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Behind the Scenes with Reno - Part 7: The Coach Journey

Behind the Scenes with Reno - Part 7: The Coach JourneyFor every team the long trips to away games are an opportunity for the team to bond, as they spend hours in each others company, and can provide some unique experiences, including pranks and initiations, but tractor rides and travelling with the fans are things that live long in the memory.

"I have always enjoyed a long away day, especially when you win. Meeting at 10 in the morning, seeing all the boys and knowing that you are all together for the next twelve hours is special. Boarding the coach, high fiving the boys, watching them settle down with their boom box, seeing the card school gather, whilst others sit in peace listening to their music, or their headphones on just taking in the journey. I always sit at the front of the coach with my staff. Even as a player I used to sit towards the front of the coach. I used to chat football to the manager and coaches, I was always keen to know what went on – I guess that was part of my learning however, as a manager, I feel it is only right that we give the players space and let them enjoy the journey. You can hear when you are sat at the front all the laughing and banter that is being generated from the back. You sit thinking, wow, if it is like this now, just wait until we win, and we are travelling back on a winning bus!

The lads get looked after while they are travelling. Pasta, fruit, coffee machine, bottles of water, football on the TV, free wi-fi, you name it, preparation is key, and they get looked after. We know the drill though, always tidy up, put your rubbish in the black bin liners provided – always respect the facility. The lads are great like that. To break up a long journey we usually stop off at a motorway services to stretch our legs, get a coffee and just relax but one of these breaks sticks in the memory, it was the season before last and we were travelling to Alfreton. What was about to happen was electric. Stockport County were going for promotion and unfortunately, we were at the wrong end of the table. We decided to stop for a break; we got off the coach and walked into the services – John England would always remind us, ‘No more than 20 minutes lads!!’.

Little did I know that a Stockport supporter coach had stopped off and a similar number of FC fans had decided to break up the journey. As we walked in a group of Stockport fans were hurling abuse at me, all banter and I took it in the right spirit. Then when we went into the main part of the services the two sets of fans were singing at each other – it was amazing! Needless to say, FC outsang them… Stockport went out singing that we were going down, however, they needed to leave as FC had taken over… a special view seeing the red remain where they were and the blue disappearing; back then, they knew that they might beat us at football but there was no way that FC were going to be outsung, in fact the volume of noise that we generated that day most definitely drowned them out! Fans and players alike, we love an away day!

There is one away day story that I will never forget. It was memorable for several reasons – it was that incredible that all the newspapers, social media sites and even national media wanted a bit of the story. I was assistant manager to Neil Crowe at Bamber Bridge at the time. During that summer we had signed some new players so like with every new team, the quicker they bond the better they will be! At this point, we had no idea that today was going to be one of the talking points not just of the season but of their careers!!

The first game of the season had arrived and when the fixtures were released there was always one I looked for – Scarborough away. I love the atmosphere and for the last couple of years we had been there and won. There was an ongoing joke: despite how good they were, they could never beat us. Steve Kitterick was their manager. I get on really well with Steve, but he didn’t like playing against us….. He was like, ‘You lot always raise your game when you play us’…. I know what that feeling is like now – everyone does it to FC!! At the time Scarborough were playing their home games at Bridlington. We knew today would be tough, however, it was even harder as we did not have Jamie Milligan, our influential play maker available. This was the day of his wedding. He was gutted to miss the game, but it was his wedding after all. He knew that none of the lads could go but a few of us had agreed to go to the night do. Although we would be late back, Milly was our mate, so we were all going to make the effort!

We arrived, a red hot day, first game of the season – no better feeling. We had taken a small band of supporters with us on the team coach. Players, staff, committee and fans. At the time we all travelled on the same coach and it was full! The game played out and the hoodoo continued. We did not beat them but neither did they beat us and it ended 0-0. A good away point to start the season against one of the favourites for the title. After the game we stayed in their club for a while. I had missed these days, nearly four months without an away day so we needed to enjoy this one, however, we knew we had to get back as we had a wedding night do to attend! Bit more banter from the Seadog fans and away we went!

We set off on the long A165 out of Bridlington. We were about ten miles into the journey home and the driver pulled over. The bus had been chugging for a bit, but I just thought it was because we were going uphill! We were in the middle of nowhere. The driver got off the bus and was looking at the engine. I sat there thinking, there is nothing to see, it was just fields left and right of us. We all sat there for about half an hour waiting for an update. It was red hot and you could feel people starting to get frustrated. To add to the misery, as the engine was off there was no air conditioning. Glenn Steele jumped off the bus to see what was going on then came back to us with an update. The driver had said there was an issue with the brakes, and we could not continue our journey. He said he had called the main office (all the way back in Bolton) and at the minute there were no replacement vehicles. Replacement vehicles? – we are over three hours away from home. ‘Are you telling us that we are here for three hours until a new coach gets to us and then we recommence the journey home…?’ ‘ I guess’, Steely said. I thought no chance, we will be getting home around 2am!!

We were due to stop to get some beers for the journey home. (This is customary after a good performance – but forget it if we lose!). We only had a few cans left… great, red hot, middle of nowhere, coach broken down and no beer. It does not get any worse!! Now, most footballers will know where I am going with this one. We have all rung our partners/wives in the past and told that little white lie – we are stuck in traffic so I will be a bit late home (really we would be stood in the bar having another beer after a win). I remember that day though, everyone calling home saying that we had broken down. You can imagine it now – ‘Oh yeah, that one again, what time will you be back then?’….’I’ve no idea, honestly, I’m telling the truth!!!’. However, today was real……we were stranded and by the looks of things, we weren’t going anywhere for hours.

I remember looking out of the window, thinking, there must be something I can do. I jumped off the coach and in the far distance, about half a mile away I could see a tractor. I thought, I will run to it to see if he can help us. I did not tell any of the lads what I was doing – I just set off hoping I could help in some way. By the time I had reached the tractor it was just pulling out of this field. I was only running to it to see if he knew anyone that could help us. Then, I noticed that on the back of his tractor he had a huge trailer which was carrying barrels of hay. The tractor driver asked what the issue was, so I told him. He said that the next village was about five miles north. He was heading home but could give us a taxi number – that was no good as reception was limited but also, how would we explain where we were… We had no idea. That wasn’t going to work.
‘Listen pal, I know this is a long shot, but I have a coach full of people back there. What are the chances of you tipping your hay out and taking the lads in your trailer to the nearest village? – we cannot stay on the road, it’s dangerous’. The driver said to me, ‘Sorry pal, there is no chance. If I got caught, I would lose my license’. I understood but was not giving up that easily. ‘We are in a remote area, we will all get in your trailer and keep our heads down, honestly, no one will see us and to make it worth your while I will get everyone to do a whip round for you!’. I could see the cogs in his head turning, ‘Please pal, I bet you could get £200!’. He was thinking, lose my license (if we got caught) or £200 tax free cash in his hand!! He said, ‘Give me a minute’. That was it, he started to tip the hay out of the trailer. ‘Listen, get in the back and keep your head down. There is a field opposite the coach, I will take you up there and you get the guys in!!’. WOW – what a moment. I jumped in the trailer. No one could see what I had done as I was in the distance. The tractor pulled up alongside the coach and I jumped up, punching my arms in the air. The lads were laughing, banging on the windows. I jumped out and ran onto the bus. I told everyone about the deal, but we needed to be so quiet as his license was at risk.

Not everyone took me up on my offer of getting in the back of the trailer. Some people were hoping that the replacement vehicle would arrive anytime. I had other ideas – let’s get to the nearest village and get into a pub. If we are stranded, we may as well try and have a good time!! All the players, management and some of the supporters clambered into the back of this trailer. I recall the trailer was high to get into and some of the fans were in their 60s/70s. There we were, giving everyone a leg up to get them in the trailer. I said to the lads, ‘Keep your heads down, no noise and we need to do a whip round for the driver’. I never actually counted the money in the hat but there were notes everywhere…. I think we smashed the £200 mark! We set off bumbling along the A175 in the sun without a care in the world. We were singing and laughing – I know we said we would not but who could stop us? We had a player called Paul Alexander (IP for Irish Paul). He could give the best rendition of Twist & Shout. He was sat next to me and I was egging him on – ‘Go on P’ (that is what I call him), ‘blast it out’. He went for it – if you Google this you will hear IP singing and us all joining in. It was amazing. A group of guys just having a good time. Now the sing songs had started. The dressing room at the time had a song – Station Road (it is the road that runs through the middle of Bamber Bridge) to the sound of ’Country Road’ by John Denver! We always sang it after we had won. ‘Take me home Station Road, to the place that I belong. We’re the Briggers, Fxxxxxx Legends, Take me home Station Road’.

By the time we had reached our destination we were in such a good mood. We all jumped out of the tractor, thanked the driver (had a picture with him) and waved him goodbye. Then IP shouted, ‘Oh my God, this is Fate, look at the name of the road we have stopped on’…. It was only bloody STATION ROAD!! How is that possible, middle of nowhere, back of a tractor and the road we have stopped on is the road we sing about!! That was it, by this point we were all singing, gathered outside this pub in a remote village. The chef, who was also the landlord, a guy in his sixties, came out to see what the noise was all about. I explained the situation. He said that there was only him on behind the bar, we usually only get about five customers per night so you will have to be patient. It was a tiny pub called the Robin Hood!

He was not wrong, I walked in and it was so small. There were only about ten seats and five of these was taken up by the regulars. I did apologise, saying that their usual quiet Saturday night might be interrupted! That was it, we were in. I called the chairman and asked if I bought all the drinks all night could the club pay towards it please – he agreed, though I think he was a bit shocked when I gave him a receipt for around £500 the day after!! I even jumped behind the bar to give the landlord a lift, there were a couple of free pints in it for me.

Footage of Neil and the Bamber Bridge team in the tractor

What a night, we must have been there three hours. We received a call to say that a replacement vehicle was on its way to get us. The supporters and committee members had waited for the vehicle to arrive – we told them where we were so we could be picked up. As we were leaving the landlord came over to me and thanked us all. He said that he had not had this much money in his till for as long as he could remember. He asked us all to gather around the bar and he poured us all a free shot….some were green and some were blue, I’ve no idea what it was but it tasted like it had been there since the early nineties when he took over the place - it probably had! Anyway, the locals had a good night mixing with the lads from Bamber Bridge! We grabbed some take outs, boarded the coach and away we went – I think we only got home around 2am, well that was back to the club, we stayed for a bit after that!

We were getting texts all night from different people asking what time we would be at Milly’s wedding……. Obviously we didn’t manage to get there!! Not sure if Milly believed us at first, if he did not then he certainly did the next day when the story had gone viral!! Who would have thought it, a football game away in Bridlington would end up like this – I doubt anyone could have predicted the script.

Read the Non-League Papers take on it - click here

Travelling home from Bridlington that day, I am not sure if anyone was in a fit state to complete their initiation. Basically, whenever a new player signs for a club there is always an initiation they must complete. This is usually a song of your choice and you must blast it out on the coach on your first away journey. This is good fun. Most of the singing happens at the start of the new season but if lads join during the season then the same rules apply. For FC United, this season was amazing – everyone who played that day had basically just signed so it was the initiation of all initiations!! I know the result didn’t go for us away at Grantham but this was the lads’ first league game away together. Pottsy organised it and one by one they came up to sing. A bit like the result, some of their songs were ones to forget.

However, Doyley certainly stole the moment. He came to the front and took over. I thought he was shy and quiet. He got onto the microphone, introduced himself and then ironically sang Country Road – a song that brings back good memories for me. It was unreal. The whole coach joined in. There we were singing and laughing. As he finished everyone rose to give him a standing ovation. This boy can sing!!

Other than initiations, the other common theme on away trips especially are pranks, I would only find this out as my non-league career unfolded. Whilst travelling on the team coach, stick to the unwritten rule…. If you are going to the toilet, make sure you keep your foot on the door so you cannot be locked in as the doors always open outwards because they’re such confined spaces.

There have been so many times over the years that I have gone and forgotten to keep my foot on the door. You finish, wash your hands and then attempt to get out. The door won’t budge. The problem is, you have no idea who is sat behind the door or what has been jammed in the way so you cannot get out. At Bamber Bridge, it used to be Ally Waddecar – you could never prove it, but you just knew it. You might be in there for ages, there was no point getting mad as you knew there was no way out. You just hoped that someone else was desperate to go and released the door for you. You would eventually get out and everyone would be laughing… By this point you had total ‘head loss’ but you knew that you couldn’t react that way otherwise the lads would hammer you even more.

Thankfully now I am a manager it has not happened to me – if it did then God help the person that did it, ha! On our team bus, the prankster is Jimmy!! He moves so quickly that although you know it’s him you can never 100% prove it – I know as I can see him doing it. Lads go to the toilet, lock the door behind them and then Jimmy rests his feet against the door whilst sat in the seated position! Jimmy releases it then in the blink of an eye, just like Spiderman, he is sat in his seat! Everyone is waiting for them to come out then as soon as they do everyone starts cheering! They say, really annoyed, ‘Who has just locked me in?’…that’s it, everyone is just howling with laughter – it never gets boring and always brings a laugh amongst the boys!! One game this season he had Mike Faulkner in there for over 45 minutes……Sorry Jimmy , I’ve just blown your cover, class!!

As you know, little Jack comes everywhere with me. The lads are great with him. Jack loves to sit at the back of the coach with the boys listening to the music and probably all the stories. He loves all the players but gets on so well with Griff, Ben and Doyley. We were on our way back from Basford this season after taking a good point against fellow promotion hopefuls and spirits were good. Every game I sit at the front of the bus and Jack will always come and check in every fifteen minutes. He does this on the way there and on the way back. However, today was different. I sat there thinking, Jack has not been down for a while. I best go and see if he is ok, I went to the back of the bus and Jack was nowhere to be seen. I asked the boys where he was, and they were all laughing. I’d no idea what Jack had said but he must have got himself into bother with them. I looked around then heard this little voice – ‘Dad, I am up here!!’. I looked up and realised it was Jack. They had only stuck Jack in the overhead luggage compartment. I remember looking up and saying ‘What are you doing up there?’. Jack could not stop laughing. By this point we were all in hysterics. I reached up to get him down but noticed that he was tied up. I think he was having banter with Griff, Doyley and Ben about their accents so they tied his shoelaces together and wrapped him up with masking tape and whatever else they could find. They must have put about 100 knots in his laces. It took forever to untie him. Jack loves that story and he loves the lads. I guess they are only preparing him for what will happen in years to come when Jack travels with his own teammates.

Finally, for me, all my career I have never travelled on a fans’ coach. However, at the end of my first season at FC United this was about to change. We know how the season panned out, but I recall some of the fans saying to me after a home game, ‘Listen Gaffer, what’s the chances of Chaddy and yourself travelling back on one of the supporters coaches from Brackley on the last day of the season?’. I wasn’t sure at the time – the season wasn’t going to plan and by the time the last game of the season arrived we could be relegated… I wasn’t sure if I would be welcome on a fans’ coach. However, I agreed, and the planning started.

We played Brackley away and despite us losing the game and already being relegated, the fans who travelled that day were amazing. I could not believe how many travelled, however, over time, these fans continue to surprise me…. This is their club and they will always support their team, home and away. I had already made the promise to the fans about the following season so if I delivered what I promised I thought they would give me time. The journey home from Brackley was incredible. The coach was packed and obviously everyone had been drinking for the duration of the day! The atmosphere on it was special. There were fans air surfing back and forth, the classic FC songs were being sung and everyone was joining in. The beers were flowing, and I tried to make my way around the coach to speak to as many supporters as I could. I just said the same thing to everyone I spoke to.

I don’t make promises that I can’t keep and I told everyone the same thing on that coach that day – we will come again and you will have a football team that will play the brand of football you want to see and a team that you can be proud of. I know that day I met a lot of friends. People did not need to believe me, but they did. We shared a beer and stories of the past, present and what the future will hold. Special things over my career have happened on ‘a coach journey’ and today was no different. That day will live with me forever. People who rightly doubted me at the beginning without knowing what was going on behind the scenes challenged me on the coach that day, and they were right to do so. However, through the conversations, I learnt that everyone I spoke to wanted to help me turn around the fortunes of the club. I was desperate not to let anyone down.

Twelve months on since that memorable coach journey I still recall the conversations I had with individuals and I know some of you have been open and honest with me about that same day. This day will live long in the memory… I can safely say that I don’t know any managers who have travelled back from an away game on a supporters’ coach, however, what I have learnt during my time with the club is….. We are FC and we’ll do it our way.

I’m sure that there will be many other special memories before it’s all over; you can’t beat the Saturday feeling of travelling away……Things I have explained could only happen on ‘The Coach Journey’."

Gaffer xx

First Posted ~ 00:17 Fri 29 May 2020
News ID ~ 8718
Last Updated ~ 17:00 Fri 19 Feb 2021