One of my main hobbies at the moment is going to football matches. I made it to 30 games last season and so far this season have been to 25. It would have been 26. Technically it's 25.16666666 games.
It's been on my (saddo) bucket list for a while to do a "twofer" - two football matches in different grounds on the same day. I've done two matches on the same day before - back to back Olympic matches in the Millennium Stadium back in 2012. But never two in different grounds.
Last Saturday the stars aligned. Or, at least the fixtures did. Shrewsbury were playing at Bristol Rovers just across the bridge, kick off 3pm. And Barry Town, who I've been following this year, had an evening televised game, kick off 7.30pm. That's a do-able schedule and I resolved to do it.
My friend Stewart lives in Bristol and was joining me for the match. I successfully found his house, met his delightful daughter, Delilah, for the first time, and then parked quite near the Memorial Stadium in plenty of time for the game. Too much time, really, because it's blinking cold in the Mem. The away end is either an open terrace, where I almost died of exposure once, or the scaffolding and canvas temporary stand that has been there since before 2003. I think it's probably the oldest temporary stand in the football league; it certainly feels like it. I call it the perma-tent.
We didn't have much to look at so we messed around with selfies.
Although I moan about the away end, the rest of the ground isn't much better. There are two home stands that look like gazebos, the home end is one long terrace adorned with cider adverts, there is a large stand on side with the executive boxes in that looks like it should be at a race course or a cricket ground, and another giant cantilever stand that runs for the middle third of the pitch opposite it. The dug outs are the opposite side of the players' tunnel, and even they are mis-matched with one part of the visiting dug out slightly lower than the rest. Stewart said it felt like a stadium built out of left over bits of other stadia. To me, it reminded me of when I tried to build Lego buildings when I was younger and by the end any colour, size or shape brick would do to try and finish it.
Before the game there was a minute's silence for Emiliano Sala. While I do understand that this is a tragedy that has happened within the wider world of football, there is part of me that thinks that generally the public observation grief is getting out of hand. Emiliano had no connection to either club. I'm not sure why there was this need to silently contemplate the fragility of life and the inevitability of our own mortal demise here, but we did, and it was observed impeccably.
Shrewsbury were wearing a nifty black kit, started the game really well and led 1-0 at half time. There was a bit of needle in the game and a couple of players were lucky to stay on the pitch. Last year I saw Shrewsbury win here courtesy of a goal created by Alex Rodman. He now plays for Bristol Rovers and, naturally, he headed home the equaliser in the second half.
The game carried on being niggly and bad-natured. A Shrewsbury sub, Greg Docherty, had to leave the field for persistently bleeding from a head wound, and was replaced by hometown hero Dave Edwards, making his second appearance in his second spell at the club where his career started. A few minutes later Dave was sent off for a desperately stupid two footed lunge tackle that would have been daft in any game, but in one where players had been warned for most of the match about their kicking and shoving, was a nailed on red card. To be fair, if he had been on the receiving end of it, I would have been baying for blood. Shrewsbury hung on and it finished 1-1.
I dropped Stewart home, got back on the M4, dashed back to Wales through the spray, enjoyed not having to pay a toll, and pulled up by the Gladstone Road turnstiles at Jenner Park at about 7.15. The twofer was on!
Once I was in I had to walk around to the other turnstile to buy a programme. This meant I could get a picture of the bigger stand that I normally sit in. I also bought some chips. I had to wait at the chip van, though, so only got to a seat as the teams came out. I then stood through my second minute's silence for Emiliano of the day. I don't have a photo of it because, and I'm slightly embarrassed to admit this, I was still eating my chips. Stealthily. Like a chip ninja. A respectful chip ninja.
Barry were entertaining Bala Town in the second phase of the Welsh Premier League. This is the section of the league where the top six teams all play each other again. Back in August I saw Barry beat Bala 3-2. Bala had three men sent off in that game, including one player who must have said something extremely rude to the referee after Barry striker Kayne Maclaggon punched the ball into the net for Barry's third goal and neither the referee or linesman saw the handball. I was hoping this game might live up to that excitement, especially as it was live on S4C.
Fate had other ideas.
Bala scored from a poorly defended free kick on 14 minutes. As the Barry players trudged back to kick off one set of floodlights went out.
The players stopped. Managers started milling around. Flashing blue lights behind the clubhouse alerted us to the fire brigade arriving. This was all very entertaining to the Barry Ultras who sang the theme tune to Fireman Sam, the Super Furry Animals song 'I've Got a Fire in My Heart for You" (which is a regular in their repertoire, to be fair) and then an impromptu version of 'We Didn't Start the Fire' by Billy Joel.
"We didn't start the fire
It was Barry Council
With the Dodgy Wiring"
Meanwhile S4C were desperately trying to fill air-time. As they set up pitchside to interview the managers, and it seemed, just about anyone they could, a chap ran out with an additional spotlight. It was quite humorous, as if he was going to try and replace the floodlights.
The warmth of the chips had worn off. I went up into the clubhouse as I was getting cold again and bought a cup of tea. Quite a few other fans had the same idea and the Ultras sang "We can't see youo sneaking out" as people began to drift out of the stands.
The Bala players came back out, providing a brief glimmer of hope the game would recommence, just before the stadium announcer said the game was off.
So that was my "twofer" well and truly busted. No tick on the bucket list. The double entry on my list of games will always be one game and one abandoned game for the 9 February 2019. I've seen 76 goals so far this season, but only 75 will count in official statistics.
I walked past the Bala players on my way back to my car. They were warming down. It's a long bus journey from Bala to Barry to play just 14 minutes of football. And they will have to do it all again in a few weeks time.