By Matt Rowson
Friday, 10.30am local time, that's 8.30am in England. The scene is Addis Ababa Airport check-in and it's complete bloody chaos. Thousands of people form no queues worth speaking of, so any notion of pushing in is somewhat meaningless. There is much shouting, yelling, shoving. And it's hot. The general atmosphere is enhanced by the numerous porters who seem to push trolleys noisily to and fro through the confused throng through wont of anything better to do.
The luggage racks have stopped working, so cases are being queued up haphazardly amongst assurances that everything will be fine and, yes, everything will make it to wherever it's supposed to go somehow. Eyeing our cases standing lonely like saplings in the face of some furious tornado this seems optimistic but in the absence of a viable alternative we leave them and proceed through passport control.
This stage seems to go well. Then we reach the departure gate, and the Ethiopian Airlines representative is spoiling for a smack in the teeth. Our documents were adequate in the eyes of the passport check, but this joker is evidently more discerning, arbitrarily confiscating my fiancée's passport and refusing her mother a boarding card. The flight is delayed...nobody tells us this, we conclude it from the fact that we should have left half an hour ago. The lounge is filling up, people sitting on laps of laps as another flight to Nairobi also begins to file in.
At 1pm local time the flight boards and, as the last of the passengers departs, our officious friend relents and releases the necessary items. Ten hours later, following a stop in Rome, we touch down at Heathrow. An interminable wait at luggage retrieval, then a bouncy car journey to Kings Cross, a missed train, a not-missed train, a taxi. It's shortly before 1am when I get back to my flat and find the credit card statement smiling coldly at me from the doormat. Bastard.
At around 6.30 this morning, I decided not to go to Stockport, having been woken at 6 and kept awake by a combination of sunburn, the credit card statement and the sort of desperation for sleep that always prohibits it. It's now 3.15pm and I'm in agony.
Take it from me, don't ever, ever choose not to go to a game. Circumstances might prohibit it... weddings, funerals, exams, family commitments. But lack of money? Well, I didn't need to go to the supermarket this morning, did I? I could have spent the thirty quid on the trip and survived the week on the jar of frankfurters sitting in the cupboard!
Radio 5 is no help. Okay, so there are no goals...but tell me more, tell me more. Who's playing, what's the game like, who's on top, what are the programmes like, tell me tell me tell me. Three Counties...commentary just about audible in Bedford over a noise that sounds a bit like the Somalian woman sitting across the aisle from me on the plane, coughing up phlegm for ten hours.
Even when the commentary is audible the situation is no better, in fact it's worse. I am frozen, motionless, unable to as much as tap my fingers on the keyboard. Unable to breathe. Tuesday evening can't come soon enough.
Speaking of which... how on earth can only two thousand people have made the first leg? For goodness sake people... I know it's only the Worthy Cup, I know it's a midweek away fixture in the rain, but surely surely it's got to be preferable to this horrific existence....
County's away form in the league has been stronger than their home form; nonetheless, this fixture is one that we're surely going to have to stuff up big time if the Magpies are to go through. Ig appears to have done the hard work in the first leg so I'll leave the detailed analysis there. But if you're thinking of not bothering with Tuesday night, make sure you appreciate what you're committing yourself to.
One-nil. Tommy Smith. Jumping around my bedroom.
Nothing like being there though, is it?