Forlan, Mr Mystery and caravans

International week meant a chance to get away before winter. That’s how my wife saw it.

"Cornwall," she suggested, after reading a book about the county that is all the rage in her native Brazil.

I immediately thought of the opportunity to visit new football grounds en route from Manchester as I close in on achieving entry to the 92 club.

Places like Plainmoor, St. James’s Park and Home Park could sound appealing when, like my missus, you have no idea that they are football grounds.

All were mentioned before we set off in a motor home down the M6 as I figured that she could have no complaints when we pulled up outside the venerable homes of Exeter City, Plymouth Argyle and Torquay United if she saw pretty fishing villages full of shops selling cheap souvenirs to hordes of pensioners from the Midlands.

I also gently manipulated the dates so that I could watch a game on our first day away and another on the final day before getting back for Everton v United.

Everything was booked, then the game at Goodison was brought forward a day. It got worse. Plymouth’s home match was postponed for international duty.

The player called up for international duty was Rory Patterson, now a Northern Ireland striker, but five years ago my brother’s strike partner for FC United of Manchester.

Patterson’s promise had been recognised by Rochdale, but he soon found himself in the non-league ranks. His questionable attitude appeared to be a big part of the problem, for he had the demeanour of someone who got on with few and was happy being unhappy.

Rory Patterson, holiday ruiner...

When he made his FC debut in a friendly, his shirt didn’t have a number on it, nor was his name listed in the programme. Fans sang about 'Mr Mystery' and 'The man with no name.

His performances soon made sure people knew exactly who he was, as he acquired cult status and managed to find the net from the halfway line in one game. Brother didn’t hold him in the highest regard as a person, but says he was the best player at the club – by a distance.

His talent to go past players readily was spotted by relative big spenders Bradford Park Avenue and then Coleraine in the Northern Ireland’s top flight, where he scored 41 goals in 40 games last season and was named Ulster Footballer of the Year.

Yet while he never stopped scoring, he did stop falling out with people and rubbing them up the wrong way. Despite the goals, however, even Coleraine fans are divided about him, partly because he signed a pre-contract arrangement with Glentoran while also having a trial with Plymouth Argyle, where he’s started this season. And because of his move to the West Country I’ve still not seen a game at Home Park.

Exeter was our first stop, their opponents Charlton Athletic having slipped so far that international breaks no longer trouble them.

Had I followed the crowds, we would have ended up watching Exeter Pirates’ debut against Gloucester in rugby union’s top flight.

Instead, St. James Park was located, huddled in between a railway line and neat housing. Most of the 5,700 crowd were standing on the Big Bank terrace.

I also took in Truro City’s home, the semi-professional side having risen sufficiently up the non-league pyramid to be Cornwall’s top side.

And I’m writing this on a trailer park just off the M5 in Tiverton, having just interviewed Diego Forlan, him in a hotel in Bilbao ahead of Atletico Madrid’s game at Athletic, me surrounded by semi-permanent static caravans and the hum of the nearby motorway.

"Where are you?" the Uruguayan asked. How could I possibly begin to explain?

"England," I replied. Some things are best kept simple to avoid confusion.

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