Newport County are back in the Football League and they play Bristol Rovers (my team) on Saturday. This brings back memories of when I went to the corresponding fixture way back on 7th September 1985. Now the date does not stick in my mind, in fact I looked it up, as I am not that much of an anorak. I see Rovers lost 3-0, but I do not remember the goals, instead I just have this blurred vision of watching the match from behind the goal in an enclosure that shaded us from bright sunshine.
The thing that I have not forgotten about that day was that I traveled from Bristol to the game on a “Soccer Special”. Older football fans will be familiar with this mode of transportation. Soccer Specials come from an era when football was blighted by hooliganism and one method used to control this and curb any trouble was by using a “special” British Rail train that was chartered to take all the away fans together to the match. The train was patrolled by British Transport Police officers, who even checked your ticket to travel at Temple Meads station before you got on the train, did everything bar mark it with a ticket inspector’s hole punch.
The rolling stock on this particular Soccer Special was ancient; the dusty and jaded slam door carriages were divided up with into six seater compartments and the whole train was pulled by a big old box shaped diesel unit that had seen better days too.
We were slowly pulling out of Bristol when all of a sudden three lads stumbled into my compartment. I had this section of the train to myself up to this point so there was plenty of space for them to come and join me. These boys were clearly up for a good day out and were in high spirits. We exchanged a nod of acknowledgement as we were now sat opposite each other. Pretty soon they settled down and chatted amongst themselves about their music scene which in turn led to a heated debate. This argument centred on whether they were Rockabilly or Psychobilly, a fact to them that appeared to be of vital importance. I just stared out at the passing countryside, silently praying that I would not get asked to adjudicate over the stand off. “Please do not ask me of my opinion on this one, I don’t want to get involved” is what I began thinking to myself as we trundled onwards.
Suddenly without warning everything went pitch black and the shouting stopped. We had hit The Severn Tunnel and the whole carriage was plunged into darkness as none of the internal lights seemed to be working. The silent pause in our compartment did not last long as it was brought to an end with a yell of “Pile on!”
This was an invitation that I refused to accept but the other lads sprang into action. The rough and tumble continued for a long time as we travelled through the darkness. At one point, just as we came out of the tunnel, a large heavy object about the size and shape of a brick flew from the noisy ruck just missing me. As my eyes got used to the light I saw what had flown my way. It was a crape soled creeper shoe that belonged to one of the boys, who were all by now well out of breath and a a little bit worn out after their play fight.
The lad missing his shoe came and collected his beetle crusher off the floor and as he bent over to reach for the shoe one of his mates gave him a quick shove from behind. This push helped the lad out of our compartment into the corridor outside, where he landed in a heap. He checked himself from charging back into the compartment and starting another bundle when he saw a patrolling officer from the Transport Police come past on his rounds. The policeman stopped. Why was I feeling guilty as he looked us up and down? He gave us a quick once over and walked on. We soon got to Newport.
All of us from the train were herded up and escorted by the local police to and from the ground. The Transport police waited in the station for us. They got the good deal and did not have to watch the match!
The journey back was quieter as I was sat somewhere else on the train. The only excitement came when the train slowed to a crawl and was lead by a series of points back to the entrance to the Severn Tunnel. At this moment a car came into view that had parked up at the side of a road which ran parallel to the track. The car could be seen clearly, as the railway was slightly higher than the level of the road. A couple of lads were stood there waiting for us in ambush. They had come prepared and had a few rocks and choice bits of masonry lined up on the car roof. We were sitting ducks!
I do not think that any windows were put through but I do remember the sound of those rocks hitting the train carriages as we finally got to the safety of the tunnel. Nice boys them.