CENTRAL PARK celebrates

I have a well established routine on match days that helps me to get to the ground with the minimum of fuss and the maximum comfort. My wife drives me there in the car so there is no stress. Just how I like things.

I always stand in the same spot (leaning against a girder at the town end) and of course I am always in the company of the usual bunch of wiseacres - well-informed friends who can be relied upon to fill in any lacunae in the fast-paced all-action entertainment with sparkling conversation and illuminating wit. (Yes it is Hartlepool I’m talking about). Of course this conversation can only take place during the match as you still can’t have a reasonable conversation before the game due to the noise coming from the public address speakers. These are still too loud despite my years of moaning about it; does nobody in the higher reaches of the club read these articles?

Generally speaking my match day routine hasn’t varied for quite a few years. However all that changed a couple of weeks ago." I used to watch Sunderland years ago when their matches didn’t clash with ‘Pools. Those were the days when Charlie Hurley and Stan Anderson played for them – I just missed out on Charlie Buchan apparently"

My daughter, who has taken up with a Sunderland supporter (not as bad as it sounds – he is actually from Sunderland and has also bought a season ticket for Hartlepool) thought it would be a good bonding experience for us to attend a Sunderland match together when ‘Pools were not at home. I didn’t take any persuading (just as well really as my daughter has inherited my wife’s ability to get her own way when she has a ‘good idea’) as I used to watch Sunderland years ago when their matches didn’t clash with ‘Pools. Those were the days when Charlie Hurley and Stan Anderson played for them – I just missed out on Charlie Buchan apparently.

An added incentive to attend was her very kind offer to pay for my ticket as a present for my forthcoming birthday. Things started out in the usual fashion on the big day, my wife drove me to the railway station, or should I say the Hartlepool International Transport Interchange and then the rot set in. Despite there being two ticket points open, a big queue developed because some bozo wanted to buy a season ticket for his son to travel to and from university. I’m not an unreasonable man, but what a time to pick – about 12.30pm on a Saturday. Not only was he being a pain in wanting to know the fine detail of everything, and wanting a written receipt, it was patently obvious that the bloke in the ticket office didn’t really want to serve him. The look on his face clearly said that he didn’t want to be at work on a Saturday and if he had to be there then he certainly didn’t want to be doing anything other than to dish out tickets while practising his surly expression and offhand manner. (This was the first time I had been on a train since that trip to Cardiff six years ago, so it was nice to see that some things hadn’t changed, no matter who is running the railways.)

The second ticket point was taken up by an old couple who didn’t know what they wanted, but by God they weren’t going to move until somebody provided it. All the while this was going on an ugly queue was getting bigger and more and more restive. The fact that some of them were huge and were wearing red and white stripes didn’t add to my sense of well being. So having done the sensible thing and arrived at the station 20 minutes before the train was due to leave I found myself desperately checking my watch and wondering what I would say to my daughter, that she would believe, if I didn’t make it.

Fortunately I made it with 5 minutes to spare and wondered what I had been fretting about. I must say I was surprised by the number of people waiting for the train. As I’ve said there were some in red and white stripes so it was a fair bet as to where they were going but there were also dozens of others who wanted to travel north for reasons of their own. Then the train arrived. Saturday peak time or no Saturday peak time two carriages were all that were provided. Trying to look nonchalant I managed to push my way to a handy position for the door and then with an agility belying my years I managed to get a seat. What a stroke of luck that was. The carriages were absolutely packed and I even felt uncomfortable sitting down.

Then we arrived at Seaham where the platform was thronged with mostly young lads wearing red and white stripes. I’m sure that what followed must have been illegal. There was no room on the train but nevertheless all of the waiting passengers were somehow forced onto it. It was so packed that the automatic doors couldn’t operate so people were forcing them closed with their feet. It was a bit like the way they forced people onto commuter trains in Japan that I used to see on the newsreels years ago. God knows what would have happened if we had had only the slightest of accidents. I decided there and then that I would write to the Health and Safety Executive or some such, but eventually I couldn’t be bothered.

Having arrived in Sunderland more or less in one piece we set off on the trek to the Stadium of Light. It was a bit more tiring than the usual casual stroll from Morrison’s car park to the town end gate but that was made up for by the plethora of food outlets on the way. If you made your mind up to it you could arrive at the ground looking like Billy Bunter. It smelled like the town moor during carnival week. It would be to Sunderland’s advantage if they could arrange for the police to escort the visiting teams to the ground via those streets so that their opposition would feel sick before a ball was kicked.

The game itself wasn’t really much of a contest. Chelsea were skilful and assured and looked like they were going through their training ground routines while Sunderland, though they had plenty of ability looked like a bunch of strangers who didn’t believe that they could prevail, and so it proved.

There was plenty there to be appreciated but the whole game had an air of inevitability about it. Mind you I was more than a bit miffed when I realised that they only gave out the half time scores for the Premiership, but fortunately my daughter had one of those extremely complicated electronic devices that tells you the weather forecast for Namibia, the state of the cotton crop in Egypt and even more importantly the half time scores in the first division of the English league. Marvellous, I don’t know how they do it for only 15/6d.

Game over, I was given a lift back home buoyed by the knowledge that we had won at Carlisle and looking forward to seeing the league table on Ceefax. All in all it was a very pleasant way to fill in a Saturday afternoon when ‘Pools were away and I would be happy to do it again in such circumstances.

The following Saturday ‘normal service was resumed’. A lift to the ground, my usual spot beside the girder, a comfortable home win and a lift home. What could be better? (Answers on a postcard to the director of public prosecutions stating your full name and address please).