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The Card: Every Match, Every Mile

13.99
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The Card: Every Match, Every Mile

13.99

Kindle eBook link is here, also available on iBooks and all other formats

“Hilarious, heroic and utterly futile, this is Withnail & I for non-league football” - Dan Davies, author, In Plain Sight

”This everyman deconstruction of the full time football fan is heartbreaking and hilarious. Yes, we have all been there... but not 50 times in the same season” - Steve McKevitt, author, Playing With The Boys

”Admirable blind faith in finding the end of a blue and white rainbow” - Jonathan Legard, BBC

When does a hobby become an obsession? At the start of yet another football season, long-suffering Chester supporter Steve Hill makes his traditional tongue-in-cheek pledge to do The Card every game, home and away. However, this time it is different. This time he means it...

One man, 50 matches, 15,000 miles. Spurning parental duties in search of glory, what follows is a disturbing journey into the heart of darkness, from Gateshead to Torquay and all points in between. An odyssey of forgotten towns, crap pubs, crumbling stadiums and shattered dreams, this is Broken Britain viewed through the prism of the match day experience: I have been to Macclesfield, but I have never been to me...

Written on the road as a tragicomic travelogue, The Card is self-deprecating black humour at its best. Whether you love the game or not, it is an extraordinary story of football, friendship and fatherhood. And motorways. With literally dozens of fellow fans urging him on, can Hill achieve immortality and valiantly complete The Card: Every Match, Every Mile?

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Kindle eBook link is here, also available on iBooks and all other formats

“Hilarious, heroic and utterly futile, this is Withnail & I for non-league football” - Dan Davies, author, In Plain Sight

”This everyman deconstruction of the full time football fan is heartbreaking and hilarious. Yes, we have all been there... but not 50 times in the same season” - Steve McKevitt, author, Playing With The Boys

”Admirable blind faith in finding the end of a blue and white rainbow” - Jonathan Legard, BBC

When does a hobby become an obsession? At the start of yet another football season, long-suffering Chester supporter Steve Hill makes his traditional tongue-in-cheek pledge to do The Card every game, home and away. However, this time it is different. This time he means it...

One man, 50 matches, 15,000 miles. Spurning parental duties in search of glory, what follows is a disturbing journey into the heart of darkness, from Gateshead to Torquay and all points in between. An odyssey of forgotten towns, crap pubs, crumbling stadiums and shattered dreams, this is Broken Britain viewed through the prism of the match day experience: I have been to Macclesfield, but I have never been to me...

Written on the road as a tragicomic travelogue, The Card is self-deprecating black humour at its best. Whether you love the game or not, it is an extraordinary story of football, friendship and fatherhood. And motorways. With literally dozens of fellow fans urging him on, can Hill achieve immortality and valiantly complete The Card: Every Match, Every Mile?

Extract - 

the card (ka:d) noun

Every first team fixture of a football club’s season.

Usage. 1. doing the card. To attend every fixture of a season.

2. on the card. To be in the process of attempting to complete one’s card. eg, “I hear Hill is on the card. What a tit.”

Game 1 of 50 >

Fuck this life. 6:16am. Toothbrush in hand, I peer out of the bathroom window. In the distance, the Wembley Arch cruelly mocks my plight. A different international stadium is the destination today, as the so-called fixture computer has deemed that Chester FC will begin their season at Gateshead, a mere 242 miles north as the crow, or indeed British Airways, flies. The first trip is the longest: the first cut is the deepest.

The Uber driver to Paddington wonders why I have no baggage. He doesn’t see the 32 years of emotional baggage accrued from following this shower of shit, season after season, game after game, all over this land. I absolutely love it. Today is something of a first, however. After years of idly talking about it, we’ve actually booked a flight to the match, with the 8:30am from Heathrow to Newcastle offering ample time for a tear-up, the game, and then a flight back the same evening. I’m not sure if it counts, but technically I did fly to a game once before, taking a plane from San Francisco to Heathrow, from where The Driver took me directly to Mansfield. Won 3-1.

Four days before the start of this season, The Driver sent me a text saying, “We have decided to move to France.”

“Got to be my last chance for the card,” I replied hilariously.

The Heathrow Express delivers me to Terminal 5, where The Driver and The Hack are already waiting, having travelled from Newbury and Brighton respectively, more or less. Each resplendent in replica shirts, I’m letting the side down, and The Hack is disappointed, keen that three pricks in Chester tops should be something of a talking point. In the event, nobody gives the tiniest shit, and we’re not even the only football fans on the flight, with a lone Newcastle supporter licking his wounds after a Friday night defeat at Fulham.

Following a failed attempt to get into the BA lounge, I take advantage of a shop giving out free vodka, and assume a window seat on the big bird. It’s with giddy excitement — and obligatory terror — that we take off, actually flying to a game like a triumvirate of massive overgrown show-offs. That said, it’s considerably cheaper than the train, and you are at least guaranteed a seat.

The blind optimism of the opening match of the season is a universal trait, whatever the predicament. We have a rookie manager at the helm, with former assistant Jon McCarthy having been appointed in the summer after winning three of his four games as caretaker. Furthermore, our three best players have left for pastures new, and we haven’t got a pot to piss in. But as it stands we’re equal top of The National League, and it really is a national league, stretching from Torquay to Gateshead and all points in between.

Literally anything could happen today, by which I mean a win, a draw or a defeat. Or a postponement, highly unlikely given the sweltering weather. The Metro takes us straight into the heart of Newcastle city centre, and it feels odd to be so far away without the pain of a five-hour motorway slog. Bowling around the Bigg Market before the pubs are even open, the streets are largely deserted, but there is a strong sense that something happened here a few short hours earlier, a feral combination of drinking, fighting and rutting. In other words, the very stuff of life itself.

Piling into a pub at the crack of 11am, The Hack studiously surveys the pumps and finally orders an entirely random Real Ale, declaring — not for the first time — that he can really taste the hops. Meanwhile, The Driver is still operating on British Lager Time and joins me in a fruity pint of fizzy piss. It’s early August and such is the overlap of the sporting seasons that England are still embroiled in a Test Match with Pakistan. Watching it on the big screen, they are already a couple of wickets down when a familiar face strolls past the pub window. It is Howie, a CAMRA Man of some repute who stands back and to my left on The Harry McNally Terrace. Tempting him in, he joins us for a swift half of swill, and explains that he saw The Damned in Carlisle the night before, a fortuitous piece of scheduling that sees him hit the Toon in plenty of time for supping, or drinking as it’s more commonly known. Mildly impressed to learn that we have flown here, he sups up and fucks off.

Claiming some local knowledge due to a stint at Durham University, The Driver leads us in concentric circles until we find somewhere that serves a full English breakfast, replete with craft beer, whatever that is. Somehow, The Hack has never been to Newcastle before, and while shovelling a burger into his maw he expresses his horror at the amount of fat people in evidence, something that may be related to the astonishing number of Greggs, which has its headquarters in Newcastle. Apparently, at night they have bouncers on the doors, presumably lest a scuffle should break out over the last steak slice.

With still hours until kickoff we watch half a Scottish match in another pub, and then head for the river, basking in the heat outside a rammed Pitcher & Piano. It’s next to the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, on the other side of which lies our destiny. The match suddenly appears in jeopardy when the bridge is cleared and proceeds to slowly tilt on its axis to let a pleasure craft through. The boat then has to immediately turn round and come back, as the next bridge is impassable, rendering the entire exercise a massive waste of effort and money that, more importantly, has cost us valuable drinking time.

Speed-walking over the newly intact bridge, The Driver, who has been here before, leads us on a tetchy, sweaty route past interminable lock-ups, warehouses and potential murder venues towards an alleged pub. This apparently is Gateshead, distinct from Newcastle by virtue of being the other side of a river, much like North and South London.

With tempers fraying, we finally stumble upon The Dolphin, hidden among the trees. All the major faces are present and correct, appearing as if by magic like an annual version of Brigadoon. In the same way that racehorses all have their birthdays on the first day of the year, the fans are all one season older, sporting new shirts, old scars, and years of disappointment etched on their faces. There’s barely time to pour a lager into my face, and we’re on the march again, taking our seats in Gateshead International Stadium in time to see the players come out. That’s living all right…

Essentially an athletics venue, it’s an absolutely shocking place to watch football, and any new players are rendered almost indistinguishable by virtue of being so far away. Intimate it is not, and you have to feel sorry for the poor pricks that turn up here every other week. The first half is goalless, and I reward myself with what is described by the vendor as a “mince pie”, the hard shell concealing a blob of indeterminate meat. I wash it down with a Diet Coke, as the diet bit cancels out the pie. The second half is a dismal affair, and our only effort of note is a free kick from new boy Elliott Durrell that sails out of the stadium and quite possibly into the Tyne. Gateshead leather in three goals without reply, and we end the game equal bottom of the league, only above Southport on alphabetical order. At least I’ve ticked off a new ground…

Enraged by beer and despair, I hold my arms outstretched like a pair of wings and bellow, “One hour on a plane for this, McCarthy!” I don’t quite have the wingspan of the nearby Angel of the North, and he doesn’t hear me anyway — he’s about half a mile away. I didn’t see, I only heard, but apparently some Chester Youth left early and went back to The Dolphin for what has been described as “a stand-off” that at some stage involved a banger being thrown into the pub. Hopefully Dennis The Menace turned up with his catapult to sort things out.

Back in Toon, more meat and beer is consumed, the latter at a Wetherspoons, the default pub for the non-league fan — it’s cheap, crap, and full of weirdoes. The party continues at Newcastle Airport, which, presumably to the chagrin of the locals, is home to a pop-up Sunderland AFC shop. Back on the plane, the steward sympathises with our plight as he’s a Brentford fan, and they’ve also lost their first game. As such he plies us with gin and tonic for the duration of the short flight. Back at Heathrow, The Driver — for once unleashed from his vehicle — insists that we drink even more as he waits for his lift. Unless I’m mistaken, I appear to be spending Saturday night drinking a can of gin and tonic at an airport. A Tube and a bus eventually deliver me to within walking distance of home, and I thread across a sports field listening to Happy Mondays in a state of near delirium.

Strong day, shame about the score.

Attendance: 991 Position: 23rd *