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The Beautiful Experience

By: Andrew Doherty
Date: 10/09/2006

ADOPTING the modern idiom, I texted Andy Humberstone about meeting up for the Walsall game. I received the dark message: "Town are crap. I'm going to Egypt on Saturday morning". It seemed a bit drastic.

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I agree it hasn't been the most auspicious of starts. I decided to go. No pain, no gain.

One thing about being an Exile and only being able to go to a limited number of games is that unlike the hardcore sufferers who go every week, I tend to forget how bad it is and approach each game with disproportionate optimism. I do remember good games over the 39 years of partaking in the Mariner Experience. No such detachment from reality where my 12 year old daughter Revis is concerned, who summarised it all last year after one ignominious defeat: "You sit in the cold and watch rubbish". Seven consecutive home defeats was her Experience before we gave up last year. Just pure pain and definitely no gain there. She reacted as if I wanted locking up when I told her we'd reached the Play-Off final last year. This year’s results are perhaps more reflective of our real form, maybe? I don't know but we were about to find out. It occurred to me that we were going to have to enjoy the occasion, savour the atmosphere, imbibe the suffering, the horror, the wind, the fish ...

Walsall evokes a number of memories for me. The last time I saw them play was in the early 90s when I saw them beat S***thorpe 3-0. don't worry folks, this wasn't an act of treachery. I was at work and a well-meaning steward at the Bescot Stadium let me in for nothing. It was absolutely dire. By comparison to Walsall with its steely cold and dark industrial grimescape, nearby Wolverhampton where I lived at the time was like Never Never Land. I recall that Walsall folk were long suffering and dour, but earthy and hospitable. Their team was immersed in dazzling mediocrity. I go back even further to the days of Fellows Park and indeed to September 1967 and the historic occasion of my first ever football match, which was Grimsby versus Walsall. 3 - 0 to Town. Dream on ...

My footballing warm up this year was two games at Biggleswade United in the Spartans Midlands Premier League. This is where we're heading if we're not careful. It was now time for reality to be faced.

And so, Revis, my son Merlin (14) and I set off on our first serious outing of the season. Unlike previous expeditions, we only had 5 minutes in Doncaster which is always a bonus. On exiting the GNER train, we were confronted by a large group of people looking like they were going to the opera, except that this was Doncaster and they still looked nunty. This is the word my mother would have used. The GNER train departed, taking the nunty ones with them and leaving us and our fellow bedraggled specimens as we waited to be beamed out of Doncaster to the glorious hubs of civilisation known as Grimsby and Cleethorpes.

On arrival, we caught a bus from Grimsby to Cleethorpes as we like to do. Looking at the shops on the way, it occurred to me it was like a life statement. A surprising one at that. I counted at least 6 beauty and tanning "salons" including one impressively advertising "holistic beauty". If that was not enough, where John Anglin Records used to fuel my passion for musical obscurity once upon a time, there’s a Dentures shop with "Dignity - The Caring Funeral Service" right next door. The Grimsby/Cleethorpes road - your life in one street. Consider this: do you really need the care if you have the tan, the holistic beauty and the dentures? It’s one to ponder. Whatever next? The men will be wearing perfume, perhaps. I must consult my beauty coach about this. The family walking along the Grimsby Road opposite Reynolds Street weren't pondering anything of the sort, I surmised, as they devoured their fish and chips. "Haddock, chips and some holistic beauty, wrapped up, please".

As we strolled round Cleethorpes, people sat on the balcony of the Riverside Hotel, outside the Pier, everywhere, all waiting in vain for the tide to come back while inhaling the icy wind. We observed that the council has now provided seats offering a panoramic view of St. Peter’s Avenue so people can take in the beauty. We took a walk along the sea front. The sun was out, half a gale was blowing as ever, the tourists were present. Some were on the beach lapping up the atmosphere and enjoying the sand in their eyes. Cars drove down to the dead end sea wall at Wonderland as people have for years ... and symbolically drove back again.

The report continues in Part 2

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