Stranded fans make it to big match on time

Dozens of Hastings United fans were forced to wait for an hour-and-a-half in a dark and freezing cold lay-by after their coach caught fire en route to Middlesbrough.

Around 50 fans had to abandon their vehicle just 50 minutes into their 300-mile trip after the driver spotted smoke.

The coach was quickly pulled onto the hard shoulder at just short of the A21 junction with the M25 near Sevenoaks, Kent.

Driver Billy Crowther, 69, phoned the fire service before grabbing an extinguisher and running to the back of the coach which belonged to Eastbourne Executive Travel.

Mr Crowther, who has 40 years’ driving experience, said: “I saw smoke coming out and stopped the coach.

“There was smoke coming from the back.

“I told everyone to get off, phoned the fire brigade, and grabbed my extinguisher.

“I went to the back, opened up the engine door and could see a flame coming out of the exhaust.

“I put it out and made sure it was safe.

“Everyone was calm and controlled. There was no panic.

“Nothing like this has ever happened to me in 40 years of driving coaches.”

The fans were forced to walk for half a mile in the dark along the hard shoulder of the busy A21 under police escort.

They waited until almost 9am in the cold, some without their food or drink.

A replacement coach was dispatched by Woodcock Coaches, a coach firm based near East Grinstead.

Their coach arrived in good time to pick them up and take them the remaining 250 miles to the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough.

It arrived at 1.20pm to the huge relief of those on board, giving them plenty of time to grab a snack and take in the carnival atmosphere.

Passenger Paul Emerson, 55, and a civil servant, said: “We were more worried about getting to the game on time than any fire on the coach

“We had to wait in the cold for 90 minutes of the side of a busy A21 which was not great.

“We were really glad to see the replacement coach.

“Some of us were really hungry because we didn’t have any food or drink, so it was straight to the nearest burger stall.”

It is believed debris got into the coach’s exhaust system, sparking the fire.