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The FA Cup Throws Up Some Oddities
FA Cup first round day is always one of the great days in the football calendar, as well as the draw for it. Everyone wants to crowd round the telly and listen out for who we will play in the greatest of cup competitions. On this particular occasion, we'd just beaten Chester City 1-0 and everyone hurried into the Pavilion after the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round results came in to watch the draw unfold.

Generally 'Non-League at home' is a phrase thrown about around this time, anything to eventually get through to the third round and pull a big fish for a nice payday. So when we were drawn away to Gainsborough Trinity, half of that phrase was fulfilled at least. For me, my first question was 'where the hell is Gainsborough?!'. I mean, I'd heard of the place, but did not have a clue where it was.

After a little research and train planning in the regular manner, it was the Peterborough route that was preferred. After meeting at 1000 in our various locales, we were in Peterborough by 1100 with the FA Cup beers well and truly flowing if you like that sort of thing. Or vodka mixed in a coke bottle for some, whose general grip on reality was somewhat lacking at the time.

As will be a huge recurrence throughout the away day collection, a trip via this route is invariably conducive to a massively entertaining trip. Of course, this one was to be no different.

About fifteen of us were travelling by the time we approached Gainsborough, along with some others who had travelled by another route. What we tend to find when we travel to outposts away from large towns and cities is that the train services become very odd. How we laughed when a one carriage affair trundled its way into Retford station. The rickety FA Cup train to Gainsborough was packed full of Barnet supporters and the odd local, and when I say odd...

Gainsborough's second station had three trains stopping at it PER WEEK, and stepping off the rickety train and into the street was like we had arrived in some sort of time warp. The immediate vicinity looked like it hadn't been touched since the 50s, honestly, I'd not seen anything like it.

As we moved into the town, there appeared to be some elements of human life and regular civilisation. We observed roads, pavements and regular electrical entities such as traffic lights. Such is our human nature, the immediate instinct is to head for a pub. With ninety minutes still until kick off, it'd be rude not to. Of course we are already very well oiled but there would be no harm would there?

Walking into this pub, we thought that this town could get no stranger, think again. The locals were harmless and welcoming, but what was very interesting was the fact techno music was freely blasting throughout the pub with a Manchester United shirted individual dancing around. And when a nameless Bees fan, for whom such activity is not unfamiliar joins in, dancing round the busy pool table to the sound of The Prodigy, reality hits in. Standing in a pub a good three hours from home, drunk, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, listening to very loud dance music before heading to a non-league ground to watch Barnet in the FA Cup. These sort of things keep football interesting if you ask me. If you could sum this day up in one word, random might do it some justice.

The ground was a ten minute walk so most of us left at about half past two, to get there in good time. The ground itself wasn't bad as Non-League goes, I've certainly seen plenty worse. Couple this with the presence of a social club just to our left, exclusively open to away supporters and you've got yourself a rather nice deal.

The football was largely pedestrian, not your typical FA Cup tie that the media would be revelling in. A few of us made the aforementioned social club our home before half time as Barnet defended a comfortable 1-0 lead thanks to an early Dean Sinclair goal. The atmosphere was OK, but with the dreafully cheap drinks in this area of the world, the offer was too tempting to pass up.

One interesting element was a group of local youngsters on the other side of the temporary segregation. This consisted of a bit of weighed down fencing, like you may find on a building site. Who they were was a topic of much discussion, but their behaviour was comical. It appeared that Barnet were quite an attraction, and the temptation to 'have a go' was too strong for them. By having a go, I mean rattling the fencing and singing a few songs. Once a derogatory remark was thrown back, this really set them off and cans of Lilt and Coca-Cola were launched over the fence at our feet in an act described as 'inhumane violence' by onlookers. It certainly amused the non-playing squad members who were nearby and even joined in some of the songs. That was a nice touch. Eventually, they were escorted away, and we headed back inside.

The second half became more reminiscent of a cup tie. The non-league side were really giving it a go in cold, wet, windy and horrible conditions. They even had the audacity to equalise with about twenty minutes left. That signalled the introduction of Tresor Kandol, who had stopped on the touchline in the first half for a brief chat and his class was the difference, notching two late goals to put what had become a tricky tie beyond doubt. Fair play to Gainsborough, they played well in the second half.

After the game, the unusually large police presence kept us behind as supposedly, there was some trouble outside. Eventually we were allowed to get away and we arrived back at the first pub soaking wet through. The atmosphere had calmed down in here, no dance music to be found, though Westy still found the ability to dance to whatever was on the jukebox.

It was a long journey home, accompanied by the regular sing song and we all went our separate ways by about half eight, around about the sort of time that normal people begin to go out and start drinking. We'd already had our ten hours worth, in what would be one of our more random trips. I often wonder how I'd explain our away trips to others, especially ones with the unpredictability and silly activity of these. It's still a mystery...

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