I love away days. I love away days all the more when you drop down the leagues.
Go to a Premier League game and you are going to major cities in the main, London, Liverpool, Manchester, Cardiff. Slip down a bit and it’s got to be a bit more of an adventure.
I have largely misspent my youth traipsing around grounds to watch teams. I have a passing interest in and have many fond memories of weird and wonderful locations, getting overly familiar with the likes of Scunthorpe, Southend and Sunderland, amongst other British locations that don’t begin with S.
As a brief bit of context, house keeping, while counting myself as a Manchester City and Curzon Ashton fan, I went to university down in Devon, and lived behind St James Park in Exeter. Cheap tickets for students and a bit of a babyface meaning we could get the odd childs ticket led to me and a handful of friends watching the Grecians quite often, and usually lose.
I hadn’t ever watched Exeter play away while I was at University, the prohibitive cost of travelling to grounds, other teams not honouring cheap ticket offers to students and generally being far too lazy to organise anything of the sort prevented us from ever getting round to it. However a decade after leaving our flat behind the ground, myself and an old friend were both at a loose end on a Saturday, and Exeter was playing at Morecambe.
A fairly short hop from Manchester this seemed too good an opportunity to turn down. So off we headed to the Great British seaside on a sunny August afternoon, and it was wonderful.
By some sort of strange coincidence, we managed to turn up on the same day as an airshow of sorts, a military flyover does add to a sense of occasion. Finding several cheap pubs where the rounds will remind you that you aren’t in the Northern Quarter any more, in the very best of ways, with a few local characters, and an inordinate amount of bikers.
The most important part of any away day, or indeed a day for myself, is sniffing out a decent amount of carbohydrates, and the perk of a seaside away day is more chip shops than even I can sample in 5 hour period.
Morecambe’s ground is a short walk from town and there is a pub in the carpark, which doesn’t have a “no away fans” rule.
Exeter fans themselves travel, and travel well. Exeter is ages away from everywhere, there are no near away games so there is a bit of a “may as well” attitude. If it’s going to take you three hours to get to Birmingham, what’s another couple to Lancashire. The turnout was huge, with nearly as many away fans as home fans and the away end in fantastic voice the whole way through with the added bonus of a stag doo (more on them later).
The Grecians utterly outplayed Morecambe, and a few basic errors by the home side, including a goal kick that instead of going upfield was just booted sideways into the stands further added to the atmosphere. Early season optimism, winning, and beautiful weather are an excellent combination for a good day away.
The half time entertainment at this level is always bizarre too and involves the mass embarrassment of school-aged children. Not quite as good as the half time entertainment I once saw where the aim was genuinely to kick a ball into a shed to win a shed, but enough mockery to keep it entertaining, and a pretty reasonably priced bar too.
Then in the second half, with Exeter winning and the game starting to wind down, the ball was kicked out of play and landed at the feet of the stag do (remember them…) and they refused to give the ball back to the players. Cue something I’d never seen before, in both sets of players and a lot of Exeter fans kicking off at some men in pink fluffy cowboy hats to the extent the stewards got involved.
Never change, League Two, never change.
If the list of away grounds you have visited extends to Stamford Bridge, Anfield and Old Trafford then I insist you head off to a ground in the football leagues, you’ll leave with a few stories to tell, and maybe a shed.