No More Detours anymore - by Chairman Mao
Football has changed. There’s no doubt about that and there’s plenty of obvious examples of that. From the demise of the Football Pinks on Saturday to the absence of toilet rolls thrown from goal line terraces. Things has changed so much that many traditions seem to have faded away with little or no fanfare.
Sometimes though you can be reading a fanzine or chatting over a beer and something will spark a memory of a bygone age buried deep down within the football psyche.
I’ve just read the current When Saturday Comes magazine (there’s an article on Merthyr Town’s football league period in there) and I came across a double page on Watford which took me down a rabbit-hole of nostalgia as I remembered 1979 and Chesham United.
These days a Saturday morning is often begun with a text or tweet advising that there’s been a pitch inspection hundreds of miles away in the flat barren wastelands of England and the game has been called off. Some local ref has turned up and ruined your day. Fair enough you say. But has the call been made too soon?
It’s almost certainly the right call by the non-league game to err on the side of caution regarding away team travel. Buses can be expensive and a fruitless journey for semi-professional players can cost precious time and often wages. So the current rule that makes the home club responsible for paying the cost of the away team’s bus for the rearranged fixture seems sensible but it does put a lot of pressure on clubs to make that early call no matter how premature it may seem.
We’ve all seen the social media pictures of a perfect pitch at 3.00pm as the rain stopped as soon as the referee headed out of the car park and the sun has shone for hours. Frustrating for everyone especially the fans who now must face an empty day without football.
This new shiny world of no risk has ensured that one of the unique moments in non-league football rarely occurs anymore. The supporters’ bus is full and you arrive at the ground (or you’ve phoned ahead) and the game is off – proper off too; puddles on pitch or penguins skating across it.
What do you do? Well often it was a detour to a Football League game. A quick scan of the newspaper and a search for the most local game which brings me back to 1979 and a visit to Vicarage Road to see Elton John’s Hornets face Sunderland.
About thirteen buses had left Merthyr for that FA Cup 2nd Round tie and to arrive to a frozen pitch was heart-breaking to every Martyrs fan. Some disillusioned souls were happy to head back home but many of us including my dad were determined to get something out of the day so about five buses headed to Watford. I don’t really remember much of the game, we all stood on the terraces, I couldn’t see much of the pitch, I do remember the smell of burnt onions and eating a dodgy burger and that Watford won. Wilf Rostron played too.
A decade or so later and a bus of Merthyrites are queuing to get into The Hawthorns to see West Bromwich Albion take on someone (Plymouth maybe) after a game in the English midlands had been postponed. I remember nothing about this game as I spent most of the match watching the crowd, lads singing, I bought a fanzine and read it cover to cover, the whole match was an education in terrace culture. Almost everyone who returned to our bus home thought the game was shit but I had loved it. Those detours also expressed the desire for football fans to get their weekend fix of the beautiful game. Sadly these new experiences seem denied to the next generation as there are rarely risks taken anymore so that bus rarely leaves the garage anymore for a hopeful trip over the border.
More recently we visited a Farnborough game when a weekender to Fleet Town still went ahead despite our match being postponed that morning. It was a great day of booze and banter as we supported Dorchester that day and it was certainly better than watching Jeff Stelling on TV in a pub somewhere.
So a magical adventure into the unknown on a cold winter’s day with your mates has been taken away from us all by the safety first kill-joys of the non-league. Sensible maybe but definitely boring for everyone who loves a detour.