MIDDLESBROUGH. Eight-seater car. By Wednesday morning, that is about as far as we got. No-one seems to know who is driving or really how far Middlesbrough is. Mick Clarke reckons it’s “only two hours”, but he also wears shorts in November, so his positivity is not to be trusted.
Eventually, Brad says he’ll drive and we settle on a 3pm departure time from The Railway in Seaforth. A lovely little wine bar well worthy of your attention if you are ever in the area. This seems handy enough for everyone and there is even talk we might actually get to an away destination this season in time for a pint before the game. Imagine.
Brad picks us up right on the dot at 3:45. You’d have thought him being late would have meant we’d have got sorted in other areas in the meantime, but you’d be wrong, of course. We still need to stop at Tesco for ale and, for some reason, back to Mick’s for the cool boxes. I’m reasonably sure he could have brought them with him, but anyway.
We eventually leave Maghull at about 4:45, after everyone has been into Mick’s for a piss. Mick’s dad is telling us how late we are. Yeah, nice one. Mick’s dad is known as Dave Dave as he’s a walking Sat Nav (get it? TomTom. Oh, never mind). He tells us every possible route to Middlesbrough, in between repeatedly telling us we haven’t left early enough.
We settle for the M6 way as it feels like you are driving north sooner. The drive would have been lovely if we hadn’t had set off in the dark. The A685 has delightful views of roaming hills and quaint villages, normally. Today it’s just six lads pissing on the side of the road trying not to stand downwind of each other.
It’s Craig Hannan’s first trip on the bus with us. It’s fair to say he asked a lot of questions beforehand. “What’s the deal with the petrol, then?” “We just all pay for the petrol, mate,” just one example of many questions that felt rather unnecessary. I didn’t think a man could complicate sitting in a vehicle and getting drunk, but Craig was doing his best. Still, he’s bloody gorgeous, so what are you going to do?
Despite Dave Dave’s negativity, we are there by 7:15. In our continuing attempt to get a parking ticket everywhere we go, we park on what can only be described as a roundabout and walk the short distance to the ground. It’s unseasonably warm, which feels wrong. Middlesbrough has been freezing cold whenever I have been. Global warming, lads.
We get in and I realise we now have the side of the pitch rather than behind a goal. This angers me a lot. Teams should be relegated for not giving you an end. It’s shithouse behaviour. Not as bad as Newcastle where they put you so far away they might as well sell you 3,000 spaces in a car park, but still. Apparently there is some sort of rule being brought in that away fans now have to be “pitchside” but it still doesn’t get us an end. Like they are scared you might have too much fun or contribute to the whole experience.
The Middlesbrough fans are making a great noise, to be fair. They’ve copied a lot of stuff, like. They do that Icelandic hand clap thing when they get a corner, and bizarrely seem to have stolen our songbook from 2006 (variations on ‘best midfield in the world’, ‘Luis Garcia’ and ‘Ring of Fire’ all get an airing), but they seem to have got something going up there. Until we score. Then they sing loads of songs about unemployment in Liverpool and Steven Gerrard slipping over. Football fans are weird, aren’t they. Still, they are boss on Hillsborough so we are all mates again by the end.
Liverpool are fair first half and fantastic second. Our “end” is great throughout. There are a fair number of spares floating about leading up to the game, not unusual for a midweek kick-off a fair way away just before Christmas, which means that everyone who wanted to be there pretty much was. It’s a crowd that feels young and vibrant and full of the joy of the Reds.
I want to be everyone’s mate, but I stick with the ones I have. Craig Hannan is climbing all over the place. Mick Clarke is returning to his seat down the stairs as the second goes in and crowd surfs down to us to join the celebrations. Brad nearly cracks a smile. It’s absolute scenes everywhere.
Before the game, I see James Cutler who still should be nowhere near a football match. His solution to having no working legs is getting his mum to drive him to the game. From Essex! His mum seems lovely. I give her a kiss. His dad has swerved the match and stayed in a Turkish restaurant to drink Efes. What a fella. Although, when he hears his missus is getting necked by Scouse lads he might change his mind next time.
The TAW contingent are in fine spirits, having set off early and stopped in York. At half-time, Mike Nevin tries to give me £5 for a pint of lager and a small bottle of white wine. I’m not sure how cheap he’s heard it is up north, like. Rob Gutmann hears someone else is buying small wines and quickly orders the rest.
Afterwards, we clap and cheer the Reds and the players litter the crowd with shirts. Some nice mementos of a successful day. Helpfully, the Boro fans have all left early — possibly having been shown the way to go home due to being tired and wanting to go to bed — and so we get a dart away straightaway. No parking ticket too. Everything’s coming up Liverpool.
We fly home, until the start of tense negotiations over who gets dropped off first. The fact that Ben Mac lives right by The Rocket, and that he’s also the biggest and angriest, normally means he gets dropped off first. This suits me down to the ground as I am round the corner. However Mick Clarke is in Brad’s ear about going up to Maghull first. Brad buckles and Ben goes ballistic. We’re literally metres from home and suddenly it’s the M62 to Wavertree via Maghull, Seaforth and town. Just because it apparently makes more sense if you are going to Huyton. So much for an early night.
The next day I have to be up at 7am. Ben is in a similar position. So he helpfully sends our driver a map to improve his decision making next time. Have a look Brad, see what you reckon:
Up the last home Reds.
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