Sometimes, being an exiled Bluenose makes you feel exactly that – exiled. You tend to miss things that people at home take for granted. Banter in the street, the feeling of superiority after a derby day win, the idiotic ramblings of the TalkSPORT pundits, the genius of Jeff Stelling’s over dramatising Liverpool’s demise. Sure, it’s easy to follow things like this these days with the wonders of modern technology but most people aren’t at their best at 3 AM in the morning and Jeff Stelling – as good as he is – just doesn’t cut the homesick blues when you’re pining to be at St Andrews, and in Birmingham itself.
With that being said, there’s also a sadistic satisfaction to following Blues from Australia. I proudly announce to people that I haven’t missed a Blues game since I arrived in October 2008 and from a sports-mad country like Australia, I still get raised eyebrows and a look that says “We really can’t compete with you ‘soccer’ fans.” People here, no matter what they may tell you, do not love sport as much as English football fans love their clubs. Part of this satisfaction came over the Christmas period for me. I felt as though I’d done my duty as a Blues fan and could justifiably claim to be as involved in the club as anyone who had been sitting in the Tilton against Chelsea on Boxing Day.
My story starts many weeks before Christmas when it was decided that for a week after Christmas, I would be visiting Melbourne with Mrs Aff and Mr & Mrs In-Law Aff. We’ve regularly been on roadtrips together over the years and Melbourne is a city that I don’t know much about and yet every Pom I’d ever come across in Aus says that it’s the most English of all the Australian cities. I was itching to visit. The problem was that during my time away (Boxing Day to 3rd January) Blues would be playing twice. Naturally both games would be live on Fox Sports but on the night of the Chelsea game, I would be staying in a motel in Bairnsdale. Wireless internet was not on the menu according to the website and so I’d have to scout around trying to find a pub or club showing the game or manage to scam some internet from someone, somewhere. The second game was versus Stoke and I was pretty sure I’d be okay for that since I’d be staying with family in Melbourne – no issue.
Boxing Day came and I had scouted around on the internet for WiFi hotspots in and around Bairnsdale (pop. 11,282.) McDonalds have 24 hour free WiFi in this country and I considered going to park the car in the car park and just leech coverage – at least radio coverage if not streaming video. However, my laptop is quite old and the battery lasts half an hour tops so unless I could find an in car charger, I was stuffed on that score. I’d scout round local shops once I got there. On Boxing Day morning, I glumly set about making sure I had everything I needed – camera, check, laptop, check, books to read, check, wallet, check, keys, check, phone, check. Everything else, Mrs Aff is responsible for because I’m the type of guy that would make sure I had 14 t-shirts but would forget to pack socks.
As I set about my extensive list of essentials, Mrs Aff had an idea. A rather ingenius lightbulb idea too, so it was.
“Why don’t you take a dial up cable with you? Our internet account has a back up dial account and you can dial out from the motel at a local rate and just stream the commentary of the game?” I gave her one of those looks that said “If you were a puppy, I’d give you a chew stick. You’re very pretty,” and the trip was suddenly looking much more favourable. I had a sneaking suspicion that we’d ‘do’ Chelsea and I’d kick myself forever if we won but I hadn’t heard or seen it happen.
I was envisaging one of those ‘moments’ as a football fan. You know one of those moments that you think about in 5, 10, 15 years and describe in detail to your best mate – and people who have zero interest in football – over and over again. And because your friends and family love you and realise how important it is, they react accordingly and pretend like they’ve never heard it before. I don’t know how many times Mrs Aff has relived the Stern John in the last minute at VP story. Each time, being attentive and pretending like she doesn’t know what’s coming. She’s a really good sort, in case you hadn’t noticed already. I was fearing another Stern John moment and I couldn’t stand the idea that in five years, people would talk about that game against Chelsea where Chucho skinned seven players and then curled one in from 4 million yards. I couldn’t miss that. I couldn’t say that “Ah yes, I was asleep in the middle of nowhere in Victora (I think.)” I had to be connected to it.
The trip up to Bairnsdale was lengthy. We stopped and ate, we had a look around pretty seaside towns, we went and saw Buchan Caves. All very jolly for a family roadtrip. My in-laws asked about the Chelsea game. They often ask me about Blues and keep an eye on how we’re doing. They even ring me up to tell me when Blues games are replayed on Fox Sports to make sure I haven’t missed anything. When in England, Mother-In-Law Aff used to send me Premier League previews from the local papers to give me the Aussie slant on how Blues might do. They were always much more favourable when we had Stan Lazaridis…
We arrived in Bairnsdale and after checking in, I immediately asked the receptionist about the possibility of internet usage. She stated that they had dial up but that the motel could only use one line at a time. I reassured her that at midnight-2 AM, I’m pretty sure I’d be the only one interested in using it! She agreed and stated that she wasn’t sure what the charge for the internet would be. She wasn’t sure whether it would charge me a standard local call (probably around 50 cents – 25 of your English pence) or the much more expensive local motel call rate of 60c per thirty seconds ($108 for 90 minutes!) She said that I’d find out when I got the bill the next day. I gave her a “Are you serious? You’re serious? Do more, find out,” look. She explained that she wasn’t the owner and that the owner was away on holiday at the moment. She agreed to ring and find out for me. She rang. The owner didn’t know either. I didn’t want to risk spending over £50 to listen to a dodgy internet commentary in a game that conceivably we could get tonked in. I was… how shall we put it? Pissed off, that’s it.
So onto the next option.
“Do you know of any clubs in the area that might be showing it?”
“What time does it start?”
“Well, the RSL closes at midnight.”
Clearly, they didn’t own it and probably weren’t from around there. Or if they were, it’s put me right off moving there, that’s for sure. Onto option 3, in-car charger to listen to Wi-Fi at McDonalds. Time was getting on at this point. It must’ve been about 4:30 PM. We raced around town looking for electronic shops. Some were already closed (welcome to country Australia, folks!) but we found an independant place that was still open. We popped in and asked a very friendly local if she had in-car chargers for laptops. She stated that she did and showed us a selection. I spied one for $20 but wasn’t sure that it would fit my connection. I needed to check. The lady asked where we were staying. I explained that we were in a motel just around the corner. She stated that if we popped back to check, she would stay open enough time for us to return to make a decision. What a friendly, helpful person… she should really run a motel.
I raced back to the motel. I picked up my laptop. I checked. I raced back (‘raced’ being a term to indicate the gravity of the situation, at no point did I break any local traffic laws and go quicker than signs stated that I am allowed to go. Besides, I wasn’t driving,) to the shop. The $20 did not fit – but there was another one that did. It was in the $70-$100 price range. I baulked. I wasn’t going to shell out £35-40 with no guarantee that McDonalds did not switch internet off when they closed and went to drive-through only and without making sure that it would work at a speed decent enough to stream the game.
I went back to my motel room and sat on the edge of my bed. Thinking, thinking, thinking. I fired up my laptop and did a search for local wireless internet. Depending on where I stood / sat in the room, there was lots of networks around. Only one was unsecured. It belonged to a motel across the street. I double-clicked it to see if I could use it. I couldn’t. I needed a login and password. The wireless range was good enough – again depending on where I stood – but could I use it if I wasn’t staying there? One way to find out.
Off I trudged to Kansas City Motel across the road from where I was staying. I walked in and addressed the lady behind the counter recalling the entire story from start to finish and explained how important this game is. “And so, would I be able to purchase some internet from you even though I’m not staying here?”
The woman looked slightly confused and ever so slightly proud at the same time. She looked at me:
“Well, no-one has ever asked before. But I don’t see why not. We’re fully booked anyway so it’s not like you could stay here even if you wanted to.” And I handed her seven Australian dollars and she handed me, what I can only describe as Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. I clutched it tightly in my paw and – I’m not proud of this – moonwalked across the street back to my own motel. My mother-in-law saw me and there’s a photo in existence of me looking more excited than any man has a right to over a piece of paper of that size.
I booted up my laptop to make sure that I could connect. I did so. It was odd because it would only connect to certain sites. I couldn’t check the BBC but I could check bcfc.com and Joys & Sorrows. I hoped against hope that I could stream the game through a football subscription site that I am a member of. Time would tell – but for now, I had to get some shut-eye. I needed a couple of hours worth of sleep before the game kicked off in order to be able to function the next day – day 2 of the road trip, Bairnsdale to Melbourne including a three hour coastal walk along the cliffs at Kilcunda.
11 PM came and I wasn’t asleep. After a big family dispute about the longest river in Australia and where it starts, we ended up doing the Melbourne Herald Sun’s quiz. We didn’t do very well and eventually, I decided that 45 minutes sleep wasn’t going to make much difference so I did what I always do when I’m waiting for Blues to kick off – I walked up and down the room stressing. The accommodation was pretty basic with one bedroom locked away from an open-plan kitchen, living room, second bedroom kinda deal. Mrs Aff and I took the open plan since I’d be watching Blues in the ‘kitchen’ whilst the in-laws took the private bedroom – mainly because I couldn’t get wireless connectivity in there!
15 minutes before kick off and I booted up the laptop. I connected. It fluctuated between 0-60% connectivity. I held the laptop up. I placed it on the floor. I sat with it on my lap. I put it on the table. I opened the door. I opened a window. I opened the curtains. I moved furniture. Still, it wouldn’t connect to the stream. Several under-breath profanities later, it connected briefly. 10 minutes had already gone and I feared I’d missed the Chucho wonder-goal where he beat 19 players and curled it in from 9 million yards. Not so.
I worked out that balancing the laptop on top of the TV in front of the window gave me 60% connectivity and the speed tended to vault up and down between 1.5mb and 6mb. This was good enough and I settled (stood) up to watch the game. I stood a few inches in front of my laptop with one paw holding it at all times to make sure that it didn’t fall (although mainly because I didn’t want to risk losing connectivity and somehow, my hand on it meant that my body was some sort of wireless receiver, I didn’t want to stop that… y’know, just in case.) I stood like this for nearly two hours, watching as we took on the very best – and didn’t come off second best.
Chucho’s ‘goal’ (from 3 yards, not nine million) sort of caught me unawares and there may have been celebrating, whooping (whisper-whoop as I’d now like to Christen it,) pumping of fist and running round in mini-circles before I realised that it had been disallowed. Thankfully, the laptop stayed fairly steady on top of the TV and the wireless receiver running around in circles like a child at a birthday party did not break a really good quality stream.
At the end of the game, I was exhausted. Slightly disappointed too since Chucho’s goal really should’ve stood and we could and should have been 1 up. Maybe that would’ve spurred Chelsea on but in the circumstances, a point was a good point and it kept the unbeaten run going. I didn’t miss any of those moments that you talk about in 10, 15 years although I daresay that I’ll be recounting this story many times. People have already asked about it and again, more shakes of the head and raising of eyebrows as I recount various aspects of it.
When you go through stuff like this, it makes you realise that whether you’ve forked out £400 for a season ticket, go when you can afford to, let Blues ruin or make your weekend or whether you just get up at 3 AM in the morning to watch a pixelated internet stream, we’re all part of one club and you do what you can when you can to prove this. During this trip, I really felt like I did my part and at the end of the game, I stood and applauded the blue pixels off the screen like I was there. I felt like Roger Johnson was applauding me back at full time and in that moment, I realised that being exiled doesn’t mean being excluded, it just means that I get to show my commitment in a whole other sort of way.
Part two coming soon, Blues away at Stoke…
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