Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The end of the spontaneous journey

Cardiff City are playing away at Sunderland this evening. The Stadium of Light is one of the grounds that I have yet to visit, and it I was tempted to go. But these days, being tempted isn't enough. The all-ticket statues of most matches at this level means that plans have to be made, tickets booked, and the decision made well in advance of the game. It was not always so.

Some years ago, I made a last minute decision to travel to Shrewsbury for Dai Thomas's debut. He scored a goal and ran about so effectively that we were convinced we had seen the new local hero. It was a 7.30pm kick off, and when I happened to finish work early, I just jumped in the car at 5 0'clock and made the game.

I woke up very early one Saturday morning to find a car full of the Gregarious Crew outside my front door. Apparently, a few hours earlier in Clwb Ifor Bach, I had decided that I wanted to travel with them to Brunton Park, Carlisle. Seven hours later I was regretting that decision when Carlisle scored a last minute equaliser.

A different sport, but I rose instinctively on one dark morning a couple of years ago, and knew I had to go somewhere. I got in the car and made the 5 hour drive to Murrayfield on impulse. The pull was too great. Logistically, financially and sensibly, it didn't make sense, but a sense of occasion drew me, and I packed my bags. That first feeling of exhilaration when you have made the snap decision to go is a thrill that compares to the event itself. Again, my instinct was correct, and I saw Welsh rugby's most brilliant performance for 30 years.

Off the top of the head, I can list a number of games that I shouldn't have gone to. But as the match drew nearer, my senses became blurred and I was drawn unthinkingly to the game like a loyal St Bernard searching out his Master in a deep, icy crevice. Chester about five years ago, for example. Terry and I left late after we could no longer combat the impulse to go, we arrived at half time and saw a nothing game. The worst one was Exeter away in the Leyland Daf. Nothing to play for - it was a dead rubber, but towards 5 o'clock, the gravity from St James' Park was too much, and off I went. There were thirty City fans in the away end.

This evening's game has the same potential. There is nothing stopping me jumping in the car and driving up to Sunderland. It isn't a sensible thing to do. It would be an expensive, long journey, and I don't have that sense of duty, loyalty and martyrdom that I used to have. But there is always the possibility that my newly discovered enthusiasm would throw me behind the wheel and send me to Carlisle before my faculties could argue otherwise.

This is no longer an option.. There is no pay-on-the-gate at The Stadium of Light. I would need a ticket. And to get a ticket I need a membership, a fan number. I can't legally even pick up a spare. No, to travel to this game, I would have had to have made my decision sometime last week. And sometimes that's not the way it works.

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