Thursday, 5 December 2019

In Direct Line Of The Burgers - Guildford City FC Vs Hanworth Villa FC, Combined Counties League Premier, Spectrum Football Ground (30/10/19)

Bumper to bumper traffic and 40 mile per hour speed restrictions make for slow going, but at least I have the unusual, but not to say enjoyable mix of the Queens of the Stone Age, George Michael and Soundgarden to entertain me, as I journey along the M25. With no Tom, the music fills a void, however I miss our banal chatter and friendly bickering. Tonight, as has been the case on a few occasions this season, because of the location of our destination, we are both travelling solo.

Entering the Guildford Spectrum Leisure Complex, the UK’s number one leisure complex by all accounts, the name I accept is quite a mouthful, and not one I think that will be remembered in the annals of time with other more evocative stadiums like Anfield and the Camp Nou, is visible from quite a distance.

Illuminated like something from a Spielberg film set, it's about as far from the usual non league set up then we are used to then you could imagine. The rows and rows of parking bays, many if not most are filled, signs pointing off in all sorts of directions towards one thing or another, an ice rink and bowling alley and not one of them says club shop. Modern, bright, and more concrete then you could shake a stick at, a monolith built in honour of wholesome family entertainment.

“I left the house it was 11.5” is Tom’s opening gambit, me barely out of the car, and he’s already miffed that it’s a bit chilly. He recounted how his on board thermometer tumbled the closer he got, until stopping almost at zero, although the way he is going on about it, you would think it had gone well below, “freezing”.

A long white banner fastened to a high green fence lets us know, in no uncertain terms we are in the right place, the club's name Guildford City FC (GC) written across it, however there are no obvious hints that there is a ground anywhere nearby other than the towering floodlights. The green fence doing a good job of obscuring what is beyond. Something that is vast, much, much larger than your average bottom of the pyramid football ground, and I’m curious to investigate. It’s not until Tom escorts me through a small open gate, that our venue for the night, comes into full view.

Imagine a bowl cut out of the earth by General Zod’s World Engine. Then drop into it, all the necessities for an athletics stadium. The red running track a lone runner is doing laps of as we arrive, hammer and discus cages at either end, the steeplechase hurdle, and blue tarpaulins covers the long pit jumps. There's a large steep grass bank at one end, and an even steeper bank of concrete steps at first floor level down the home straight, and of course a football pitch far out in the middle, and you have yourself the Prospect Football Ground.

There is more than a smattering of the Eastern Bloc about the place, one would not be shocked to see a steroid pumped shot putter appear and start hurling things about. The noise of the nearby main road is a constant and the newly arrived players and staff of Hanworth Villa FC (HV) who have just trekked down the formidable steps like a troupe of Sherpa's arriving at base camp, each ladened with one giant bag or another, mill about on the edge of the pitch, looking less than impressed by the facilities to say the least.

The vast complex that surrounds us, that not only includes the athletics track and football pitch, but also we’re told an ice hockey rink too, where a game is also on tonight, and I think I'm correct in thinking the now home of the former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper Peter Cech, is in direct “competition” with our match, which according to one GT volunteer, will cause a bit of a dent on their gate, “lucky to get fifty” he tells us. Fifty that is unlikely to include any away fans, “not much hope the visitors will bring many, if any,” we are informed they “don't travel well”.

The clubhouse, a pitch side portacabin accessed by a single file path that I’m just about able to get along, without getting stuck, reminds Tom of his exploits on a “building site”. Between his brief stint in the army and time as a hairdresser, what he knows about building sites, I'm not sure, but I take his word for it.

Signs around the rather bare room allude to better times in the club's history, and their stint in the Southern League. A ghetto blaster straight out of 1981 witters away on a small table, the unmistakable drone of TalkSport tumbling from it’s tiny speakers.

A somewhat makeshift looking bar takes up one end of the room, its red and white frontage, with the club crest on is currently unmanned. A shelf with everything available for the anticipated customers, does not give them many options. Next to our table on a blue notice board, four pennants hang wonkily, each one a memento from a previous FA Cup or Vase encounter.

“Two years ago it won best programme” says the man selling the clubs match day offering, from a bag for life. My money along with the few others who have bought one, goes straight in a small red metal lock box, the likes of which once upon a time you kept your Christmas and birthday money. The kind that was about as secure as a chocolate safe and if you lost your key, a swift whack from a hammer would open it.

I’ve yet to see anyone make their way through the single turnstile perched halfway up the side of the large bank of grass, the way down to the pitchside a zig zagging path, that makes you go back on yourself as you descend, like a day at a theme park.

A few of the green plastic seats in the covered section of the first floor stand sandwiched between the huge slab steps have been occupied. Below the teams appear for the warm up, first hit by the blinding orange glow that radiates from the running track, then the cold. Many with hands secured in sleeves, wishing they had not forgotten their gloves.

I’m happy to be accosted by a teen with a book of green raffle tickets in one hand and a plastic money bag clutched in the other. Tom then shares some advice for when and if I decided to visit the loo, “take a torch” but on opening the door when I do go, I’m not sure what he was going on about, it was perfectly well lit.

“A fucking queues forming” says Tom under his breath, standing at the rear of the baying mob waiting for food. The lifting of a blind to allow the fixing of a menu to the inside of the window, is like a red rag to some. The crowd surges slightly, but the shutter remains down. Nearby a committee of three kids write the teams out on a white board. The two dictating take no end of pleasure from winding up the scribe, sniggering loudly, forcing he with the pen to rub out great swathes of what he’s written, because he’s not noticed that starting in goal for the home team is I. P. Freely.

Tom’s transition, by his own admission, from summer to winter wardrobe has been a rather slow one, however this evening has prompted him to quicken the pace, “time to get the long-johns out”. The crowd shuffles a few steps further forward when one lady looks close to opening the hatch. The false sense of hope coming from the throng of bearded anorak wearing men, Tom included, when she doesn't, is palpable.

A traffic light system would be more than appropriate for the single file traffic in front of the clubhouse, however the bottleneck soon clears when a young woman throws open the shutter, “look at them go” mutters Tom. The stampede which he refrains from joining, lunge at the window in search of something to eat. We hang back, Tom sticking to his half time regime, surrounded by those also not eating, but instead occupy their time by defacing their programmes while updating the starting elevens.

“Testing, testing, 1, 2” says a quiet voice over the PA lifting the place out of just somewhere people have gathered to eat outside in the cold, towards somewhere in the realm of an actual football match. To be fair to him, I can't work out if his voice sounds quiet, because he is a softly spoken type or just because where we are is so vast. It wouldn't matter if it was Brian Blessed, it would still sound rather mousy.

“That's all from me, enjoy the game” is how he signs off, having read out the starting lineups. The away team complete their final shooting practice, “you don't save those ones” shouts one player having slammed the ball past the diving keeper, and soon the pitch is clear, the referee and his assistant appear to lead the teams out over the running track and onto the island pitch surrounded by a red sea.

“It’s chappin” says the home captain, his team in a classic get up of red and white stripes, his opposite number, the visiting captain, heads up his team who have effectively been dressed to look like yellow highlighter pens.

The home manager is booming to say the least, “leave everything out there,” he tells his team, standing in front of the Subbuteo looking plastic dugout, resting on wheels to allow it to be wheeled
away and off the track come the end of the night. “We start early, come on” he beseeches before restating his previous point, just in case nobody heard him the first time, “leave nothing out there, I mean it”.

A few late comers are pacing down the hill from the turnstile as the referee completes his final checks and such is the gap between the back of the goals and the edge of the ground, it's got to be at least sixty, seventy metres, two ball boys are standing fast, and they better be on it or we are in for about twenty minutes of added on time, come the end of the match.

Tom’s review of the tea is to the point, “hot”, and even though we bought them about ten minutes ago, it’s still scalding. There is little more I can add on my thoughts of the phenomenon that is the temperature of non league tea, but really someone should set up some kind of study group. He then tells me he “likes” the neon yellow away kit, but my mocking of him for this laughable opinion is interrupted because of our proximity to sustenance. Sitting as Tom puts it “in direct line of the burgers” the smell wafting up from the burger bar directly below us is verging on the overpowering.

The first chance of the match falls to the visitors, all because of a mistake at the back by GT, a goal for the highlighters is only prevented by the home keeper in a Jens Lehmann shade of orange, gathering up the ball moments before the HV forward can take advantage of the error. The home manager continues to be the loudest thing here, a little petered by this teams slow start, “It's fucking embarrassing. We've gotta get back quicker”.

Ten minutes gone and a goal bound GT header is cleared off the line, the man behind us tucking into his sandwich brought from home is only able to muster a muted “ohhhh” on account of his mouth being half full of cheese and branston pickle.

HV then go close with a flashed shot wide and less than a minute later a ball cut into the box is cut out, seconds before reaching its intended target. The home side then get a chance to catch their breath, after a high HV tackle poleaxes one of their midfielders, which in turn ignites a fleeting scuffle. “Fucking referee” shouts the home manager, the man in charge soon has control of things, “It's a physical one” snorts Tom.

Strutting around in midfield, you can see how the GT keeper might just be able to add to his goal tally this season if he stays that far up the pitch, “he clearly wants another goal” says Tom, having scored one in their last match. “What's he doing, on the edge of the centre circle?” ponders my fellow ex keeper, his positioning causing him some concern, “he's not the smallest bloke to run back” he adds, “he’s gonna get lobbed”.

Skipping into the box, and after a spot of good fortune, the GT defence tests their managers patience again, letting the visitors in, but luckily for them the shot is tame and right into the midriff of the keeper. A home shout for a handball is declined by a stern “no” from the referee and then off his line at a rate of knots, the GT keeper makes Tom eat his sizeist comments, out to clear a through ball in a flash.
The visitors are bossing it, the Villains as HV are known aren't letting GT have a touch, and the away side are soon in again after another lapse at the back, a last ditch block stops the close range shot hitting the target.

“Can you smell rosemary?” asks Tom, turning towards me with a rather perplexed look on his face. He’s convinced that the ladies in the kitchen are whipping up a bit of “roast lamb” and his craving for a bit of a midweek carve up, prompts him to tell me to go and get him some “roast potatoes”.

The first cold feet dance of the season sees Tom frantically tapping his feet, doing his best to get some life back into them, “my toes are frozen”. However the thawing technique is soon forgotten when a home breakaway, a slick and well rehearsed overlap pulled off by the full back and the winger is brought to an end by a “Guendouzi” type tackle. Tom laughs out loud at the similarities in the move more commonly seen at Twickenham. Imagine the young Frenchman's recent tackle against Crystal Palace, but with a heavy dose of Boris Johnson at Soccer Aid chucked in too.

“Think that's the weirdest goal I've even seen” suggests Tom, slack jawed. The combination of not one, but two flicked headers in a row following a GT corner, sees them, quite against the run of play take the lead, and before the delighted sounding PA can confirm the time of the goal, I do love a stadium announcer who can clearly be heard to be delighted that the home side have scored, someone, much to Tom’s annoyance, informs everyone that “Liverpool” are “beating Arsenal” in their game at Anfield.

Blessed with an ungodly amount of pace, the HV winger on the far side is soon flying once again, causing the home side all sorts of issues. His latest foray down the touch line is ushered out by one defender, much to the delight of one concerned home fan at the sight of him striding goalwards, “come on”.

It’s fair to say Tom takes pleasure in the simplest of things, a good cup of tea, some well cooked chips, tonight however it's not food that’s got him grinning, but the name of one of the players, Cyril. “Kind of love that” he says, “a name from football yesteryear”.

The away bench does it’s best to rival the noise of the home one, when following a particularly big tackle they go all “braveheart” as Tom describes it. “Well done” cries one man, overflowing with enthusiasm after his player won the ball back.

Into the last five of the half and HV are in again, but put it wide from a narrow angle. Tom has taken to his feet, in an attempt to wake up his extremities, “I’m getting frostbite”. With me still sitting he suggests I’m going to need an “inflatable” if I stay on my arse for the rest of the game, increasing my chances he thinks of getting “piles”.

“He nearly missed that” scoffs Tom, who I can just about hear over the one women cheer squad along to our right, celebrating the home sides second goal. The simple tap in is almost sent the wrong side of the post, but gets in the end to double GT’s lead. “Cheese that” says Tom, it being this close to half time I imagine he’s talking about his burger, but actually its some FIFA 20 lingo. A “cheesy goal” he goes on to explain is lots of R2 to sprint down the wing, a touch of X to pass it to the player in the box, and a dot of O to roll into the empty net, but the scorers connection was a tad scuffed, but he was spared any blushes.

GT’s keeper is elated, the HV keeper is not. “What the fuck?” he asks of his team mate, arms stretched out, not because as Tom points out he has “no number” on his shirt, but because his defence were non existent in the face of the GT attack

Bang on the stroke of halftime, what looked like a comfortable lead for the home side is halved. “Looked innocuous” says the man behind me, a tackle in the GT box has resulted in the referee pointing to the spot and curiously and for no apparent reason, the player brought down to win it, picks himself up and at nearly at full pace runs away from the scene of the crime, back to his own half. Very odd.

“Yes” exclaims the HV manager, “we go again” shouts GT’s, both of them keeping up the battle of the loudest gaffer right to the death.

An injury to a home player holds up halftime and Toms inevitable dash for food. The vigorous massaging looks to have done the job and the downed player is soon back up on his feet. “Bad sportsmanship” tut's Tom, when instead allowing the customary throw back to the keeper after the ball was put out of play, is instead kicked back out for another throw in.

Tom is absolutely chomping at the bit, “is it not half time yet” he wines. Barking his instructions, “hold, hold” the GT keeper makes sure there are no more slip ups, and such is his volume that I can barely hear the half time whistle.

“Our staff will be happy to serve you” says the young man over the PA, with Tom already on his way to put that to the test. It’s quiet as the teams depart, with neither managers having anything to say. As I unfold my 50/50 ticket I’m sure I’ve won, “211, 211” confirms the voice, but on second glance mine says 217, six out, my heart sinks, fuck. Tom thinks it's very funny when I explain just how close I was on his return, seeing it fit to nigh on laugh in my face, but he has his own problems to deal with, so his mocking is short lived.

“This is not going to end well” he prophesizes, the height of his ginormous burger, his huge, double patty burger, that looks close to toppling over that he admits to having been “too scared” to put sauce on.

Like some kind of sick wind up, the PA pipes up again informing us that the “50/50 has not been claimed” maybe this means a redraw, the ticket six away gets the prize instead? “I’ll have it” shouts one local optimistically, but any hope of my first win of the season, that our petrol money might be covered, is soon dashed to the floor, “quick update, it's just been claimed”.

Tom’s quiet, which can only mean he’s enjoying his food. “Sorry I’m dripping juice on you” he tells me, breaking away from his furious chewing. His apology and the constant pinging of his phones notifications as the goals fly in at Anfield is all I can hear, in fact all anyone can hear, until one home player appears buoyant for the new half, “come on Guildford”.

Bemused I think is how you would describe the expression on the face of the GT player, when for no clear reason an HV player next to him crumbled to the floor in search of a free kick. The visitors mind you are not the only ones guilty of a bit of play acting. The blood curdling scream that follows a tackle on a home player, surely means his leg is broken, no both of them, but soon he is back up, like nothing has happened.

The half time oranges have done little to dispel GT’s wobbles at the back, a cross into their box is crudely hacked away and the foul play is increasing too. “Never” screams a home fan when HV are
awarded a free kick on the edge of the box “he fell over him”, however GT have nothing to worry about the set piece is woeful.

“Start playing, start playing” pleads the the GT manager after what has been a pretty uninspired start to the new half. When they are in possession of the ball it inevitably ends up out on the wing. “He can’t catch you” shouts one home fan, when the wide man is off on one of his gallivanting runs, “he’s nowhere near you” they confirm. Only for the defender who looked right off the pace, who is now the new poster boy for perseverance sticks with him, and against all odds recovers well and wins the ball back.

As the clock ticks down the rate of theatrics increases. “Embarrassing” shudders a GT supporter, “get up” shouts another. In an attempt to win another penalty one HV player has just gone over very easily in the GT box, but his efforts go unrewarded.

The halftime break has also done little to defuse the increasing physicality. “Thank you,” says one man sarcastically, when a poor HV tackle ends up with the home side being awarded a free kick in a promising position. “Do not lose the work rate” says the home bench, offering up a few words of encouragement, that ultimately have the opposite effect than intended. This free kick, just like all the others that preceded it, is poor.

GT are growing increasingly sloppy, determined to chuck their lead away, and their manager is losing it. “Don’t let him cross” begs a home fan, but the defender does just that and the HV player sliding in at the back post is only a fraction away from tapping in for the equaliser.

Long time readers will know how fond of shorts I am, how it was only recently I retired mine for the year, so because of this Tom is happy to do a bit of short shaming, when a man comes into view, who is not one of the twenty two players or any of the three officials, sporting the aforementioned no leg garment in November, “putting you to shame”.

A long range HV shot is on target and has to be beaten away by the GT keeper, who has been nowhere near as cavalier with his positioning so far this half. All this pressure on his team, is causing the GT manager to hit new levels of audibility, forcing him to call out Tom’s favourite player, “Cyril concentrate”. What must be even more frustrating for the GT manager is when his team do knuckle down for just a second, they are able to dissect HV with ease. “Clip him” instructs one visiting midfielder after a GT players just skipped past half the team, bearing down on goal he ends up running somewhat down a dead end, the chance to pass has gone and the home fans are livid, getting the most animated they have been all night.

In on goal, one on one, GT have the best chance so far to create themselves a bit of breathing space, but the side footed shot is wide, stirring an “ohhhh” from the crowd, whose half own half time refreshments, has clearly livened them up.

“One, two, three, four” counts the home manager, his over the top delivery, is an attempt to highlight just how many HV fouls have gone unpunished, pointing to each spot of the pitch one of his players have been taken out. One home fan, ensures to make sure the players are not dejected by this rather underhand tactic, “boys keep your heads up, you're still the better side”

What looked like it could have been a nasty one, a challenge on the GT keeper, goes neither punished or results in an injury, the man in goal rolling out of the collision like an old pro. The wind is picking up, and I feel a little exposed on the side of the man made mountain, the temperature is dropping and the game, well, the game is not great.

The closer GT get to securing the three points, the closer they get to chucking it all away. “He’s in acres of space” bemoans a home fan, HV are away down the wing, the player cuts the ball into the box, tees up his team mate, the equalizer looks nailed on, however the shot is wild. “Weyyyyyy” cackles one man, the shot way, way over.

A soft flicked header causes the GT crowd to squirm, but the late effort on goal is right into the hands of the keepers. Tom decides it's time to “get his little mittens out” and the home supporters, no rival to their managers noise of course, have though really come out fighting this second half, “switch on” bellows one. The recurring issue of major lapses in concentration at the back strikes again, HV are in, but can't take the chance, causing one grown man to briefly sound like a toddler, when he screams at one of the offending back four, “you stupid”.

It’s a mistake by HV at the back which presents GT with their next chance, in on goal, the third goal looks only moments away, but for some completely unfathomable reason, the player with the ball squares it, instead of shooting and Tom is dumbfounded, “why?”.

Falling short of stamping his feet and holding his breath, but sounding a lot like my two year old daughter, the boy in the shorts repeats “we've lost it, we've lost it” as HV get closer and closer to the goal, with only the keeper to beat. A block of John Terry esq proportions, flinging his whole body in front of the ball, stops the goal bound shot, the HV players appeal for a hand ball, but nothing is given.

The wind gets stronger and is cutting through me like a knife and the home defence again, do everything they can to throw the three points away, despite the shouts of “urgency, urgency” from one supporter. Some miscommunication at the back ends with the one GT defender and the keeper coming together in an almighty heap, neither of them with the ball, which pops out as if it was a bar of soap in a cartoon, skidding through the box and wide of the goal.

“Clear” shouts a home defender, sounding like the last man alive in the fox hole, when HV send another ball from out wide into the box, and goes close once more. GT are on the ropes, exploiting them on every occasion from wide areas, HV are in the box, only for some last ditch defending forcing the ball wide. The home fans are only able to show their displeasure now by making low guttural noises, “aghhhhhh”.

The resulting corner, despite its best efforts misses everyone, every single HV player in the box is forced to just spectate as it’s whistles by, by the time it's travelled all the way though, its eventually hoofed clear, but the chances keep on coming for HV. “That was close”, gasps a home supporter, the GT keeper at full stretch can one watching as the ball sails past him and the post.

Conspicuous in their absence, the ball boys are nowhere to be seen and when they do pop up, they are far from as energetic as they were in the first half, the time it takes for the ball to get back into play, slowing the last throes of the match to a snail's pace.

Having clearly seen enough, those making their way back up the hill towards the way out, are stopped in their tracks by an almighty to-do, that plays out in one corner of the pitch. “I didn't stamp on him” states the HV player accused by a GT one, of just doing that. Close to all twenty two players are involved at one point, but soon calm returns. Allowing those drifting off early, to continue their climb.

Doing their best to torture their supporters right until the very last whistle, the GT players continue to make things hard for themselves and the home fans patients is wearing thin, “keep. the. ball” orders one, “simple”, and come the final whistle one lets out a very loud and relieved “yessss”.

If you put your hand on your heart, I think you will admit that the idea of watching a football match in an athletics stadium is very, very low down your list of things to do. I admit to being of those people, I'll hold my hand up and admit that a little bit of me cried inside on the realisation that GT played in one, but I can also admit I was pleasantly surprised. The elevated view makes for a very agreeable vantage point. That and the chance of a prize winning programme, and the chance of seeing a goal keeper score, I'd suggest a visit to the Guildford Spectrum Leisure Complex, see it actually rolls right off the tongue, will not be a wasted one.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE


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Sunday, 17 November 2019

I'd Go Closer, But I'd Need A Snorkel - London Lions FC Vs Enfield Borough FC, Spartan South Midlands Football League Division One, Rowley Lane (16/10/19)

Thank Christ for A Tribe Called Quest, was never a sentence I ever thought I would utter, I say utter, I just roll it around in my head, having tentatively opened the passenger side door of Toms car in anticipation of a deluge of morose music like last time out, but instead I’m greeted by the New York four pieces 1993 hit, Electric Relaxation, what a relief.

Although I don't have long to enjoy their melodic hip hop beats, as tonight's ground is less than ten minutes away from my house, its eight minutes to be precise, I have just about enough time to consider the advice of my other half, “I don't know if its a big jacket day” she said to me as I left and just how thankful I am for ignoring her this time, because the last game we went out I was freezing and tonight's even colder.

Another reason for a coat, is not just the plummeting thermometer, but the very high chance of getting wet, “at least it's not raining” mutters Tom as we step out of the car, the fact it's not is a minor miracle. It's been raining non stop for what feels like days and looking out across the floodlit pitch, the car park within touching distance of it, Tom says pretty much exactly what I was thinking too, “there is not much here, but it's very nice”.

A single all seater blue stand, The Alan Mattey stand, with its many yet to be occupied blue plastic seats runs along one side of the pitch and that and the blue framed curved roofed dugouts really is all there is, Tom was not kidding. A white railing, the kind I always describe as looking right from race course surrounds the playing surface, and like I said, that really is all there is, as Tom puts it, “it feels more like a Premier League training facility than a ground”.

Midweek games can be testing for many non league clubs at the best of times, but according to Velina London Lions FC (LL) 1st team Secretary in her long almost knee length club coat and high red boots, she reckons they would be lucky if they got more than “15 or 17” tonight. She also points out that come kick off, the sections of fencing currently lent up against each other in one corner of the car park will be used to “build the tunnel”.

The clubhouse is more of a “conference suit” than anything else says Tom, a couple of large round tables sit in front of the bar, the rest of the room is empty, the enormous parquet dance floor is yearning for Barry from accounts to start doing his best Travolta impression.

Scouring the bar for things to eat it’s soon apparent that its little more than bar snacks and J20’s available, Tom most likely is going to be going without any kind of dinner tonight. The face on him as he sits down next to me in the seat previously inhabited by either someone at a wedding reception or the speaker at a medical seminar, is not a happy one.


“Dinner: Coke, crisps, Snickers” he explains, plonking them down on the table, he even contemplates nipping off to McDonalds, if it didn't mean he would most likely lose his parking space. He follows all that up with a couple of biscuits pinched from the hospitality table at the far end of the room. Where the hot water urn we grabbed our coffee from, makes a very unfortunate and flatulent noise, whenever anyone uses it.

“It's a nice evening for some football, shame we've had too much rain” says a man on the adjacent table to us, breaking the deathly quiet that shrouds the large room. Tom is head down, food all gone, opening a couple of FIFA 20 packs on his phone, his bad mood emanating from him like a bad smell, only looking up to tell me “they've got free Wi Fi”.

Outside it’s still dry and thank God for that, because the pitch sounds so soggy underfoot of those brave enough to venture out across it without armbands, but it’s getting colder. “Bit nippy” grumbles Tom, trying his best to pretend it’s not his snood he’s just pulled from his rucksack, telling me like I was born yesterday it’s a “hand warmer” and not the much maligned go to for the latest South American import playing in Yorkshire in December for the first time, but that he’s trying to bring back every Victorian ladies staple, the muff.

A man starts to build the tunnel and some very swanky cars jostle for position in the now rammed car park. The click clack of studs on concrete sees the players swerve around the makeshift construction, as they make their way to warm up. “Whats this?” squeals an Enfield Borough FC (EB) player, bending down to touch the sodden pitch, “oh my, Lord” he says on the realisation of just how saturated it is. Tom in a mild state of shock, astonished that anyone is allowed to warm up on it in the first place, the potential for absolute carnage, very high.

Over the constant buzz of the nearby motorway, one EB supporter comments to one coach about the long line of “unfamiliar faces coming out of the changing room”. The coach in hushed tones then reels off a long list of “missing first team regulars”. Those readying themselves to pull on the clubs shirt tonight are a “young squad” many of whom are no older than “seventeen, eighteen” or “nineteen”.

With the DIY complete, the referee stands at the head of the long temporary tunnel, that highlights one benefit of it’s bespoke design, it's probably about wide enough to drive my car down, and there is tons of space for both sets of players, no shoulder rubbing here, plenty of room to swing a cat or even a couple of cats.

It is a rather muted entrance as the players walk out, there are a few enthusiastic shouts from the home players “come on Lions” but there is little noise from the crowd, most of whom are in the stand, that after doing a quick head count, might just exceed Velina prediction.

Standing just to the side of the emerging players, a small group of men with the air of committee members about them, are having a right old grumble about the pitch, the pitch which is showing some rather significant signs of the recent work of a ride along mower. Three or four great scars cut into the turf. “I’m worried about over there,” says one, pointing off into the distance.

I can't be certain if all the vigorous hand clapping by the players is a technique to gee each other on, accompanied by the odd hearty shout or its just a way to keep their hands warm. There is one other EB fan in attendance, he gives himself away by giving up his own shout with kick off imminent, “come on borough”.

In front of us the referee's assistant runs the line, I say the line, because as Tom points out he is about “a foot” off it. To actually run the line, would mean stepping foot on the worst affected part of the pitch. “This side is bad” cringes Tom, on the few occasions the lino does get close to the white line, the squelching sound is akin to that of a person punching a bucket of jelly. Overhearing us discussing his predicament, the man with the flag engages in some top level, non league official bants, “I'd go closer, but I'd need a snorkel”.

With just over five minutes gone the home side are first to hit the target, a rising powerful shot is pushed wide of the post, the home side in a kit Tom is a bit keen on “I like it” he tells me, the unusual design a nice break from the standard Nike template with the name of a local accountants on the front.

The visitors weather the early home pressure well, and the young team slowly but surely start to get their foot on the ball and when they do, they move it around well. So much so, their ability to shimmy past the LL players is starting to affect one or two of them to “this is shit, get tighter.''

Tuned into these kind of things, I must admit it completely passed me by, but Tom informs me of the slew of people who just prior to kick off “sneaked in” via an open gate by the overflow car park, one
person who came in the official way, wished he had just stayed put, “£5 to get in, I could have watched from the car”.

“He's got the right idea,” says Tom pointing to one man, who has just walked the full length of the pitch to get some crisps and a drink and is making his way back to his motor. “Perfect view” as well as a “bit of music and the heaters on” in Tom’s eyes is a no brainer and if he could get away with it, he would be off doing the same thing, but not on my watch.

“Where are we?” screams for what will not be the first time tonight, the LL manager. EB are starting to run riot, the pendulum has fully swung their way now and the home players are rattled, “tighter” shouts one. The captain is emphatic to say the least, waving his arms at his teammates demanding more from them.

A late away tackle doesn’t stop the flowing home attack, the referee allows play to continue, the move coming to an end with a dinked cross, that almost looks like it’s floating, the flight of which almost catches out the EB keeper and instead of praising the man in charge for allowing the match to carry on, Tom calls the referee “fat” and complements him on his dry cleaning, “I like his white collar”.

“There it is” says a home fan, in a moment of clairvoyancy but the shot from the LL player is inches wide of the post, but minutes later they take the lead, much to the displeasure of the lone EB fan, who is prone to the odd outburst, “fucking hell man” as are a a couple of the players watching on as the LL ones celebrate, “too easy”, the ball looking to go right through the keepers midriff.

Despite taking the lead, the home manager is not exactly impressed, “not good enough, by a long way” he hollers. His voice already starting to show the strain and we’re only about twenty minutes in.

It’s around now and not for the first time since going to non league football, I see a sight that I imagine you might be hard pushed to see in your whole life, let alone twice in only four years, a dog in a pram, a dog in a bright pink pram, that by the looks of it is nicer than my own daughters.

“It’s not a baby” clarifies Tom, like for a second I thought it was just a very hairy infant. Peering out of its luxurious carriage, its owner sitting in the front row of the stand like it's totally normal to take a canine in a buggy to a football match.

The home goal has somewhat left EB, following their promising spell, looking a little bit shell-shocked and the home side are now officially bossing it. The linesman has officially given up actually trying to run the line, having stood still for about thirty seconds for a stoppage in play, he has almost sunk down to his ankles, but neither of us can take our eyes off the dog. “It's just sitting there,” says Tom, “licking its lips”.

I must admit the presence of you know who, is a tad distracting. I’m trying to work out why the need for its own personal transport. Tom suggests it might be “too old to walk” or “its got no legs”. Legs or no legs it looks very happy, it's probably better wrapped up than me, its little head poking out from among all its blankets. I do though have to take umbrage with Toms suggestion that it is “cute” it's the opposite of “cute”.

One of the many things that non league football has over its relatives higher up the pyramid, is the chance of the officials giving a little bit back to the crowd, in response to getting it in the neck about something or another, and the half swimming half, officiating one before us, is just that sort, and I have to admire him for it.

Assured, confident and with great feat the home captain is showing all the qualities that you would want from the person leading your team. Playing the ball out from the back, he has been the architect of LL’s resurgence since going ahead. They go close again following a corner, but the effort on goal is caught on the line and within the blink of an eye, EB show off just what they are capable of. Racking up the other end, it's a foot race with only one winner, bearing down on the home goal is the EB forward, but the keeper is there just in time to gather in the ball, curling up and clutching it to his chest.

The pitch is holding up surprisingly well and it's an uncharacteristic error from the home captain, charging out from defence and missing the ball completely, that sees EB in again. A drop of the shoulder and the EB front man is in again, but he shoots straight at the keeper.

Chances are coming at both ends. A curling LL shot from the edge of the box gets a “oohhhhh” from the crowd, and it needs two attempts by the EB keeper to gather it, who is starting to look a like shaky and the first booking of the match is for a EB player and not long after the home players are calling for another. “How many ref?” asks one, after a particularly agricultural EB tackle goes unpunished.

Despite the away side seemingly unable at times to make a two yard pass when it counts and the home side wasting a Pep Guardiola amount of possession, the game has been far from dull. A home shot that’s high and wide bounces off a car in the car park and the away bench is full of praise for the player who just made the slide rule pass inside the LL right back, cutting him out of proceedings with ease, “that’s the ball I want”. The shot at the end of the move is low and from a tight angle, but again it’s right at the keeper.

The simple awarding of a corner, would not normally be worth a mention, however detailed I like to be, however this particular one awarded to EB might be worth bringing up not for the set piece itself, but because for some reason the EB player assigned to take it, decided the corner flag was getting in his way, so he plucked it from the ground and chucked it. Not impressed in the slightest with his unsporting behaviour, the referee blows up and makes the offending player recover it and put it back before we can continue. The EB player looking a little sheepish as he does so.

Reaching ever new heights of displeasure, the LL manager is scathing about this players efforts, “you're going deeper and deeper, that's not good enough, that's lazy” he shouts. This criticism nearly has the desired effect, because they almost score a cracking goal. LL’s number 7, who has a touch of the Griezmans about him, hooks the ball out the air with his right foot, wriggles away from his maker and the crowd are celebrating his impending goal, before it's even gone in, but awkwardly for them, his shot is a fraction off target.

The phrase ‘if that was Barcelona’ comes to mind on the stroke of half time, when a one touch master class by the home team sees them threaten again, however where Messi and the gangs attack would end in a goal, queue the big inflatable pitchside men at the Camp Nou, this one ends with one LL player hoofing the ball right up a teammates arse.

EB finish the half with the last effort of what has been an action packed forty five minutes. In on goal one person in the crowd is not exactly confident, “bet you he misses” which he does. The visitors are more than competent, they have the skill set and are prone to the odd nutmeg or two, but their lack of cohesion across the team is killing them.

With the teams gone, the dog well and truly becomes the centre of attention for those unlike Tom who haven't gone in search of tea. By the size of the crowd that has gathered around the pooch, they could have charged a fiver for people to come and see it with no problem and when Tom returns with tea, the brown sweet liquid in the polystyrene cup is life giving and much needed.

There are new shouts of “come on Lions” from fans and players alike as they appear for the second half, but not one cry of the visitors nickname, The Panthers. If I followed a team named after a big cat, I’d be shouting it at every possible opportunity.

The break and whatever words of wisdom the EB manager had for his team have worked a treat, and it’s a very strong start for them, racking up three half chances early doors, one as Tom puts it “their best of the match”. The mini EB onslaught has one LL player to a point of imploring, “come on guys, what are we doing, do your jobs”. The home side having looked at one point like they were going to roll EB over, have come out half asleep, the bench is incensed for them giving away “too many fouls” and as one player puts it “we’ve gotta start playing”.

What a glorious sound, what a hit from long range that more than deserved a goal, however the LL player responsible for the shot from well outside the area can only look on as we do as his effort comes back off the crossbar, the sound it made as it did so still ringing out as the ball spins back into
play. Winning back possession outside, LL go close gain with a flashed shot wide.

It’s a pass of sublime accuracy that does all the hard work, and makes the actual scoring of LL’s second a formality. “Goal” says the man standing next to me, before playing on the other of the pass from midfield down the right hand channel of the EB box, has rounded the keeper and slotted it home.

The applause from the stand is as much if not more for the player who supplied the ball than the scorer himself. “Great football” says an appreciative voice from behind us. LL have notably stepped it up a gear in the last five minutes, the goal a culmination of three or four chances in short succession. They are stroking the ball about with ease.

Some have paid to get in tonight, some have sneaked in and one man has climbed a rather steep hill to stare through a fence. Whatever way they have ended up watching, they can't ignore the furore the LL manager is getting himself into, high standards doesn't quite go far enough to describe his demands, “keep the ball, keep the ball” he screams, his team absolutely cruising.

When EB have a rare half chance of their own, they are flirting with possession at best, sending the ball across the edge of the LL six yard box, it sends the home manager into near meltdown, “you must do better. KEEP. THE. BALLLL”.

Football is better at changing one's mood, more than any drug. “Benji. Welcome back son” purrs the home manager, “Benji” who I’m not sure where he has been, has just scored LL’s third, making his gaffa sound like he’s just taken a very strong dose of a high grade upper, the EB players are reduced to signifying their discontent by simply letting out a long succession of pained groans.

A shout for a home penalty is waved away, but three goals to the good, they don't seem all that fussed its declined, as Tom points out with the EB defence in such disarray, “I've never seen a back four or three, I’m not sure, look less comfortable on the ball. None of them want it
None of them are talking” a fourth goal for them seems like only a matter of time.

“Well played Lions” gushes a member of the crowd, that fourth goal with us sooner than I thought, a fumble from the EB keeper, pushed the ball to the waiting LL scorer, who even though he was falling over as he does, he is able to poke the ball into the empty net. “That's it” says Tom turning towards me, following the muted celebrations from the home players. The away players are probably louder in their remonstrating with each other, “fucking shit”.

Into the final quarter and Tom suggests LL have, how do you put it, taken their foot off the gas, “it's like they went up a gear and now they've gone down one, happy to just pass it around”.  The EB keeper is forced to vault the barrier in search of the ball, slipping over, his return to the pitch much more straightforward if not a little embarrassing. NAME on hand to open a nearby gate to allow him back on.

“Keep it going to the end lads” motivates the LL keeper and so far his teammates look to be doing every bit of that. “Show off” chuckles Tom, the home side demonstrating a few of their tricks and flicks, totally in charge, they can afford too.

Having eased off, it does allow EB the odd probe forward, one run into the box ends with a poor shot and the home player responsible for the lapse in concentration raises his arm in apology, which does not go down well with the bench, “I don't want your fucking hand”.

Although the EB ball into the box comes to nothing, the home manager is still livid, his voice almost gone, his latest shouts reduced to screeches, “I don't want everyone saying sorry, get it right, get it right”. Tom almost whispering, frightened of getting scolded himself if he hears makes the understatement of the year, “he’s angry”.

When EB score a goal that is little more than a consolation, his anger hits a new peak, ripping into his team, “you think you're all too good”. The players do their best to rally each other, “keep your composure” says one, “we want the three points” says another, sounding like they know full well they are in for a deluge of shit if they somehow conspire to balls this up.

A “cracking save” as one of the crowd puts it by the hand of the home keeper pushing the ball onto the post stops EB’s second going in. “We’ve got to keep the ball” barks the LL manager, “tighten up” instructs one player as the home side suffer what is quite a sizable wobble, putting their comfortable lead in jeopardy. “Get them to liven up” says a concerned fan of one of the players. EB go close again, the keeper forced into another excellent save, this time the visitors are offside, but LL’s drop off in performance, must be causing their manager to have kittens.

"Oh my God" says the EB keeper, prone on his back, for the second time tonight what was a tame shot has completely evaded him. If there was even the slightest suggestion of a comeback, that's been well and truly put to bed with LL's fifth.

A four goal advantage and only minutes left to play, one might think the LL manager might just relax a
bit, the jobs done, the points secured, but not on your nelly, he's still going apoplectic at the smallest of errors. "Want the ball, want the ball" his new deranged mantra. The sight of his team almost bagging a sixth, a curling shot from wide, brings no respite at all. It's only a late tackle on one of his players right in front of the bench, that sees him direct his vitriol at the referee for a brief second and away from his players, "fucking deal with that".

EB very nearly get a second of their own, but a last minute interception saves not only the goal, but everyone in a ten mile radius's eardrums and the crowd have seen enough, they are suitably entertained, but its time to go, "blow the whistle it's cold".

You're not going to come to Rowley Lane for the chance of a hulking great beef burger, the rickety old stand or the years and years of history and non league charm. You're going to come for the chance of seeing a good team play good football, a manager putting himself through the ringer and of course because you might see a dog in a pram.

You'll go to Rowley Lane for the chance to hear your mate say, “it's got a pink jumper that matches it’s pram”, it will be worth it just to hear that alone, I promise you.

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Monday, 4 November 2019

From The Road - Corinthian-Casuals FC Vs Folkestone Invicta FC, Isthmian League Premier, King George's Field (12/10/19)

It’s officially that time of year, where it feels like the chance of the football match you intended going to is more likely to be cancelled then go ahead, in the non league world at least. Rapidly hurtling towards winter, each check of my Twitter time line is done tinged with apprehension, scrolling past tweets about games being called off come thick and fast and it's surely only a matter of time before the club we'll be making our way to fires one off about Mother Nature getting the better of their pitch.

The short video from Tom of the torrential rain overwhelming the storm drains near his work and the vision out of my own living room window of almost twenty four hours of solid rain, doesn't bode well for our first Saturday afternoon match of the season, and it’s not any old Saturday may I add, but the final international break of the year too, which can only mean one thing, its Non League Day.

We were relatively slow on the uptake when it came to non leagues holiest of holidays, but since having devoted ourselves completely to the cause, we have tried to make as much of a grand day out of it as we can. Last year's trip to North Ferriby meant this year had a lot to live up to, however I’ve an inkling where we will be going won't disappoint.

I even have a little nosey around in search of some alternative fixtures such is the deluge of rain drenching the world outside my flat, in doing so feeling almost like I’m cheating on the club we have arranged to visit, but they are making all the right noses on social media, so I’m able to go to bed relativity confident that our game will go ahead.

Such is the location of today's destination, almost equidistant between Toms and mine, we are both riding solo, so there is no FIFA, cheese or honeymoon chat for us today. I’ve even failed to charge my portable blue tooth speaker so can't indulge in a bit of a Spotify sing along, instead I try my luck with my supposedly broken radio, which as is it’s want, occasionally plays the CD stuck in it, Michael Jackson's History, a present from my elder sister circa 1995, but unable to adjust the volume, I nigh on deafen myself with a succession of Jackos hits, before the scratches on the disc and the din its producing become too much to bare, so end up sitting in near silence, just the sound of the motorway and the sloshing of standing water under my car's tires for company.

I must be honest, railway arches are not the kind of places I usually like to hang around, the chance of bumping into one of the Mitchel Brothers or some such villain is greatly increased, but I’ve little option but to make my way under the one ahead of me, the road, which might be a bit harsh on roads, the pot holed track, which might be a bit harsh on pot holed tracks, the shot to shit ground before me means I’m forced to creep along at no speed at all, in fear that at any moment I might lose a wheel or god forbid my entire car to one of the numerous and cavernous holes that litter the ‘road’ ahead.

Thankfully the car park of King George's Field is in much better nick than what precedes it outside. Past the high white sign welcoming you, held aloft in the best non league tradition by a structure made of scaffolding poles and there is an unusual detail as you enter, the clubs initials painted in raised white lettering on the floor.

On first impressions this little part of Tolworth, in the shadow of an adjacent railway line rising up steeply along one side of the ground, is not the most picturesque of places we have visited. Neither and I don't think it is rude of me to say so, is it one in the best condition either, however it is soon very apparent, in its own very understated way, that this little part of Tolworth can happily say it is responsible in some small part for Ronaldo, Romário and Zico. It can lay claim to being responsible for the Brazil team of 1970, and a national obsession that might just be unrivalled around the world in its importance to a single nation's identity.

Very rarely do you see a kid walking around your local shopping precinct wearing the white of Germany, but I can guarantee you have seen plenty in the yellow and green of the Canarinha, the little canary, with the single word names of their heroes on the back.

However all the magic of an airport themed Nike advert feels a very long way away at the moment, Corinthan-Casuals FC (CC) are in the words of maybe their most ardent supporter, Roger, and I say that based on the tattoo on his calf that he showed me within five minutes of meeting him, that “used to be pink and brown” he tells me, the famous colours of CC having run from his permanent expression of the love he has for his club, are “struggling this season”. In fact “struggling” might be an understatement, in ten league games, they are yet to win one, as Roger puts it, “we deserve more points then we've got”.

Standing beside the pitch, a pitch that Roger informs me is all good to go, thanks to the efforts of those with forks still tending to it as I arrive, he tells me about just how important it is to some from over five and a half thousand miles away, specifically the supporters of S.C. Corinthians Paulista.

As a Spurs fan, I'm not sure that if the fabled lamp post the clubs founders huddle around to form Tottenham Hotspur is treated with such reverence, in fact I’m not even sure it's even still there, but the patch of grass covered in white lines next to us, is the “father land” to those fans of S.C. Corinthians Paulista according to Roger. A place of pilgrimage, their Mecca if you will. A tangible link to their own clubs roots, the birthplace of its history.

“Brazilians come” says Roger, almost half astonished he just said that. They “walk to the centre circle” and “kiss it”. Some don't even come for the match, “they come after the games finished”, just being here for however long is enough, it moves some to “tears” and where others “laugh” explains Roger, he’s on hand to put an arm around them, because he gets it.

From a little bit closer to home and nowhere near as exotic as São Paulo, King George's Field is expecting some noted visitors today Roger explains, the “Preston Casuals are coming”. Admittedly Lancashire is a long way off south eastern Brazil, but this small group of Preston North End supporters are just as committed all the same, and their reason for being here just as intriguing.

After their own PNE game was called off due to bad weather, they stumbled across CC playing an away fixture, while in search of their football fix, up the road from their abandoned match. After getting over the fact that their League game had fallen foul of the poor conditions, but a non league one had survived and thanks in some large part to Rogers expertise in public relations, insisting they all “swapped scarves”, they were taken in by the travelling CC faithful, following the away side because “we were the away side” and a friendship was forged there and then, the same group making their own mission to Tolworth now “three times a year”.

Standing beneath the pink bunting hanging from the ceiling of the area immediately outside the clubhouse, littered with a couple of picnic tables, and surrounded by a few nods to CC’s founding fathers and its lasting impact in South America and like I said before the references to the clubs stature in football history are not flashy at all. The pictures and biography of those concerned are very understated, considering their significance, they look like something a few notches up from a well put together school project. I talk to Stuart CC’s photographer, about the clubs 2015 visit to Brazil, seven days of being “treated like royalty”, “living off adrenaline” and people everywhere they went wanting the “shirts off their backs” that was all captured in the stunning documentary, Brothers in Football.


You might think Stuart is boasting, when after talking about his visit to São Paulo he casually tells me about CC’s “summer in Budapest”, where in the best traditions of the club they took part in a European tour, but I can assure you he’s not. I just think you get to say things like that, when you’re involved with this fascinating old club. As he says, it’s just upholding the “Corinthian ethos” carrying on being “pioneers of taking football around the world”.

The gentle sound of the ever present drizzle on the corrugated roof above the makeshift seating area and my conversation with Stuart is interrupted by the boisterous arrival of the Preston Casuals, “here
comes some of the Preston boys”, each barrelling through the single turnstile and making their way straight to the bar.

“Lovely weather, lovely weather” says one rubbing his hands together. Another speaking to Roger recounts the conversation he had with his wife last night, after getting home from a late night out, “you’re not getting on that train in the morning” he says, mimicking his other half's voice, and despite feeling a little worse for wear, he was never going to miss today, “life is for living”.

Although the order for the bar has already been taken, there is something far more crucial than a pint to be sorted first, and that's a picture with the silverware CC claimed during their summer in Hungary. Stuart hurries off to not the most auspicious of locations, a nearby shipping container, to fetch the large silver trophy, that is soon front and centre of the group, whose phones are hurriedly passed around to grab a picture of their own.

Normally I’d be quite concerned to say the least Tom is as late as he is, but if I'm honest I had lost all track of time, due to the thorough history lesson from Roger and Stuart, so I’m not that fussed at all and by the sounds of is he’s had a far worse time then me. His Sat Nav opting for a very bizarre route indeed. At one point he along with all the open top buses, crossed over Tower Bridge.

His first words though are not an apology, but after a quick glance to the heavens, he asks me “if I've seen the forecast”. I haven't, for the precise reason I explain to him, I don't want to make myself depressed, however he’s more than happy to be the bringer of doom, “come three o’clock, 90% double rain drops”.

Perhaps it's down to a bit of foresight, but along with the myriad of flags that now adorn the low roofed main stand, one man in no danger of getting wet should Tom’s deluge arrive, he has already found his spot not far from the halfway line, and is single handedly demolishing a pot of hummus. As eclectic a collection of flags it is, there is of course an S.C. Corinthians Paulista one, as well as plenty more in the clubs famous chocolate and pink, that Stuart told me is down to that be the the racing colours of one of the clubs creators, I can't quite take my eyes of the man inhaling the pureed chickpeas at a rate of knots.

The homage to “Mr P Nut” on the side of the burger van gets the copyright lawyer inside of Tom all riled up, “that's not Burger Man” as it claims to be he points out. I try and calm him with tales of the clubs famous four cheese chips they have on offer, but not for the first time as of late he reminds me of his aversion to multiple cheeses all at once.

My golden goal tickets are not secured from the small closed shed, with a sign on its front that alludes to it being the normal place one would get them, but instead from a man on a small table and via the tiny wooden counters all contained within a blue cotton bag. Quite the change from the “scraps of paper” as Tom puts it, that we normally come across very classy indeed.

I’m not sure that a shed can really be dubbed a Mega Store and I imagine there is a slight sense of irony about the single window wooden structure, filled with a vast array of scarves and merchandise, really being mega at all. The only thing that was mega, was how mega hard it was to fit through the door, in constant fear of turning too quickly I might knock it down. As is the case with everywhere else the store is awash with all manner of chocolate and pink goodies, as well as a few black and white ones too. Such was the high standard of pins on offer, Tom emerges not with one, but two.

“Welcome to King George's Field for today's slightly damp Isthmian League fixture” says the exquisitely well spoken voice over the PA. The kind of voice that would soothe you to sleep in your Anderson Shelter during the blitz, a proper BBC voice, and following her few bits of housekeeping, the music replaces her and the feeling of match day gets ever nearer.

There is a certain level of desperation in the voice of the lady calling out to the CC manager as he and the players appear for their warm up, “please win today”. Even more flags decorate the stands, a Brazil one now hangs from the back of the covered terraces behind one goal and astutely watching CC’s opponents Folkstone Invincats FC (FI) warm up, is someone who I can only describe as looking like a Bond baddie. Head to toe in a black suit, black polo neck jumper and silver hair, he is only missing a white cat. One false move by the FI players and it's the shark infested water for them.

Waiting very patiently in the uncovered tunnel, I say tunnel, it’s two lengths of a chain link fence, the players are held up by the stragglers at the back before the referee and his assistants can lead them out and then we are all caressed once again by the silky smooth tones of the announcer, who reads out the starting elevens without fault. The players don’t walk far before stopping to perform the hand shake, one CC player forced to awkwardly do it with his wrong hand, on account of his right one being heavily bandaged and out of the corner of my eye I notice we are in the presence of a former England cricket captain, Alec Stuart, who not only donned the whites of England but also the famous colours of CC once upon a time too.

The very large group still around the door of the clubhouse, are spared the motivational one liners by the players in the seconds leading up to kick off. The ends decided and the match seconds old, the group are soon in motion, the exodus has begun. The CC fans leisurely make their way to behind the goal they are attacking, where even more flags are hauled from a Tesco bag for life and strung up.

Decor sorted for their first half home, the CC supporters squeezed in under the small terrace start to sing, “Corinthian, Casuals”, however where I imagine on most match days there is no response from the visiting fans, today is not the case. The reasonable number of black and orange FI fans in the much larger terrace opposite them, respond almost instantly “come on Folkestone, come on Folkestone. Sea, sea, seasiders”.

The small pitch covered dugouts are not quite big enough to house all the CC substitutes and staff too, and unless he is a Biease fan, one man has seemingly drawn the short straw and has been relegated to sitting outside of it atop a blue cooler box and despite all the history, and all that is associated with CC’s famous colours, Tom is not digging it at all. “I don't like their kit” he says shaking his head, “Brown should never be on a strip, unless its mud”.

Eleven minutes gone and FI go close. Their effort draws another song from their fans, “oh when the stripes go steaming in”, hammering away at the back of the metal stand, it’s proving to be an excellent piece of percussion. It's the latest passing train that’s the inspiration for the next home supporters song, despite the distinct lack of attempts on goal by their side, "the grass is green, the sky is blue, The railway train goes rolling through".

Tom is still going on about CC’s shirt, “home kits too busy” he moans. He briefly halts his bellyaching to point out the very impressive looking “joint” one FI fan is smoking, impressive on account of its size, Tom suggesting it could be the “worlds biggest” that was “perfectly rolled” too, showing me quite how massive it was, by holding his two index fingers about the length of a shatter ruler apart.

Just past the quarter of an hour mark and we get our first moment of real excitement, the visitors are in on goal and look about to take the lead, only for a last ditch stretching tackle by a CC defender poking the ball away just as the forward was about to pull the trigger, clearing out the man and stopping the danger in its tracks. Considering it happened right in front of us, I can unequivocally say it was a foul and the calls from the FI fans for a penalty should have been rewarded, but they weren't, the referee pointing to the corner flag instead.

Tom is not as certain as I am, which means he is wrong, “I can't work out if that was an amazing tackle or a foul” and one CC player following the corner felt it was worth reiterating with the linesman that it was “a fair tackle”. Tom now in a mild state of shock, his brain unable to compute what the right call should have been, he is thankfully jolted free of his conundrum by a passing train, and right on cue the CC fans start to sing.

“It seems to be getting heavier” says Tom, having to speak up slightly because of the sound of a plane buzzing overhead, the rain is certainly plentiful, but it’s doing little to discourage the fans or the players. A new much smaller section of singing CC supporters have sprung up, around about where the hummus eater was, surrounded by a swathe of flags.

The FI bench is growing increasingly frustrated with the players, when after advancing all the way to the edge of the CC box, the home back line gives them nowhere to go and they lose possession. The FI supporters are still dishing out their songs, although their attempt to make “oh ah Invicator” stick is not quite working and considering the home attacks are still not exactly frequent, the sight of one forward plucking a long ball out of the air having broken the FI back line, it’s almost a shock. However he’s offside, but maybe they have found a chink in what until now has been a rather stingy defence, who give up another chance not long after, conceding a corner, much to the home fans delight, their little stand taking a battering, “ally o, ally or pink and brown army”.

Glancing towards the linesman to double check he is onside, having just latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the CC box, it takes a moment for it to dawn on the FI player he is, before he gives the home keeper the eyes, thinking I reckon judging by the look on his face he has sold him the wrong way, but how wrong he is. Not one, but two saves in quick succession, really high end close quarter stuff, keeps the home team in it. Lightening quick he is up after the first block, to do the same again. The crowd at the far end behind the goal erupt like they had scored a goal and it's all whistles and claps from the main stand on their feet.

Sadly, he can do very little about the low curling effort from the edge of the box, less than a minute
later, that puts FI ahead. “Well done” says one FI supporter to the celebrating player on the other side of the goal to us, who turns to except the crowds plaudits. “Come on Casuals” shouts a home fan from the main stand, and the demure voice informing us of the name of the scorer, is rudely interrupted by the chanting FI supporters, “sea, sea, seasiders”.

The rain gets even harder still, and sends those last brave souls, those without a brolly who had been standing out in the elements near the dugouts to flee for the safety of the terrace. The small choir in the main stand has more than found its voice and is belting out a song about a subject much talked about in certain circles, “we've got four cheeses on our chips, quattro formaggio”.

Into the final ten minutes of the half and a smart low one handed save from the FI keeper stops CC drawing level, who worryingly, are spending less and less time in the visitors penalty area. A man in the main stand is at least encouraged, “better” he says at the sight of the effort, as are those packed into the terrace, “come on Casuals, come on Casuals” and one benefit of a slick playing surface is it allows for as Tom puts it “a lovely wet grass tackle”. The CC player using every bit of the soggy turf to his advantage to aquaplane and win the ball.

So saturated are the flags perched on the top of the white flags poles dotted along one side of the ground, they can hardly move and the CC keeper has two hairy moments in the final minutes of the half, forcing home hearts into mouths. A swirling shot from outside the area, is moving too much to be held, forcing him to palm it out and it's not a case of “butter fingers” that strikes, but a “butter foot” as one FI imaginatively describes it, after his attempt to clear a back pass, spins up horribly in the air and out for a throw in.

The mood of the song that follows the half time whistle, reflects somewhat the downbeat feeling coming from the home fans, who are getting a little too used to the notion of being on the back foot this season. Another train thunders by, the CC flags behind the goal are quickly down and it seems to only be the man with the large golfing umbrella in FI colours, who is willing to break cover, everyone else, except Tom driven by his need to eat, is staying put.

If it wasn't for her winsome charm, I’d be a lot more upset than I am when the voice over the PA announces “the winner of the scratchcard”, that I somehow missed out on. Tom’s trip to the burger van, was a productive one. “Super burger and chips” he tells me, a proper “brioche bun” no imitations here like we have come across recently and so hot are the chips, the white polystyrene bowl they were served in, is starting to melt, like a scene from Aliens.

A single home made looking flag has followed the FI fans to the opposite end of the ground, the players return gets a few shouts from the CC supporters joining us in the much more spacious terrace and they will be very encouraged by what they see from their team early in the new half. A bonafide fire in their belly, they have come out with bags more purpose, and are looking far more assured on the ball. With less than a minute on the clock a breakaway looks more than promising, only for a slip at exactly the wrong moment, means the forward can’t get on the end of the pass and the crowd to a man, each do their best pirate impression, “arghhhhhh”.

The passing Jamie Byatt, who I first saw today supping from a cup of tea in front of the burger van, gets his own song from the home crowd, and as he should, being something of a local folk hero and club legend, not only in South London I’m told, but Brazil too.

It’s like a different team have walked out, CC looking the far sharper of the two sides. In again, it's only a last ditch block on the edge of the FI box, that stops them hitting the target and the crowd to our right respond in kind, “we’re pink, we’re brown, we’re coming to your ground".

A somersault at the end of a slaloming FI run, the shot just wide, gets the first hummed rendition of the Entrance of the Gladiators we've heard this season and a certain section of the home fans are growing a little tired of their teams lack of creativity, the “ohhhh” when the final ball on the edge of the FI box fails to materialise is heavy with disappointment. “Could have slipped him in” says not the actor to the bishop, but a CC supporter who could see what needed to be done, so I don't understand why the player with the ball couldn't see it either.

The next home attack, yes, like I said, a different team, that is two in more than forty five minutes, sees the player slipped in this time, he reaches the by line, and his near post shot is beaten out. All the signs are there of a resurgence for the home supporters, who and I would agree with them when they start singing about being “into something good”.

With the rain now hammering down, the water cooler has been abandoned and the home bench is positively heaving. FI almost double their lead, but somehow the player charging towards the ball can't make any contact, and the gaping goal goes untouched. “Sea, sea, seasiders” sing the FI supporters, the home ones reply by informing them and anyone who might care to listen, that they are the “pride of South London”.

There are more ohhhs from the home crowd, but still they wait for an equaliser. An unorthodox thigh pass across the FI area following a free kick, ends up in the right place, but no one can make the most of it and then the ohhhs are replaced with laughs, when a FI player slips over in the CC box, but he at least sees the funny side of it, “not very good” he says grinning.

“Well done Jack” cheer the home fans, after the player in question crashed a long range shot goalwards that was touched over the bar. Tom thinks CC are showing signs of “running out of steam”. They should have “scored at least three times”, he says after they have a goal bound shot blocked on the line, but struggle to recover when FI race right up the other end and almost score themselves. The more and more CC go in search of an equaliser, the more they look like getting caught out at the back.

“That's inches outside” says a concerned sounding CC supporter, drawing the air in over his teeth, when a FI player is barged over, in what I was sure was the penalty area, but the referee thought otherwise.

It can't be said that CC have not had their moments to score, but that all important killer pass has eluded them all day. “That’s horrible” says one fan at the sight of another lacklustre attempt to find
the player at the end of a move and just about summing up their day in front of the goal, when presented with probably their best chance of the entire match, they miss.

“I thought that was in” gasps one man, the same one who had berated his team for “wasting” the corner, and taking it short, but it found the player at the near post perfectly, who somehow managed to bounce his point blank range header down and wide from a foot out, falling to his knees, arms aloft, he goes the full Platoon.

From the brief time we have spent in the presence of the CC supporters, it's clear to see that they are a ‘sing regardless’ bunch, not an ‘only when things are going well’ lot. The on field action, having little bearing on them, “ally, ally o” they sing, while FI race away for the umpteenth time and the home keeper pulls off another super save, keeping his team just about still in contention with ten to go.

As the clock ticks down, a few fans around us start to dissect their teams performance, “we're not that bad,'' says one, “compared to the other teams in the league, we're just not taking our chances,'' which based on today's performance I would say is just about bang on.

Caught in two minds, one CC player with the ball doesn't know if he should listen to one fan and ignore the other or visa versa, “do it” says one, “don't” says another, in the end he doesn't pass it, the internal dilemma, the hesitation is written all over his face. Dawdling on the ball, CC’s hopes of getting anything at all are dwindling fast.

The man with a four pint beer carrier is very popular as he returns from the bar, much more popular than the latest CC player whose attempt to find a team mate is poor. The singing still continues “Casuals, Casuals” and the small section in the main stand are still focused on having “four cheeses on our chips”, and then the old seductress pipes up, caressing us for the last time with her dulcet tones, when she informs us that there are “four minutes of added on time”.

For the final time today, and by far the loudest they have been, the home fans give one last rendition of “something tells me I'm into something good” the stand around us sounds like its close to collapse, they are positively booming, “ally, ally o” their volume not dropping a decibel even when FI at the death almost score their second. “Why did he shoot?” wonders one of them, the away forwards decision making a little confusing.

One last wild home shot gives the supporters a momentary glimpse at hope and the man in the first floor scaffolding made filming gantry gives the team one last push, "two minutes left, lets keep going", however it's all in vein and CC fall to another defeat, however the disappointment of which is
soon forgotten, as the players begin their customary thank you to the fans. High fiving those who want to be high fived, shaking hands and even hugging one supporter, as they complete their lap of the pitch. A fine way to finish any football match, a mutual recognition of each others efforts.

Keen to join those already in the bar, his bag of flags in one hand, Roger a CC fan for "thirty years" who despite needing them in the CC documentary, I don't require "subtitles" to understand, is pragmatic to say the least.

His club rooted to the bottom of the division after promotion last year, CC it's important to point out and in accordance with the ethics of their original formation don't pay the players, only travel expenses and that's only a recent thing, puts things into perspective so beautifully, the beer already starting to flow just a few steps away, the Preston Casuals pink flag now hanging from the ceiling, the songs have already started. He shares with us a notion, one that is worthy of getting a tattoo of myself, one every football fan should remember, that league position, players, grounds are all immaterial. Its the club, the badge that is all important. As he puts it, even if they got regulated, and lost their famous old home, "if they're playing in the road, I'd support them from the road".

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