If one memory sticks with us about this year’s Rugby World Cup it won’t be Japan beating South Africa. Nope, it will be the train journey we made from London Paddington to Cardiff for the Ireland vs. Canada match.
This experience really was once in a lifetime. It was fun for its edge of seat (and sometimes no seat) unpredictability. It was not fun for the same reason.
I had already had a guts full of this train journey several months before when First Great Western tried to charge me nearly £500 for a return ticket for one person when their website had sold me three tickets for the same price. I eventually got a refund and managed to book tickets through another provider. Their call centre probably had enough of me calling, but even that wouldn’t prepare them for the storm they undoubtably got from those who did not get onto the 10.45am train.
That’s right. Somehow, they overbooked the train. I was surprised when I wasn’t given a reserved seating option when I booked online, but was still able to purchase tickets for the journey. So I, and many other people, did. When we got to Paddington Station, after the requisite photo with the marmalade bear of the same name, there were plenty of green shirts about and a menacing feeling in the air.
A green jersyed girl asked us where the Cardiff 10.36am train was. Having just had a nosey ourselves we could tell her it was on Platform 8 and, also, that it was full.
About that time we noticed a queue starting to form at the barriers and hastily joined it despite not being sure what they were queuing for. It was a good decision because within a couple of minutes it snaked around the left and right of the station.
Then, when the barriers opened everyone was running towards the Cardiff train. We ran the entire length of the train. All the seats were reserved which made no sense because we had 10.45am tickets.
Tiernan asked a Duty Manager what the deal was.
“Just get on the train mate.”
And we did. We jumped on the nearest door and forced our way into a carriage. The people with the reserved seats squeezed passed us. Us towering over them, but we did not get off the train.
It was pandemonium. Eventually platform staff stopped people getting on the train at all. There were some very angry looking people on the platform being turned away. An emotion we’d see again at Reading, Swindon and Bristol. All people with valid tickets, all expecting to get on the train they had booked. We stood the entire 2 hour journey to Cardiff, but at least we got there. The streets of Cardiff were teeming with people. It was a sea of green flecked with red. The pubs were standing room only and we were carried by the general flow straight to Millennium Stadium.
The first order of business was purchasing supplies. An Irish supporter’s scarf, beers, and a beef pie that received my seal of approval: a double thumbs up. Then we made our way up to the gods to find our seat. Second row from the back and right next to the aisle. Our seat mate turned out to be a Canadian supporter, Catherine, who had bought her ticket late and was so separated from her friends she couldn’t even see them.
She asked us to look out for the Canadians in the funny hats. But it turns out that every Canadian supporter is attracted to funny hats and the task proved impossible.
Ireland decimated Canada. It was almost rude the way they got try after try. By half time most of the Irish supporters had decided it was time for a red try. So when the Canadians finally did score it was to a reception as good as any home game.
After the game ended we lost Catherine in a crowd singing The Fields of Athenry.Leaving after the match was only mildly more organised than our outward journey. A side street was bursting with bodies standing, vaguely, in three lines – Bristol, Newport and London Paddington. A lonely policeman was encouraging people into general areas based on destination.
Tiernan received a message from mates who were at the fan zone – no doubt bouncing when Japan won! We asked when the last train would be and since no one could tell is, we decided to wait in line rather than risk never leaving to join them.
We bunched up. Throwing evil looks at anyone who tried to cut into the queue from the side. Enjoying the slightly drunken and openly rude snipes of other fans.
After about half an hour we reached another lonely man, a railway worker, on a soap box, yelling that trains were lined up, filling and leaving, and that each would take 400 people. We extrapolated that we had about 45 minutes to go.
Not long after the man on the box we rounded a corner and things became a lot more civilised. Signage and crash barriers gently guided patrons towards their trains. The queues cheered when they were released onto the platform in manageable bursts.
Eventually we not only made it on to a train, but into a seat. The kind with four seats and a table. We allowed a family to fill the fourth seat with one of their children. A New Zealand lad named David who spouted rugby facts like a fountain. Tiernan tried to teach him and his siblings to play Heads Up, while Jack and I tried to accomplish a crossword with their mother.
Paddington station. Indian food. Six flights of stairs. Bed.