SDS Titanic – the life raft

Another tale from our trip to the Southampton game….

So, we limped into Fleet services ‘harbour’ and had two choices – stay with the ‘ship’ and wait for an hour until the AA arrived and then a 50/50 chance of being fixed or being towed back to Weymouth OR cadge a lift off unsuspecting travellers, stopping for refreshments and hope that they were not only heading to Wembley but also returning roughly back to the Weymouth area after the match.

Ralphie, our genial Legends Evenings organiser, recognised a couple of fellow fans from Weymouth, who just happened to have 4 spare spaces in their vehicle. Before you had a chance to say ‘Wenger in Wenger out’, myself, Ralphie, Pete and Modders said our quick goodbyes and bon voyages to those still in the minibus and then jumped ship. A slight air of guilt but it was a spur of the moment decision.

Having ‘bailed’ out of the sinking minibus, us four rats squashed into the Builders van and were back on the M3 Wembley bound. I had previously spoken to the ‘co-pilot’ a couple of times in the Royal Oak, our local where South Dorset Spurs meet, and the driver had seen me before but we had never chatted. The ‘rat pack’ where just so glad to be going to the game rather than missing a possible football history making moment.

We got to know our hosts well during the journey and found out that we had many acquaintances, so before we knew it, we were parked up in a school about 15 minutes for Wembley Stadium. On route we were keeping tabs on the other escaping rats and a further 8 had managed to hitch lifts. We had all been drinking since we started our initial journey just before 7am but Ralphie had made more of an effort than the rest of us and had emptied a bagful of ‘miniatures’ that he had received for Christmas less than 24 hours earlier and his nose was starting to resemble that of Rudolph, who by now must have been sleeping after delivering presents for 24 hours solid (Ralphie, ironically is a Postman). Not knowing this part of Wembley, myself, Modders and Pete took account of our simple bearings as we walked down to The Arch pub (later it was apparent that Ralphie was totally oblivious). After a swift drink we left our rescuers and agreed to meet them back at the van straight after the game. We took the first right out of the pub and Wembley Stadium, in all its glory, was in sight. We walked briskly to The Novotel to catch up with Punjabi Spurs, which is now always our last stop before games, had a very quick pint as time was short and then joined the masses heading up Wembley Way.

In the concourse we met a number of fellow ‘rats’ and exchanged stories over a hurried bottle of beer and then had the honour of Harry Kane’s hattrick being finalised right in front of us. So far so good – we had made it to the match and seen a piece of footballing history – all we had to do was follow our noses back to the van.

Our last words to Ralphie, who sits up in the posh seats, was to meet us straight after the game at ‘M’, one of the large posts around Wembley ideal for easy rendezvous. ‘No problems lads’ were his last pre-match words to us. We did not want to cause our host driver any delays, so as soon as the final whistle went, the three of us swiftly exited the ground and stood at ‘M’. 10 minutes later, as the crowds thinned out, there was no sign of Ralphie! We gave it a few more minutes but no joy!! I called him on his mobile ‘it’s alright I am already walking down the road with the geysers’ was his reply. After a few expletives, realising that we had wasted precious time, us three amigos set of at a fast pace, well as fast as Pete’s dodgy knee would let us, back to the van. Familiar landmarks coming into view, around a corner, there was The Arch pub, great, now 1st left and we were on the long straight road back to the car park.

On arrival at the van we saw our two hosts, looking slightly impatient as the queue out of the car park had built up, we apologised for being late and explained that Ralphie had jumped the gun and not waited for us. ‘Have you seen Ralphie?’ we asked expectantly but got a negative answer. Several more expletives later, I called our missing link. ’I’m in Oakington Road’ he replied and as the car park was in Oakington Manor Road we presumed he was nearly with us. 10 minutes later I phoned again – ‘nearly here yet?’ I asked – ‘No, I think I’m lost’ was the reply. ‘Have you past the pub yet?’ again a negative answer. By this time our patient hosts were not looking very pleased and said give it 15 more minutes and we would be leaving with or without him. Another call to Ralphie – ‘Have you past the pub yet? – ‘No (with several expletives) I am in HA9’ was the reply which is the generic postcode for most, if not all of Wembley. By this time, we were slightly worried for Ralphie and thought that if the van did leave without him he would not get home that night. ’I keep asking directions but nobody speaks English’ came a message over the phone from an inebriated man with a very slurred Dorset accent, ‘I am still in HA9 and heading for the Triangle!’. We presumed and hoped this was part of Wembley and not a strip joint! All this time we had been trying to get his location using our mobile phone maps without success. The phone rings again ‘I am near Wembley Park’ said the panting stressed voice. At last, like a missing crashed plane, we located him. He could not have walked further in the wrong direction if he had tried, like a homing pigeon on acid!

Luckily our driver saw the funny side and I told Ralphie to keep walking to The Torch pub (we generally park there on match days and Ralphie has managed to find it in normally a worse state than today’s effort). ‘Once you get there do not move’ was the hopeful instruction.

I had The Torch postcode on my phone so put this into the Satnav – estimated drive time 19 minutes! We joined the almost depleted car park queue and followed the electronic instructions – not too far to go but we were now deep in footy and Boxing Day sales traffic. Several calls followed from Ralphie asking impatiently where we were – the irony passing right over his head. Eventually after a lot of cursing from our driver at the driving antics other motorists and a total of 17 phone calls, there was Ralphie – a sight for sore eyes and very embarrassed consciences all round! Countless apologies slurred from our newly found rat until he fell asleep on our way down the M25. At Fleet Services we heard all the excuses – mainly that nobody in Wembley speaks English and no fault of his at all.

Not only had we been fortunate to commandeer a lift to Wembley, by pure chance, our chauffeurs were going back to Weymouth and were ending their journey at The Royal Oak – so, on our arrival, we stayed with them and bought many a round to compensate them for their hospitality and more importantly their patience. Did our ‘lost but found soul’ Ralphie join us? No chance, he had the cheek to ask the kind hosts to go miles out of their way to drop him off in a small village in the arse end of Dorset!

In all, 12 of the original 16 SDS travellers saw the game and managed returned back to Weymouth and some further flung places such as Bournemouth and Wincanton and then relied on friends and family to pick them up to make the last leg of a tiring day. The four Captains who stayed with the sinking minibus got towed back to port in Weymouth just in time to miss the end of the game on TV. For those brave fellows we doff our Nike bobble hats!

Three cheers for the SDS – our new motto ‘Una enim erit illic’ (defectis ad mechanica ipsum subiectum et inmunditia)  – ‘Together we will get there’ (subject to mechanical failures and excess alcohol).

Tony Baylis

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