Not content with fraternising with the blazer wearing brotherhood once this century, yesterday a one man splinter faction went back and did it all again. I was there as a member of the self styled Poppies Exiles, attending the first get together since the group was formed last summer. As a gesture of thanks for helping to sponsor away coach travel, the club offered to play host at a match of our choice. I quite fancied the Madrid derby, but apparently that wasn’t an option. So we selected Slough, the thinking being that Easter Saturday might just mean there was a better than 50/50 chance the pitch would be playable.
And so for the second weekend in a row I pulled up in the Poppies car park in what I now regard as my customary space. Pausing only to exchange the usual greetings with the stewards I joined the other Exiles in the main bar and was at once drawn into a cheerful huddle of local accents that had survived, in some cases, decades of absence from Ket’rin’. A short while later we were directed to the sponsors lounge (not that I needed directions of course, being an old hand at this type of thing) where a buffet spread awaited. The reminiscing was cranking up when Marcus joined the group and there was a quick roll call of locations for his benefit. The most distant attendee was from Lancashire, the closest from St Neots. I was sort of mid table at Malvern, circa 100 miles from LP. The Thailand and Portugal delegates sent their apologies.
As the atmosphere built inside the throbbing arena it was time to take our (named) seats in the BPW stand. Here I was rudely interrupted by my fellow contributor, who seemed to think that our acquaintanceship entitled him to engage me in conversation from the common standing area. Thankfully a mere nod to a nearby official was enough to have him moved swiftly along. The game unfolded until the point, late in the second half, where we were invited to select the Poppies best player of the afternoon, or the Gary Mulligan Man of the Match as it is unofficially known. Momentarily forgetting that, I suggested Carvalho."But his name’s not Gary Mulligan"
“Oh ok then”
And so Gary Mulligan was surprised and delighted to collect another Gary Mulligan Man of the Match award and bottle of fizz to put in his wine fridge, soon to be cellar.
Back in the lounge the storytelling resumed, with some terrific tales about Big Ron, Trevor Peck, Big Ron, Frank Large, Big Ron, Big Ron and Big Ron. Will we one day tell similar stories about Sylvain Obeng and Herve Pepe-N’Goma? I doubt it – these were more relaxed, rambunctious times when football in general took itself a lot less seriously. Plus it's a lot easier to say Big Ron.
With a final set of handshakes the Exiles departed to various points north, south, east and west and resolved to do it again next season, when hopefully the numbers will be swelled by more of our far flung missionaries. If you are one of these and would like to sign up, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Big thanks to Clive for making it all happen and Ken for the hospitality.