Like most married men, Valentines Day’s arrival every year in a pain in the arse. Surely we do enough to show our love to our wives/girlfriends (and husbands/boyfriends – let’s not forget many women are fans of TBIR too) without having to go overboard on one particular day. So I am about to shatter a myth which will have you re-assessing your thoughts on the 14th February. It transpires that when the Shaftesbury Memorial Monument was built in 1893 to commemorate the work of politician, philanthropist and all round good egg Lord Shaftesbury in Piccadilly Circus it is not that of Eros sitting a-top the structure firing his arrow of love but of his identical twin Anteros. You see Eros was the sad lonely lovelorn character, whilst his brother was the God of Requited Love. He is the one with the bow, firing his love arrows at people in need of some TLC or happy endings, whilst Eros was banished to Lillywhites.
If Greek mythology is your bag then you will know that Anteros, with Eros, was one of a host of winged love gods called the Erotes, the ever-youthful winged gods of love, usually depicted as winged boys in the company of Aphrodite or her attendant goddesses. Good work if you could get it, flying around as an ancient porn baron if you please. If it is not, let’s talk about Leek Town.
Leek and Valentine’s Day – two odd bedfellows. Or are they? Some eighteen years ago, The Current Mrs Fuller and I headed off on our first ever holiday, destination Leek. When I say holiday, of course I mean a weekend away. These were the days before I knew what a ground hopper was, let alone whether anywhere I went had a team and CMF was still a young and innocent schoolgirl. What attracted me to her you may wonder? Apart from the fact I never had to ask her to dress up as a schoolgirl, it was her A-reg Ford Fiesta. Did we have some adventures in that car I can tell you. But on this trip we stayed in a farm house just outside Leek, with the snow fluttering down outside. I had set a high romantic bar for years to come. The weekend ended with my bravado of trying to drive her car through a ford despite warnings that it wasn’t suitable. Of course it wasn’t and a two hour delay whilst I found a farmer with a tractor didn’t exactly fill our room with love that evening.
So this year, after being on a different continent for most of the past two weeks, I decided to get all nostalgic and take her back to the wonderful Derbyshire/Staffordshire borders for the weekend. I had planned it to perfection. A trip to a spa on Saturday afternoon, followed by overnight in The Retreat, which is described as:-
“The cosy, 2 bedroom cottage has been refurbished to a high specification. The main double bedroom has an en-suite bathroom, which comprises a Jacuzzi bath and shower, and the second bedroom, also with its own en-suite, is suitable for single occupancy. The kitchen is well appointed with oak units and granite work surfaces, wi-fi throughout and the lounge has a 42” plasma screen tv with Sky fitted for your enjoyment.”
What they failed to mention though was it was 220 yards, or 2 minutes 33 seconds walk from Harrison Park, home of Evostik Division One South Leek Town. And would you believe it, they were playing at home on the very day I had booked CMF into the Spa for two hours on Saturday afternoon. Unbeliveable Jeff. Romantic, yet selfish one one breath. As CMF loves to say, “You really are a catch aren’t you” (Note: she normally says this when I have done something wrong and tried to cover up a major indescretion with a cup of tea/biscuit/petrol station flowers).
I did tell her the lucky co-incidence on the way up. She seemed so interested in my run down of Leek’s history that she plugged in a microphone to her iPhone to record my musing – that or she was actually listening to some music, but that couldn’t be true? Leek had once played at Wembley (1990 FA Trophy Final) – “Nearly as much as West Ham then” was the cutting remark to that one. They once reached 19th place in the now Blue Square Bet Premier – “Oooh, you mean they once became the 111th best team in England”. You can’t fault her maths can you. They average about 240 at home – “So my non attendance isn’t going to break the bank then is it?”. So she had confirmed she didn’t want to come then. And finally, when I told her they used to be called the hilarious Leek Lowe Hamil she simply shook her head and looked out of the window as the passing lorry drivers on the M1.
What could go wrong? Well how about the coldest start to February since records began? Fixtures were falling left, right and centre. It would have been too easy just to not go and resort to those petrol station flowers to celebrate Valentines Day but I am not a quitter. I am Spartacus! Well, sort of. We carried on across the snowy tundra of Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and finally into Staffordshire. It is not all about football, right? (ED – So why are you writing about this on a football blog).
Leek Town P Stamford P – Harrison Park – Saturday 11th February 2012
As we headed west I kept an eye on what games were falling by the wayside. Things weren’t looking good for the Leek area. Port Vale and Macclesfield Town, the two closest league teams to Leek had given up any hope of playing 24 hours before. Early on Saturday Matlock Town and Mickleover Sports conceded defeat to the wintry conditions. However, Leek Town was still holding out. As a good boy scout I also had a reserve option lined up – Chesterfield v Charlton Athletic.
Technically I am no longer a member of the infamous 92 Club. Whilst the club has become a bit more liberal these days, and even now has a website would you believe, some of their rules are nonsensical. I actually stopped being a member some years ago when I vowed that I would not be visiting Carlisle United any time soon after they were repromoted to the Football League some years ago. No disrespect to my Cumbrian cousins but it is a long way from the South East of England and I still have the mental scars of visiting them during the Mervyn Day era. So having visited Saltergate on numerous occasions I wasn’t falling over myself in planning a trip to the new B2Net stadium which they moved to last season. It was so similar to a host of other grounds around the country (ditto my only other omission from my list, Morecambe’s Globe Arena) that it wasn’t compelling enough to make me want a special trip. However, it was perfect as a back up should the weather take it’s toll.
Saturday 11.15am. Despite temperatures falling to a very chilly minus 15 in the East Midlands both Leek and Chesterfield hadn’t called their games off. But then I got the familiar vibrate on my phone to signify a new Tweet. I am fond of saying in my Social Media presentations that you no longer have to go looking for the news, it finds you thanks to the likes of Twitter. And here was the perfect example. Both Leek Town and Chestefield had been forced to cancel their games.
I kept a stiff upper lip and said to CMF that today was all about us and there was no football distractions. She of course completely believed me. “It’s been cancelled hasn’t it?” I forget sometimes that she is a genius and has known me for nearly 20 years. “Technically yes, but it was only a diversion for our weekend away” was the only response I could give as we made our way across the snowy tundra of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
We stopped off at Rainsworth Miners Welfare FC and Mickleover Sports just to make sure they really were telling the truth about being off. The lush white carpet of snow at both seemed to back up the truth. At Mickleover the chairman even came out to greet us, assuming we had come from Buxton and didn’t know the game was off. “After all” he said ” why else would anyone come here on a non-match day”. Exactly….I got back in the car quickly.
Eventually we reached Leek and it would have been rude not to double check the pitch there. Alas the thick blanket of snow there with just two sets of footprints on the pitch suggested a pitch inspection had been swift and conclusive. And then I had an idea. I had a ball in the back of the car. Why not pretend the game was played with a kick around on the pitch between CMF and me? I’m not exactly sure what my wife actually said but it I definitely made out the words “going to the pub” in their amongst some expletives.
So we retreated to The Retreat no more than a goal kick away. A fantastic little cottage with a huge TV and a Wii….hold on – there was a copy of FIFA 11 there too. Second great idea of the day arrived – let’s play the game on FIFA!
It took me a good 3 minutes to catch her up walking swiftly up the hill into the town centre. Apparently it was a silly idea and it was never going to happen. Still she started to warm to the idea over a couple of Crabbies in the Black Swan whilst we watched the football world implode over a single handshake, or lack of one.
Football took a back seat for the rest of the day as we shopped, ate and drunk. The drinking was very enjoyable as we stumbled upon Den Engel, a pub with 53 different Belgian beers. The bar was run by a couple, according to Tripadvisor, were the Northern equivalent of Basil and Sybil Fawlty. They didn’t disappoint, frowning when someone asked if they could sit at their table in the bar to have their drinks. It was Saturday night at 10pm and they were sitting their in cardigans and matching slippers reading the weekend supplements. How inconsiderate. We toyed up the prospect of a trip to a nightclub, but Google didn’t fill us with confidence with the following review on the Knowhere Guide for Leek.
“Only go to these places (night clubs) if you want to take the piss out of the inbred locals; Don’t let them anger you – just laugh at how they think their nightlife is fantastic” Harsh.
There was also the Winking Man, that apparently had the highest function room in England at 1,500 foot above sea level but it closed at 12 so it wasn’t worth the trip out of town.
So we stayed in Den Engel and after a few De Koninks, some Tournay Noires, a smattering of Blanche de Bruxelles and topped off by a Franck Boon Kriek and Framboise we gingerly headed home, down a very steep hill which had a nice coating of ice. But we made it home and CMF was so chuffed with a “lovely day” so far that she said we could do whatever I wanted. She was eyeing the big jacuzzi in the bathroom. I was eyeing the FIFA11.
I set the weather conditions to snowy. I was Leek Town, although obviously EA Sports had neglected to include the Evostik League One South teams (an oversight surely that will be rectified in this year’s version?), CMF Stamford. The all blue kit of Everton doubled up as the home side, whilst the all red of Swindon Town represented Stamford.
The game wasn’t a classic. In fact after just 4 minutes I heard the familiar sound of a bath running upstairs as CMF had thrown her controller to the floor in disgust at my over physical tactics (on the game of course) which she deemed were “unnecessary” and going unpunished by the virtual referee. By this stage Ben Nixon (aka Tim Cahill) and James McCarthy (Louis Saha) had both scored for the home side. I played on until half time passing the ball around the back four, trying to tempt the Stamford players into coming forward. I heard the taps stop, the low hum of the jacuzzi starting and the music start. Let’s face it, Stamford weren’t going to come back from the two goal deficit so the game was abandoned with the Northern League immediately decreeing that the result would stand despite only 45 minutes having been played.
You see it isn’t always about football. Sometimes life needs to take priority over the beautiful game, well anyway for that two week period we seem to get every year when the weather decimates our national game. Normal service will be resumes next week I am sure, by which time I will have reminded CMF what a great husband I am for taking her away for a romantic weekend in the Peak District. Time is a great healer.