After waking up to a light covering of snow on Saturday morning I made my way to Edinburgh Haymarket station to meet the others. There were five of us in total who were making this trip, all there with the sole intention of having a good day out and accompanying Pete (the only genuine Notts fan amongst the group) to what, at the time of the match being played, was their biggest game of the season.
We’d nervously watched the previous night’s falling snow in the fear that it was going to scupper the day’s plans, however, the chaos of previous weeks was thankfully not repeated and we were able to depart at the scheduled time. The first train merely took us a couple of miles along the line to Waverley where we then boarded the East Coast train down to Newcastle Central. This main leg of the journey allowed us to kick back and look forward to the day ahead and understandably the chat turned to football with some light hearted banter soon being directed at Sean, the sole Aberdeen fan amongst the group. Aside from Sean and Pete (colleagues) we were joined by Matt and Fraser who were, like me, Hearts supporters. This of course allowed us to bore the others stupid by reminiscing over past Hearts games and, of course, being utterly biased towards all thing maroon.
Sensibly we’d decided to give alcohol a miss on the journey down but we soon discovered the train was dry in any case. I suspect this decision had been made with Newcastle’s tie at Stevenage more prevalent in the minds of British Transport Police then five lads travelling from Edinburgh to see Notts County.
After arriving in Newcastle we made our way to the station bar to grab a beer and meet up with a guy from Dunfermline with whom Pete had made contact through Notts County mad. Once we’d met up with him and he’d established we weren’t nutters, we walked to what was previously The Sports Cafe on Grainger Street. The Sports Cafe was never a spectacular venue but it was ready made for the daytime, pre-sports-event drinking such as this, so I was dismayed to see it had become an identikit Weatherspoons venue. I suppose I have particular fond memories of this place due to it being used during a couple of meorable stag do's, including my own. Disgusted at the lack of multiple flat screens showing Sky Sport’s scrolling news feed we adjourned to O’Neill’s opposite Central Station to continue our chat over a couple of Guinness before jumping on the Metro and heading in the direction of the Stadium of Light.
During the 30 minute or so journey across Tyne and Wear Sean got chatting to an elderly(ish) Sunderland fan now living in Prestwick. He’d travelled down on the same train as us and he was able to give us a few pointers on where to head to for a drink. Upon reaching the stadium of light metro station we bid him farewell as he headed off to a fish and chip shop (you can’t get decent cod in Scotland apparently) and we opted for a pint in the pub he suggested, The Colliery Arms. We’d sussed out a few pubs thanks to a few internet searches during the week (none of which our friend seemed to be aware of) so we decided to play it safe and have a drink at the nearest pub to the ground, which also boasted an outdoor covered area housing a mix of Sunderland and Notts fans.
After a couple more drinks and a few songs whilst Pete sorted out a few logistical issues (he had arranged to meet his mate Gary who had driven up from Nottingham as well as collect some match tickets), we walked over towards the impressive stadium and entered through the turnstiles into the away end. The concourse of the away stand was buzzing with Notts fans all enjoying their day out (help along by the bar’s excellent selection of drinks!). Sean and I opted to grab some food at this juncture as well, there was a decent selection of grub available and Sean felt obliged to go for the Mega Pie option, we were both pretty intrigued to see what was so mega about it, only to find it was literally just a massive version of the pie of your choice!
Kick off time was fast approaching to Sean and I decided to make our way to our seats. After getting momentarily lost in Sunderland’s cavernous stadium and almost attempting to sit in the home area (the beer must be stronger in Sunderland) we found our seats next to Matt and Fraser (who had headed on a few minutes before us – the others were sitting elsewhere) and settled down to watch what we expected to be a fairly routine home win.
To be honest I can’t recall every detail of the game (I’m writing this over a month later), however, Sunderland looked like they were misfiring from the start and never really got into their groove. Notts on the other hand were treating the game like the massive occasion that it clearly was for them and displayed a hunger and desire far surpassing that of their more glamorous opponents. Indeed at many times during the game it was hard to tell the disparity between the two team’s league positions. Any off pitch competition was also won at a canter by those in black and white as supposed to red and white as Notts County had brought a fabulous travelling support with them who out sung the sparse home crowd for the duration of the game. I guess that’s often the way in these cup ties, games against premiership opposition is obviously a far bigger deal to County fans than a match against a League 1 side is to followers of Sunderland.
Sean commented whilst standing in the concourse at half time that the Notts fans were a great example of how you should support a team. I joked that their away support wasn’t quite like that every week (or at least it wasn’t at Carlisle earlier in the season) but he was entirely correct. Whilst some of the Notts fans weren’t exactly shrinking violets, there was practically nothing in the way of nasty behaviour (aside from the odd young high spirited wannabe casual) and it was refreshing to be surrounded by a support entirely unconcerned with some of the insular bigotries you can often encounter amongst the followings attached to some of the Scottish teams.
As for the game itself, County took a shock lead after the Sunderland keeper Simon Mignolet spilled Craig Westcarr’s looping cross before audaciously doubling their lead deep into the second half when the talismanic Lee Hughes finished from a tight angle and sent the travelling support into raptures. Notts County’s win was secured after a very nervy lat 10 minutes following Darren Bent’s converted penalty (and some amusing touchline antics from the then substituted Lee Hughes), however, The Pies were not to be denied and held on to complete a stunning FA cup upset.
After the final whistle (and the well deserved standing ovation) we exited the ground and met up with Pete and Gary back at the pub. To their credit any Sunderland fans we encountered were pretty decent and were ready to congratulate Pete for his team’s impressive showing. That said with the majority of Notts fans getting back onto the supporters buses and with Sunderland fans in no mood for celebration we had a lot more room in the pub post match. After a farewell to Gary who set off on his drive home and with our train departure time approaching we decided to head back into Newcastle and grab a drink at The Long Bar. The Stevenage v Newcastle game along with the roulette style drinks promotions kept us highly entertained (what, another round for free? Oh go on then!). Far too soon it was time to board the train back to Edinburgh, the train was once again alcohol free, but thankfully the journey wasn’t quite long enough to allow any hangovers to start forming like a dark cloud on the horizon.
All in all it was a great day out and a brilliant experience joining a fantastic support at one of the UK's premier sports stadiums.