Monday, 28 May 2012

From North Devon To North London

Sorry I’ve been quiet. I’ve been away!

On Saturday 19th, the Squintani Family headed to Wollacombe, North Devon on holiday – stayed in a self-catering bungalow which served as our base for daily trips to Saunton (one) and Croyde (three). Enjoyed delicious fish & chips in Braunton: Squires is probably the finest chippie amongst those that fail miserably to offer chip butties. Even saw the Olympic Torch – not by design, we just happened to stumble into Ilfracombe on the day it was passing through and made sure we were in the right place for it! The prior passing of the Lloyds, Samsung and Coca-Cola buses didn’t do much for my Olympic fervour, mind… as doesn’t the fact that they’re in London, bizarrely. London is too… well, accessible. My first memories of the Olympics remain the most enthralling: Los Angeles ’84. You had to get up at silly o’clock to watch the likes of Seb Coe win the 1500m (as he humbly was then),
Zola Budd upset the All-American Blonde Mary Decker… Dailey was at his peak… it was all rather exotic. But London… that London… it’s just two hours away, I’ve been there tons of time, what’s the big deal? I’ll enjoy them, because I enjoy my sport. But, between you and me, I’m already looking forward to Rio 2016 – and getting up in the middle of the night!

Oh, and I did actually do some running whilst on holiday. Wasn’t sure where I’d be able to do so at the outset, but Id packed my shoes and as it happens we were round the corner from a field so I did three or four laps in the evening. As much as anything, I didn’t want to lose the routine, the rhythm – or I’ll be in deep trouble. Running on a Devonian field with lovely views onto the sea brought home the difference between tarmac and land, however hard the latter was during an unseasonably warm week… Not sure I ran off all those lovely ice cream-based milkshakes from Baggy’s Surf Café, mind. I only had three but two were on the same day: if you are going to serve me in a glass pint, expect me to come back for another round! But, having noticed they were putting two scoops of ice cream into each milkshake, I reined in the following day! Anyway, having looked up a GoogleEarth image of the field and got the old ruler out, I probably ran about 800m on three days and just over 1k on a fourth. Not major, but then it was grass and it was hilly (some of it). It’s not as if I’m aiming for a 10k with hills and grass! Oooh’eck… hang on… it only is!

pigs in a field - waa-heeey!(The adjoining field was home to a couple of pigs and a bunch of footballs. In spite of what the last month or so has held in store for us Blades, hopefully you can still smile with me at this utterly childish photo!)

We also walked up to Baggy Point on one day, starting from the nearby National Trust car park (free to members!). Not the longest – maybe a couple of kilometres? But surely I get extra brownie points for having Littl’Un on my shoulders for most of them? His legs put in a good shift, but they are only two and 11/12ths after all. He did take to being carried around after that for most of the remainder of the holiday, mind…

…oh, and we went on a boat, too – the Ilfracombe Princess. That was good. I maintain that boat trips bring out the child in all of us and this one didn’t disappoint. And that’s in spite of not seeing any puffins, nor exactly getting the best view of one solitary seal!

Right, football…

With Cousin Joe before kick-off
… OK, let’s talk atmosphere, instead. Because there’s not much to say about the Sheffield United – Huddersfield Town play-off final from Saturday: no goals in 120’, penalties, we lost, they won. In the shootout, we could have gone up 2-0 up after three rounds but we missed and ended up losing 7-8, with one shot hitting the post and failing to end up in the back of the net by the smallest of margins. Our ’keeper spectacularly missed the final kick. They go up, we stay in League 1 in spite of accumulating 90 points in the ‘regular season’. End of. Bring on Swindon Town – short enough awayday for me!

Of course, Wembley wasn’t just about football. It was nice to meet up with Cousin Joe! He’s a true Blade but lives in New Mexico these days, studying and playing tennis. I got to Wembley around 1pm having left the self-catering bungalow in Woolacombe, North Devon at 7:45am: nothing like one taxi, two trains and two tubes to get the day off to a flyer! Walked out of Wembley Park and found out Joe’s whereabouts… roughly, anyway. “He’s outside the Premier Inn”, his Mum (Auntie Dawn to you and me) duly informed me. And so he was, together with over a hundred other Blades! Rang him and found out he was “by the toilets”: ominous… Found him, hugged him, felt good. He had a Mojito in hand: someone approached him, checked that he was a Blade and handed over a drink. For a Northerner to do that at London prices there needs to be a common bond: and few come stronger than the one that Unites Blades.
I am delighted that I was able to share everything from the anticipation to the devastation with Joe. Just like I’m delighted that Judy, whose friendship with Auntie Dawn has been built over four decades of watching United from nearby seats in the South Stand at the Lane, brought some sweets along – they were delicious. In fact, I was just delighted to see Judy: I’ve seen her myself at home matches for as long as I can remember and that alone builds a bond, albeit one built on hurt and frustration as much as anything else. Anyway, more about that in the infamous post I’ve been working on for about a month now… and which, now more than ever, I must get right.

Got home from Wembley just after 11pm: tube to Victoria Coach Station (with touristy stop at Westminster, where I submitted a request for the repealing of the Blades Play-Off Final Disappointment Laws – have I mentioned this was the fourth in a row we lost?), coach to Bristol, bus to Portishead. A long day: emotionally draining and nowhere near as enjoyable as an extra day at the beach would have been. But one does not follow The Blades for enjoyment: one does so for it is one’s duty. Supped a pint of bedside Kelham and crashed out. Just like United had done some six hours earlier.

Cousin Joe after The End
This is but one account of Saturday’s events. Others have been shared by, inter alia, Livvy Rhodes and Sam Hill. If you can find the time to read my wafflings I’m sure you can find the time to read theirs – and spot the common thread of unity amongst Blades. Let’s just call it Unitedness. Although, at times, even the most fervent of Blades such as Joe need a moment to themselves, as per the photo on the right.

Sorry, rambled more than I expected there. I opened with an apology so seems only fit to end with one, albeit at the opposite end of the spectrum! And if you only remember one thing, let it be this: Baggy’s Surf Café makes the best milkshakes on the planet. Enjoy!

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