Disaster struck today for dozens of Hasting United fans makng their way to Middlesbrough for the historic FA Cup third orund tie when their coach caught fire on the A21.
The coach, operated by Eastbourne Executive Travel, was at the head of an eight-strong convoy travelling towards the M25 when it suddenly stopped on the hard shoulder at around 6.45am near the junction with Sevenoaks.
Around 45 fans were forced to get off the vehicle while smoke pouted from underneath the engine area at the front end.
Firefighters were called to the scene and quickly extinguished the smoke which was coming from the engine bay.
Fans were forced to wait for another coach to pick them and take them on to Middlesbrough..
Jeremy Brabyn, owner of Eastbourne Executive Travel, said he was confident that they would get to the game in time for the 3pm kick-off.
He said: “It was a small fire in the engine bay. Everybody disembarked safely and I have arranged for another coach to pick the fans up.
“We are not sure what caused the fire, but the coach is only nine years old. The driver was confident that he could continue but the fire service ordered everybody off for safety reasons.”
Meanwhile fans on board the other seven coaches were heading north in good spirits. They left the Pilot Field ground at just after 6am, slightly behind schedule, for the historic trip to Teesside.
Around 400 fans boarded the fleet of coaches, six operated by LJ Edwards and two run by Eastbourne Exectuvie Travel. Television cameras from ITV were at the ground to film the fans as they prepared to leave for their big day out.
It was estimated another 600 fans were set to travel to the Riverside Stadium, by train, car or plane.
Despite the dark and gloom of early midwinter morning the atmosphere was electric. Fans chanted ”here we go, here we go.” as the coach driver started the engines for the beginning of an epic six-hour drive north.
The first stop on the trip was Birchanger Services at Stansted on the M11 just before 8am to allow fans to stretch their legs. A gang of souvenir sellers was there to greet them as they stepped bleary-eyed off their coaches.
“Get your United scarves here” they shouted as the reams of fans poured into the service area eager to grab their first bacon sandwich of the day.
Dozens of fans sporting scarves, shirts and hats piled into the cafe and restaurant area turning the area claret and blue,.
Staunch fan Tom Mills, 20, from Barker Road, Hastings, said: “We got up at 4am to get a taxi to Pilot Field. We are bit bleary-eyed but well ready for the trip. It’s going to be a fanastic day out I have never seen antythig like this today. So many fans in good spirits to support United.
“It really is a sight for sore eyes.”