Away Days, Back In The Day

When you begin a lifelong love affair with a football club, it usually begins with attending home games at an early age. But like with all passionate romances, you always want more and this means venturing out of the comfort zone of your own surrounds and onto unchartered territory, or as it's known, going to away matches.
It was like that for me as a kid. Highfield Road was my spiritual home but soon I was curious and after a few away games with my Dad, old enough to go to away games with my mates, which was the holy grail. It was the time of trouble of the terraces, social upheaval under Thatcher. An away-day mission was not something to be treated lightly.
As my friends who were already travel wise advised me.  I was told, "Don't try and look too hard, but don't look too soft. Don't dress too casual but don't look like an anorak." I was in crisis before I boarded the coach. The first game I really remember with my mates was QPR away. A coach load of punk rockers armed with beer cans boarded the bus. You'd never get away with it now. One particularly mouthy bloke was kicked off, problem being, he was the driver. Then my mate, Ray was booted off, I was alone. But eventually, the day out to West London got under way and brought us a 5-1 walloping for our troubles.
But I was hooked. I left school, started some mind numbing training course and lived for football weekends. I collected new grounds, like a stamp collector collects stamps. We were in the top flight then and it felt great to tick the likes of Old Trafford and Anfield off the list. But the highlight would be cup games with a better travelling turnout and a one off stadium to visit. Although that brought the cup upset into play, one at then Third Division, Blackburn, springs to mind. Going to new climes was not all sweetness and light.
Another big thing was local derby days. The Midlands was strongly represented then in the old First Division and fans defended their patch with honour against invaders from nearby places. Then there was a third foe, the West Midlands Police. At the time, football fans had a reputation of being scum in the media and the boys in blue seemed to view us as such with a heavy handed approach while personality wise, they were like Daleks with batons.

Fans reacted by singing their hearts out from the train station to the ground.  Packed like sardines on football specials, a huge police escort keeping fans apart on the journey, as rival factions taunted and goaded each other. We had good days, seemed to do well at Wolves, and nightmare days, Villa as a given and West Brom were strong then. I recall losing there, seven-one,  playing in our infamous chocolate brown away kit, giving their supporters all the ammunition they needed. There was a long road outside their ground and I was once chased down there for what seemed for miles, and not a policeman in sight.
The motorways weren't so good then and the travelling was a slog. But on coach, you got there early enough for a good drink, met fellow Sky Blue fans who became you friends, companions in a trench mentality. The biggest highlight was a League Cup run that saw us beat in the semi's by West Ham.  It featured some cracking night away matches, which always have a special aura.
You felt like everyone was against you back then. The government wanted to put you on the dole and away fans wanted to put you on your arse. But there was lots of dark humour, lager swigging, raucous singing and behaviour. But in those dark days of crowd trouble, the possibility of a ruck was never too far away. And there were mood swings. From the anticipation of heading out to a feeling on the way home determined by a result. That's never changed. The special passion of representing your club on their manor is a badge of honour passed through the generations with pride.