These articles are published in the Slough Town FC programme. The Rebels play in the Southern Premier - just seven leagues below the Premier League. I’ve been supporting Slough since the beginning of time despite now living in Brighton. After nearly 14 nomadic years we finally have a brand spanking new home in Slough.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Trip To Maldon

Published in the Ryman Premier League match v Hampton and Richmond Borough 2nd January 2006

It was like a scene from a nativity play. Me and my heavily pregnant girlfriend lost in the wilds of the Essex countryside, unable to find the hotel we’d booked, every place we stopped at telling us there was no room at the Inn, we began to eye up empty barns. Nine hours after leaving Brighton we finally found a room at a Travel Lodge off the A12 near Colchester. Hmm, this wasn’t exactly the idea we had for our last romantic holiday before Zoë gave birth, and she let me know in no uncertain terms announcing it was her worst holiday ever!

We’d set off in good spirits. Not even an email from my mate telling me about his trip to the Galapagos Islands, snorkelling with penguins, sea lions, reef shark, and diving with hammerhead sharks, could dampen my spirits. Bah humbug – give me the Essex countryside and a trip to Heybridge Swifts Football Club anyday.

Hours later, stuck in traffic, a trip to hell for some food (have you ever been to Southend?), hopelessly lost and a night so cold I was beginning to wonder if tomorrow’s game would be on anyway.

Still, it’s amazing what a good night sleep can do – even in such a non descript environment as a Travel Lodge – and the next day we set off to Maldon in search of somewhere with a bit more character.

The town is famous for the battle of Maldon in 991AD. Living on the coast meant the constant threat of pillaging Vikings. England had no military or diplomatic answer to these raids, so the King simply raised a series of taxes to pay the Vikings off. In August 991 up to 3,000 Vikings appeared off the English coast. This time there was a heroic stand by the Anglo-Saxons against the Viking invasion, but which ended in utter defeat. But the battle has been made famous for being the subject of an Old English poem celebrating the bravery of the English.

Maldon is how a proper small town should be – despite Tescos (who else?) lurking in the back ground like a modern day scrooge, trying to grab all the pennies for themselves. Maldon high street is full of grocers, ironmongers, butchers and fishmongers. No doubt the tourist trade helps keeps these shops alive, and yes people really do come to Essex for a holiday. Forget the Essex of Billericay and Basildon, Maldon is on the Blackwater estuary full of mudflats and sailing boats of all descriptions, with panoramic views, and the place still has an individuality all of its own.

OK, they lost their train station (the nearest one is six long miles from Maldon and Heybridge’s ground), its cinema’s gone, the bus station’s been flattened, and Weatherspoons is eyeing up the attractive Post Office building. Nationally, the Post Office is busy selling off buildings and closing branches in preparation for privatisation. A spokesman for Weatherspoon said “Maldon’s a lovely place so we would consider opening there.” Yeah, but it’s only lovely cos it doesn’t look like every other bloody place in the country. And in any case there are loads of old pubs full of character to drink in, so the last thing the place needs is a Weatherspoon.

One of those drinking holes is the Blue Boar, a 14th Century coaching hotel where the creaky floorboards and 4 poster bed was worth shelling out for. It’s even got its own brewery now on the premises, knocking out great sounding ales such as Pucks Folly, Nelsons Blood and Blue Boar Bitter.

I was looking more for an anti-freeze punch on the arrival at Heybridge’s ground which is just a five minute drive from Maldon town centre. I asked the taxi driver if there was much difference between Maldon and Heybridge, and he replied not a lot anymore although if you asked anyone from those places they would seriously disagree!

Whatever people say about Slough Town football club, one thing you can’t knock is the clubs level of away support. The last proper Saturday before Christmas, a two hour drive on a frostbitingly cold day, and yet there must have been 80 Rebels there, some worse from wear from Christmas parties, others at their first game ever. Ian and Kay’s new born Alfie making his first game despite being just a few days old. How we all eyed up his cosy blankets, wishing the Lathey’s all the best, but secretly wishing we were as wrapped up in swaddling out of the cold. And our payment for freezing to death? Hardly a shot on goal, and a deserved defeat, only the goalkeeping skills of Clark Masters keeping the scoreline respectable.

But while the supporters got back on the road, I went back to the hotel then off to dinner, with a very refreshed girlfriend saying we should plan more weekends like this around Slough Town fixtures. The Rebels next trip to Maldon though might prove a bit tricky, as it’s the week Zoë’s due to give birth. No doubt, some time in the future I will be joining the Lathey’s in swelling the Rebel ranks with our clubs youngest supporter.


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