In the mid eighties, I was the proud owner of a Mark 4 Cortina. I’d bought it off my mate George who used it for countless trips between Wallasey and Bourneville. It had spent most of its life cruising on the M6. Naturally it became a great car for away matches. Of the many brave sojourns undertaken in this dashing knight of roman bronze and tanned vinyl roof, two were particularly memorable.
At some early hour on a Saturday morning, I picked my good friend Peter up from Safeways. For him It was straight from the night shift. Ten hours of opening cardboard boxes and stacking shelves had left him in a semi-conscious state capable of nothing but collapsing on the back seat.
Somewhere just past Stoke this moustachioed cavalier emerged, crusty eyed from a fitful slumber. We were on our way to Oxford. Yes, Oxford had a brief spell in the first division. It was a new away ground; another box to tick.
While there was nothing remarkable about the journey itself, I was surprised by how easy it was to get to. We were planning to meet up with our friend Ian and a few others to have a drink before the game. We were just bumbling along the M42 when guess who turned up alongside us, hot foot from Leicester? It was Ian and another university friend. Peter started quoting that inane drivel we knew as “Convoy.”
Just after midday, we parked up in a terraced street in Headington not far from the Manor Ground. So far so normal. Then we noticed a shark. A few years before some mad fool had made national headlines by sticking an inverted shark into his roof. And there it was in all its glory; The Headington Shark. Say pish to the dreaming spires and beautiful Italianate architecture we associate with Oxford, the shark wins hands down.
Even more remarkable was the pub we found down a couple of entries at the bottom of another row of terraces. The Butcher’s Arms was empty when we entered. “Four pints of your finest foaming ale please landlord,” Peter famously demanded. I can’t remember what beer it was but as quaffing bitters go it was a splendid example of session ale.
The good thing about football matches is having the chance for any affects of mind altering liquids to dwindle away before the trip home. I didn’t go mad but it was a jolly good couple of hours.
The eighties was a time of meticulous frisking at the turnstiles. But shock horror; Peter was still in possession of his unpacking knife. What a to do. “Yes, I’m going to attack all the Everton fans,” Pete said. The sarcasm swung it. They took the knife and let us in. The game itself was dull; 1-1. It was getting cold and dark, tedium had set in and we wanted to get back. I’ve never been so determined.
It took two and three quarter hours to get back to Wallasey. Stanley’s Cask to be exact. It was eight fifty. The car was staying put. It was only when I sat down did I realise my hands were shaking.
Sometimes I did scream along the motorway but not usually on a busy one in the pitch black. I didn’t play music. Getting back for some beers was far more important.
The second great journey that season was the long road to Norwich. we’re talking thirty years ago here; almost to the day. Or at least the weekend. The game was on the first bank holiday in May. We needed to win to clinch the championship. On Sunday evening we set off to Leicester. It was a good half way point and we had a student floor to sleep on.
It was a wild night in the city. There was a street party. Now this was a student street party. The bonfire was fuelled by bits of old furniture squirrelled out of lino floored basement flats by drunken young souls, hell bent on beginning the end of term celebrations with a bang.
I didn’t really know anyone. It was a heaving sea of intoxication. A young girl turned up next to me. In the dark of a windswept night, I could discern the dribbles of stale vomit down her chin before she dropped gently to the beer sodden floor. She slept. In the top floor student flat; our temporary dormitory, I produced a half bottle of whisky.
We made an early start in the morning. The spring sun blazed brilliantly over the fields of Middle England. Feelings were good. Now what road trip in the eighties would be complete without a stop at a Little Chef for one of their legendary plastic breakfasts?
It also gave me an opportunity to nurse the Old Queen. She had a weeping water pump. There was no panic, I just needed to keep the girl topped up with water.
We had a rendezvous in Norwich. The Rosary Tavern stood on the crown of a gentle hill. Even at mid day it was lively with the banter of old friends. This was a big day. All our fellow Evertonian friends were there. A small chunk of Wallasey was now sitting in Norwich.
We won the game and the old first division championship. The roads out the city boomed with the old songs. Our celebration route was planned. After leaving the ancient kingdom of the east angles, we charioted forth up the A17 to a little backwater called Heckington.
We stopped at the first pub. It was real Hicksville. In the sparseness of the carpark, two boys were showing off in their steed of steel. There was an extended aerial and silver plastic alloy covers on the wheels. It all looked a bit out of place on a chocolate Austin Allegro.
They stopped and stared at the royal blue flagships piling onto their patch. For about an hour, we filled the old barn of a place with song and laughter. There was no beer spilt. Some of us even took all the glasses back to the bar before they waved us on our cheery way.
Remember I was driving. I’d heard too many horror stories of beer filled drivers facing two hundred mile journeys. But at the next pub I was going to have a pint. Eventually we joined the M62 to head west for a brief stop at The Rams Head on Saddleworth Moor. It was so black it could have been anywhere. It felt like “The Slaughtered Lamb”! I checked the car. The pump was holding out.
The dark journey home involved a drop off at Ormskirk and a return to Wallasey in the wee small hours. What an adventure. I went back to the car in the morning to see a pool of ruddy water, sitting tired and stagnant under the front. The water pump had finally given itself to the strain of seven hundred miles. I didn’t care. I fixed it.
Within two years, things were beginning to change. Everton stopped winning things and lives were taking different directions. It wasn’t the end of the away days. But people were moving and arrangements were not so simple. The mid eighties was an amazing time.
Thank you for reading.