By Luke James
SUPPING searing hot tea under the warmth of four towering floodlights I was beginning to let myself feel a little nostalgic.
Work had taken me Liverpool and after a long day in a conference venue I thought what better way to spend the evening by popping down to Prenton Park.
Tranmere Rovers were hosting Stockport County and having arrived late I dived in the first turnstile I saw, finding myself huddled amongst 150 Stockport fans.
Dreaming that this could be the first step to the final of the Johnson’s Paint Trophy final in Wembley the traveling supporters were in good spirit as I joined the group.
Being part of that small following brought on my habitual longing for ‘the good old days’ of Cardiff City. The days when you were part of a small but loyal band of followers stood on terraces across England.
I even managed to become a little misty eyed over the LDV Vans Cup, the Johnson’s Paint Trophy’s predecessor. Two leg ties against fellow basement division opposition tested fan’s loyalty and Gavin Gordon’s five-goal-feast against Boston at Ninian Park all came flooding back. Lets not even get into the FAW Premier Cup.
Those were the days I thought.
And when a nearby steward made a confident but poorly advised prediction that the home side would get the win after their 4-1 weekend rout I was confident of at least a few goals for my three pounds entrance fee.
It started brightly enough with plenty of energy and passion going into every kick of the ball. The only problem being was that after about ten minutes you could have counted how many times the ball had been actually kicked on one hand.
And so the game continued in this frantic fashion. Header after header after header, the next no less enthusiastic than the last.
Pretty soon it was getting cold, windy and I would have given anything to be watching City’s destruction of Leeds again rather than the head tennis being served up at Prenton Park.
I think tonight was the reminder I needed of just how lucky I ought to feel that my club, Cardiff City, are playing their best football for decades. Indeed, this applies to Swans fans just as much as Bluebirds.
It seems that often South Wales’ football population is guilty of distorting history. I’m absolutely sure it’s not just me, but the painful move from Ninian Park to the Cardiff City Stadium and for Swans fans from the Vetch to the Liberty brought on a bout of choice memories.
But just like Cardiff’s visit to Leeds on Monday night it was a simple long ball that unlocked Tranmere’s defence for my adopted side for the night. The defender let the ball bounce, leaving County striker Wesley bearing down on goal with only the keeper to beat.
Stockport’s following rose to their feet in anticipation but with time to take a touch Wesley stabbed at the ball on the volley and sent the chance wide.
Both sides continued in a confrontational 100mph style. Stockport centre-back Rose was most guilty for hammering the ball away at every given chance with his wayward attempts to switch the play, reminiscent of Ashley Williams on a bad day.
The best news all night came on the 80th minute. “Stephen!” called an old man with a stick braving the elements in the front rows, “Is there extra-time?”.
“No straight to penalties”, came the reply. And so it did go straight to penalties. County missed two, Tranmere scored all four of their spot kicks.
Shuffling out into the Birkenhead night one Stockport fan turned to his friend and bemoaned having work at 3.30 in the morning.
I’ve no doubt that fan won’t learn his lesson and will be back for more, but I have certainly learnt mine.