I don’t get to support Bray Wanderers away much these days. Given family, work and other commitments, these kind of journeys are just not a runner. I’m lucky to get to a slim majority of the home games. I’m not complaining, although I do remember with fondness the 1990’s, when I still lived in Bray, hadn’t yet learned to drive and travelled to a lot of away games on the supporters’ club bus.
Everyone had their own way of passing the time on those trips. These were the days before mobile phones, when the only electronic device I used to bring with me was a Discman [incredibly I still have it, and it still works!]. I remember listening to a lot of Pink Floyd and Thin Lizzy on these trips, two of the first bands whose albums I upgraded from tapes to CDs. I once listened to a Journey album on an away journey – the ‘Escape’ album, which had ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ on it, an appropriate track to listen to when travelling away to support your team [in case you didn’t know, this track later became the top-selling itunes track in history amongst songs not released in the 21st century].
Music aside I sometimes read, sometimes slept [especially when I’d just come off a night shift and the away game was an afternoon kick-off in the days before floodlights], sometimes talked [if it was a Sunday there were yesterday’s cross-channel soccer events to dissect]. I was never happier [and the time never passed quicker] though than when I was doing puzzles, or better still making puzzles up.
I was reminded of the type of puzzles I used to come up recently when I read an article about ‘useless facts’. That was me. I came up with useless information, but it was always football related. I can’t remember any specific examples, so I’ve come up with a few fresh takes on the genre. Did you know that Dundalk are the only League of Ireland club whose name contains none of the letters of the word ‘TYRE’? Or that Longford Town are the only club whose name contains none of the letters of the word ‘JACQUES’?
How about the most colourful League of Ireland club? Nothing to do with the number of colours in the kit. No, what you do is write out the name of all the clubs in lower case letters. The most colourful club is the one with the most letters that can be coloured in. Drogheda United win with 8 of their 14 letters being able to be coloured in, defeating University College Dublin, who can only offer up 7 of their mammoth 23-letter title [one for a pub quiz: Hull City are the only one of England’s 92 Football League clubs that have no letters that can be coloured in; another one for a pub quiz: Swindon Town are the only club to contain none of the letters of the word ‘MACKEREL’].
Or the most popular letter in the names of League of Ireland clubs? That would be a tie between ‘R’ and ‘E’, who find a place in the names of 16 of the current 20 clubs. At the other end of the table, ‘J’, ‘Q’ and ‘Z’ are bottom with 0 clubs that contain them.
Word games aren’t the exclusive preserve of the football fan trying to while away the time on away journeys. The band Fairport Convention used to play a word game called Ghost on the way to and from gigs. Players take turns adding letters to a growing word fragment, trying not to be the one to complete a valid word. Each fragment must be the beginning of an actual word, and usually some minimum is set on the number of letters to count. Fairport’s ‘Unhalfbricking’ album from 1969 is named in honour of an effort Sandy Denny [now deceased; Fairport’s former singer] contributed to one such game.
Changing tack, there are also the funny incidents I remember from my away journeys in those far off days. Like the first time I went to Derry, pre-Peace Process, and got lost. I wandered into a bar to ask for directions to The Brandywell and it was only after I’d asked and the bar had gone silent, with all eyes on me, that I realised I didn’t know whether the bar was Loyalist or Republican, and I’d just spoken in an obvious Dublin accent [that one worked out just fine].
Then there was the time we went to Longford. We stopped in the town for lunch [another Sunday afternoon game] and asked the locals in the bar, who were watching Manchester United on television, if they were going to ‘the game’. They said they weren’t bothered. When we got to the ground it looked all locked up. We had to bang on the gate to be let in, and when it was eventually opened they just waved us in, without asking for an entrance fee [being honest Bray lads, we insisted on paying].
Then there was a visit to Rathbane when an ‘object’ came over the wall onto the terrace the away fans had congregated on [i.e. us]. Some people remember it as a bicycle, I remember it as a shopping trolley. Whatever it was, it could have injured somebody [thankfully it only injured itself off the concrete].
Favourite story from away trips would have to be the time the supporters’ bus and the team bus decided to have a race back to Bray. There was only one rule, which was that a single stop for food was permitted, in a McDonald’s restaurant along the way. We got there first, and had actually finished our meal, when the team bus rolled in, looking unconcerned at being behind. Before we could gloat too much the manager [of the McDonald’s] came out a side door with a large pre-packed order on a trolley, which was handed on to the team bus in exchange from payment from the manager [of the football team; Pat Devlin]. They didn’t even have to come to a complete stop, and were gone before us in a cloud of exhaust [we didn’t see them again until Bray].
One of my last away trips on ‘the bus’ was in 1999, when we played in the FAI Cup final at Tolka Park against Finn Harps. We actually had six buses for the third and final game, which Wanderers won. When we got within striking distance of Bray on the way home we stopped all the buses and drove them into Bray in a convoy, to be greeted by crowds lining the streets. Happy days.