Suffolk and Essex confused
Working in the City of London, but a short tube journey from Liverpool Street, I decided to pay a visit to Portman Road for a key battle between play off contenders Ipswich Town and Reading in March 2003. With time to spare, the intention was to arrive in Suffolk early.
Liverpool Street can resemble Dunkirk for chaos, with the added disadvantage of being a seeming headquarters for city boys from Basildon and Harlow – and at 5.30pm on a Tuesday, it was typically inundated with spiky haired youths clad in their Ciro Citterio suits. Nevertheless, after forking out a life-sappingly depressing return fare of £28, I found my train, settled in for the journey and tried to forget about the additional £28 those quaint l’il tractor boys had also subtracted from my account.
On boarding the train, I was met with the initial inconvenience of having to stand. Crowded as it was, I was unable to see out the windows, and although I was mildly surprised to be on a local service rather than the sleek intercity which had brought me to Ipswich on the last occasion – a 5-2 defeat – I was relatively unperturbed.
After a period of time, I was able to disembark, only to be met, to my absolute horror, with the legend, “SOUTHEND” emblazoned on the assorted signage. In short, I had boarded the wrong train. I desperately consulted the local area information to see if a bus would materialize to transport me northwards – to no avail.
Now Southend is no place to be at night. My only previous visit had been back in 1996 – a 2-1 defeat, memorable only for a rather odd two tier stand at one end. Before the match, I had been determined to try the local speciality of jellied eels. Now I have eaten raw horse meat in Japan, steak tartare and the odd Panini (should that be “panino”?) from Caffe Nero, so my stomach is well used to abuse, but nothing quite prepared me for the mixture of seawater and bone as the wind lashed in from the North Sea. The hike to a distant suburb to witness another ignominious defeat for the Royals in a desperately poor season had done little to improve my mood.
On this occasion, I decided against the option of drowning my sorrow in the local Yates’s and decided to return, tail between legs, to the capital and my north London flat, to tune the radio to a crackly radio Berkshire just as Adie Viveash was being given his marching orders for an ill-advised head butt. Already 2-1 behind, Royals went on to concede a third and the remote possibility of automatic promotion was extinguished.
The original version of this article appeared in the book Reading ‘til I die, published by Legends Publishing and is available , along with books containing supporter reminiscences from other clubs at this link.