Having negotiated snaking queues for the ticket machines, stressed southerners with whiney accents trying to escape THAT miserable north, red-faced and heavy-panting station staff, and general all-round British Rail incompetence, merely getting to the train was half the battle won on this awayday at Vauxhall Motors. Or so I imagined. It turned out to be one of the more intrepid, if not inspiring, trips of the season to date.
Vauxhall Motors, who must have the most flagrantly commercial name of any football club in the country, can also pitch a good claim to having one of the most inaccessible grounds. Perhaps if I’d asked, they would have done me a good deal on a second-hand Vectra, but for now I’m a travelling supporter at the mercy of the railways and reaching Rivacre Park is a bit of an adventure to say the least.
Alighting at Hooton station after mingling with legions of Tranmere-supporting scallies on Merseyrail’s tram-cum-underground-cum-light rail, initial impressions were positive. One moment, this part of the Wirral seemed quaint and friendly, with expensive-looking properties and homely pubs at regular intervals. The next, I was attracting the attention of some vicious-looking Rottweilers in a derelict farmer’s yard, squelching through ankle-deep mud in my hasty retreat back to the country lane from which I had mistakenly strayed. Not the ground, then.
Nike trainers caked in mud, I soldiered on down narrow roads, trying to recall the pedestrian section of the Highway Code. Suddenly confronted with the thundering traffic of the M53, I was convinced I had gone badly off course. Not quite on the hard shoulder, though I might as well have been, I spied the entrance to the ground about 200 yards ahead. Weary from my adventure, I hugged the grass verge and trekked expectantly towards the white welcome sign, which shone like a beacon in the October Merseyside gloom.
Watching Wigan Athletic against Wolves on a dodgy Albanian satellite hook-up (this is Merseyside, after all) in the, ahem, Astra Lounge, our valiant band compared stories. Adam Hallgarth, who had set off pre-dawn from Basingstoke, had landed at another nearby station and was wandering around on a local golf course in great danger of missing kick-off when he was mercifully rescued by a passing group of Pilgrims fans sensible enough to have travelled by car. Not for the faint-hearted is Vauxhall Motors away.
Rivacre Park was, as anticipated, nothing special. This was my third jaunt onto Merseyside to watch football and, with the previous two visits being rather contrasting experiences at Anfield and The Arriva Stadium, Marine, I was safe in my assumption that this would be more similar to the latter than the former. With decent-looking stands along most of each side, the ground is more than adequate for Vauxhall’s current needs though. Boston provided probably just over 100 of the 277 crowd, with the remainder being spotty local scallies clothed in Adidas designs from the mid-1990s hen-picked by dysfunctional mothers from local charity shops.
United welcomed Jason Lee back into the starting eleven for the first time in five years and, although the pineapple locks have long since disappeared – as befitting a man about to enter his fourth decade – his aerial prowess remains. I observed Lee win all but one of the headers he went for but he does have a tendency to lean in vigorously to challenges and, on this evidence, I predict he will score 15 goals and be booked 49 times this season. He will also be caught offside 657 times, which is impressive for his age.
Trouble is, there is now an overwhelming temptation to lump the ball forward to him without forethought. The fluid football witnessed last season and fleetingly in the early stages of this campaign might as well now be extinct. Lee shouldn’t be the only focal point of United’s attack and he shouldn’t keep Spencer Weir-Daley out of the side. We need to retain pace down the flanks and strive to keep possession, not hoof the ball forward repetitively.
United should have come away with three points, despite an uninspiring display. The official, who either re-defined the compliment baby-faced or is genuinely revising for his Key Stage Three SATs at the moment, failed to spot a couple of handballs in the second-half and didn’t exactly cover himself in glory. Perhaps the Motors Massive had taken his hub caps hostage. The best chance came right at the death: Lee slipped in Danny Sleath, who was clean through, but Vauxhall keeper Scott Tynan, who I believe fits window wipers on the production line, spread himself to ensure stalemate.
Next Match: Most likely Sheffield Wednesday vs. Chesterfield in the world-renowned knockout competition that is the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, or Hyde FC vs. Boston United on Saturday