There’s an affliction to which all genuine football fans can relate. You won’t find it in any medical dictionary, but this neurological condition has been proven to wreck lives, relationships and bank balances. I’m going to call it Mid-Winter Midweek Cross-Country Football Trek Syndrome, or if you understand Latin Blindus loyaltis flippin’ mentalistmus.
I came down with an acute case this week. All the warning signs were there - so, Boston United have got a midweek fixture against Colwyn Bay. First, where is Colwyn Bay? Oh look, it’s only 189 miles away - right over there in North Wales on the other page of the map. Ah well, just the 378 mile round-trip then. No problem at all, I’m sure the miles will just zip painlessly by.
Second, when is it? It’s on a Tuesday night in early February. Ah well, might be a bit nippy up on the Irish Sea coast but I’m a hardened football fan, I’ve watched the team in all weathers. A bracing wind is good for the soul, will blow the cobwebs away.
Thirdly, and more specifically, what’s the weather actually going to be like? Well we’ve only had the one week of Siberian temperatures and major snowfall. Of course I have taken into account that all the fixtures in our league - including the one at Colwyn - were postponed at the weekend and there’s a very high probability the same thing will happen tonight, most likely when we’ve been on our way for three hours leaving us no option but to turn around and drive back for another three hours... At this point, most would have said “enough” and got out the TV listings. I decided to take my chances.
Finally, how am I going to get there? I don’t have a car and the one my friend’s uncle is running is full. It’s six hours there and back by train and seventy fucking quid, plus an overnight stay in a Travelodge or a Travel Tavern or the one Lenny Henry endorses. Oh look, the supporters‘ bus is running. Well, being a bus it will likely add at least an extra hour to the journey time on both legs, meaning I’ll probably pass the milkman on my walk home. But it’s not as though I have a choice...
There are many very good and valid reasons in the last four paragraphs not to even leave the house, let alone contemplate stepping on to the bus. But when you have Mid-Winter Midweek Cross-Country Football Trek Syndrome you just don’t see things in a sensible or logical way. You make excuses, you create reasons just to convince yourself that going to Colwyn Bay is the right and proper thing to do.
And so, after a series of pitying looks from friends, family and knowing members of the public - plus a number of sympathetic messages from fellow fans - I boarded the bus and went to Colwyn Bay.
Like any coach journey, the first couple of hours are fine. You chat with your fellow passengers, the atmosphere is jovial. You perhaps have some nice snacks and a newspaper to read, so the time flies by. Before you know it you’re on the A1 and actually getting somewhere quickly.
And then slowly the cramp creeps in to your legs, your stomach rumbles, the conversation dries up, the paper is exhausted, the snacks become just wrappers and you glare out the window at the dusky, icy landscapes for mile after monotonous mile, minute after minute and grinding hour after hour until arriving at your destination - even if it is a seaside resort in North Wales - seems like the most heavenly thing in the world.
I hadn’t set foot in Wales since we were relegated at Wrexham in 2007, so the novelty of visiting another country was quite nice. Although, in reality, the only flavour of Wales we got in the pitch darkness were the ludicrously complicated place names on the bilingual road signs. I’m sure Colwyn Bay - a place United hadn’t visited since 1997 - is very nice, but we had neither the time or the inclination to see it.
There were about 40 Pilgrims supporters at the game, all, in some way, afflicted with the aforementioned Syndrome. However, some of the symptoms are more extreme than other. There were the two fans who had come by train on the Monday, stayed and gone out in Chester, made their way to the game, seen us lose in the last minute, stayed overnight again and got the train back on the Wednesday. It says it all when one of them saw it necessary to book the entire week off - just in case of delay.
Then there was Mr Broughton, who was here only because of his girlfriend’s shaky grasp of geography. Had she realised Colwyn Bay was actually where it was, and not in the East Midlands like he told her, there is absolutely no way he would have been allowed out the front door. In fairness, he is probably one of the few people with MWMWCCFTS in a steady relationship. For the moment.
Buoyed by a recent upturn in fortunes and refreshed by a week’s rest brought on by Saturday’s postponement at Hinckley, Boston were superb in the first-half, rubbishing fears they would be a bit “leggy” following the epic journey here. They shifted the ball around with panache, caused all manner of problems down the flanks and engineered some great chances.
Danny Sleath, who was again excellent throughout, wasn’t afraid to shoot from range and an early 20-yarder had us cocked ready to celebrate, only to whistle fractionally wide of the post. Undaunted and with great faith in his sweet right foot, he struck another one a few minutes later. The ball found a path through a forest of legs and nestled in the bottom corner, the perfect way to warm the cockles of the visiting fans bunched on the open terrace (they’re raising money to build a roof on it, we’re told).
Campus hero Sleath then teased a ball through to Marc Newsham who chipped the home goalkeeper Chris Sanna only to be denied by a linesman’s flag. Our vantage point was perfect and the decision was marginal to say the least. Boston were running riot but Bazza shook the frostbite off his gloves to see Rob Hopley’s downward header on to his right-hand post just before the break.
We moved behind the far goal in the second half, in a claustrophobic corrugated iron stand with no headroom but at least some banter from the local Chav-elry. Unfortunately, they immediately had something to cheer as Karl Noon capitalised on some sloppy Boston defending to lash the ball past Bazza to equalise on 50 minutes.
But there was plenty in the tank and, within three minutes, United were back in the lead. Ian Ross chipped a set-piece into a dangerous area and Newsham, as he does exceedingly often, got on the end of it and guided the ball into the roof of the net. Of course, everyone went bonkers and all the outfield players rushed into the away fans to celebrate.
Lee Canoville had re-tweeted me earlier in the day as I contemplated whether being here was loyal or mental. That goal answered the question and, in accordance of our history of heavy petting during celebrations, I twatted him on the back several times with my leather gloves during the melee to show my appreciation.
Unsurprisingly, Boston started to look a little fatigued in the last quarter and invited Colwyn on to them. There were some sprightly players in the opposition ranks and they weren’t afraid to run at the defence. Conor Marshall and Tom Ward were also excellent, but there was only so long they could hold out for. A corner was only partially cleared and Shelton Payne inflicted a measure of, erm, pain by finding the top corner. 2-2.
But even then there were chances to snatch it. Gareth Jellyman scorched down the left and lofted a great cross into the middle which evaded Sanna. Leon Constantine, who had replaced Ben Fairclough, was unmarked at the back post but, unable to adjust his feet, found only the side-netting with the goal gaping.
And we paid for it. Last time at Corby, we experienced the joys of victory in the last moments. Now it was time to feel the exact opposite - Colwyn countered and Noon thrashed the ball home for the winner. We deserved at least a point, but such is football. I slumped over the hoardings, head in hands. It wasn’t the performance, it was the prospect of the five hours home. I must be wrong in the head.
Next Match: United are at home to Worcester City on Saturday