My previous visit to see Newcastle play Coventry at Highfield Road in 1986 had been spectacularly uneventful. A short walk to the ground from where we parked the van, no home fans to be seen, a couple of pints in the Mercers Arms and a 3-0 drubbing in the September rain.
The next time, only 13 months later, would be a bit more lively.
Two minibuses made the trek, the type with no seats in the back and no windows either. One or two of the lads had had the foresight to bring along a couple of old milk crates as makeshift seats. More about them later.
As far as I can recall, we parked in the same place as before, a relatively small car park about a five minute walk from the ground. Looking back, the place was pretty secluded and surrounded by trees.
On the pitch we won 3-1 (24 October 1987) thanks to goals from Paul Goddard, Gazza and Darren Jackson. Happy days, since not many away trips at that time yielded so many goals, never mind all three points. Walking back out of the ground, we were on a high, with no hint of what was to come.
Once the occupants of our van were all accounted for, we set off first. The plan was to regroup for a comfort break at Woodhall services, before heading to Boroughbridge for a few more pints.
Shortly after leaving, we got stuck in a horrendous traffic jam on the climb away from Highfield Road. The first I’m aware of anything untoward is when our co-driver comments “There’s a canny mob of lads up ahead, milling around the bus stop”. Then wham! The van was being rocked all over the place as a swarm of youths decided it would be fun to put it on its side.
The back doors were flung open by some of my more enthusiastic travelling companions and in the space of sixty seconds, we’d gone from being stuck in a pain in the backside traffic jam, to a full blown riot taking place. I saw a couple of their lads whacked about the head with milk crates (I knew they’d serve a more useful purpose) and although we were giving as good as we were getting, I was relieved to see the old bill arrive on the scene.
Thankfully, all the cops wanted to do was get us on our way and our driver was directed to mount the kerb and circumvent the stationery traffic by driving a hundred yards on the pavement and through a red light.
When we arrived at Woodhall services, there was no sign of the other van. We didn’t hang around though, suddenly realising that the Boro had been playing at St Andrews, loads of their lads were loitering with what looked like serious intent. No sign of the other van in Boroughbridge either. No mobile phones, so whilst we were naturally curious, we just got on with ordering several pints and eventually made it home in the early hours.
Now, my mate lived opposite the guy who ran the taxi firm from whom we’d hired the vans. I kipped over and next morning, he woke me up telling me to look out the window. “Bloody hell”, I exclaim. Two vans were parked up, the one we had travelled in looking all pristine, despite the altercation on the hill.
The other was battered to hell, side windows smashed, no wing mirrors etc. We were later told that the van wouldn’t start after the match and the guys were ambushed shortly after we’d left. There was speculation that during the game, some of the Coventry lads had done something that would later cause the van to malfunction, but I’m not sure how accurate that was. Either way, there was a decent mob of Coventry both on the hill and down by the car park. A far cry from my previous visit.
As a postscript to this tale.
Many years later, I was on a cruise ship out of Singapore with the family, when I got in the company of a Coventry fan, who was about the same age. I mentioned what had happened and there was a definite glint in his eye. Although he wouldn’t categorically say he was either on the hill or at the car park, he didn’t have to…
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