They say that some things are best left to the imagination, but following a tap on the shoulder at Coalville recently, I was greeted by the slightly inebriated Hebden Bridge Shayman now residing in sunny Australia. He was on a rare trip to watch FC Halifax Town. “I’ve been reading your tales,” he said, “Can you introduce me to the lads?” He was surprisingly interested in the Greetland Shayman, captivated by his quest for love, “It’s that old boy over there with the hat,” I said. “No! The one who gives all the chat to the ladies?” he replied. “Yes, that’s the one,” I continued. He looked bemused, “Who’s Tesco Pete then?” he asked, “It’s that other guy over there stood next to the big flag with the burger.” He finished by saying that they sounded far more exciting than they looked in reality. “You want to try spending a season with them!” I finished….
It’s fair to say Braintree was one of the first games we looked for when the fixtures were published. It wasn’t that we were all really excited to go, it was the opposite. We’d all been several times, never seen the Shaymen even score a goal there, it’s miles away and we were secretly hoping for a mid-week fixture in the middle of darkest January. I’m sure we would have all found good excuses not to go if that were the case. The trouble is the first game of the season is really exciting. Braintree has just been promoted back to the National League and in truth we had no choice and by 8.00 am we were on our way.
Following a half way stop for a large breakfast, it wasn’t long before we were on our way again and encountered our very first traffic issue of the season. The overhead flashing lights on the A1 indicated long delays on the A14 then soon changed to read “A14 Closed”. It was perhaps a rash decision but without thought, we ignored our planned route and continued south down the A1 regardless. We were sure we’d find our way…
“Err, did you know I was Navigator of the Year 1966?” came a voice from the back seat. I looked at Tesco Pete and he looked back at me. “Yes, I was the Mirfield Car Club’s 1996 navigation champion, and we used Ordnance Survey maps for just this sort of thing.” As we slowly looked round, the Ripponden Shayman was taking out a dishevelled photo from his wallet of his glory days, even the Greetland Shayman looked impressed. It was really true, a rally champion on the back seat. You know, some people may question some of the things I write but, with just an additional 66 miles added to our journey and just short of two hours later, we arrived at the ground. It’s fair to say he took us on the scenic route!
Braintree’s Cressing Road Ground hasn’t changed much since our last visit. Another coat of orange paint has been applied to all the metal work, the pitch looked solid due to the dry summer and we were free to wander around the small terraces without segregation in force. Our biggest challenge was trying to find a home for Tesco Pete’s Halifax Town flag. An inconspicuous empty metal fence alongside the 550 seats of the main stand seemed like a good spot but the Safety Officer soon had other ideas and asked us to move it. Apparently the Chairman of the club had called the Safety Officer who asked us to move it to behind the goals at the far end, we, of course, obliged, and it appears on the goal highlights now too.
Half time, and with the sweltering heat and blazing sun beating down, the Shaymen seemed transformed from the previous week’s friendly. Apart from the first 10 minutes where Braintree started brightly and forced Sam Johnson into a good save, everything was going well. Our first ever goal at Braintree was scored just before half time but in truth, the Shaymen dominated possession and deserved the lead. Walking past the home fans as we changed ends, they commented the game was close and we weren’t anything special.
The second half continued in the same manner as the first. One of the 100 or so noisy travelling Shaymen suggested that we looked like Juventus, all in white with flashy new haircuts and playing some decent football. Being honest, we’ll have more difficult games but deserved the second goal that settled the game and it could have been more. The Braintree goalkeeper was excellent at times and kept the score respectable.
Driving back and we got lost once again. This time distracted by an aircraft flying low over the M11 into Stanstead Airport just as we approached an important roundabout. In no time at all we were soon accidently heading south towards London, it’s a good job we had the 1996 navigation champion in the back seat keeping an eye on us! We were just home by 9.30 pm having unanimously agreed Ben Tomlinson as our Man of the Match and awarded the referee a generous 6/10. A great start to the season.
Next up we’re off to see our friends and neighbours at the ever evolving Salford City, we always do well there too….
Total miles on the road this season: 408, total goals on the road: 1
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