As the season draws to an end it is looking like my club should have just about done enough to secure a play-off berth. The only team that can stop this is Stranraer, who despite their off field problems, have done exceptionally well to still be in the contention for a playoff spot. Nevertheless, whenever I hear the name Stranraer, I can’t help but think of the term – “Camel Trek”. For those in the Central Belt, similar levels of fear are displayed whenever you utter… Elgin or… Peterhead. It’s a long day which can begin at the crack of dawn and finish around midnight (fair play to the fans that travel these distances). Let’s take you through the average trip to one of these venues.
You get up early and chuck on the tracksuit and drive to the nearest meet point. For some reason all meet points feature a Toby Carvery and a Travel Lodge. You hop on the coach and make your way past the first 6 rows which are filled with the board of directors who are all there for the sesh. I will always look for a double seater but if there is none available I will be cosying up to the lad with lowest waist size.
I do like a bit of banter on the way up, similar to the car school you need to stay occupied. There are others who don’t share this ethos. For example the player with the latest Beats by Dre headphones hanging over his snapback for the whole trip. Hey who am I to judge, if that helps him get up for his work at Stair Park, I’m more than happy to leave him be.
You then have to watch out for Mr social media… Hard to get a good sleep when you’ve got the keen Snapchatter lurking around you – pestering you intermittently for the entirety of the journey. Same kind of character that will give you a wet willy if you even attempt to doze off. Real pest of a boy.
The more experienced contingent usually have a pillow and the latest copy of the Sun newspaper. After staring at page 3 they will rip out the “At the Races” section and study the form of the nags with precision. More often that not, the same guys will dominate the card games and take the pocket money of the youngest most vulnerable player.
Then there’s always the one guy who breaks the golden rule of the on bus toilet. We all know it’s only there for emergency urine disposal. For the sake of your team mates nostrils, don’t take it that one step further.
Time goes slower than that time my mum made me sit through back to back episodes of Mrs Brown’s Boys. But then you finally make it…
You usually pull up to a humble hotel to sample the local cuisine. Pre match meals consist of as much variety as yer old da’s haircut. You can have chicken and pasta, fish and pasta, chicken and beans, fish and beans. If you’re lucky, you can treat yourself to as many slices of Kingsmill as you like and I have seen certain boys put away a full loaf pre game. The players table usually has a great view of the board members table. Very different menu over there. Fish and chips, steak medium rare, pork belly, 2 bottles of red and 12 lagers are the usual sight – I know which table I’d rather be sitting at.
Before hopping back on the coach there is usually time to watch the early kick off in the premier league or a quick game of pool. The Arbroath lads like the old playground game of “Stop the Bus” but this ends in disrepute after David Gold has a meltdown insisting Uruguay is spelt with a “Y”. You then make your way to the ground.
Notoriously tough places to go – you fight your way to a win, loss or draw and hastily get yourself showered. For me, the highlight of your Peterheads, Elgins and Stranraers of this world; is that they know how to produce a spread. I try to beat my team mates to the buffet but no matter how fast I am – Iain “Yano” Campbell (him again) would already be on his second plate. Still, you have to compliment the hospitality of these places. They understand it’s a long journey and the standard of food is very much appreciated by the players.
Journeys home really depend on the result. The 4 hour trip back from Peterhead feels like 8 when the Blue Toon have dealt you out a spanking. No one dares make light of the situation within earshot of the gaffer. If you do, you’re a dead man. On the other hand, the trek goes twice as quick if you’ve managed to win. Gone are the days where the club officials provide you with a few tins of Tennants, however, there is much more scope for a laugh. As you finally arrive back at the Toby Carvery, you say your goodbyes and make your way off the bus past the men in suits who are now reeking of Tennants (great day out for these gents).
I drive home as fast as I can and crawl back through my front door. I feel like I’ve done 12 rounds with Tyson and I’m ready for bed. My better half asks the question “Why do you give up your whole Saturday for this?”
Isn’t it obvious? For the love of the beautiful game dear.