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Archive 2



Blue Beard's Return
by Bob Mehen

On May 29th 2000 Ipswich Town beat Barnsley 4-2 in the play-off final at Wembley stadium. Almost 76,000 fans made the pilgrimage. This is the story of my journey...

It was late spring in Cornwall, and my self-imposed exile from the land of the righteous, and its temple of football was pushed firmly to the front of my mind. We were on our way to Wembley for the first time in over 20 years, and in all probability I wouldn't be amongst the faithful. One problem of living in far flung football-less reaches like Kernow is that is extremely hard to get to matches, home or away. Now I realise that this will probably elicit a letter from 'Tru-Blu' who lives in the Faroe Isles, but still makes it to Portman Road for all home matches, but I digress. My basic point is that since moving here almost 10 years ago, I have seldom been able to get to more than 2 or 3 matches a year -- but I still follow Town with a fanatical fervor.

As news of the ticket allocation guide lines filtered through, my heart sunk ever deeper. How was I, someone with only two home stubs and an away one for Fulham on Boxing Day, to attain a ticket? It's at times like these you need friends, and as ever, (grovel, simper), mine came through for me. "Queue in the rain at 2.00a.m for a ticket, Bob? No problem", they said. " Not enough stubs to register as a dedicated fan, Bob? Here, have some of mine". Ah, friendship (and an intimate knowledge of their youthful wrong-doings) really is a wonderful thing!

I had a fitful night's 'sleep', and awoke at what I thought was my 5.00a.m alarm clock call, half asleep and still dreaming of glory. I dressed in darkness so as not to wake Liz, and only when I staggered down stairs did I realise it was 3.10a.m. What exactly woke me remains a mystery. Perhaps a winsome nightingale, but even in Cornwall at 3.10a.m it was dark, so it was more likely a car alarm!). I decided that I couldn't possibly go back to bed, so I grabbed a few things for the journey ahead, and drove off in the darkness. Next stop Wembley -- actually I tell a lie here: next stop, Cartgate services gents conveniences.

Several hours later, (and several hundred miles), I arrived in the outskirts of London. It is at this point I must apologise to you all. In the reports of the match, many journalists gained considerable mileage from the 'country boy in the big city' image that our fans oozed. Well I own up. It was probably me, because if anyone saw my hopeless attempts at handling London's traffic, roads, parking facilities and general scale, then they would have gained the impression that all Ipswich fans spent the day trundling round in the wrong lane, scratching their heads and complaining in a load voice that you could "buy the car park for that price where I come from".

Anyway, after much trauma, and baulking at car parking charges, I drove back out of London proper until I could find a leafy suburban street that I could park my car in without risk of it being blown up as a suspected car bomb. Eventually I found such a place near the Fuller's Brewery. I felt sure I could find this place again later and parked, and began my 'short walk' back to Hammersmith. Almost an hour later I staggered into the station, and phoned my mate Dan as planned, to tell him to meet me at The Angel, Islington so he could guide me to his flat, and food and rest at last.

Ominously, my only answer was the polite tones of Dan's girlfriend Lisa informing me that they, "couldn't get to the phone right now, but please leave a message". With nothing better to do I got the tube to the Angel and tried to phone again...no answer. I had a carefully written list of appropriate bus numbers clutched in my hand, but after being rebuffed by the first driver, my fragile confidence in public transport collapsed completely, and I decided to walk. It couldn't be that far.

About an hour later I staggered to the door of Dan's flat, and after a few rings of the bell, was greeted by a slightly 'off colour' looking Dan. Inside the flat was a scene of devastation. Our friend Greg was due to get married in a few weeks time and despite a well planned stag weekend having taken place previously, they had decided to go out for, " a few drinks and a curry" the night before... I need say no more. I retired to the cafe across the road for a fry up, watched by a delicate Dan clutching a cup of tea. The first stage of my travels was finally over.

Gathering together the various groaning members of our party, we ordered two taxis to Liverpool street, where we were to meet up with Lisa, (returning from Greg's fiancées hen weekend in Dublin), and to travel on to the ground.

Our journey to Wembley went without incident, apart from Dan painting his face blue and white and somehow persuading me that my beard would look really good if painted blue. Unfortunately, (due to the after effects of drink?), his hand wasn't too steady, and the end result made me look like a negative of a photo of the 'Black and White Minstrels', but hey, WemBurley and all that.

Well, we all know the result of the match by now, (apart from 'Tru-Blu' on the Faroes who missed the match due to icebergs, and the Puffin post hasn't reached him yet with his copy of the Green'un), so I won't bother you with my account of the agonies and ecstasies of the day. Needless to say we left Wembley emotionally and physically exhausted. By kick off I'd already been up 12 hours, driven 300 miles, walked about 6 and only had one cup of tea! It is here that my journey slowly crumbled into madness.

Dan, Lisa, Greg and Ceri were all keen to return home and collapse in exhaustion (but not, of course, rule out the possibility of further celebrations that evening?) - so was I, but my home lay 300 miles south-west, and I was due at work at 8.00a.m. the next day. Greg's mate Stew volunteered to guide me back to the brewery, as his flat was in the general area, and as we traveled further from the ground I noticed I got more and more strange looks. While the streets around the stadium were filled with crazed fans with every part of their anatomy painted in the teams' colours, leafy suburbia seemed unaware of events at Wembley. Small children pointed and stared at the, "funny man", only to be ushered away by worried parents,( you know these football hooligans!). Young women burst into laughter (although I'm used to this: normally it does eventually undermine even the most inflated male ego). Builders just shouted "Oi you blue bearded ******", so Stew suggested I might like to try to wash off "the worst of it" at his flat before continuing my journey. This I duly did, noting that although my face was now clear of blueness, my beard had rather a fetching blue rinse effect left behind. I said my good-byes to Stew and headed off in search of my car, still attracting strange looks, but not the comments of earlier. In an desperate attempt to rebuild my ego, I put these stares from women down to my startling good looks.

After another few miles wandering the wrong direction, I finally retrieved my car and headed off westward toward Heathrow and then home, stereo blaring out, tired but elated.

Well, everything went fine until eventually, hunger got the better of me, and I stopped at a chippy somewhere in Wiltshire. It was just gone 9.00p.m., and I hadn't eaten or drunk a thing since 11.00 a.m that morning, so I sat in the car and tucked into sausage and chips. I really should have known better. Ever since I passed the age of about 26, I find that if I eat anything late on in the day, I just want to go to sleep. ( I must be suffering a premature male menopause, I keep finding myself watching 'Gardeners World' and thinking how comfortable those tartan slippers look.) Sure enough, half an hour later while driving through Somerset, I started to feel extremely tired. "Never mind", I thought, "just turn up the stereo, that'll keep you awake". That worked for a while, but by the time I reached Devon, I was definitely nodding a bit. This time I tried opening the windows, 'letting in a bit of fresh air, sure to wake you up'.... and probably anyone in a roadside house as I hurtled through sleeping Devon, stereo on full blast with the windows down. Eventually this stopped working, and I realised that I was beginning to see double, as well as have problems staying awake! By the time I reached the A30, I finally conceded it might be a good idea to stop for a few minutes to 'rest my eyes', so I pulled into a layby and settled back.

Unfortunately all I could see in my head were images of me awaking stiff-necked the next morning in the same layby, realising I was due at work in ten minutes, and work being 110 miles away! I decided to continue my journey. Firstly though I thought that something more upbeat than Travis was required, so I put on the Chemical Brothers, wound down the windows, and set off once more. Soon, however, my various forms of stimulation failed, the double vision returned, (this time with blurring!), and again I was forced to pull over.

Suddenly I had a brain-wave, ( the fact I even considered this looking back tells me how desperate I was), I'd see if Liz's driving glasses helped! Now Liz only needs glasses for driving, and she doesn't do much of that so they'd been bought as the cheapest pair available sometime in the late 80's, so they were sort of pink toned down Dame Edna style. Miraculously they worked, but only if I sat well forward. Unfortunately, every time a car came the other way, the magnified rays caused my eyes to stream, and once removed for eye rubbing, my distorted retina took forever to gain any sort of focus. As a result, my driving was confined to manic, high speed bursts between laybys. So it was that I hurtled across Bodmin Moor at midnight, windows wound down, 'Out of Control' by the Chemical Brothers blaring from the stereo, beard painted blue, wearing women's glasses with my knees around my ears and nose pressed against the windscreen, in a desperate attempt to get home before I killed myself.

I can honestly say I've never been so scared in my life, and had the traffic police been able to catch my speeding, swerving bullet of a car, quite how a Dame Edna impersonating woad-faced Braveheart extra like myself could have convinced him that I was neither drunk, high on illegal drugs, or fleeing from the local mental hospital I don't know.

Some time after 1.00a.m on Tuesday 30th of May, over 22 hours after I dragged myself out of bed to begin this pilgrimage, I finally got home --I'm still not quite sure how, but home none the less. Reports in the local papers of a blue faced madman seen near a layby on the moors have never been confirmed, but there was one last trauma awaiting me. Liz, my parents and grandmother, who were ironically visiting from Suffolk that weekend, had prepared a banner draped across the garden path, proclaiming our great victory. Unfortunately they had expected me home earlier, but not thought to remove this obstruction from the darkened pathway. As I staggered blindly up the path, I became entangled with this victory flag, but in my delusional state of mind, thought I was ensnared in some giant spider's web, and fell, struggling into the flower bed, wrapped in my own welcome mat, shouting about spiders. The neighbours haven't let me tend their budgie when they go on holiday since.

Amazingly, I did make it to work the next day, and basked in the glory of the mighty Town's performance, but until now have kept secret the other tale of my day at Wembley. However, the therapist was right: it's time to let go, so here it is.

Would I do it again tomorrow? Well.....OF COURSE I WOULD!

© Bob Mehen

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