from locals and visitors alike. He was a Football League linesman (deduced from the Air Asia logo on his top) and clearly a bit of surface water and mud was too much for him. As he pulled his trolley case towards his car, with his match fee and his travelling expenses in his pocket, Mr Horan told him what he thought of him.
What to do? Stockport County were away, Buxton were at home, but there was no train to get us there, so we retired to a lovely pub called The Royal Oak, supped more Robinsons, were told by locals that the guard on the train was talking absolute b******* and finished off sharing a half of Old Tom, a heady 8.5 brew.
The lack of football meant that we got back to Manchester from New Mills Central
( no problems with ticket) an hour earlier than we should have, which meant the we reached Stalybridge Station Buffet an hour earlier than we should have and spent an hour longer there than we should have. We broke the journey for a couple of pints at the excellent West Yorkshire Refreshment Rooms at Dewsbury and rolled into Darlington at 21.04, just in time for a couple in No 22 and a couple more in The Britannia, where we found out that England had won, Ireland had drawn and Jonny Evans had notched in Belfast.
As Mrs Horan poured Mr Horan into the car and I was presented with a red carnation while I waited for the 23.10 Arriva to take me back to the urban sprawl of Shildon, I reflected on a good day out, bereft of only one thing – football. Normal service resumes at Upton Park on Saturday. Mr Horan will be staying at home, locked in one of his multitude of sheds.