Half past one Saturday afternoon, and I am standing in the kitchen when I am suddenly gripped by a familiar, irresistable urge. Two train journeys later I emerge 50 miles away in Huddersfield. After unsuccesfully asking directions of a goth, an old drunk sitting on a bench, and a life-size statue of the former Labour prime minister Harold Wilson, I find someone who knows where the football ground is. It turns out to be a super-modern construction reminiscent of a giant oval spaceship, plonked incongruously on the edge of the Victorian town centre, hidden behind a gasometer. Out of breath from running, I hobble up to the stands at 10 past 3- seemingly the very last supporter to arrive. A cheerful steward is on hand to direct me to the away end, and advise me that I've missed two goals already.
I negotiate the turnstiles and take my place among what looks like an impressive County turn-out. The bloke behind me confirms that Feeney had opened the scoring for Stockport, only for Booth to equalise almost immediately. Half-time arrives with neither team able to add to these early strikes, and I join the queue for the bar. I am just about to get served when a bloke turns to me:
'Here, will you give this pint to my mate?'.
I'm not sure who he means so end up wandering around the away area, proffering the plastic glass of lager usuccesfully to approximately half the County support, while the bloke at the bar shouts 'No- not him! Him! Over there in the white jumper! There! To Your Right!' Eventually he comes running across, takes the pint off me, and hands it to a bloke two yards away.
'Oh, him. Why didn't you say?'
This unscheduled diversion has at least given me the chance to build up at close hand a picture of the County away following. It is impressively diverse- as well as the usual gangs of lads out on the drink, there are family groups, long-suffering old codgers in twos and threes, and a smattering of trendy twentysomething couples. Everyone is milling about quite happily- very happily, considering their team is rock-bottom of League One and heading for certain relegation, come May, to the basement division. It seems the County fans have decided that if they are going to go down, they are at least going to enjoy themselves in the process. A certain gallows humour has begun to emerge. A young bloke is on the mobile:
'One-nil, up. One-one. We'll probably lose two-one. We usually bloody do'.
As the second half commences, this pessimistic prediction appears to be well-founded. Town have the upper hand, and when two County defenders leave each other to deal with a long ball humped forward, Abbott nips in to lob a second home goal. The Huddersfield fans come to life and begin to taunt the County faithful:
'Going Down, going down, going down!'
There is a moment's muttered conferring at the back of the away end before the reply comes back:
'So are we, so are we, so are we!'.
Perhaps spurred on by this display of repartee from the support, County launch an unlikely fightback. Feeney is sent racing clear after a bouncing ball into the goalmouth, and is pushed down from behind. Penalty! The prolific Ulsterman dusts himself down, gets up, and dispatches the spot kick with accuracy and venom. Five minutes later, incredibly, he does it again, scoring with a header after a corner is nodded on. The away end can't contain itself, and after jumping around in glee for fully five minutes, launches into a chant accompanied by a bizarre wide-armed hand-clap:
'Easy! Easy! Easy! Easy!'
And it is. Unfeasibly, the famously useless County are coping quite effortlessly with the attempted advances of the supposedly superior home outfit, and if anything look like notching a fourth. Stopper Dolan is winnning everything in the air, and winger Singh is a pacy menace on the break. The away support is extending its repertoire:
'We're shit, and we're beating you, We're shit, and we're beating you..'
But it can't last. County haven't gotten themselves pinned to the bottom of the second-from-last division without extending their own repertoire- of novel ways to turn victory into defeat. This week they give us an object lesson in Conceding Two Wonder Goals In The Dying Minutes. Mirfin eqaulises with a close-range bicycle kick, and just as we are taking that in, Ahmed puts Town ahead, latching onto a dropping loose ball and thundering home a twenty-five yard volley. The home fans waste no time in appropriating the bizarre wide-armed hand-clap. This time the accompanying chant comes with flat, West Yorkshire vowels:
'Easeh! Easeh! Easeh! Easeh!'.
But County struggle on manfully as the minutes tick away. Man-of-the-day Feeney goes down clutching his head after an aerial challenge. Hurst nearly breaks the offside trap but is flagged. The support keeps its chin up, and there is even a rendition of the club anthem- the only song everyone, including the trendy twentysomethings, the young lads out on the drink, and even the grumpy old codgers, joins in with. It is about a 'scarf of white and blue', and ends, rousingly:
'My Father Was A County Fan and my grandfather before
So I'll Wear the Scarf around my neck- the scarf my father wore!'
I join in as well, hoping nobody will point out that I come from five generations of unswerving devotion to Newcastle United. Nobody does (they are a polite lot at County) but as full-time looms, we have run out of songs, and our team have run out of luck. There is a goalmouth scramble, and the ball contrives to deflect off the knee of the previously impressive Dolan, and bobble into the empty net. The game ends, and as we make our way out past the gasometer it is only the Town fans that are singing:
'Oh Lancashire if full of shite- oh Lancashire is full of shite. La-la la la la la la la. Oh Lancashire is full of shite!'
In front of the train station the marble figure of the ex-Labour prime minister Harold Wilson frowns down at his modern-day townsfolk, embarrassed by their ignorance. A moment's perusal of any ordnance survey map would have told them it is not Lancashire, but Cheshire, that is full of shite. But very entertaining shite, all the same. At half-past 6 I am back home in my kitchen in Levenshulme, Greater Manchester, reflecting on a great day out in the town with a spaceship for a football ground, a lovely chicken balti pie for £1.50, and this final outcome:
Huddersfield Town 5 (Booth, Abbott, Mirfin, Ahmed, Dolan [og])
Stockport County 3 (Feeney 3, [1 pen])
Men of the Match: Warren Feeney (Stockport County) Harold Wilson (Labour Prime Minister 1964-70, 1970-76).