The first rule of train travel these days is to catch the train before the train you’d normally catch if the country had a proper, functioning, reliable service.
So, even though the train from Hornbeam Park is delayed by over 10 minutes, it can’t conspire to make me miss my connection in Leeds. And, if it does, I’m on the earlier train to Blackpool North. Just in case.
I’ve been on this line many times in the past 40 years, often on the way to the coast, but today I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do but never had an excuse to: I’m going to alight at Accrington.
The view from the railway viaduct of rows of tightly packed terraced houses snaking up the hills opposite the town fired my imagination years ago and I’m now going to see it close up for the first time.
The view 30 years on isn’t as romantic as I remember it, however, and there’s now a huge Tesco overshadowing the station. A short walk into the town centre reveals a shopping precinct as dead as anything I’ve ever seen on a Saturday afternoon.
Empty and derelict premises stand out, three directly opposite the beautiful Victorian town hall in the central square. There are very few people around and the main shopping centre is half vacant units and charity shops. Charity shops with 50p sales.
Having totally winged it in Doncaster two weeks ago, today I’ve done my research as to where I’m headed, even down to locating two record shops in Accrington town centre – one of them intriguingly called Custard Cube. It turns out to be a contender for the most unhinged record shop I’ve ever been in (and I’ve been in a few).
You step through a doorway which is a replica of Doctor Who’s tardis and you might as well have entered another world (I suppose the clue was there).
The owner descends on me from out of the smoke-stained gloom, gives me an unwanted guided tour, runs through the crackpot vinyl pricing system where different coloured lines indicate prices (basically it’s all overpriced) and leaves me to it (whilst keeping an eye).
Eventually settling on three CDs priced at £6.99 each, I approach the counter. "Will you take £20 for cash?” I ask, an innocent enough question in a secondhand record shop.
The owner gives me a withering look, basically calls me a "tight arse” and shames me into paying the extra pound.
It’s only sometime after I leave the shop, totally discombobulated, that I realise he didn’t give me any change. 3p or not, I’ve half a mind to turn round and claim it back, but I have a match to get to.
The Wham Stadium’s about a mile out of town and, if you think that name’s bad enough, bear in mind Accrington’s shirt sponsors used to be the ‘Plastic Box Shop’. It’s a small, smart, tidy set-up though with a great chips-and-peas-for-£2.50 stall outside, payment on the day and ‘Mardy Bum’ by Arctic Monkeys on the sound system.
We need a reaction from the team today after the capitulation at Tranmere in midweek. Accrington are yet to win and could be vulnerable to a fast start from Town. This turns out to be wishful thinking, as the home team dominate the first period and should be out of sight by half-time.
I don’t say this very often about a Harrogate team, but the players give off every impression of going through the motions. No one seems to be talking to anyone else, goal-kicks are notable for the players trudging away with heads down and our midfield’s chasing shadows for the third first half in a row.
Add to this the uncertain situation around Luke Armstrong and the hope of the opening week has quickly evaporated. A small vocal section of the fans barracking him hasn’t helped, but I don’t hear so much of that today, as the whole team is woefully off the pace.
I much prefer the ice-breaking approach of a fan in the Wetherby Road stand a week ago, truth be told. "Thanks for coming, Luke,” he bellowed to the amusement of those of us in earshot, eliciting a wry smile from Armstrong as he jogged past us on the touchline.
There’s a second-half improvement in energy and vocal levels once Josh Falkingham, Levi Sutton, Warren Burrell and Kayne Ramsay come on, three of them at half-time. That’s how bad it was, but we still struggle to create.
The match ends up being a tale of three free-kicks. The first one unfairly awarded to the home side by a card-happy referee, from which the hosts take the lead.
Burrell then equalises via an Armstrong knockdown from a free-kick and we sense undeserved victory with plenty of time left to play, but Town barely threaten the 10 men again.
At the other end, Accrington hit the post, then Jack Nolan punishes us eight minutes into stoppage-time from another direct free-kick. Not that he had a lot to do, virtually passing it into the net through the most porous defensive wall I’ve seen in all my time of watching professional football.
After clapping Falkingham (he has to start against Morecambe because we need a captain’s presence) and exiting to the sound of unhappy Town fans singing “You’re not fit to wear the shirt”, I miss the first train home by barely a minute, thanks to Accrington and their earlier play-acting. It’s the only train on time all day of course.
The next fast train’s cancelled and we have to wait over an hour for a slow train via a change at Todmorden, and then a circuitous route to Leeds via Ravensthorpe and Mirfield.
When we finally crawl into Leeds, along with a large contingent of Hull City fans returning from Blackburn via the same torturous route, all trains to Harrogate are cancelled and I have to catch a bus, arriving home nearly five and a half hours after full-time having covered a distance of barely 47 miles. This country is falling apart.