Green Bath, in soapy water, needing a wash, drowned out, keeping it clean, scrubbing up, pulling the plug….these were all puns circulating on e-mail in the months of January and February 2008, when the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club decided to embark on the historic Georgian city of Bath. Right in the early days of the club being formed, we had members from Bath, such as Alan “the Rabster” Brown and it was fairly obvious that at some point we would hold a meeting there. Somehow we avoided it in 2006 and 2007, hitting its larger neighbour, Bristol, twice for major days out with the SOENISC. On a chance encounter in a pizza shop in Vaduz (capital of Liechtenstein) I happened upon the young Jono, Aaron and Patrick Crute dressed in green during an away match in March 2007. When Richboy and I discovered they were from Bath, the question on our lips was “well why the hell are ye nat in our club then?”
They didn’t have an answer and pretty much joined up immediately. From those mountainous enclaves in central Europe to a cold, sunny Saturday in February 2008, it was a needed and expected journey, which brings us to the Green Tree pub on Green Street in Bath, Somerset. Sounds a bit far fetched, doesn’t it? It was always a case of finding a decent pub on a SOENISC day out, meeting there and taking the day out from there. Some pubs over the years have joined the list of eloquent venues which have been exposed honestly to the SOENISC crowd on individuality. A quick google search, and a visit to “beer in the evening” website found us magnetically pulled towards “The Green Tree”. It had to be the venue, and what’s more it was on “Green Street.” You really couldn’t make this shit up in life. We were going to turn Bath green…
…On route there were a few minor hiccups and major news stories. As a hiccup I stupidly broke my foot and was sidelined off work for 3 months, on crutches and even had two different green plaster parises at points. This was going to be a mission for me. Then there was the excitement of a Norn Iron friendly with Bulgaria just a few days before and to cap it all off, there would be a half time “crossbar challenge” at Bath City FC’s Twerton Park between a Northern Ireland national select and Bath City fans. The SOENISC would be the national select and the excitement and tension built ahead of the meeting, including within the local media with Radio Bath having a presence at the match, and the Bath Chronicle featuring us in their newspaper with an excellent half page article and preview. These times were surreal. Those smiles were real.
The week prior to the actual meeting was great. I had gone to watch Northern Ireland v. Bulgaria, having gone 6 weeks without alcohol and got into the stadium well before kick off with my green plaster cast on. We lost 1-0 and the next day I caught a bus from Belfast to Dublin airport, broken foot and all. I was still sidelined from work until early March, and normally that would be a good thing. Well it meant my money went down rapidly. Surviving on Incapacity benefit. I was lucky enough, aged 27 to be still getting a student loan, and even had tax rebates at the end of that tax year, because of my 3 months or so travelling. But money was at a low and with my final 5 Euros, I didn’t resist the temptation of a cold Guinness in the Library Bar at Dublin Airport. Dublin Airport is one of the best I’ve been in, perhaps it has too much free space, but its luxurious and modern. I sat with a local couple chatting. A guy and his girlfriend heading to Venice for a romantic Valentines break. That was nice, he had some friends from Northern Ireland and there certainly was no politics between us. The Guinness was finished just as my flight was called to Bournemouth.
People you meet in life are so nice, and they spend so much time and effort on you, sadly you don’t always give them it back. I’ve been guilty of this a few times, and none more so than to my friend Gemma. Gemma Mornin, from Bangor has been a good friend since 2005. Bizarrely we both came from Bangor, both worked in Tesco and both decided to study at Bournemouth University. She was also just as nuts as me. She is a really cool crazy girl. We enjoyed some great times in life together, although we never were really together as a couple, we could and should have been at times. Most people that know us both will see that chemistry and work out that at some point or other we had sex (or may have done…). Anyway, that night Gemma did me a BIG favour. I had missed the last bus from Bournemouth airport to Bournemouth town centre, and so I waited there till just after 10 pm and she kindly came and picked me up, and took me home. In fact we might have gone back to hers, and she cooked for me a lot. She was so kind and my heart goes out to her back in Northern Ireland now where she is more settled, pregnant and seems to have found happiness. That was on the Thursday, and on the Saturday morning it was up early and rise for the trip to Bath.
There were 4 of us from Bournemouth that day travelling up to Bath on the trains. I think we bought a saver ticket and I’m sure it was me, Gemma, Alan French and Simon McCully. Though Simon was sorting out a mortgage and got delayed, if my memory is right. The train journey involved for once zero alcohol from me, some planning and the usual carnage of the route to a SOE NISC meeting. We had to change trains somewhere, Bristol I think, or maybe it was via Southampton, I really cannot remember. Either way we made it very early to Bath, and I was struggling to be honest. My right foot was still in plaster and we dandered slowly up the hill to the hostel to check in.
The first thing I noticed was how traditional Bath really still is. The old Georgian buildings remain, a simple green “Waitrose” sign looks out of place on a traditional grey brick English wall, as we exited the train station at Bath Spa and searched for the hostel. On route up high hills, we found the local peeler station, where Alan French and I took great delight in getting the SOE NISC fleg out for a photo opportunity next to what English people call “police station”, “the old bill” and “cops.” As the pain in my foot got worse, the others did well to slow down with me as we finally found our hostel and had a late cancellation from Tim Acheson who phoned to say he couldn’t make it. We thought this was ideal, as Simon or Gemma could take his extra bed/place in the hostel. This wasn’t to be though, as he had already cancelled the hostel and one of us would be without a bed. When we got there they were full, but we would sneak one person in later.
After checking in, Simon and I couldn’t help but notice TWO GREEN CROCODILES on top of a locker in the reception at the hostel. Straight away I asked the New Zealand receptionist “any chance we can borrow them there crocodiles for a few hours? We’ll bring them back” “Go ahead lads!” he said and there it was. Two years on from the meeting in Bournemouth where we had green inflatable crocodiles, we would have them again, for free, on hire and we blew them up as we dandered on up the hill to find Green Street and the Green Tree pub. It was some struggle for me through historic Bath as my broken foot kept me behind. Everyone was happy to wait for me though, and finally we made it into a cosy snug corner at the back of the Green Tree pub, where we were greeted by the other members of the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club.
We were joined in there by Lloyd, from the Bath Chronicle. A very nice gentleman who had come to take photos and help with our story. We had already had a feature in the Bath Chronicle pre-event and it was great to see local journalistic interest for an event which was basically a load of ridiculously attired Northern Irish sport fans drinking too much alcohol in an English city. The others present in the pub that day included Bath residents Valerie, David and Jono. Also there was a new guy, Pat from Newry who had read the newspaper article and popped along! Then there was the usual hardcore of club members Tim Beattie, Squid, Alan Scott and Graham Anderson. Alan Scott also brought his mate along, Steve “Token”, a Scottish lad who joined in with our frolics for the day. In the Green Tree it was on with the real meeting, where we discussed the following month’s extravagant trip to Colchester (probably for the only time ever) and the home match with Georgia in March, plus the future for SOE NISC and the plans to do Scilly Isles (it never happened), Brighton (it happened) and Cheltenham (it happened). I also got out my Northern Irish “Russian” dolls and explained my venture to Prague the previous year where I picked them up. It was also in this pub, that one female club member admitted that she once went out with Mal Donaghy! That is Mal Donaghy, ex-Northern Ireland captain, played in 2 World Cups, got sent off against Spain, won countless medals for Manchester United, Chelsea and Luton Town and was always proud to play for Norn Iron. Needless to say she got a round of applause! We waited to see if any other members would show up, but they didn’t and we didn’t want to keep Lloyd waiting, so we all quickly went outside for the big photo! This was for the Bath Chronicle the following week, all dressed in green with green flegs and scarves, we posed outside the Green Tree pub on Green Street for the photo. If any moment in history defined my “design for life” (copyright Manic Street Preachers) then this was it. Life in this wee supporters club couldn’t be summed up any better.
The photo was done and dusted and we finished our pints and short meeting, before having to head to Twerton Park, where we were due to watch Bath City v. Braintree Town in the Conference South. Ironic that Braintree should be the away team, when the following month we would go near to it, with our Essex Colchester meeting. Taxis and lifts alike took us to Twerton Park, where Sammy G and his son Chris added to our contingent for the day. We piled into Randalls Bar at Bath City FC, where we were warmly greeted by Bath fans, the media and the club directors. I shook hands and enjoyed a conversation with some of the directors, before Phil Weaver (media expert) and Geoff Todd (club chairman) were beside me with a microphone. “Is this going out anywhere?” I asked, before realising I never worry about things like that and I launched into a tirade of information and details on the day out, whilst remaining composed and answering the chairman’s questions. The interviewer was Laura Harrison from Bath FM. It was a nice wee interview. I’m led to believe it was broadcast later on that day. I sadly never heard the interview, but I know it all made sense. My adrenalin was pumping and despite a broken foot I was enjoying a few beers and the lively bar pre-match.
I bought a match programme and was pleased by our mention in the editorial and the full page article on us, which featured two photos and some quotes from me. Bath City were so welcoming to us that day and soon (after some photo opportunities) we had found ourselves our own “green end” behind the nets, next to the very few away supporters of Braintree Town. We were there to wind them up though and we were definitely supporting the home team, Bath City FC for the day! We got our flegs up and started the chanting early. “Bath City till half five” was a good one. We also got a big mention and cheer over Twerton Park’s public address system. Soon the match had kicked off and we revelled in the sense of freedom we had behind the nets. On a mild February afternoon in Avon, the hills of Bath were alive with the sound of the SOE NISC.
The Braintree fans to our right were strangely quiet and as Sammy G correctly said “miserable bunch of bastards! They travelled all the way from Essex and they don’t even join in the craic!” The match itself wasn’t much craic… slow possession football coupled with fouls and plenty of throw ins. It didn’t stop us from singing or throwing inflatable crocodiles in the air right up to half -time. At half – time incidentally, the score was still 0-0. Dressed in a range of various Norn Iron taps and merchandise from the last 50 odd years, we prepared ourselves for the “big moment” of the day. That was a pre-arranged “crossbar challenge” on the pitch at “our green end” between a Northern Ireland National Select (well…the worst of SOE NISC) and the finest Bath City FC fans. They had home advantage, but the challenge was something we were up for, as we strode onto the pitch. Initially I videoed the entire “challenge” from pitchside hobbling along on my crutches. As the action began, the attempts at the crossbar became worse and worse. Bath City fans went fairly close. Even our supremo Squid (who hit the crossbar during a penalty shoot out in Alphington 4 months earlier) couldn’t hit the bar. Simon McCully, Alan French, Graham Anderson, Tim Beattie they all failed miserably and seizing an opportunity for success I asked if I could hobble onto the pitch and hit one!! With my left foot, and crutches to balance it was a dream too far for me, as my shot even struggled to make it to the net! I was still proud though, I had a broken foot. None of us had hit the crossbar. I’m not sure how many attempts we had, and so the referee for the “crossbar challenge” decided that we would elect one taker each to try and score from the half way line. The Bath City fan missed and so Alan French had the chance to win it for the SOE NISC, but sadly put it wide. It was a good effort, great craic and the whole “Half time crossbar challenge” can be viewed here:
So once the melarkey of that had finished we made our way back to our “green end” in the stadium ready for the second half. Overall we classed the “crossbar challenge” as a success as we had gained a valuable away point, drawing 0-0 in Bath. It was true, at least we didn’t lose. Second half began with Bath attacking the other end. Comedy came in the form of substitute Jason Woods. We didn’t know who he was, but his first touches made us think he was a legend, and when he danced down the right wing, we sang “We all dream of a team of Jason Woods” and “There’s only one Jason Woods”. Despite the boring nature of the match itself, there were definite moments of silliness and comedy, not to much sexiness thrown in for good measure. Silliness happened when Bath missed a penalty – that was the chance to win the game there and then. The penalty went wide. I can’t even remember who missed and I’m sure he’ll not blame me for forgetting. Sexiness was apparent every time a player went down or got injured….
We all know that Essex girls (not just by coincidental virtue of the word “sex” at the county name’s end) have a reputation for upping the sexiness, and on this ocassion they did. The two Braintree Town physios were something from a supermodel shoot. A pretty blonde and a raunchy brunette dashed onto the field at various intervals to deal with injuries. With physios on this scale, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to go down injured during a match. They got loud cheers from us everytime they took to the field and a loud cheer after the final whistle. “Get yer tits out” and “You’ve got the best physios in the world” were some of the chants towards the end. And before I close the match details I almost forgot the other songs, “are you Bangor in disguise?” was a chant started at Braintree who wore yella taps and light blue shorts. This comicly turned into “Are you Bangor with Man City shorts?”, coupled with the renditions of “black and white army” we truly were Bath City fans for the day, and we hadn’t inspired them till a win, but at least another 0-0 home draw would keep them unbeaten in their quest for a play off spot that season.
On the way out, Simon McCully and I also started to sing “there’s only one flag boy…” until we realised the swaring in it to the youngster and then it was time to head back to the wee bar at the stadium, Randalls. It was there that we got a photo with the two Braintree Town physios and a hardcore Bath City fan who had a South Africa flag with him in respect of the Bath goalkeeper. We joked that it was a sign that we would go to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. More frolics happened in there and I enjoyed a lemonade for a change, with a broken foot it was hardly surprising. Then suddenly time was getting on, darkness had fallen and we parted ways, some of the group such as Sammy G and Tim Beattie were finished for the day, while I returned to the hostel with Simon, Alan and Gemma and we discussed plans for the night out. I was as usual knackered and didn’t fancy a big walk round the city with my foot in plaster.
In the end after a short rest, it was time to head back to The Green Tree for a wee pint, where Chris Tovey from Bath City FC’s fans joined us and joined in for the night of banter. the stay in there was short and everyone wanted some food. I cant remember what we ate or where we went, but after that it was the Wetherspoons pub where the SOENISC gathered and managed to get in ok with our green shirts on. The night was still young and as we got our own table, I began to chat up a girl who had smuggled in a container of wine.
Instantly it appeared she was bra-less and had nice skin. I delved into her life and looked for a kiss, which I got. The lads joked that she was too young for me, then 27, this girl was about 10 years younger. She was also just released from a young people’s detention centre and had one of those tags on her so she could be tracked and return home at a decent hour. I wasn’t that bothered at the time, but realised she was a bad girl, not really the sort I wanted though at the time it was bliss. With the divine help and patience of Alan Scott we then dandered round the streets of Bath looking for yet another pub, maybe with better atmosphere.
It all became tired and weary from here on in. We did manage to make it (I struggled up and down hills) into a pub which was packed and coming to last orders. Myself and the young convict girl Tasha (apparently that was her name) got cosy and snug before the evening all came till an end for some of us. Simon, Gemma and Alan I believe all went out to another club after this, but for me it was back till bed and the hostel to rest my foot, my brain and my liver, which has seen better days. Its with obvious passion that I recollect these days out now, but from a slightly different perspective. I reflect and say “alcohol and football: it was once my life…”
The following morning we weren’t in any rush to get home. Most of us had part time jobs, worked monday to friday or were students, so we had some time to kill and see the city. I had a cold shower in the hostel while I waited for the others at the breakfast table. Soon after we walked up to a main square where we found a wee bar for lunch and coffee. There was me, Alan French, Simon and Gemma if my memory is good. In there it was as chilled and relaxed as it should be as I revelled in reading about the Cherries 4-1 away win at Luton Town. The match had been named the “bankrupt derby” or the “administration battle” and though the Cherries came on top, by the season’s end both teams would have succumbed to the basement division, albeit in a nailbiter at Carlisle on the season’s closing curtain…
There we waited around until we felt like going home and we finally made the weary walk, still dressed partially in green to the Bath Spa train station. Full trains, stuffy February afternoons and tiredness left us with a very uneventful train trip back to Bournemouth. We did stop at Southampton at one point, but I’m sure none of us recall the journey in any great detail. It was just as well. The planning and effort I used to put into these days out and weekends away still astounds me. If only it was my job…
When was it? – Saturday 9th February 2008
Where was it? – Bath, Avon/North Somerset
Pubs visited – The Green Tree (on Green Street), Randall’s Bar (Bath City FC), Wetherspoons, The Pig.
Who was there? – Tim Beattie, Squid Armstrong, Jonny Blair, Graham Anderson, Alan Scott, Jono Crute, Valerie Crute Purchase, David Purchase, Pat McCandless, Gemma Mornin, Alan French, Simon McCully, Sammy G, Chris Gordon, Steve Token, Chris Tovey.
The match – Bath City 0-0 Braintree Town (Conference South)
The half time entertainment – Bath City Fans 0-0 South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club (Crossbar Challenge)
Key songs – “black and white army”, “youre not very good”, “one jason wood”, “we all dream of a teama jason woods”, “we love your physios”
Media appearances – Interview with Jonny Blair on Bath FM (by Laura Harrison). Full preview in Bath Chronicle. Full post – event article in Bath Chronicle. Full article in Bath City FC match programme. Mention over Bath City public address system. Numerous mentions on Bath City FC forums and local forums. And finally…the SOENISC’s last ever appearance in my once bible which was the “Ireland’s Saturday Night (RIP)” or The Ulster.
Video 2, We are the South of England NISC:
Video 4 (“you fat bastard” at the skinniest man on the pitch):
Video 5, Bath City fans tell us jokes:
Crossbar Challenge filim made by Sammy G: