Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Beef Slice - Northwich Victoria FC Vs Chertsey Town FC, FA Vase Semi-Final 1st Leg, Wincham Park (24/03/19)

Tiptoeing around my flat, I do my best not to wake the baby, who is sound asleep, as most people should be at this time on a Sunday, but once again our continued search for football enlightenment is pissing all over the one sacricant I have left in my life, the one rule, naah mantra I have stuck by all these years through thick and thin, good times and bad, deaths, births and drug addiction of not doing anything on a Sunday for the umpteenth  time this season. It's now not really even worth mentioning it anymore, it’s been that long since I actually fucking stood by it.

One could not ask for much more when stepping out their front door than birdsong and blue sky. My neighbour coming the opposite direction, looks like they have had a good night, but the birdsong may well be having an adverse affect on their delicate head, so I do my best to not let the door slam, in precaution of not wanting to trigger some sort of post bender breakdown.

“Bit early for these shenanigans” says Tom grumpily, as he drapes his coat over his knees and gets himself comfy. Long term readers will know Tom is far from a morning person and he will not hold back in telling me on many an occasion for the next few hours at least, that he is not best pleased he’s had to get up as early as he has. Waving a Tesco bag at me, but not using his words, it's not until he reveals it’s contents, a selection of CD’s, finally fulfilling his promise of supplying the music for our journeys, do I understand its significance, but on inspection it's quite literally a mixed bag.

I can't complain about System Of A Down's 2001 seminal album Toxicity, which on a side note Tom used to insist on calling Toxi-City, but the rest are a bit of a strange mix. “Two gambles that backfired” he admits, when my response to The Best of REM and The Best of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, is not exactly favourable. I can though take some solace in the presence of a bit of Dr Dre, as I have quite the soft spot for the former NWA member, and all in all, it's nice not to have to rely on my unpredictable radio.

Describing it with all the turmoil and anguish of someone who has just lost a close relative or found out they have a terrible incurable illness, the way Tom recounts the saga around the delivery of his previous nights takeaway, is the definition of a first world problem.

Stopping for a much needed toilet break and a coffee refill, I’m treated to my second dose of birdsong in the loo of a BP garage. “Closest thing to cocaine” is Tom’s frank description of an espresso, so I think I’ll just stick to a latte if that's the case. Dropping crumbs all over my newly valeted car, I think he takes some kind of sick pleasure from seeing just how much it winds me up, the detritus from his ham and cheese toastie falling from his mouth, across his beardy chin and all over my upholstery.

God only knows how we got on to the topic, but between CD’s, Tom’s three word review of 50 Shades Of Grey, leaves me somewhat gobsmacked, “feathers and slapping”.

The snaking peloton of Sunday morning cyclists, I will refrain from sharing Tom’s opinion on the lycra clad short wearing ones, as they are far too harrowing, somewhat hamper our approach to today's game, but when we finally get there, on first impressions, I think we are both wondering why did we bother.

What  I can only describe as a scene of absolute carnage, an apocalyptic wasteland of chewed up earth and tree stumps for as far as the eye can see, fills our view. The Sat Navs pink line tells me we are heading in the right direction, but I’m not sure. It looks more like where an atomic bomb has just been tested, than where a football ground could possibly be.

Never in my life have I been more grateful to see the yellow high vis jacket of a steward, like a extremely reflective beacon of hope, he waves us towards the car park. Despite my car being ever so slightly soiled, my nostalgia receptors in tatters after a Chop Suey song, almost having to stop Tom from jumping out his window to throttle a cyclist and with the images of him being all Christian Grey seared permanently into my mind, I think todays four hour drive to Cheshire, can go down as successful one.

Arriving all in one piece, the ultimate goal has been achieved, physically that is. Psychologically I'm not sure.

“It’s a windy one” says Tom, struggling with his coat as it seamlessly turns from an old ladies blanket on the seafront into an actual jacket. Within seconds of stepping out the car we hear our first shout for the home team, “come on you Trickies” the first of many that we will hear by the end of the day and although Northwich Victoria FC (VIC) are only lodgers, the amount of green and white we’ve already seen in the few minutes we’ve been here, it very much feels like home.

Inside what I would call a proper football ground, Wincham Park is so much more than just a railing around a pitch, it’s awash with concrete terracing, an impressive all seater main stand and large open ended sheds behind each goal, it's the kind of ground you can't quite believe is the home of a non league club and not a league two team. A stiff wind cuts from left to right, just about leaving the FA Vase placard out on the pitch in preparation of kick off unmolested, for now at least, and a white haired man in green wellies, doing the last finishing touches to the lines, looks like he is off in this own little world.

Retreating to the bar, Tom says its for a drink, I think it's so his hair isn't ruined, the obligatory parquet dance floor every half decent clubhouse should have is empty, but the stage overlooking it is not. A long table with a highly engraved silver cup with white and green ribbons on each handle at its centre, is flanked by a selection of VIC shirts from their recent past. The kind of display to send a football kit nerd like myself all weak at the knees and laid out in front of them are a selection of scarves, one from a 2006 FA Cup 3rd Round visit to the Stadium Of Light.

Sitting on the edge of the low stage, with his pint by his side, a man in a green and white hat and green and white shirt, waves his large green and white check flag above his head. Recently purchased form the table heaving under the weight of VIC related merch as well as the programme I just nabbed myself a copy of. He sways his flag to the tune of a little bit of Muswell Hill in the North West, Victoria by The Kinks.

Outside the away teams coach has arrived, piling off after the long drive from Surrey, the supporters of Chertsey Town F.C. (CT) much like the home fans are in good voice, “blue army, blue army” and thirsty, quickly descending upon the bar. “Going to be rocking in here” says Tom, having to raise his voice over the noise of the fans. Before we depart and somewhat hampered by the raising decibel levels, I secure myself two tiny manila envelopes, both of borrower proportions, containing a golden goal ticket in each.

What looks like a quarry off in the distance would perhaps explain the two pickaxes on the badge of the home team who VIC ground share with, and it's a shame that their music with claims to be “the best non league museum in the world” is closed, which is a shame as I’ve heard it's well worth a visit.

In the short time we’d been inside, I’m sure even more flags have gone up, hanging either from the wall that runs along one side of the ground or over the red railings that surround the pitch. They flutter in the bracing breeze, which is tempered somewhat by the emergence of the sun from behind some clouds. The weather today about as good as one could ask for, it's in vast contrast to last weeks, when the game was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. The seven day delay in the tie, means both sides know it will be Cray Valley Paper Mills they will be coming up against, should they make it to the final.

The noise levels ratchet up another level when the VIC players appear for their warm up, “come on boys” shouts a lone voice from the opposite end of the ground, however their stay on the pitch is short lived, and in accordance with the sign at the mouth of the tunnel requesting them not to train on it, they are soon out of sight, disappearing through a small gate.

Steadily filling up, more and more of the red seats in the main stand find themselves occupied. I look on enviously at the women pulling a flask of what turns out to be soup from a tote bag over her shoulder. Tom and I have been saying for years we should bring our own food, if only to save Tom’s narrowing arteries. One man on the pitch battles Mother Nature in vein, trying to balance the match ball on the plinth behind the placard, eventually giving up, after coming to terms with the fact he was always going to come off second best.

Joining us outside, the man from the stage is seemingly doing laps of the pitch, his flag unfurled, he is not required to make any effort, simply holding it upwards, the wind does it all for him and it looks
great. The high spirits continues to build, while a man with a fork attentively prods at the pitch.

The PA crackles into life and the main stand is only getting fuller. The flag bearer from the bar, has now been joined by three more, standing in formation behind one goal. Unable to resist the draw of the small hut called Queenie’s, Tom returns from his investigation grinning, “it's a chip shop”.

Both teams enjoy a brief spell on the pitch, despite the sign but are soon chivvied, “Chertsey Town in” shouts their coach from the sidelines. As the players walk off a fan leaning over the barrier high fives a few of the departing players and for the first time the home teams drum strikes up, only adding to the din, but not to be outdone, the CT fans offer up their own song in reply, “blue army, blue army”.

When its VIC’s time to leave, they are greeted by a person who has the air of an injured team member about them, unable to play today. He dishes out more than just highfives, but the odd embrace for those who have now completed their drills and are off for a last few rousing words from the manager and instructions on setpieces.

The VIC drum is a thudding constant, but so is the singing of the CT fans, “we love you Chertsey we do”, whom there is by no means a lot of, they are outnumbered more than three to one, but they are making a cracking effort so far. The noise from each set of the fans only adds to the ever growing atmosphere, combined with a heavy measure of tension and excitement, it’s making for a electric build up. The Jam’s A Town Called Malice only riles up the crowd even further, it’s energetic beat getting many toes tapping. One VIC fan on the terrace, with his back to the pitch, his flag in one hand, conducts the crowd in their latest chant.

With the game even yet to kick off, there is a chance of some people peaking a bit too soon.

Two teams, a whole gaggle of mascots, each in a green and white VIC jersey, plus the officials and a few coaches too for good measure, all just managed to materialise from the squat square tunnel at the middle of the main stand, like some kind of Saturday night primetime elusion, to a welcome that will go down as one of the most highly charged we’ve ever witnessed.

From the VIC fans behind the goal to my left a shimmering display of silver foil strips flutter down towards the pitch, having been hoisted up into the air, at the first sight of the team. “We love you Northwich we do” they sing as the players approach the podium, the ball somehow staying in place, a nifty Blu Tack job perhaps. The CT fans are singing about Wembley, a bit premature perhaps, but going by their bouncing, scarf twirling shenanigans, they are no shrinking violets, I very much doubt they give a shit about what anyone thinks.

When the referee signals a change of ends, the two sets of fans start a hasty migration, doing their best to be in place for the kick off, which is brought to an untimely end by a red cage, with a small door on each side. A bit of a relic from days of pens and spiked topped railings. As the hoards come to a stop, with only a slow trickle of people able to pass from one side to another, those waiting their turn sing and chant towards their opposite numbers, slapping their hands on the bulging fence. A scene more commonly seen in the Copa Libertadores not the FA Vase.

With the game underway the bottleneck means there is somewhat of a conspicuous void behind each goal. The early claim by VIC for a “handball” in the CT box, might have had a bit more weight had the fans been there to give it their backing, but considering the lack of movement from the packed Perspex home dugout, no one could have thought there was much in it, and the games continues.

When the VIC fans do finally arrive, their songs are plentiful, “you are my Northwich, my only Northwich” loud and impassioned, taking the noise levels through the roof. The drummer is among the crowd, and leads them in a hummed rendition of the Dam Busters theme. One late VIC arrival, passes us towards the terrace still dressed head to toe in motorbike leathers. That's commitment.

“Ohhhh” sigh the home crowd, ten minutes on the clock and their all purple keeper has made a bit of a hash of a punch, it was woeful, and is lucky not to be punished for it, but a teammate is on hand to clear it. With the crowd as animated as it is, the section behind the goal a swirling pulsating mass, it's hard to concentrate on the match. The flags are in full motion, the songs keep coming, “oh when the Vic go marching in”, the drummer, who Tom has labelled as “good”, is so much more than that, he’s exceptional. When VIC surge forwards on the attack just before the quarter hour mark, whipping in a fierce cross, the terrace rises to their tip toes in anticipation, falling back down when the ball is hacked clear by a CT player, head to toe in dazzling yellow.

As we learnt at the other Semi-Final first leg, they are nervy affairs. With no clear cut chances for either side, its a case of no one yet wanting to take a risk, everyone is keeping their cards very close to their chest. The atmosphere though is not suffering from such nerves. When VIC are in on goal, the crowd once again rise, “go on” shouts one man, one on one, with just the keeper to beat, the final shot is tame and never threatened.

Sliding into the CT keeper, lunging for the loose ball, the VIC player has a foul given against him, much to the displeasure of the home fans, who think CT’s stopper is making a bit of a meal of it, flat on his back like a neon orange beetle, he squirms, but I don't think it’s any great long lasting discomfort, after what in all fairness looked like a minor clash.

A child with bubbles adds a lightened feel to proceedings, when VIC are awarded their own free kick, it buoys the supporters. A loan booming voice is the epicentre of most of the songs, “green army, green army”. The flags towards the front of the crowd sway from side to side, nearly poking the eyes out of the nearby stewards each time they do. The set peace comes to nothing and edging towards a half an hour gone, there is plenty of effort, but very little action.

“Fucking hell” says one man on the exhale, puffing out his cheeks, another calls on a higher power that can’t be found on our mortal realm, “Jesus wept”. VIC were very nearly the ‘authors of their own pain’ as Blofeld would say, a swipe at the ball by one defender at a CT corner, almost sends the ball into his own net, only for Barney the keeper, to be in the right place at the right time to catch it.

VIC shoot just wide, and the mishap at the back has been all but forgotten, “who are we, green army” they sing as if almost hypnotisied. Led by the same gruff voice as has been the case since the start. The drummer tries to use all of his musicality not for good, but evil, beating out a rhythm trying to put off the CT keeper when a player makes a short pass back to him, and he is forced to make a hurried clearance.

In an almost carbon copy of the game at the Badgers Sports Ground, it's been a “cagey” as Tom puts it, first thirty minutes. The fans at both ends excellent, admittedly I can't really hear much of what the CT ones are singing, over the songs of the VIC ones, but they are certainly animated, it's just like someone has turned down their volume a bit.

It's either a blatant display of petulance or some time wasting is already afoot, but when the CT player refuses like a spoilt toddler to give up the ball for a VIC throw in, his behaviour raises a few laughs. When he is given little more than a shove from a VIC player, a bit of a ‘come on get a grip’, his response is let's say theatrical, which is greeted with even more amusement and his complaint of “I just got pushed” falls on deaf ears. The referee probably couldn't hear him over all the sniggering.

The CT keeper continues to stand fast in the face of the drummers attempt at intimidation, he does his best with a flurry to put him off, but he fails. “Norwich edging it, but it’s minimal” is Tom’s first half synopsis, which he lays on me before pointing out today we are watching “another team in green” we have had quite the spate of them as of late, which has nothing to do with my love of a green kit, contrary to what he thinks, before making his first food related comment of the afternoon, his service station toastie clearly having set him up well, “time for food”.

It won’t go down as a classic by any means, they certainly won't be talking about it for years to come,
but its a goal all the same, a goal to CT. If the first attempt from the bobbled cross from the right had gone in, instead of hitting the frame of the goal, having looped delicately over the VIC keeper, that would be a goal worth recounting. However Johnny on the spot, CT’s number 8 is on hand to poke home the rebound, the ball barely in the net and he’s running off behind the goal, past a slightly sad and drooping VIC flag that didn't make the journey with their supporters, along the line of CT fans pushed up against the railing going apoplectic.

Punching the air the supporters quickly break into song, “we are Chertsey Town”, however the home crowd is quick to respond, “come on Northwich” and the the PA makes me jump out of my considerable skin, when he confirms the scorer and the “golden goal time forty minutes, golden goal time forty minutes”.

Again the CT fans sing of Wembley and for the first time I think today, I can say the ground is quiet, except for those from Surrey who are pogoing, “boing, boing, boing” they sing as they leap up and down, and it's their turn to belt out a few songs “we’re the Town, the mighty, mighty Town”. On the stroke of half time, CT almost double their lead, but the shot is lashed over. The distinctive voice among the VIC crowd offers up one of his shouts, “you greens” but gets nothing back in reply.

It’s a much calmer change of ends as the team's head inside. The CT fans are still going, “Chertsey Town, Chertsey Town” but the VIC supporters have had the wind knocked out of them a bit. Fork man is back out and I notice at one extremity of the main stand, a familiar face hiding under the hood of a large black coat, someone I’m not thrilled to admit I know who she is, a cast member of the televised train wreck that is Geordie Shore.

“Food is always better up north” states Tom. We’ll make a Northerner of you yet, I tell him, “If you put gravy with everything you will” he replies emphatically. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I’m convinced that despite all his belly aching about the time in the car or the early starts, Tom’s sole motivation to agree to these road trips is not to spend time with me or in the hope of finding football Valhalla but so he can eat something with piping hot, brown viscous sauce over something wrapped in pastry.

Waxing lyrical about his “beef slice” which he tells me is and I quote is “fucking banging”, I could safely say Tom is in his good place, eating well and relatively warm. When I point out Charlotte Crosby is here, the member of the get drunk and piss yourself MTV show is here, what he is eating pales into insignificance, Tom is somewhat of a fan of hers.

Perhaps it’s down to a beef slice or some chips from Queenies, but the VIC fans have rediscovered their voice at the start of the second half, now at the opposite end of Wincham Park to us, the terrace looks fit to burst, “oh when the greens go marching in”. Still energised by their late goal, the CT fans are hammering at the hoardings, “Chertsey, Chertsey”.

VIC have come out invigorated by the words of their manager, “ohhhh” go the crowd as some early pressure, sees them put a shot just over the bar, “come on the greens”. CT win a free kick on the edge of the home box. The VIC supporters latest chant “who are we, green army” is momentarily interrupted as they let out another sizable “ohhhhh” this one out of nerves and not enthusiasm, as the ball takes a nick off top of the wall, which could have sent it anywhere, only for it to fall into the hands of a grateful Barney.

I’m sure it's only because I know she is here, and it has nothing to do with the fact Tom can't keep his eyes off her, but the screams of Miss Crosby is all I can hear now. Neither of us can really understand why she is here, perhaps she has a passion for non league football, maybe a friend of hers is playing or her dopey looking boyfriend dragged her along or she dragged him, we'll never know, but she has somehow managed to acquire a direct line into my brain with her high pitched screams.

It's got very cold all of a sudden, but this is doing little to deter the CT fans, “everywhere we go….”. VIC are resulting to long range pot shots, their fans ohhhing once more as they let fly with an effort from outside the box. In full blown party mode, the CT supporters are oblivious to whats happening on the pitch, instead they are informing anyone who is listening, that they’re “gonna bounce in a minute” and after some dramatic pausing, they do just that, “Chertsey, Chertsey boing, boing”.

The song no set of fans wants to hear, especially one who pride themselves on making a good atmosphere, as I imagine the VIC ones do, “we forgot that you were here”, must be a bitter pill to swallow. The drummer among the VIC supporters tries to pick them up, but they have fallen a little flat again, it's now those from our neck of the woods who are making all the racket.

For some the first fifteen minutes have failed to hold their attention, two young kids behind us have started an impromptu kick about. Turning on the referee can sometimes be a sign of a fans frustrations, “you don't know what you're doing” they chant, when the man in charge in their eyes fails to award them a free kick, after a blatant foul and the wind has started to play its part in the match too, “ohh caught that” laughs Tom, after a CT goal kick is wafted right out of play.

Approaching an hour of the game gone and it's a toss up between the drummer or the kids dragbacks for what is the most entertaining. The match is really not much of a spectacle, both teams still apprehensive. VIC send in a decent enough cross, but it's easily caught by the CT keeper and not long after and in on goal, “go on” encourages one person, it’s only a last ditch tackle from a CT player that stops what looked like a certain equalizer. “What a fucking tackle that was” says Tom, who for a fraction of a second was more excited than he had been about either his beef slice or the presence of the reality TV star, but it's fleeting.

With things on the pitch on the up for the home side, the drum is slowly but surely getting the supporters back into their stride. Having set themselves such a high benchmark so early on, they are only now getting back to their best “Northwich” they all roar after a solid beat from the man on the percussion. More Dambusters follows them hitting the crossbar via a deflected cross.

The wind is no longer affecting the game, just my hands and is giving a solid assist to the flags which still look resplendent. Tom baulks at my obsession with banners and flags, but I think they give so much personality to a football ground, be them a homemade jobby or something a bit more upmarket. All of course green and white, the one that reads "N.V.F.C The Club That Wouldn't Die" is my personal favourite, a reference to troubled past. For the record though messages on bedsheets calling for managers to be sacked or for owners to sell up, are not acceptable.

“Haven't you got your gloves?” asks Tom, the gloves he bought me, which I’m not sure I know where they are, so I tell him I left them at home.

I’ll be honest I didn't think it was going to be much of a contest when it came to the two sets of fans, and what they would be bringing to the figurative party, but I have to take my hat off to the CT mob, whose boisterous demeanour means they are more than holding their own. Spelling out the name of the team, one letter at a time, the loudest of them starts them off and the rest respond. Once they're finished, they end it like any respectable group of supporters would, with more pogoing.

It is the CT fans turn to “ohhh” as a shot of theirs goes just wide of the target. Getting close to the final fifteen, I can't remember many attempts by them this second half, is it a case of sitting back, happy with what they've got?

Personally I think it should get at least one outing at every football match in the country, regardless of where in the pyramid or face a points deduction or being forced to play games behind closed doors, but the hummed rendition of the Entrance of the Gladiators, really should be aired more often. The wind popping up with a cameo midway through a VIC pass, inspires one CT fan to break into song.

In the battle of the colour chants, it's probably about level pegging, “who are we, green army” and “come on you yellows”. As good as their support has been so far, the CT fans might want to do themselves a favour and look at a map, the relevance of the song “I'd rather be a Scouser than a Manc” is a little misguided, and their latest chant, again highlights the CT own brand of cockiness, “you're only here for the Chertsey” and following curling shot, after a smart turn, it's all getting a bit Will Grigg's, “your defence is terrified”

Being the full length of a football pitch away, the laws of physics mean I see the VIC fans erupt into celebration, a split second before I hear them, it's all flailing arms and gesticulations, before their sonic boom reaches our ears. “He lashed it in” gasps Tom, from quite an acute angle the scorer whose name is being confirmed by a far happier sounding stadium announcer, it's like night and day, he’s hammered it up and over the keeper into the roof of the net. “I don't know how he got it in the goal” ponders Tom, but he did, and it’s much deserved.

The CT fans boo the jubilant PA, but there really is no point. They try to recover with a few lines of “Chertsey Town, Chertsey Town” but it's half arsed and it's now their turn to be dejected. “Northwich” the home fans cry at the end of the drummers beat, the CT supporters attempt a swift counter “we forgot that you were here”, but they know in their heart of hearts, they can’t be heard. The home fans have gone stratospheric, “green army, green army”, scarves are going at a dangerous rate inches above people's heads, someone could lose an eye.

Having failed completely to remember to check my golden goal tickets after CT scored, I fumble at the breast pocket of my shirt, extract the two tiny envelopes, tear them open, to of course discover, I didn't win.

Home tails are up now, into the final ten minutes, the home fans are now as loud as they have been all day, they almost suck in a bullet header from a corner, but it sails just wide. The CT supporters have fallen silent, reduced now to just slinging the odd insult towards the pitch, the VIC drum now never dormant

A close attempt from one CT player isn’t enough to pick the fans up. Tom “needs a wee” but won’t go, he doesn't want to miss anything, and I’m trying to press gang him into asking the cackling Geordie for a picture, but he isn't having any of it. The rate in which people have stopped for a selfie with her, is almost as continuous as the drum.

The VIC technical area all rise to their feet, including the man on a separate chair stolen from a school assembly, because the bench just isn't big enough for the whole home entourage. They wait in lieu as the winger crosses into the box, but he puts to much on it, and one CT fans tells the VIC staff to “sit back down”. Tom capitulates and scurries off to the loo and misses a CT ball into the box, but their front man looks leggy and can't reach it.

A late shout for a VIC penalty is waived away and a hush descends over the crowd when CT are awarded a corner. Crossed in, it breaks to the edge of the box, where one player skies it over, relief.

“Fucking hell” anguishes one steward, when it's announced he and every other VIC fan will have to endure “three minutes of added time”. Some home supporters have either seen enough, can’t take the anymore of the emotional roller coaster or are the type to leave games early, on account of not wanting to get stuck in traffic, rolls eyes, are rightly shamed for doing so by the CT fans, “we can see you sneaking out”.

Deep into injury time and the referee gets another earful, the home crowd don't feel like they are getting the decisions. When they are awarded a free kick, a chance perhaps to take a lead into the second leg, the home bench are on their feet once more. “Get in” says the now increasingly vocal steward, as one player rises in the box to head the ball. “For fucks sake” he says, as the player puts his attempt off target.

Both teams approach their respective fans come the final whistle, VIC don't quite make it as far as CT, who walk the line of the travelling faithful to shake their hands and thank them for their support. The VIC supporters, with scarves stretched out about their heads continue to sing, "we're the club, we're the club, we're the club that wouldn't die.

On a stage befitting such an occasion, its only a shame the match didn't live up to it. Discussing it in the car Tom and I hold polar opposite opinions. I'm all about a gun hoe approach to the first leg, bag yourself five making the second leg a mere formality, he is of a more cautious mindset. Playing the long game, making sure you are still in it when the second leg comes around.

I cant quite impress on you how impressed we were by Wincham Park, add in the fans, the beef slice and the celebrity spotting, plus meeting a young man who at the age of three has already been to twenty three grounds, who is Dad explained as long as he's "eating he's happy" or he can get a bit "antsy" sounds like someone I know, it felt like a proper match day a real event, which makes four hours in the car with a farting, crumb dropper, feel like a walk in the park

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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Monday, 15 April 2019

This Is Entertainment - Banbury United FC Vs Ardley United FC, Oxfordshire FA Senior Cup Semi-Final, Yarnton Road (20/03/19)

Although I know in my heart of hearts this is never going to become a regular thing, Tom seemingly does not possess the stamina to drive further than the shop at the end of his road and back or at a push to the local IKEA for the latest edition to his bourgeois house, I will enjoy the bearded reincarnation of driving my Miss Daisy for as long as I possibly can.

Tom is at the wheel tonight, its a fucking miracle.

Having been with my other half for over twelve years now, you would think I would have a good idea of the kind of person she is. Funny, generous, a little pessimistic, with a good streak of Northern level headedness. I am then a little shocked by her tirade when I tell her I’m playing passenger and Tom Mr Uber for the evening.

“Fart on his seats”, “leave mud in his footwell”, she scowls. My jaw hits the floor as the normally mild mannered and quite shy mother to my daughter, reels off a list of things she thinks I should be doing in retaliation to what can sometimes be Toms less than perfect etiquette when he is a guest in my motor.

Cup holders that work, my own seat warming dial, a Sat Nav with a modicum of intelligence, a boot that opens from the inside so Tom doesn't even have to get out of the car, popping it open as I approach so I can seamlessly put my bag in, a radio that receives more than one station, how could I be anything other than on my best behaviour when the in car experience is so agreeable.

With Tom driving, recounting a dream or should I say “nightmare” as he does, that he had last night, about a “sparking camcorder”, it's my turn to do that gawking out of the window thing he does, where he has clearly tuned me out, and instead is watching the world go by outside while he sucks on his vape. An old lady in driving gloves, trying to work out if the three large consecutive mounds on the side of the M40 are actually the remnants of the old Wembley Stadium or if someone was pulling my leg are just a selection of the things I see.

I only tune back in when he starts to get all excited about something, but soon tune back out when I realise it's because he is going on about “Bicester Village” Toms new home from home, some kind of retail centre, which by the way he’s going on about it, as though it is practically a place of worship. If he had his way, we would have gone “early” today, so he could have “done some shopping”.

When he starts to talk about his other favourite subject than discounted Levis, the weather, I keep one ear open, as I turn my head away from him and return to my safe space, “I hope it doesn't rain”. However his choice of radio stations is like a shot of late 90’s, early 00’s nostalgia straight to my heart, Pulp Fiction style and it's hard not to do anything but reminisce about sitting in his room getting stoned or thinking back about the various awful club nights we used to go to in Camden.

Emerging from the end of deep chalk lined cannon, the Oxfordshire countryside sprawling out in front of us, all sitting under a hazy blue sky, for the time being at least it looks like Tom will be getting his rain free evening.

“Oh cherries” he announces, as we pass a sign offering up some of the counties “fresh” bounty in a nearby layby, but on inspection, having turned off the motorway, we are greeted with no cherries, just an iffy looking public toilet. “How disappointing” says Tom and I hypothesise that the sign may be some kind of local trap to snare travellers such as ourselves, for nefarious means.

“Welcome to the city of Oxford” reads the next sign of note and I’m glad to report that this ones far more accurate than the last and by the looks of it doesn't look like an ambush. The myriad of dead things on the side of the road we encounter since passing the city limits, I’m sure are not in their tourism bumph. “Get sad when I see a dead badger” mourns Tom. “When you see a fox, meh” he adds, no love for what are affectionately known as ‘bin dogs’ in my house, its all for Bodger.

Tom is momentarily distracted from the road, when he is forced to stop me for the umpteenth time with fiddling with the vast array of knobs, buttons and switches that litter his centre console. “Whats that do, whats that do” I ask, giving it a push or a twist before he has had a chance to reply, hoping that the next one I touch will make an oil slick come out the back or the number plates switch to Swiss diplomatic ones.

I can't think of a journey in recent memory, where having seen a sign pointing to a place that shares its name with somewhere famous, but isn't actually that famous place, that hasn't got Tom all bizarrely giddy. “Woodstock” is today's location and I have to wait for a few minutes for him to get over the fact he won't be seeing the sight of the legendary 1969 concert. Talking of music though, my time in the left hand seat, means I’m sure I have just seen Sinead O'Connor in a Dacia Sandero as well a large metal elephant grazing on a roundabout.

The wildlife theme continues as we eventually turn into tonight's venue and are greeted by a large lamb and fish jumping towards each other over a dilapidated brick wall, that feature on the badge of the club that are hosting the game, that is emblazoned across a large board on the way in.

I do realise I must have mentioned now about four different signs and notices since starting this blog, and I’m pretty sure this is going to be my last comment about one, but what kind of a football ground is this that you have to tell people there will be “no horse riding, no golf”.

Tom’s car goes beep, beep, beep, beep as it reverses into our car parking space. In a car park currently full of lots of other cars, with people sitting in them, each with a similar look on their faces of, what do I do now. “I need a wee” is what Tom needs, but perhaps explaining the number of full cars of expectant looking people, just sitting around and twiddling their thumbs, the ground is securely locked up.

“Well someone is getting fired” says Tom pompously, “perhaps someone didn't get the memo its a 7:30 kick off”. Admittedly we are normally silly early everywhere we go, but there is usually some hint of life when we arrive, the faintest sign of activity, but Yarnton Road feels like a town abandoned after all the gold ran dry and when Tom realises he won't be having a wee anytime soon, he has a jaffa cake instead.

Unless they have seen something we haven't, the people in the car two along from us have started piling out, pulling an endless amount of kit bags out of the tardis sized boot. One of the party in a red and yellow Banbury United FC (BU) hat, hands amongst other things a foot pump to a man with an extensive amount of face tattoos.

More and more people arrive, get out, and quickly return to their cars with the same look on their faces of, there is no way in, a passing pedestrian gets everyone's hopes up, but when they keep on walking, everyone just slinks back into their chairs, “nope they don't have the keys” tut's Tom.

When the BU staff, now with some players in tow breach the outer defences, like a scene from Helm's Deep, sadly the waiting is still not over and the inner keep is another hurdle to overcome, the door to the changing rooms is still locked. “Shall we go into the city centre and have a pint?” suggests one fed up player, “what a professional semi final setup this is” grumbles another.

With the near constant buzz of low flying single engine aircraft above us, the BU players take to the pitch for a wander, “did anyone bring their wellies?” asks one stepping on to the playing surface, which I think in racing circles they would call, good to soft. One player who is not quite up for getting his trainers muddy, is tucking into some food from a Tupperware box, and then all heads turn at the sound of some jingling keys, but it's a false alarm.

As of yet there is no sign of BU opponents Ardley United FC (AU), and everyone frankly is looking a little bit like a lemon just standing around. Tom suggests we should just go back to the warmth of the car, where there are more jaffa cakes and music from our youth. I’m starting to think non of us got the right memo and we are all in the wrong place completely.

Breakthrough, the final barrier has been overcome, the man who did the honours had the eyes of at least twenty people glaring at him, lucky for him this set of keys worked and the players can take the long walk up the single file corridor to the home changing room. After all their griping about wanting to get inside, many of them are soon back outside, but on the realisation that they've already surveyed the pitch, and there is nothing else to do here, no clubhouse to loiter about in, they are soon all back inside again. Why are we out here?” asks one “it’s so cold”, he adds before turning about face and disappearing through the brown door.

Very, very, very slowly Yarnton Road wakes up , but no one is apparently in any kind of a rush. I would have thought with it being a cup semi final, admittedly a county cup semi final, which we have
learnt this season that no one cares about at all, that there might have been a bit more excitement, a tad more fanfare. I’m not suggesting anything too fancy or extravagant, so we put the lack of energy down to being here so early and just hope that things improve.

Judging by the faces of the newly arrived AU players, that’s not going to be anytime soon, the first of them through the gate has a expression of near horror across his face, when he sees the state of the pitch. Recent poor weather has not exactly been kind to it. Another AU arrival, another look of dismay, however this person doesn't just stand staring and grimacing, he is straight on to it giving it a good prod.

When I overhear one person explaining that BU are going to be playing in their “away kit”  tonight because AU have not been able to “turn around” theirs after a match at the weekend, it only cements the feeling Tom and I have had since stepping into the place, that know one wants to be here, the whole occasion an inconvenience rather than the opportunity to get themselves to a final.

There is one person who by the looks of it at least is embracing the moment, a the man in a bright red shirt, BU club tie and scarf draped over the shoulders of his suit jacket, one of the passing planes would struggle to miss him. The referees look the part, but they always do, a prerequisite for being an official, is an ill fitting suit and mirror ball shiny shoes.

When Tom hears the latch click on the other side of the snack bars green hatch, his mood improves, “ohh Harvey's is opening”, but it then nosedives again just as quickly after a quick scan of the menu on the inside of one of the doors written in chalk, seems to intimate they are serving, “just drinks”.

The AU players are greeted by a young girl offering up high fives as they make their way out for their warm up, the sun now setting its turned the sky a mixture of pinks and grey, and still no-one looks like they want to be here. To suggest Tom might be grasping at straws when he points out that the floodlights are “very bright” after coming on, could be history's greatest understatement.

I think we pride ourselves in trying to find beauty in the smallest of things, weaselling out nuggets of interest when they might not be first apparent, however tonight is testing us unlike we have ever been tested before.

Some spectators have arrived, but I wonder if they actually want to be here or have been forced at gunpoint. One is a young BU fan in full club kit, including shorts, which is brave, who much like the young lady with the AU players, welcomes the BU players out, who despite the very clear sign on the edge of the pitch saying not to, are doing just that.

If Tom is going to get some food, it looks like the only place or I should say person he is going to get it from is the very lonely looking man in the bright orange burger van otherwise known as Wazoo, home of the chrome plated megaphone of destiny, apparently. No I’ve no idea either and the man inside, doesn't look even 50% as jolly as the cartoon character with its tongue protruding which is plastered all over the outside.

The moon is full and bright, the nearby allotments are dark and verging on the spooky, Tom is yet to trouble the man in the Wazoo truck, although I’m sure he will soon, and he might be grateful for the human interaction, he’s not exactly busy. He’s just looking out over the teams warming up, “play like you're in the match” demands the BU coach of his players.

There is still much grumbling about the pitch from all corners and showing a level of sophistication that I’m not sure we have ever seen before, BU look to have their very own outside broadcast unit. A table covered in more switches and dials than Toms car, is being set up in preparation of what looks like a live commentary from pitch side.

“They're out late, fucking hell” baulks Tom, the referee and his assistants jogging out to warm up as everyone else is heading back inside for their final instructions, clicking and clacking up the concrete path. When those officiating give off the air of not wanting to be here either, and they are probably getting paid, it's a worry. Clearly having had to wrench themselves from their changing room.

As hard as it was to get in tonight, it would seem that it's even harder to get out. The word among the fans is no one is able to get to the clubhouse, that’s if there even is one and no one knows where the loos are, it all seems like a bit of a mystery. Tom really wants “a burger” but again he is so fixated on Harvey's and the fact it's “only drinks on the menu” and that tonight might be one of the very rare occurrences where he might not eat, he's not even explored any other possibilities. I’m not sure he’s even noticed Wazoo's. Its bright orange and staring him in the face, but he can't see the wood for the trees, such is his tunnel vision. However I’m far more concerned with if we will be able to leave come the final whistle.

Is the advertised game, just an elaborate version of the fresh cherries sign?

There is quite a sudden upturn in the attendance, everyone leaving until the last minute to squeeze through the turnstiles, many of whom are far from impressed with the poorly photocopied programme, I say programme, it's a piece of A4 paper folded in half. It’s hardly going to take pride of place in the special box under my bed, but at least they have one all the same. Most of those arriving seem to be in the BU camp, but there are a few hellos for the AU substitutes loitering about, so there will be some backing for the away team tonight, but they will find themselves outnumbered.

Much like when the players came out for their warm up, both teams have their own junior well wishers, when they appear for kick off. AU’s stands by the door to their changing room dishing out the high fives again, joining the front of line once the last player has appeared. The young BU fan stands the other side of the low barrier that makes up the walk out and is greeted with some solid handshakes.

For all the people here it's quite a reaction to the players being led out. One BU player jumps about four foot in the air and there is the odd shout from each set of supporters from the mass behind the goal and to each side of the non existent tunnel, but the players are much the louder, saying those kind of shouty motivational two word things that footballers say.

With the ends decided, the game under way, a small contingent of BU fans have taken up position behind the goal they are attacking, a single flag is being strung out as a looping cross is sent over from the left hand side and looks to be creeping inside the post. A BU player is on hand to poke it in, should he be required if it doesn't get there on their own, but when the ball reaches him he is only able to nudge it wide. With not even ninety seconds gone, it’s a bit of an early warning sign for AU, who are from the division below BU, who in their red and yellow kit, Tom has decided look like “McDonalds”.

In the AU number 8, I think we might have another fat Messi on our hands, a chap whose physique is testing the seams of his tightly fitting jersey, but who has all the skill of the mercurial Argentinian, but Tom is not convinced. Not having shown of any great flare early on, he does though have a bit of a shot on him, when he lines up to strike a free kick, he thunders into the guts of one of the BU players in the wall, and it sounded like it hurt.

A second flag has gone up behind the AU goal, the moon is looking majestic, but one man nearby is less than dazzled by the early showings on the pitch, “It's like watching Sunday league football”. Tom gets close to touching the ball as it bounces out into the crowd, but a much older man is far more spritely and intercepts. Next to him a person has smuggled in a blue carrier bag full of beer, “I’m not sharing” he says, but he’s not talking about the tinnies, but what looks like spaghetti bolognese in a Tupperware bowl.

I suggest to Tom that it might be the closest he is going to get to any food, but having done some investigating he confirms “apparently they do burgers from the funny van”.

The first ten minutes or so boil down to a bit of scrappy midfield battle between the two teams, where the most interesting thing I can comment on is that AU have a large black moustache on the front of their shirt. When the diminutive AU number 11 is hacked down on the edge of the BU box, “ref” shouts the bench, “ref” shout the AU players, and they are presented with another free kick in a dangerous positions. 

However this one won't be taken by fat Messi, but the number 11 who was fouled, who with his curly hair, I think has a bit of the Griezmanns about him, but again, Tom is not convinced.

Dispensing his provisions, the man with the bolognese who is now feeding all those around him, applauds the super save the BU keeper has just pulled off. Offering a bit more finesse, rather than just whacking it, the number 11 curls his shot around the base of the wall, the man in goal can't have seen it until late, but still manages to get down and across to it, to keep it out. “Save goalie” mumbles one of the well feed group next to us, with a mouth half full of quiche lorraine.

The decent sized crowd are well spread out, and the players and the benches are still the only thing I can hear. “Rugby tackle that” says the AU manager when their number 11 is hauled to the ground, his size and pace is about the only thing causing the “three or four bigguns” that Tom has pointed out in the BU team, any kind of issue. Tom has also noticed just how “pissed off” one BU centre back is getting. I don't know the BU team at all, but I imagine from previous experience, a few young guns would have been chucked into the mix, to give them a run out, and their experience is showing. “He’s got youth around him” says Tom about the towering number 5 in the BU back line, and “no one knows what they are doing”.

With just over a quarter of an hour played the BU fans behind the goal “ohhhh” when a scuffed shot dribbles right across the edge of the AU six yard box, but can’t be put away. The BU captain, their number 9, very Alan Shearer, is unable to capitalise. Chances so far have been at a premium, it's just more of the same in midfield, ping pong, you have, no you have it and so on and so on. With the ball now not sure it wants to be involved, it can't be found after a hoofed clearance, because it’s likely sprouted legs and ran away, one person has to remind one bench that it's the “round thing” someone needs to find so we can continue.

I can’t imagine the men huddled around the table illuminated by a small lamp with all the radio equipment on have had an abundance of things to tell their listeners about. I’m sure they sounded very excited when they went close following a flicked header at a corner, such has been the dearth of goalmouth action. If they were to ask Tom what he thought about the The Puritans, a winking Protestant complete with black hat looks out from their badge, he would tell them “they press well” but they might not be too happy with the fact he keeps referring to them as “McDonalds”.

If AU are going to get anything from this, they may well want to target the BU number 11, who Tom very poetically put looks “as ropey as fuck” his latest gaffe, a miss kick, almost gets his team into trouble and it's not his first error of the opening twenty five minutes or so.

The levels of sloppiness from each team are reaching stupendous epic proportions, “we can't keep losing it” barks someone on the AU bench. If the football Gods are going to bless us with a goal, which until now has looked unlikely, it may well come via a BU corner. Their taker is able to put a fierce bit of whip on it and the noticeable size difference between the two sides, BU the much, much
bigger team, are easily out muscling AU at set pieces and they just can't cope.

On the half an hour mark, the AU number 9 shows all the desire of the aforementioned Toon legend, winning the ball back on the edge of the BU box, with some great tenacity, but then sums this game up, with the most woeful of shots. A couple of minutes later and an almighty coming together between two players brings the game to halt. It sounded horrible and the BU player involved is flat out on his back. However when he sits bolt upright, imitating the Undertaker, the physio his very own Paul Bearer, he is apparently fine.

BU’s latest effort, that prompted me to note, shit shot, well wide, low and shit, also prompts Tom to exclaim “this is going to extra time, we’re going to be here forever”. I don't think we have watched a more turgid thirty five minutes of football all season.

A BU flick on from a long throw, almost causes a bit of hysteria, but is scrambled clear. The mixture of first team and youth in the BU startling line up, who are still not quite all pulling in the same direction, not gelling as they say, is hampering them in all areas. Beside us the bolognese squad are clearly prepared for the long haul, “are we here for two days?” one asks, as more and more food is produced. Tom has had enough, jealous of all the munching going on next to us, so strops off, falling just short of flicking his hair. “Right I better go find some food then” he says a bit like Eeyore.

The half comes to an end with me admiring the AU number 6’s stunning ponytail, as well as a “superb” save as one AU fan puts it, that their keeper has just pulled off one on one. “Good half lads” says the same supporter as the players walk off. You would think the team who have a whiff of the Coventry City about them all in sky blue would be the happier of the teams, but I can't imagine anyone could be happy after that half's performance.

Tom is back in what might be record time, but is in somewhat of a state of disarray, “it's all in bags, it's all in bags” he keeps repeating over and over. ‘It’ being his burger and chips that are each in their own white paper bag, which he rightly points out is “very good for the environment”, not a bit of polystyrene in sight, but at the princely sum of “6” it’s a little rich for his blood, as he reminds me almost every time I see him, “ I have a wedding to pay for”. For all that money he got some overly “salty chips” and what might go down on record as the flattest burger in history, fused together in a meaty bready puck, that in Tom’s opinion was “cooked a while ago”.

Between mouthfuls of burger, he tells me of an interaction he witnessed between the young AU mascot and a BU who she asked “please let us win tonight”. His reply was blunt, to the point and
brutally honest, “we won’t need to, we’re shit at the moment”

As Tom eats it gives me the chance to appreciate what is a sizable crowd, not bad for a midweek game, but I’m still unable to shake the overriding feeling, that most people from the players to the fans, would rather be somewhere else entirely.

Antoine Griezmann kicks off the new half, oh no sorry, my mistake, its the AU number 11. There is now only one flag up behind the goal BU are now attacking, the other one went home. Fat Messi has failed to come good, after what promised so much at the start of the first half, and someone on the AU bench really likes saying “good boys”, and it sounds a bit creepy.

There has been a marked improvement in the quality on the pitch since the restart, AU all of a sudden are looking very slick. Good pressure sees them win back possession, that they can't quite make it count, but the fans appreciate it. Mixing it up a bit, they almost find their man with a ball over the top, and again the supporters show their approval “ohhhhhh”, one of them pointing out about BU, “they like to push up” and it's screaming to be taken advantage of.

BU on the other hand are still a bit one dimensional, a bit “hit and hope” as Tom calls it, constantly “looking for the second ball of the big man” up front he adds with his Pep hat firmly on. Hands down the loudest person here now is the AU mascot, “come on Ardley” her small voice carrying all around the ground and she has every right to be upbeat, a great attack on the counter by her team, has just resulted in one player stinging the palms of the BU keeper, their “first shot from open play” says Tom.

They look a totally different side and the match is all the better for it.

Fifteen minutes gone and I’m praying for a goal, praying more than I’ve ever prayed for one in my life. “Well done” says one AU defender to another, after nicking the ball away from the BU player setting himself to connect with the in swinging cross. BU’s number 11 has departed, so they straightway look more assured at the back and Tom with his Pep hat still on, can't work out the mindset of either team, “how do you expect to score if you don't have a shot?” he asks me exacerbated.

Both teams look so reluctant to have a crack, “It's like they are trying to score the perfect goal” they are going the full Arsenal, trying to “walk it in”. If he was in the technical area his approach would be no nonsense, clear instructions to his players, from the Paul Ince book of management, “I'd be telling my team get to within thirty yards have a dig”.

AU’s mascot continues to be the loudest person here “Come on Ardley” and again her team are giving her every reason to shout, number 11 skips through the defence and draws another foul, winning them another free kick. It’s on target, straight at the keeper, but it's on target, maybe only their third one of the match, twenty minutes into the second half, but it’s something.

“First shot, first goal” mutters the AU fan next to us, BU have scored. Twenty five minutes gone and with their first effort of the half, a low long range finish after a driving run, the number 20 has finally got us what we have both been longing for. Leaping into the arms of a much larger teammate, they celebrate by exchanging a hug.

“Cone on Ardley. We've been the better team this half” shouts the AU keeper who is spot on. However the goal has them rattled, all that composure and neat passing of the first half an hour has slipped away and now they are rushing, wasting throw ins in good positions and are growing increasingly frustrated with the referee. “Who's running this game” asks one AU supporter angrily. 

The sound of the passing planes has been replaced with the squeak of the buses brakes coming to a stop at the bus stop just behind us. BU are dominant now, on the stroke of thirty minutes good feet gets one player into the box, side stepping his marker, with only the keeper to beat, he slots it wide. A groan rings out from the crowd, he looked nailed onto score. The BU forward can't believe it, clamping his hands to the top of his head in dismay. The AU players are trying to rally, and the BU keeper demands his teammate “switch on”” for the final quarter.

“Come on we gotta go to work in the morning” shouts a man in the crowd, after a long and unexplainable delay in proceedings.

If AU could just muster a little bit of magic, they might be able to get the equaliser they richly deserve based on their second half display. A corner is lobbed in, punched clear and they get a second bite at the cherry, but it comes to nothing. “Come on blue until the end” cries one AU player.

Chaotic probably doesn't aptly sum up the final five minutes of the match. BU almost bags a second, pouncing on a miss kick in the box, however the AU keeper is able to smother the ball and one hoofed clearance is so massive it’s only thanks to one of the trees that surrounded the ground on one side, that the ball is not lost forever. “This is entertainment” laughs one man to himself.

Into the final minute and BU flash another shot wide and then in a strange case of masochism, a BU fan is willing the opposition to equalise, “come on I bet they score” he says to himself, when AU are awarded a corner. The same BU fan who doesn't know why the AU keeper won't “go up for it”.

Our second big collision of the night, is a bang of heads, that neither brings about a WWE superstar impression or sees anyone hurt. The young BU fan, who is still in shorts and must be freezing, is watching on as his team start to panic. “Ohh here we go” says one BU supporter with an air of the inevitable demise about him, when AU are awarded another corner, now into added on time.

Again the keeper doesn't go up for it, and again one of the BU “bigguns” gets his noggin on the ball and hammers it clear. Back in possession, AU cross and for a brief second the equaliser they have been grafting for looks to have materialised, “it's in” gaps one supporter, as the AU bullet header sails towards the goal, only for the AU players effort to be stopped on the line by his own teammate. The AU keeper still in his area, drops to his haunches. That was it, last chance, no final for them.

Shorts boy breaks into muted song in what must almost be the last seconds of the match, "we're on our way". Most of the AU players drop to the floor at the sound of the final whistle, and despite both teams grouping together for their own debriefs, the fans hold back and the AU players are first off and are quite rightly given a rousing reception by their fans, "well played boys", "you should hold your heads high".

Still in place by the side of the pitch, the BU supporters applaud their players, who are somewhat humble in victory, having made hard work of a team from the division below, but all the credit to AU for keeping in the match all the way to the end.

It is about here that I should be wrapping things up, putting a bow on the end of my perfectly crafted piece, but there is a slight twist in the end of the tail, controversy at Yarton Road. Pitchforks were sharpened, torches lit and the wanted man is the referee, because unbeknown to me, the unexplained delay in the second half, was down to confusion about names on the team sheet, AU wanted to bring someone on, the officials said he wasn't on the submitted paper work and therefore was not allowed
to play

Calls for a "replay" and rumours that the AU manager went after the referee following him into his changing room, quickly do the rounds. None of this is of the slightest bit of interest to the BU players doing a bit for radio on the far side of the pitch, unaware of the drama unfolding.

I guess with any good story the twist comes at the end, and one has to endure the tedium of the previous two hundred pages before being treated to a bit of a surprise. Sadly though, the twist in our story tonight was just not enough, maybe if the referee had been clamped in irons then we could call it an OK evening, but I'm afraid this one goes down as a bit of a bust.

From the sad looking ladies in the snack bar, the players, most of the fans, except for the kids, they were having a blast, no one seemed all that into it, maybe these competitions have had their day. Eclipsed by things like the Vase, Trophy or FA Cup, they have fallen so far down the pecking order, that they are just an annoyance, something that causes fixture congestion's. Which is a shame, because I'm sure its a competition rich with its own history, local history relevant to the people and the teams involved.

Maybe I could suggest a shake up, a change to spice it up a bit, breathe a bit of va va voom back into it. Its a bit wild, but go with me.

You know the sign outside about no horse riding, ignore it, chuck it in the bin. Introduce a horse on the pitch, halfway through the first half, and people would come in their droves.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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Monday, 8 April 2019

He’s Even Good On One Leg - Cray Valley Paper Mills FC Vs Canterbury City FC, FA Vase Semi-Final 1st Leg, Badgers Sports Ground (17/03/19)

With my son perched on the edge of my fishing chair, his nose practically pressed up against the TV screen, headset on, X-Box controller in hand, he is so involved in his game of Fortnite, he doesn't even notice me leaving. “Cover me” he says to the school friend he is playing with, like a twelve year old Andy McNab. Outside it’s cold, big marshmallow clouds lumber across the sky, it’s a stark contrast to just a few hours earlier when rain battered at my bedroom window and I’m somewhat relieved to see today's home club have already tweeted “pitch is fine”.

I might as well admit my no going out on a Sunday rule is officially defunct, as once again The FA Vase has crowbarred me away from my sofa. I promised I wouldn't mention how amazing Spurs new stadium looks anymore, and I won't, however passing it can mean only one thing, that I’m playing Uber today and I’m on the way to pick up Tom.

My car is a bubble of pure Sundayness. The Archers omnibus is on, and if it did not contravene a few dozen laws in the highway code, I’d be half under a blanket too. However the sinister looking clouds ahead, divert me from the goings on in Ambridge and when I pull up outside of Toms front door, spots of rain have started to gather on my windscreen.

With my grey ticks not having yet turned blue on WhatsApp, I can see Tom has yet to read my message I’ve sent to tell him I’m here, so I’m forced to call, and unless he has just sat on something sharp, his voice has gone up a few octaves since I last saw him. His poor fiancee has been designated PA. “He’s just in the loo” she replies, clearly embarrassed, wishing the world would swallow her whole.

Not long after and bounding towards me with a satisfied grin on his face, he swings open the passenger side door, announcing, “could be a soggy one today”.

I’m sure we can all agree that grounds, stadiums and arenas, that are not named after drink manufacturers or airlines are preferable. Ones named after people, the road they sit or in Spurs case are nearby or animals get a thumbs up from me. Pulling then into the entrance of the Badgers Sports Ground, home of Cray Valley Paper Mills FC (CVP), surely must bring a smile to the face of even the sternest of people.

Just about getting to the car park the other end of the pothole strewn drive in one piece, we find a space to park. Stepping out of the car, there is that certain feeling in the air that rain is imminent.

Talking to the two stewards on the gate, we are soon discussing a topic very close to my heart, but one that has got one of the two, very heated. “I can't fucking go” he explains, while the other heads off to get the remainder of the raffle prizes from the “boot” of his car. Where the exasperated steward can't go is Wembley for the upcoming Euro Qualifier, where England will take on the Czech Republic. “School boy error” he sighs, its his “daughters birthday”, and he has that ageless dilemma of football Vs family to contest with, and I’m guessing for the sake of his father daughter relationship, he has decided to go bowling, and not to see Mr Southgate and the boys, and he’s absolutely gutted.

Beaming with the kind of pride, only someone who gets excited about these sort of things can do, and I admit to be one of those people. One of the stewards tells us they have “new goal nets” green and white striped ones, the club's colours, that are very smart I must admit. “We’re very proud of them”.

Coming from a place of relative experience, I’m pretty sure I’m the only person to have watched the complete back catalogue of Barbecue University. I can tell you one thing, the most crucial requirement to get one started, is fire. When the man who has set his one up at one corner of the ground, under no cover whatsoever, brave, to prepare one of today's food options, and has to ask the CVP Chairman for a lighter. One has to question the credibility of the BBQ’er in question. However having spent more than two minutes in the presence of Frank before. I know for sure he is the right person to ask, as he is quite partial to a cigarette or two.

A bit of a gruff Mike Reid type, but far friendlier, Frank says they are expecting anything from “five hundred to six hundred” today for their FA Vase Semi Final 1st Leg match. Where they are up against the team we saw the last time we ventured out on God's sacred day and away from the Antiques Roadshow and roast chicken, in the Quarter-Final, Cambridge City FC (CFC). In Frank's eyes as long as they can “squeeze them all in” and “as long as no one dies”, “everyone's happy”. A slightly unorthodox philosophy, but one I think we can all get behind, all the same.

Only able to see the backs of their heads, I’m unable to see the reaction of the referee and his assistants, all three of whom are currently getting their highly polished shoes a bit grubby, as they walk across the pitch, and there is a mild sense of tension as they do so. With CVP being lodgers, the landlords Greenwich Borough having played yesterday, there are numerous patches of sand across the surface. A bit of that inside your loafers could be quite tedious.

Ladened with stock from the tiny tea room next to the turnstile, two women waddle past us arms full, straining under the weight of the boxes, and by the looks of it are well prepared to shift a fair few cups of tea. “Might have to put my woolly hat on” says Tom, the weather in constant flux. Pulling his headgear on, the man on the BBQ having now got it going, and referencing the whiteboard in front of him, Tom tells me he’s “not sure” if he “fancies” what is on offer, “curried goat”. “What do you reckon?” he asks.

Snapping what until now had been a rather sleepy corner of South East London into life, a booming voice comes over the PA with your standard “testing one, two”. Then giving the place a jolly right kick up the arse, permanently blowing away any Sunday cobwebs that might still remain, O Fortuna starts to play. “That will wake up the neighbours” laughs Tom. It is the first song of maybe the strangest play list of all time, completely ruining my theory that non league football clubs are only able to play “Dad rock” as Tom calls, ACDC and the like or 90’s dance music. The Hives and then Fatboy Slim follow Carl Orff’s X Factor appropriated classical number.

You can have all the milk, plastic teaspoons and polystyrene cups in the world, but without something to boil the hot water in, you ain't gonna have a cuppa. “No tea yet” says Tom disappointedly, returning empty handed, “waiting for the urn”.

With no hot drink and that “it's starting to rain” says Tom holding out his hand, palm pointed to the sky, I’m starting to think I bet he wished he had never left the toilet. The man carrying a chest full of sweets turns his head, but not being the most adventurous foodie in the word, the calls from the BBQ'er of “rice and jerk” are not exactly improving his frame of mind.

The play list only gets weirder and weirder, maybe weird is a bit unkind, different strokes and all that, let's say eclectic, but Hey Jude is not a rile you up get you pumped kind of song and has no place here. Talking to the Southern Counties East Football League media officer, the division that both teams play in, he reckons today “should be massive” but with each club as he puts it not “well supported ” he thinks each will have about “one hundred” supporters here, the other four or five hundred Frank predicted, will be made up of groundhoppers and such like.

A caravan of kit carrying CT players in their maroon tracksuits, enter the ground and head straight up
the concertinaed red PVC tunnel and into the changing room. Tom returns empty handed for a second time from the tea run, the “urn has arrived” but they are now “waiting for spoons”. What was in all those boxes the two ladies were carrying?

The CT players are soon out on the pitch and by the looks of it some CVP players are still arriving too, “fucking freezing” says one to himself. In a huge huddle at one end of the pitch, the CT team are deep into a chat led by their manager. “There are loads of them” says Tom, “like an American football team”. Their pre match conference coming to an end with a simultaneous clap, from what admittedly does look like about two teams worth of players.

Tom has concluded there is no other option than to head into the glass fronted clubhouse, Miller’s Bar in search of something wet, with his visits to the tea hatch proving fruitless. Inside the large round tables are packed and I stay near the door as Tom weaves his way through the crowd. Drawn into the horde, I abandon my post and catch the attention of the lady selling raffle tickets. I can hardly hear her over the din, which leads to much consternation about what my £1 will get me. I assume as with most places we go to a quid gets you a strip, however here its a single ticket, and there is a look of 'are you sure' from the seller when I tell her I want two lines, “that will be £10”.

With two chances at a flutter today, the raffle ticket seller beckons over her partner, “shes the golden goal seller”, but again due to the noise levels, we nigh on recreate an early Laurel & Hardy skit, where the golden goal seller, approaches, walks away, approaches again and then walks away, again. Eventually resorting to vigorously waving her black bag containing the little yellow envelopes in my general direction, as if to ask, ‘is this what you bloody want?’

A cackling group of CT fans have annexed a wooden picnic table outside the bar, and through a temporary red fence, we can make out the all too rare sight at a non league football match, a queue to get in, and I have to ask, although I’m a bit scared to, why is Tom doing stretches. “I’ve started working out again” he grimaces, “it hurts”.

Interrupting the music a voice not that of a Swedish early 2000’s rock bands lead singer wishes everyone a “good afternoon” before reading out “the teams” the names of which I’m informed by one of the two stewards from earlier, “won't be going up on the whiteboard as usual” because “it's been commandeered by the rice and peas man”.

If that's not the most non league thing ever, I don't know what is.

Not too far away, over the roofs of the semi detached houses that surround us, a new batch of savage looking clouds look to be coming our way, “looks like they are dumping on somewhere” reckons Tom and although neither of say anything else, we both just stand staring off into the middle distance, like characters in a Spielberg film, I’m sure we are both thinking the same thing, that is going to be dumping on us soon.

New arrivals are talking about just how busy it is outside, and how hard it was to park, “the whole road, both sides” completely full. The play list kicks up one of Tom’s favourites, Freed From Desire, and he eats his burger and chips, having sidestepped the Caribbean cuisine, to the backing track of Song Two by Blur or to most people of our age, simply that song from Fifa 98. Tucking into his meal, it’s not bad thing he doesn't see the person with a paper clacker, he is not a fan.

CT are out to warm up, as those clouds that were in the distance, appear above us, Independence Day style, “can somebody turn the rain off” requests one of the emerging players. From the allotments that back onto the ground behind one goal, thick acrid smoke starts to billow over the fence and fills the air with the smell of burning lawn cuttings.

Tea gate is now in full swing, the urn has arrived, as have the spoons, and as one person puts it you “need a warm drink” on a day like today, but that's not what they are getting. “I don't think they're hot enough, people are getting iced tea” says Tom quietly as to not incite the crowd. “Third time lucky” says a lady readying to add the milk to her cup, but her new drink is no better than the last two she has had to return, “it's not even hot”.

If it hadn't been for the worsening rain, that then turns to hail, which sends the crowd clamouring for cover, there may have been a riot. The players in shorts and short sleeves don't seem fazed, and it's gone as quickly as it arrived, the sun soon back out. The music has stopped so I can hear the raffle and golden goal ticket sellers, pouncing on people as they walk in and then the PA pipes up, but not with more inappropriate tunes, but informing the lucky winner that the scratch card has been scratched and the he or she is to claim their prize from the bar. You what!

When the music does restart, the recent lack of it is explained by the fact its O Fortuna again. The first song of a very short play list. Cover is at a premium and people are already starting to occupy the limited amount of it there is in the single covered stand and terrace. The stiffening wind is catching kicks in practise, the bonfire is getting increasingly intrusive and two kids are doing laps of the pitch on scooters. When a man in the crowd is walloped by a wayward attempt from the CVP shooting practise, I thinks its official the Badgers Sports Ground is a bit of a mad house.

“Good afternoon. Happy St Patrick Day. We welcome you in our 100th year”, says the voice over the PA now in overdrive. He explains also that no one as of yet has “claimed” the winnings from the scratch card and if they are not quick about it, the money will stay behind the bar.

The red tunnel has only been half extended, so the rest of the gap between the changing room and the pitch has been filled will temporary crash barriers, that are holding back what is now quite a considerable crowd. It’s gotten very busy, very suddenly.

It’s not exactly a roar that greets the two teams, which might have something to do with Hey Jude being the song that accompanies them. The CVP manager shakes the hand of every member of his starting eleven and at the opposite end of the pitch to where the players are being led out by their captains, who both happen to be the keepers, not something you normally see, the CT fans have sent forth a barrage of dark red balloons. One has a single CT flag on the end of a flimsy white pole and the same flag with the Kent Invicta horse on it we saw at the Quarter-Final has been draped over the railing around the pitch.

In the CVP side is a genuine former international and Premier League player who gets a song in the very quiet build up to kick off, “Super, super Kevin Lisbie”. There are a few shouts of “come on Cray” plus the sound of the balloons being popped as they are intercepted rolling across the pitch. CVP’s keeper gives a rallying cry as the referee lifts his whistle to his lips, “here we go lads from the start”, however it all feels very low key.

“Oh that's a good start” declares Tom, less than one minute into the half and the CVP keeper is down in his own six yard box, clutching his leg in need of treatment. The long stop as he is seen to, is filled with the sound of the boy next to me rustling through his bag of sweets and trying to see if the single balloon on the edge of the six yard box in front of us, will make it the full length of the pitch intact.

Making her way back to the dugout, the CVP physio is asked by someone in the crowd about the state of the keeper, “how's he doing?”. He’s back up on his feet and the game has restarted and as she
points out, “it's not his kicking foot” which is some saving grace, but he doesn't exactly look free moving. An early CT shot from long range is straight at him, so is relatively easy for him to deal with, time will only tell if the injury is going to take it's toll.

“Biggest game of the season and the managers not put a back up on the bench” interjects a nearby photographer, but he is somewhat ignored, I don't think anyone wants to consider the implications of that.

Tom is worried not about the fact the CVP keeper is so loud he could be considered dangerous, but that “it's going to fucking chuck it down”. All the hallmarks are there that we are in for a drenching sometime soon. Three sides of the ground are fit to burst, if and when it does rain, a lot of them are going to get very wet. The end that briefly held the CT fans and their balloons, is now empty. The CVP fans around us, “come on Millers” one shouts, have not swapped ends as would be the norm following the toss of the referee coin, but instead have stayed put where they have the protection of a sheet of corrugated metal above their heads.

“Totally missed it” claims Tom. I thought the ever so lunging CT tackle was OK, but he had other ideas. Slightly controversially, the CT fans are mocking the CVP keeper “Danny, Danny” they say in whiny voices, surrounded by the CVP supporters. When one away starts a chant, its very, very quiet indeed “come on Canterbury” , however everything is quiet in comparison to the noisy sweet eater next to me, that for once its not Tom.

Much like a child though, Tom snigger's at the sight of a CT player having water squirted down his shorts, and another injury results in another long stop, because of this the match has really not got going yet, which is reflected by just how quiet it is. The calm is shattered by a young boy bursting a balloon, that makes me come over all Sir Alex Ferguson.

However popping party decorations, the complete lack of on pitch action and any real kind of atmosphere about the place, is all about to pale into insignificance as the rain returns. Brutal, horizontal, doesn't make a wild bit of difference that we are under cover, whipping us in the face kind of rain, that then turns to sleet. When I woke up this morning I never imagined I would be brushing ice off my coat. Drumming on the roof above us, it sends those without cover straight to the stand. Those with a brolly go the full Steve McClaren, some have a hard job of keeping hold of theirs as the wind increases.

No one looks happy, least of all the CVP fan standing behind his green and white flag, who is getting doused.

It has taken CVP a whole twenty one minutes to register their first shot on goal, which stirs a muted “ohhhhh” from the crowd, but the weather is only getting worse, and it's getting colder too. Minutes later and CT are through on goal, which momentarily increases home fans temperatures, but their keeper is soon there to nip the attack in the bud.

Lashing against me, I’m soon saturated. I want to see for myself how “quick” Kevin Lisbie is, after one person nearby expressed how impressed they were at the speed of the forty year old, “he can run”, but I’ve gone into self preservation mode, hunkered down under my hood.

The CT bench are all on their feet as a player of theirs is clattered into, “oohhhh”gasp the crowd, but the downed player is soon back up and the visitors are awarded a free kick in a promising position. “Not like that” scoffs one CT supporter as the set piece doesn't even clear the first man.

Dare I say the rain is stopping, the sky looks a little brighter and one person says hopefully, “the sun is coming”. I think when the weather is the main topic of conversation at a game where you can set yourself up for a potential day at Wembley, just highlights how dull, “cagey and nervous” as Tom puts it, the first thirty minutes have been. The sun continues to break though, and there is even some bird song, from the wildlife that was forced into hiding by the downpour. Tom does his best to shed the water from his jacket and one person fresh and dry from the clubhouse by the looks of it, gets a few disapproving tuts from his soggy friends, “the rain stops now you join us”.

It might have stopped, but Tom doesn't think we have seen the last of it, “I don't like the look of that” he says, pointing to more wicked looking clouds. He also points out that the CVP keeper now has got “someone else taking his goal kicks”. It may only be a brief respite in the soaking, but it's got the CT fans singing. It has though not improved the game, the German groundhopper standing next to us, who told us before kick off he liked English football so much because of the “intensity”, is probably sorely disappointed so far.

A crunching CT challenge kick starts a mild flare up, but nothing too sizable. A minute later and the ball just won't fall for a CVP player in the box. “Get in” shouts one fan trying to will it over the line, but it is hastily cleared by the CT defence.

CT’s outlet up front as one CVP supporter correctly points out is their “rapid number 9” who they are looking for with a ball over the top, on every occasion and are finding him nearly every time. This though is of little concern to many around us, who seem much more interested in that Millwall have just scored for the second time in their FA Cup match.

“There we go” grumbles Tom, the rain is back as the half draws close to its conclusion. “So fucking depressing” he groans, “shit match” and now he's getting wet again. Despite our cover, the rain continues to come in sideways. “I'm still getting wet” says one person, as most shuffle to the back of the makeshift scaffolding stand. Some even taking the drastic measure of giving up altogether, the draw of a Millwall FA Cup upset and the crap weather, is driving them inside in their droves.

“Go on” encourages a CVP fan, as again the home team get the ball into the area, this time form a corner, but like before the bounce just isn't going their way and no one is able to get on the end of it, CT hammering it clear, before someone can. With only a minute or so left, CT then send a tame shot skidding well wide of the goal.

Thankfully that will not be our lasting memory of the half, as CT produce the first bit of genuine quality either team has mustered in the preceding forty five minutes. A well executed dummy allows a player to let loose a rasping top of the boot shot, but its straight at the CVP keeper. They then have a rising half volley blocked on its way to goal and a push on a CT player in the box, is appealed, but nothing is given and then CVP fly towards the CT goal on a blistering counterattack, that comes to nothing, but at least it’s something.

Finally some action, all condensed right into the last few minutes, but it's not quite enough to save what has been a pretty lacklustre half and as the players make their way inside, some running to get out of the drizzle after the whistle, I have rain dripping off me, from every possible place.

The voice over the PA confirms the score, but nobodies listening, they are trudging, dragging themselves towards the clubhouse away from the misery on and off the pitch. In front of us, a cameraman conference is taking place among a few of those in attendance, each with a little plastic cover over their cameras, keeping them dry, which makes Tom very jealous. He had to nip to the loo to pillage the toilet roll to dry his out.

One of the three talking paps, hits the nail right on the head. One could tolerate the bad weather, “it

would be OK, but it's a rotten game” he says as the rain gets even harder and Tom having returned from his toilet tissue run, says that he was sure he saw someone going home, “that's what separates the men from the boys”.

Considering just how wet it is, I almost feel part fish, I must say I’m rather impressed by the man next to me who has faultlessly rolled his own cigarette, without his Rizla disintegrating in his hands. There looks to be hope on the horizon once again as a slither of blue appears. Those staying in position for the break are standing fast, no one wants to lose their spot, the “pitch looks a mess” comments Tom and there are cheers from the direction of the bar, maybe Miwall have scored again. However if they had, the celebrations are short lived, as the man behind me not long after says “Brighton have equalized”.

We got lulled in before, but the rain is easing again, and the sun is out. For a second time my hands start to thaw. The queue for tea is long, you can only hope that the drinks are hot now, or there will be uproar. Even with the promise of a hot drink, Tom reckons lots of people have had enough, “so many people are leaving”. One person who is very much here, is singing along to Hey Jude, which isnt hard not to, as The Beatles song gets its latest airing. Tom who it turns out is not a McCartney fan is far from impressed. The carcass of one of the balloons now lays solemnly at my feet and from our position I can see the referee in the tunnel, “it must be hard to come back out” says a shivering Tom.

The rattle of the tunnel, the sound of metal scraping on concrete, Paul cuts out and the players appear, walking out on a pitch Tom is “surprised” isn't “worse” and is actually “holding up”.

Perhaps they are all still watching Millwall, but the crowd has definitely thinned. The CT posse have swapped ends, and there is certainly more elbow room in our end now. CVP flash an early shot wide and bird song starts again and although there has been a noticeable increase in the energy levels on the pitch, not that that would have been very hard, Tom is sure it's “going to be nil nil”.

Another shot, this time to CT, it's on target and the keeper spills it, “Come on Cray get hold of it” shouts one supporter. That’s two attempts on goal in the first ten minutes, things are certainly on the up and then CVP go one better and actually score a goal. Something has happened which isn't weather.

Surging from middle field the scorers mazy run brings him all the way to the edge of the box, where one supporter tells him to “hit it” and he does. “How did that go in?” asks Tom, having to raise his voice over the ecstatic sounds of the person doing the PA, who is confirming the time of the goal, I missed out on the golden goal by two minutes and the name of the scorer. Who is followed by his teammates who have rushed towards the crowd for a fan, supporter pile on.

“Bit of a soft one” says one person, the ball hardly thundered in, more rolled. “Placed it, more than hit it” is how someone describes the strike. We saw CT come from behind in the Quarter-Final, they seem like a quite resilient bunch, but I’m sure their confidence must have taken a knock and CVP are soon on the attack again just after the restart. They look much sharper now, into the box the forward goes, and he’s down, but he’s booked for diving. Which initiates our second scuffle of the day. A CVP fan saying correctly, the “ref got it right”.

“Be positive” shouts someone on the CT bench to the players who in the first half had bare arms, but now in an attempt to stop them freezing and dropping off, now have gaudy red undershirts on. Maybe it's a sign from the football Gods, but in the seconds processing the request from the visitors technical area, the sun breaks through the clouds like the fingers of the almighty, reaching down to touch us. The “Jesus sun” is out says Tom, basking in its warm rays.

The scene in front of us, the sky half black half blue and white with the sun beaming, is like a vision from the ceiling of a Renaissance church.

CT toss the ball into the box, that causes a few problems, but is cleared. CVP do the same not long after, “good ball” gasps one supporter, but the header is right at the keeper and then its CT’s turn again. Their number 9 turning and shooting from the edge of the box. We're almost drowning in this sea of opportunities, it's almost overwhelming.

The home fans are really starting to loose it with the ref, in their eyes, nothing is going their way. Such is the power of the “Jesus sun”, “got a bit blinding for a second” exclaims Tom, the CT keeper has asked a player on the bench to go and get his hat. “Just chuck it there” he says over his shoulder, to the player holding it.

“How did he miss that” says Tom and about everyone else in our general vicinity and probably the entire ground. “He had an open goal and hit it at the keeper” he adds, unable to fathom how the player sliding in on the edge of the six yard box did not score for CT. So sure that is was going in the CT fans had started to celebrate, only for it to fall into the arms of the CVP keeper. Their premature jubilation's as you can imagine gets many jeering “weyyyyy” from the CVP supporters.

It really is still very quiet here, it's far noisier in the bar than pitch side. The noise level spikes when CVP bundle the ball over the line from a corner, “he did a hand of God” accuses Tom, which does not go down well with one CT player, “you're a fucking cheat” he says to the culprit who shrugs off his accusation.

“Well played keeper” applaud the CVP fans, the CT stopper in combination with his defence camped out on their goal line, have just stopped three or four goal bound shots valiantly. “Unlucky Ash” says one fan, the player who looked nailed onto score with the first attempt, after some very tricky feet, looks a little despondent.

CVP as they say have taken it up a gear, “well played Cray, well played” one man shouts, after a fizzed low ball into the box, is met by a striker who shoots just over. The resulting goal kick, is the start of a very odd back and forth between one home fan and the CT keeper. “I don't understand why it bothers you so much” says the man in the goal. The supporter for some reason is giving him shit for making a divot each time to place the ball on top of to aid his kick. “Look at the pitch keeper” barks the supporter or is it the groundsman. “You wanna settle down mate” replies the man in goal bemused.

“Rabbit rabbit rabbit” replies the now very animated man in the crowd, who along with a couple of other people are doing their best to get under the skin of the CT number one at every opportunity.

It's not until about the thirtieth minute that the CT fans make their first bit of real noise, other than the awkward celebrating of course, after their forward is forced wide, but still manages to get his shot off it hits the keeper, looping out for a corner.

The sun has gone from the non existent to the ridiculous, some are forced to hold their hands up in front of their face to shield their eyes, and the CT keeper dons his hat for the first time and who doesn't love to see that.

“I'll go through them again” announces the voice over the PA, repeating the winning raffle ticket numbers, which of course don't correspond to any of those in the breast pocket of my shirt. The steam coming off me, I don't think has anything to do with missing out on the England tickets or any of the six other prizes, but is testament to just how bloody hot the sun is now.

The sound of a home free kick hitting the cold exposed meat of the CT players in the wall is a bit of a sickener and gets a suitable “ohhhhh” in response. The back and forth between the CT keeper and the agitated fan is still ongoing, “made it a bit bigger for you that one” he says grinning. Into the last ten minutes and the man next to me is checking the local bus time table, which isn't a great sign.

“They are a rough team” notes Tom as CT rack up another foul, “ref sort it out” shouts a fan, towards the man in charge who hasn't really got a grip on things. CVP swing the free kick into the box, “this is it” says one man in a moment of premonition, but he’s not right this time and the CT keeper plucks the ball out of the sun.

Much like at the end of the first half, the second is awash with chances for both teams. CT are quick to counter, which is started by their man in the goal, after a home corner, it ends up with two players going down in the box, in what just looked like a coming together, the fans call for a penalty, but get nothing.

The voice is back over the PA, going through the winning raffle ticket numbers again, can do one. To add to my misery, the grass verge next to the path behind the goal has turned into a mud bath, and I almost go arse over tit. There is a sudden surge in the numbers looking for somewhere to stand, the bar has emptied, Millwall lost on penalties, and no one can see. The sun is now an absolute killer.

“This is their best spell” says one home fan, CT are well and truly on top. One CVP fan fresh back from the clubhouse has to double check what the score is, “I assume it's still 1 - 0?”. Two quick fire CT corners and the difficulty in seeing them, causes some confusion, “what was that? just a corner? thank God for that”.

More people are talking about Millwall than the game in front of them, one person is asking to be filled in on the goal, which another dutifully describes in detail. The CT fans are singing “Wembley, Wembley” and one CVP supporter says he would have liked to “have seen a second goal” to help settle the nerves.

“The referee has indicated a minimum of four minutes” says the anxious sounding voice over the PA, which of course someone refers to as “Fergie time”. One person is far more positive, “four minutes for us to score another goal” and positivity, no scrap that, a big dose of good luck is what the home team need right now, their goal is being bombarded. “Save keeper” shouts the man next to me, “he’s even good on one leg” he adds. CT are very fond of a long throw, they have one player who is from the Howitzer school of lobbing it and has the ability to reach the box from seemingly anywhere, which is troubling one home fan, “come on Cray, get it away from the goal”.

It’s probably not a bad thing that half the CVP fans can't see what is happening at the other end of the pitch, because it would only fray their already shredded nerves even further. The one legged keeper again pulls off another crucial save. “What we doing?” asks one supporter, “get it up there” demands another, but whatever they try they can't get the ball away from their own goal, and CT are getting closer and closer.

“We're putting ourselves under pressure. Come on Cray”.

If you had walked out of the bar just after the final whistle, not knowing the score, you would be hard pressed to know who was going into the second leg with a goal advantage and who had it all to do. Neither set of players looked anything other than miserable. The CVP manager has a face like thunder and is marching back inside, formulating what looks like will be a dressing down for his team as he does so. One CT player is consoled by another, "I can't believe we didn't score" he says and with the chances they had, they can certainly feel like they have done themselves a disservice today, but as another CT player put it, "it's 1 - 0 at half time".

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