Yesterday at Stoke City 1-0 Blackburn (a much better game than any of the match reports will concede, I can’t find one single correspondent who managed to put their pre-conceptions aside and watch the actual game in front of them) I parked the car in a match-day car-park belonging to a big shiny firm called Rieter on an industrial estate beside the ground. It costs a fiver, I’ve done it before, though I’ve never looked at the small print on the ticket which advises that they will lock up an hour after the full time whistle. Post-match we hung around a good while while Matty, the twelve yr-old who I had taken along, who is usually with us, the stepson of my friend Graham Etherington, who is usually there to organise me but – crucially – was absent yesterday, had his programme signed by many of our heroic players including Ricardo Fuller who was wearing a 3 Euro Jamaica baseball cap. This signed programme was to be a birthday present-type gift for Graham. The squad were relaxed after the win and were generous with their time all of which meant that we got back to Rieter’s car park at 18.03 to find padlocked gates and one car left inside. There was the number of a “24 Hour” security firm on the gate; they were set to “weekend answer phone”. I phoned the cops who gave me the name of a firm that lists key holders for industrial premises (the operator also advised me that that was classified information and that the firm would not be able to release the details to me personally – I’d have to go back through the cops to be updated on whether that would be allowed): but there was no keyholder listed for Rieter in any event. We limboed under the padlocked gate (there was space enough to do that, though we would have looked better if we were wearing 3 Euro Jamaica baseball caps) and assessed the situation on the dirt ground round the back of Rieter. I was hoping there would be a gap in the fence somewhere so I could off-road and slip out. There was not. Rieter – who I have discovered make pre-formed carpets and foam inserts for sound deadening in cars – is like Fort Knox but without any actual sign of any actual security men. I was rather wishing that our illegal presence within the grounds of their premises would alert someone in uniform with epaulettes on the shoulders but it did not. Matty was looking at me now as if to say, ‘You are a very foolish man aren’t you and you have got us into a hell of a spot.’ He more or less said this in actual words and then leveled a deadly accusation at me: ‘We’ll miss Match of the Day.’
I did the only thing I could; I phoned Old Stokie. His first response was to say he’d got this pair of bolt cutters that would definitely get through the padlock. By the time he’d got there he had modified his thoughts and instead offered me the use his green Seat Punto to drive us back to Norwich. The radio doesn’t work in it, there was only one Sigur Ross CD (the CD does work) which I have now heard ten times and you have to ‘have the knack’ regarding the ignition key. All the same, I love that car and am indebted to OS for ever now, which is not a situation I especially want to find myself in. Anybody needing a package running from Norwich to Stoke or vice-versa tomorrow when I will return to Rieter to retrieve my vehicle, I’m your man.