Superstition is a big thing in football, and I was wearing my late father-law’s long sleeve Manchester City away top as one of my base layers. You can never throw out old football shirts, regardless of the team – with one obvious exception… This shirt had been with me to Harrow Borough and Maidenhead, so it had to come to Aldershot, and we set off on our 234-mile journey South with the same suspects as the last round too. This time we were prepared though, a set of discreet ear plugs each, and the company of Whirlwind Jim and his many flags. At every set of traffic lights, the back window opened, out came a flag and a shout of C’mon, Shaymen!
The deep snow that surrounded Halifax as we left, slowly became less and less as we travelled South, and by the time we reached Leicester it was a different world. Green fields, sunshine and not the slightest chance of any game being postponed in that part of the country onwards. Breakfast at our usual Northamptonshire stop was excellent. The manager is clearly a football fan and always asks where we are going, it feels like an expensive hotel, the staff really look after us.
With full price admission as cheap as £12 in advance, rising to just £15 for disorganised fans like us, the FA Trophy is really good value football. The friendly Aldershot fans waiting outside the shared turnstiles were keen to hear stories of snow, travel and possible numbers of travelling Shaymen. There’s a good feel to Aldershot FC and their fans, really decent people and a nice friendly club.
Inside the ground, the 75 travelling Shaymen were allocated the Community Stand, just at the top of the steps that you have to climb to reach pitch level. At the far end, the home fans gathered under a good old-fashioned shed, with a backdrop of dense mature trees in the adjacent park. The traditional floodlight pylons still house around 30 bulbs each, unusual these days but it makes the ground look great. The main stand is painted blue and red, with flags hanging on the back walls in front of around 15 rows of seats. The railway side of the stadium was unoccupied, the wooden stand and usual away seating not required due to an expected lower attendance.
The first half started well, the Shaymen attacked the far end as we sat behind goal. Suddenly, the picturesque view was blocked by a steward. Standing directly in front of many of us, unwilling to move or sit on numerous empty seats. He was following instructions from the orange team leader and wasn’t allowed to negotiate. It didn’t take long for the rambunctious orange team leader to appear, instructing us to sit back down and watch the game. Risking ejection, on a point of principle, we refused, asking for the Stadium manager to adjudicate. Eventually, after 10 minutes of disruption, the stewards were told by stadium command to stand elsewhere so we could watch the game uninterrupted, it was all very unnecessary at such a friendly club.
By half time, the Shaymen were a goal ahead, they had played some great football, exorcising memories of our last visit. They’d rattled the bar and hit the post too, just a single goal deficit really flattered Aldershot, we were having a great time.
The second half was dominated by Aldershot, all the action was again at the far end of the pitch. Time after time, they attacked as the Shaymen stood firm. There were few chances at our end. Tesco Pete was providing a running commentary on the time remaining, you didn’t need to ask him, only look his way to get the answer. Late on Harvey Gilmour smashed one on the edge of the box, it deflected slightly off the defender’s boot, and flew above the keeper’s hand right into the back of the net. What scenes as the team celebrated with the fans around us. The reception the team received at the end was well deserved, they had once again done us proud.
Driving back, we reflected on just one defeat in eight away games, and the forthcoming draw for the semi-finals. There was big crowd against Nantwich in our last Trophy semi-final in 2016. Let’s hope for a home draw and roar this team onwards to Wembley, C’mon Shaymen!
Miles on the road 8592, Goals on the road 20.
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