Johnny Phillips: Let The Train Take The Tension For The Best Days Out

Photos in Molineux, Loups for the evening. Carl Ikeme and Matt Murray and pictured and back MP Stuary Anderson, Mayor: Greg Brackenridge, BBC presenter and Good Shepherd Ambassador: Natalie Graham and Tom Hayden of Good Shepherd

This column is written on the 9:30 am Avanti Trains, London Euston to Wigan North Western service. From Wigan North Western it is a few strides out of the station and across the street to Wigan Wallgate where the Northern service to Kirkby can be taken. Once in Kirkby, it’s a 25-minute walk to Liverpool’s training ground, before catching up with Joel Matip for an interview. On the way back, it’s a slightly different route: the Merseyrail service from Kirkby to Liverpool Central, a five-minute walk past St John’s Precinct, then a Liverpool Lime Street train back down to Euston.

Any supporter outside or in exile who travels by train to the games will recognize the planning of a trip. Football and trains are inextricably linked. Every weekend, the national rail network carries thousands of supporters across the country. It has become a ritual which, depending on the outcome, can be as enjoyable as the game itself.

The camaraderie and the shared experiences speak for themselves. It was the 1927 FA Cup final between Cardiff City and Arsenal at Wembley that first introduced the idea of ​​mass transport of football supporters by rail. Fifty trains have been operated by Great Western Railway to take fans from Cardiff to London. The 1970s and 1980s were the heyday of Football Special – trains specially chartered to transport supporters to matches. British Rail would use its lousiest rolling stock to meet demand, fully aware that there was a likelihood of cars being destroyed at a time when hooliganism played a major role in a day away. Inter City Firm of West Ham got its name from its mode of travel for away games.

Many supporters also make long-distance journeys to home games, and trains have become an integral part of the experience. The London Wolves have used the rail network for fifty years, taking advantage of discounts available for group bookings of ten or more passengers when traveling to Wolverhampton and elsewhere from the capital. In 1979, a midweek League Cup trip to Grimsby Town entered folklore when 38 of their members embarked on a trip that lasted until 6.30am. The return trip from Blundell Park involved a two-hour wait to change trains in Doncaster, where traveling fans found a local nightclub to pass the time, before returning to Kings Cross in the early hours of the morning. The match ended 0-0, by the way.

The joy of the train is that it drops you off in the heart of the city you are visiting. Unlike traveling by coach or car, there is no tedious crawling through traffic jams along blocked arteries to the city. Fans can arrive at their destination hours in advance and enjoy the setting before watching a match.

Although it can have its drawbacks when fans from different clubs arrive in one city. The Euston Flyer pub has established a reputation as a destination for rival fans arriving in North London and the Midlands. And London Bridge can be a bustling place as fans at home and away from home and out heading to and from South East sites like Charlton, Millwall and Crystal Palace converge at the same time.

For many professional football clubs, the train is a preferred mode of transport for away matches. Premier League teams often reserve entire first-class cars on long journeys. Few teams were able to get to a game faster than Wolves players in the 2019 Premier League Asia Trophy tournament in China. The famous Bullet train took just an hour to complete a 190-mile journey from its Shanghai base to a game in Nanjing, against Newcastle United. It’s about ten minutes less than it takes to get from Birmingham to Shrewsbury on a West Midlands Trains service.

Perhaps there is no closer relationship between football and trains than at Cierny Balog Stadium, home of amateur club TJ Tatran Cierny Balog in Slovakia. This is where the Cierny Hron narrow gauge railway passes through the ground, with the tracks passing between the main grandstand and the grounds. It is not uncommon for steam trains to ply the site during matches. Rightly so, trains have free access through the ground since the railway line was first built, in 1909, and the football pitch was laid a few years later.

Today’s train destination is Swansea City, to cover a league game against Blackpool for football on Saturday. The London Paddington to Swansea train is the UK version of the Trans-Siberian Express. Once past Cardiff, the journey becomes a test of endurance. Bridgend, Port Talbot promenade, Neath. Are we ever going to get there? But, of course, it’s much faster and more relaxing than attempting the same trip on the M4.

During the Football Special era, British Rail ran an advertisement with the slogan “The Age of the Train”. The permanent joke was that the age must have been around 80, with its rickety cars, unreliable service, and regular delays. The modern privatized version of the network often brings with it the same familiar issues, only with astronomical prices for the privilege. It is not always easy or profitable but, despite the challenges, traveling by train remains a popular ritual of a day of football.

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