Archive for the ‘Hiking’ Category

Middlesbrough v Luton Town, Saturday 10th December 2022, 3pm

December 11, 2022

It seems ages since we’ve been to the Riverside, but it’s just five weeks. In that time though I’ve seen ten games elsewhere including fixtures in Latvia and Qatar, so it’s little wonder that the memories of the draw against Bristol City on the afternoon of Bonfire Night have already faded.

Jen and I drove back from Cumbria on the morning of the game. We’d stayed over the night before after a Boo Hewerdine gig. The trip had also given us the opportunity to do a little bit more of the Hadrian’s Wall National Trail. We did the good bits in the middle of the route ten years ago, but have recently been completing the sections at the western end. There’s not much wall to see, but it’s easy walking and well-signposted, so requires little preparation other than remembering where we left the trail on the previous visit.

On this occasion we had time to walk for six miles from Crosby on Eden to Rickerby Park and back. The temperature rarely got above zero and we saw little wildlife other than geese and robins, but it was great to be out in the fresh air before the daylight faded.

The gig was very good too. Boo was playing in the village hall in Armathwaite which has a capacity of less than one hundred. There was no bar, but everyone was encouraged to bring their own drink and we had a great view from the front row. Jen was a bit worried that he might think we were stalking him as we were front row in a small club in Bradford for one of his gigs last year, but I don’t think he recognized us.

I remember being front row for Mark Lamarr at the Comedy Store in Leicester Square thirty-five years ago. I had my beer resting on the stage and then my feet. Lamarr and I exchanged a few words during the show, culminating in him asking if I thought I could do better than him and then challenging me to step up on to the stage. I accepted his invitation and did an impression of Mr. Whippy having a shit. It got as big a laugh as he had done all night. Thankfully for the people of Armathwaite, the stage was too far away for me to put my feet up and there was no reprise of my brief stand-up career.

Having dropped off Jen, I picked up Harry and Alistair and we made our way to the Riverside. Talk was all about how Carrick was likely to have benefitted from the World Cup break with him having had the chance to get his ideas across the players. We also wondered how Riley McGree would do after the career high of playing in a World Cup against Messi.

Initially it looked as if there had been little benefit to us from the World Cup break as we struggled to assert ourselves against Luton, but we grew more into the game as the first half progressed. McGree looked more confident than usual, so perhaps there was a Qatar dividend. With time running out another Crooksy cameo goal took the three points and moved us into the top half of the table.

Sedbergh and Dent United v Wetheriggs United, Saturday 19th November 2022, 2pm

November 21, 2022

It will be a shame if Elon Musk does cause Twitter to implode as I currently get some great information from it. Last week I discovered from my feed that a team in Cumbria had fielded a sixty-eight-year-old player. You can’t pass up the opportunity to see something like that and so, on the off chance that his performance merited him retaining his place in the team, Jen and I headed for Sedbergh to see Sedbergh and Dent Reserves take on Kirby Lonsdale Reserves in the fourth division of the Westmorland League.

I like to try and combine these trips out with something other than football and a check on the route revealed that we would be passing Cautley Spout, which is the biggest waterfall of its type in somewhere or other, possible Cautley. Further investigation led to the discovery that we could park up at the Cross Keys temperance pub, have some lunch and then walk out and back to the waterfall, all in sufficient time to get to the game.

The Cross Keys was fantastic. It was full of old, interesting stuff and had a coal fire burning in one of the rooms. They do B&B as well, so at some point I’d like to go back and use it as a base for a longer walk across the Howgill fells.

The walk to the waterfall was easy enough as it probably wasn’t much more than a mile each way. Despite the rain on the way over, we struck lucky with a break in the inclement weather and within an hour we were back at the Cross Keys. We saw some unusual looking mushrooms but little in the way of wildlife apart from the brightly painted sheep penned in near to the road.

The short walk meant that we had plenty of time to get to Sedbergh, for the game in the seventeenth tier of the pyramid. However, as two o’clock approached we still hadn’t found a pitch with people on it. A further check on Twitter revealed that the fixture had been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch and so my plan to see the sixty-eight-year-old was thwarted. Temporarily, I hope.

Plan B meant seeing the Sedbergh and Dent United first team instead. They play in the dizzy heights of the fourteenth tier Westmorland League Division One and just four miles away at the club’s other pitch in Dent.

We arrived at the Church Playing Field twenty minutes into the game and with Sedbergh, in green and black, a goal to the good. It was a decent venue for a game at this level, with a grass pitch, dugouts and goalposts that didn’t require the players to fit the nets and risk losing a finger.

Jen and I set up our camping chairs on the far side from the dugouts, alongside the Wetherigg subs and manager. It was a reasonably feisty first half with a lot of noise coming from both sets of teams. Our arrival brought the attendance up to fifteen which seemed a little on the low side as I doubt that there was anything else going on in Dent that afternoon.

The visitors equalized a few minutes before the break with a well-taken half-volley, but Sedbergh re-took the lead bang on the forty-five-minute mark when the away keeper fumbled a corner. We then got to listen to the Wetherigg half-time team talk in which their captain criticised the jittery defending, commenting that it was as if they had all done three lines of coke. I liked his precision in specifying the quantity.

By the time the second half started it was already beginning to get dark, so much so that with twenty minutes to go there wasn’t sufficient light to take useable photos. The players and management continued to shout at each other and at the ref but didn’t manage to add any further goals. Despite not seeing the pensioner play it had been a good day out and I’ll try to get along to some more Westmorland League fixtures when the opportunity arises.

Windscale v Richmond Town, Wednesday 31st August 2022, 7.45pm

September 4, 2022

Harry and Isla had gone back to Teesside ready for the start of the new school year, leaving Jen and I with a few days left in The Lakes. I’d noticed that the Ennerdale Show was taking place and so we thought that we’d have a wander along. There were various competitions such as best pair of carrots, best set of three hounds, a bit of horse parading and even some fell running. We didn’t enter anything.

The dog was soon bored with looking at beagles that were half his width and so we left after a couple of hours and went for a walk at Ennerdale Water. There were far fewer people around and with a free car park and well signposted walking trails I was surprised that it wasn’t more popular. Perhaps everyone was at the show, focusing on winning Best Six Peas in a Pod.

That evening we called in to Egremont for a Wearside League Premier Division game between Windscale and Richmond Town. I know Egremont pretty well, or at least I knew it well thirty years ago when working at Sellafield. Thursday nights frequently culminated in the Old Hall nightclub for what was known as ‘Grab a Granny’ night. Looking back, it seemed like anyone in their thirties was considered a granny those days and it may very well be that some of them were.

Jen and I still had Henry with us and that caused a problem when I noticed the sign at the Falcon Club entrance prohibiting dogs. It’s a reasonable restriction as I’m sure plenty of dog owners would just bring their pooch for a walk, perhaps when a game wasn’t taking place, and then let it piss or crap on the grass.

Jen very kindly offered to skip the delights of eleventh-tier football and take Henry for a walk around the neighbouring estate. There was nobody taking money at the gate and probably around fifty people lined up around the perimeter fence.

If you look at the map of Wearside League teams, Windscale are the only one on the west side of the country. The rest are, well, in or around Wearside. I’ve no idea how Windscale ended up in a league that otherwise comprises clubs from a small part of the north-east and I doubt that it’s a popular journey for visiting teams and officials.

Windscale were in blue, with Richmond Town in red. The visitors had the best of the play for most of the first half, but it was Windscale that took the lead half an hour in with a well-directed header from a free kick. They could have doubled their lead just before the break when a shot from the edge of the box hit the inside of the post and somehow bounced out rather than in.

Henry and Jen completed their walk and returned to the car park during the half-time interval. That was my cue to call it a night and follow the remainder of the game on Windscale’s twitter feed. It took them until added time to notch a second goal and seal the points.

Barrow v Lincoln City, Tuesday 23rd August 2022, 7.45pm

August 29, 2022

Jen and I were over in the Lake District for a couple of weeks, primarily to take in the Sea Power festival at Muncaster Castle. We’d spent a couple of hours earlier in the day walking the dog up on the fells and with him suitably tired out I thought I’d drive down to Barrow in the evening for their League Cup tie with Lincoln City.

I’d bought my ticket for a tenner online and when navigating my way around the ground I stopped at the fanzone for a burger. There were tributes to former players on the wall and one of them was for Kenny Lowe. I worked with Kenny for Capper Pipes at ICI about thirty-five years ago, although it’s his dad, Kenny Senior, that I’ve a better recollection of. Kenny Junior eventually went pro towards the end of his playing career and subsequently managed Barrow. It looks like he has been doing well managing in Australia in recent years.

Despite already having a ticket it took a while to get into the Holker Street ground. I joined a queue for the main stand twenty minutes before kick-off and still managed to miss the first ninety seconds. A fella behind me was furious, complaining to a steward that “It’s the same every week”. You’d think that if he knew about the difficulties getting in then he’d turn up that little bit earlier.

I spent the first half in my seat at the back of the main stand. The fella next to me was able to give me some info about the Barrow team and when he found out that I was a Middlesbrough supporter we traded memories of Boro players from the seventies and of various pubs in the Teesside area.

Lincoln went a goal up after a few minutes, but Barrow equalized soon after and the teams went in level at the break.

At half-time I went for a drink and discovered that I could walk around the perimeter and watch the second half from the stand opposite. I felt guilty about not returning to continue my discussions with the fella from the first half, just in case he was left wondering if he had offended or bored me, but switching sides gave me the opportunity for more varied photos.

Not a great deal happened in the second half. I watched John Rooney, the younger brother of Wayne, for a while. He had a lot of the same mannerisms as his brother, including that jump and twist reaction when something doesn’t quite come off. I’d been told that he was lacking fitness and that showed, but he put the effort in until being subbed and looks a decent player at this level.

As it was getting late, and I had no real interest in which team won I left on eighty-six minutes. I was less than ten yards outside of the ground when a roar went up that was too loud to be anything other than a home goal, almost certainly the winner. I drove past the ground five minutes later and heard another, more muted, celebration that I took to be the final whistle.

I was wrong though and as I listened to the round-up on the radio, FiveLive reported that the final score was two each and that the tie would be going to penalties. I was a few miles up the A595 by the time Lincoln prevailed to take their place in the third round.

Richmond Town Reserves v Northallerton Town Reserves, Wednesday 10th August 2022, 6.30pm

August 24, 2022

I’d been hoping to watch a game at Earls Orchard for a while. It’s the pitch that’s alongside Richmond Castle and occasionally pops up in groundhopper threads about picturesque venues. Richmond Town played their games there until joining the Wearside League and then moved to the Dave Clark Arena, which sounds grand, but in reality is a school pitch.

Richmond Town Reserves play in the less demanding Wensleydale League and when I noticed that they had a pre-season friendly against Northallerton Town Reserves at Earls Orchard, I thought I’d go along.

Richmond is an ideal location to go for a walk and so Jen and I turned up a couple of hours prior to kick-off and took Henry for a stroll along the River Swale. The Coast to Coast National Trail runs alongside the river for a while and as we thought we’d be unlikely to get lost if we kept the river in sight this seemed like a simple option.

The path took us through some fields of sheep and kept returning to the river, which allowed Henry some drinking opportunities. Wildlife sighting were rare, with rabbits in a field being the highlight. There were lots of people around though with some family barbecues being held on the river banks and groups of teenagers dipping in and out of the water.

We were back at Earls Orchard in time for kick-off and, as suspected, the castle did provide a spectacular backdrop. Richmond were in blue with Northallerton dressed up as Newcastle. There weren’t many people watching, maybe twenty or so most of the time, and I suspect some of the lads in the crowd were either first teamers or squad members who hadn’t been selected.

Not a lot happened in the first half but the game came to life in the second half with Richmond scoring two penalties in quick succession. They added a third on the hour before Northallerton pulled one back from a spot kick of their own.

Richmond had the game well under control though and rattled home another three goals before the end for a comprehensive victory. If I lived in Richmond I’d probably pop along every week, set up a camping chair, and watch the football in front of a special backdrop.

Carlisle City v Nelson, Saturday 23rd July 2022, 1.30pm

August 17, 2022

I’ve still got a handful of Northern League grounds to visit and with Carlisle City’s Gilford Park being the furthest away we made a day of it and went for a walk. Back in 2011, Jen and I spent four days walking alongside Hadrian’s Wall. We didn’t do the full route then, but focused on the central area which has most of the best bits. The furthest west we got at that time was Lanercost Priory and so what I thought we’d do was park up at Walton and then walk eastwards to the Priory and then back again.

It was an enjoyable walk despite some rerouting along a road. There wasn’t a lot of wildlife or a lot of wall, with most of the remains being buried rather than on display, but it was well signposted as the National Trails tend to be. Suitably inspired, we returned a few days later to walk the section between Walton and Crosby in both directions.

Carlisle City were taking on Nelson, a fellow tenth tier team that plays in Division One North of the North West Counties League. Nelson had played the previous day in Scotland and were accompanied by a handful of fans enthusiastically following the mini pre-season tour.

We gave our three quid admission to a girl at the gate. She was complaining to her friend that her fake tan was rubbing off on everything she touched. I remember when my daughter went through her fake tan phase and there was a terracotta stain around every light switch in the house.

There were two seated covered stands and a covered standing area down one side. I’d estimate that around forty people in total had turned up in cold and drizzly weather. We sat in the stand behind the goal.

Nelson’s conditioning seemed better than their hosts and they were two up after fifteen minutes and added a third on the half-hour. Carlisle pulled a goal back, but Nelson added a fourth before half-time. The constant stream of people returning from the burger van meant that the dog was far more alert to what was going on than the Carlisle defenders had been.

Nelson looked as if they would add to their lead after the break but ran out of steam as the game went on, perhaps as a consequence of playing on successive days. Carlisle took advantage of their opponent’s fatigue and scored a couple of late goals to make the game seem closer than it really was, but Nelson held on for a four-three victory that made the trip all the more enjoyable for their travelling fans.

CISA v Flatirons Rush, Sunday 19th June 2022, 6pm

June 26, 2022

In all we spent a week in Colorado, initially staying a night in the woods, then a couple of nights at the in-laws and then four nights in a cabin at a family celebration ten thousand feet up in the mountains at Leadville. On the drive up to the cabins Jen and I were distracted by a sign for Buffalo Bill’s grave and museum. Who wouldn’t detour for that?

It was an interesting way to while away an hour with some vintage footage of the wild west shows and memorabilia. There was a book that listed his touring performances and I noticed that he played Stockton and Middlesbrough on successive nights in July 1904.

From what I can gather, the Stockton show may well have been down by the railway line across the road from Norton Aldi. I might dig a little deeper as its weird to think of Buffalo Bill having galloped around a place more commonly used these days by young kids on motorbikes. Maybe we should re-introduce bison to Norton and give the lads on their bikes a chance to round them up.

The mountains around Leadville are great for walking. We hiked a total of thirteen miles around Turquoise Lake on a trail that was mainly on the flat and benefitted from good tree cover. The higher altitude in Colorado made the temperatures much cooler and far more pleasant to hike than it had been in both Pennsylvania and Nebraska.

We also went up a big hill to a height where there was still snow on the ground. It took about two hours to get to the lake at eleven thousand feet that we were aiming for and there were some great views on the way up of the mountains behind the torrents of water gushing downwards.

Some of the group suffered a bit from the altitude and so had to go back down and I was pleased that Jen and I had been in Colorado for a few days in advance. At the lake we ate our left-over pizza from the previous night and tried to tempt the trout in the clear water to take a bite of crust. They would swim towards the splash but then decline the crumb at the last minute.

Whilst there were no sporting events to watch in Leadville, Jen and I had been able to get to a football game whilst staying at David and Jackie’s house. It was a few miles away at the Randy Penn Stadium at Englewood High School and in the fourth tier USL2.

Colorado International Soccer Academy were taking on Flatirons Rush in the Western Conference, Mountain Division. It’s a division with only five teams and Flatirons went into the game in second place in the table with CISA two places below, but having played fewer of their fixtures than the rest of the division.

We arrived at the High School car park to find people tailgating. They waited until the national anthem struck up before packing up their beer and food and heading inside. Over on the opposite side of the pitch there were people who watched the entire match from their truck, saving the ten dollar admission fee. The fence didn’t obscure the view too much and by standing in the back of the truck they were able to get a perfect view.

The Randy Penn stadium looked as if it was more usually used for American Football, with the markings on the pitch and the posts still up at each end. There was also an athletics track around the pitch.

We sat in a twelve row aluminium stand that ran the length of one side of the pitch and there was a smaller, similar stand opposite that hadn’t been opened for this game. I’d estimate that the attendance peaked at around sixty.

CISA were in light blue and, I think, were an U23 side. Visitors Flatirons Rush, who were in a white and grey kit, had the best of the early possession and territorial advantage. They took the lead ten minutes in after a break left them in a two against one position and the free man neatly tucked the ball away.

Flatirons should really have doubled their lead on the half-hour from a penalty awarded after the lino spotted some skulduggery in the box. The shot came back out off the inside of the post and so it stayed at one-nil.

The second goal came on the hour when a Flatirons striker broke away and sat the keeper on his arse before rounding him to roll the ball into the empty net.

It was a niggly game and CISA didn’t take well to being behind. There were a few tackles where the foot was left in and plenty of off the ball contact. One of the home coaches was sent off for bending the ear of the fourth official one time too many and his team picked up at least two yellows for dissent.

Flatirons sealed the points from a free-kick on the edge of the box that they took quickly and whilst the CIMA defence were still trying to organize the lining up of a wall. A simple pass to a man stood unmarked in the box allowed him the luxury of knocking the ball into an open goal whilst the keeper was still holding the far post and demanding the wall moved six inches to the left.

Colorado Rockies v San Diego Padres, Saturday 18th June 2022, 7.10pm

June 25, 2022

After staying in Laramie, it was a relatively short two-and-a-half-hour drive to Denver where we met up with Jen’s brother and sister-in-law. David had planned a wild camp for the four of us in one of the forest parks in the Rocky Mountains and so we set off before lunch with their two dogs.

We didn’t have to move too far off the trail to find somewhere to pitch the tents and we spent a very enjoyable twenty-four hours out in the mountains. Whenever I’ve wild camped it has always a bit slapdash with cereal bars or maybe a tin of rice pudding. David and Jackie had brought us four Cornish hens and tequila. I need to up my game.

Jackie is a big baseball fan and regularly goes to see the local major league team, the Colorado Rockies. The night after the wild camp they had a game against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field in Denver and so Jackie and I went along.

Denver was extremely busy as their ice hockey team was at home in the finals of the Stanley Cup. That meant two large spectator events within about a mile of each other. We arrived early though and with a pre-booked parking space a few minutes’ walk from Coors Field we were soon inside.

Our early arrival meant that we were able to pick up ‘bobble-heads’ that were given away free to the first fifteen thousand spectators. I’ve enough tat in my life and so mine will end up at Jackie’s parents.

I wasn’t driving and so was able to have a couple of beers. They came in twenty-four-ounce cans, which is about a pint and a half, I think. I must be getting used to American prices as fourteen dollars a can didn’t seem out of the ordinary. I also had a polish sausage which was an improvement on the usual hot dog as it had a bit more spice amongst the minced lips and eyelids.

Our seats were in the upper tier, reasonably central behind the plate. At twenty-five dollars they compared very favourably with the prices I had been paying for minor league games. We got an excellent view of all that was going on in the stadium and also the Rocky Mountains to our west.

We also had a good view of the scoreboard which switched sports every time the hockey team scored a goal in their game. We saw the Avalanche put seven past their Florida opponents and take a two to nothing lead in their Stanley Cup final.

As the game went on, I thought back to my time in Kazakhstan where I worked with a Rockies fan. It was the year that they made the World Series and my friend Mike had talked up their chances as the season progressed. It didn’t conclude as planned as they lost at the final hurdle, but for a few months back in 2007 I was caught up in it all by proxy. I think Mike died a few years back, but I’m glad I got to the Coors Field that he wistfully spoke about.

The game was evenly matched and level at four-each at the end of the seventh. The Rockies nipped five-four in front in the eighth and then brought on a new pitcher for the ninth. Apparently, he was a fella with an interesting backstory in that he had been a decent player then lost form sufficiently to retire, before coming back after regaining his confidence training in his garden.

It went well for him, and he finished off the Padres without them drawing level. With the supporters of both Denver sides celebrating victory, it was a lively atmosphere outside as we headed back to the car.

Atomic Pork Chops v Winnipeg Goldeneyes, Saturday 11th June 2022, 6.30pm

June 12, 2022

After Buckingham, Jen and I drove up to Newark to swap the hire car for the one originally booked and then headed to the Keystone State Park for three nights. We had a ‘modern cabin’ booked. I think ‘modern’ refers to it having a bathroom, something that didn’t strike me as being particularly modern at all. It was an enjoyable place to stay, as most accommodation with a firepit tends to be, although there wasn’t much in the way of wildlife nearby other than rabbits and squirrels.

In an effort to try and see bears and snakes, or at a push some deer, raccoons or muskrats, we went for a hike around the lake and up into a forest. It was a good way to spend a morning but despite wandering around for six miles we didn’t really see anything other than birds and butterflies.

Next stop on the trip was Chicago. It’s somewhere that I’d picked mainly because I thought there would be good opportunities for sporting events. It’s also somewhere with a bit of family history in that one of my grandads visited it in the 1920’s and saw someone shot dead whilst walking down the street. He was in the merchant navy and travelling cross-country from New York to San Francisco to join his next ship. I don’t know how long he and his shipmates spent in the city but I thought it interesting, particularly when walking around some of the historical areas, that they might very well have walked the same streets getting on for a hundred years or so ago. We didn’t see anyone shot dead, so maybe Chicago is a bit safer than in the 1920’s.

One of the things that I’d like to do sometime is see a baseball game at Wrigley Field. Whilst it’s not quite the oldest, it’s probably the best known of all the baseball stadiums. The Cubs were out of town though and so we had to make do with a tour. It was very informative and we started off with some general info whilst sitting in various parts of the stands, before moving down to pitch side to stand in the outfield.

We then moved on to the locker room used by the visiting team and at various times over the years by Paul McCartney, Pele and Michael Jordan. It was strange to look around and imagine each of them preparing to head out into the daylight.

We then went up to the press box and finished up by sitting in the home dugout. I’ll get back for an actual Cubs game at some point.

Whilst there was an option of going to a MLB White Sox game across town, I decided to head for some lower league action instead at the Midwestern Medical Field. It’s a stadium that dates back to 1991 and has a capacity of almost eleven thousand.

The game was in an independent league for teams too far from others to be allowed to play in the AA or AAA leagues. The Kane County Cougars were taking on the Winnipeg Goldeneyes. Although for some reason the Cougars were playing as their alter-egos, the Atomic Pork Chops. This may have been a ploy to sell different shirts and more bacon products. Who knows?

We opted for central bench seats at fifteen dollars, although we could have paid ten dollars to sit on the grass. Or even ten dollars to walk past the grass and sit in the fifteen dollars seats. I had a hot dog which didn’t look as good as the hot dogs that I saw some other people eating so there must have been some selection option that I hadn’t noticed.

Jen went for a funnel cake. I’d not heard of it and tried a bit. It’s just mis-shaped donut really. It tastes ok but I can’t see it catching on.

Winnipeg Goldeneyes are a Canadian team, from approximately eight hundred miles to the north. I doubt that you get many away fans in this league. A father and son duo who had been roped in to sing the Star Spangled Banner also trotted out what I presume was the Canadian anthem. It’s not particularly catchy and maybe something like ‘I’m a Lumberjack’ would have gone down better.

For additional between innings entertainment we were treated to stunt dogs. These were collies that had been trained to catch frisbees and run between their owner’s legs. It was better than it sounds and but unfortunately none of them took a piss against any of the bases.

We also had races between the mascots and small kids around the bases and something called battle ball where small children put their upper bodies into an inflatable ball and then tried to concuss each other. They also sang Happy Birthday to those celebrating that day. Jen asked me if the song triggered any particular thoughts, which it didn’t. Turns out it was her birthday and I’d forgotten. Again. I like being married to someone who doesn’t make a deal about something like that. I suspect that some fellas in a similar situation may have ended up in a worse state than the battle ball kids.

Goldeneyes went three up early on and then twice finished an innings with the bases loaded but without adding to the score. It looked as if this might come back to bite them in the arse when the Pork Chops hit three single home runs, two of them in successive balls to level at three all in the sixth. The Canadians got away with it though running out five-three winners in the end.

Torch FC v Pennsylvania Classics, Sunday 5th June 2022, 6pm

June 7, 2022

After spending a couple of nights in a hut on top of a hill in Kempton Jen and I moved on to the nearby town of Buckingham. It’s another small place and less than sixty miles from Newark Airport where we’ll need to swap hire cars.

Jen had noticed that there was a heritage railway on the way and so we stopped to take a ride. The conductor was an friendly fella to chat to and despite having worked there since ’76, a relative new boy compared to some of the other volunteers. There was an old bloke sat near to us who spoke just like Paulie Walnuts. I made sure that I did nothing to upset him.

Buckingham has a nearby nature reserve and so we spent a couple of hours following some of the trails. I’d been hoping to stumble across bears and snakes like our last visit to the states, but the most we saw were squirrels and a heron. It was still a worthwhile wander about though and with plenty of tree cover we managed to spend most of our time in the shade.

One of the other advantages of Buckingham was that there was a fourth tier fixture scheduled for the evening of our arrival and as it was only twenty-minutes down the road we popped along. Torch FC were taking on Pennsylvania Classics in the Keystone Conference of the National Premier Soccer League. It’s a short competition with the eleven teams in the league playing each other just the once and all within a seven week period.

The game took place at Pennridge High School. There wasn’t a fixed price for admission but a suggested donation of ten dollars a head. Whilst it struck me as expensive for a fourth-tier game, we’d paid twice that for third-tier Richmond a few days earlier and so I coughed up. We were given a free programme which was a pleasant surprise.

Refreshments were better value with Jen getting a one dollar pretzel whilst I went big on a two dollar hot-dog.

I learned from the programme that Torch FC are a sort of Christian missionary project, a ministry through sport. Prior to the national anthem, which was sung by the club president from the commentary box, there was a prayer thanking God for providing a sunny day suitable for football. I’m sure there are plenty of football fans that will offer up a prayer during a game, more likely in respect of the result rather than the weather, but I’ve always thought that if there were any gods listening they’d have better things to do than get caught up in sporting events, particularly obscure ones.

Having said that, I’ve probably got better things to do most of the time than attending lower tier fixtures, so who’s to say that gods don’t have a similar mindset and are happy to prioritise prayers for minor leagues over major pandemics.

Once again, the pitch was cluttered with markings for a variety of sports in different colours. I reckon that six different activities took place on the pitch, including lacrosse. One benefit, I suppose, was that the ref was able to avoid pacing out ten yards at a free-kick and instead simply referred the players to the American Football one-yard markings to determine the placing of the wall.

Torch were in white with an orange trim, whilst Pennsylvania Classiscs were in a dark blue and teal kit. The players were all very polite, some of them referring to the ref as ‘sir’. We should adopt that in England.

Not a lot happened for most of the first half. Torch rattled a post a few minutes from the break before opening the scoring a couple of minutes into added time when the keeper flapped at a cross and someone tapped home from close range.

Torch doubled their lead on the hour before Classics notched a couple of goals to level the scores with fifteen minutes remaining. The points went Torch’s way though with a disputed late penalty that led to off the ball head-butting and a distinctly un-Christian reluctance from those involved to turn the other cheek.