Away days, don’t you just love ‘em? Up early and on the train for a weekend match. Telling your boss you’ve got the dentist and you need to leave at half three for a midweek game.
Heading under the Golden Archway at the station and eating what is effectively a cheese burger for breakfast, but telling yourself it’s okay because you’re got a long journey ahead of you, you need to line your stomach before the pub at 10am and besides, it comes wedged in a breakfast muffin so therefore God meant you to eat like this, surely? A few pints, sing your heart out as you walk to the ground, grab a programme and before you know it three points are in the bag and you’re being marched back to the station while some 12-year-old kids fire house bricks at you from the multistorey car pack. This is what it’s all about my friends.
We have no concept of a Sky subscription. To us ESPN is the thing Paul Daniels barked on about from his Bunco Booth. We travel. We go “away” and we’ll be there rain or shine, hail or snow as Big Sam’s Claret and Blue Army march onwards, HURRAGH! If you can afford it, that is, Words: Richard Johnson because quite frankly the cost of watching us away in the Premiership is very likely to lead to a few extended overdrafts and possibly a couple of divorce proceedings come the end of the May.
Last season I made myself a promise, I wanted to attend as many away games as possible, tick a few grounds off the to do list, add a few programmes to the collection and in general make the most of our temporary stay in the old Division Two. Doncaster, Watford, Forest, Palace and Millwall all came thick and fast and with somewhat frustrating and nervous home form our away record was starting to look impressive.
On the train back from Nottingham, I felt a smug sense of pride at nine goals scored in three games and only one conceded. Of course it didn’t all go to plan, with a lot of peoples planned weekend in Brighton ruined by the game moving to the Monday night for TV the three points helped to soften the blow particularly as we’d lost by the odd goal after playing well at Southampton the previous week.
But I digress, tickets to our first five away games last season would have given you change from £150. The average ticket price for the majority of Championship teams works out around the £25 mark. Back in the Premiership the average price is £45. Given that the majority of clubs apply a price banding to tickets, usually following the Category A, Category B system, it’s pot luck as to whether or not you are deemed a big opponent by certain clubs.
And guess what, West Ham seem to have found their way onto most Chairmen’s Cat A lists. £32 for Swansea, £45 for Norwich and QPR. We can assume the same will be applied for Newcastle, Tottenham and of course our great rivals Fulham (Is there a font for sarcasm?) Wigan should be more reasonable. Basically it all comes down to one thing, numbers. Our away support has been colossal for more years than most would care to remember and the money grabbers at other clubs know this.
A quick glance at the football league statistics from The Championship are quite revealing. Highest average attendance was West Ham, followed by Southampton and Derby. Six clubs achieved at least one match attendance higher than 30,000 last season – Derby, Leeds, Sheffield United (Boooo), Sheffield Wednesday (Yaaay), Southampton and West Ham.
Most number of season ticket holders was 19,308 at West Ham. The biggest average away following at games was for Leeds (2,896), followed by West Ham (2,792). Highest recorded number of away fans at an individual match was 6,254 (Coventry v. West Ham) Incidentally, the most popular ground for away fans last season was London Road, but then Peterborough’s home does still have terracing. Now take into account the fact that the vast majority of those fans were the same ones who endured a season of away days with Mr Motivator himself, Avram Grant at the helm. These people deserve our respect.
But, of course, there is another element to following your team the length and breadth of the country, travel costs. And getting cheap deals by booking in advance seems to have wandered off and died when nobody was looking. It’s worth remembering that you have to get in quick and if you register on the train providers and ticket websites you can set up email alerts that will tell you the date the discounted tickets will go on sale, if there are going to be any that is. Another handy tip is to break your journey up into stages. So for example instead of booking tickets from London to Newcastle, try booking individual tickets to stations along the route.
For instance getting of at York and waiting five minutes for a connecting train via Durham is not the most inconvenient thing that will happen to you ever and often you will find great savings can be made. If in doubt, search sites like Moneysavingexpert for useful tips on making the system work for you. Money is not the only obstacle you must overcome in your travails though. No the real problem waits behind blind corners, hiding down dark alleyways, behind the bins, watching you, waiting for the moment to pounce.
No, not Leeds fans, I am of course referring to rail replacement bus services. And as you make your way to The Boleyn for the Sunderland game, spare a thought for those who just seven days previously were waiting for their bus to leave Witham, bound for Billericay after the Norwich game. But even when there are no weekend works on the line, it seems the further north you go, the less chance there is of you getting back again on the same day.
Away to Wigan is typically an affordable game for the majority. The trains, however, there are only two scheduled services back to London after the match. The first leaves Wigan Wallgate at 16:51, cutting it a bit fine to say the least. The only other option leaves Wigan North Western at 18:28 and gets you into Euston at 21:18 via a change at Crewe. If you miss that, you might want to look for a B&B sharpish. Perhaps you drive to games outside the M25? If I had my own transport I would be sorely tempted to forgo the ale and listen to BBC Five live as the rain lashed the windscreen.
Or maybe you could jump on the official club coaches, they might even get you there before kick off. Having never been near them myself I’d be very interested to hear from the regular patrons. I reckon there must be a few good tales to tell, might even make an excellent article for a fanzine?