Onwards into the East Midlands, the route into Derby from Ripley was straightforward and just outside Derby I stopped at a pub called the Queens Head for a drink, I ordered a Coke but along with that the Barman gave me a taster of a local beer once he had heard my story, it was very nice but it might have been a more generous offer to give me a Pint! When I arrived into the centre of Derby I was picked up by Anne-Marie, the wife of a Pompey Fan called Tom who had contacted me via Twitter.
I was staying with him and his family for 2 nights. They kindly put me into a very nice attic bedroom they had refurbished for their eldest son. The following day I walked across the City down to Pride Park to have a look around Derby Countys ground, I was struck by the excellent statues of Clough and Taylor outside, its one of the most impressive tributes to former managers I have seen so far. Pride Park isn’t new ground for me, I have seen Pompey there 3 times, the last visit 2 years ago was one of the weirdest away days I have experienced.
First off in the Brunswick Inn, which is our usual pre match boozer, a chap came in selling badges. Innocent enough you might think except that most of the badges had a decidedly right wing flavour to them and after a few minutes of conversation he started to utter things about “Illegals” and “Pakis”so we impressed on him to leave us alone before we removed him forcibly.
When we got to the game Pompey went down by two goals very quickly which of course caused some Pompey fans a lot aggravation, one chap who was a carer to a disabled supporter sat a few rows in front of us had been berating the Stewards since the kickoff and was getting more and more aggresive, all of a sudden we saw lots of stewards rush to him, not to remove him though but to give him first aid, he had collapsed with what looked like a heart attack and after a lengthy period of treatment he was taken away.
During that furore Pompey conceded another goal and went into half time 3-0 down, obviously we were all feeling pretty fed up and that feeling was compounded when just a few minutes into the 2nd half a person in the row behind us had an epileptic fit which again saw the medics rush into the crowd to help. So after an hour of the game some of us just wanted to head back to the pub and get on the Train out of Derby to call an end to a bizarre day.
Thankfully the tour of Pride Park itself didn’t involve any of that kind of drama. In the evening I was treated to a French/Swiss way of eating called Raclette whereby you heat cheeses (and meats) using a special grill and scrape the melted cheese onto various foods, its a great social way to eat. The following day I walked to Burton upon Trent to attend the match against Barnet the following day, the walk was very pleasant and allowed me to walk several miles alomgside a canal, it was bitterly cold though and the recent snow had made many paths very muddy and slippery.
I had done an interview for the local newspaper in Burton a few days earlier and to my surprise I had been contacted by the Club captain at Burton, Zander Diamond. He offered to put me up but I had arranged only an hour earlier to once again stay with my best pals parents in Newport, which was some way away from Burton but I could commute by train for the match. Zander arranged for me to have two match tickets and access to the Club Lounge, which meant I could take a friend I knew called Aileen who had recently moved back to Burton from Leeds, it would turn out to be an eventful day.
Aileen and I had a couple of pints and some food before heading to the ground and arrived in good time to enjoy a couple more pre-match. We sat at a table and started to talk to a few of the old boys who were sat at our table, I was in the process of trying to get a photo of myself and Aileen with a Burton scarf and after explaining how to use my camera I sat back down. Sadly I caught my pint of Guinness in my Pompey top, probably on one of the badges, and dumped the whole pint in my lap! I was absolutely soaked, my trousers may have been splash proof but struggled badly under the weight of a whole pint. I was horrified and hugely embarrased but everyone was very kind once the laughter had stopped, the bar staff rushed to get me towels and even got me a pair of Burton Albion tracksuit trousers to wear whilst they washed and dried my trousers.
The game ended up a 1-0 win for the home side, the first home win I had seen since Leeds on New Years day, that too was won with a penalty. After the game Zander met me pitch side and we talked for some time before he introduced me to the Manager Gary Rowett for some pictures and for him to sign my flag. I returned to the Club Lounge and collected nearly 50 quid in donations from various Burton fans which was nice, perhaps they thought they owed me for the spillage laughs I gave them.
All in all Burton was a top day out and I would like to thank all the staff there for making my day with them hugely memorable, definately in the top 3 friendliest clubs I have visited so far.
After another relaxing night with the Greens in Newport I was driven back to just north of Burton Albion and I was headed to Shardlow following the route of the River Trent up to Nottingham, I was met at Shardlow by Tom who took me back to Derby again for the night to save me using a B&B.
I continued my way into Nottingham the next day, whilst in the area I was being put up by yet another Pompey fan, Paul Bassett. Just by chance I was at Notts County the same day that they were playing at Fratton Park so before I went to see the “Oldest Professional Club in the World” I stopped in the Trent Navigation just round the corner from the ground and in there were a bunch of County fans waiting for various coaches and buses, their faces were a picture when I took my coat off to reveal my Pompey top. Cries came of “You’re in the wrong place!”and poor girl who arrived after I did took a massive double take when I walked past her to the loo, I heard her say to her mate “Did I just see that?”
I was walking up to the club reception and looking at some of the VIP parking spaces when a lady in a large 4×4 wanted to pull out, I waved her out with a smile and only then realised it was the County Chairwoman. I should have asked for a lift to Fratton Park and back!
The tour of County was good fun, the chap was actually a Crewe fan but had worked at County in the Community dept a number of years, he talked about the lunacy of some of the past few years at County and as a Pompey fan I could sympathise greatly. The tour of Forest the next day was less eventful, again the hospitality at the club was a pleasure and to get to see the two European Cups they have in the Boardroom was a real treat, I have seen Cups, Trophies and all sorts of Awards and I think it is the most beautiful Trophy I have seen and the least likely one I am ever going to get my hands on the real version.
Just as I left they got Jason Lee to sign my flag, I had to fight the urge to sing “He’s got a Pineapple on his head!”, Jason is as bald as a coot these days, probably on purpose.
I left the Bassetts house the next morning and headed to Leicester via Loughborough, I was being put up by another friend who I knew from my time playing an MMO called Lord of the Rings, yes I know, stupidly geeky. Her name was Carol and although I had heard her voice a hundred times we had never met. This walk has thrown friends and strangers at me in equal measure and all have selflessly helped me, it’s been a refeshing change from the normal cynicism of life.
I reached Leicester about 4pm the following day and booked into my Hotel, it wasn’t a bad place but it clearly had a few regulars there and one of them arrived back to his room after midnight and then decided to watch his TV at a stupidly loud volume, I couldnt stand it any longer around 2pm and so went and banged on his door asking him to turn it down, luckily he wasn’t a nutter and did as I asked. I scampered to Radio Leciester early the following morning for an interview in the studio, like the one in Sheffield it was really good fun.
The Leicester City SLO gave me the tour of the Crispbowl on his day off and we talked about Pompey v Leicester clashes of years gone by, he admitted Ian Ormandroyd was offside in the early 1990′s playoff clash, the first time I had heard a Foxes fan say that. I also told him about my Hotel and my interupted sleep, he laughed and told me the place was a well known Prostitute haunt and I was lucky thats all that woke me up. No wonder the owner insisted on cash!
Next time I head further south and teasingly close to London before heading out to East Anglia.