Sunday, 27 February 2011

Walsall 0 Rochdale 0

The above title could literally have been any one of about eight matches on this extraordinary day of Black Country football-watching. I’ve never known anything quite like it. What started out as an already more complicated-than-usual trip to Stafford to watch Boston United turned into crushing disappointment and a desperate dash around the West Midlands looking for some action. And even after all that, we didn’t get to see a goal!

I awoke to find two text messages – one from Andy A saying the Pilgrims’ visit to the Marston’s Stadium was in ‘serious doubt’ because of a waterlogged pitch and the other from Andy P asking if I had a Plan B (he went to Villa, like we should have done). In hindsight, the sane man would have rolled over and gone back to sleep. But no, it was straight to the official website, where the dreaded words ‘Match OFF’ screamed back at me. Lousy tinpot league.

Not for the first time this season, the heart dived. This was *crushing disappointment number one.*

Frantic Googling offered a contingency – there was Wolves vs. Blackpool, Villa vs. Blackburn, Shrewsbury vs. Gillingham, Walsall vs. Rochdale, Telford vs. Corby and Chasetown vs. Mansfield. But circumstance limited us. It so happens that Andy’s prospective fiancée (he’s saving frantically) is from Stafford and he needed to call in on the in-laws before driving back. I thought this might be a bit awkward so had booked on the 5.30 train out of Stafford to get back to Sheffield at a reasonable hour. Determined not to waste money, we were limited to Wolves and Walsall, as a steady 80 back up the M6 would beat the express to Stafford. Still with me? Good.

It didn’t take much mental arithmetic to opt for Wolves, the appeal of Premier League football proving stronger than a run-of-the-mill League One affair. Remarkably, it was also cheaper to go to Molineux! NUS affiliation has its benefits.

We reached Wolverhampton in plenty of time. The handsome cantilever stands shone gold in the shafts of sunshine, the statue of Billy Wright glistened and we found parking directly opposite the entrance. Strolling round the ground, waiting for the players to arrive, we were pleased with our selection, with an exciting game in prospect. Wolves really had to win and Holloway’s Blackpool know no other way but to attack. It screamed entertainment. Better sort out a seat.

I had to double-take the crude A4 paper notice on the ticket office window. It had two more dreaded words printed on it - ‘Sold Out.’ How? Surely this wasn’t the most attractive Premier League fixture? Apparently it was. This was certainly *crushing disappointment number two.*

Not today, thank you
I bought a programme and slumped back into the car. At this point, at 2pm, we decided the only alternative was to head 10 miles east and go to Walsall. At this point, I was grateful for three things: Andy, for putting up with all this pursuit of random football, Google Maps on my phone and that we live in a country where, on any given Saturday afternoon nine months of the year, there is football to be found in just about every other town in the country. God bless England and its national game.

The strategic parking outside the Bescot Stadium was something to behold and the M6 was literally in sight for the quick getaway at full-time. Joining the ticket office queue we clocked the prices. I thought student discount was pretty standard regardless of the division, but there wasn’t any here. Probably because there’s no University of Walsall. I hadn’t paid an adult price since Corby in September. *Crushing disappointment number three.*

As I sheepishly pulled £20 out of my wallet, the mind drifted back to Bolton-Wigan last month. I could hear the bloke who reads the classifieds silky voice - “Walsall nil Rochdale nil.” But hark, a group of angels were approaching from the car park – angels dressed in checked shirts, with Brummie accents and, erm, male. “Excuse me lads, we’ve got a couple of complimentary tickets here if you want them.” Neither of us could quite get the words of gratitude out. The £20 returned to the wallet. We practically skipped to the turnstile. We don’t know your names, you probably won’t ever read this blog and it’s unlikely we’ll ever come back to Walsall, but thank you. *Uplifting moment number one.*

Astonished, we considered the chances of being in the right place at the right time like that. We had been through hundreds of traffic lights on the drive, if just one had been red. If I’d looked for a tout at Wolves. If I’d deliberated for a second longer on my choice of chicken wrap in Tescos.

Thus unfolded possibly the worst game of football I have ever seen. It’s no lie that if I’d paid £20 for this crap I would have been fuming. There were two decent chances in the entire game, both for Rochdale, and neither side looked interested in winning. My attention quickly drifted to Europe’s largest billboard, standing behind the away end, and how many thousands of pounds the club must earn off it, and the constant stream of traffic on the M6 behind it. I swear I saw that Spar lorry which cut us up just outside Lichfield. Wanker.

I’ve only ever left one game early in my life – that fateful night at Wembley in 2007 – England 2 Croatia 3 – but couldn’t wait to get out of this one. No wonder they were giving the tickets away....

Next Match: No idea.


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