Vanarama National League column – Awaydays

The Long Away Trip - by Luke Coulson of Ebbsfleet United 

In July, when the fixtures are announced for the upcoming season, players in every team immediately scan the matches. The dates of the heated, local derby, the league favourites and when a player will return to their former club are all quickly noted down. However, everyone in the squad keeps an eye out for the dates of the long, dreaded away trips.

Fortunately for us, the 400 mile round trip for our game against Macclesfield fell on a Saturday, not a Tuesday night.

After a short, sharp training session on the Friday morning, the bus was loaded up and the journey north started as usual. Staff sat at the front with the players behind in their usual, season long seats, which were simply pre-empted on the very first away trip. Coffee from the local Costa wafted down the aisle, the slow RnB music began, newspapers rustled, sweets emerged and laptops were switched on.

During a long, mundane journey, some aspects will never change. Some players will fall asleep; a few will intently watch the latest TV shows such as Power and Game of Thrones and the youngest player will have to make the hot drinks. An added constant occurrence is when I win the UNO tournament at the back of the bus, which is when I have the time between watching films and writing blogs.

The journey to Macclesfield took five hours and upon arrival at the hotel, room keys were handed out and every player arrived early for dinner due to hunger and the fear of a fine for being late. Towards the end of the meal, the sound of a glass being hit brought laughter to the room as it signalled an initiation song. Due to the tradition of every football club, our new signing, Antonio German, had to stand on a chair and sing to us. Antonio sang ‘Burn’ by Usher and it wasn’t a bad attempt. However, after my rendition of ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ by Rick Astley, he was never going to sound amazing.

Similar to our previous away trips, the rest of the evening and the following morning is then free time that our manager entrusts us to use wisely, to make sure that we are prepared for the game. On the day of the match, a team meeting is always held prior to our pre match meal before we depart for the stadium and the three o’clock kick off creeps ever closer.

Each football club is different to their approach of a long distance away game. It is not uncommon for teams to set off early on a Saturday morning or travel down via train. However, our gaffer, Daryl McMahon and his backroom staff want to give us every advantage of winning, which is why no expense is spared and every need is catered for.

Although our preparation was faultless, we suffered our second loss of the season and our first away defeat. The result kept Macclesfield top of the table as we now sit in 14th, only three points off a playoff spot. 

The journey home after a defeat is always miserable initially. Yet, as with a pre-match routine, every player deals with a defeat in their own way. Personally, I separate myself for a while, listen to music and self reflect on my own performance. However, it is important to make sure the journey home doesn’t remain a sombre affair as another game could be just days away.

The tedious journeys away from home make you appreciate playing in front of the home crowd that much more. Which is why, we might only be in October but I simply can’t wait for March 17th, Gateshead away.

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