Bradenham Wanderers fans revive the ‘football special’

A village football club revived a halcyon image of away-day travel as fans boarded their own charter train to watch their team take on local rivals.

The sight of families of fans gathering in their hundreds at stations around the country, waving scarves and wooden rattles, was commonplace when the 'football special' train was the most reliable way to get to fixtures.

But since many of the country's lines were infamously dismantled by British Railways chairman Dr Richard Beeching in the 1960s, people living in smaller towns and villages have been forced to travel in smaller groups by road.

But the noise and atmosphere of that golden age returned to Dereham Station on Saturday as about 50 Bradenham Wanderers fans took their first-class seats in expectation of a top-of-the-table clash with Wymondham Town.

The 'Bulldog Away-Day Special' was chartered from the Mid Norfolk Railway, a volunteer-run heritage line which, fortunately for the club, runs services on the 11-mile stretch of track between Dereham and Wymondham.

Paul Sandford is vice-chairman of Bradenham Wanderers and landlord of the Railway Tavern on Yaxham Road, where the fans met before their journey, decked out with retro-styled black and orange club scarves.

He said: 'I remember having plenty of away days like this with my father. He was a Tottenham fan and I'm Chelsea, so we used to go all over the place on the train. As a child it was the highlight of the week, looking forward to that journey.

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'It's completely different now. You don't see the countryside when you travel by car, and it is much better to be with your friends all day. That's why we wanted to recreate that for Bradenham. We wanted people to be able to hang their scarves out the window like in the old days.'

Another passenger was 66-year-old Ian Dent, of Cemetery Road in Dereham, who used to work at the town's station, first as a lamp boy in 1962, before progressing to become a porter, a shunter and a guard.

'I used to see a lot of people who would go on the train to football matches,' he said. 'The diesel would come down from Wells on a Saturday afternoon when Norwich City were at home and we would have a couple of extra carriages ready because we knew it would be packed.'

When asked whether he had joined the Bulldog Special for the match or the train trip, Mr Dent said: 'I'm here for everything. A pint at 10am, a train journey, a few laughs, a train journey home and a good night's sleep after a great day out.'

Alan Jay, 67, a former manager of the club, said: 'I always used to go from Whitwell Station to see Norwich City play in around 1956 or 57 when I was a teenager. That was the only way you could get backwards and forwards then, because we didn't have a car. The difference was that everybody was doing the same things and there were not the rules and regulations which takes the atmosphere away from football matches.'

Bradenham FC, which plays its home games in the village near Dereham, is in third place in the Anglian Combination's first division table, with Wymondham a place ahead in second. Saturday's match ended in a goalless draw.