Colchester 1 Scunthorpe 2

Since Colchester is our closest approach to Ely this season, I arranged to stay the weekend with Fluffy and go to the game together. The night before we set off, I dreamed that I was flipping through slow-loading web pages in a desperate quest for our score. Fluffy told me she already knew the score: it was "Jesus Christ." By dream logic, this apparently meant we'd drawn yet another game we should have won, so I duly headed for betfred and backed the draw.

I took my shiny new digital camera along to the match, and amused myself before kick-off by snapping a few shots of the players warming up. The players who had annoying stubble the last time I saw them now have even more annoying beards, most notably Mike Grella. I suggested he was unable to shave because his poor coordination prevents him using sharp objects, but Dan said that he's doing some sort of challenge to not shave until he's scored a goal. At current rate of progress, he'll have a beard down to his ankles before he finds the net.

Colchester were just above us - we were all keenly aware that a win would lift us above them - and sure enough, they were about as bad as us. I cracked wise with Fluffy and Karen, complained about the cold, and predicted a Colchester goal from each attack, but never really feared another humiliating defeat. My bet seemed quite a safe one.

Mike Grella found a burst of form, and ran the ball from our half, past virtually the whole Colchester team, to their penalty area. We all expected that the final shot wouldn't live up to that promise, but we were wrong: there was no final shot at all. In the penalty area he stopped dead - shocked and surprised by the strange white rectangular thing in front of him, I suggested - and fumbled the ball this way and that until the Colchester defence managed to clear. Perhaps I should have been disappointed, but I was too busy laughing at the absurdity of failing to even get a shot off.

Just before half time, Jimmy Ryan did what could be described as the opposite of Grella's effort. From an unpromising position, he shot - straight into the Colchester net. As his teammates surrounded him, I joked that Grella was whispering in his ear, "How did you do that kicking the ball in the goal thing? Could you teach me?"

As the half-time whistle blew, I was very cheerful: I thought I could look forward to either three points or three pounds with some confidence. This mood lasted until news reached us that a certain South Coast team were winning, and I spent the rest of half time kicking seats and cursing the name of Aston Villa.

Scunthorpe kicked off the second half, and I silently hoped that would be the only kick-off we were required to take. Almost immediately, we went down to the other end of the field, and Karl Hawley doubled our lead. Instead of cheering, I looked in disbelief from the goal to the scoreboard and back, and when Colchester assembled for the restart, I pretended to wonder why they were kicking off the second half when I clearly remembered them kicking off the first.

This made the prospect of three points look even better, but someone suggested that my bet was hopeless unless Colchester managed a truly heroic fightback. I scoffed at such fate-tempting, especially since we've already let slip a 2-0 lead once in 2013. Colchester had brought on ex-Iron Freddie Sears at half time, and he quickly started putting us under pressure. And then the normally superb Andy Barcham gave the ball away in midfield, Colchester broke, and all my cries of "Shit shit shit, they're going to score" couldn't prevent Sears from obeying the Law of the Ex.

You might have thought that I, with a financial interest in the draw, would have been the calmest person in the Scunthorpe end. I was not. I'd set my heart on three points, and winning my bet wouldn't even provide me the cash necessary to drown my sorrows. I fell into an anxious funk, rousing occasionally to cheer on an Iron attack or whimper at a close defensive call. Several times, we looked horrendously vulnerable at the back, but Colchester didn't have what they needed to take advantage.

The minutes ebbed away, and I began to entertain fate-tempting hopes that we would hold on. We kept possession a fair amount, helped the the officials' belated decision to clamp down on Colchester's attempts to sneak a few yards at each throw-in. The fourth official signalled three minutes of stoppage time, which the scoreboard reported as four, five, and six, before finally settling on five. We brought Vladimir Mirfin on, probably just to waste a few more seconds. Dan counted down the remaining minutes, and Karen reminded him that the substitution added still more additional time.

Finally, the referee blew the sweet, sweet double blast. By this point, I felt more like heaving an enormous sigh of relief than celebrating, but I got to my feet to applaud the players. We had, after all, lifted ourselves out of the relegation places.

It's complicated

On Monday, I explained a few bits of my past to a psychologist. I described my relationship with Luis as a terrible mistake, "throwing good money after bad" because I couldn't bear to admit that I'd sacrificed so much for a relationship that never stood a chance of working out. That was, in many ways, a completely accurate description of our relationship.

Yesterday, on the bus home, I was thinking about Roupa Velha, the Portuguese answer to Bubble and Squeak. That made me think of the traditional Portuguese Christmas meal, which I ate at least once at Luis's parents' home: salt cod, which I never much liked, boiled potatoes and chick peas, and a sauce I very much did like. Dr Google's best efforts on the English-language internets have failed so far to turn up a recipe for this sauce, so perhaps it's a secret known only to Portuguese speakers. Perhaps it's a secret known only to one specific Portuguese speaker: Luis's mum.

I wish I was still in touch with her. I wish we could trade recipes and talk, and although there are plenty of good reasons why we can't, there's still an ache somewhere in my heart. I wish I could hang out with Luis's cousins and have them gently tease me for being too shy to speak German even though I can come out with perfectly fluent sentences when I put my mind to it. I wish I could listen to his brother hold forth on his areas of expertise, or even have his dad speak a language I can barely understand at me.

That's the other side of my relationship with Luis, and no less accurate than what I told the psychologist. I was part of a family - both his parents called me "Tochter" - and now I'm not part of it any more. And sometimes I want to grieve for that.

For my own sanity, I usually concentrate on the mistakes I made. The bad things I closed my eyes to, and the good things that turned out to be just figments of my imagination. It's a story that hangs together, that makes sense, that explains a lot of the crap that came afterwards. But it's not the only story. And I don't know how to tell the other one.

Review of the year

I think New Year's Resolutions are supposed to be like goals. I left the market shaking. If you are on Twitter, maybe you want to follow me. I'm a pretty good cook in my way. The end of the football season is one of my traditional times for taking stock. There's a good chance I'm going to have sex this weekend, which is awesome in both sense of the word. The first competitive match of the season is usually on a Saturday, but this year the league cup got underway before the league. The beginning of the school year counts as a new year, doesn't it? I'm not in America. I've been cruelly neglecting my blog lately.

(There are usually 12 sentences: one for each month. This year, there are only ten, because two months went by without a single blog post. I have no excuse.)

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Leyton Orient 1 Scunthorpe 3

It was the chance to do a spot of Christmas shopping at Westfield Stratford, more than the chance to watch the Mighty Iron in action, that sent me London-wards. Lindsay, struck down at the last minute with some lurgy, said his presence in E10 was "as likely as three points", and Fluffy was too exhausted to even contemplate the trip. But Lego and Disney stores were a powerful motivator, and I decided late on Friday evening that it was worth making the trip.

Londoners would probably laugh at the way I treat the capital: with a fully-loaded Oyster card in my pocket, I consider anywhere with a station to be equally accessible. This earned me a raised eyebrow from a Wimbledon fan when I declared that I was going to Orient while sitting on a train bound for exactly the opposite corner of London. Heading out to Kingston ate up more time than I'd bargained for (although I did get some pretty fabric) and I arrived at Stratford around two o'clock. Buying the presents I'd set out to buy took only a few minutes, but locating the shops I wanted, and lining up in Christmas queues, took much longer, and it was ten to three before I returned to the station. A Leyton-bound train pulled out just as I got to the platform, and I realised without too much dismay that I would be missing the kick-off.

Walking up Leyton High Street along with a few other stragglers, I strained my ears for crowd noises that would tell me what I was missing. I quickly decided that the ground kept the sound in efficiently, and the only cheers I would be able to hear would be greeting an Orient goal. No such sound reached me, and once I was inside, Karen confirmed that the score was still 0-0. The only incident of note I'd missed was the assistant referee apparently missing a blatant offside; as I took my seat, a stray clearance knocked his flag out of his hand, which Karen and Dan hailed as justice.

Sitting just in front of us was Lindsay, who had rallied overnight enough to travel. I confronted him with his words about the likelihood of making the trip, and asked whether his presence was a sign that three points were likely. Trying to be clever, he pointed out that he hadn't said who would claim the points. Karen told me that Man City had won the lunch-time game; maybe those were the points he was thinking about.

The first half was goalless but moderately entertaining. We defended competently, although Orient made that task simpler by not attacking with any strong conviction. By half time, I'd concluded that they were about as rubbish as we were, making a 0-0 draw a perfectly achievable goal. This was a better prospect than I'd seen in some time, and as the second half got underway I remarked that I hadn't seen us go so long without conceding a goal all season.

Karen complained that we weren't seeing any Scunthorpe attacks on the goal nearest us. I said that there wouldn't be any: we had exhausted our meagre attacking chances in the first half. A minute later, we managed an attack that came to nothing. "There," I said. "That was our chance for this half." But the attacks kept coming, and eventually one of a crowd of players over on the other side somewhere stuck the ball in the net. Even as I stood to applaud, I was shaking my head, hardly able to believe it.

"I hate it when we score," I grumbled a couple of minutes later. Karen looked at me as if I'd grown an extra head, but taking the lead does do unfortunate things to me. I start dreaming of points, basking in the warmth of being ahead - and that only makes the inevitable equaliser hurt more. I checked my watch and wondered whether the Iron players could pass the ball back and forth for the remainder of the match. They quickly demonstrated that they could not, but Orient still weren't giving our defence anything they couldn't handle.

We were flying forward on one of our best attacks of the match when one of our players was fouled. He'd already released the ball, and the attack was still unfolding, but the referee, apparently suspecting a head injury, stopped play and gave us a free kick. I cursed him, knowing we'd lost the advantage, and said aloud that we were certain to waste the free kick. Karl Hawley proceeded to prove me laughably wrong by sticking it past the keeper. "Fucking well wasted," Lindsay mocked.

I relaxed enough to join in, not the song about our chances of avoiding relegation, but at least a chorus of "Oh what fun it is to see the Scunthorpe win away." But from one of Orient's increasingly rare attacks, the ball struck an errant Scunthorpe hand, and the referee pointed to the spot. Shouts of encouragement to Steve Mildenhall and of derision to Kevin Lisbie failed to prevent the latter from putting the ball past the former, and we were back to 2-1. I knew how it would go from here. We would let another goal in, and spend the rest of the match trying to prevent a third that would condemn us to utterly humiliating defeat.

But no. Before I could make too many complaints, we'd scored another. This time it was Damien Mozika - Firefox, as I've decided he should be nicknamed - who gave the ball a flick that left the Orient keeper staring stupidly as it sneaked past him and into the net. Firefox celebrated with great gusto - as well he deserved to, having put his heart and soul into his performance. "Can we play you every week?" asked the fans behind me. "Ooh, then I'd be able to shop at Westfield every week," I said.

Now there was no doubt in my mind. We were getting three points. Orient were sufficiently poor to make us look pretty good, and they definitely didn't have it in them to produce a fightback. I relaxed, joined in with Jingle Bells, and stuck my fingers in my ears every time the subject of relegation-avoidance came up. The Iron players passed the ball to each other as if they'd been doing it all their lives. I counted the remaining minutes nervously, because old habits die hard, but the final whistle came without testing my nerves.

Lindsay and I walked back to the tube station together. "Be honest, Lindsay," I said. "Did Orient score three goals before I arrived?" He told me the first half had been goalless. "So we scored three goals and only let in one?" He confirmed that this was the case. "So we got three points?" An Orient fan in front of us glared at me over his shoulder. I probably sounded annoying, but victories have been rare enough lately that I wanted to make sure.

Scratch Pizza

I've been cruelly neglecting my blog lately. So, instead of waiting until I have the energy for a Post To Make Up For The Silence, I'm just going to share a Thing that is Quite Cool. I bring you a recipe for Scratch Pizza.

Take one cup of SR flour. I have a set of measuring cups, but just use a mug or whatever you have to hand. Add half a cup of natural yoghurt and mix well. Sprinkle with salt, dried herbs, and a slug of olive oil (other vegetable oils are available). Turn out onto a flour-sprinkled surface and knead until smooth.

Press the dough into a round cake tin, pie dish, or similar shaped container. Spread the top with tomato puree, red pesto, ketchup, or whatever tomato-y thing you have in. Scatter with your favourite pizza toppings to taste. Sprinkle with grated cheese. I imagine mozzarella or edam would be lovely, but I used mature cheddar and it worked just fine.

Bake at 180 degrees celsius/Gas Mark 5 for approximately 15 minutes or until the cheese is browned. Cut into pieces and serve.

Lentil casserole

After I tweeted that I'd made a lentil casserole, three people expressed an interest in the recipe. Posting it here seemed like the best option for sharing it. Please note that quantities are approximate as my usual method for measuring ingredients is "throw some in until it looks right".

Peel and dice one medium onion. Heat a splash of olive oil in a stove-to-oven casserole dish (I love my Le Creuset knock-off, but if you don't have one, just do the first bit in a pan and then transfer it to a glass or crockery casserole) and soften the onion along with a peeled and crushed clove of garlic. When the onion is soft, add about half a cup each of green and red lentils. Give it a good stir, then add enough hot water to cover it all.

Add a pinch of oregano, a teaspoonful of yeast extract, a generous glass of red wine, a few chopped mushrooms, a deseeded and chopped green pepper, and a tablespoonful of tomato puree. Mix everything well and check the liquid level. It needs to be very sloppy, because the lentils will absorb loads of water.

Put the lid on the casserole and pop it in the oven at about 150 degrees Celsius (Doctor Google tells me that's 300 degrees Fahrenheit or Gas Mark 2). Check it after about 45 minutes: if the liquid has disappeared but the lentils are still tough, add extra water and give it a bit longer. When the liquid has gone and the lentils are soft, it's ready to eat. Serve with pasta or just some crusty bread.

Nightmare at Heathrow

I'm not in America.

The immediate cause of this is that my passport was in my pocket when I got caught in a rainstorm, and the water faded the photograph so that it's no longer recognisably me. In normal circumstances, I might have a few things to say about the practice of issuing passports that can be rendered completely unfit for purpose by a predictable piece of British weather, but I have bigger things on my mind just now.

Following advice from the internet (in hindsight, not the best of moves) I presented my passport, plus my photocard driving licence, to the Delta folk at Heathrow. They flagged it up as a problem straight away and began consulting with various supervisors, while the clock ticked down to the scheduled departure time. At this point, my worst fear was that I wouldn't be allowed to fly, but they weren't going to turn me away until the US immigration people had pronounced on me.

At one point, the check-in guy said he wouldn't be able to accept my suitcase and I would need to take it as cabin baggage. This would mean throwing out all my toiletries because of the liquid restrictions, which was another source of great stress for a while. My lube, in a 50ml container, would have survived the restrictions, but I'd have needed to take it through security in a clear plastic bag. On the other hand, carrying Pina Colada flavoured lube through security would have been a walk in the park compared to what followed.

They finally decided they should accept my suitcase provisionally and have Homeland Security meet me at the gate. All the Delta and Heathrow officials I'd spoken to treated me like a passenger who, through no fault of my own, was causing a problem and would probably not be able to fly. All I got from them was courtesy and respect. The Homeland Security people, in contrast, treated me like a criminal. Their attitude seemed to be that I was definitely guilty of something, and they would harangue me until I told them what it was.

I explained once again that my passport had got wet in a rainstorm. The guy asked me a few standard immigration-type questions, like what was the purpose of my trip and where would I be staying, which I answered as best I could. He jumped from one subject to another rapidly, and seemed impatient with complicated answers, both of which made me even more nervous than I already had been.

They quickly decided I would not be allowed to fly, but the nightmare wasn't finished. The Homeland Security guy was in full flow, and there was no stopping him. He told me that he didn't believe what I'd said. I protested that it was the truth. He insisted that he didn't believe me, and told me he was going to write a report that would stop me from ever entering the US. He told me to sit and think about what I was going to say next. I have no idea whether this technique works on people who are actually telling lies, but since I was telling the truth all it did was rack up my fear another few notches.

I don't know whether I was suspected of anything in particular or whether they were just throwing accusations randomly in an attempt to work out what specifically I was guilty of - my guilt in general terms being assumed from the start. He implied a couple of times that I planned to run away to the US forever, despite my protests that I have family here. His colleague made a reference to my friends not telling me what to do in this situation, as if to imply I was part of some larger conspiracy. They repeatedly asked me why, if I had nothing to hide, I was so nervous. I was too terrified to point out that their interrogation techniques were by now the biggest factor in my nerves.

At one point, he sat down beside me and asked me if I was trans. I acknowledged that I was, and he said that he found this "story" more believable. I hadn't considered "I'm trans" and "my passport got wet in a rainstorm" to be two different "stories"; I'd forgotten that for some people, failing to mention in your very first sentence that you're trans is classed as deception. He then asked whether I had deliberately damaged my passport to conceal some kind of alteration. Resisting the urge to scream and bolt for the toilets took most of my mental energy, but I told him that I certainly had not.

Later, he asked me whether I had transitioned completely. Explaining to cis people that transition does not work like that is a shitty task at the best of times, and that goes double when it's someone who has so much power. How could I explain the difference between social and medical transition, or between de jure and de facto requirements for a GRC, to someone who had already demonstrated that he would treat any answer more complicated than yes or no as proof of dishonesty? I asked him what he meant, and in classic bullying fashion he just repeated the question with extra emphasis. I told him that I would probably not be able to change my birth certificate as things stood, but that I was legitimately entitled to a male passport.

His attack was now focussed on that little letter M. He appeared to believe that I was not entitled to it based on my surgical status, and that he was a better judge of that than the UK Passport Agency. I told him that I had submitted all the necessary documents, including a letter from my psychiatrist, and been legitimately issued with the passport. He told me that I needed to get another letter and apply again - I have no idea why.

Finally, they asked some more questions about where I'd been planning to stay. I wrote down Lucy's home address in West Virginia, apologising for not being able to remember the zip code. I wrote Lucy's name and her mother's as the people I would be staying with. He misunderstood "that's my friend, and that's her mother" as "that's my mother"; I don't know whether that was another attempt to trip me up or whether he'd just tied up all his brain circuits with cissexism and assumptions of criminality, leaving nothing over for reasoning that two people with the same surname and address are likely related. After that, I can only assume they'd run out of questions to ask. They let me collect my suitcase, safely offloaded from the plane before it left, from the baggage reclaim, returned my passport and driving licence, and let me go on my way.

In this whole nightmare, I have a lot to be grateful to Fluffy for. She talked to me on the phone, calmed me down as much as possible, broke the devastating news to Lucy, suggested I change my dollars back into sterling to afford the train fare home, and arranged for my dad to pick me up at Grantham and take care of me. Without her support, the effect on my emotions would have been far, far worse. Unfortunately there was nothing she could do about the almost stereotypical American arrogance of Homeland Security. Cynically, I wonder if there's anything anyone can do about that.

A scribble

It's a long time since I've done a scribble. This is a bit of worldbuilding that's been bouncing around my head for a little while. I'd love to know what you think.

Kit inspections were never predictable. Sometimes we went a fortnight without one, and sometimes we had one on Monday and another on Wednesday, depending how worried the Head was. We lined up by forms on the tennis courts, emptied our pockets and bags, and laid our kit out at our feet.

Untidy kit meant we lost a house point. Untidy kit a second time meant we had to write a 500 word essay about why tidiness was essential. Anything missing from the kit was five house points, and an hour in the Head's study listening to ever more gruesome stories of how a person could die from incomplete kit.

The usual thing missing from a kit was rations. Sometimes we would take clothes or blankets out to wash them and forget to put them back, or leave something on the table when we did a half-hearted sort through, but mostly it was food. Kids who had skipped breakfast or didn't like the school lunch would nibble on a packet of salty crackers or a few dried apricots, gambling that there wouldn't be a kit inspection that day. Others ate the lot during the afternoon, partly because they were peckish but partly to show they weren't afraid. The boldest of all would declare, through a mouthful of mint cake, that it was all a waste of time and the Head's fuss. Did anyone really think we would actually need our kit?

I pretended that I did. I kept saying that it was better to be safe than sorry, that the Head and our parents thought it was necessary so it had to be. But I didn't believe it. I kept my kit in order, but only because I didn't want to lose house points or listen to far-fetched stories that would probably give me nightmares. Once we were out of the school gates on the way home, I snacked on my rations like everyone else.


The beginning of the school year counts as a new year, doesn't it? I want to make some ... well, I hestitate to call them resolutions, but the intent is basically the same. Every day, I want to try to do one thing that will please social services and the council, one thing that will please the jobcentre advisors, and one thing that will please me.

Social services and the council, at least up until they closed my file and moved on to other things, were "concerned" about the state of my flat. It is, by just about any measure, a horrendous mess. So I'm going to try to clean it up, slowly but surely. Wash a few dishes, tidy the settee, clear enough floor to break out the mop. I don't expect to have an Ideal Home, or even a council-approved home, any time soon, but I can use the imaginary council in my head to spur me on.

The jobcentre advisors, as you may be able to guess, want me to work towards getting a job, unless I decide that I am so completely non-functional I should apply for disability benefits. A couple of months ago, I was cheerfully entertaining the prospect of looking for part-time work while trying to move the business plan forward. Now ... from what I hear, drinking a bottle of wine in a night and contemplating suicide at random sober intervals doesn't render a person unfit for work in the current government's understanding, but I have a feeling it would count against me in any employer's eyes. Assuming I got that far.

But given a choice between trying to convince the assessors that I'm not up to working and jumping through the jobseeking hoops, I'm betting that jobseeking may prove less upsetting. So I'm going to do what I can to look for work, prepare myself for work, or whip my vague business idea into shape1. Some days, the effort might well be purely token, but this could be good practice for filling in a jobseeker's diary.

Pleasing myself might be the hardest part of all. Things that were once a pleasure no longer seem to provide any return for the effort I have to put in, and I don't even seem to be getting a sense of achievement from doing stuff these days. Buying books or tools makes me happy, but I rarely have the spare money. Haircuts feel wonderful, but I don't think they would if I didn't allow a decent growth interval. But perhaps if I lower my standards and count finding a new video or rereading a favourite book as a pleasure, I'll start to feel better.

Depression is not a good state to be making resolutions in. But I'm making them anyway. I'm sure that says something about me.

1I rarely elaborate on my business idea, not because I think someone else will steal it, but because it's so vague that I'm afraid people will laugh at me or explain in excruciating detail why it couldn't possibly work. I know that's a barrier I have to overcome eventually, but I'm not ready for it yet.

Derby 5 Scunthorpe 5 (After extra-time, Scunthorpe win 7-6 on penalties)

The first competitive match of the season is usually on a Saturday, but this year the league cup got underway before the league. That meant our first competitive action was on a Tuesday night in Derby, and it's a point of honour with me never to miss the start. So I booked myself into a basic but extremely reasonably-priced guesthouse and laid my plans accordingly.

One big advantage of going to Derby was that I could break my journey in Nottingham and stock up on various bits I wouldn't be able to find in Grantham. Exciting jewellery-making supplies were easily found, but the quest for an alternative clothing shop I found on the internet turned into an exhausting and frustrating trek along several wrong roads. Finally, sore-footed and irritable, I boarded a train to Derby, only to spend another hour roaming the streets in search of the guesthouse. At least that search proved successful, but I only had time for a brief rest before I had to set out once more for Pride Park.

My first sight of the Iron looked promising. Derby, as befitted a Championship side, pressed hard, but our defence looked organised and competent, and Sam Slocombe managed several magnificent saves. True, we did virtually nothing in front of the Rams' goal, but there would be time enough for that. But then Derby had an effort that Slocombe couldn't keep out, and things looked very different. We tried to rise to the occasion, and produced something that, viewed charitably, might have been considered a shot on target. Then Derby came back at us, Slocombe fumbled somehow, and the ball was in our net once more.

Tired of slumping in my seat and contemplating the way the game was slipping away from us, I limped down to the concourse to beat the half-time drinks rush. As I queued, the home fans erupted once more in celebration; any chance I could convince myself that noise had come from the Scunthorpe contingent evaporated as the tannoy announce "the Rams' third goal". When I returned to my seat, Karen informed me, "You missed one," to which I bitterly recalled the time when turning away from the action guaranteed a Scunthorpe goal.

At half time, the only consolation I could see was that Saturday's opponents, Crawley, were drawing. Perhaps if they had to endure extra time, they would be easier to beat. "Just as long as we don't score lots of goals in the second half," said Suz's fella. A more ridiculous prospect was hard to imagine.

But we began the second half looking better. Andy Barcham skipped through the Derby defence and slotted the ball confidently into the net to make the score a slightly more respectable 3-1; at first I just cheered a very welcome piece of attacking skill, but a moment later I was dreaming of an unlikely fightback. Those hopes were almost immediately crushed, as Derby virtually went up to the other end and made it 4-1. But once we'd proved we could put the ball in the net, we did it again, as summer arrival Mike Grella, ably assisted by the goal post, made it 4-2.

I loudly predicted that Derby would regain their cushion just as they had after our first goal, but the minutes ticket past and it didn't happen. Then someone went down in the distant penalty area: as far as I could see, the culprit was a patch of damp turf, but the referee pointed to the spot. Instead of screaming at the striker to miss - my usual habit in these cases - I fixed my attention on Slocombe, hoping he still had some of the magic we'd seen in the first half. He dived the right way and punched the penalty away, and I cheered as loudly as if we'd scored. Then, surely no more than ninety seconds later, the ball was down in front of us and I was cheering once more as Bobby Grant made it 4-3.

Half time now seemed a long time ago. However this match ended, it wouldn't be the routine humiliation it had looked like becoming. So charged was the atmosphere that I made my usual prediction of doom - that Derby would make it 5-3 and destroy all hope - in a spirit of philosophical resignation. Our struggle would be over, but we could look back on our second-half performance with pride. And when the fifth Derby goal indeed went in a few minutes later, I remained fairly cheerful. Crawley's game still looked destined for extra time, and things could have been a lot worse.

At the end of the ninety minutes, we were heading out, but there were still five minutes of stoppage time. With two or three left, we pulled back another goal to make it 5-4. Pride. The chance to have the last word. We deserved it after the way we'd fought back. I didn't hope for an equaliser, but I did note that we were still pressing. Someone went down in the penalty area with a defender's hand on his shoulder blade. The referee ignored it. Mark Duffy sprawled on the ground in what looked to me like a blatant dive. The referee pointed to the penalty spot.

Bobby Grant stepped up and struck the penalty calmly into the net. That was the last kick of regular time, which meant that we too were playing the extra thirty minutes. Suz's fella asked me when my train home left - just as well that I'd planned all along for an overnight stay. The home fans were decidedly unhappy at the turn the game had taken, and the Scunthorpe fans gleefully serenaded them: "3-0, and you fucked it up ... 4-1, and you fucked it up."

I don't know how much of extra time I really took in. I had my head in my hands for a lot of it - out of nerves rather than despair. I bit my knuckles hard enough to leave teeth marks, and regretted having trimmed my fingernails and left myself nothing to gnaw. I wanted a goal - wanted the match to be over - so badly that I hardly cared who scored it. But naturally, no goals were forthcoming. This game had always been destined to end in penalties.

The penalties were taken at the far end, which left us straining to see what happened against a backdrop of nausea-inducing scrolling adverts. Slocombe made two more saves, but the Derby keeper saved one and another Iron penalty hit the post. "I'm thinking of a place name," I said as the shoot-out went to sudden death. "It's got two words: the first starts with M and the second starts with K." For each Scunthorpe penalty, I announced, "He's going to miss this." For each Derby penalty, I whispered, "Come on Sam."

Karen suggested that we would run through the whole team, that Sam Slocombe would be called upon to take a penalty and then pick himself up to make the winning save. The woman in front of me didn't relish this prospect, and suggested she would enjoy seeing the next Derby player send his penalty over the bar. "Nah," I said. "He'll score this easily." She hoped - as indeed I did - that my prediction would prove as false as all the others. The penalty, much like Tore Andre Flo's in Milton Keynes, hit the bar and bounced down. The Scunthorpe outfield players swarmed Slocombe in celebration. Fans around me cheered. From 3-0 down at half time, we had emerged victorious.