Strongbow Dark Fruits - the away day drink of choice? Photo: STiR

The logistics of a midweek non-league away game

Or why I went to Burnham vs Reading City on Tuesday night
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Strongbow Dark Fruits - the away day drink of choice? Photo: STiR

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Remember when life used to be easy? Well, alright, not easy. But easier, anyway. Nowadays, now we’re all a little older, our lives are all just that bit more complicated. Of course, recent ‘external forces’ haven’t made things any simpler.

With life how it is now (ie a bit bloody rubbish), to do anything fun you need a plan. Life’s become all about logistics. The old days of spontaneous fun and antics are gone (at least for now). Want to do something extracurricular in 2020, like go out for a meal in a pub or pop to an owl sanctuary for an afternoon? You’ll need a fortnight’s notice, a notepad and pen and about 15 different apps.

Still, there’s always football to go to. Or is there? Well, yes. Just not all of it.

Covid-19 – or, more specifically, the government’s response to Covid-19 – hasn’t just made ‘big boy’ league football tricky to attend, it’s made it impossible. Or maybe even illegal, who knows anymore. Not so for tiers seven and below, though. Provided everything is ‘Covid secure’, you’re now allowed in as a paying spectator.

Whether it’s Reading vs. Birmingham or Reading City vs. Burnham, going to any football match is essentially the same experience. It’s just a matter of scale. Depending on the league and teams involved there are differing amounts of atmosphere, cost and toilet quality. One thing that stays the same regardless is that going to midweek away games can be a bit of a pain in the arse at times.

Me and two pals went to support Reading City away at Burnham FC on Tuesday night. Here’s what happened. This is, effectively, our non-league midweek away match night logistical breakdown:

5.30pm: I arrive to meet Pal #1 in The Sun in Reading town centre
5.48pm: Pal #1 arrives and apologises for his lateness (something which was caused by an mostly unspecified toilet incident)

This isn’t the toilet where the vague ‘incident’ happened, this is the disabled lavvy at Burnham FC’s ground (the gents was out of order) – complete with spectator’s seat. Photo: STiR

6.37pm: We realise we have to leave immediately because our train leaves at 6.52pm, so we neck our ambitiously-bought second pints
6.40pm: Train beers are purchased
6.47pm: Arrive at Reading train station, queue for tickets
6.50pm: Buy tickets, run for train
6.51pm: Meet Pal #2, get on train, recover from rare physical exertion
6.52pm: Train leaves!
7.12pm: Train arrives in Taplow!
7.15pm: Cab to Burnham FC’s ground The Gore
7.20pm: Arrive at Burnham FC’s ground The Gore

They were even selling banana loaf, a pound a slice. I wish I’d have had had some now. Photo: STiR

7.25pm: Pay a reduced £3 entry and get into the (socially-distanced) queue for more booze
7.45pm: Football starts!

FOOTBALL! Photo: STiR

9.30pm: Football ends!
9.45pm: Walk to charming nearby village pub called The Bee, meet excellent pub dog
10.30pm: Cab to Taplow station
10.50pm: Arrive back in Reading

Alright, so it wasn’t that much trouble at all in the end. Even if crossing county lines into Buckinghamshire feels a little daring ‘in these uncertain times’. Like a scene out of Colditz, but with fewer Nazis and more bottles of Magners.

Our hugely intimidating three-man Reading City ultras crew have now been to four away games in the Hellenic League Premier Division (the four it’s practical to go to): Binfield, Ascot, Windsor and now Burnham. Those are pretty much the only ‘local’ away games as it stands. Sod heading over to some weird Gloucestershire or Herefordshire village on a Tuesday night for 7.45pm. Now that would be a logistical nightmare, even if a lot of us do work from home now.

This is either well carried-out Covid security or there were a lot of murders at the last home game. Photo: STiR

As for the game itself, well… it finished nil-nil. It might not have been a game for the neutrals, but it was a headline writer’s dream. Any sports reporter not pushing for a match report of this game to feature in the next issue just so they can lead with ‘No Score Gore Bore Draw’ needs to do the right thing and hang up their fedora with their ‘PRESS’ card wedged into the hatband.

Decent stand/bar thing, this. Photo: STiR

So was it worth it? The (admittedly rather minor amount of) faff, the rushing about of a Tuesday night… All just to watch a load of blokes run about a bit, shout at each other and not even have the common decency to score a goal? Of course it was bloody worth it. Because it was FOOTBALL. Actual live football happening in front of our own eyes. It was drinking. It was getting out of the house. It was doing something FERCHRISSAKES.

Whether you’re an avid non-league fan or not – why not get out there and watch one of your local clubs soon, eh? It might not be a great time for those higher up the pyramid at the moment, but it presents an opportunity for those lower down.

So next Saturday, don’t sit there squinting at some dodgy Latvian stream on your laptop, get out there and support your local non-league side. Buy a programme. Eat a hot dog. Drink a couple of Dark Fruits (or something that doesn’t taste like fizzy Aldi blackcurrant squash).

In fact, sod it – go midweek too. Even if it is away. If for no other reason than you might get to meet a new pub dog.

Good dog. Photo: STiR

What do you think? 

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