I still don’t really know how I ended up at Maidenhead United on Saturday afternoon. I’d fully intended to go and watch Watford play Wolves at Vicarage Road and had counted out the cash for the ticket and everything. I’d looked at the direction for the ground and I’d even picked which stand to sit in.
But after a fruitless pursuit of a fake moustache to complete my Second World War-themed fancy dress costume for that evening (before you think i’ve gone totally bonkers, it was a very cool WW2 swing party in Shoreditch to which I’d decided to go as Baron von Shergold, Ace Spitfire pilot), I’d left myself a bit short of time.
Factor in the obligatory TfL Tube closures and I was lamenting my decision to walk down Oxford Street to the joke shop I thought might have the stick-on upper lip hair i needed (the shop was closed) and not take a bus or train.
As I dashed back to my flat to drop off some other purchases at about 1.30pm, I was still optimistic of getting a national rail train from Euston and getting to Watford in good time. Then, as I sprinted down the stairs of my building to run to Royal Oak tube, it dawned on me that there would doubtless by some transport chaos in my way.
I was right. When my phone loaded the info (I was straddling a number of stairs, stretching out my arms to try and get reception at this point) it revealed that the precise stretch of line I needed to take was closed all weekend. How very helpful.
I had a moment of genuine panic then - still sliding along the bannister trying to think in the stairwell. I couldn’t not go to a match - that just wouldn’t do at all - but it was by now 1.43pm and my options were narrowing.
Then, a brainwave. I recalled someone (I’m going to guess it was Mr Hallgarth) saying that Maidenhead’s York Road ground was right next to the station and easily reachable from Paddington. I live near Paddington and so bundled down the remaining stairs and out into a cold, crisp afternoon.
About half-way there, I realised there might be a big flaw in my plan. In all my haste, I didn’t know whether Maidenhead were actually at home. At this point, my month’s allowance of internet data on my phone ran out and it took almost the entire walk to Paddington to load their website (I couldn’t risk slowing down and waiting for it, as the train I needed was at 1.57pm).
Eventually, the pedestrian stream of data flowed into my phone from the ether and revealed, to my enormous relief, that they were at home in the Conference South to Dorchester Town. Beads of sweat were rolling down my forehead when I flopped onto a seat on the train, having burst every blood vessel on my power walk to Paddington.
Of course, the line to Maidenhead took me right past the engineering works that had ruined my best laid plans in the first place. To be fair, there were people in fluorescent jackets looking at the track which made me feel slightly better about the whole situation.
Upon arrival in the town of Maidenhead - former home to Rolf Harris and the Spice Girls and where the average house price is a mortgage-busting £461,421 - the first thing I saw was a poor old bloke whose motorbility scooter had broken down on the dual carriageway pedestrian crossing. Since nobody in the waiting cars seemed willing to assist, I gave the chap a push to the safety of the pavement and saw him phone for help. Better plug the thing in for longer next time.
My civic duty to Maidenhead done, I walked the short distance to York Road which, as Mr Hallgarth had correctly said, is ridiculously close to the station. If you’re a trainspotter and a football fan, then this ground is some kind of haven. The trains on the Great Western Railway thundered past quick and often.
It was a decent enough little ground, not dissimilar to other grounds in this league, with a nice open terrace along the side which offered a fine view and a clubhouse that seemed pretty busy. The glass-fronted facade of the Maidenhead Advertiser newspaper behind one end was a local point of reference.
I wouldn’t advise having a burger though - in terms of bad catering it was up there with the 98 percent bread burger I had at Blyth and the monkey cum pasty at Huddersfield. Basically, it tasted like a plastic spectacle case melted down into a puck and served vacuum-sealed between two Ryvita.
I was also convinced I’d win the half-time raffle, thus paying handsomely for my night out (especially in 1940s currency) and so I bought two tickets. The winning ticket was only about 1,200 out from mine. And a different colour.
The match was a fair piece of entertainment. There was soon something to warm the spirits of the vocal home fans when Daniel Brown reacted quickest to the rebound to tap-in when Dave Pratt’s header was saved by the Dorchester keeper two minutes in.
Maidenhead dominated the first half and played all the good football but Dorchester, who have dropped like a stone since I last saw them at Hornchurch, equalised near half time through a lovely Ben Watson strike. The Dorset side probably had a couple of dozen in the crowd and they made themselves heard when a James Regis own goal gave them a second-half lead.
Maidenhead pushed hard in the fading light and creeping cold, summoning their goalkeeper forward for a succession of late corners, but it was Dorchester’s day.
P.S. The Baron was a great hit. In fact, there were random girls who came up asking for a photo with me. I can’t pretend this has ever happened before!
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Next Match: Arsenal v Montpellier in the Champions League on Wednesday.