Southampton away in 1986 – How it was, when it was

It’s not a kick in the backside off 350 miles to get from Newcastle to Southampton, so God only knows why me and my mate ventured to Washington service station late in the evening of 3 October 1986, with a trip to the Dell to watch the toon the following day our stated objective.

We knew that there was at least a couple of supporters buses setting off around midnight, three of my other mates having booked themselves onto a more sanitised way of getting to the south coast.

We figured that if we could hitchhike there, we could always blag our way onto one of the supporters’ coaches that would be leaving from St Thomas Street.

As it happens, that’s precisely what we managed, I think the guy running the coaches took pity on our rather bedraggled appearance after upwards of 36 hours without any sleep.

Given we both had to be back at work on the Monday, it’s occurred to me since that we were rather fortunate that (a) there were a couple of spare seats and (b) that by sheer fluke, I was given the seat adjacent to one of my mates who’d paid for the privilege of being taken to and from the match. Since we didn’t see each other in the ground, I can still clearly picture his expression when he clambered on board for the return trip. He also had a few sarnies left over which made for a nice bonus!

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We’d been told Washington services was the best place to hitch a ride. There is a truck stop nearby but we’d also been told that the guys driving lorries in and out of that place would be more likely getting their heads down as the clock approached the small hours. Fuelled by drink, as such mad escapades often are, we had hatched a plan that would see us replicate the route of the supporters’ coaches, which was to reach London by around 7 am and then set off to Southampton around midday. My mate had an auntie that lived just to the south west of Wembley, so he figured it would be a nice surprise for her to see him and his mate rock up unannounced on Saturday morning.

As hitchhiking goes, I haven’t done it since, which is rather surprising since we found it an absolute doddle. Looking back, the fact that a university student heading to the smoke together with his girlfriend was our chauffeur, makes our leg of the journey to London both easy to explain, whilst at the same time, admittedly, somewhat difficult to believe. But that’s who gave us the ride. His name was Mark and seemed happy to help out. We’d hung around in the southbound car park and hadn’t had any luck with the few folk we’d already asked when Mark and their lass approached. After we explained what we were up to, Mark had no hesitation, offering us a ride to the northern limits of the capital as if he did it all the time. Now, we clearly weren’t axe murderers but to me, it was a bit of a leap of faith on his part to share his vehicle with two complete strangers but it transpired that he was from Edinburgh and a big Hibs fan. So his girlfriend, who was from London and not in the slightest bit interested, had to endure much football craic for the next five or so hours.

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We were deposited next to the Brent Cross shopping centre and made our way to my mate’s aunties. Imagine her surprise when a couple of teenagers, one sporting Sergio Tacchini and one Lacoste, turned up on her doorstep before the milk had been delivered. Now, my mate had a cousin who was QPR and he wore the gear as well. He was a bit older and he loved the fact that his relative and his mate from up north had landed, although he wasn’t so enthusiastic as to accept our kind invitation to accompany us on the final leg of our journey, explaining that he and his pals were heading up to Norwich later that morning.

In addition to a cracking breakfast, auntie had forced a temporary loan onto my mate and insisted we get the train from Waterloo, which we did. We explained our plan to get back to Newcastle and despite auntie’s misgivings, somehow managed to persuade her it was an idea of rock-solid proportions. The cousin had his doubts but found the whole thing highly amusing and I’m sure we would have been the topic of conversation as he made his way up to Carrow Road.

In Southampton, we alighted the train and got directions. The Dell was maybe a mile from the station and I can recall walking up a leafy, residential street which was rather pleasant, although things got a bit hairy when we saw a mob of their lads loitering up ahead. Given we were significantly outnumbered, we made a sharp exit and our quick detour had us arrive outside the Dell in one piece, where we heard some familiar Geordie accents and in we went.

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I’d been to The Dell the previous season, on a scorching hot opening day when we managed a 1-1 draw. We’d finished above them the season before but in this campaign, we’d only managed one league win up to that point and had just lost to second division Bradford in the Milk Cup at the Odsal stadium.

All too predictably, we succumbed. In fact, we were hammered. Humiliated. It ended 4-1 and you have to wonder whether what we’d put ourselves through to attend the match was worth it. Others might hold a different view, but I don’t regret it for a second. What an adventure…

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