First Division Play-Off Blues

I think it must have been about 40 seconds into the first game of the season when I realised West Ham wouldn’t get automatic promotion. Preston North End looped a hopeful ball into the area, Dailly fell comically onto his arse and Repka booted it vertically into the sky. We survived for another minute before Preston finally scored. Things didn’t bode well.

I’ve detested this season. When you get relegated certain things happen; your best players move on, the skill level drops, Brian Deane joins. We sat in and around the top six for most of the season and consolidated a play-off spot on the final day. A last minute equaliser made no difference to our plight, we were already guaranteed fourth as other results went our way. But it did make a difference for Crystal Palace, it allowed them to slip into sixth at Wigan’s expense. Little thanks we received for that.

The semi-final play-off was tense, but we edged it past the Tractor Boys. I was determined to go to Cardiff, but not being a season ticket holder, had no chance of a ticket. A bloke from work came good in the end. On the Thursday night I was given an address in Essex and told to ask for ‘Dave’. ‘Dave’ would gladly hand over a ticket if I crossed his palm with silver. Lots of silver. It was a bit cloak and dagger and Essex isn’t the greatest place to walk around with lots of silver in your pocket. Anyway, I worked out the economics and reasoned that if I didn’t eat for a fortnight I would be fine. I went to sleep poor and happy.

It took me six and a half hours to drive to Wales the next day. Most of that was sat on the North Fucking Circular hoping the engine wouldn’t overheat. I had vague directions to a B&B in Chepstow I’d found online. It turned out to be in a village five miles from Chepstow. A sign above the bar said Vegetarians are usually catered for. My phone signal said ‘searching’. I ate three packets of cheese and onion and slept surrounded by chintz.

I woke up early Saturday morning. Excited as an eight year old. I asked about a bus service into Chepstow to get the train to Cardiff. “There aren?t any buses.” Taxi? “They tend to ignore us.” The owner of the hotel dropped me into town in the end, “I?m not racist or anything, but?” he said. It was something to do with 200,000 Romanian gypsies moving to Chepstow. They must get the Daily Mail out here.

I made a pledge with myself. I was going to enjoy today, no matter the result. This was partly based on the fact that Cardiff is a great city, but more to do with the economics of paying excess silver for a ticket. So I did the usual football big day things. I bought beer. Loads of it. I sang anti-Chelsea songs with blokes covered in tattoos. I pissed in a toilet sink.

I had a great day. Apart from the hours between 3 and 4.45pm. That was the crap bit. It wasn’t a good game. The other Premiership teams were probably slapping themselves on the back at the prospect of six easy points. The best team won. Well, the less bollocks one to be truthful.

After that, things went a bit blurry. I took the disappointed train back to Chepstow. Sat in a pub garden by the castle in the last of the light. Got my fingers trapped in the table. Dunno how that happened. Ripped two knuckles pulling them out. Found a taxi to take me back to Chintzy Towers. It was driven by a middle-aged woman who told me all about her son’s holiday in Portugal, “It was lovely, they had proper beer and everyone spoke English.” I said it sounded like England but she didn’t think so, “No, not really.”

I had two packets of salt and vinegar for tea. Some Palace fans came into the bar, singing some shit song. I slipped off to bed and slept the sleep of the dejected.