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Alty Towers

Eeh, that were fun weren’t it, our kid?

If you want to know what happened during the actual game of Northern Premier 0 Southern Premier 1, you can wait until the OS’s one comes up (written by, er, *cough*…). If you don’t, then you probably come here first off anyway.

As I mentioned in my Friday update, this was the first proper Northern away trip since Sheffield United in 2002, and yesterday was another step back into what we used to do almost by right. Early starts, figuring out train times/ground location/suitable refreshment venues, drinking alcohol at 10am (not me though, I never used to do that in the first place), chronic tiredness on the journey coming back, and the sight of grown men sprinting like schoolkids for yet another crate of beer at a 20 minute layover at some godforsaken Northern railway station.

Oh, and three points as well.

Actually, standing at Euston at 10am yesterday really was a feeling of deja vu all over again. The same familiar faces (more on that a bit later) were about, and the usual smattering of big Prem team fans living (or gloryhunting) from their homes in t’south. I know I bang on about this topic as though it’s a big thing, but it really does remind you constantly of what was taken away from us in 2002. And also how far we’ve rebounded since then.

That said, it did feel a bit like what I imagine a 2009 version of the Likely Lads to be like. Everyone is ten years older, and the discussions were about people doing gardening, going to the gym, talking about BBQs at their parents the next day, washing the car. Others have managed since 2002 to have sex with an actual woman and in one or two isolated incidents managed to procreate too. Presumably by luck rather than technique.

And one of our number now even does radio commentary and managed to blag his way into the visiting directors box to get a better view of proceedings. Then again, he did sell out years ago and was somebody never to be trusted in the first place.

And no, I don’t mean Mikey T at WDON either.

What’s happened to us? Well, I think we all grew up a bit, which in many ways makes us appreciate these kind of days much more. And I think that can apply on the pitch too this season. Out of our three wins this week, this was probably the easiest of the lot – not saying we entirely pissed all over them, but unlike Salisbury and Kettering, I didn’t feel we were under the cosh so much. That’s partly down to how shit Alty were up front, but also that’s down to us not being scared of this division and learning PDQ how to deal with the more physical side of it.

Now we’ve settled in, what have we learnt? Firstly, going to places like Alty and Guttering aren’t so bad after all. Tricky, undoubtedly, but now we don’t have the trepidation (or fear) that we had earlier this month. We can go to these sorts of places and get three points. Secondly, we will still need to up our game up front. I think Jon Main’s miss at the end summed his month up – you could visibly see the confidence drain from him. Granted, he had a loss of form last season too, but he was able to come back because the defences of Fisher and BRT were so shite.

Yesterday, he had one opportunity to get back on track and he blew it. Sorry, I can’t mollycoddle him by saying he scuffed it, or there was a defender bearing down on him. There were none of those factors – he straight forwardly missed it, unfortunately. Next week against Oxford we may not be so lucky. Christ, we nearly came a cropper right at the end as it was yesterday.

Don’t get me wrong here, I want JM to start whacking the goals in again, but we’ve quickly learnt that you have to take whatever opportunities you get. Cliche I know, but like most cliches, they have a grounding in truth. Main certainly knows that, which makes me wonder if he’ll be trying a bit too hard for the next few games.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we’re getting points at the right places. You perhaps shouldn’t expect much from Oxford on Saturday, but we’re helping ourselves by winning the Alty type fixtures. We’re now fourth, which is something I certainly didn’t expect even a mere fortnight ago. Will we stay there? We’ll see, but we are already proving ourselves to be top ten quality, and yet again forces many a Womble to re-adjust their pre-season predictions.

Wouldn’t it be something if for the second season in a row we predict we’ll finish eleventh and end up ten places higher?

OK, we’ve still got a long, long way to go. We already have to contend with our first injury crisis (especially Ben Judge, who was rather cynically sandwiched inbetween two Alty players. And we didn’t even get the free kick), and we’ve yet to really test ourselves against the ex-League sides  – Luton was a baptism of the hot flammable chemical reaction. Not to mention what happens when DK and Luke Moore stop finding the net.

But that’s in the future. Currently, all seems rather OK doesn’t it? This division may turn out to be all right after all……

Plus points: We won. Away. Clean sheet. Lewis Taylor. Danny Kedwell’s strike. Pushing forward when our defence was crocked. Jamie Pullen. Away turnout. Showing more intelligence in playing than even the BSS days.

Minus points: Quiche and Judge getting crocked. Jon Main’s form.

The referee’s a….: Northerner. Seriously, he’s from Ossett in West Yorkshire, and if there’s one thing we need to (re)learn it’s that Northern refs give Southern teams jack shit. Especially when they’re playing north of t’Watford Gap. Ben Judge gets body-checked and has to go off and Alty get the free kick. No doubt the referee thought that Judge was a soft southern poof and a proper northerner would have played on with a dislocated neck and 14 cases of dysentry too for good measure, like his grandfather did down pit for 28 hours a day. And you thought that Monty Python was comedy.

Them: Nice hosts, on and off the pitch. Decent cup of tea in the players lounge at half time (your editor was of course banned from the boardroom because I wasn’t wearing a tie. Not that I would ever wear one to football, or indeed at any other time). Their strikeforce didn’t really seem all that, and on reflection I don’t think they troubled us too much. Even with our crocked back line.

Speaking to an Alty fan in the bogs after the game (and that is not as dodgy as it sounds), it seems that they’re still part time. Which I suppose is the best way forward for them. Even yesterday, they didn’t have nearly as many as I expected they would, the kind of level I would expect from a big Conf North (or South) outfit. Which considering they were second at 2.59pm yesterday is a bit odd.

But then, is it? If they were our northern equivalent in the 1970s, then I suppose they would always struggle with crowds. Like us, they have some big top flight teams on their doorstep. Like us, their ground would be ripe for real estate if they had a cuntstain of an owner like Hammam. And like us, they’re in an area which is pretty affluent and many sports fans would rather prefer a soggy biscuit at the local rugger club. In other words, had we not been elected to the league in 1977 we would have been in the same position as Altrincham now.

And get your head around that last sentence*…

* – if you’ve never read this old US fable, do so. It sums it up perfectly.

Point to ponder: Does this explain a lot of things? One perk of being situated where I was yesterday, I got to walk past our dressing room at half time. In true journo fashion, I eavesdropped in. You could hear TB, but he wasn’t screaming and shouting. He was pointedly pointing out some things that needed doing but not the stroke-enducing rant that you would expect a lot of managers to do. We came out second half and looked much more of an attacking threat. QED.

Oh, and when they were coming out for the second half, Simon Bassey did say “keep your legs open”. One presumes that was related to the football.

Hello mum: A quick mention to the Macc lads (not the pop group) who were on the Metrolink bus replacement service. Just imagine a stag do in Magaluf and you’re most of the way there. Anyway, they were all going to our game (via various pubs), because being from Macclesfield they didn’t particularly like Altrincham, and were AFCW fans for the day. One was a Yernited fan who had been banned from away games, one Liverpool, couple of Maccelsfield Town and IIRC a Stockport fan too. All of whom are now well versed in the Champagne Song. Oh, and one of them stole one of those blue pedestrian signs to Altrincham’s ground too (well, he didn’t actually steal it, he decided to straighten it up and it fell off the lamp-post. Since hidden in a bush). You never quite got this in the Ryman Premier…

Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) Why are Burger King breakfasts so shit? (2) £1.74 for a pint of stout at a Samuel Smiths brewery in Alty. And we get charged £3.20 for recycled Guinness. (3) Seeing the same “Adult Shop” in Manchester city centre that I last saw in 2001. Do they still sell adults? (4) Also seeing Frenzyville for the first time in eons. Seriously, that place just has nothing going for it – it just looks horrible. (5) Chips and gravy from the chippy outside Alty’s ground. Nice. Why do they say it closes at 2pm though? (6) Thankfully getting a week off for once, though we do have Oxford and Grays in the space of three days. (7) Alty had adverts for around the ground, because Yernited’s reserves play there. Can you imagine us ever having Christ, some of our fans don’t even like adverts…

Anything else? Yeah. Remember I said above about the familiar faces we saw on this journey? Well, thinking about it further, it’s good but in a way it’s a bit disturbing as well. The thing is, the bulk of people who I used to travel with and did so again yesterday were the same people I did away trips in 2002 and before. We’re all still relatively young, late 20s to early-to-mid 40s, we still have our own teeth and we can use viagra these days. But there weren’t many of what I would call newbies there yesterday.

And that is one thing that has been obvious since 2002. Doing long away trips is habit-forming – you do one and like it, so you do another. Before you know it, you start planning a few a season until the stage where those you know don’t even bother phoning you up on certain Saturdays. We do have a fair amount of under 25s supporting us, probably as many since the Prem days, but yesterday I didn’t see too many of them training it. OK, I was in the wrong area of the ground, and they may have all gone up by coach, but yesterday was more of a old boys outing than anything.

Does this mean then that our away support will fall off in a couple of seasons time? Maybe. Or it could be that our young’uns simply haven’t gotten into the habit of all-day trips yet. Seriously, what have they had since 2002? Newport and WSM are the only two that spring to mind, and even they’re not as far as Alty was.

Hopefully, sooner rather than later, the younger ones will start getting organised with their own train travel and start going en masse to games when us older types start hanging up our Trainline reservation forms. Maybe a younger, less wankerish version of Jocko will step up to the plate and do the group ticket deals again? Complete with drunken answerphone messages for anyone willing to take advantage of them…

So, was it worth it? Of course.

In a nutshell: Ey oop.

Published inMatch reports