Do you ever think ‘why do we do it’? Before the enforced hiatus, Maidenhead United had just lost their fifth game on the trot. The most recent of which was unfortunate and controversial. Which only makes things feel worse!
Why do we keep turning up to watch teams which lose week-on-week and spoiling our Saturdays in the process? It must be the prospect of missing that turning point which keeps us going; that last minute equaliser in the rain far away from home which suddenly erases all the miserable memories of recent weekends ruined.
In January 2016 Maidenhead United were in another poor vein of form. Three defeats in a row, no win in six. Early season promise at the start of Alan Devonshire’s second spell in charge had given way to a Winter of – well not so much discontent, but certainly deep disappointment. We’d only won once in the league since those epic FA Cup encounters with EFL side Port Vale. At the end of the latest defeat, I left Kingfield shell-shocked as Woking had smashed in six second half FA Trophy goals against us without reply. As I trudged back to the car I suddenly remembered I had a pre-booked train ticket to Truro the following Saturday. The thought of a long away trip never seemed so unappealing.
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The weather in the lead up to this late January encounter in Cornwall was miserable. The Treyew Road pitch was well-known for struggling to get games on, albeit the play-off chasing Tigers would have been keen to play against such an out of form mob as Maidenhead. A disparate group met at Reading station for the 0754 on Saturday 23rd January for the 4 and a half hour journey, the longest of our Conference South season. I’d been up since Silly O’Clock myself, living as I did at the time in Witney, West Oxfordshire. At Reading I met a number of the small hard core of Magpies away day regulars, as well as members of the Cardiff City South East England exiles ‘1927 Club’ who were friendly with a handful of Ninian Park regulars turned York Road season ticket holders.
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The mood in Coach D was convivial as you’d expect from a group of middle-aged lower-league soccer buffs as bottled and tinned beverages were cracked open. Outside, for the first time this week, there was no rain. The journey after Exeter becomes particularly picturesque as you skirt the coast past Dawlish but there was still a good portion of our journey left as we crossed the Tamar into Cornwall. At which point the GWR train PA dramatically burst into life. “For Maidenhead supporters heading to Truro….” our host announced, leaving a pause so pregnant that it might have had the gestation period of an elephant. Anglo-Welsh breath was collectively held. “Your game today is ON”. Cheers!
Truro is a pleasant ‘City’ with a tiny population and a handsome cathedral. It also has one or two very presentable pubs which a timely train service allowed us the opportunity to explore before starting the epic journey up hill to Treyew Road. At which point the clouds burst and would not repair themselves until we left Kernow several hours later. After a steep and lung-busting climb to the ground we arrived to a sodden pitch and a well-stocked bar which, conveniently, Maidenhead were attacking first half. Not that we saw much of the ball; Maidenhead started brightly, missed a presentable chance and then found themselves two down after a quarter of an hour. Berkshire never felt so far away.
Before the break hopes rose when Ryan Upward flicked on for Dave Tarpey to scamper clear and score his prototype goal. That sinking feeling returned right on the stroke of half time however when Truro headed home from a corner but at least it was a very short walk for a consolatory pint of Tribute. The feeling at the interval was that, against a side without a defeat on their own patch since August, the chances of a happy trip home seemed somewhat remote. Before I took my place outside once again a friendly West Ham supporting local took me to one side to tell me what a legend Alan Devonshire is.
Down the end at the far end of the ground there was no let us in the rain and the pitch was reaching the stage of ruin. I was determined that, having travelled so far. I would see this one through, unlike a number of the 1927 Club who wisely opted to remain in the bar at the other end. For the full bloody-minded experience, I watched the second forty-five from immediately behind the goal we were attacking at a venue short on covered accommodation. Tarpey got Maidenhead back into it once again but we were again two goals adrift within an instant and thoughts were very much with what carry-out from the local supermarket would be my refreshment of choice for the long journey home as we entered the final ten minutes.
Maidenhead were on top at this stage albeit it took a penalty kick from Tarpey who picked himself up from the mud to slot home to set up a grandstand finish. That last-minute-equaliser-in-the-rain-far-away-from-home duly arrived – one of Tarpey’s four four-goal hauls for the club completed – to scenes of sodden jubilation and deep into time added on we even struck a post. Four-all it ended. The mood in the steamed-up bar at the end was just as convivial as it had been an hour or so earlier, with the home fans gracious and good company despite their disappointment. As befits Non-League soccer, the players and management joined us in a bar; Dev was mobbed by the Truro Hammers and the shy and retiring Tarpey reluctantly posed for pictures with soaking wet, beer-breathing middle-aged Maidenhead fans
The merry trudge back to Truro station saw one of the Cymru Magpies almost fail to make the train – the last train of the day – back to Berkshire having somewhat enjoyed his birthday and the last I heard of Teggy on that particular day was that he was asleep on the floor of a carriage further down the train from where Magpies Director Steve Jinman and I enjoyed reflecting in length on an epic day. The 1927 Club sat in front of us meanwhile spent most of the journey home debating Labour Party Politics.
When the rains stopped, Maidenhead went on a bit of a run during the spring and came close to a play-off berth, narrowly missing out by setting the seeds for what was to follow. And there is the rub: from such small acorns do mighty Oaks grow. And that is the reason that we continue to follow!
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