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Hilly’s Away Days: On tour in Newquay with Chester FC

Hilly's Away Days

HILLY’S AWAY DAYS: Steve Hill surrounded by all his friends as Chester visited Newquay this week. Picture: Chas Sumner

“I can certainly recommend the haddock…”

Chester FC joint manager Anthony Johnson is sat outside a chippy with fellow boss Bernard Morley. They have recently disembarked an eight-hour coach journey from Chester to Newquay (calling at Walsall and Gloucester, services fans).

The team will be based here in Cornwall for the next five days in what is the reformed Chester FC’s first ever pre-season training camp.

I’ve also embarked on a similarly gargantuan odyssey, employing a six-hour one-stop strategy from London in the car.

Likewise, it’s my first ever pre-season tour, with those undertaken by Chester City back in the day always financially or geographically out of range. Those who did go relate legendary tales, now consigned to memory, with little in the way of photographic evidence to suggest they ever happened.

A gaggle of fellow Chester fans has been equally enthused by this seaside jolly, arriving in the town via a series of planes, trains and automobiles. One bloke has even flown over from Toulouse. With some of them watching a light training session on the pitch at Newquay AFC, by the time the fans forum commences in the bar we must be 25 strong.

Nevertheless, having come this far there is very little in the way of questions apart from “Can I have a trial?” from one hapless lad who has quit his job to be here. Indeed, it falls to Morley to ask Johnson, “Gaffer, where do you think we’ll finish this season?” to which Jonno responds, “I think we’ll win it.” That’s legally binding, then.

A tour of the Newquay nitespots commences, where Bernard beats Jonno at table tennis in a deserted Walkabout, and Jonno abandons his Dad in a foul smelling sweatbox called Whiskers.

We settle on an outside table in a central pub, where the management join the fans in a series of anti-Wrexham songs, guaranteed to engender goodwill. Leaving them in a nearby kebab shop, I eventually crawl back to my sordid grief hole.

Match day is upon us, with the Chester following now numbering a hundred or more, hugely impressive figures given the remote location. Newquay AFC have been immensely hospitable, although nobody seems to have told the players.

Following a crunching challenge from an elaborately coiffured number six, I remind him that it’s a friendly, to which he turns round and barks, “No such thing as a friendly.” As if to confirm this, a similar incident occurs near the dugout and Jonno politely informs the offending player that he needs to relax.

As for the match, an early Newquay penalty is saved, prompting Chester to wake up and deliver a resounding 9-1 victory. This is celebrated long and hard into the night, with the holiday vibe encouraging the integration of fans who have stood next to each other for decades without uttering a word.

It’s a different kebab shop tonight, and I arrive at my grief hole to find the door locked and my phone dead. Scrawling down the night porter’s number, I frantically pace the streets and amazingly find a working phone box: minimum fee, 60p. In.

Wednesday is designated downtime for the players, who emerge from their Travelodge as an earsplitting rendition of the Rocky theme tune practically stops the traffic. Bringing up the rear is ripped midfielder Gary Stopforth, pacing deadpan like Tyson Fury.

It takes a few seconds to realise that the music is emanating from the enormous speaker he is carrying. On the beach, other themed selections include ‘Enter Sandman’ by Metallica and ‘Closing Time’ by Semisonic. As a pièce de résistance, Stopforth runs to the shore with the Jaws theme blaring, bellowing, “Get out the water!”

With the newly unemployed fan having missed his flight and now being used as a human bottle-opener, other activities include attempting to kick a ball over a cliff, which may or may not contribute to the loaf-sized rock that lands inches from my head. After Bernard is attacked by a crazed woman, they dissipate to the bars of Newquay.

Swerving the morning beach run, I head home and promptly spring a puncture. Where to next year, gaffer?

By Steve Hill

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