The sixth day is for football
August 22, 2018
It is Saturday, and we leave the B&B in which we have stayed for the past three nights. Built in 1780, the Oatland country house and adjoining farmland were owned by a Scottish Laird, Francis Farquharson, who bought the estate in 1760.
For me, standing in a home built sometime between Cook's voyage down the east coast of Australia, and the First Fleet arriving at Botany Bay, is mind-boggling. Although much of the house has changed over the centuries, we are assured that the marble fireplace in our room is one of the original features of the home.
But the estate dates back much further than the 1700s, as there is evidence of ancient ruins and an iron-age hill fort on the grounds. According to the owners, Lesley and John Cowan, there is even a standing stone beyond the copse of trees behind the house. The very best feature is the weeping birch tree, so huge that the weeping branches reach the ground. It is well over one hundred years old, and is still beautiful.
The road is narrow. I'm sure that we there should be a better road than this, but after half-an-hour, it is too late to turn back. We have to be in Glasgow to return our car by 4:00pm. The road is wide enough for one vehicle, with little passing places regularly placed on either side of the road, should another vehicle come in the opposite direction.
We come to a 'T-intersection'. There is a sign pointing to Glasgow to the left, and once again we are on the major road. We have travelled 27 miles in just over an hour.
Despite the rain, the scenery is beautiful. I cannot imagine why there are so many huge farmhouses and stately mansions this far away from 'civilisation'. Perhaps they were the country homes of the many rich whisky barons of a past era.
Years ago, this was the whisky capital of the world. In nearby Campbeltown alone, there were over 30 distilleries in the region, until prohibition in America in the 1920s all but killed the industry. Today there are only three distilleries, but the evidence of great wealth is exhibited throughout the town by the size and style of the houses both in the town and across the rural surrounds.
We arrive in Glasgow with little time to spare, return the car, and walk the short distance to the railway station to catch a train to Manchester. We have already checked. There is no accommodation available in Glasgow tonight. Obviously, we are not going to make the 4pm train, but over coffee, decide to find a hotel to stay in Manchester before deciding on which train to take.
No Accommodation - anywhere in Manchester!
So, we decide to stop in Preston, where I book a room at a 'modest' hotel but modest hotels are non-existent in the United Kingdom! All accommodation, is expensive, and sometimes it's better not to convert the prices back to the Australian dollar - for mental health reasons only.
The train journey is interesting as people come and go. Without exception, as people sit beside us on the train, we converse with them; finding out favourite football teams, favourite places and more.
Our stop in Preston comes up after a short couple of hours. The platform is very busy. It's Saturday afternoon and many people swarm onto the train as we disembark.
As we walk up the ramp, I notice that there is a large police presence; several are patrolling the platforms, whilst three stand across the access area to the platform.
Another three stand across the exit doors.
I wonder whether there has been 'an incident'.
Outside, along each side of the access road to the station, there is a wall of police, standing almost shoulder to shoulder; the dog van is parked along the street.
None of them approach us as we walk to the taxi rank. I'm confused and a little bit uneasy. Surely we would be stopped from leaving the station if there is danger outside. I don't feel like whipping out my camera to take a photo. I can categorically say that I've never seen so many police in one place, except on TV or in photos.
The taxi rank is ahead and we jump into the first cab and give the cabbie the address of our hotel. I'm a little embarrassed because I know it is quite close, and we had intended walking the short distance, but the large police presence has rattled me. I can now see divvy vans parked around the corner, as well as a number of police standing along the main road. The cabbie walks over to a police officer and chats briefly with them before returning and advising that we are unable to leave for five minutes or so.
'What's going on?' I ask the cab driver as a bus arrives, blocking our exit. It is packed with people, three police officers are standing inside the door. Another bus arrives with three police on board, then another, and another. Our cab cannot move until all the buses have arrived, disgorged their passengers and police escort and move on.
'Football crowds,' he says.
I watch the police and fans tumble out of the buses, and into the station. There were no banners, no footy jumpers, no families. The extra police virtually escort their charges to the station or to the main road. For the football fans, there is no sign of jubilation, no excitement, no facial expressions as they disperse.
The police presence in this city is mind-boggling. Although I can't accurately count the number of police, I estimate that there are probably one hundred, including those who accompanied the fans on the buses, the divvy vans, and the police dogs. What are they doing?
Apparently they are protecting the likes of me and other innocent people from violent football thugs.
I am shocked with the notion that football hooliganism has degenerated to these depths; that police resources have to be used to provide security for the general public in this way. Somehow I'm glad that our Australian Rules football fans and game goers are safe, that they can bring their entire families to the game and to travel alongside their football rivals wearing team colours without fear of attack. Should this level of football violence ever reach Australia, I would hope that the football code and the police can work together to prevent it from escalating to these depths.
After all the years I have travelled, I have never seen such a spectacle and I'm disappointed that these cities in England don't know what it's like to enjoy football without fear.
Title Quote: John Anthony Burgess Wilson
Accommodation: Premier Inn Central, Fox St, Preston PR1 2AB, UK