Now, dear readers, this is the one. No, I mean the ONE. The epic journey across the country, that everyone said I was mad to do. Frodo and Sam have nothing on this epic quest. Even some of the players told me it was ok to miss this one. Not likely. If Rush Green is out in the sticks, Dorchester on a Sunday is like the wild wild west. Even a 5 am start wouldn’t get me there on time. I was going to have to set off the earliest I ever had for a match. A whole 31 hours before kick-off complete with an overnighter somewhere. Two coaches, four trains, one taxi and a camel across the South West. Well, maybe not the camel but I certainly felt like Lawrence of Arabia on this mission. I started my journey which had been planned with military-like precision.
Up at the respectable time of 8 am, I visited McDonalds for my usual pre-footie breakfast of a Hash Brown bagel. Seriously, between the beer and the carbs, supporting this team is going to give me such a gut.
I had planned an hour and half between arriving in Victoria and leaving again for the next leg, which is more than enough time. What I hadn’t planned for was London traffic and the fact no one bothered to tell the driver that the road was closed. I spent a good half hour wondering why we were going past Madam Tussauds. And all the marauding Sherlock fans trying to get a piece of 22 Baker street was not my idea of fun. So, what started as a nice hour and hour cushion turned into a half an hour dash to Greggs and back. Definitely going to get fat following this team.
It was brief stretch of the legs and then back to it for another two and half hours to Bournemouth, my break point for the evening. This journey was much less fun. The combination of nights drawing in earlier and some highway employee’s brilliant cost-cutting idea to not have street lights on the motorway meant that it was inky black outside. So, I spent two hours on the magical mystery tour somehow getting to Bournemouth. Friends got the brunt of my boredom and confusion and cabin fever via text message. One such conversation went as such.
‘I want off this bus.’
‘Where are you now?’
‘No idea but more importantly I am done with this bus.’
‘What can you see? Surely you are near now?’
‘I can see sweet f all and I am well and truly done with this bus.’
‘Road signs? Anything to give you an indication of where you are?’
‘Ooh just saw an airport’
‘Right that’s Southampton, so you’re close then.’ …. ‘Means you can get off the bus soon’
Only 11 and a half hours after I started, I was at my rest stop for the evening. However, I further proved my point. When you tell people you’re spending the weekend in Bournemouth, they think sea, sand and stick of Rock. Whereas my experience of Bournemouth was its station, the local chippy and some drowsy looking seagulls. This is what I mean by all I see is motorways and non-league football grounds. That was not hyperbole.
My BnB ended up more like an AirBnb, which was much more fun. I spent my evening with a lovely lady who made me copious amounts of tea, let me watch match of the day and had two mad dogs I could fuss over. All for fifteen quid. Bargain!! Although my host was very confused about why I was there. ‘Where are you going that Bournemouth is your halfway point?!’ ’Yeovil’ The confusion didn’t lift. Football is definitely a specific type of passion project. Wearily I headed to bed for my second leg
After a massive breakfast and my own bodyweight in tea. (Seriously, I think I cost the poor lady fifteen quid in tea alone. I doubt she broke even with me.) Because I apparently hadn’t learnt my lesson from the last time, I was meeting Ed on a train. After the gentle persuasion from the last match. Ed was up and ready with only the slightest hint of a grumble.
Once again, Ed’s wonderful directions meant it took an age to find him on a rather busy train to the South West. Dorchester Town is the most quintessential example of a non-league club ground. It’s hidden behind a Tesco in the middle of an industrial park. This time heading toward the delivery yard was actually spot on. Going into it reminded me of the clubs I used to watch the Daggers play. Like Purfleet, where my overwhelming memory is thinking I was going to die when they served me out of date Pepsi. Hopefully, I wouldn’t have any near death experiences this time.
We were delayed entry into the ground as the junior league match hadn’t finished. Ed looked appalled at that. Can you imagine the state of of the pitch after a bunch of ten year old have made their mark on it? Yet another thing that would never happen in a men’s game. A group of Green and Yellow fans had gathered around us, as we waited for the Harry Kanes of tomorrow to finish up. ‘We don’t expect many of you guys to turn up today’. The leader of the Green men told me. ‘It’s a bit of shlep from East London.’ I laughed. ‘Mate, I have come from the North, the fair-weather fans have no excuses!’
As with most people when they realise how far I travel, he looked perplexed. ‘Why would you do that?!’ Before I could answer, our team coach turned up and off jumped Raff. ‘There’s my favourite fan’ she called as she pulled me into a bear hug. The Yeovil fan laughed. ‘I can see now why you travel.’ After a rather formal introduction last time, Julia Simic decided that a bone crusher of a hug should now be her standard greeting to me. I must have made an impression. Many of the players said I was insane being there. Gilly reminded me I could have just followed the twitter feed. Oh, Gil, less fun to yell at your phone instead of in person.
With the team in and the juniors leaving the building, we went in for a well-earned pint. I caught up on the Manchester City vs Birmingham City whilst downing some West Country IPA. Geoff came and joined us for a swift half and I told him proudly of my early Christmas present to myself. I had decided to add to my Raff shirt by getting the third Kit with Longhurst 12 on the back. Geoff seemed very proud but told me I needn’t have spent my money.
‘We have Kate’s old Chelsea and Liverpool shirts you could have had.’ ‘Funnily enough, Geoff, not a tempting offer.’ With that, we headed to the stands.
West Ham were buoyed by the return of Ria Percival from international duty. A fearsome New Zealander, who is a terror on the wing, Ria made her presence known from the offset, crossing in for a shot knocked just wide by Simic. However, we didn’t have to wait long, Lehman got behind Megan Walsh and slotted home. Then again 12 minutes later, a loose ball expertly picked up by Ria was pinged over for Lehman to grab her second of the match.
Once again Yeovil, ever the physical team, took the deficit as inspiration to push harder, dig deeper and tackle more recklessly. It didn’t matter though, as 4 minutes later Percival made another cross to Simic. This time our German livewire didn’t miss and rocketed home our third. West Ham were looking comfortable at the break.
I had another pint in the Dorchester club house, which is on par with Solihull’s clubhouse, which takes some doing and is the reason I am always happy to do Birmingham away . Birmingham has the most amazing clubhouse where you can get a pint and a pie. I spent many a match when following Manchester in there at half time. Occasionally half the match too. This time Geoff kindly got in the round, joking ‘When was the last time a player’s dad bought you a drink?!’ Can honestly say I highly doubt that Mark Noble’s dad would. A perk of the women’s game, just not for my liver.
Back out to the blistering cold for the second half. An unusual substitution was made at half-time with our goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse coming off for Becky Spencer. I hoped it was about game time and not an injury. Though at West Ham we are lucky to have two insanely talented goalkeepers. It didn’t take long for us to push for our fourth. The little dynamo Visalli smashed home a header. She had been left unmarked for that cross, which made me think Yeovil discounted the possibility she would get it. More fool them. At the hour mark, we grabbed what was to be our last goal. The German spitfire, Julia Simic, broke on the counter, smashing the ball home.
I had to dash off before the final whistle to make my train. Dorchester is served by just one train an hour on a Sunday, and the timings meant that if I didn’t get the one before 5, I would miss my last train home. The more annoying thing was I would have missed it by ten minutes. So instead I now have just under an hour to kill in Bournemouth.
So, I went back through the car park by Tesco and up the long road to the station. I made it with 3 minutes to spare. Now, dear readers, you may be wondering if I saw more of Bournemouth with this gift of time. Did I finally go to the pier and see the sea? Did I finally see more of the great country than motorways and a football ground? No, is the simple answer. I went back to the same chippy as the night before and had a chip roll in the station waiting room.
Here I met a fellow hammer, who had been walking the coastline at Poole. We chatted a bit about our chances with the summer signings and then he asked me what had brought me to this part of the world. ‘Oh, I came down for the women’s match, they just beat Yeovil.’ ‘Ooh you came all this way just for the women? That’s commitment!’ Now, I am not a violent person, dear friends, but he is lucky he had to run to get his train. I settled for a Paddington Bear level of hard stare. That’s what frustrates me as a fan, that it is perfectly acceptable for me to travel the length and breadth of the country for West Ham Men, but to do it for the Women’s team, well, it’s just the Women’s so I must be barking. Well, I am, but that’s not the point.
Finally, I clambered into my seat for the last 5 hours of my journey home. When the conductor made his rounds, I wearily handed him my ticket. When he saw my destination, he laughed. ’Stockport?! You’re going all the way to Stockport? Even I’m getting off at Birmingham! ’ He went on his way, chuckling to himself and I napped the rest of the way home. But not before working out that I had travelled the same length of time for one football match as I had to South Africa. And that is why Mary Earps calls me crazy. Next time, four matches in one post as I summarise what was not a great January. I question my shirt choice and I meet up with some old friends. COYI