Many people mock it, but the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy has been pretty kind to me over the last few years. While at the University of Sheffield, I saw one of the best games of my life when Sheffield Wednesday miraculously beat Chesterfield on penalties after a thrilling 2-2 draw in 2010.
And this time last year, I saw a near carbon copy at Huddersfield when they were beaten by Bradford City on spot-kicks after a high-scoring draw in a pulsating West Yorkshire Derby.
So, I thought three might be a charm after work on Tuesday and hopped on the Central Line to Leyton Orient. Unfortunately it wasn’t the case - I saw a turgid game featuring just one goal and not a great deal besides.
I was left grateful that the kick-off had been pushed forward to 7pm so we could get it all done and dusted and return to the warmth of home on what had turned into a cloudless and chilly night.
Not that I have any qualms about Brisbane Road, which is an unorthodox, but character-full venue. I’ve never been to a ground with blocks of apartments in all four corners. Now these are pieces of real estate that I would love to be involved with.
It’s like that “If Carlsberg did apartments” advert, with some of the corner flats boasting great views of the action. If i lived there, I’d sit and watch from a deck chair with some beers in an ice bucket and the BBQ going.
Just before half-time, as the residents drifted in from work, you could see curtains twitching and faces pressed against the windows. At one point towards the end of the first half, a lady popped out for a fag on the balcony. She was so close I was practically breathing in the smoke.
Mind you, it must be a right pain in terms of noise and aggro if you don’t actually like football and unwittingly bought one without realising.
Only two sides of the ground were open - the West Stand for home supporters where I was positioned and the North Stand for the two hundred or so travellers from Hertfordshire, who were excellent throughout in terms of volume and enthusiasm.
The old main stand opposite, the only stand not redeveloped by the Barry Hearn millions, looked quite forbidding in the darkness.
As I mentioned, the action was non-descript and in the end it was Orient who moved a game closer to the Wembley final courtesy of a goal from Moses Odubajo towards half-time. The right-back had forayed forward and was really in the right place at the right time to stroke home when Dean Cox’s low cross evaded those who were meant to get on it.
So in the absence of anything worthwhile to talk about out on the perfectly manicured pitch, I was kept entertained by a couple of moanus groanus types (on the scientifically proven Shergold scale of fan classification).
The bloke behind me was the first culprit. As soon as the first ball went astray he tutted loudly. Nothing worse than a tutter, I thought, someone who can’t keep their frustrations to themselves but doesn’t have the capacity to form a sentence to vent them.
As the match went on, he did form some sentences, featuring many words of the four-lettered variety, most of which were directed at David Mooney and Michael Symes (who, to be fair, was quite bad). I let him off his annoying opinions though because he sounded a bit like Michael Caine and who doesn’t like the voice of Michael Caine.
But that bloke was positively primitive as a species of moanus groanus compared to the bloke who emerged from nowhere to station himself beneath me in the second-half. It was fitting that this guy, the next evolution of the gnarled, resentful football fan, should be sitting in row one, seat one because he did everything to ensure his voice and opinions were the number one.
At one point, he looked around and compared himself to the late comedian Frank Carson - “It’s the way I tell em” he implored to a bored sea of faces. Unfortunately, there are occasions when it is better not to tell em at all. Like here.
Referee Roger East was the main focus of this clown’s views. If East had visited this guy’s house, cut all the lawns, weeded the patio, washed the cars, decorated throughout and cooked Christmas lunch, he still wouldn’t have been offered a kind word.
Some of the Orient players didn’t escape this bloke’s cannon or ire either. One example when a daisy cutter of a show trickled through to the Barnet keeper - “My great grandmother could have done that,” he said while spraying pastry crumbs over the stewards. Before a truly brilliant pause for comic effect... “And she’s DEAD!”
What a breathtakingly original joke.
By the end, all those around me were laughing at him, not with him. As the final whistle was greeted with another volley of vitriol, I turned to chap next to me and said: “There’s always one, isn’t there.” Mind you, he was more entertaining than the game.
Next match: England v San Marino on Friday