Like any manager who’s spent a long time in the game, Neil Warnock has his own tried and trusted methods of working: coaching staff, scouts, players and carefully laid plans that he religiously puts his faith in as integral parts of his quest for success on the pitch. From the outset, a tour of Cornwall and Devon sounded like the best of ideas, both as a key early stage in pre-season preparations for the players and as an inspired destination of choice for a massive influx of Leeds fans, keen to satiate their needs for meaningful football action, sunshine and excessive alcohol consumption.
Thankfully, and rather unlike Danny Webber, Warnock’s conviction in his beliefs paid off gloriously as a week of pouring over TOMA rumours and scratching around for news on signings gave way to hugely memorable – at least, as far as drunkenness permitted – 7 days of fun in the sun, football and way too much Cornish Rattler…
So in a break from the relentless stream of cynicism, I present: ‘LUFC in Cornwall: The Tour Diary’…
Sunday 22nd July
My best laid plans for an early start are rather shot to pieces by failing to set the alarm and waking at 8.30am with the packing to start. A frantic operation of collating clothes, gathering key bits of information for the trip, like where I was driving to, and trying to piece together the whereabouts of certain bits of camping equipment then took place to the soundtrack of the ‘Leeds United’s Greatest Hits’ album… even in the midst of blind panic, I couldn’t escape the notion of just how awful a song ‘Football in a Yorkshire Rose’ is.
By 10.15 it was finally time to leave: Tent – CHECK! Clothes – CHECK! Tickets – OH FUCK!… back to the house – CHECK! Ready to go? Ah, wait… ‘Bates Out’ banner – CHECK! Parcel shelf Smurf – CHECK! Time to hit the road…
The journey down to Bristol was a pleasant affair, even the evil menace of the A42/M42 failed to slow progress. Refueled on junk food and E-number loaded carbonated drinks, I returned to the car at 2pm ready for the final stretch… Hmmm, final stretch; from an initial fleeting glance at an atlas, you’d swear that Bodmin was just down the road from Bristol, so on goes the satnav – estimated time of arrival – 16.45! There it was in all its LCD clarity, 2 hours and 45 minutes – Jesus Christ! Just add me to the list of hopelessly deluded Northerners with huge misconceptions about the proximity of Bristol to the heart of the West Country.
I finally arrived at 16.30 (to hell with the satnav and its draconian compliance with speed limits) and having set up camp, set about exploring the locality. The evening rather embedded my philosophy for sightseeing; rather than diligently research online, rely on blindly choosing destinations from a map or through twitter recommendations – very well it worked too!
Charlestown was the closest place to St Austell I could find and not a bad little introduction to tiny coastal villages; it also boasted the Rashleigh Arms – the first of many recommended watering holes. It was also the place where I first consummated my love for Cornish Rattler pear cider. I’m not typically a man who goes for the pear variety of cider, but wanting to literally drink in the local culture, I only had the option of that or the ‘cloudy’ variety – as I tend to go by the mantra of “If it’s not transparent, avoid it”, it was the only choice to make.
The second port of call was the twitter nominated fishing town of Mevagissey; another stunning late evening destination and inspiration for my idea to torment the housebound hordes who’d chosen to work rather than visit the South West for the week. The jealously laced reaction to the tweeted snaps ensured that I wasn’t going to relent for the remainder of the week.
Monday 23rd July
With the game not kicking off until 7pm and the need to drive necessitating that I stayed away from the pub for most of the day, a trip to Newquay beckoned. After being conditioned to resorts on the East Coast throughout childhood, it’s hard not to be a little overwhelmed by the Cornish coastline, especially the sea itself. The waters in this part of the world were something only really spied in Bounty commercials back in the 80s.
Newquay appears to have a dual identity, by day it serves the families and surfers, by evening, going on the appearance of the main town, it transforms into something akin to Magaluf. No wonder coffin dodgers appeared to be a little thin on the ground.
Come mid-afternoon it was time for the trek to Tavistock and one of the few undesirable aspects of the week – cyclists. Cyclists! F**king cyclists?! I’m not usually adverse to the pursuit, but what sort of sub-breed decrees it to be a great idea to spend an entire holiday cycling the narrow roads of Cornwall? Coastal paths, yes; I can understand coastal paths or any designated Sustran’s routes. But what sort of sadist gets pleasure from nearly killing themselves, embarking on a steep hill climb in the blistering heat, while a half-mile tailback of traffic, led by an increasingly irate 4×4 driver crawl behind them, awaiting for a passing opportunities? I’d personally like to ban caravanners from all minor roads during daytime hours…now there’s another for the list!
Tavistock itself was a welcome breath of footballing fresh air. First of all, on arrival I was guided by a chatty steward to the parking spots at the local primary school…oh and that’s free parking by the way! I was then directed to the ground where the clubhouse was serving beer and a barbecue had been laid on – I could get used to this!
The ground (it feels wrong to use the word ‘stadium’ in respect to homes of Tavistock or Bodmin) was as welcoming as expected. The beer was cold and the barbecue…well, that turned out to be a burger van, but let’s not split hairs, okay? Within minutes, Warnock had arrived, family in tow, revealing in part his motivations for choosing Cornwall as the tour destination. As he stopped to chat with supporters, sign autographs and pose for photos, the team bus pulled in and drew the crowds away. Was he on it?
As it was, Snoddy did disembark. Photographic proof of his presence was tweeted, the timelines went mental as the news spread and all was good with the world. As I returned towards the bar I encountered Leah and Liam for the first time; long term twitter associates and part of the match day crew who’d pay host to the drunken antics for the three upcoming fixtures.
While the most lasting first impressions of people are usually through constructed through their words, actions, personalities or maybe looks, Liam’s was in the form of his stomach – an object lesson in why sun tan lotion should be employed. His appearance of his stomach online caused quite a stir, even prompting one twitterbot to warn him of the very real dangers of him having contracted skin cancer…much to his concern. It was certainly a talking point and there was plenty of time to discuss it as the icredibly misguided decision to employ three bar staff was hopelessly exposed. “It wasn’t like this for QPR!” claimed the barmaid…it wouldn’t the last time we’d hear that during the week.
For the opening half hour, the game was a dire encounter, the kind where either something special or a mistake would be needed to break the deadlock. As it was, something almost inconceivable sparked the game into life; Aidy White ran on to a throughball, kept his composure and calmly slotted the ball past the goalkeeper – a real “I was there” moment!
That moment was the spark for the Whites to dominate the remainder of the match. Paul Green’s tap-in effectively killed the game as a contest on the stroke of half-time and as Tavistock tired, Leeds started to the rack up the goals; a very sharp looking Dominic Poelon scoring a superb fifth, moments ahead of slipping Zac Thompson through for a sixth in the remaining moments.
Tuesday 24th July
Open training session at Duchy College this morning. However, before that there was a small request to fulfil in Bodmin involving the ever present ‘Bates Out’ banner and the away dug-out… very worthwhile opportunity, I’d say!
Onwards to Duchy College; now I’m sure nobody was expecting something akin to Thorp Arch, but then again, discovering that a field within a field constituted the facility, was still something of a eye-opener. The arrival of the team coach is always a fascinating exercise, acting somewhat as a gauge to the popularity of individuals amongst the playing squad. It was noticeable that Danny Pugh, one of the first off the coach was able to make a totally clean getaway, straight down to the training pitch. You had to feel for poor Billy too; he looked up, more in hope than expectation on the off-chance that some kindly soul would call him over with a request for a photo or signature…but no luck. Off he trudged away, shoulders hunched.
One man who didn’t struggle was therobbierogers.com, he couldn’t possibly, for in Liam, he had his own superfan/stalker lying in wait, just hoping for that one cherished moment with his hero. He had come prepared: he was donning his own custom designed Robbie Rogers t-shirt and was now ready to reveal himself as the man who can’t let a tweet from the American master of metrosexuality pass without comment…
Remember the saying, “Be careful what you wish for”? Well, Liam got his wish, he finally spoke (he may have even slyly touched) his hero, revealing his devotion and his t-shirt, ready for the prized autograph – Robbie’s reaction? “Oh no!”
Seeing a man crushed is a discomforting spectacle.
The training session had been underway for 10 minutes before the call went out for Snoddy. He was still signing autographs on what must’ve been the most awkward of walks, knowing what was imminent.
Still, he wasn’t the last to show; Warnock again arriving with the family, cooly sauntering down during the warming up exercises, donning shades, resembling an aging Terminator on a Saga holiday.
Following some stretching, light jogging and passing exercises came the main event, the goals moved inwards for a game of 7-a-side as three teams alternated for the entertainment of the 400 or so spectators, who were sat around on the grass. Warnock officiated, passing on a mixture of praise and constructive feedback. “Don’t watch his eyes, Paddy!” he screamed as Snoddy came out on top in a 1-on-1 – his final goal in club colours.
After the exertions of watching others run about, the afternoon was all about exploration; while Carlyon Bay seemed to be a case of way too many steps for a beach blighted by way too much building work; the newly adopted strategy of relying on blind punts and twitter recommendations continued to pay dividends.
Fowey, was another fantastically picturesque harbour town offering a huge bay, a beautiful secluded beach and a castle… suddenly Whitby wasn’t seeming all that unique! Following a few hours there, it was onwards to Looe; the quickest way there was via the car ferry – a 60 second trip across about a 200m stretch of water for £3.50! That’s like nearly 6p per second…pah, Whitby does have a bridge at least!
That said, so does Looe, another stunning harbour town – yes, there are a lot of them! – a place also noticeable for its beach, a statue of a beloved seal by the name of Nelson (a regular visitor to the harbour for many years) and one rock that I was particularly fond of to the west of the bay…
I was so content sitting upon it, surrounded by the sea, drinking in the view, the disappearance of the rocks ahead rather passed me by as a sign that the tide was coming in; the journey back to dry land was rather hazardous.
Wednesday 25th July
Bodmin beckons; a long day of drinking! Time for another quick trip out first though; this morning Port Isaac: a tiny fishing village on the west coast and location for TV show, Doc Martin (apparently). It didn’t disappoint, albeit the regular stream of middle-aged couples in sensible walking shoes, each politely inquiring if I knew where Martin Clunes’ house was got a little tiring.
Having time to spare, I did intend to spend half an hour exploring the adjacent Port Gaverne, but a message informing me of Snoddy’s departure to Norfolk for talks changed all that. When a bar offering free wi-fi is yards away, suddenly the folly of holidaymaking is cast into perspective. It’s not how I ever pictured receiving such gutting news; I fully expected to find out one day while at work, or more probably see it suddenly appear on that ‘Sky Sports Breaking News’ banner on SSN – I grown to hate that banner; like a yellow conveyer belt, intent on delivering endless misery to Leeds fans, ‘breaking’ endless misery at that. Ah well, back to Bodmin – at least the ‘Bates Out’ banner will be in vogue!
The banner was to prove very much a welcome decoration, that is except with Wetherspoon’s big wigs; having arrived early afternoon to secure a prominent fence position, one of the junior members of staff was instructed to come out and request its removal – apparently at the behest of Head Office, who’d noticed it through the medium of the all-seeing security cameras. It was like being a part of the dystopian world foretold in George Orwell’s ‘1984’ – seems that he didn’t reckon on Bodmin being 28 years behind the curve.
Needless to say, as the alcohol consumption rose, the venue became ever livelier; a new request not to drink on the grass as it contravened the licence was met with a chant of “We’ll drink on the grass, we’ll drink on the grass, f**k you Wetherspoon’s, we’ll drink on the grass”, more football specific collection of takeover chants followed, including “Sheikhs in! Bates Out!” and “Oh, Sheiky, Sheiky, Sheiky”… to the tune of the ‘Hokey Cokey’… Eventually, cider fuelled bravado led to increasingly provocative posing with the ‘Bates Out’ banner in front of the security cameras before it eventually returned to the fence – nobody complained.
Asking for recollections of the match would be a fairly pointless request of a man who told those asking back at the campsite the following morning that the game had finished 2-0 (as opposed to 4-0); though hazy memories do remain of getting a prime position behind goal for the ‘Bates Out’ banner and Robbie Rogers’ refusal to pose with it.
A spot in front of the fence but behind the goal also became the perfect place from which to launch the “Andy’s going grey” chant, and for one of the party, a certain Matty Powell, to score a goal during the game, relieving the Bodmin keeper of the ball as he lined up a goal kick.
The post-pub journey home was certainly interesting. A seemingly short walk into town left a degree of misplaced confidence, fuelled rather by excessive alcohol consumption, about making the return also on foot. I would say walking 4 miles on predominantly unlit 60 mph ‘A’ roads at 11.30 is quite an experience, but compared to the final mile on tiny country lanes in thick mist, that was nothing.
Thursday 26th May
The one football free day, so time to hit the road and six destinations to do in 12 hours! First up Penzance, a bit like every seaside town used to be like in the 1980s (minus the raw sewage on the beaches back then), but with lots of pirate stuff.
To immerse myself in the history of the place I thought it only fair to call at one of the genuine pirate pubs; very authentic it was too, very convincing decor…shame about the Dirty Dancing soundtrack on the jukebox.
Next to Porthcurno, a tiny place that’s essentially a handful of buildings, a couple of beaches…oh, and an open air theatre, carved into the cliffs!
The beaches are quite possibly the best in the country and the theatre so stunning I even found myself wanting to stay longer through a production of ‘Romeo & Juliet’, even if a ginger bloke in a polo shirt who resembled Ron Weasley was playing the male lead.
Land’s End was what it said on the tin…the land kinda ended. It was noticeable, the scenery aside for seemingly concentrating every bit of tackiness I’d witnessed in Cornwall, compressed into the area of the courtyard. Sennen sat just a mile’s walk along the coastal path, offering a huge beach and ice cream to die for.
North then to St Ives…you know the score by now – stunning harbour, fabulous beaches… oh and lots of seals in the harbour too!
The evening finished with a dash further north to catch the sunset at Perranporth (another twitter tip) and a drink at a bar offering the best sea view of all (and there’s been some competition); the Waterhole on the beach.
I’m not sure there’s a better drinking experience to be found anywhere on these shores.
Friday 27th July
Farewell Cornwall, hello Devon, good afternoon Torquay.
It’s hard to develop an accurate impression of a seaside town when 90% of conscious time there is spent either in the pub or at the football, though it did strike me as a place where a variety of folk visit to holiday and where the elderly move to die.
There were certainly plenty of elderly around the harbour area where the latest Wetherspoon’s to play host to LUFC was positioned. As the fans chanted down from the balcony, ridiculing a Liverpool fan, an old dear in front of me was heard to say to her husband, “Look at them lot! Football hooligans; wankers the lot of them”… bless the older generation! It does appear that the coffin dodgers in Torquay are quite anarchic though as one shopmobility scooter riding Scum supporter proved, riding back and forth, air horn in hand, below the Leeds fans in an attempt to goad them. Eventually the beer showered down on him, but he still came back for more. Only when the police stepped in to caution him for driving the wrong way up the dual-carriageway did he relent. Apparently, according to one officer, he’s a local eccentric and “a pain in the arse!”
Sheikhs were again in attendance as the songs rang out across the seafront, “Paddy Kenny’s having a party, bring your vodka and your charlie” seemingly another newly established favourite.
As with everywhere else, the police were very friendly, one copper even helping to take down the ‘Bates Out’ banner on the bridge, while another helped Jo to put it up by the corner flag at Plainmoor.
The fans were in particularly good voice in the stadium – they had to be as they accounted for roughly three-quarters of the crowd – and after two fine strikes by Ross put Leeds in the driving seat, found the best way of keeping themselves entertained was chanting at each other in the adjacent stands. “Your support is f**king shit”, “Who the f**king hell are you?”, “2-0 and you still don’t sing” and the like finally giving way to a succession of Mexican waves that eventually took in the whole stadium.
During a more even second half, focus shifted to the famously touted barbecue at the manager’s house. “We’re having a party at Warnock’s house” was followed by a succession of chants that embraced an entire menu including, sausages and burgers, jelly and ice cream, Yorkshire puddings and so on; the chant then progressed to a sleepover, prostitutes… this could be the new “We all love Leeds”!
The remainder of the evening was spent at the other harbour side Wetherspoon’s (the one that doesn’t suddenly employ a dress code at dusk) watching the Olympics opening ceremony; it was a truly remarkable production, although you always felt that the sight of Ben Fry in a Macron jacket could’ve somehow taken it up another level.
Saturday 28th July
A time for a full English and a walk around Torquay to reflect/sober up ahead of the drive home.
In honesty it was a fantastic trip, one I’d happily take every summer. Off the pitch, the police, the stewards and the pubs (bar the Nazis at Wetherspoon’s Head Office) have all been superb while the support have taken every opportunity to make them seen and heard, all WITHOUT pissing off anyone in the process – result!
As for what I’ve learned about the players? Well probably not as much as I may have done sober, but Ashdown looks a very solid back-up keeper (though be aware, so did Rachubka at this stage), Paul Green has fared better than expected, Michael Brown is actually playing well, Aidy White can actually do something with the ball other than run with it, while Dominic Poleon put in some very decent cameos.
Off the pitch, only one piece of advice – remember the sun cream kids!!
Until next summer…