As long as my ailing body allows me to, I’m going to do football. Alas, in the main that means Oldham Athletic’s Boundary Park stadium, nicknamed Ice Station Zebra. Commonly perceived to be England’s coldest football ground. It is the highest in the football league.
Yesterday’s match nearly didn’t happen. Snowfall bringing treachery to the surrounding roads and making the referee ponder the sense of even playing the game.
In the end it went ahead. And the limitations of the blue disabled badge came to the fore. While most of the civilised world gives disabled drivers unlimited free parking in restricted areas, the U.K. limits them to three hours on a yellow line. This makes a pre-match drink at the ground more awkward as I can’t park on the street nearest without going over three hours. Worse still, much of the surrounding area is residents only parking. So the disabled wishing to stay over three hours are pushed further away. The local authority seemingly making disabled drivers walk further.
Yesterday there was also ice and slush on the roads and pavements. As I found my usual parking space for pre-match pint I was genuinely frightened walking to the ground.
At one point a relatively innocuous looking grass slope had me and my walking stick doing some sort of Bambi impression. Then it was a case of walking in the roads because pavements don’t get gritted. Even there, my fear of slipping was huge. And with clearly damaged right leg I’m fairly sure Oncobabe would be advising against such folly.
Eventually the joy of a staircase opened up to me. No ice. No damp. And I slowly made my way up to the hospitality portacabin that passes for a bar for the pre-match drink. Only to discover that while the room was open the bar wasn’t. At least not for half an hour!
It was bloody freezing. And the ice cold cider probably didn’t help my five layers and leather gloves keep the cold out. Eventually we made our way down the stairs and around the ground to enter the stadium. More ice. More difficulties. Genuine fear coursing through my veins.
In we go. Take our seats. And a few minutes later the evil chill of Ice Station Zebra is warmed by one of the best goals I’ve seen in a long time. The party went on and on with a 5-1 win recorded. The biggest league win in over a decade.
And, just before the final goal went in during the dying seconds of injury time, I came up with a plan. Exiting football grounds has been difficult. The crowds on stairways frighten me. The fear of being knocked to the ground high. As the game continued I hauled myself up, grabbed my walking stick and walked towards the exit.
Then turned into a safe haven behind the wheelchairs to see the glorious Latics score that fifth and final goal. For home games at least I can now move to a safer area before the masses clog the aisle, and still see the end of the game. A moment of triumph on a day of difficulty.
Then the tough walk back to the car. And a tasty Thai meal in a local restaurant.