I’M going to let you into a secret – although those of you who know me well will already have an inkling of this.
I’m a bit of a saddo.
Yes, beneath that suave, cool exterior lies an anorak-clad statto waving his programme in desperation to get out.
You see, for me getting a matchday programme isn’t just a pleasant addition to the matchday experience, a ritual or even a requirement.
Oh no – it’s a cast iron necessity that is set so deeply in stone that Neil Armstrong was rumoured to have seen it from space.
Obtaining a programme is an act that can result in catastrophic and life-altering meltdown if left unfulfilled.
Think of Spain without the sunshine. Morecambe without Wise. A parmo without cheese. Then magnify it by a million.
There’s no logical explanation for this obsession but – football or speedway – I’ve always been the same.
My collection of programmes – only from events I’ve attended, I hasten to add – is my pride and joy.
Forget the family silver or the exotic glassware – my precious programme from the 1987 junior four-team tournament at Iwade (featuring a 14-year-old listed as Joseph Screen, I feel I should point out) is the first thing I’d reach for if Neal Towers went up in flames.
Take last weekend for example.
The speedway close season coincides nicely with the football season being in full swing and last weekend seemed like a good opportunity to sample a bit of local non-league action. Well, a lot actually.
So Nealo Jnr and I jumped in the Nealmobile and headed off to County Durham for the day’s big Wearside League Cup game – Peterlee Town v Redcar Athletic.
It’s always good to tick off a new ground (Eden Lane was No 145 in case you’re wondering) but the joy of entering new surroundings swiftly turned to despair on being told by the man at the gate: “Sorry we’re not doing programmes at the moment.”
I stayed calm. Really, I did.
But even after a half-time hearty beef drink (served in a mug, incidentally) and a convincing 3-0 win by the rampant Redcar boys, there was a gaping programme-shaped void in my life.
There was only one thing for it.
Fortunately the game had kicked off at lunchtime (if this had been done, 1980s Football League-style, to keep thirsty fans out of the pub before kick-off, they were all still there since the attendance numbered at most 30).
This presented a golden opportunity. With no post-game rush for the exit to beat, we jumped in the Nealmobile and set the satnav for Bedford Terrace – venue for the Northern League fixture between Billingham Town and Bedlington Terriers.
We knew we’d arrive not long before half-time, and so it proved. But it was a game, we knew for sure they produced a programme and we were there.
And in the event we only missed one of the game’s seven goals.
This meant that, having also taken in the previous evening’s Marske United v Boro Reserves North Riding Senior Cup tie, we’d seen three games in 22 hours which had produced 14 goals for visiting teams and a big round zero for the respective host clubs. Apologies for being a jinx on the home clubs.
But the key task was to end the day with a new programme to add to the 800 or so others (I used to have them logged chronologically on my old PC until the hard drive died and I haven’t keyed them all in again. . . yet).
Fortunately a visit to the canteen for a second half-time hearty beef drink in an unnaturally short space of time did the trick and I was pointed in the direction of a man with the day’s programmes in his rucksack. Aaaaaah relief.
It’s slightly different with speedway programmes, of course, due to the presence of racecard.
As a speedway journalist, having instant access to such an expansive library of reference material is invaluable. Ask my wife – I tell her this often enough and I think she may believe me now.
The importance of having such vital information within easy reach means that the Neal Collection of speedway programmes is neatly and chronologically filed in clear plastic sleeves and lever arch files across several shelves in the downstairs study.
So with less than nine weeks before the start of the season it’s time to start the annual task of clearing some space on the shelves for the file marked ‘2012 season’.
Oh and if anyone has a spare programme from the 1990 England v Denmark Test match at the Odsal Stadium, please let me know as mine was ‘borrowed’ some years ago and hasn’t been seen since. . .