Wembley, Mormons, Rye United and a corridor of AIDS
TRANMERE ROVERS 2 MAIDSTONE UNITED 1 Match Report by “Garth Paxman” THE high watermark of Tranmere Rovers’ history probably arrived on February 27th, 2000, when they were beaten 2-1 at Wembley by Leicester City in the League Cup Final. I watched this match in the Saxon Chief on Queens Road, a now-defunct pub that was usually populated by a toxic combination of Manchester United fans and Daily Mail readers.
 At the time it was the nearest pub to my house and it doubled as the unofficial Maidstone United boozer, given that the terms of our rental agreement with our then-landlords, the Mormon church, meant we couldn’t sell or consume alcohol on the site. By the end of the year, the landlord, whose advert in our programmes promised a “warm welcome”, would stab his wife to death.
 On the day before the final we’d played Rye United in a Weald of Kent Charity Cup tie at London Road, just as the scandal over bad language that had briefly catapulted us back into the national news (or at least the racist bongo mag the Daily Star) was dying down. To recap, a wedding party was said to be “deeply upset” by some of the language that drifted across the pitch and into the church during a service, as any self-respecting members of a faith that thinks profanity is a greater evil than polygamy probably would be.
 We beat Rye 2-0, but only after a bad tackle had put Graham Martin, the Joe Pesci of the Kent County League, out of the game. As he limped to the sideline, he let rip with a threat that echoed round the ground and through the church walls: “I’m taking that fucking cunt out after the game!”
 It’s fair to surmise that of maybe 150 people who were watching that afternoon, not many thought we’d be playing a league fixture against team who’d taken possibly 30,000 fans to Wembley the following day any time soon. 
 16 years however, is, to use some non-Mormon language, a fuck of a long time and a fuck of a lot has happened to both clubs in the meantime. Of late almost everything that has happened to us has been good, while a lot that has happened to Tranmere has been bad. At this point a TV reporter previewing this fixture would probably start bandying the word “journey” around. To use a Graham Martin approved term, we had a “fucking cunt” of a journey to get to Prenton Park, although only in the geographical sense. 
 The supporters bus apparently set off at 5am to ensure the minimum requirement of six-hours pre-game drinking time was met, but unable to leave any earlier than 8.30 we ran into problems familiar to anyone who read the report of the Chester game last week. There isn’t much left to say about the M6 that hasn’t been said already, but we’ll give it a go. It’s a corridor of AIDS, a jugular vein throbbing with HIV and yet it’s somehow still preferable to attempting the same journey by train. During the six-hours in transit we had to devise numeorus ways of killing the time and after hammering the BBC last week for its doe-eyed Olympic coverage on “Super Saturday”, the consensus this week was that they’d significantly upped their game. Only joking! Sycophant Sunday was followed by Moron Monday, which begat Tosspot Tuesday, which spawned Wanky Wednesday, which bequeathed Thoroughly-Unprofessional Thursday and finally gave way to Fubar Friday, during which Clare Balding came so repeatedly and so heavily that seismologists were urging people to evacuate the Olympic village. This passed some of the time, but the traffic only really eased when we got to the Wirral and from there on everything seemed slightly surreal. Prenton Park is a classic, old-school football venue. Wrexham aside it dwarfs anywhere we’ve played since reforming and probably only three of four of the venues we played at before 1992 come close: perhaps Burnley, Watford, Sheffield United and Le Stade des Bus Wankers. This is a “big” club all right, but they aren’t in your face about it, which somehow makes them seem even bigger. It wasn’t like Burnley, where you got the sense the locals resented you for still having access to running water and use of your own teeth. Nor was there was any of the lofty, “big-time” bullshit you can get at Gravesend and Dover or the desperate sad-bastardry of Boreham “We know the value of a pound note” Wood. Outside the ground there was an actual statue. The last time I can recall passing a pile of deliberately darkened metal outside a football ground it was the charred remains of a Fiat Panda outside the Beauwater Leisure Centre in Northfleet back in 2001. Needless to say when the fans are in the mood this kind of venue can be deafening, but there are ways of dealing with this kind of atmosphere and it took us too long to realise there was a reason why Tranmere are playing in the fifth tier. At around about the same time we were playing (and losing) at Beauwater, they were hosting an FA Cup quarter-final with Liverpool. They’ve had a long way to fall and a series of dismal seasons takes its toll on any fan base. When a team is expected to win a game the crowd gets nervous unless they get a substantial lead to sit on and that can work to the underdog’s advantage. They dominated possession for at least half an hour, during which The Walking Mancrush made a number of saves. Against that we were defending reasonably well and even carved out a decent chance which Greenhouse put wide from an angle. Just when it looked as though we might get to half-time at 0-0 they scored, an angled shot past Ache and TWM after a fortunate deflection off “Cycles”. The response from the away end was interesting. The drummer started beating his tub with all the subtlety of an early Phil Collins solo record and a cry of “weeeeeeee’re the black/amber arrrrrmeeeee,” went up. Why can’t we be like this at home? Actually, don’t answer that … The noise throughout was deafening if you were in the away end and it drew a lot of praise from the home fans. It was also quite discerning. Maybe as many as 50 fans were singing the “up” songs about armies, love, Flisheur’s tight shirt and letting Lee Worgan shag your wife. When maybe three fans started singing the more obnoxious songs: “shithole” etc, no one else joined in which I thought was slightly pleasing. It seems our fans, or most of them at least, won’t just sing any old shit… At the start of the second half we were forced to defend like bastards. They hit the post and “Going” cleared an effort off the line. Then, out of nothing, the game was turned on its head as Liz played a superb through ball to Mercurial French winger Alexandre Flisheur. The angle was against him so he went for power, producing a shot with so much pace on it the keeeeepaaaaah could only watch it fly under him. Cue absolute “fucking scenes” in the away end and the entertaining sight of the keeeeeepaaaaaaaaaaah and the Akifenwa-esque centre-back having a blazing row. From then on the inferiority complex vanished, to the extent I thought we might even nick the win. The home fans were as demoralised as you’d expect and there was some pleasing counter-attacking, with Paxman just occasionally doing something brilliant with his feet. The winner wasn’t unexpected, but it was a bit of a sickener that it came from a corner, with TWM left stranded after he was unable to fist cleanly. It’s difficult to tell whether he was clattered from the highlights so there’s no point in getting too Jamie Day about it, but even after that blow the response from fans and players alike was heartening. In injury-time TWM denied them a third by clawing the ball away from the striker’s feet and at the other end DI Regan headed against the bar, albeit from an offside position. Afterwards almost everyone was feeling that mixture of pride and frustration that we hadn’t got a point. It certainly made the journey back easier, as did the news that the 01634s had been humped 5-0 at Scunthorpe. According to The Penguin they’d apparently played quite well if you ignored the five goals they conceded. Further comfort came from the amusing news that Gravesend had blown another lead, Danny Kedwell having “Kedwelled” another second half penalty. It surely won’t be long now before the bi-annual “Dawes to Stonebridge Road?” rumour gets an airing. Warwick Services was full of dead-eyed Maidstone fans, struggling to cope with the second 14-hour trip in as many Saturdays. Further time-killing strategies were needed and in the car we posed the question: who’s the weirdest person you’ve ever met in non-league football? This passed a good few miles. (CENSORED) took the golden medal by a long distance because he’s clearly an absolute sex case, but (CENSORED) also figured prominently in discussions, as did (CENSORED), who everyone thinks stole the (CENSORED) from (CENSORED), although nothing was ever proved of course. At 10:30pm we finally got back to the ‘Stone, where a chopper was circling over the site of the club’s old offices in Westree Road and six police cars had parked up. Maybe they’d finally found the sealed vault where Jim Thompson used to stash the accounts. * In case you missed our announcement via social media this week, we will be LIVEBLOGGING! from Boreham Wood on Bank Holiday Monday. We have agreed to pay the hosts a total of FUCK ALL (+VAT). And there is absolutely fuck all they can do about it. Cheers!
On Chester ... "3-1 to the Southern Faggots"
Follow us on facebook, if you can be arsed. No shitgibbonry please.
"Not as shit as the Arts Council book." StonesTV
"Not as shit as the Arts Council book." Stones TV Just £1.99 on Amazon
On Braintree ... "Peanut-flicking hi-viz entertainment..." RECENT HIGHLIGHTS