Weston – Super – Mare, April 2007

I first met Sammy G (Sam Gordon) back in 2006 at the SOE NISC meeting in Bristol. He came with his son, Chris and is an ex Belfast man now living in Weston Super Mare. As it was the idea to rotate all the meetings, we decided to finally hold our Weston Super Mare meeting in April 2007, the day of Weston Super Mare AFC’s last home match of the season in the Conference South. I remember talking to Tim Beattie at the Northern Ireland v. Wales under 21s match at The Oval in February 2007, where we confirmed the date due to the fact that Weston were to play Bognor Regis that day. I was quite excited. I had been to Weston Super Mare only once before and that was on a family holiday to England in the 1980s where we were searching a cheap B and B in WSM only to find that all hotels, hostels, guest houses and b and bs were FULLY BOOKED. On that particular night I had images of only Weston Super Mare and “No Vacancies.” Twenty odd years later and I was heading back.

Preparation began with me booking the Friday off work in Bite Communications, so that I could go to Bournemouth with James Condron and Sam Cooper that day. We had planned to stay at Neil’s place in Boscombe and watch Thin Lizzy and The Deep Purple in Bournemouth International Centre. What a weekend this was going to be. We partied on a pub crawl, joined by Gemma Mornin all the way until 2 am where we ended up in Jumpin Jaks nightclub! Next thing I know and Neil was waking me up saying “Jonny what time is your train?” “I thought you were going to your Northern Ireland supporters club meeting!” I was and I thought I was running late, but it was still not yet 9 am, so I grabbed my bags and headed as fast as I could to Pokesdown train station, where the trains were infrequent and I was chancing it to be there on time…However I managed to get on the next train to Southampton within minutes and there was Richboy and Scatt waiting for me at Southampton. A quick cup of tea to get back to reality and soon our party train was cruising to Bristol or Bath, one of which we changed at and got a smaller, less elegant train to the seaside resort of Weston Super Mare.

With every meeting in the SOENISC, we are never sure how many will turn up, and for this one we expected quite a low attendance given the location. However at the time Northern Ireland were TOP of our Euro 2008 qualifying group and looking good to qualify, so spirits were high. We got off the train at Weston Super Mare, which was only a 10 minute walk to the beach. Our meeting place of choice was Nick’s Bar, as suggested by Sammy G on his home turf. It didn’t take us long to find it, and on the way there were a few laughs such as seeing a street called “Graham Road”, it was merely there to replace Vice Chairman Graham Anderson who couldn’t attend the meeting. We also picked up some random items as the sun shone down near Weston Super Mare beach. This included a green and white golf set. The setting was superb, a beautiful day by the beach, some great bars, a football match, some booze, Scatt had even brung his guitar to add music to the day. It wasn’t even 12.34 pm yet and that first beer was waiting for me.

On route to Nick’s it turned out some of the boys had decided to meet in The Cabot bar instead, as this was showing the Manchester United match and some of the boys liked that team. In there was Alan Scott (who I met for the first time), Alan Chambers (making his debut at a SOE NISC meeting having been in the NOE NISC and met me a few times before matches in Belfast) and Owen Millar. I had a quick beer in there before the official meeting took place at Nick’s where the bar staff knew we were coming and a few of the lads had already got seats in the sun. Tim Beattie was there though he had driven down, so wasn’t drinking. There was also Tim Acheson with some NI memorabilia, Dave King and the latest recruits from SOE NISC – The Crute family, who by chance had bumped in till an intoxicated Richboy and myself just a month early in the middle of mountains in Vaduz square, or even funnier a pizza shap which done beer.

That was Valerie, Jono and David there. Alex Higgins andBeverley also turned up soon and for the first time I met member Graham Johnston, another debutant on the day. It was set to be carnage! The meeting ran smoothly with a few lagers and soon we were deciding taxis split between us would be the quickest and cheapest way to get to The Woodspring Stadium for the 3 pm kick off of Weston Super Mare v. Bognor Regis. Weston Super Mare were already basically relegated as I recall, and we were just happy to be supporting them for the day. All dressed ridiculously in green as ever, we arrived just before kick off at The Woodspring Stadium. Match entrance fee was something really cheap like £5, and there was a nice wee social club for the half time and post match beer. A few days prior to the meting we had also an article in the Weston Mercury promoting the meeting, sadly I never got a copy of this, though we did get mentioned on the last line of the internet preview of the match on the Weston Mercury website. Plus we had a short mention of the SOE NISC in the Weston Super Mare club programme, which was a basic programme and cost £1 I think.

The match got underway and we put the fleg up next to one of the corner flegs and formed our own wee corner of the stadium, rather than join the hardcore of Weston fans in the stand behind the nets, or indeed the few travelling Bognor Regis fans who has come a long way to be there. The match got underway and it was obvious that Bognor were the better side, going 1-0 up. WE sand some typical NI songs but also stuff like “Weston till half five” just for a laugh. MY memory actually gets quite hazy now as I get older and I don’t recall whether the half time score was 0-1, 1-2 or 0-2!! Perhaps someone can put me right, but at any rate Weston Super Mare, in white shirts and blue shorts were losing the match and their position in the Conference South.

It was at half time that one of the club executives, Alan Cooper approached me. I was wearing my crocodile dundee hat as once worn by Jimmy Quinn. Alan gave us a welcome over the club’s public address system and then asked if we would like to sing for the club after the match. I jumped at the chance, detailing to Alan Cooper previous club lunacy and also requested a post match penalty shoot out with the Bognor Regis fans, or even the team. When I told the boys who were in the bar getting the half time beers, they didn’t know whether it was a wind up or not. Either way I was looking forward to the second half with Weston Super Mare AFC playing our way and then the chance to get onto the pitch and be on loudspeaker. I had already introduced myself to Alan Cooper as club chairman and I love these sort of spontaneous opportunities. The scond half began…

And soon Weston Super Mare AFC had brought on a new player, the qgeing Gary Owers. I didn’t know it then, but Gary Owers had actually once played in an FA Cup Final, for Sunderland against Liverpool in 1992 (it was through Richboy that I was to learn this fact later). Owers was straight into the action and I recall he hit the post and injected some life back in the Weston team that day, he was player manager and we were chanting “One Gary Owers, there’s only one Gary Owers” much to his amusement. Soon though, it was time to face defeat and Weston Super Mare succumbed to a 3-1 home defeat. They were relegated for now…

Straight after the match I told the boys to wait around at the pitch entrance whilst I OK-d the pitch singing session with Alan Cooper. After the players walked off to warm applause, the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club dandered nonchalantly onto the pitch, almost stealing the show in front of an emptying Woodspring Stadium. Club members Scatt Gordon and Tim Acheson clapped themselves onto the pitch in a comical way, whilst David Crute (equipped with a cameracorder) decided to capture the spontaneous humour that was to follow. Led by myself and Owen Millar, we sang a rousing rendition of “We’re Not Brazil, We’re Northern Ireland” as Alan Cooper of WSM AFC held the microphone below our club fleg which made the background even more green. Even the trees stopped to listen as a small corner of Northern Ireland had hit the seaside town, and their football team’s pitch.

Seizing the opportunity even more, we then launched into a version of “Away In A Manger” while Alan Cooper and a few Weston fans looked flabbergasted at a bunch of eejits with no links whatsoever to Weston Super Mare AFC randomly chanting at their final home match. Alan then did the quickest ever interview with me, where he asked me a question over the stadium’s loudspeaker and I answered a completely different question! He asked me “Will you be back for a pre-season friendly” and I replied that we’d had a great day and we wished WSM AFC all the best in their return to this division. Even though they got relegated, they didn’t actually go down, as another team went into administration and Weston were saved…Maybe even our luck inspired them.

After this it was straight to the bar, where I was to learn that my football team AFC Bournemouth drew and that it would keep us up ( a 1-1 with Gillingham I think) and Richboy shed a tear as Leeds finally succumbed to relegation and at the same time announced they were going into administration. As the football results came in we consumed yet more beers and got Gary Owers over for a photo with our club fleg as we sang “One Gary Owers” to him. We also met his wife, who some of the boys described as a MILF! Gary was great craic as was Alan Cooper and the spirits were high in the bar, if not amongst the Weston Super Mare players. It was at this point that the Bognor Regis fans started talking to us, and even invited us to beach football the next morning and to someday hold a meeting in Bognor. We weren’t up early enough, and didn’t have enough numbers for the football, but maybe sometime the SOE NISC will visit Bognor down on the South Coast. Who knows?

After this it was quickly decided we should head back to Nick’s Bar by the pier and beach. None of us had booked any accomodation and we wanted to stay over and get this sorted. Some people had already gone home, such as Jono, Valerie, David, Tim, Dave King and Alan Chambers. And of those who stayed only Alex, Beverley and Alan Scott wouldn’t stay over. As we ordered a round of drinks in Nick’s a few of us dispersed round the corner to look for accomodation. At the start it was looking like it was going to be tough and also quite expensive, as we turned down two hotels due to the price. It was decent weather and a lot of tourists had made it down for the weekend. As the others drank in Nick’s Bar, 6 of us split into two groups to find somewhere to stay. Owen Millar, myself and Scatt Gordon disappeared up some side streets, finding a pub called the Raglan Arms in Upper Church Road. At this point we had received a call from Richboy to say that him, Tim Acheson and Graham Johnston had all found a room for 3 for the night. We told them to take it and the three of us would get sorted. As Northern Irish often do this meant ordering another pint in the Raglan Arms (Fosters I vividly recall, I was surprisingly thirsty after the walk along the promenade and up side streets). The three of us got talking to the landlord, a guy who claimed Irish heritage but almost certainly appeared to look Asian. His name was Fred Murphy.

Or at least he told us his name was Fred Murphy. He had recently either bought the bar or the flat above and said he could offer us a wee room, totally undecorated and quite messy, but that the cost would be £30 between us, I mean thats £10 each. Of course straight away we went for it, walked up the stairs left our begs there, finished our pints and off back to Nick’s Bar to meet the rest of the lads. Scatt also brought his guitar to fill the English sunset with Ulster tones and out of the three of us staying in the room at the Raglan, we only had one key. We let Scatt keep the key and we all had mobile phones. This meeting also saw the first proper time that I wore the green snake round my neck. The snake cost £1 in a cheap shop in Belvedere in Kent and I randomly wore it round my neck that day.

The banter in Nick’s was great and it was slow to get served at the bar cos it got busy. We mingled with some young ladies who were drinking green cocktails and we shared some songs, before the sky got dark and Scatt decided to leave the guitar back at the room we were staying in. Sammy G had unfortunately had an ear infection and had been in hospital, missing his own meeting, but gladly Chris his son had represented him all day and Sammy turned up at Nick’s that night to enjoy a bit of a laugh with us. It was great to see him. By this point some others had gone home, and I got Sweet Northern Ireland (Caroline) on the DJ’s setlist. We all got up and danced when it came on and it was total carnage. The English were loving it however and the place was buzzing. Soon Alan Scott said he wanted to go home and we replied with a “We’re not we’re not we’re not going home”, but one toss of a coin and he won the bet to leave so we let him go, before heading to the beach for some football and photos by the beach and pier. A pier which sadly has since suffered a fire and is now ruined. The photos we have show the wonderful pier in all its glory with some members of SOE NISC in them. Then it got to the stage where Owen said “right lads we need to find a nightclub for the rest of the night.” Of course the only problem was we were all dressed in green football shirts so may not be let in. Step in Owen Millar with the gem of asking the bouncer on the door at Cabot Club “Here, where’s a good place to go clubbing round here?” and despite us all being intoxicated we got in no problem and had a great night in there, both upstairs and downstairs. Last thing I remember was Owen and me dancing to Mr Brightside by The Killers with two policewomen and a bottle of wine. This was an awesome night, and possibly the last one this mad in the SOENISC cannon for a while…the night was soon over.

Next morning we left Fred Murphy’s wee pub (The Raglan Arms) and felt like a fry up by the beach and pier in Nick’s Bar. I ordered my fry up and a cup of tea from a very very pretty looking barmaid. When asking her name and ordering Lime Bacardi Breezers in the Weston Super Mare sun, I suddenly realised I was infatuated by her. So much so that I had about 8 Lime Bacradi Breezers and made remarks at her using foam letters on our table. Owen found it hilarious. I just wanted a date. And I got it, surreal world this, but within a week I had returned back to Weston Super Mare to take this wonderful young lady out for dinner and drinks. I danced away with her, stayed at hers and she disappeared into the beach line of Weston as I headed for my train that day. I fear I left some dreams in Weston Super Mare this time, they’ll remain there forever with the magic Liz Carter. My dream date and another SOENISC meeting were over for now…

Bars we drank in – First Great Western Train Bar, The Cabot, Nick’s, Weston Super Mare AFC Bar, The Raglan Arms, The Cabot, Nick’s.

Who went – Jonny Blair, Owen Millar, Tim Beattie, Dave King, Tim Acheson, Alan Chambers, Alan Scott, Alex Higgins, Beverley Perrett, Jono Crute, Scott Gordon, Richard Ingram (Richboy), Sammy Gordon, Chris Gordon, Valerie Crute, David Purchase, Graham Johnston.

The You Tube Clip of us at WSM AFC’s Woodspring Stadium:

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