And so, after consecutive Saturdays pretending to be interested in other teams, it was back on the Pilgrim bandwagon and my second visit to the leafy Birmingham suburb of Solihull this year. Back in March, we came here high in the aftermath of Rob Scott and Paul Hurst departing to Grimsby, and lost by a single goal. And about six weeks ago, we played them at York Street, and lost by a single goal. Unfortunately, today was to be no different, as though the people of the West Midlands have put some kind of dastardly single goal curse on us.
I quite like the look of Solihull, at least comparatively to other big city suburbs I’ve visited on my football travels. It’s not as though the local hoodies are rapping Shakespeare’s sonnets on street corners, but there was a reassuring number of Tudorette-style houses, bus services and fairly new Mercedes in the place to make it seem decent. I should know, for I decided unwisely to walk from the train station to the ground, which seemed a short hop on Google Maps but turned out to be a three-mile route-march which left my nose and ears beetroot and my thighs chafing like a fat man.
Solihull haven’t quite matched their achievements of last season, when they narrowly missed out on the play-offs and claimed some notable scalps, but it was good to see the red seats installed behind one of the goals in a “shit-we-might-get-promoted-but-the-conference-won’t-like-our-ground” moment were in working order. Boston probably outnumbered the home supporters but there was little to get excited about and we raised about five chants all afternoon, not helped by the majority of Damson Park being open-air.
My day cost about £55 in total, including a hefty £35 train fare from Leeds (sometimes you wish you were still in Sheffield, especially on the delayed journey back), but this was nothing compared to one Boston couple who spent about £90 on train fares from Lincolnshire and £40 on taxis from Birmingham New Street. Unless they went first class and feasted on East Midlands Trains finest pheasant, caviar and swan soup and drank Moet Chandon, I can’t help thinking they have been duped by that privatized railway network of ours. Or had been incredibly stupid.
What the pair must have thought as the turgid first half unfolded, I dread to think. Paul Bastock strained every sinew to push a Jordan Fitzpatrick 30-yarder away to safety and The Cat’s counterpart Jasbir Singh pushed Ryan Semple’s low drive onto the post, but that’s about it. On every attack, United sought out Semps on the flank - he was more often than not given the Freedom of Birmingham - and he would cross the ball in seeking the noggin of Jason Lee. But the Gaffer’s elbows hadn’t been sharpened in time for the game and he didn’t get on the end of any of them. Inevitably, Solihull worked out that this tactic was being repeated TIME after TIME and closed Semps down hawkishly for the remainder of the game.
Oh how very bored we were watching it. The main talking point of the first-half was that the referee was Japanese - J-League and qualified FIFA official Toma Masaaki no less - and how fair he was (surprise, surprise). I can only assume that Mr Masaaki was quietly going about his business at the baggage carousel at the adjacent Birmingham International Airport, when he was kidnapped by Blue Square North officials and driven to Damson Park, where he was supplied with a whistle and black kit and shoved out onto the field. Only the grace and reserve characteristic of his people prevented Mr Masaaki from asking: “What the HELL am I doing here?”
The longer the second half went on, the more likely it looked that United would cave in. And they did - on 66 minutes, James McPike’s cross wasn’t dealt with by our creaking defence and Lee Morris was left with the simplest of finishes. United had created nothing after the break and proceeded not to create anything until the final whistle. In fact the highlight of the second 45 was when Lawson Jr suddenly proclaimed with incredulity: “Look, a PLANE!” as though aviation hadn’t been invented.
What a disappointing afternoon and on the long walk back to the train I realised I was tired, hungry and miserable. The Holy Trinity of the football fan. Fantastic.
Next Match: With United at home, I will continue my seeking the romance of the Cup in insignificant northern towns series. It's first round day.