Secret Squirrel-style mission to Swindon before back to Cardiff base

13 Jan

This was definitely one of my more moronic missions. I actually had a reason to be in the vicinity of Bristol/Swindon on this particular Friday evening. I have told just one friend what this reason was, but I’ve decided I’m not going to divulge what the reason was in this little blog piece.

I came up with various alternative reasons to be in this approximate area. One of these was that I have a plan to start doing a bit of DJing in 2022, and I am part of the way in to getting the various pieces of equipment I need. I had seen a couple of record decks I was contemplating buying in Bristol, but after all, I didn’t do this as I’d bought a couple of cheap decks which would serve my purposes for the time being. There was a particular record I wanted to buy, but none of the record shops I called on the phone had it in stock. So in the end, I didn’t go to Bristol.

Another alternative reason I’d decided on to be in the approximate region of Bristol/Swindon was to go to a football match, particularly given that, due to Drakeford’s fkn decision to not allow us to attend the Cardiff v Preston FA Cup game this weekend, I thought I could get a football fix elsewhere. Well, it just so happened that Swindon were hosting Premier League leaders Man City this evening, so despite this not being my raison d’etre (approximate translation), I decided I should head to Swindon.

I was there by about 5pm, parked up, and headed to the Swindon branch of HMV. As I anticipated, they didn’t have the record I was looking for in stock, and the only other record shop it was suggested I could try was closed by the time I got there (but I was not too displeased as this was not my reason for being here). I after all ordered the record online, obviously having to pay a little extra for postage.

There are several quite nice looking pubs in Swindon town centre, and I popped in one called The Waiting Room, which seemed fitting as I’d once done a bit of co-hosting on a friend’s online radio show which was called The Waiting Room. I ordered a pint of Guinness for the reasonable price of £2.55. There were quite a few Swindon Town fans in here, but I didn’t really speak to anyone much. I did watch a bit of a game of pool being played. One of the two players was absolutely appalling. He appeared to not know the rules at all and could hardly hit the cue ball with the cue. I kept watching keen to see if it was possible he was one of those old school hustlers, who suddenly magically becomes quite good, but this was apparently not the case. With a few balls left on the table (somehow he had managed to pot a couple himself), including the black, he even seemed to lose interest in the game and just sort of wandered off, leaving his opponent to finish the game with a friend.

Well, I finished my pint and strolled back to the car. The next thing for me to do, which was still not actually my main intention, was to head towards Swindon Town’s football ground. As it happens, my grandparents on my dad’s side had lived in Swindon, and as it was only a couple of minutes drive away, I thought I’d just drive to their house for a brief reminisce.

It was then I headed off to find a place to park before the game. It was about an hour and a half before kick-off, but as I didn’t have a ticket, I’d decided I’d need to be at the ground quite early in the hope of finding someone who had a spare, with the certainty of this match being a sell-out. Inevitably most areas nearby were resident parking areas, or had double yellows. But I found a little lane that had one space which I thought would be suitable, so I parked here and headed off on foot to the ground which was around a twenty minute walk. I passed some nice looking pubs, but I really wanted to try and ensure that I got a ticket early.

Once at the ground, I saw three lads standing about, and thought it was possible they were looking to sell a ticket, so I asked if they had a spare. Perhaps they didn’t hear me right, but they just sort of mumbled a non-committal reply and I walked on. Then, to my surprise, I spotted Billy the Badge, a regular at Cardiff fixtures, selling red and white scarves! What are you doing here?! I said to him. He said the same thing back, and we chatted briefly. Billy also did not have a ticket – I think he goes to a lot of sports fixtures just to sell merchandise, and often doesn’t then attend the game himself.

But just as I was talking to him, the same three lads then approached me again and asked if I was looking for a ticket. As I say, perhaps they had not properly heard me just earlier. So I said yes, of course. They wanted £40 for it, which I thought was a bit steep. I offered £30 and they said that was what they’d paid for it. I really didn’t want to have to continue to try and get a cheaper ticket, so I then offered £35, they agreed, and ticket and money changed hands. So I’d got a ticket from the first people I’d asked! Luck, perhaps even fate, was definitely on my side.

Of course, I was now quite excited that I was going to be attending this match. It was only then that I remembered I hadn’t got my Corona test sorted, but fortunately I only needed to wave a friend’s pass that I had a screenshot of, I then presented my ticket and I was in. Only now did I discover that the end of the ground I had a ticket for – easily the best end for the atmosphere, the Town End – did not have a bar! So I was now going to have to wait around an hour before the kick-off without having a drink. But as the ground began filling up, this time did pass relatively quickly, and although officially there was also no smoking, one steward did allow me to have a quick fag in an uncovered corner near the gates.

I’d had a quick look at the odds on the match, and Swindon were 66/1 just to win! So of course, I couldn’t resist a couple of quid on this unlikely result. Bizarrely, it was 70/1 for Swindon to win 2-1 (which would emulate Cardiff’s giant killing of Leeds, which I had won money on), but obviously, it would have been complete insanity to bet on this result with only fractionally better odds.

Another guy who had also bought a ticket second-hand (from someone off Twitter) was stood next to me, and we got chatting quite a bit. He was properly a Swindon fan, but also a Man Utd fan, so obviously to see Swindon v Man City was quite a big thing for him.

The Swindon fans really were fantastic, singing for the entire game. Swindon actually started reasonably well. Their No.9 whose name I don’t recall put in a beautiful through ball for one of their front men, who unfortunately didn’t score, and I then kept my eye on the No.9, who looked strong, regularly getting into good positions, but unfortunately, he was, as you might expect, not getting much service.

Inevitably, Man City were very much a class apart, with Swindon looking quite poor at times. You forget how technically inept lower division players can appear at times. But of course, you couldn’t fault them for effort.

Unsurprisingly, Man City took an early lead. But it was the second goal that was the worst. Early on, the Swindon keeper had elected, from a goal-kick, not to kick it long, but to try and pass it short to one of the defenders in front of him, obviously with the hope that at least they’d then keep possession. But this was quite a disastrous tactic (which looked quite obviously like a training room or manager’s decision), because the Man City front players were extremely quick on to the defenders, forcing them to panic, and give up possession quite quickly. So it was totally blatant that this was a tactic the Swindon goalie definitely should not pursue. But he then did it a further three or four times within the first twenty minutes or so, and every time, the same thing happened with Man City quickly re-gaining the ball deep into Swindon’s half! It was just staggering ineptitude, and on about the fifth time of this happening, Man City got their second goal, and it was going to be an exceptionally large uphill struggle for Swindon now.

But as I say, the Swindon fans continued to sing with passion, with the Man City fans at the opposite end pathetically barely making any noise. I mostly elected not to join in with the Swindon chants. Of course, I was supporting them, but I didn’t feel it was quite right for me to actually cheer for them, with it not being my team. Once when De Bruyne took a corner, I quite quietly sang “Belgium run from Wales”, but of course, no-one else was going to join in with that. Later on, I got the guy next to me to join in with a chant of “Just like Swindon, your city is red”, emulating a fairly common Cardiff chant. I actually thought this one might be picked up on, but no. We only sang it once though. Perhaps it was just not a known chant for other Swindon fans, but it did also occur to me that Swindon, unlike Cardiff, is a town, not a city, so perhaps it didn’t quite work in this context.

At 3-0 down (Man City’s third goal coming from a free-kick, where Swindon had tried the tactic of adding some “cement” – a player laying down – to the wall, in vain), finally at least, Swindon did get quite a well-worked goal. The Town End went berserk, even though surely most fans must have known this would be nothing more than a consolation goal, with there being only around fifteen minutes of the match left. And just to solidify their position, Man City quite quickly added a fourth goal.

With a couple of minutes before the ninety were up, I decided I would head on, particularly due to the fact that, as I say, my car wasn’t parked in a great spot – I’d barely left room for other cars to pass, and I wondered if there was just a chance I’d get a ticket, or even be clamped. Also, I didn’t really feel the need to watch the team being applauded off etc. and so I bid farewell to the guy next to me. But I’d definitely warmed to Swindon, and I was even contemplating returning to watch their next home game against big rivals Bristol Rovers. The only snag I realised is that this coincides with Cardiff playing Bristol City away, but if we don’t get tickets for that…

I suppose, with it being a game featuring a lower league, there was just the chance of trouble. As I made my way up the hill towards my car, I did pass a large mob of perhaps twenty or thirty very hard-looking blokes – these were not Stone Island wannabees – and I did wonder what they might have achieved. I later looked up about Swindon, and it turns out they do in fact have two or three known hooligan firms.

Well, anyway, I got back to the car, and it was all fine, so I headed on. I then just did the last thing that was on my checklist, which I won’t divulge (it was just a bit of a silly thing), and headed home, Pete Tong keeping me company for the remainder of the journey.

Two days later, Cardiff had Preston at home in the same competition. It was looking like a really good third round, with a lot of goals and a few upsets. But of course, as mentioned, Drakeford had decreed we couldn’t attend Cardiff’s match. So I decided I’d go down to the ground to protest.

I had a banner that, in the end, I hadn’t used for a large protest against Covid passes that on one side said “Do you want us all to move to England?” and I decided this would be a suitably appropriate placard to hold up at the Cardiff ground.

So I got there at about 1pm, around an hour before kick-off. There were no other protesters, as I thought there might have been, despite nobody attempting to arrange anything as far as I knew. I hadn’t even bothered trying to ask anyone else if they wanted to join me.

The thing to bear in mind, for me, is that this was not a lockdown situation. No-one was being told to stay at home, no-one was on furlough and so encouraged to remain at home. We were/are still completely free to move around and do what we want – it was just that the fucking Welsh government, for whatever reason, had decided that, unlike in England, we could not attend football matches and other similar events. So for me, there was no reason why there should not be people at the ground protesting. Obviously, most people would have made the decision just to watch the game on TV at home, but still – I thought it was worth being there to make a point, and so that’s what I did, stood beside the Fred Keenor statue with my little placard.

Fortunately no staff, stewards etc even spoke to me to tell me to move on. Shortly after I got there, some kind of press guy came up to me and took my photo. I told him a little about my purpose for being there, which was, as I say, firstly that I thought it was ridiculous that I was able to simply cross the bridge and watch the Swindon game, that was packed to the rafters, but couldn’t attend this game. I said that given that this was not a flockdown situation, there was no reason why I shouldn’t be here – I had not been instructed to stay at home. I said that, if you wanted to talk science, then if scientific process involves trying things out and seeing if they work, that surely the experience we have from the last two years is that any restrictions are not just unnecessary but completely ineffective. And furthermore, to my mind, all the various rules and regulations have in fact had a massively detrimental effect on the NHS and all healthcare services.

A little while later, another fan passed, and we had a nice chat recalling favourite players of old. He also told me that the game was being aired on S4C, which in fact I had not known. I’d been intending to stay in my position throughout the match without actually watching the game. But then, around ten minutes after kick-off, I began watching the game on S4C on my phone, so in fact I was able to remain standing in protest, and watch the game at the same time! I saw Cardiff’s opening goal on my phone, from just outside the stadium where it was scored.

A few minutes before the end of the first half, another fan approached me, beer in hand. This poor lad had been to visit a plaque laid down for his dad as this was the anniversary of his dad passing away. He seemed a really decent bloke, and it was quite clear he would have liked to have been able to attend the game and to remember his dad at the same time.

This little moment was enough for me. I kind of felt I didn’t necessarily need to stand for much longer. I waited until it was half time. I rang my brother who had contacted me. It also occurred to me that if the game went to extra time – which after all it did – I’d be standing perhaps longer than I really needed to, in the dark when I wouldn’t be seen properly anyway, and in the increasing cold. So I left my placard next to the statue and moved on, watching the remaining part of the game at my parents’ house as I needed to visit them for a couple of things.

Annis must have somehow got hold of the photo the press guy had taken and this had been put on to his message board. I was quite pleased that the comments were all in praise of my little stance. A shame in a way there had not been more people there. As it happens, which I hadn’t in fact realised beforehand, this was also the 7th anniversary of Cardiff going back to blue. And if there is ever anything that proves that protests and people power can be effective, it was the constant protests – largely organised by Annis himself – that finally overturned Cardiff’s owners ludicrous decision to have Cardiff playing at home in red.

Cardiff managed to win the game against Preston in extra time, so that was good. We will now be facing Liverpool away in the next round which should be a good one. Revenge for the Carling Cup final defeat perhaps? Would be nice if Cardiff were able to go on a little cup run as we’ve been fairly woeful in both cups for quite a few years now.

One final footnote. On the Saturday, the day after the Swindon game, and the day before the Cardiff match, I went to take my Swindon ticket out from my wallet, and only now realised that the young Swindon fans had somehow given me not one, but two tickets! I’m fairly sure that they had four tickets between the three of them, with just the one spare. So I just hope that stewards would have been kind enough to still let the three of them in. Because otherwise one of them is always going to have a story about not being able to attend one of Swindon’s biggest games for many years because he’d accidentally given his ticket away!