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Tales From The Stands: James & The Giant Bike Lock - a Mackem’s tale of his trek to Villa Park!

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Tales From The Stands - where YOU tell US your stories from following Sunderland up and down the country over the years. Today, proud Mackem James Patterson recants the story of how he ended up at last Tuesday night’s game at Villa Park!

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Ha’way the Lads!


So... I’d pretty much given up on Sunderland this season and despite always checking the scores and following on Twitter, that was pretty much it.

Moyes and Grayson had broken me.

Now, I live in South Birmingham and I cycle to work in the City centre daily and it just so happens that I forgot the key to my bike D-shackle on Tuesday. As it turns out the first person I run into at work in the car park is a Villa supporting mate who also cycles.

Now I’m fretting over the lack of a bike lock in a car park where I’ve already had one bike stolen and Jason helps me out by locking my bike to his, and asks in a deep Brummie brogue, “You going tonight?”.

You know what - I hadn’t even given it a thought and, to be honest, I’d pretty much forgotten that we were playing... however, I had a few hours to mull this over.

Aston Villa v Watford - Pre Season Friendly Photo by Mark Robinson/Getty Images

Firstly: Tickets. You can usually rely on someone flogging a spare outside the ground, cos someones’ mate has usually balls’d up and missed their lift, but I called Villa’s phone system anyway and after around 5 minutes a cheery lass in the ticket office said there’s an away ticket booth available and there will be plenty on sale. She was a bit too happy to point out how many we had returned, but ok, obstacle one covered.

Secondly: travel? So Villa Park is around 3 miles north of the city centre and is served fairly well by buses and trains so that’s easy - but I have a bike, so that’s the other option!

Trouble is, I have no lock and Aston isn’t the kind of place to go “lite” on bike security.

Step up long time colleague and bike security nut, Rob Jones! Rob is a Brummie Bluenose and whilst hating Villa, also uses four heavy duty locks on his bike in the car park at work. He leaves at 6pm and is happy to lend me his big D-lock!

My bright green Trek mountain bike is now in good hands but there is an issue - how to carry this lock without damaging my bike or myself.

I opt for the “Breaking Bad” method of putting the lock around my neck. It occurs to me as I’m riding up towards Aston in the dark that if I’m involved in an accident the ambulance crew will never find the key to the lock around my neck.

This is a heavy lock and it hurts over the bumpy bits.

Aston Villa v Brighton & Hove Albion - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images

It turns out Villa Park has decent covered bike racks too (other clubs take note) and as I’m leaving again after a defeat which had signs of hope (I’ll let others describe the game) a cheery Villan in the bike shelter asked why I was wearing a bike lock around my neck.

“Penance” I said, “I’ve vowed to wear it like a biblical millstone until Sunderland win again!” He laughed and said “see you next week!”, obviously not quite being able to compute an away fan riding a bike to Villa Park.

Nine miles home and the lock came to feel like a real weight around my neck (which it was) but then, that’s how I was feeling about Sunderland too until Chris Coleman joined us.

I have a feeling our penance is coming to an end. Ha’way!

James Patterson