Monday, 11 December 2006

Train, plane or supprters' coaches?

When it comes to football grounds, one that I have never visited but have always wanted to go to is St James's Park. No, not the palatial home of Exeter City FC, but the massive and massively redeveloped home of Newcastle United.

The Geordies are rightly proud of this place and I rank it right up there with the Nou Camp - or Camp Nou (pronounced 'Now'), to put it how the Catalans put it - the San Siro and Vicarage Road. All world-class grounds which accommodate, ahem, world-class football teams.

When Watford got promoted to the Premiership in May (watch out for my account of that glorious afternoon at the Millennium Stadium), Newcastle away was one of the first fixtures I looked for.

And there it was: to be played on a Saturday afternoon, just like in the good old days. It was always going to be special. Never mind that it was going to take place a week before Christmas. What better time to notch up our first away win of the season!

So we started planning for it. Train, plane or coach? Hotel, B&B or come home that evening? Carling, Stella or something more exotic - Fosters?

Well, we couldn't possibly go by coach - that'd be criminal. A whopping day out, scuppered by the no-alcohol rule, no room to stretch your legs...and an hour wasted in some dive of a motorway service station, then being delivered to the ground with just about enough time for a pie and a pint before kick-off.

Plane? Not worth it for the price they were offering and the time it would take (by the time you factor in all the pissing about you need to do to get to the airport this end, from the airport that end, and to get on the plane itself, it soon becomes more bother than it's worth).

That left travelling by train as the best option, and it's always a good laugh.

I know I haven't mentioned driving - and with good reason. I'm not an alcoholic, but I do feel that where possible, the consumption of several beers on a matchday is an integral part of the football supporting experience, and driving to a massive away game just becomes a bit of a burden where that's concerned, especially when it's just lads involved. (Taking kids - well, that's quite a different story, for another time). And then there's the cost of petrol, who's going to drive and one or two other things to consider.

Like I said, going by train to this match was, for me and my mates, the best option.

Whenever you want to buy train tickets in England may I suggest the cheapest method may be to phone the National Rail Enquiries number (08457 48 49 50) more than once to see what's available. If you phone three times and tell them where you want to go and when, you may well get three different answers. That's fine of course - just pick the cheapest fare. However, the trouble is that, as far as I know, the people who work there are not obliged to offer you the lowest available fare, which I think is ridiculous.

For example, when booking to travel from London to Newcastle, I asked for two single tickets at ten pounds each, which I bought. However, I believe the lowest return fare on offer was much more than this. So it pays to do some research and/or spend some time talking to the enquiries number.

So close to Christmas, this was going to have to be a big day out, rather than a weekend away.

Unfortunately, this has since turned into a weekend away - in Torquay. I'm gutted. Gutted that the game is happening on this particular weekend. I would have dearly loved to have gone, but being a family man and this being the only weekend since the summer when there's been any sort of opportunity to go away with the wife and kids, I have to do the honourable thing. I've sold my cheap train tickets, so now I'll just have to console myself as I sit in front of Sky Sports News all afternoon.

I wonder if Torquay are at home this weekend...


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