The doctor is about to cut a hole in your neck and root around in there for a few minutes whilst he tries to clean out a cyst. The nurse warns you it’s going to hurt like hell and offers you the choice of a general or local aesthetic. Having a general means that you’ll have to stop in overnight, the local means that it will wear off quicker and hurt more/sooner. What would you do?
When you’re booked on the next day’s 8:40 train to London Euston to watch a top of the table clash away at Fulham it makes the choice a little easier. Even when the nurse explains you’ll have an open wound and you’d be better off staying out of the cold (it’s February) and that the pain killers that they’ll be giving you mean that you’ll not be able to drink. She certainly wouldn’t advise that a day trip watching the game is a good idea. You just nod politely whilst thinking “yeah right”.
So come 8:15 Saturday morning, I’m stood on platform 4 with only a bit of gauze and a blue and white bar scarf between the hole in my neck and the cold morning air. The pain killers are in my pocket but only for if things get desperate and I’ve made a conscious decision to sleep all the way down, and leave the beer until I can only buy it warm and flat.
Cut to train pulling out of Crewe, the Stella’s on the table and the craic is underway. Now we’ve all been there and we all know that things can only go one of two ways. Either everything falls neatly into place or ends up in a right old mess. On this day the beer fairies were with us.
We landed into the smoke for opening time, the sun is shining. First up a couple of beers on the deck of a boat moored on the Thames and then the journey down to Craven Cottage stopping off a couple of times on the way, finishing up in a boozer rammed with ‘tics (The Eight Bells?).
On Saturdays like these the game has to be a real stinker to spoil things and whilst Latics should probably have got more than the one all draw from this one there wasn’t too much to complain about and before we knew it we were winding our way back into the city. As we approached Piccadilly the idea of finding somewhere with ‘character’ lost out to doing the tourist thing, starting off with the Sports Cafe.
We only had an hour though and the low point of the day came when we landed back at Euston to find that the train home was a dry one. Unusually the three hour journey didn’t drag, nor were there any delays and we were back in Wigan before the hangovers kicked in and with the pubs still open, it was time to start all over again, a little too tired to be as loud and lairy as we felt like being.
Ten years on and that trip to Fulham is still the by-word for football days out, ask us to put our finger on why and we probably couldn’t, everything just clicked into place. It was one of those days, where you don’t even end up with a hangover the day after and the nurse was wrong, my neck didn’t bother me once (nothing to do with the ale of course).
A lot has changed in those ten years. The Fulham team that day was; Walton, Thomas, Watson, Cusack, Carpenter, Blake, Freeman, Cockerill, Conroy, Morgan, Scott. No doubt Fulham fans would have as many “Who?!?” moments with our line up that day (as would a fair few of the newer JJB regulars). Tomorrow there’ll be more players on the pitch that are international than not. The routes may have been different but both clubs are now seeing the culmination of the projects their chairmen kicked off around about the same time a decade ago.
If everything had gone right, this game would have been billed as the chance to see what we are missing. Barring Jimmy Bullard’s injury, our out of sorts midfield would have been lining up against player whose reputation they are trying to live up to. It would have been an interesting clash.
Last Saturday’s results will no doubt have buoyed the spirits of both the players and fans alike. The manager will have spent time this week making sure that the squad wasn’t getting ahead of itself. As we found out last season, Fulham aren’t the soft touch that they supposedly use to be and if Latics are going to come away with the three points then Chris Coleman’s men will put up more of a fight than City did.
If last week’s performance is going to be repeated then we could be three points better off come Saturday tea time. Much more likely is the draw, a couple of goals each maybe. We’re still at a stage where we can realistically say that the performance is key, and the trick tomorrow is to not fall back into the pre-United form. With Fulham generally considered a footballing side the signs are there for it to be a good game and hopefully a good day out for those of you making the journey.
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