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On the road: Diehard fans travel thousands of miles to support their teams

In their Champions League group matches this season, Chelsea traveled to three countries, facing Lille, Ajax and Valencia. In doing so, they covered 2,410 miles.

Saturday’s FA Cup trip to Oxford (480 miles), after two excursions for a tie in the first round in Yeovil (both 670) – one postponed an hour before kickoff – and a second round in Exeter City (690), Hartlepool United’s players and supporters traveled 2,510.

All this to see a team managed by Dave Challinor, who has so far thrown in and written his name in the Guinness Book of Records. Perhaps Challinor, that King of Flingers, is responsible for these long journeys – one of those funny coincidences of football.

Television personality Timmy Mallett was one of the Hartlepool fans on a long journey

Television personality Timmy Mallett was one of the Hartlepool fans on a long journey

At Kassam Stadium, 779 fans – just one percent of the city’s population – were in Oxford on Saturday. Dedication or downright madness?

“One left me at five o’clock,” said a Hartlepool supporter early on. “Do the top.”

Another replies, “Aye, what” said. “

Among the attendees is Steve Sharp – “super fan” to us, “normal fan” according to him.

Sharp, who goes to every away game, got up at 4:30 am to go to Oxford – his wife, Ann, dropped him off at the bus. So why the hell?

“Who knows,” he says. “Maybe it’s one year for that elusive cup race. In defeat, we sulk all the way home, and since most of our long distances are south-facing, you will remove the mugs from your system by the time we get home to the north.

“Then we can watch the next game and go again. There is always a next game. ‘

779 Hartlepool fans traveled to Kassam Stadium to watch their team play against Oxford United

779 Hartlepool fans traveled to Kassam Stadium to watch their team play against Oxford United

779 Hartlepool fans traveled to Kassam Stadium to watch their team play against Oxford United

Hartlepool's Mark Kitchling applauds the traveling fans after the defeat of the third round of the FA Cup

Hartlepool's Mark Kitchling applauds the traveling fans after the defeat of the third round of the FA Cup

Hartlepool’s Mark Kitchling applauds the traveling fans after the defeat of the third round of the FA Cup

National League Hartlepool – or “Hartlepools” as Brian Clough used to say – is one of the few clubs that has never won a trophy. “Never Say Die” is their slogan.

Sharp adds, “You have to be there for that one miracle strike that will have you talking about it for the next ten years. Why am I going? I’m going so that I can say I was there.

“As we say,” We are poolies until we die. ” Bring on the next trip. ‘

This reporter’s father, John, was on the other side, too, and I joined him. Who wouldn’t want to watch a game of football with their old man?

He is a lifelong follower of Hartlepool. We then went for a drink to discuss why and he said, “It’s our passion, isn’t it? Part of life. It is an emotional experience that grips you. You saw it there. We are beaten 4-1, but we all sing. We hardly existed two years ago.

“Little Hartlepool, 800 local fans, we lose, but we are alive and well.”

Shandon Baptiste scored a wonderful second for Oxford United on the way to a 4-1 victory

Shandon Baptiste scored a stunning second for Oxford United on the way to a 4-1 victory

Shandon Baptiste scored a wonderful second for Oxford United on the way to a 4-1 victory

Home was Timmy Mallett, the TV personality with his signature colorful glasses and FA Cup cardboard cutout (no pink hammer in sight). He watched the Hartlepool players bark and puff and take an unlikely lead through Mark Kitching.

Visitors thought they deserved the chance to double their advantage when Kitching appeared to have been placed in the penalty area, but referee Michael Salisbury said no. Salisbury then became an enemy to the away goal, all the more so when he counted only seven steps instead of ten for one free kick.

But we couldn’t complain about the score, given the dominance of the hosts in the second half. They were in control and scored via Rob Hall, Shandon Baptiste, Tariqe Fosu-Henry and a late Matty Taylor penalty.

Baptiste, only 21 years old, arguably got the FA Cup third round goal when he took a walk through Hartlepool’s defense to score.

Manager Dave Challinor was grateful to his fans after another long journey to see their team play

Manager Dave Challinor was grateful to his fans after another long journey to see their team play

Manager Dave Challinor was grateful to his fans after another long journey to see their team play

Afterwards, Hall, formerly of West Ham and MK Dons, said, “I’ve played with people like Dele Alli and Shandon does things that just make you laugh.”

In the hat for the fourth round go Oxford. A nice side, they will give every team a good match.

As for Hartlepool, at least they don’t have to go on long outings in the FA Cup anymore.

Where are they next week, you ask? Ah yes, Dover – a journey of only 650 miles.

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