London-based Exile Steve Hill starts the season in style…
What was once a ten-minute walk is now a 200-mile drive, but it’s the first game of the season – home to Barnet - and it has to be done. A couple of days before the match her indoors announces that she has to work on Saturday afternoon and that it’s apparently illegal to leave a three-year old boy on his own. Making hasty arrangements to drop him near Watford Gap (with some friends), we set off on Friday night to avoid any mishaps.
On Saturday morning, the designated driver arrives from Newbury. It’s a familiar routine: a spotless car, Chester scarf stretched across the back window, the tassels blackened from thousands of miles of motorway filth. The SatNav locked in, an unbreached Guardian on the back seat, TalkSport Warm Up on the radio, the obligatory shaking of heads as a combined total of 70 years of watching Chester is set to continue. Think I’ve got problems? He also has a season ticket at Bordeaux.
It’s a glorious day, tinged with heady optimism. The M6 roadworks are finally finished and the landmarks fly by: Walsall’s Bescot Stadium on the right, a reminder of previous league status. Villa Park on the left, a reminder of a hefty dicking in the League Cup. A country pub, lunch with the driver’s Dad, the squad photo in the local paper raises anticipation to near frenzy.
Lost 5-0. Back in the car: chips and peas. Five Live. Nobody speaks until Birmingham, where we overtake a family of Barnet fans. Some Tranmere are spotted in a service station. The car is now full of arse gas, chocolate wrappers and resentment. Handing over the petrol money is the final insult. 27 hours after leaving, I’m back home with a replica shirt for the boy. Thoughts turn to Forest Green away. A mere 100 miles each way.