The bad news, as regular readers of this blog will already know, was that United had crashed out of the FA Cup in embarrassing circumstances last week. The unexpected good news was that this match at Histon, scheduled for a midweek and thus totally impossible for me to get to, was sensibly brought forward - it was what you would call a bonus away day.
Histon is a village and, inevitably, nigh on impossible to get to. When I checked the train times it struck me with fear. Leeds to Peterborough, change and go to Ely, enjoy the beautiful cathedral city for a grand total of four minutes before getting on the train to Cambridge. Enjoy the beautiful university city for a grand total of eight minutes, get on the Guided Busway to Histon. Locate the ground. Seemed like a bit of a faff to me and I wasn’t entirely sure what a Guided Busway did. It was also fifty pounds into the coffers of Network Rail before I’d even set foot in Histon.
I did the sensible thing. I dialled for J for James Broughton. Well I tried calling his mobile but got the unpaid bill tone, then I called his girlfriend’s phone and got the busy tone. Then I left two Facebook messages. Then I texted his girlfriend and asked for Mr Broughton to call me. And then he did, but I was in the pub. And then I put a deposit on an express carrier pigeon to Lincoln and printed out the Google Maps instructions to hold in it’s beak, scribbling a coded sequence of hieroglyphics about my train times on the back. But then I got hold of him and a dastardly travel plan involving Newark North Gate and a KFC bargain bucket was put in place.
Considering how complicated making the arrangements had been, the journey to Histon was a smooth as the Fonz holding a pint of Boddingtons and we arrived at the quaint Bridge Road ground shortly after 1pm. Instructed to head in through the away turnstiles by the car park steward, us early Pilgrims gained entry through an open gate. This was where we were instructed to go, and I was wondering at the time why no money was exchanged. Odd, but nobody asked for my £3 student fare so they didn’t get it. Free football is always lovely.
Although a relatively local game, it appeared that last week’s trouncing at Altrincham had taken some impact on the travelling numbers (just over 100, I’d guess) and the pre-match outlook in the bar was very cautious. We made a pact to sing defiantly whatever the outcome - thankfully the “Loyal Supporters” chant, the surefire sign of true desperation, wasn’t required as United produced probably their best performance of the campaign so far.
Not that it seemed that way when Daniel Sparkes brilliantly found the bottom corner to put Histon in front after only eight minutes. The memories of seven days earlier came flooding back and we were very quiet afterwards. Histon, having slipped down from the Conference after a couple of barnstorming years, were bumbling along with a young team and started the match below Boston following a patchy start.
But once Marc Newsham had fired home the equaliser from the penalty spot on 16 minutes - after Jay Dowie handled - United were dominant and slowly ground down their opponents, whose inexperience would eventually show. It was a notable occasion for Paul Bastock as the legendary goalkeeper started his 650th game for the Pilgrims. What a phenomenal achievement - I sincerely hope they name a road or something in his honour, or erect some kind of monument in the newly-designed Market Place. Perhaps Batemans could brew something in his name, or we could have another testimonial!
The second-half was one-way traffic. Although not out of the game, the nerves seemed to seize Histon’s attacking play and Bazza probably could have counted his touches after the break on one of his massive, gloved hands. Chances came and went regularly and a second was just inevitable. In the end it was Danny Sleath, still at the club and back in the starting XI with a commanding performance, who blasted us in front and Gaffer Lee made the points secure with a header, which squirmed between the keeper’s legs, five minutes later.
A funny moment came when one of the stewards warned Mr Walden against the heinous crime of banging the corrugated iron roof on the stand. Although literally everyone was doing it, Scotty, with his Inbetweeners “I Love Clunge” t-shirt, was singled out and asked: “How would you like it if I came into your living room and started doing that?” “He doesn’t live in a house, he lives out in the fields,” someone quipped to general uproar. What a jobsworth. I wonder how they coped when Leeds United came here in the FA Cup!
We were back in Newark by 6.30, scorching up the A1 in eager anticipation of Mr Hammond’s new speed limit and I bunked on an early train. Seizing my opportunity to dash through an open ticket barrier at Leeds station, having got home before my booked train had even left North Gate, I smiled and recalled Mr Broughton’s reaction to the day’s events - ‘the job’s a good ‘un...”
Next Match: With Boston United at home to Workington next Saturday, I shall seek my football fix in Yorkshire once more.