Get away! Tales and travails of the travelling football fan

Image of sign for visiting football fans
"Woah! We're going to watch the football"
"On a corporate invite? Secretly hope for a 0-0 draw. Losing is doubly humiliating, because you have to make nice with your hosts" Michael Taylor, Blackburn Rovers supporter
  • | by Neil Tague

Let’s hear it for visiting fans.

Away travel is an integral part of English football culture, one of the things that make it so special.

Atmosphere suffers without the visiting hordes. And as most of us ultimately follow a losing team, we travel in hope rather than expectation, so the away-day has to be about more than what happens on the pitch. Let the good times roll.

However, there are perils and pitfalls of varying kinds that can trip up the unsuspecting travelling supporter. We’re here to help…

Getting there

Image of view from terraces

Image: Jon Candy

The easy option is your club’s official coach, but this can be painfully dull. But then we’ve all had the mini-bus from hell, as Oldham fan Darryl Cornick recalls a cup replay at Leyton Orient.

“We booked a self-drive through a firm called ‘Mystery Motors’ – which should have warned us. After the inevitable breakdown, we made a phone call trying to convince Orient there were three coachloads of fans stuck in traffic, without whom the game couldn’t possibly start, which fell on deaf ears. Worth a try.”

Trains can also be fraught. Leeds fan Paul Robinson takes up the story: “August 1997, and Leeds United are away to Sheffield Wednesday midweek. A train after work should get us there in plenty of time, right? Wrong. Somewhere outside Rotherham, we grind to a halt and the news came we'll be stuck for a fair while.

“Glances were glanced, nods were nodded and before you could say 'shut that door' a small army of Leeds fans was swarming off the train, over the tracks and towards a nearby retail park. There I accosted a shopper returning to his car and offered him 20 quid to drive me to Hillsborough. Only slightly alarmed, he accepted and we arrived in time.”

We remind you at this point it is an offence – not to mention daft – to scamper about on railway tracks.

At the match - but in the wrong place?

Image of turnstile for away football fans

Image: Neil Tague

What if you can’t get a ticket in the visitors’ end? Everton fan Mark O’Brien has a cautionary tale: “Everton were playing at Birmingham and we’d travelled sans tickets for the away section. I was nominated to do the honours. Somehow the girl in the office didn’t bat an eyelid at my Pipkins accent – with hindsight this probably engendered a false sense of confidence.

“Going down early for a half-time drink I couldn't help but notice a group of moody-looking fellas in the time-honoured, alarm-bell-ringing Stone Island aggro-jackets. ‘Slasher macs’ as we thought of them.

"Undeterred, I asked the student behind the bar for ‘throy points of lager ploys moyt’. On returning he smiled, leaned in and quietly whispered: ‘Your secret’s safe with me, Scouse'."

Eek! Even in the posh seats, tread carefully, warns Blackburn Rovers supporter Michael Taylor. “On a corporate invite? Secretly hope for a 0-0 draw. Losing is doubly humiliating, because you have to make nice with your hosts.

"Winning can be worse as you can show no real emotion. Securing promotion on the last day of the season, then running on the pitch at the end, in a suit, though. That's bang out of order. *innocent face*.”

Colours on show?

Image of Arsenal away fans celbrating

Image: Kieran Clarke

Should you wear your team’s colours? It’s entirely up to you, but these days you should be perfectly safe from violence - although it may leave yourself open to 'banter' which is, in many ways, worse.

Colours can even help you meet like-minded souls, with whom taxi fares can be split. 

If you wish to show your support with a display of pageantry that would put the Curva Nord or Borussia Dortmund’s ‘yellow wall’ to shame, take care advises Taylor.

“I spent the thick end of £200 on an 5ft x 8ft embroidered flag with a suitably witty slogan, rather than a Liverpool fan-style quote from Gladiator. At home games it's banned for obscuring a message promoting payday loans, but at away games it looks ace. Except at Blackpool, where I'm told it needs a 'fire safety certificate'.”

‘Elf ’n’ safety, eh?

Please drink responsibly

Image of football game

Image: Chris C

Readers of a nervous disposition may wish to look away now: Man City fan Christie McDonald has a tale to tell.

“I’d got in late from a gig (er, and a club) so the last thing I needed when the minibus to Southampton arrived at 5.30am was a bottle of cider, followed by several more,” he recalls. “Then a few in the hotel bar before the 5.30pm kick-off. I woke up for the trip home on Sunday sweating and with pins and needles in my face. The worst six hours of my life followed. There wasn’t a second when I didn’t think I was going to be violently ill.

“Close to home, it all went wrong. Whether I’d subconsciously relaxed I don’t know, but I realised I was going to be sick. I looked around. No-one was looking. I whipped the hood off my jacket, tugged it to the side and vomited into it.

This was a situation life had not prepared me for. As I weighed up my option I heard a voice behind me: ‘You alright, mate?’ In a moment of blind panic I put my hood back up: ‘Sound ta, pal.’ Well I wasn’t really was I?”

Wrong place at the wrong time?


Image: Jon Candy

Unfortunately, there are numerous tales of fans who’ve happened to be in the same place as ne’er-do-wells, leading to the serving of a Section 27 order.

Similarly, you can find yourself being ‘kettled’ if it looks like trouble might arise.

There’s not a lot you can do, other than avoid matches that look like ‘trouble’. Should anything happen which you wish to make a complaint about, contact the Football Supporters Federation, who will advise you.