Stranded in Abergavenny with a Pack of Wolves and the Odd Pig. (the Fan)
Cowley, Jason, New Statesman (1996)
Football supporters -- especially those who follow their team away from home -- know more than most about the inadequacies of our transport infrastructure. Gridlock on the motorways, interminable roadworks, random delays, cancellations and signal failures on the railways -- the average tan experiences all this and more during his weekly travels across the country. It is a small wonder, then, that anyone bothers to leave home at all when even the most straightforward match day journey can become a tortuous affair. But then, being a fan is about passion and emotion, not calculation. It's an irrational act, located in childhood obsession.
At the end of the bank holiday weekend, travelling home from the annual Hay-on-Wye literary festival, I found myself caught up in the transport trauma that is so much part of what it means to be a fan today. My plan was to take a train from Abergavenny to Newport, from where I could pick up a fast link to London. I arrived at the station to discover, bafflingly, that the platform was full of football fans - some dressed in the gold of Wolverhampton Wanderers and others in the red and white stripes of Sheffield United. They were on their way to Cardiff's Millennium Stadium for the First Division play-off final. The prize? A place in the Premiership for one of these venerable underachievers. So why was everyone so deflated?
I found out soon enough when the Newport train failed to arrive on time; in fact, it failed to arrive at all. Not that any of us were made aware that there had been trouble farther down the line at Hereford -- the computer screen, detailing arrivals and departures, was enjoying its own bank holiday break, and the stationmaster had about as much idea as I did as to what was going on.
As it turned out, fans from Wolverhampton had travelled to Shrewsbury, from where they were working their way on local services, via Hereford, to Cardiff. But no one had thought to provide additional services or, indeed, trains of more than two carriages in length. …