THE lengths that non-league fans go to in support of their teams is nothing short of astounding.
National League side Torquay United took 71 fans to Gateshead in early October, at the return fixture there were 62 Tynesiders.
Both sets of away fans made a 766-mile round trip, neither won.
Torquay is closer to Lille, France than it is to the Gateshead’s International Stadium, which by the way has a running track between the supporters and the action, meaning your view of the match is somewhat built on assumption.
At three days’ notice 26 Truro City fans travelled 313 miles to Macclesfield on a Tuesday night. They lost 2-0 and didn’t return home until 5-30 on the Wednesday morning.
There are numerous other examples like this of fans making arduous journeys to support their clubs for 90 minutes.
— Colin Bradbury (@ColinBradbury3) January 20, 2016
We’ve taken a look at three clubs in particular to hear the incredible stories of the fans with unparalleled dedication.
Part-timers Truro City play their football in the National League South, a regionalised league, the point being to reduce travel costs amongst its clubs.
So spare a thought for the Tigers of Truro.
Based in Cornwall, their shortest round-trip, and therefore their “local derby” in the 2016-17 season was the 303.8 miles they undertook to get to Weston-super-Mare.
First game of the New Year the “local derby” between Weston-Super-Mare and Truro City. Wet and windy and no hot food or drinks! pic.twitter.com/ieT0EXJD9d
— phil hall (@philhall47) January 1, 2017
The average National League South opponents is 265.2 miles away from Truro.
Eight hours are spent on the road for the vast majority of away fixtures and whilst it is also an inconvenience for clubs to Travel to Cornwall once a season, the Tigers make arduous journeys week after week.
It can’t be enjoyable for the players and staff but at least they’re being paid, the supporters of the Tigers make the same trips out of their own pockets, frequently taking time off work and not returning home until the early hours of the morning.
Hover over the map below to see how far Truro travel for each National League South game.
We caught up with one such devoted fan, Ron Ratchford, who is also the former groundsman and founder of the current Truro City supporters club.
As is often the case with non-league love stories, Ratchford had a remarkable story to tell about how he almost stumbled into what is now a huge part of his life.
“We came to Cornwall following 40 years in Australia”, he explained.
“I got serious about Truro when I saw the groundsman struggling to clean up after a game.
“I asked him how many people had helped him and he stated he was doing it on his own.
“So I volunteered to help him and picked up to help him and picked up rubbish that day and turned up to help him prepare the ground from then on.
“He then left and I inherited the job alone for a while until the current groundsman asked me the question I had asked.
“We worked together from then on”.
After learning that the official supporters club had folded some years earlier, Ratchford set about successfully reviving it and then creating a now fully operational travel section where fans Tigers supporters make the long journeys together week after week, returning at all hours of the night.
“The latest I have got home is twice at 5:30am following Tuesday evening games”, he said “The first was a league game on the South Coast, probably Havant and Waterlooville, and the other to Macclesfield for an FA Trophy replay”.
“Every time we lose on a long trip I declare that I’ve had enough, until the list comes around for the next away game travellers.
“When you are part of a regular group you just know time is a great healer”
When such great distances are involved on a regular basis, it is understandable that on occasions the travel doesn’t go exactly to plan.
“There have been a number of delays as we travel mostly on motorways where accidents are frequent,” tells Ratchford, “from horse boxes falling over and other road closures but we have only been late once, for a league game and missing about ten minutes”
“More recently we set off for a game at Hungerford and got a message when we had been travelling for a few hours that the game was off due to icing on the pitch.
“We made a decision to go to Taunton as a number of ex-Truro players were regulars in their side.
“We arrived in sunshine and the pitch looked ok, however the eagle-eyed referee spotted an area on the grandstand side was in shadow and was too hard for his liking so promptly called the game off around 12:30.
“It was then decided that Exeter City might be on, so we headed off there and had an enjoyable afternoon, with a much shorter journey than we expected when we set off at 8-00am”.
Finally, Ratchford explained how the Truro away supporters are often praised and acknowledged by the fans of the host club they’re visiting.
“We have been recognised many a time for the amount of travel our dedicated Cornish residents have covered by other supporters.
“Margate gave us a welcome meal on arrival with a ‘show bag’ of goodies. Chelmsford too had a meal prepared for the travellers who made the ‘long march’”.
“All the other clubs’ supporters also express their admiration for the dedication of Truro followers, they’re very friendly and happy to talk”.
Devonshire outfit Torquay United are based 85 miles east of Truro and therefore closer to all other destinations.
The bad news for the Gulls is they play in a national league. In-fact they play in THE National League meaning that unlike the Tigers they have to travel north of the Watford Gap on many occasions during a league campaign.
With trips to Barrow, North Ferriby and as mentioned Gateshead all far exceeding 600 mile round-trips and playing in a 24-team league, a Gulls fan who lives in Torquay and wishes to attend all 23 away games would have to travel over 11,000 miles (11,285.2 miles by our calculations) all told.
By way of comparison, the distance from Torquay to Sydney, Australia is only 10,717 miles as the crow flies.
We caught up with Gulls player-manager Kevin Nicholson, who sang the praises of his teams fans for their unwavering support in what has been at times a difficult season few seasons for the club.
“TUFC fans are an incredible bunch,” he began.
“All managers have to say that about their fan base I’m sure but I can honestly say ours are a cut above.
— Torquay United FC (@TUFC1899) April 22, 2017
“To cover the distance they do to watch a team that has struggled over the last four seasons as much as we have is testament to their dedication to the club they love.
“In my first season we were 12 points adrift of safety and turned up at Borehamwood to find half of the crowd were TUFC, the equivalent of a Premier League club taking 20,000 away fans to a mid-table team!
“We have had two near misses with relegation and yet had 4,000 fans to watch our last home game this season.
“A football club is nothing without its supporters, and although ours have suffered lately they will have their time in the sun again as they refuse to give up, and in my experience those who hang in the longest during tough times will eventually find that life will reward them”.
Nicholson is genuinely proud to have the fan base that he has on his side, if anything it’s a proof of their faith the lengths they go to cheer on their club.
“I’m honoured and humbled to be the manager that represents them”, he said “and I hope I get the chance to take us back where we belong”.
Lowestoft Town FC
Lowestoft is the most easterly town in Britain and plays home to Lowestoft Town FC, currently of the Isthmian League.
However as recently as the 2015-16 season the Trawlerboys plied their trade in the National League North where they were cruelly relegated on goal difference.
To say that travelling to Lowestoft was an inconvenience for teams in that division is something of an understatement.
I spoke to one Stockport County fan, Patrick Knowles of Disley, Derbyshire who pointed out how ludicrous travelling to the Suffolk town via public transport was.
“For some reason I had an urge to go to Lowestoft away,” he said.
“I don’t know why, and I wish I hadn’t now (Stockport conceded a stoppage time penalty to draw 2-2) but anyway I was looking into going on the train and the quickest route took me in and out of London!
“This was in the north league and we were being told to go via London, madness really”
In the interest of balance, we searched for a Trawlerboys fan who had attended the return fixture at Edgeley Park who we expected to bemoan the outrageous lengths he went to just for 90 minutes’ potential entertainment.
Step forward William Randle, one of a mere 14 visiting fans who made the journey to Edgeley Park but his memory of the occasion was far more positive than Knowles’.
Simply because his team had won.
“Stockport County away, one fixture you’d never think a team in the Eastern Counties Premier as recently as 2009 would play in the league,” he started.
“Realistically, anything we could have taken away from that day would have been an unexpected bonus, (a) defeat would surely have seen our survival hopes shattered”.
“The other 13 Lowestoft fans made the journey by club coach, I was never one for convention”, he admitted.
Randle recalled the occasion as if it were yesterday, recounting the the goals in great detail but the most telling quotes came as he remembered the game’s conclusion and summed up the whole experience perfectly.
“Four hours sleep, the five-hour train journey, the soaked clothes, they were all insignificant as the shrill peep of the referee’s whistle signalled confirmation of a result I’d have never imagined in my wildest dreams.
“I gazed up at the old electronic scoreboard opposite and pinched myself. Stockport County nil, Lowestoft Town two”.
It All Makes Sense
And I think in many ways if you had any questions as to why these hardy souls travel the length and breadth of the country in support of their teams, Randle has given quite the answer.
It’s for the memories.
It’s in the hope that after all you put yourself through, your team will give you reason to be happy.
It’s for 90 minutes that yes, could go wrong, but what if they went right and you weren’t there to see it?
That’s almost as bad as it going wrong isn’t it?
So set your alarm for eight in the morning, you’ve got Truro away tomorrow.