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Ha’way the Lads!
There’s just something about Crystal Palace away - it’s the only away ground I’ve been to more than once and still enjoy a 100% record at. In my previous installment of Tales from the Stands, I talked about an emergency overnight Megabus, a missed train and a rare televised win. Travelling to Selhurst Park the following season was no less eventful and thankfully had the same outcome on the pitch.
It has become a running joke amongst my friendship group that I need the least persuading of anyone known to man to follow the lads on the road. Every time ticket details are released for a forthcoming away game I pledge to “give this one a miss”, mainly for financial reasons.
But as the day itself looms ever larger, a number of bad influences I like to call my friends tag me in posts on Facebook about spare tickets and persistently ask me if I’m going before I crack after... erm... approximately five minutes of peer pressure and I end up going.
For this fixture, however, I needed no persuading. Like the 2014 fixture I was lucky enough to secure a student ticket for just £11 and thanks to excellent work from two lads from Murton, Michael Rawlinson and Stuart Price (the M.C.C as I liked to call them) we were able to get heavily discounted train tickets to London. There was a catch though, our train back to Durham did not depart Kings Cross Station until 6am the following morning, so we had three lads from the North-East with 8 hours to kill in London before getting the train home the following day. What could possibly go wrong?
The day started pleasantly enough, I got the bus through from Sunderland to Durham to meet up with the M.C.C for dinner and a pint before we made the journey to South London. As usual the day started in high spirits, with discussions about previous away days, which ones we planned on doing in the future and the all important question of how many cans were necessary given the length of the train journey.
There was even a tactical discussion of the match to come that night, with Pricey insightfully observing that “Palace are proper shit, hew!”.
So with that knowledge safely implanted in our brain we boarded the train. No sooner had we got on when our hearts sank, as we double checked our train tickets we noticed that our seats were on the same table as a very officious looking business man with a brief case, laptop and documents spread in a state of organised chaos.
So, feeling like the commoners that we undoubtedly are we took our seats and laid our own important documents which included cans of lager and other alcoholic variants. The man seated opposite me and Pricey said very little but kept eyeing us with faint disapproval as we steadily worked our way through our supply of booze in the early afternoon.
Eventually, he struck up conversation - far from reprimanding us he explained that he used to follow Arsenal all over the country when he was younger and started talking about different grounds he’d been to, some that don’t exist anymore. So after a better than expected journey it was time to top-up our Oyster cards, enjoy a couple of pre-match drinks and head over to Selhurst Park.
But where me, Micky and Stuart were concerned, disaster was never far from rearing its ugly head and it turned out that Micky (the other Micky) had lost his bank card, meaning that we had to mess on with Micky (that Micky) transferring money to Stuart’s account before we could sort anything out. After much stressing and loss of signal we managed to accomplish this and found the nearest pub.
Pricey was very much a lad who liked to talk to everyone he met, even more so when he’d had a drink. In Murton, this was considered normal and friendly, in Sunderland town on a nightout this was thought of to be nice but slightly strange, but in London people who are friendly towards strangers are viewed with great mistrust and suspicion.
This was made very clear as we went to the bar and Pricey immediately startled a middle-aged couple by asking how their day had been and if they were enjoying their night.
The two weren’t particularly forthcoming and Pricey being Pricey couldn’t accept this and walk away. Instead he uttered one of his favourite phrases; ‘aw here, dinnit be like that hew am just being nice’. Before giving a long speech about him being ‘a canny lad really’ and ‘nee bother’.
After a few minutes, he came over to join me and Micky irritated by the lack of friendliness from the locals at the bar but even he was lost for words when the better half of the couple he had tried to initiate conversation with came over tapped him on the shoulder and said; ‘hmm, Coors Light, that is very weak beer you are drinking’, before picking up her coat and walking out.
Fresh from this humiliation we headed over to the match where the lads won away from home, on the telly on a Monday night for the second year in a row. This time it was Jermain Defoe who pounced on a mix up between Scott Dann and Wayne Hennessy to tap the ball into an empty net to send the away end wild. Bodies flew everywhere, strangers hugged and I committed mild GBH on most of the people around me. Just minutes later the full time whistle went and off we went into the South London night full of confidence and high off our victory.
In a pub near the Stadium quite a bizarre moment occurred - when we walked in there was quite a subdued atmosphere of polite chit-chat rather the usual hubbub you get in most boozers.
‘Must be a Palace bar’ we thought, and we kept our heads down and had a couple of pints before a couple of lads started a chant of ‘Ha’way The Lads!’, a couple more joined in and before long we realised it was a full of mainly exiled Sunderland fans. So, after a bit of a sing song and a celebration we decided it was time to head over to Leicester Square to really get the night started.
After a bit of an interrogation from a bouncer about not ‘carrying on like typical football fans’ after he had clocked our accents, Pricey showed that his long-term memory wasn’t perhaps what it could have been. He had been in the nightclub for around 30 seconds when he spied a pole at the far side of the dance floor and he challenged a girl in at the bar to a ‘dance off’ and given his performance I don’t think the pole dancing trophy will be returning to Murton any time soon.
We made it through the rest of the night without much incident until ‘Here Comes The Hottstepper’ came on. Naturally, in our drunken stupor our drinks went everywhere, including over a number of bemused southerners as we bounced around the dance floor belting out ‘Na na na na na na na na na, Jermain Defoeeeeeee!’ at the top of our voices.
It wasn’t long before a couple of bouncers emerged and suggested it was time we called it a night. At this point it was nearly chucking out time anyway but we still had three hours left before our train departed and two hours before Kings Cross even opened. So naturally, we continued singing an array of Sunderland songs walking through the streets of London before deciding it was sensible to at least get a taxi to the general area of Kings Cross. So into the taxi we got and it wasn’t long before Pricey was lecturing the taxi driver on the best way to get to Kings Cross despite never going that way from Leicester Square.
Eventually we settled in a McDonald’s and me and Micky gratefully purchased a high in grease meal to soak up some of the alcohol. But Stuey being Stuey kept asking the lass serving him if he could have a ‘six in a row meal’ and was bemused as to why he wasn’t given one.
After what seemed like an eternity we found our way to the train station and the last leg of the journey home began. I felt awful, I hadn’t slept for what was approaching 24 hours, the hangover was kicking in and I had a long train journey ahead of me, all I wanted to do was sleep. I had just about drifted off when I heard ‘hello, it’s me I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet’. Being sang in a voice I knew only two well. Almost simultaneously me and Micky turned around and said ‘Pricey just shut up and garn to kip will ya!’ Unsurprisingly he replied, ‘aw dinnit be like that man, I’m just bored’.
Eventually he did shut up and we all drifted off into a state of dosing, until what I can only assume was the middle aged ma’s association boarded the train at York all dressed in over the top Christmas attire and a brand of happiness which is totally unacceptable when all you want to do is curl up in a ball in a darkened room. Prosecco flowed as they each discussed how ‘naughty’ they were being by drinking at such an early hour before the Christmas quizzes came out and to quote Richard Keys ‘much banter passed between them’. Mercifully, it wasn’t long before we arrived back in Durham and all we could think about was returning home and sleeping for about a week!
I wasn’t to know it at the time, but sadly this was one of the last away days I did with Pricey as his life was tragically cut short in February 2017.
As evidenced by this story, Stuart Price was a smashing, down to earth lad who was full of life. He might have been a pain at times, but he was very much our pain and “chewy Stuey” is missed dearly by everyone who knew him and particularly his family and friends.
The friendship I had with him sums up what is wonderful about this football club. I didn’t actually meet him until August 2014 at West Brom away where his first words to me were ‘by you’re a big f*cker you mind...but you’re a lovely lad!’
After this chance encounter we became good friends and travelled all over the country following the lads with his childhood best friend Michael Rawlinson. Away days have never been the same since his death and he continues to be a big miss, so I would like to dedicate this recollection to him and his family and friends.
Miss you Chewy - keep the Red flag flying high up there, mate!