A trip to Conference Premier stalwarts Forest Green Rovers round the back of the new estate in Nailsworth on Saturday followed by a visit from squint-and-they’re-football-league Cambridge United at Bedfordshire’s historic Kenilworth Road on Monday: Now THAT’S a Bank Holiday weekend of contrasts, Skrill-seekers.
Such was the ignorance of my first away trip in the Conference back in 2009 that I, along with many others, dutifully stuck “Forest Green” into Google maps to find out exactly where this exotic Tolkien-esque land might be. It turns out that Google maps thinks Forest Green is a charming hamlet in the Surrey Hills. “Funny little place for us to be going for a LEAGUE game, isn’t it?” we smugly uttered. “Ah well, let’s book the day off work.”
Once we’d worked out that we’d need a little more petrol to get to the actual Forest Green Rovers, tucked away in a sleepy Cotswolds “town”, the novelty of this unusual away day for Bedfordshire’s chosen few started to make the 5th tier look like a bit of an adventure. Less British Transport Police more Heartbeat, we thought. Yeah, we can handle this for a year.
Arriving in Nailsworth for the first time was a fairly humbling passage in my Luton supporting memoirs. Pulling up to the car park (field) having passed through the pretty “town” centre and into the new-build housing estate where the New Lawn rises modestly from the grass we were met by a jolly looking car-park attendant, an older chap in a blazer, drink in hand, who proceeded to mock my designated driver’s parking ability. His traffic-directing style would probably be referred to as “banter” these days, but not by me.
Appropriately chastised we bid our friendly tormenter goodbye and were directed to what appeared to be the home fans’ bar, but what was probably more appropriately described as The Bar. What a friendly little club we agreed, patronisingly.
Once in the ground, and having purchased the programme like all the best people do, who should we find smiling back from the opening pages beneath the words “From the Chairman”? You guessed it, that very parking attendant. Later on we spotted our blazered-boardroom-banter machine dashing across the terrace to restock the kiosk with burger baps too. It was quite a day.
Four years and a new chairman later, Forest Green are favourites for this league. And us? Well we’re still making the annual trip to Nailsworth. I hope for those of you that made it down that the new Chairman is taking his car parking duties seriously.
Back to today’s more familiar episode at Kenilworth Road: Cambridge always feels like a League game with a capital L and no doubt there’ll be one or 2 more United fans in the Oak Road than Forest Green have season ticket holders. A warm reception for the returning Richard Money should no doubt add to the sense of occasion.
As both sets have fans have learnt in the past decade, League pedigree counts for little in The Conference. In fact the respective followings are so sick of the taste of humble pie at this stage, that the chance to squint at the fixture list, and into the away end, and pretend for 90 minutes that it was all a dream provides welcome respite.