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  • Chris Johnston

Moments Missed | Chris Johnston

2006 to 2009 were prime years to be an Exeter City fan. These were also the years that I disappeared away from the easy access of St James Park to reside in Aberystwyth (or ‘The Edge of the World’ as residents have been known to call it) for my undergraduate degree.

Access to live football over these few years were limited to occasional games at Park Avenue (home of Aberystwyth Town – standard level approximately Western League); attempts at 5-a-side on a Sunday morning, bloated and hungover from the previous night’s endeavours and the joyous viewing of Setanta Sports wherever a persuadable landlord could be found.

There were a heap of moments missed over these years, especially as so much of our relative glory occurred in this time. Fortunately, in my final year, I happened across another City exile in Aberystwyth and I blagged some journeys to a few prime fixtures: Chester away for a 0-0 anyone? That said, we did get to the Don Valley Stadium for that magical Logan header, pitch invasion and an extremely surreal atmosphere.

The moment which stands out as my greatest miss and game that I would have so loved to be at was our 2008 Play-off semi-final second leg victory which I ‘4-1’ (doesn’t get old does it?) would swap a whole future season of football-watching to go back and be a part of. That said, I had a pretty unique experience of these semi-final games.

‘Downies Vaults’ was a popular haunt as a part of night out – known for ‘the admiral’ which was a now-stomach-churning-at-the-thought quadruple vodka and red bull (but not really vodka – probably paint stripper and not red bull, more like some knock-off called crimson bovine or the like).

This drink was so-called ‘The Admiral’ because of a folklore tale of a gentleman that once had 12 of these of an evening – Quick maths for you there means a total of 48 shots - which is a life-threateningly unlikely achievement.

Despite these quality beverages, which I am happy to say I never had 12 of (in one night at least), the pub proved useful to me – it was about 50 paces from my house in my university second year and, the holiest of holy grails, a landlord that had invested in Setanta Sports and had no trouble in being persuaded to show us play Grays Athletic or whichever beauty of a fixture Setanta had wisely decided to invest in sharing with the public. (Sidenote here: they went into administration about a month after I finished university in Aberystwyth… lovely timing) .

We will brush over the first leg – primarily because of Paul Jones but also, because there were 5 other people in the pub during that game, two were my friends who couldn’t really care less about the football and the other two were Torquay United fans. One was adorned in his FA Trophy-stitched shirt in preparation for the final which was due a couple of weeks later which, needless to say in case you forgot, didn’t turn out great for our good friends down the road. Still didn’t make up for his smile at the end of the game.

The second leg fixture, which I am sure many will remember extremely fondly, was a fairly early kick off - I want to say 12 or 1pm – either way, it wasn’t long after my wake up and it was likely that I left the rest of my housemates in bed. I headed to Downies solo, hoping they would be open early enough and, greatly in luck, the owner was sorting out deliveries and was open – just for me.

We know what happened in the game, I’ve watched the highlights reel a million times and I still wear that kit with a happy reflection on the game, saving it for special occasions (all the future Wembley losses for instance). Throughout the match, I was periodically joined at my table by the owner and he ate no less, and I kid you not here, 6 single packets of crisps during the match. Now I know where all of those immense profits from countless ‘Admirals’ were spent. Any degree of crisp-eating like that is sure to make any business potentially unstable, even in relative pre-Covid stability.

Throughout the whole game, I was alone except for the owner, on a rollercoaster of a journey, being down and lamenting bothering getting out of bed at all at 1-3 aggregate and consoled by a portly fellow with crisp crumbs all down his front: ‘Ahh, hmph, well, shame that…’ to being ahead on aggregate and trying to explain that we might be heading to Wembley again, knowing full well that he couldn’t give a jot about Exeter City, me, or even football at all. That said, my celebrations and smiles as the fourth goal went in actually brought a smile to his face too – so much was his happiness, that he even offered me a bag of crisps.

My trophy and glory, in absence of this ‘moment missed’? A packet of Walkers Cheese and Onion. Still, memorable… in its own way.

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