It all began in February 2008. Myself and Cornish Cherry Dan had decided we were going to the last AFC Bournemouth away match in Carlisle no matter what. The reasons for going were many and various, one of which was we realised we could
actually get there for cheaper and via Scotland on the flights from Ryanair. If we were saying goodbye to the third division (why the fuck is it called League One?) it was going to be in style. We began to plot the “party plane,” using the internet and a website belonging to Ryan Air.
A click of a few buttons and suddenly we were confirmed on the early Saturday morning Ryan Air flight from Bournemouth Hurn to Glasgow Prestwick and the Sunday evening flight back, all for less than £45 including taxes and what have ye. Not bad for an away trip and especially via a different country (or if you must, a different region of the same “country”; Scotland, UK) At that stage it was just the two of us, and relegation was staring us in the face. We advertised it as a “relegation party” to all of our mates. However an inspired turn in fortunes for the Cherries over the next two months kept the dream alive till the final day, 10 points stolen by the FA or not, we were making one hell of a fight. This fight had reached a telling pinnacle when Sam Vokes ran clear of the Railwaymen’s defence on April’s final Saturday. We were at home to Crewe Alexandra that day, who themselves were in big relegation trouble. Vokes made no mistake against a North Stand which erupted like a red and black
volcano ready to make a famous great escape (part two). As the match entered injury time, with the Cherries 1-0 up, we waited patiently and agonisingly for the ref to blow the whistle. And there it was. We had a dream now. We were heading to Carlisle, not to make up the numbers, but to win the match and stay up. I can tell you this, as a football fan, your life doesn’t get any better. The beer was sweet that night and Vokes had become a total star.
By this stage in the season, a few more mates had jumped on the bandwagon party plane and already the afcb messageboards were full of people booking their flights up there. Some people were rumoured to have paid about £180 for the same flights that me and the boy Dan had booked on a Corona inspired web browsing session three months earlier. The scene was set, the normal Airbus had been renamed a “party plane”, the Cherries could still achieve a miracle, fancy dress was made an optional extra and plastic champagne flutes were bought in G and Ts in Winton. The story begins on the Friday evening…
It was the night before the big match and a few of us had finished work and got a wee carryout (for the English amongst you thats a Northern Irish term for beer). The carryout wasn’t quite enough so we headed into “downtown Charminster” where we wore our Bournemouth tops on a lively evening. We drank long into the morning, then realised our flight was at 6.22 am (or some bizarre time like that). Only one hours sleep would be had before Swiss Cherry Corinne picked four of us up in fancy dress for a “party car” to Hurn airport. In those days it was acceptable to add the word “party” as an adjective to almost every
method of transport, or indeed every noun. If you don’t get it, its because it’s not funny. If you get it, it’s because it wasn’t funny, but you enjoyed yourself in the lack of funniness of it. Either way the barrel of laughs began when three of us decided that the £1.99 bottle of cheap Cava from Asda was NOT the champagne we had craved to start the day off. Still, it didn’t stop us drinking it as a wake up call.
The fancy dress was as follows and in keeping with the theme of the day: myself in Tartan gear like a wannabe Scotsman (it was only fair since we were going via Scotland), Dan dressed like a robber (we were looking to get out of jail), Neil dressed as Elvis Presley (Elvis isn’t dead and we hoped the Cherries wouldn’t be) and then there was Patrick dressed in a blue pullover. “What have you come as you eejit I screeched at him?” No answer was given as it was obvious that one of your mates always has to wear the opposition’s colours on the day of a big match. And for no apparent reason. We still wonder why Patrick did that. Perhaps he’ll read this and have an answer. Even the females in our immediate group also joined in, if not in full fancy
dress at least Swiss Corinne and Northern Irish Gemma donned Cherry colours for the day. Then was the story of the Shep. Shep had been to most of the previous matches with us, but since he was not based in Bournemouth at the time, he decided to get his own breakaway “party train” and meet us in Carlisle. His cowboy hat added to the day’s party atmosphere, but not before we had arrived at a busy Hurn Airport.
Once through security – first time I’d been frisked in fancy dress, and sadly not by an attractive Russian female – we grabbed an early morning beer, well most of us, some sipped on water and tea, which I found rather disturbing and in bad taste. Soon Paul Williams and Linux had joined us and a group of red and black shirts were gathering by Gate 3, which included Steve Brown, and Serena and Dave, some of the Portman/Percy Shelly regulars. The flight was on time and the party plane dream was happenning. The flight was full and at a guess I’d say at least 57 Bournemouth fans boarded it. Not all were wearing shirts and drinking champagne, but chants of we are “staying up” and “flying high up in the sky” were given blank glances by Latvian air hostesses, who only saving grace were decent sized breasts for the old men behind us to glance at. It wasn’t us, honestly…actually it was all me, and nice boobs they were.
Once we had hovered somewhere over urban Coventry I popped open the party champagne (I bought a higher quality one this time – £18 in the airport, as obviously you cant get it through security). The glasses were raised and Cornish Cherry sat by the window, luckily avoiding my dodgy opening of the champagne bottle. Only about one shot of champagne was lost, and it was nestled on to my Scottish kilt anyhow. We had hoped Nonny would be on our flight for a highest ever rendition of Red Army.
But he was already in Scotland by this stage. The party plane was great atmosphere and everyone who didn’t like football asked us where we were going and wished us good luck. We’d need it, we were playing a team with an amazing home record.
We exited the party plane and soon headed for our party train, which would see us change at both Troon and Glasgow on our way back over the border into England. This saw us also get on a “party bus” as the train system was off for the weekend. I cranked up a bit of Belinda Carlisle on the old iPod, only for the irony of her surname and not for the quality of the music, although those who grew up in the 1980s will remember her “Heaven is a place on earth” tune and more impressively her nude playboy shoot. I’d always wanted to be entering Carlisle at some point in life. We stopped at Glasgow for a Scottish breakfast aye. Scottish accents reminded us of diversity as Neil and I chose cold Scottish Tennents over Coca Cola. The fried breakfast was beezer and set us up rightly for the next train, which we enjoyed a short sing song and the views of Scottish countryside. This was sightseeing, partying and football all in one. On life’s short corridor, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
A lovely Scottish train steward then came down the aisle selling alcohol. That was the cue for another beer and a loud “cheers” as the party train passed the border into England. Nobody checked our passports, and although one of us was dressed as a robber, we hadn’t smuggled any illegal goods across the border. The train seemed to be a short journey and soon we were confronted with the train station sign “CARLISLE”. Though in this strange English world of no “t” in the word water, the “s” goes unpronounced, giving it a “Carlile” sound. I still pronounce the “s”, if you were that “s” how left out would you feel. You’d be like the “d” in Pernod. It was still only 11.19 am. Four hours to kick off, some pubs to find, cherry fans to mingle with and to check in to the Travelodge, pre booked by Cornish Cherry. In fact a diverse group, this set of Cherry fanatics, polling ourselves from Switzerland, Cornwall, Northern Ireland, London and even a guy from Corfe Mullen just to remind us that this was our local team as well. If anyone looked least like a Bournemouthian, it was actually Poole’s very own Patrick. Cornish Cherry had his Cornwall fleg, I had my Northern Ireland fleg and there was Patrick pretending to eat a piece of out of date Dorset Fudge…
Once checked into the Travelodge, we waited for Shep and his cowboy hat to arrive at a wee bar on the main street. In there we played pool and found out that everyone supported Newcastle. There’s still glory hunters in football. Though where I come from Newcastle is an unknown team in the lower amateur leagues of Northern Ireland. I assumed they meant Newcastle United. On route to the stadium we found another bar and then the Rugby Club seemed to be the place for the rest of the Cherries hardcore. Over 1,000 had made the trip, it was a real party atmosphere. Palm Trees, Inflatable Sharks, Red face paints and stupid fancy dress were all in evidence as we entered Brunton Park 15 minutes before kick off. The good old terrace was packed and in good voice already. The match itself was the only reason we were here though. The next 90 minutes would decide our fate, that coupled with hearing news of Gillingham (who to be fair, looked doomed before the match), Cheltenham (who would surely have no chance against O’Driscoll’s Doncaster) and Crewe (who most expected to beat Oldham at home).
Our message was simple. Let’s win this match and make it 7 in a row (I think it was?!) and then see how the other results go. In a nerve-wracking first half we went close a few times, but sang loud and proud behind a net that we wanted to see bulge. Sadly when it did it was the second half, and Carlisle sneaked a 1-0 opener at the back post. Dejection hit all round and it seemed in some ways that a dream may just have died. We don’t go down that easy I’m afraid (unless its a naked Kylie Minogue
in the darkest corridors of Belarus) and up popped our favourite Channel Islander to make it 1-1. The place erupted. Brett Pitman had grabbed us the lifeline and suddenly we were on top. Real news and fake news kept filtering through the stands. We pretty much knew that Gillingham were down, but we were more than shocked at the Cheltenham news. Everyone had expected Doncaster to get at least a point that day. But the robins were 2-1 up. We stopped caring about the Crewe v. Oldham score when we realised all we needed was a win and Crewe were going for a Burton (who, they could even have played had Burton came up from the Conference.) OK I’ll spoil it, if youre reading you’ll know the fucking story. We didn’t get the 2-1 win. Cheltenham held on as if their balls were getting cut off and the Leeds sent Gillingham down, while still nobody cared how shit Crewe were. Suddenly a referee was blowing a whistle which meant 1-1. We all knew it was over. Nice fucking dream, we had drawn away to Carlisle on the last day of the season and it wasn’t good enough. We’d given it a shot. We were worthy of staying up anyway on points and performance and in the end the only reason we went down was from the 10 point adminstration deduction.
Tears were shed and a quick salute from Danny Hollands was enough to bring a fake smile. Anderton was also in a sombre mood, he hadn’t seen or experienced relegation before as far as we could tell. Cornish Cherry was stood at the back with bright red hair which had run in the heat and a slow red tear down his cheek told the story. With this sort of passion for football, is it any fucking wonder we love our club? An old mate from Radio Solent then popped by, it was Chris Latchem and I
hadn’t seen him since a 1-0 defeat at Millwall in 2006. Shep, myself and Cornish Cherry all gave our post match thoughts and interviews to the Radio Solent microphone for immediate broadcast. Despite being the in form team in England, we had just got relegated. We were down. Yes, we would be in Division 4 for the next season. We played like a team in the top half for the previous 10 matches. Ifs and buts were not important, and we then heard that Forest had somehow gone up, flukey
We headed to the pub, and on the way I was stopped by the Carlisle News and Star where I posed for photos and gave an interview as Neil posed by an Elvis sign. Though by this stage Elvis was actually kind of dead and the Cherries were down with the Luton, Gillingham and Port Vale.
Whether we were depressed or not, we drank long into the night and discussion turned to how we would book yet more party planes to places such as Darlington and Morecambe. I read recently how a group of Manchester City fans got a “party fishing boat” to an away UEFA Cup match in the Faroe Islands (though the story goes that it broke down and they had to turn back and fly anyhow…) and it is these types of lunatic ideas which make supporting your football team the most passionate non-sexual hobby in the world.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. The next time you see me I’ll be dressed as some kind of red and black cartoon hero or something boarded an aeroplane to a Cherries away match in somewhere as bizarre as downtown Hartlepool. Come join our party and don’t forget yer carryout…anyone’s welcome and one’s well if any come.
Mon the wee Cherries!!
Jonny Blair (Ulster Cherry)
Jonny Blair is one of very few Northern Irish AFC Bournemouth fans and he is the current chairman of the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club: http://www.soenisc.com He is often spotted in the North Stand with an Ulster fleg, and used to drink lime Bacardi Breezer for breakfast.
The above article may appear in a future edition of “View From The Tree”, an inspired AFC Bournemouth fanzine.