Manchester United play in the European Super Cup in Monaco on Friday and I canÃ¢ÂÂt go. IÃ¢ÂÂm gutted.
IÃ¢ÂÂve not missed a European away game for ages and itÃ¢ÂÂs not difficult to travel from Barcelona. ThereÃ¢ÂÂs a train for ÃÂ£74 which skirts the Mediterranean coast and stops for a leisurely two hours in Montpellier, scene of Clayton BlackmoreÃ¢ÂÂs greatest moment in 1991 when he struck a shot two nautical miles from the Herault goal.
To make matters worse, some mates are going who donÃ¢ÂÂt usually get to European aways and IÃ¢ÂÂve had two offers of work there and a call from the former United player Andrei Kanchelskis.
HeÃ¢ÂÂs up for an interview for my next book about United in the 90s. IÃ¢ÂÂm starting it now and aim to have it finished by next May. Andrei will be there for Russian television as UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs opponents are Zenit St. Petersburg. RussiaÃ¢ÂÂs second city of five million is twinned with Manchester.
Blackmore: Great tash
But I canÃ¢ÂÂt go. A close friend is 50 at the weekend and heÃ¢ÂÂs having a party in Oxford. We arranged the trip in February at a time when I didnÃ¢ÂÂt think about the European Super Cup. IÃ¢ÂÂve looked at lots of permutations of getting from Monaco to Oxford, but itÃ¢ÂÂs not happening. Flights and hire cars have already been booked, so IÃ¢ÂÂll miss it.
Instead, weÃ¢ÂÂll fly to Gatwick late on Friday night and as compensation IÃ¢ÂÂll watch Aldershot vs Bradford City at the Recreation Ground on Saturday.
IÃ¢ÂÂd like to offer some justification for going. The Bradford striker Peter Thorne is the same age and from the same part of Manchester. Or that Aldershot fullback Lewis Chalmers used to play with my brother at Altrincham. But IÃ¢ÂÂd be lying.
IÃ¢ÂÂm going partly because IÃ¢ÂÂm a freak and partly because IfÃ¢ÂÂve not been to the Recreation Ground before. My girlfriend understands it as Ã¢ÂÂworkÃ¢ÂÂ so IÃ¢ÂÂll take her to somewhere like Windsor Castle beforehand before setting out for Aldershot.
IÃ¢ÂÂve told two people IÃ¢ÂÂm going. One said: Ã¢ÂÂAldershotÃ¢ÂÂs awful, my brother was based there with the army.Ã¢ÂÂ The other: Ã¢ÂÂAldershot will be fun, they have a very strange entrance for the away fans that's worth checking it out... you have to go around the ground, up a hill, into a wooded park, and then down a little dark and windy path and into the ground. Quite odd.Ã¢ÂÂ
The first was a girl, the second an AFC Wimbledon fan.
Aldershot: "Awful" or "fun" depending who you ask
Ground-hopping is an affliction IÃ¢ÂÂve had since I was a kid when I watched my dad play non-league around the country and would draw diagrams of the grounds when I got home. Sad to say, I could describe every stand at every clubs in the EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs top five levels.
A mate rang yesterday. HeÃ¢ÂÂd been to see FC United play at Buxton last Saturday and was raving about his day out.
Ã¢ÂÂGreat town,Ã¢ÂÂ he said, thinking that IÃ¢ÂÂd not been. I went along with it, but didnÃ¢ÂÂt tell him that a decade ago, I caught a train from London to Macclesfield, visited the grave of Ian Curtis before getting a taxi over the Cat & Fiddle (the most dangerous road in Britain) to the Derbyshire spa town. Alone. Through driving rain. I kept myself to myself, but was spotted in the main stand by the Flixton manager who shouted, Ã¢ÂÂWhat the fuck are you doing here?Ã¢ÂÂ Then he invited me on the playersÃ¢ÂÂ bus back to Manchester.
Although IÃ¢ÂÂm a bit of an oddball, IÃ¢ÂÂm not compared to some. Like the Trafford fan Ã¢ÂÂRain ManÃ¢ÂÂ. A former Trafford player and Manchester legend/ticket tout Chris Simms has a story about Rain Man.
Ã¢ÂÂWe played at Whitley Bay near Newcastle one night in February. There were no away fans. I went to take a corner and I heard: Ã¢ÂÂSimmo! Simmo!Ã¢ÂÂ I looked around and couldnÃ¢ÂÂt see anything. Then I heard it again. I spotted Rain ManÃ¢ÂÂs head above a concrete fence. HeÃ¢ÂÂd hauled himself up and was shouting, Ã¢ÂÂIÃ¢ÂÂve spent all my money on petrol for my motorbike getting here. I canÃ¢ÂÂt get in the ground.Ã¢ÂÂÃ¢ÂÂ Simmo made sure he did.
Whitley Bay: Can be a bit grim in February
One lad who goes to United is on another level. WeÃ¢ÂÂll call him Stuart Trueman. HeÃ¢ÂÂs a bright, handsome, well-dressed casual who takes his two kids and girlfriend to every single Manchester United first team matches, United reserve games and FC United games home and away.
If none of these teams are playing heÃ¢ÂÂll go to a Manchester United youth team game or to see another competitive match, usually somewhere near his Lancashire home like Blackburn, Burnley or Darwen.
Psychologists would love to examine his brain, for he also supports Roma and lists his two heroes as Francesco Totti and Ryan Giggs.