A lot can happen when travelling to an FA Cup match 200 miles away from home. Most of what occurs is exactly as one would expect such as traffic jams on the M6 through Birmingham, awful food and coffee at the service station and the inevitable incorrect direction from the satnav leading to a lot of worry then fret then panic that you won’t be able to find the ground in time for kick-off amongst the newly built identikit housing estates. All those things happened on my way to Victoria Park (AKA Little Wembley) to watch Nelson FC of the North West Counties League take on Newton Aycliffe of the Northern League in the Extra Preliminary Round of this year’s FA Cup. But another unexpected event happened on the way, one that in the end managed to touch upon almost every aspect of my life.
I am what I would refer to as an infrequent ground visitor, a groundhopper lite if you like, with the majority of grounds visited done so as part of my passion for watching FA Cup matches. My companion for my trip to Nelson was one Laurence Reade of GroundhopUK, who with over 1,700 grounds visited could not be regarded as a light groundhopper. Laurence was aware I was approaching my 100th ground, and knowing of my love for the FA Cup suggested that Nelson’s Victoria Park on FA Cup EP round day would be a memorable venue suitable to commemorate my minor milestone. It was also a ground that Laurence hadn’t yet visited having had to abort a similar attempt at this same stage last year thanks to that inevitable travel logjam on the M6.
Laurence was driving so I bugged him for use of his roving internet signal on his mobile so that I could access my @FACupFactfile Twitter account on what is the busiest day in my FA Cup calendar. I wanted to see and share all the excitement that was being communicated from up and down the country about individual club’s FA Cup adventures. In my private messages, though, was a request from Radio 5 Live’s Non-League Show to be interviewed for a special FA Cup edition of their show to be recorded that evening and aired early the following morning. This was a nice surprise and a welcome additional PR opportunity coming hot on the heels of the FA Cup Factfile being featured in the Non-League Paper the previous Sunday.
I was going to be interviewed by Liam Bradford from the show at about 8.15pm. I warned the researcher that it was likely that I’d still be travelling back from Nelson, but that I would be available to join in. It was going to be tight to be home in time for the interview but I prepared a plan in my head for how I would deal with it whatever the stage of my travel back from the match. On arriving at Nelson, it was obvious Laurence was correct in his assertion that it would be a memorable ground for my 100th visit, a unique stadium faced by a row of mill cottages down one side of the pitch in front of what is now probably a listed mill chimney. Whilst the ground was very memorable for me, not least because the programme was jam-packed full of @FACupFactfile facts and blogs, the host club will want to forget all about the match, losing 4-0 and being knocked out at this stage of the competition for the seventh successive campaign.
We left straight after the match had finished and I was about five minutes from home thinking that I was going to make it there in time when the phone rang. It was the Non-League Show with what I expected to be the one minute warning I was about to join the show. However, the call was to tell me it would be another 10 minutes, and relieved as I was that I’d be able to make the interview at home, the best thing about the call was that it was from Joel Hammer. Joel had recognised my name and was keen to speak with me. Joel used to present on BBC Radio Oxford and had been a stand-in presenter on the day in 2011 when that radio station had interviewed me about a board game I had created called Whirred PLAY. This was a most pleasant surprise, but thought nothing more of it. Click on link to learn all about WhirredPLAY http://www.whirredplay.co.uk
So finally at home, settled in front of all my @FACupFactfile facts and stats, I awaited the call from the Non-League Show. It duly arrived and I had an excellent conversation with Liam Bradford and his guests regarding the 21st Century FA Cup club rankings I had produced. And then, out of the blue, Liam decided to ask me about WhirredPLAY. This was a very unexpected turn of events and caught unawares I hope I did the game justice in the brief 30 seconds I had to talk about it in what was a terrific opportunity to increase awareness of WhirredPLAY.
So, it just goes to show, you just never know what might happen when you decide to make a 400 mile round trip to watch a football match at a ground, and in a part of a competition, about which the majority of football watchers are unaware, but what we in the real football world know only too well. And, despite what was said once I had left the conversation, I do have a beautiful wife and two wonderful teenage sons!
Witch Whirred Wood Yew Chews
Here’s the link to the interview that starts 24 mins in http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b065s65v
Alternatively for non-UK readers here’s the audio file https://music.microsoft.com/cloud/track/5C023A34F1F90C53!5868?NewToGroove=true