On the Monday before Tuesday’s night’s trip to Hartlepool I was buying my ticket for the Supporters’ Coach when Martin Allen walked through the Club Shop and I wished him and the team well for the trip. The Gaffer invited me to watch the first team train and then asked me, “How would you like to go to Hartlepool on the team coach and sit in the dugout?” He then asked if I had a club tie and would I wear it with a white shirt? There’s only one answer to a question like that! I guess I was in the right place at the right time!
The team coach left at noon on the Tuesday with a smartly attired squad displaying a fantastic camaraderie. The bright sunshine on the motorway journey up promised great things to come. With a microwaved meal (which was quite delicious) and a coffee all served at my seat, I knew that I was right to say “Yes!”
Player and manager discussions were held during the long journey to Scotch Corner where we then stopped at a hotel. A pre-match meal chosen by the players was served; the pasta, chicken, baked beans and plenty of toasted bread was thoroughly enjoyed by all.
Then it was onto Hartlepool’s ground, where I found my name is on the team sheet. Pre-match, Luigi the physio was massaging legs and strapping ankles against a background of loud music, as the management team ensured the players were properly prepared. The pre-match warm-up then took place on a playing surface ideal for football.
The Hartlepool bench is a real dug-out located some three feet below pitch level. Trying to see around and between the legs of match day officials, management team and subs was at times a bit of a challenge but was all part of the experience. Instructions shouted to players were clearly heard, which from the terraces I had previously thought unlikely.
There was major frustration in the dug-out at the way that the Hartlepool goal was conceded and also when an opportunity to equalise soon after was missed. It was one of those goal-scoring opportunities where supporters feel it’s easier to hit the target than to miss, but from the dug-out nothing on a football pitch is as simple as that.
The Barnet goal was a special moment; the bench was ecstatic and from there the Bees might have gone on to win the game. A disallowed goal looked to be onside, but the linesman raised his flag. The last fifteen minutes were end to end stuff with Hartlepool forcing a number of corners, but the Bees held firm and out of the two teams we looked the most likely to take all three points.
The atmosphere in the dressing after the game was not one of adulation at securing the first point on the road but of quiet professionalism at a job well done – whilst acknowledging that the Bees could well have come away with all three points. It was astounding to see just how much physical and mental energy the players had put in.
The long journey home followed and I had a chat with the Gaffer about the game. Talking about the team and the hard decisions that a manager has to take left me sitting in my seat wondering if this was all a dream.
A massive amount of thanks to Martin Allen for even considering taking a supporter onto the team coach and into the dressing room. Also to the staff, especially Gary Waddock, who ensured I was never neglected. The players also made me feel like I was part of the team for a day.
After the trip I was telling myself that this was a dream come true. But it was nothing of the sort, as no supporter can ever dream of such a matchday experience. In the real world supporters don’t get to travel on the team coach or get to go into the dressing room before and after the match. I learnt so much, for which I cannot thank Martin enough. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity which just happened to fall into my lap.
A fantastic day, with a fantastic team and one which I will never forget.