Better late than never

Ever since I started going to football, I’ve tried to get to the game as early as possible. I’ve never been late to football. And my version of on time is about an hour early.

As a kid I took up my spot behind the Kop-end goal at Tranmere on Friday nights, exposed to the elements and wearing two pairs of trousers, four jumpers, and my big coat. These were the requirements enforced by my mother.

Get in early

It’s a routine that’s stuck with me all these years. I can’t be too early. Or too cold.

Earlier this season I arrived at a game before an away team bus. Last year I found the stadium at Haringey still locked and in total darkness as I parked up on a Tuesday night. And I once nearly got hypothermia at a sub zero Chelmsford cup game, taking my seat with 75 minutes to spare.

Anyway, what I’m saying is, I allow a lot of time to get to games. To me the hour before kick-off is just as enjoyable as the game itself.

Expect delays

Which is why I set off for a game last Saturday with a full hour spare.

The Google machine said delays would likely double the 30-minute trip. So I figured I’d avoid the stress and do my waiting from my seat at the ground. Or standing outside the ground waiting for them to pull up the shutters.

Three hours later I arrived at the stadium having run full pelt from the car park, lungs burning, and with just enough breath to say “late” and “motorway closed”.

While my various personality deficiencies made themselves known at full volume on the A2, I’d got it in my head the possibility of a cut-off time at the ground for letting people in.

The chief steward, like an old-fashioned station master, would check his pocket watch, and glance up and down the street deducing that everyone who was going to be there was there. Then signal his staff to pull down the shutters and put the kettle on. I’d arrive seconds later begging them to unlock the turnstiles.

Instead the opposite happened. I got a sympathetic welcome. The ticket office had my ticket waiting and I made it to my seat, albeit with 20 minutes left in the first half.

Stuck for hours

None of which is a disaster in the general scheme of things. And who wants to read about someone missing a game of football because they were stuck in traffic?

On a day of national rail strikes the highways authority had decided to carry out works on various bridges along the M2. That meant closing the motorway to anyone trying to travel west of Canterbury. All fine really. It’s just they didn’t tell anyone.

The internet was full of stories from people traveling to games from the east of Kent trying to get to a game.

Instead, they found themselves gridlocked in stationary traffic.

Some fans turned back having had enough after several hours. Others arrived just in time or after missing a big chunk of the first half. And there’s footage somewhere of one bloke (it could only have been a bloke) reversing down the motorway, trying to escape.

Then there were those people with a more urgent need to travel, or with kids in the back, waiting endlessly for the traffic to start moving.

Anyway, what I did see of the game was worth the effort, because no game of football is really ever a bad game of football. The mediocre home team had looked lucky to secure a point until the last fifteen minutes when their best player on the day set up the winner.

Thankfully the journey back had none of the drama. But I’m going to a game in Dorking midweek. I may set off the night before.