When I think about my youth and travelling to away matches, the mighty transit van is at the forefront of my thoughts.
Back in the 70s and 80s, following Newcastle United around the country was a real adventure.
Maybe it was like that for fans of every club but all I know was that it was definitely a mad mad time to be a Newcastle fan and you lived for the excitement of away games.
Like so many other things in life, going to an away match these days is so (overly) organised, formal, planned so far in advance and…boring!
When I say boring, obviously it is still a laugh – away with your mates and having a few beers, watching the team…but not a patch on what went before.
These days your average away fan will go on the train, or in their car, or a choice of luxury coaches fitted with toilet and dvd player etc, plus will have arranged their ticket usually weeks in advance.
When I first started going to aways, your average punter’s car (if he had one) would have struggled to make any kind of decent length journey, the coaches were basic to say the least and if you went by train they tended to be the ‘football specials’ which are a whole different story on their own, best left for another day.
Talking to my teenage son the other day, I had to explain the delights of the transit van, the transport of choice for so many back in those heady days.
Pretty much everybody knew somebody, who knew somebody, who had a transit van.
More often than not it was the works van which was driven to and from and used for work Monday to Friday and which then became match transport on a weekend.
If somebody was up for taking their work transit van (trips to clubs in Yorkshire and Lanacashire were the ideal range), then word would go round.
No pre-booking travel tickets, you just said you were going, often after a few drinks in the pub the night before, or even just turned up in the morning wherever it was going to be leaving from.
The thing is, whoever’s van it was would be driving, so they had their comfy seat, plus the more people that were crammed in the back meant everybody paid less for petrol.
There was usually room for two very lucky people to sit in the front alongside the driver and then every man/boy for himself in the back.
There were no ‘seats’ as such, though the better ones had a bench down either side which was a big improvement on those that didn’t.
In those ones it was a case of sitting/lying on the floor as comfortable as you could get in the circumstances, or maybe the odd lucky one would get to sit on the wheel arch – either way, it was advisable to try and find something to soften the journey…though the biggest help in reality was always alcohol.
The youth of today are probably reading this and thinking it sounds like a bit of medieval torture, which to be fair at times it was…
However, it was all about catching the moment, doing stuff on impulse, just deciding on the morning of the game to go and a few hours later you were paying in at the turnstile at Old Trafford, Anfield, Elland Road, Hillsborough with maybe ten thousand others.
The old fashioned terraces mirrored the transit van experience; often getting thrown around all over the place, invariably no decent view but what an experience!
The atmosphere, the excitement – you really did have to be there to appreciate those now long lost days.
Raise a glass to football as it was….and the humble transit van.
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