Tales From The Roman Road

Hull City vs. Chelsea : 29 October 2008.

Another lovely Chelsea away game.

As one record comes to an end, maybe we can seriously consider going on a long league unbeaten run, but away games this time. When was the last defeat away from SW6? Arsenal away last December. Let’s go for it – that will certainly make up for the sadness of losing the home record at 86 games.

Due to another “blip” on the Premier League fixture list, I had to take a day off to accommodate the 450 mile round trip to the delights of Humberside. Well, that makes it all sound like a bit of a hardship, but nothing can be further from the truth.

I had a leisurely start to the day and left Frome at 11am. I had decided to give the motorway network a miss for once and travel up to Hull via the “back roads.” For some games in the North, I travel up over The Cotswolds and I had decided to continue this route up to Lincoln and then take an A road up from there. I just get bored with the monotony of the M1. The road I join just north of Chippenham is the A429 and runs on the course of the old Roman road from Exeter to Lincoln…the Fosseway. It’s a beautiful road, linking a lot of gorgeous market towns in Gloucestershire. From Lincoln, I would then head north on the A15, which is another Roman road…Ermine Street. It’s pretty amazing to be driving along these oh-so straight roads, knowing that in around 50BC, centurions were marching up and down these same routes. In some sections, the route of the original Fosseway disappears for a few miles.

With all this in my mind, I had to smile when the first track on my car CD player, as I set off, happened to be the Depeche Mode version of “Route 66.”

The sun was out, blue skies ahead – a perfect day for driving. I called in to work for twenty minutes to check emails and a coffee refill, but was soon on my way. However, the weather soon clouded over as I hit Malmesbury, but there was no rain all of the way north. As I hit the Fosse just north of Cirencester, I switched to a Japan CD…those synthesisers from 1980 and 1981 seemed to be a bit incongruous as I drove past hundreds of orange and red autumnal trees…but it was a perfect mix for me. A bit stark. Very atmospheric. How I love life on the road.

The Cotswolds towns came and went…Stow On The Wold, Moreton In Marsh, each with buildings made of gorgeous yellow stone.

My mates Alan, Gary, Ed, Simon and Milo were travelling up to Hull on the free Chelsea club train.

Alan and myself text each other with cryptic clues of our whereabouts and so it began like this –

Chris “Jack Kerouac” On the road
Alan “Casey Jones” On the train

As I neared Warwick, the Cotswolds yellow stone gave way to red Midland brick and I spotted the remnants of the previous night’s snow along some hedgerows. I was making slow progress, so avoided Leicester by taking the M69 up to Leicester. By the way, Leicester City’s original name was Leicester Fosse.

Chris “Piggott” Leicester
Alan “Monsters Of Rock” Knebworth

I joined up with the Fosse again just north of Leicester, making good time now.

Chris “Pork Pie” Melton Mowbray
Alan “Eczema” Hitchin

I was really enjoying this trip. I had only ever travelled on this road once before – the same time of the year in 1973, when my parents and myself drove up to stay my half-term week with Grimsby with friends. Thirty-five years ago. Unbelievable.

Alan “Barry Fry” Peterborough
Chris “Graham Taylor” Lincoln

I bypassed the historic city of Lincoln ( I was tempted to write “Abraham” but continued the football manager theme ), the towers of its cathedral visible to my right. I was now travelling due north on Ermine street, heading for Scunthorpe and Hull. The sun was disappearing behind some clouds to my west, the Lincolnshire Wolds ( hills ) were to my east, I drove over the Humber Bridge, just as Alan texted me again.

Alan “Thatcher” Grantham
Chris “4” Hull

Ah, Hull – the great unknown city. Until this season, it was allegedly the largest conurbation in Europe which had never hosted top flight football. I had only visited it once during that 1973 trip. It has certainly been more of a rugby league city in the past…( Hull – or intriguingly known as Hull FC – in the west and Hull Kingston Rovers – or Hull KR – in the east…big rivals. ) Hull FC share the KC Stadium with Hull City, Hull KR have their own, shabbier, stadium, still. The main approach into Hull is named after one of the city’s leading rugby heroes, Clive Sullivan.

Alan “Osmond” Doncaster

I parked up. Hell, it was cold. It had been a perfect day thus far and there was a special reason I was pleased…this game would be my 700th lifetime Chelsea game and so I was happy it was all going to plan. I was in no doubts we would come away with the three points.

Alan “Get Some In” Selby

I only think that Expats will be able to “get” a few of these cryptic teasers!

Sat down at “Nandos” for a 700 Game Meal. The business. Then out into the cold and the twenty minute walk to the bright lights of the KC Stadium. The locals were warming their hands as they were eating some fish and chips outside a chippy. As I approached the stadium, I heard a local speak in the very quaint East Yorkshire vernacular –

“Half-time draw tickets – win yoursen a thousand pounds.”

Into the stadium and I nodded a hello to a couple of acquaintances before spotting Alan, Gary and the boys. Team photos. As luck would have it, my decision to avoid the main roads paid dividends. We heard that the three free Chelsea coaches had been stuck in a massive tail-back on the M1. Eventually all three arrived, but our mate Mark only got in at 8.15pm. And he left Chelsea at midday!

Like a lot of new grounds, there doesn’t seem to be a home “end” at Hull – think also Bolton, Wigan and Manchester City. The most vociferous section from the home stands was the 1,000 strong kiddies to our left. Overall, the Hull support was very poor. But this is the same everywhere now, with away fans ( the 3K die-hards ) out singing the home fans.

The 3,000 Chelsea loyalists stood the entire game. We had good, central seats. I kept a few of you lot in touch with the events by texts – you know who you are…all part of the service!

What a goal from Frank – I amazingly captured this on film…just beautiful. A great start. However, Hull did well not to capitulate and had a fair share of the ball in that first period. Cousin hit the post, Cech made a few good stops. We had a few chances too, of course, but the usual suspects didn’t appear to be playing too well. We were begging for a second goal.

At the break, I handed out a few doughnuts to the boys – the Game 700 Meal overspill!

A much better team performance in the second-half. Hull gave Frank too much space and I thought he ran the game. He has been great this season. All of the first-half under performers stepped up in the second 45 – Anelka after his goal especially…the chances came and went…one miss from Malouda especially. However, it ended up 3-0 with the much-maligned Frenchman touching home.

I couldn’t understand a lot of the Hull songs to be honest. You had to admire their cheek, though, because they serenaded us with a song about fcuking off back to our 5hit hole! The cheeky young whippersnappers!

Three-nil – job done!

Walked back to the car park, where a breathless attendant told me of the ridiculous goings-on at Arsenal.

As I listened to “606” as I drove out of the city centre, couldn’t help but think – with Liverpool and United winning too – it’s going to be a great, exciting season.

Stopped for a coffee at Woodall services, then charged down the M1. Unfortunately hit some sleet at Tamworth, which made driving tiresome, and the rain stayed with me until I reached home at 2.15am. It had been a long day…but, you know, just perfect.

For the record – my first 700 games.

Won – 396
Drew – 171
Lost – 133
For – 1211
Against – 646

Hopefully more landmarks lie ahead. You know it!

Dedicated to my good friend Glenn’s grandmother, who sadly passed away last Sunday, aged 90. Rest In Peace.

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