Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Get A Grip Clattenburg - Karpatalya Vs Szekely Land, CONIFA World Football Cup Semi-Final 2018, War Memorial Sports Ground (07/06/18)

When one thinks of Hungarian football, one recalls the exploits of the Magical Magyars and their
1953 dismantling of England at Wembley, which included among them the great Ferenc Puskas. The three time European Cup winner with Real Madrid goal machine, who scored 514 goals in 530 club appearances.

It is therefore fair to say there is something folkloric about this European nations rich football history, that should fascinate any football fan. I did however never think I would be getting my first taste of it at a non league ground in Sutton.

It was quite the ordeal heading from the north to the deep dark south. Riding solo, Tom opting for the train instead, to navigate half of London at rush hour. I keep myself entertained, I say entertained, I think I mean ‘I creep myself out’ by listening to a very odd play on the radio, sipping regularly from a 2 litre bottle of water as I shuffle slowly from one end of London to the other.

My keenness though to keep hydrated, it's not exactly sunny, but it's still warm, backfires as I find myself in somewhat of a predicament, around the Richmond area, desperately in need of the toilet. I scan the passing side streets, trying to see if there is somewhere I can stop to relieve myself and not look like a total yobbo, but I can’t so carry on, squirming, growing thirsty but not wanting to exacerbate the situation.

I pass pubs, cafes, restaurants and coffee shops. A Pizza Express I’m sure that has a very fine loo, but I can't see anywhere to park. Things are getting desperate, when I notice on my Sat Nav, the gleaming icon of a nearby BP garage.

It’s not far, but the traffic is hardly free flowing, I edge closer to it, the need to wee building by the second.

I hurriedly park my car and dash for the loo, but it's occupied. I stand trying to look like I’m not about to have a major accident between the grapes and the craft ale in the adjoined M&S, when I hear the click of the door lock, a man emerges, and I try my best not to barge him out of the way into the pitta chip stand so I can get by.

Life is good again, the remainder of the journey is fine, if not a little slow. I’m able to drink without fear, and I’m soon turning down the narrow lane leading to the War Memorial Sports Ground, home of Carshalton Athletic FC, the venue for our second CONIFA World Football Cup game.

At the end of the allotment bordered road is Tom, I'm of course happy that he has been able to find his way here by himself, I’m not so delighted at seeing the squat chalkboard opposite him that reads, “Car Park Full”. Shit.

I won't go into too much detail, but there is a considerable amount of embarrassing pleading with the kind man in the high viz, to find me somewhere to park my very small and humble VW Polo. He asks me to wait in some kind of car park purgatory, while he makes a call.

“One space left round the back” he tells me, pointing to the far corner of the rammed car park, towards a pothole covered track, that leads along the side of one of the grounds stands. It’s a bumpy ride, the surface sea of tranquility esq and I’m glad I no longer need the toilet. Just about making it to the other end all in one piece, where another man directs me to my space.

As with our first game in this competition, there is also one happening before ours as we arrive. It was the not inconsiderable roar of one set of fans celebrating a goal from inside the ground that greeted my arrival. Talking to the man in the car park, he informs me the score in the first semi final, is currently 2 - 2, and if it stays that way what a “logistical nightmare” that poses, because it will mean extra time and potentially penalties, and he doesn't see how they are going to get all that done and be able to kick off on time for the second semi-final.

It was maybe then the car park coordinator who was the happiest, and not the supporters of Northern Cyprus, when they not long after score again, the second roar from the crowd even louder than the first.

Once inside, we watch on as what by all accounts has been a super game comes to an end, and the both of us are left wondering if we picked the right match. Explaining to Tom that Padania, Northern Cyprus’s opposition is in Italy, he doesn't think they “look very Italian”, until about thirty seconds later when one is shown a red card right in front of us. Arguing with the referee in the finest of Serie A traditions, with a single half clenched hand that he gestures with in front of himself, Tom reckons “he does” now.

This healthy stereotype is reinforced further when another player is booked for another robust challenge, and can't believe he is being shown a yellow card, his arms out by his side. Flabbergasted that his crunching tackle was not deemed within the rules of the game.

“We should stay and watch, see how good they are” suggests one Northern Cyprus fan, his team having just secured their spot in the final, thinking it might be worth sticking around to check out who they will be facing in forty eight hours.

Tom takes the break between games to sort himself out, “maybe I’ll get a burger” he says looking longingly off into the distance. Its less than an hour to the supposed kick off of the next game, and the Northern Cyprus players look in no rush to be getting changed and vacating the changing rooms, the players of Szekely Land (SL) and Karpatalya (KAP) are standing around and looking a little frustrated, as a definite air of disorganisation descends.

“You know the seasons ended, where there's no cheese” says a returning Tom, who despite the lack of toppings still seems satisfied with his burger, the pattie of which is far too big for the as he puts it the “childs bun”. Wanting to sympathise with the fact he was unable to have his customary cheese burger, and had to make do with a plain one, I’m also trying to work out why there is a person here with a CCCP shirt on.

At the moment it feels like there are more press, camera men and photographers here than anyone else. One person with a laptop, attempts to string his charger over three rows of seats in the main stand from the only working plug socket. He eventually forages his preferred place, and moves forward, having made a bit of a spectacle of himself.

Someone not holding a large telephoto lens or a camera on a body mounted gimbal, makes a point, which might just be the reason people have been attracted to this specific match, “two sets of Hungarians should be a good atmosphere”. KAP being Hungarians from the Ukraine and SL Hungarians from Romania.

After being quite taken aback by the officials “jazzy kit” at Enfield, Tom is far from impressed by tonight's offering, “don't like that refs shirt, looks like a rugby kit”. On the far side of the pitch a single SL flag has been draped over the railing around the pitch, next to it a single Hungarian one.

All the fuss regarding the changing rooms caused let's say by Northern Cyprus hardly being prompt about their departure, means Mark Clattenburg, yes Mark Clattenburg the once Premier League referee who is now Head of refereeing for the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, looks a little perplexed as he saunters to the mouth of the caged tunnel, with quite a nice tan, and his much talked about tattoos, each one denoting the major finals he's officiated on show, that both sets of players are still warming up on the pitch.

For a moment, the fact that the game is clearly going to kick off late, seems insignificant, as the sheer presence of The Clattenburg, and the stir that his appearance has made, people are clambering to get a picture, he did not warm up with his assistants, so seeing him has caught a few people, me included by surprise.

“No one want to play football?” he asks, in his thick Northumberland accent, grasping the match ball.  Pointing to someone in the stands, he then points to his watch exaggeratedly, with a perplexed look all over his face. When he gives a sharp blast on his whistle, most around him flinch, he now points to the teams, telling them forcefully, “I want you here”.

There is potential for more delays, the players are still out on the pitch by the way, when a heated discussion breaks out between a CONIFA official in their distinct white shirts with green trim and a member of the KAP coaching staff. There is an issue with the team sheet, and they are waiting for a “translator”. A man in a poorly fitting suit, who is profusely sweating, does his best to mediate between all parties involved.

Never before in all our time, have we seen the two teams about to play, walk up the tunnel, line up as
usual, certain players going through their little pre match rituals, one or two offering up encouragement, and then moments later walking back out again. KAP ended up changing in a portacabin, and SL on the pitch.

The worlds of music and football are inexplicably linked. Some songs are pinched from the charts and adapted by the fans, and pieces are synonymous with particular clubs. You'll Never Walk Alone or that overused bit from Star Wars are good examples, but never did I think one by 90's band Right Said Fred would be one of those, but considering their song ‘Bring The House Down’ is the tournament official anthem, and its miles better than 'Waka Waka' by Shakira, I guess it makes sense.

What is normally the most patriotically English ground in all of non league football, due to the long line of St George's Crosses, that fly from the top of the long covered terrace on one side of the ground, tonight that mantle has shifted a bit, tonight it’s most definitely Hungarian. In what feels like no time at all the red white and green of the Hungarian flag is hanging all around us, dotted among them the pale blue and yellow ones of SL. One of which is at the end of a wooden flag pole with a gold phinal, being carried by the burly bearded man next to me, and right into the face of the man next to him.

There is an almost sombre feel to the singing of both nations anthems, KAP are up first then SL. A few of the KAP player hold their hands up to their chests, all are stiff, few of them sing along. When it's the turn of the SL players, they stand with their arms over the shoulders of the man next to them. In the crowd a few fans join in, many who do, do it with their scarves held up above their heads.

We eventually get underway, about six minutes late, every one of which I’m sure Clattenburg is irate about. Both teams set a quick tempo, both of them settling into their stride instantly and its SL in their pale blue tops, who have the first shot on goal.

Clattenburg's let's say ‘laissez-faire’ attitude is apparent very early on, allowing on one occasion a clear tug of the shirt go unpunished, instead waving the game on in his very nonchalant manner.

The SL fans on each side of the pitch, sing back and forth to each other, the much smaller group focused around the large man with the flag, exchange songs, “ol-a, ol-a, ol-a”, with the much larger group surrounded by all the flags, behind the benches. From what I can work out, the SL supporters many sporting blue and yellow in some form or another make up the majority if not all of the crowd, except for a decent sized handful of people like Tom and I here for the spectacle. There doesn't seem to be any KAP section if you will, but with both teams Hungarian roots, are they just cheering on everyone?

Lenient to say the least, some may say Clattenburg is allowing the game to flow, some may say he doesn't really give a shit, one thing that is clear is he is making up those lost six minutes if its the last things he does. One thing at least, his relaxed attitude is allowing for is quite an exciting encounter. With fifteen minutes gone, SL whip a ball across the KAP box to the back post, but the player whose well positioned, is off balance and unable to hook the ball home.

Tom was sure that Clattenburg had “retired”. I explain his current employment status and he asks much like the stars friends, if hes being paid “$1,000,000 a match?”. However much he is racking in, he's certainly had plenty of time to soak up some sun, he has a very healthy glow. He is eventually forced to use his whistle for the “first time” as Tom puts it, with twenty or so minutes on the clock, following a foul even he couldn't ignore.

What I can only describe as big blue balls up almost results in KAP taking the lead, a pass back of course means the keeper can't pick it up and the encroaching player in red puts him under all sorts of pressure, forcing him to rashly attempt a clearance, that ends up hitting the forward. The ball bouncing towards the goal, there is a sharp intake of breath from the SL fans, before the keeper eventually makes up for his mistake, somehow getting it to safety. There are plenty of angry shouts from the fans to our left, and a firework display ohhhh's from the stand to our right.

I can't quite emphasise enough quite how much whip the KAP number 9 is able to get on the ball, he somehow manages to wrap what looks like his whole body around it, getting it to deliciously curl into the box every time. KAP are really coming into their own, playing some very neat, quick and intricate football. A ball inside the SL full back on twenty five minutes is a real gem, the winger meets it perfectly, cutting the ball back into the box, only for the eventual shot to be deflected over.

Not uncomfortable by many means, the War Memorial Sports Ground is really one of the better ones we have visited, but two young ladies have taken comfort to the next level, giving themselves what Toms says is the “best seat in the house”. Having dragged a nearby bench right to the edge of the pitch, they can watch on with an uninterrupted view, without having to do any of this standing nonsense.

Toms constant need tonight to suggest something looks like something else, is verging on the preposterous and ill advised. With diplomatic tensions between the UK and the rest of the world already at an all time low, he really needs to be careful when suggesting the SL badge, a yellow crescent and sun, looks like “Portsmouth”.

Headaches for the Home Office narrowly avoided, he shares with me his thinking for a new approach for 2018/19. If our little dabble into international football has taught him anything it’s that eating before kick off is the “way to go” and may well be his “new tactic for next season”.

Despite all the high energy on the pitch, each team are doing a reasonable job of containing each other. The SL fans are still singing back and forth, a bit of a call and response breaks out between the two groups.

If I only get to see one thing during this tournament, a green card, I will be a very happy man. A frankly horrible and scything SL challenge from behind, we were both sure was going to bring this about. “Thought we were going to see green”, said no-one ever before, until seven days ago, and now Tom says its like its as much a part of football vernacular as 'put it in the mixer'. On this occasion it’s only a yellow, but as he points out the game is developing into a “physical one”, so he senses there will be more chances of seeing one ahead.

Tom was not aware of this new addition to the referee’s arsenal that is unique to this competition, a middle ground between a yellow and a red, it's basically a signal to the bench of, get this fella off now, or I'll end up sending him off. Although he’d never heard of it, until about an hour ago, he is now desperate to see one, “I’ll have to find” Clattenburg “later and ask to see” it, he says rather sinisterly.

Another heavy challenge, and despite Toms deranged muttering “green, green, green”, he is again disappointed, it's only yellow.

“Fucking hell” says Tom, as one KAP player almost dismantles one man in the wall with his thunderbolt of a freekick. What it was lacking in finesse, it made up for in sheer unadulterated, in the words of that shaggy haired, global warming denier twat Clarkson, “power”.

Although there has been plenty of attacking intent from both sides, much like with the freekick, neither team has shown much subtlety, that though changes on the 40th minute when one KAP player, not big and bulky, but small and slight, jinks and glides his way through the SL defence, neatly slipping the ball under the keeper, and almost before it's even hit the back of the net, he is wheeling away, his index finger pressed up against his lips, followed by his teammates nearby and then his keeper, who didn't want to miss out on the party.

I’m not sure anyone has quite yet had the time to absorb the quality of the KAP goal, it really was a nice one, when up the other end of the pitch a clattering challenge by the KAP keeper on the SL player thought on goal, who is “taken out” as Tom put it, the ball continuing to bobble goalwards, Clattenburg blows up regardless of it looking like it still might just go in and points to the spot.

“Red card” says Tom, as the on time Premier League referee raises his hand.

There are various types of penalty in the world, a Waddle, a Southgate, a Panenka. For the keeper at least, the cruelest one is the one where he saves it, can’t hold onto it and the taker, gets to the loose ball and scores off the rebound.

For the briefest of moments that's exactly what looks like has happened following the quite brilliant save by the goal celebrating KAP keeper, getting low down to his right, he manages to get both hands to the ball and pushes it on to the foot of the post, “great save” shouts Tom.

Instead of heading into touch the ball bounces up, hitting the bar, and is now heading towards the centre of the six yard box, with the goal gaping.

With the taker steaming in to nod it home, the man in neon green and trousers is already back up on his feet, and flying across the area to literally punch the ball off the forehead of the SL player who I’m sure thought he was going to make up for his initial blunder.

I’m not sure if it was the speed in which it all happened or the distance from us to it, but we are both starting to doubt if the red card we think has been awarded, was in fact given. “Looked like one” says Tom, but in hindsight neither of us can remember seeing anyone go off. A quick head count like a teacher on a school trip, confirms there is still a full complement of players on the pitch, Tom putting the lack of what seemed like obvious dismissal down to Clattenburg wanting to keep it “fair”.

The remainder of the match bookended between the drama of the saved spot kick and the half time whistle, which happens bang on fourty five minutes, Clattenburg not playing a second of added on time, Tom now more sure than ever that he doesn't “give a shit”, Tom describes like it's the alternating colours on a striped football scarf, “red, blue, red, blue” he says as the action swings from end to end.

SL have a great chance to draw things level, the player on the edge of the box has the ball put on a plate for him but he skies it over and then KAP have a gilt edged chance to double their lead, but the player glances his header just wide. “Ooooooooh” gasp the fans as the chance goes begging, but are soon back to singing across the pitch towards their compatriots, as the teams go off and the fanciest of match day flags I’ve ever seen is unfurled.

Tom having eaten before the game, means we spend the half time break together for the first time in a while, watching on as the SL substitutes take some woeful shots on goal, most of which clear the goal, the large green net there to prevent them clearing the stand, and out into the night. My smirk at their shocking attempts is soon wiped from my face when Tom asks, “are you parked in that car park?”.

The flag bearer cuts a bit of a lonely figure as the second half gets under way, both groups have united like football Power Rangers, and are much, much louder now they have combined forces, and their songs are a lot more frequent. Tom tells me “lots of Budweiser and watermelon seeds” are being consumed among them.

“Wake up Clattenburg” shouts Tom, the man in charge now seemingly overlooking the need to enforce the passback rule. The SL player clearly nudging the ball back to his keeper who drops down on it and picks it up after an early KAP attack.

There is no other way to put it, but the SL keeper has fucked up there, about ten minutes into the new half, diving down to collect a relatively simple shot, the ball has somehow bounced over him and in. The SL substitutes warming up in front of us, exchange a look and a few words, I don't know in what language, but it's not hard to decipher they are not impressed.

It's not a Hungarian, Ukrainian or Romain voice that pipes up with, “we’re gonna win 3-2” from within the bustling crowd, whose allegiances are becoming harder and harder to deduce.

SL are slowly starting to dominate, one winger presents a well placed player in the box with an excellent chance to lessen the deficit, but taking a leaf out of the substitutes book from half time, he sends his close range shot towards my car. Almost, not quite as bad, but almost, the crosser of the ball nearly goes full Ketsbaia. Right in front of us, he is not far off putting his foot through the hoardings, but keeps his shirt on.

The SL bench have seen enough, time to make some changes, one of the players warming up is called over.

Before carrying on any further, another SL chance is coming up, I must first apologise on behalf of all Spurs fans, for one of my fellow Lillywhites whose decided now was a good to start singing “yid army, yid, army, yid army”. I'm not apologising because of the contentious language in the chant, but because of the simply moronic timing of it.

Back to the football, and that SL chance. Another one on one, and again the KAP keeper takes the man and not the ball, not once but twice. Showing his trademark agility, he is up again in a flash, not content with whipping out one player, he charges into the second, preventing somehow in a tangle of limbs the rebound ending up in the back of the net.

“He don't wanna give a penalty” says Tom now suspicious Clattenburg is on the take, “maybe he's making some money on the side”.

A rare KAP breakout, ends in a wild shot over. However the football for a few moments at least takes a bit of a back seat, as from the crowd to our left, the colours of the Hungarian flag, in the form of three smoke bombs, start to smoulder then erupts from above the heads of the fans. Soon it engulfs all around them, rolling up into the sky and slowly seeping across the pitch.

Maybe it's growing up in the UK, where such sights are so unfamiliar, but it never stops be a source of great intrigue, when a bit of pyro goes off on these shores. Wooden rattles and more recently plastic inflatable clappers are about as exciting as it gets for us.

Tom is impressed by the logistics of it, praising the “very organised” people who are putting it on. “You buy red, you buy white, you buy green” he says, imagining how the conversation between the three protagonists had gone.

Through a vale of white fog KAP go close again, then SL spurn another chance, a free header, the player was totally unmarked but he conspired to put it wide, resulting in another Ketsbaia impression, “they like kicking the advertisements” says Tom.

The man to our left sums up SL’s last twenty five minutes perfectly, they've had “three golden chances” he says, but failed to take even one of them, at the moment as he puts it, “that's the difference between the sides”.

Tom can be a little bit of a conspiracy theorist at times, a tad tinfoil hat, take your fillings out they are tuning into my brain waves on occasion, but even I am starting to suspect Clattenburg is up to something. “Lenient” as Tom puts it, doesn't seem to describe his approach enough. Another SL player through on goal is unceremoniously hacked down, and there isn't even a sniff of a card.

“Unless he’s waiting for him to get up” ponders Tom, as the fouler, has ended up doing a bit of a Gascoigne ‘91 and has hurt himself in the process of halting the KAP attack. When he is eventually carried off by two of his teammates, no booking is forthcoming.

Even though the smoke has gone I can still taste its acrid presence and maybe in an attempt to clear the residue from around him, one person is whirling their scarf above their head.

So let me get this right, there is no booking for the now injured player on the sidelines, but he’s given a penalty to KAP, which is rolled home, this time the players are heading for the bench to celebrate. The third goal catching out one person nearby, the last time he looked “there were loads of players down” he looks away for a second and KAP are now further ahead.

“We’re going to win 4-3” says the optimist in the crowd.

What a save from the KAP keeper, who has been positively superhuman all game. From point blank range he blocks the goal bound shot and the ball is scrambled clear. He is though helpless just after, when this time a well placed cross is met in the air by the leaping player who heads home SL’s first goal.

The SL players don't go over the top, they hardly celebrate, they're much more interested in getting the game back underway. A few KAP players have other ideas, holding on to the ball which nearly causes a punch up. "Get a grip Clattenburg" bellows Tom.

I know I said just two paragraphs ago that the person singing “we’re going to win 4-3” was optimistic, well I might have to think about retracting that, as minutes after grabbing their first, SL have bagged a second. A crashing second from just inside the box, that sends their fans loopy. The KAP keeper hoofs the ball into the crowd and again the SL players are not getting ahead of themselves, racing to retrieve it from their fans, no times wasted celebrating and head to the centre circle.

Booo’s ring out from the few KAP fans after a bruising SL challenge, but instead of ensuring the victim is OK, Clattenburg drags him to his feet, “is he allowed to do that?” reflects a confused Tom. SL though, regardless are on fire, KAP are rattled, this puts the physicality levels through the roof.

Keen to see more pyro Tom and I are caught between watching the match and watching the terraces, “I don't know where to look” he says. We think for a second another pyro show is about to begin, “oh, oh, oh” says Tom in anticipation as some smoke starts to rise from the crowd, but it turns out just to be someone having a vape.

KAP are now hanging on for dear life. Players from each side are showing signs of the all their effort, going down with pangs of cramp. There is a bizarre moment when one SL hits the deck close to the main stand, a KAP player approaches him, and the people in the stand respond like he is about to assault him, only for him to help the stricken player.

Some of those suffering though, particularly the KAP players, Tom thinks might be putting it on, “they keep dropping, then getting picked back up” he points out, like they are playing some kind of parlour game.

Five minutes left, and the pale blue siege continues. “How?” shouts one man next to us, SL now seemingly the neutrals favourite, when a pinpoint ball to the back post finds the player waiting to receive it, but he's too slow to react and can’t get his feet in order, and fluffs it. “Think he thought he was offside” suggests the same man who can’t believe he didnt score, as a reason perhaps for his poor touch.

More booing, this time not for a rash challenge, but time wasting, KAP taking an age to do the simplest of things. The resident Spurs fan is back, doing his best to improve international relations, by suggesting that in the spirit of the EU they all “go fucking mental”.

SL are getting closer and closer but as the man next to me points out “there isn’t much time left”, just as SL flash another header wide, which is followed by cries of “ahhhh”. Invested, might be an understatement, the man next to me is pleading with some higher power, “oh please” he says as SL lump another ball into the box, but it comes to nothing.

Three minutes of extra time left, and KAP are going to try and waste every second of it, and continue to be booed.

For all the fight SL have shown since going three behind and then grabbing back two of their own, with so many bodies committed forward, they were always going to be susceptible to a break way. With what can only be seconds left to play, they are just that, KAP scoring their fourth. The keeper once again makes the run from his goalmouth to congratulate the scorer.

There is one last sniff of a SL third, when they are awarded a free kick, that very nearly catches out the KAP keeper, who had to be on his toes, and just manages to get enough on it to tip it over. Even if it had gone in, and enough people here were willing it to do so, there would not have been enough time to get a fourth.

KAP are heading to the final.

With any kind of knockout football, emotions on and off the pitch are always much clearer to see. Lose a league game and well, you'll be playing again in a few days time, where you can hopefully rectify your mistakes, so it’s not maybe the end of the world. Lose in a cup, well that always feels that little bit more painful, because it's potentially a very long wait until you have a chance as they say, to go again.

Many of those in pale blue fall to the pitch, those in red obviously ecstatic, the keeper, who Tom owes an apology to after calling him “dodgy” after he was anything but, seems to be getting some extra attention. In the stands the SL fans are no quieter than they had been during the match, they applaud their team, who looked for a moment like they might just pull off a “comeback” as Tom put it. Those with flags and scarves hold them proudly above their heads.

Plenty of manly sporting kisses are exchanged, a few of the KAP coaches overcome, embrace the players, picking some up off their feet and rag dolling them like toddlers.

In an excellent sign of sportsmanship, the KAP players fall silent, linking arms just as the SL players have in front of their fans, as a hush falls over the ground, a first for the evening, as flags and scarves continue to be held aloft, but instead of loud chanting, the fans and players again join each other in an almost mournful recital of their anthem.

As the KAP players squeeze into their portacabin changing room, the walls and ceiling pounded, "ria, ria, Hungaria" they sing, one Northern Cyprus fan who did stick around says to his son, "I fancy them" for the final.

I'll tell you very simply how good this evening was, how good it was despite Clattenburgs antics, and regardless of pyro, singing and flags. The numerous 50/50 scarves the SL fans had, couldn't ruin it, that's how good it was.

 

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Magic Spray & Britney Mics - Northern Cyprus Vs Tibet, Group B - CONIFA World Football Cup 2018, Queen Elizabeth II Stadium (02/06/18)

Sitting alone in the far east of the Mediterranean sea, not far from the Turkish mainland and Lebanon,is the partially recognised state of The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

High up on the Tibetan Plateau on the northern side of the Himalayas, sometimes known as the “Roof of the World”, are the co custodians of the world's tallest mountain Chomolungma, that's Mount Everest to those not up to scratch with their Tibetan, or those able to use Google like me, is Tibet.

Nestled at the end of the joyfully named culdesac Donkey Lane, in the North London borough of Enfield, is where we for the first time in three years are about to watch our first international. In the shadow of the exquisite art deco stand of the Queen Elizabeth II stadium, or Donkey Dome to the locals, is where Northern Cyprus (NC) and Tibet (TIB) are going head to head in the CONIFA World Football Cup 2018.

Normally once the season is over, Tom and I go our separate ways, adopting a near state of hibernation as far as football is concerned. The summer months are time for me to get out my fishing rods and bait box, for Tom its all about dusting off his espadrilles, and heading out in search of the best IPA his local East London pop up breweries have to offer.

This year, with the World Cup, it’s a little different, however there was still going to be some time to reacquaint ourselves with loved ones, and forget about football for a while and just relax.

Until that is we were made aware of a competition happening right here in London, in a couple of venues right on our doorstep, between teams who are never going to appear in a Panini Sticker album, who are never going to finish bottom of a World Cup qualifying group with a goal difference of 47, but from the little research I’ve done, it's clear that its just as important to those taking part, as it is for the teams heading to Russia in a few weeks time.

CONIFA the Confederation of Independent Football Associations organises every two years for non-FIFA affiliated football associations the chance to compete for their very own World Cup or I imagine because of copyright their very own Word Football Cup. So when the opportunity arose to see the likes of Panjab, Székely Land or the Isle of Man, it was just as good a reason as any to delay reminding my eleven month old daughter, that I am in fact her father.

“Nice shirt” says Tom, as we spot our first (TIB) supporter, wearing what might just be one of the most splendid football kits in all of football, with its alternate blue and red stripes, radiating from the badge on the chest, in an almost identical design to the Tibetan flag.

It is neither the fans of TIB or their opponents (NC) that we see first once inside the ground, but that of Abkhazia, one of the teams taking part in the earlier kickoff, in this afternoon's Group B double header. It is their flags, a green and white striped number, with a white hand on it, that Tom says reminds him of something from The Lord Of The Rings, that are being flown from the small terrace in front of the curvaceous main stand of the home of Enfield Town FC.

Those familiar with the QE2, would recognise the humongous blue flag that hangs from the balcony of the normally full first floor seating area, a staple of most if not all home games here in the regular season. Beside it currently though are more examples of the Abkhazia flag and it is not the cries and shouts of the Enfield Town Ultras that fill the air, but the drums and horns of the Abkhazia supporters.

“Never been to a game where music is being played” comments Tom, as what I think is a sound system somewhere among the flag waving Abkhazia fans, starts to pump out some accordion music.

Although I have no idea of what he is saying, the international language of football, allows me to translate what one coach of the teams, whose game is shortly about to end is saying, when he rushes from his bench and starts berating the linesman, in his as Tom put it “jazzy” pink top, I’m pretty sure he did not think the call of offside was the correct one.

Looking on, the NC players and coaches are already here, not long after noticing them, the TIB players arrive, taking up a spot just in front of their foe. They are a little bit less conspicuous in their appearance, Tom once again coos over their kit “that shirt is so cool”. They line up along the barrier, watching the final moments of the game, their pose almost like the scene from a photo shoot, written across their backs, in a font normally reserved for takeaway menus, reads Tibet.

When the first game of the day comes to an end, there is a sudden injection of activity, which will not fall below a quite ferocious level, until well after kick off. The fans of Abkhazia are soon packing up their flags, taking them down from the balcony, only for any available space not to be available for long, as the flag bearing the white hand is quickly replaced with the one bearing the red crescent and star of NC.

The TIB players, some of whom were already doing their stretches, and the steely eyed NC players, soon head down the green caged tunnel, as the ground is quite suddenly transformed.

Having claimed their spot within seconds of the final whistle of the first game, the TIB supporters quickly occupy the small terrace, and it is soon their sunburst flag that flies from the end of its fans flagpoles and goodbye to the sound of the accordion, and hello to the sounds of their rhythmic drumming and low harmonious singing.

Both teams are soon back out, crossing the red surface of the running track and onto the pitch to warm up, one TIB player offering up a silent prayer just before he does. With everything going on, its bizarrely the the hair of the TIB players that becomes the main topic of conversation.

“There’s Fellaini” says one person to another, “where?” they ask, “you'll see” replies the person who
had first pointed out the shaggy hairstyle very similar to that of the Belgian. “Oh yeah” says the second person moments later, when they finally catch a glimpse of the wild mop of dark hair.

Tom is always keen to cast his professional eye over the hairdos of the players on show, and with today being an international affair, he is more keen than ever. He wonders if he can get one step ahead of a new trend, by seeing what is all the rage in North Nicosia or Lhasa. He is particularly taken aback by one TIB players “amazing mullet” which he says makes him look like a “70’s Mexican footballer”.

The carnival atmosphere is almost ruined by the near decapitation of a person in the stand behind one goal, due to the frankly woeful shooting practise of some of the NC team. There are more balls crashing off the stand, causing people to violently duck or clearing the stand all together and bouncing onto the running track behind, then there are going in.

Looking on, with what can only be described as a twisted hairstyle similar to that of Bjork, the short NC coach, looks far from impressed.

High spirits are soon restored, they are never far away today, regardless of the football and the ultimate result of the impending game. Responsible for this is the band comprising of two NC supporters, one playing a drum slung over his shoulder, the other playing what I think is some kind of flute, the kind of which you might see a snake charmer play.

Walking along the narrow front aisle of the balcony, led by a man in a red shirt, who has his very own NC flag at the end of a thin white pole, such is the immediate volume that the whole place nigh on stops, turns and looks. One woman, clearly quite captivated by the music, as are most people, she looks up attentively at them, almost in a trance, she herself waving two much smaller NC flags, one in each hand.

Replying not in a retaliative way, but more, ‘well if you can do that so can we’, the TIB fan with the much larger drum, responds, encouraging even more movement from the numerous excellent shirt wearing fans on the small terrace, many who themselves are also holding flags, except for one young lady, who is sat just below the drummer on the steps, her hands covering her ears, with a less than impressed look on her face.

There is a brief “welcome” from the very quiet voice over the PA, who is having to compete with two sets of fans. It’s time to announce the teams, the only other announcement up until now had been about a car that was blocking in a coach. Instead of muddling through the lists of names, which I’m sure even your brightest linguist might struggle with, someone in a spark of wisdom has suggested handing the microphone over to a person from the nation of the teams.

We then hear the obvious and very recognisable lilt of the person reading out the respective starting 11’s, which is done flawlessly.

The green tunnel that leads from the small door from the changing rooms, towards the edge of the running track is cramped to say the least. Mascots, players, CONIFA volunteers, and the match officials, not in the “jazzy” pink of their counterparts form the first game, but instead an stylish all black one, all jostle for space.

From either side flags of each nation fly over the heads of the respective teams, and the NC band is in full swing, the noise of the flute, so piercing, but not unpleasant, makes it difficult to concentrate on anything else but.

The players eventually walk out onto the pitch, after what feels like a bit of a delay, there is a visible commotion, not an angry one, more just an attempt at a conversation between more than two people, having to contend with all the noise of the fans and the instruments around them. The expectant mascots just stand waiting, looking a little miffed, the TIB ones neatly lined up, all in their tremendous shirts, do their best to pose for a picture, for a proud mum who struggles to take a picture of them, by sticking her phone through the close bars of the tunnel.

Delay to kick off, “too many people outside” still waiting to get in is what Tom overheard being said. The ever so slightly frazzled looking referee with what looks like a whole roll of sticky tape on the side of his face to keep his mic in place, is having to explain what is going to happen to various people, who I suspect English is not their first language.

Eventually the players return from their half hearted kick about, the mascots are just about ready to give up, and are grasped by the hand. The NC captain, a mountain of a man with a neon green arm band, and white pennant in one hand is the first to receive a friendly, but almighty smack around the back of the head from who I think is the NC coach in a pale blue shirt. He may be the the first to receive this treatment, but he’s not the last, it's not like he has been singled out, every player after him also gets a sturdy clip around the ear.

I always find national anthems quite emotive things, some maybe find them overly patriotic, but I think there is something quite special in a group of people singing together, in a collective show of national pride. One of the biggest losses of Italy not qualifying for the FIFA World Cup, is not seeing Buffon sing the Il Canto degli Italiani, now that will put a lump in the throat of any person.

TIB’s anthem has a very distinctive sound, quiet, almost like a lullaby. The players stand on the pitch with their hands on their chests, the drum quietly beating along with it, there is no raucous outpouring, just a respectful sing along, until the end that is, when the final few lines are sung with a burst of emotion.

When it's the turn of NC, backs straighten that little bit more in the crowd and on the pitch, their anthem, with its very traditional, with a slight Star Wars entrance of a bad guy tone to it, is wonderfully respected as was TIB’s. Those singing adopt that low monotone timbre most people adopt when singing in public, when they are not overly comfortable doing so. Plenty of the small flags in the crowd, are slowly swayed in rhythm with the tune.

The TIB drum is by far the loudest at the kick off, there are plenty of cheers from all corners of the ground, there are very few spots free to lean against the white railing that encircles the pitch. Two minutes later and it's the NC flute that is loudest, as the players dash towards the bench to form a great big pile on, the referee watching on with his hands behind his back, making sure they don't have to much fun, NC have just just taken the lead.

Following the restart and the action is all one way, the NC team are holding siege to the TIB goal, much like the NC band are holding siege to the eardrums of everyone in a file mile radius. It’s not that its a horrible noise at all, but its just so pervasive, it's like it has found the direct track into your inner brain.

NC have another chance well saved by the scrambling TIB keeper and then hit the post with another header. Only ten minutes gone and the suspicions held by many that this was going to be hard going for TIB are upheld.

The slightest hint of a TIB attack, tackle or simply winning the ball back is followed by almost hysterical screaming. When TIB flash their first effort of the match just wide of the NC goal, it is near pandemonium.

“Should have this at every football game, I love it” says Tom.

When he says “this” does he mean the sheer amount of flags, colour and noise. Does he mean the two man NC band that is now mobile, doing laps of the pitch led by the man with the flag. Does he mean the man singing “One team in Cyprus, there's only one team in Cyprus”. Whatever it is, I could not agree with him more, it's all verging on the overwhelming and is marvellous.

A loose ball heading into the crowd almost interrupts Toms explanation that “if you go on holiday to Turkey” music very similar to that being played by the NC duo is on a near constant “loop”, but thankfully any disaster is prevented by the silky skills of one man who stops the ball dead, “best touch I’ve ever had”.

As Tom puts it NC have some “real beast players” the difference in stature and physique between the two teams is so apparent, with a quarter of an hour gone NC head wide again, after their countless ball into the TIB box, they clearly have a plan.

Thankfully for the sake of the game and their adoring fans, TIB have settled into the game, their every action still greeted with enthusiastic screams, not even the slightest hint of a booo, hiss of grumble at a misplaced pass happening here.

The application of some magic spray, that the referee is very “sparing with” according to Tom, no liberal shaving foam scars all over the pitch here, in the lead up to a NC free kick can only be captivating for so long, because on the far side of the pitch there has been a coming together of the NC band, and the slightly smaller but just as energetic TIB one, in the small seater stand.

Those NC fans sitting, their flags hanging also from any available spot there too, receive the band with much ardour. The TIB fans who there are a fair few of, with flags and whirling scarves, welcome the NC ensemble with open arms, if I was that way inclined I might even use the expression “scenes”. Tom though as ever puts it much better then me, after his initial concerns, “oh now they've met” are quickly dispelled, “the bands are getting along”.

The more the games goes on, the more apparent NC’s tactic is. Long time players of FIFA will know it, its the ‘fast man down the wing to the by line, dink it into the box for the big man to score one’, pretty standard stuff, they much like the music from Toms holidays, NC are doing it on loop.

NC think they have scored again but its offside. Unfortunately the game has got a little dull, gratefully there is so much else going on, it's inconsequential. You have your choice of the TIB fans singing “oll-a-oll-a-oll-a Tibet” on one side of the pitch, the drum of the group on the other side to listen too, or like me, you can listen to the slightly catty comments from Tom about the referees assistants, “put them in a fancy kit, don't mean he can referee”, when he gives a ball out, when it clearly wasn't and we get another example from the NC bench of the international football language of pissed off.

The noise levels of the TIB fans peaks and troughs at quite a steady pace, because as Tom puts it they have “little moments, small flashes” which is received by much shouting, but then have “nothing at the end”, which then quietens them ever so slightly.

It is therefore with a slight tinge of irony that its while Tom has gone on a drinks run, no food for him today, he’s already scoffed some chicken nuggets in the car on the way here, that TIB manage something “at the end”.

Inadvertently quoting Wayne's World, the man standing next to me shouts “game on, game on” as the TIB scorer dashes off towards his bench slapping the badge on his chest before stopping short of it and going full Connor McGregor, swaggering, with the swagger turned up to 11. Even when he is soon swamped by his teammates, he still tries to impersonate the Irish man with three players hanging off him. He eventually breaks free of them, pointing to his badge once again, before motioning to the crowd for more noise.

Asking the TIB fans for more passion, is like asking Danny Murphy to stop being grumpy or Tim Lovejoy to stop being gormless, but miracles are possible, and they manage to reach a new level of intensity that is even impressive for them.

It doesn't take the NC band long to reply to the equaliser, as they continue their seemingly never ending laps of the pitch and it is the sound of the two man orchestra, that plays us into half time.

As the players head in, I head for the nearest shade, Tom of course is enjoying the sun, it allows him as he puts it to “top up his tan”. I though find it oppressive and head for the cool dark space next to one of the teams coaches, plonking myself down on the running track, thankful for the slight breeze.

Tom’s attempt to get a pint was wholly unsuccessful, the queue for the bar on the top floor of the main stand, was all the way down the spiral stairs and out the door. He was able to pick up something though, and I have the option of a “warm water” or “warm Coke”. Nothing says thirst quenching like a tepid can of Coke a Cola.

While a man nearby blows his nose like a sea lion, some kids have an impromptu kick about, its hard not to be impressed by the NC fans in the best possible non league tradition, swapping ends and erecting their flags behind the goal in record time.

I feel a lot better for my dose of the shadows, the drink helped, despite being room temperature, but Tom is still bemoaning not being able to get a drink, specifically because they were selling a certain Turkish beer he has become quite fond of, “love Efes”.

The high pitched hum of the drone flying overhead is soon drowned out by the TIB fans, “oll-a-oll-a-oll-a Tibet”, who then in turn are almost but not quite drowned out by the return of the you know who. Assuming it is the same man playing the flute, which Tom keeps on telling me is not a flute, so we agree on “wind instrument” is going to have “very sore lips” by the end of today.

An early NC chance is cleared, and it feels for a moment that normal service is resumed, after the late TIB equaliser. The activity near in the TIB box stirs the screamers and one woman who is letting out the most blaring “la, la, la, la” by smacking her tongue off the roof of her mouth.

“Hit it, hit it” shouts one nearby person to the TIB player with the ball at his feet on the edge of the box, thanks to an iffy kick from the NC keeper, with the goal empty, there is a chance that the minnows are about to go ahead, only for his half volley to go just wide.

Although the effort is off target, it's certainly an example of TIB looking much more competitive since the restart, as Tom puts it they “look much better”. A lot of this in his eyes is down to who he has branded the “Tibetan Messi” the twinkle toed number 20, who Tom says looks like he has a “sheep dog on his head” and he must be “so hot”, he's really come into his own. Every time he gets the ball he looks like he is capable of doing something with it, and Tom mutters with real affection, “little magician”.

The NC bands latest lap of the pitch, brings them again into contact with the TIB one, again there is no animosity, just postivity. One TIB fan though is finding the “wind instrument” a bit much, and is standing with his fingers in his ears, like a toddler at an overly loud birthday party.

TIB are getting their chance, they go close again, and then with about twenty minutes gone, one player tries a cheeky little lob over the keeper, that very, very nearly comes off. TIB though are finding it hard, almost impossible to shackle the NC number twenty who is fast, strong and “very good” adds Tom.

The screaming of the TIB fans, that accompanies any kind of NC attack is getting to The Beatles at Shea Stadium proportions and for the first time the drums on each side of the pitch are in unison, except the fans to our left who are singing what sounds like a song to the tune of Old MacDonald.

In the space of about three minutes the game is turned on its head. Firstly NC hit the bar with a flicked header, showing off they’re aerial threat once again. Then one of their players reenacts the Nigel De Jong tackle from the 2010 World Cup Final. Which results in the the TIB physio being called over, but he looks a bit more just like someones dad or helpful uncle. “That's not a physio” says Tom as he jogs on, only with a bottle of water, that he is not very forthcoming with, only giving the downed player the smallest of sips.

Tom is then absolutely crushed at the sight of the latest TIB substitution, “oh no” he gasps as Messi goes off and maybe it was completely coincidental or maybe its because he was the fulcrum of the team, but NC then score their second.

The band now leading the not insignificant amount of people crammed together on the small terrace behind the goal, barely has time to whip them up into a complete frenzy, when only a smart save, stops NC getting a quickfire third.

Boos have replaced the screams now that NC’s attacks are becoming more and more frequent. There is a brief respite when the NC keeper has another howler, passing the ball again to a TIB player, who crosses the ball into the box, the goal gaping, but no ones there.

Thirty minutes gone and NC further their lead. The band leader now has his top off and he is whirling it above his head and their little troop has now found a new figurehead, a young lady in a full NC kit who walks at the head with her flag above her head, beaming.

The only thing to take the gloss off the day, was the sight of the the “wind instrument” player clearing out the spit or that which my northern fiancee would call ‘goz’ from his reed as he passed us, however before I can fully compute the sight of the copious amount of flying spittle, he the drummer, the flag bearer man now with his top on, and the still smiling little girl are already back up on the balcony, they have done some mileage today.

With both teams playing again in twenty four hours, the game somewhat fizzles out. This can't be said for the crowd. The TIB supporters have gone a bit panto, booing now anything that is not go their way.

Nearby the band leader, back from the balcony is telling someone how he had been “told off” by his wife for taking his top off, who told him to “put it away”. The NC keeper causes a few more bitten fingernails and hopeful TIB screams when he very nearly shanks another kick, but manages to just clear it.

“Four minutes” signals the fourth official to both benches. Behind me one optimistic honorary TIB fan for the day, I think it's fair to say they are the neutrals favourite, shouts “still time Tibet come on” as the largest of the TIB drums sounds almost like thunder as the the final minutes of the match play out

As has already been proven today, this was not your average football match, this is highlighted once again by the behaviour of both sets of fans after the final whistle. Normal football rules dictate that the losers slink off and the winners revel in their victory for a while, before then making their way home.

This afternoon both sets of fans stood side by side, its only clear that TIB have lost because it's their players sprawled on the pitch, while NC’s confidently stride towards the changing rooms, but judging by the fans, you wouldn't be able to pick who had just watched their team get knocked out, and who has just seen them progress to the quarter finals.

To my right I have the NC supporters, the inflated cheeks of the “wind instrument” player looking ready to burst, the drummer working at double time, as men with their arms out to their sides, flags in the air, dance along to his latest tune.

To my left, the TIB fans, congratulating the crestfallen players who walk the two person deep crowd of people on the edge of the pitch, desperate to hug and congratulating them, one holding up a sign, “team Tibet we will win”. The flags have not dropped and inch, the drummer hasn't let up, the singing now if anything even louder.

As much as this was far from your average football match, there were still overpriced drinks, stalls selling merchandise and “magic spray and Britney mics” as Tom put it. There were also many underlying political undertones associated with each team, too heavy and complicated for my small brain, but on the surface the whole spirit of the day, the ethos this competition seems to ooze from ever pore, can be summed up by the NC flag bearer, still with his top on, applauding the TIB fans, “well done, well done, fantastic support”.

 

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Sunday, 27 May 2018

Generic Football Shouting - Hampton & Richmond Borough FC Vs Braintree Town FC, National League South Promotion Final 2018, Beveree (13/05/18)

Have we made a wrong turning somewhere? Everything we’ve passed so far, are the same things we always pass when making our way to south west London, a busy Kew Gardens with bustling queues of horticulturally minded people, the “time travel tea room” that Tom always points out and sunny Richmond, but when we see a sign for “The Hamptons”, and as much as a day out in the upmarket Long Island community of the rich and famous would be, I do for a second wonder if my already unreliable Sat Nav has finally given up the ghost.

South west London's suburbs seem to be gleaming even more than usual today, there is something about this neck of the woods, that regardless of the weather, it always looks highly polished. Nestled at the end of one of its cul de sacs, not far from the Thames, its presence only signified by an understated sign above a red brick wall, is the Beveree, home of Hampton & Richmond Borough FC (HB).

Stuck to the front of the aforementioned sign, along with the date and today's fixture, is a single piece of A4 paper, on it in red it reads “GAME SOLD OUT”. These three words are about as common at a non league match as a full and comprehensive post match warm down, and rarely, and I mean rarely, certainly in our experience, they are only ever seen at this time of season.

“Mmmmmmm BBQ” says Tom, only having just stepped the other side of the blue iron gates to the ground. “We’ve got plenty of beer” says Rob, the HB head of media in his club tie, who informs us that today they have an “outside and inside bar” in preparation of the sell out crowd.

The charcoal of said BBQ, that Tom has already keanly sniffed out, is only smoldering, they as of yet are to take on the crucial shade of white, meaning its primed for cooking, “wonder when they will be ready?”. Such is our eager arrival time, although we are not the only ones, the entrance to pitchside is yet to be opened. It’s not a fence, gate or barrier stopping you, but two high viz wearing security guards, and one of those elasticated line devices commonly found near the till of your local department store.

For Rob, it's his last day in his current role and what a way to see out his tenure than with a final, with a place in the National League, one promotion from the football league at stake. The enormity of the occasion is clearly written across his face.The “3,000” sell out crowd of course comes with its own responsibilities, but he admits with a sly grin on his face that the ground “will be bouncing” come kick off.

It is deceptively warm, not overly sunny, but still balmy. The ground still all but deserted, means I have the pick of places to sit, to take a moment to try and fathom how all those people are going to fit in to such a tight stadium. Surrounded by trees and nearby houses, so close are its neighbours that they don’t play music here on matchdays so as to not disturb them.

Around us the weather is discussed, as people offer familiar faces warm and nervous “hellos”. Most are more inclined to talk about the agreable climes, than to dwell on the gravity of the ninety minutes to come. Two of HB’s media team are in vastly differing states of mind. “I’m ok” says one, pointing to his colleague though, he is quite the opposite, “he’s lost his head, glad he’s not playing”. The weight of the occasion is clearly visible affecting him as he fidgets, quite unsure what to do with himself. He repeats over and over like some victim of shell shock the same fact about HB’s opponents today, “not conceded a goal in 453 mins”.

On the pitch and looking a lot less agitated, in their luminous orange fringed tracksuits, are what stand between HB and promotion, the players of Braintree Town FC (BT).

With more eyes on you than normal, this of course for the entrepreneurial minded out there, is a great opportunity to make a bit more money. One such way is sponsorship, not ball sponsorships as you sometimes see at games, that has been deemed “not allowed” by the league according to the moustache wearing man in the sharp grey suit, but the sponsorship of the “team sheet” which has been given the green light. Ingenious or a step too far?

It’s quite easy to distinguish a BT fan from a HB one. It's the orange, the unmistakable and blinding orange of BT’s home kit. The newly arrived BT family, a Mum, Dad and child stick out like a sore thumb, such is the glare coming from the scarf hanging from her bag, and as more and more arrive, some sporting scratchy looking nylon wigs, they look like they could be used as some kind of road safety aid.

The blue container that passes as the club shop is suitably filled with all the necessary tat that one would expect. The large plush head of a hat wearing beaver, the first reference today to HB’s quite excellent nickname, in one corner, it's large eyes looking up at me, mouth open showing off his prominent front teeth, is a little odd, but having been going to non league football as long as we have now, one becomes immune to such things.

“Golden goal, programme” calls the man in the blue and red striped scarf gently, in keeping with the genteel surroundings, no barrowboy bellowing here. It's not from the shed that I pluck my tickets from the small white box from this time, like I did the last time we came here, two years ago, but from underneath a gleaming white gazebo, another new addition to the ground for the big day.

We’re both surprised to find a seat in one corner of the inside bar. Half of it has been carved up in anticipation of long queues, signs litter the wall saying things like pay here. Thankfully Tom is not long at the bar, he’s not been held up by the appearance of more people in bright orange wigs. While he was gone a family have taken up the spot next to us, the father in the green and white stripes of Real Betis not the blue and red of HB or the orange of BT.

Once settled, Tom poses what might be his most ridiculous question of the season.

“I wonder if Richard Hammond has been here?” he ponders because the bar we are currently in is called Hammonds Bar. It's about now that part of me admitted to the rest of me that it's quite happy that today is our last game of the season.
Thankfully Tom has bigger fish to fry than wondering too long if a non league football teams bar is named after Richard ‘The Hamster’ Hammond, and that's filling his stomach.

“I've gotta eat, not running that gauntlet again”. Said “gauntlet” that Tom so poetically referenced, is the ‘not getting any food’ one. The use of the world “gauntlet” making the problem sound a lot more life and death then it actually is. After not managing to get a burger at King’s Lynn, because they had sold out, forcing him to get some chicken nuggets on the way home and forcing me to me to have to listen to him eating them, he is getting his food in early today.

Thankfully there is none of the melodrama we encountered in Norfolk, but as ever with Tom, he’s never happy. When I notice he has not got his usual side of chips he explains, “no chips, crisps, not the same”.

It's interesting to say the least some of the faces that the HB fans have pull, in the moments after asking them how they think they will get on today. It’s a face somewhere between ‘I just don't fucking know’ and ‘put me to sleep now and wake me up after its over, I just can't bare it’.

Talking to one HB supporter in a flat cap and club scarf, who points out he is also is yet to “recover” from the “horrible” sunshine we were subjected to at the Semi-Final in Chelmsford, he makes the point that I think most of those that we’ve met today will agree with, “you just don't know on the day”, and he's not the first person to point out that thing called pressure, that can affect people in all sorts of ways, “people play differently”.

All the stewards, all the people, all the angst he is feeling, feels far too much like “proper football” which he admits is not what he “signed up for”.

Ninety minutes to kick off and there is already an excellent buzz about the place, the what for a better word, you could call a courtyard outside the Top Gear themed bar is quickly filling up, one of the programme sellers is doing rounds of the crowd selling them from out of a grey bucket and a solitary copper looks on, who as of yet has I’m sure, had nothing to do.

BT’s manager does what looks like the team sheet, crouched on the pitch, juggling between both hands a pen, a white polystyrene cup and his mobile.

“Think I went to the wrong place, they do chips” says Tom, when he notices the long line running down the side of the clubhouse, the small window at its head, doing frantic business. Many spots in the stands and covered terraces are steadily starting to be occupied.

There is much toing and froing being done by a multitude of people in different states of high viz dress. Those who are what you might say more senior, those with headsets look calm, those a little further down the pecking order, hired for the day I imagine look a little bit like fish out of water.

I overhear a crackled message over one nearby walkie talkie, that sends the stewards in
to overdrive, “road blocked outside”, another message flashes over the network, “Braintree have arrived, four coaches, request more stewards”.

None of the chatter among those in charge with keeping a lid on any over excited fans today, is to do
with what I have been told by a few people already, is the imminent arrival of the unified world heavyweight champion, Anthony Joshua.

Dan one of the newly arrived BT fans, who is not wearing a wig, although more and more of them are, the Essex wig stocks must be nigh on depleted by now, has a drum instead. He is “surprised” the ground has not been “segregated”, he tells me if it had been “at our ground, it would have”.

The sun does its best to poke out from behind the clouds, but quickly pokes back in again. We are treated to our first announcement over the PA “good afternoon and welcome to The Accord Beveree Stadium”. A passing car beeps its horn in support and in the distance I can make out faint chanting, “making all the noise” I suspect it's some approaching BT fans, but I can’t be sure

I wish I didn’t have my sodding jumper with me, with the sun now insisting on sticking around, I’m far too bloody warm.

“Who are ya, who are ya?” ask some of the BT fans whose number since the panicked message about the four coaches, has increased dramatically, in response to the first low and slow rendition of everyone's family friendly, but also a bit smutty chant, if you are that way inclined, of “beavers, beavers, beavers”.

Dans drum gets its first outing as do a couple of orange balloons, that bob about in the terrace by the corner flag, where the majority of the BT fans now stand, as the BT players arrive for their warm up. ”I feel like there is more of them, than there is of us” says one nearby HB supporter, talking about the orange invasion, that has somewhat taken over this quiet corner of South West London.

There is more talk of AJ, “he’s been seen in the local area” says one person. Discussion of the apparent sighting of who is no doubt a pretty major sporting star, soon fades away, as the home team appear from the white extendable tunnel, the action of which is not dissimilar to that of the Alien Queens mouth from the Ridley Scott sci fi franchise. “Come on boys” shout the fans, as a ripple of applause quickly spreads around the ground.

“Sorry to be repetitive” says the apologetic voice over the PA, who retireates once again that there is to be no alcohol “in sight of the pitch”.

It’s hard to miss the HB unit, that is their Predator sized and Predator hair do wearing forward warming up. In the distance I can continue to hear the chanting, but its not getting any closer, I was expecting some sudden, flare waving influx of BT supporters, some great dramatic entrance, but it has yet to materialise. I do though notice the arrival of the once chief executive of the FA Brian Barwick, slinking up to the board room.

Forty minutes to go and both small all seater stands are all but full. A young boy on a scouting mission has to break the bad news to his Dad, “only one seat left”, Dad looks pissed. A BT fan is brandishing a tiny home made sign, which I can just about make out says “come on you iron”. There is even more talk about AJ, some people seemingly more pumped about the possibility of seeing him, than the game, “is he here yet?”

Some kids in front of us practice how they are going to get over the fence come the full time whistle. After much deliberation they have concluded that its a bit too high for a leg up, and if push comes to shove, they can just “roll over” it.

With still thirty minutes to kick off, one nearby HB fans tells his friend that the ground is the “most packed I’ve ever seen it”. A boy and girl both wearing orange and white checkered flags like capes pass us, as does a Sky Sport News presenter, with no cape, but that smarmy look on his face as they all seem to have.

The distant singing is finally getting louder, there are even more orange wigs, as well as people carrying inflatable palm trees one of them in a bright orange bowler hat. The voice over the PA is soon back again, “hello to those who have arrived since my last announcement. Still waiting on the team, so can't give you them”.

Tom is almost smug about his decision to have eaten when we did, there is according to him a “cat in hells chance” of getting anything now he says, the crowd now at a point where you really have to negotiate your way through it.

The covered terrace to our left is now a sea of orange, with people wearing big orange glasses, orange hats, garlands of fake orange flowers around their neck. “Iron, iron” they sing, not because of their resemblance to the famous Scottish drink, but because of the clubs origins as a works team for a steel framed window company. When the PA checks in again, this time with the teams, he reads out BT first who as he points out are “all in orange, you can't miss them”

Dan on his drum, who admitted to being “very, very nervous” can be heard even more frequently now. Whenever he starts to hammer out a beat, the fans around him start to sing, the HB fans near us, piggy back it and sing their own song to the same tune, “Hampton, Hampton”.

When it's the turn to read out the names of those starting for the “beavers” the voice describes their kits colours too, just like BT. The visiting fans do their best to drown him out with another, not related to scottish fizzy drink chant of, “iron, iron”.

The singing HB fans around us on the small section of uncovered steps behind the goal, below the balcony of the boardroom, are significantly outnumbered by those in orange, but still, just like they did then they were vastly outnumbered at Chelmsford, hold their own.

“We are going up” sing the ever swelling numbers to our left. Both sets of fans join together for one song, about a common enemy. Local rivals for BT, recent foe for HB, “we all hate Chelmsford clap your hands”. The BT supporters then emphasizes that rivalry with their next song, “we’re all having a party, because Chelmsford fucked it up”.

The elderly female HB fan with the homemade paper mache, sellotape covered megaphone, is going to struggle to be heard above the constant barrage of songs coming from both sets of fans. The drum is now a constant, somewhere deep inside the mass of BT supporters, Dan continues to bash away, “town army, town army”. The relatively young age of those around us, is soon picked up on by the HB fans, “you're going back to school on Monday”. One HB supporter takes instant umbridge to this slur, I’m not sure why, I’m pretty sure he was just talking about his GCSEs, he fires back with “go claim your pensions you old fucks”.

It's hard to argue with the claim that its the “Braintree boys making all the noise” in the moments running up to kick off, or at least what we thought was kick off, there has just been an announcement that the games start will be delayed ten minutes. Although the home fans are signing, “who to be a beaver”, one new arrival with a flag over his shoulder boosts the noise levels a bit, they are lacking a bit of that oomph they had at the Semi-Final.

With all the necessary Vanarama paraphernalia now out on the pitch, this game is about to begin.

I can barely hear myself think in the seconds following the appearance of the players. The PA’s description of the kits was only half right, BT are playing in white, but still have orange shorts on. A couple of streamers enter the pitch thrown by the BT fans, and its inflatable mayhem, more trees have appeared and someone has those stick clacker things they give out at Leicester City.

It's the HB fans who have to make the mad dash to other end of the pitch, the BT fans foresight and good luck to make camp on the terrace has paid off. They are able to continue as they were “iron, iron”. The HB fans have to battle past the pitch side crowds, but not before a quick rendition of a song they always sing about a “magic hat”.

“Get behind your teams and come on you beavers” says the voice over the PA excitedly, finally able to talk to us about as he put it, something other than “housekeeping” and public information announcements.

Its BT who have the first crack at goal, admittedly a half hearted one. “Can you hear the Hampton sing?” ask the BT fans following more deafening shouts of “iron, iron”. The HB supporters certainly look more unified all in one place now, but if I’m honest I can't hear them sing. All I can hear are the BT supporters, singing one song after another, “you are my Braintree, my only Braintree”.

In a brief lull, just after I notice an inflatable banana doing the rounds among the BT fans, Tom disappointingly points out that as of yet there has been “no AJ” however he is still hopeful of an appearance, “maybe he’ll do the trophy”.

HB’s first attempt is a little wild, and not on target, the rash shot comes at the end of a counter attack, after a BT corner, and ends up in the tall oak tree behind the stand. However about three minutes later, with what is probably only their second time near the BT goal, HB take the lead.

“Yesssssss, yessssss” shouts a HB fan who had not joined the migration to the other end, where a red smoke bomb is now billowing from the edge of the pitch, and the players have raced off to the side of the pitch to celebrate.

The response to going behind from the BT fans is almost instantaneous, “iron, iron, iron” and once the game has restarted, the players are back at it too, not seemingly too affected by conceding, quickly attacking down the wing, and winning a corner. The morale of the fans has far from been affected, if anything they are encouraged to sing even louder, “come on Braintree”, and one person has decided that now is as good a time as any, to blow up and chuck around a large inflatable football.

BT are big and physical, HB simply are not. The HB fan in the flat cap made the point before that they, and I tend to agree, “rode their luck in the semi”, and even though they are ahead, BT look far more convincing.

Now I get it, it can take me a while to cotton on to things sometimes, but now I understand the relevance of the trees, and the accompanying song of “we’ve brought a tree”, its because they are called Brain-tree. It's almost, but not as good as the Tranmere fans all with melons at Wembley last
season, because their manager is called Micky Mellon.

Another slight respite in the BT fans noise, means I can hear the occasional balloon being popped and the HB supporters, who feel a very long way away, banging the stand “who to be a beaver”. With fifteen minutes gone, there are still lots of people moving about, “late comers” Tom suggests. BT again flex their muscles on the pitch when the attacker shrugs off his defender with ease, bearing down on goal, he hasn't yet though seen the flag up for off side.

HB certainly look a lot better than they did in the semi-final, they could have been about three goals behind in the first ten minutes at the Melbourne Stadium. What they lack in brawn, they definitely make up in brains, showing off a few nifty touches and moves to get in good positions. One players turn, loses three markers in a flash, and his subsequent slide rule pass, has just a bit too much on it, the player who was inches away from getting on the end of, knew they were on to a good thing. He raises his thumb in recognition of the quick thinking.
The particularly dense clump of orange wigs to our right, who are all wearing matching play-off Final t-shirts too, join in the latest round of “iron, iron”, watching on as their team have what is probably their best attack since going behind, with about twenty minutes ago. The BT pressure continues to build as they go close again not long after, a low curled attempt is just blocked.

Bizarrely though, the woman next to me wearing a hands free kit, is celebrating, when no goals have been scored. Apparently there is another match, somewhere else in the country which is holding 50% of her attention.

“Get hold of it, get it down” demands one of the orange wig gang. His team do just that, going close for a third time in a matter of minutes. A super cross is perfectly placed for the player in middle of the six yard box to head home, somehow though the straining HB defender, who didn't look like he had enough spring to reach it to head it clear, does, just.

With the break edging ever closer, the pace final ten minutes certainly accelerates. Shouts of “cheat, cheat” rings out from the BT fans when a foul is given in favour of the HB keeper whose poor attempt to punch, where he just jumped on a team mate then fell on the floor, is deemed a foul, as Tom put it, “he just missed it”.

HB’s number 10 is certainly looking the liveliest of the HB team, he is able to turn on a sixpence, doing so twice in quick succession, one allows him to send a good ball down the wing, the second he does not far outside the box, this time he unleashes a shot, that sails just wide.

I do wish people would stop popping those balloons, they don't half make me jump.

“Sing when you're winning, you only sing when you're winning” suggest the BT fans, to the HB ones, who I don't think are even singing. In fact I’m not sure anyone is for the first time today. The BT fans around us are starting to grumble a bit, “get it on the deck” one demands, it has got mighty hoofy out there. They have good moments of build up play, but the passing is loose at times, much to the annoyance of the fans, “get hold of it”.

On the stroke of half time, the game is all square. Again a well placed cross, they have looked threatening all game from wide areas, finally pays off, and is nodded home from close range. Off heads the scorer, arms outstretched by his side, straight towards the BT fans, followed by his teammates.

“We know who we are, a pub team from Essex, we know who we are” sing the BT fans as the players head in. Those HB supporters already up this end, crowd either side of the tunnel, offering encouragement to the departing players, “come on beavers, come on”.

There is a monumental change of ends by the crowd, it's almost biblical. Each set of supporters pack up their worldly possessions, their inflatables in the case of the BT fans, and head to the opposite end of the ground. Maybe some will take the opportunity to get a tea or coffee from the “tuck shop” that the voice over the PA has just informed us all is open.

The sun thankfully is currently behind some clouds, and there is a much welcomed breeze. Now with a little bit of room, I’m able to sit down for a moment, where I am able to listen to a pretty comprehensive breakdown of the first half from a couple of HB fans.

“We invited it on ourselves, just sitting back” says one about the goal. “We don't generally concede lots of goal, but the ones we do are never well crafted”, replies another. The feeling from them all is that their team just didn't do enough, they “switched off”, when it came to trying to prevent the goal. One felt they had “half a dozen” opportunities to stop the goal “happening” but they didn't take any of them, “we’re not asserting ourselves”.

One of the fans though is pragmatic, “back to where we were at kick off”, one well let's say isn't, “they’re going to go in buzzing, we're going in crushed”.

The sun is back out, Spurs are losing to Leicester and the old lady with the homemade megaphone is back. It's pretty slow going for anyone trying to move about, there really is no space to move, no space to swing a cat, or even a beaver.

Once again the tunnel is manhandled into place. Gone are all the orange wigs, back are the young cohorts of a HB persuasion, “beavers, beavers” they sing. BT huddle just before kick off, HB do what can only be described as the hokey cokey.

It is an absolute solid bar of orange contained within the small covered terrace at the opposite end of the pitch, they’re still signing, “everywhere we go” but are not as intrusive on ones eardrums now. That is now the job of the small band around us, who it might just be me, are struggling to get into the swing of things. “La, la, la, la, Hampton” they attempt, but its lacking some of that energy we've come to know of them.

Late comers with burgers have missed the restart and are streaming past us, looking for a place to stand. The man next to me has taken it upon himself to single handedly berate the nearby linesman, “fuck off back to Cornwall” he screams. His thought process behind him giving an offside, when he didn't think it was, is because the assistant is “probably from Truro” who HB “knocked out” during their run to the Final.

“Let's get some fucking possesion” is the consensus of the HB supporters. They haven't really got going in the new half, in fact the first fifteen minutes have been a little bit stagnant, HB scrappy, BT solid. One fan with plenty of the game left to play and things all level, is already contemplating the worst, “I’m pro promotion” he says, his friend glares back at him, I think already knowing what he is about to say next “but it's not the end of the world” if they don't go up.

When the HB fans are told off for banging on the wall of the boardroom, their second half replacement for the hoarding, this does not go down well. “National League officials having their prawn sandwiches” shouts one in reply petulantly, like Rick from the Young Ones. This only adds to their general bad mood, as they had before been told they were not allowed to hang their flag from the balcony above us, as they normally would.

“Sing up Hampton, sing up Hampton” asks one HB fan behind us, standing on the final railing of the terrace, he waves his arms towards his fellow fans, trying to get a response. The megaphone lady is doing her bit, only now do I realise in her other hand she is holding a tiny stuffed beaver.

As far as the game is concerned, there is very little to report. There is a brief and collective intake of breath, which is held, but then quickly exhaled by the HB fans who think they may have just given away a penalty. BT then have a pop at goal, which is way over and gets a sarcastic “weyyyyyyyy”.

The main focus of one supporter, is not on the game, but at getting some kind of noise from the “fucking 3,000 of you, lets fucking hear you then”. This Churchillian rallying address gets a whole
string of songs “if you don't do the bouncy bouncy you’re from Staines” which is then followed by the whole terrace pogoing, no-one wants to be tarred with that brush. “AFC Wimbledon we’re coming for you” didn’t know there was beef between the two clubs, and “Alan Dowson’s red and blue army” aimed at their always animated, bald headed manager.

Half an hour gone, and I’m just going to say it, the game has gone a bit shit. The HB fans are so preoccupied singing about arson, it's all gone very Marshall Mathers, “one man and his petrol can, went to burn down Staines”, I’m not sure they have noticed.

HB are so deep, they almost concede from a shot that is blocked on the line, following a bit of a goalmouth scramble after a freekick. “I’ve not seen us have a chance since we scored” says a concerned HB fan quietly to the one next to him.

“Roll him off, roll him off, dig a grave, dig a grave” sings one particularly exasperated HB fan towards a supposedly injured BT player, tantalisingly close to the edge of the pitch, who insists he needs treatment, and can’t scooch the few feet off the pitch to allow play to continue. His decision to play possum is greeted with more disdain, so much so that one person just yells “generic football shouting” so on the face of things, they look like they’re taking part.

Into the last quarter of an hour, HB have a long range effort which is jeered by their own fans until one realizes, “to be fair isn't that our first shot of the half?”. In the distance I can hear the faint rumble of the BT drum, a bit closer to home and one person chucks his accumulator betting slip on the pitch, “fuck off Chelsea” he shouts as he does so.

HB’s hot headed keeper, who displayed his penchant for unnecessarily rushing out of goal in the semi-final, does it once again, it almost looks like he is wrestling with the BT forward, it looks for a moment as though he has yanked him to the floor. The ball is loose and falls to a BT player who attempts a shot at the now empty net, only for one HB player to be covering the line.

This calls for the introduction of the HB Predator, the unit, someone as he did in the semi-final, who is able to hold up the ball.

The HB fans are pensive, one has even resorted to calling the referee a “fucking wet wipe” such is his delirium. “Come on Hampton sing up” demands the same fan who has been trying all game to rouse the supporters, in response to more digs of “can you hear the Hampton sing?” from the BT fans.

Less than ten to go and BT win a free kick just outside the HB box. “They better not fucking score this” says one fan, they don’t, it's straight into the hands of the HB keeper who initiates a counterattack. Which as with most moves, breaks down in midfield, the game has officially becoming a bit of a slog, neither team really doing much up front.

I feel a few spots of rain on my face, but it doesn't last for long. “Ref they're taking the piss out of you” shouts one person, when the Predator is deemed to have fouled his marker, I think he was just showing off a bit of his trademark upper body strength.

“We’re sitting too deep” laments one HB supporter. I’m sure the BT fans can sense there is a chance they might just nick this in the final five minutes, they let out a rousing string of “iron, iron, iron” in anticipation. One of their orange streamers hangs from the goal in front of them, and one HB fan professes to needing “a piss” but doesnt wanna budge, because he doesn't want to “miss a goal”.

The news that there will be five minutes of added time is greeted with one of the loudest chants of “beavers, beavers, beavers” of the day. HB players have come out of their shells a bit too, “good pressure, good pressure” mutters one fan, as his team look to be having one final hurrah.

Quite against the run of play, it's all HB, “give us some magic” asks one supporter to a player.

“Dirty, dirty Essex” sing the fans now, following a BT foul on the edge of their box. “Come on score, it will be funny as fuck” snears one fan. “Ohhhhhh” they all cry at the attempt, but its not the winning goal. Admittedly it's not been the most entertaining of games, but I think I would still rather just see out the final few minutes, then play slaps like the couple next to us.

Extra time it is, the voice on the PA reminds everyone that its an “offence to go on the playing surface” which is greeted with laughs, “like that's going to stop anyone” points out one person. I take sit down among a sea of legs. The teen to my right leans over me, to talk to a friend about our video from the semi-final, unaware I’m right below him and his genitals are about an inch away from my face.

BT fans are staying put, the HB ones seem unsure what to do, eventually at the last minute they decide to swap ends, one staying behind points out it will take “fifteen minutes to get down there”. The PA once again tells all in attendance to “get behind the teams, come on beavers”.

An early BT chance sees many hands clasped to the back of heads, only for some relief when the keeper gets to the through ball before the attacker. “Thick fans throwing the ball back straight away” scorns one supporter, annoyed his fellow fans don't have the nouse to slow the game down a bit.

“Come on Hampton, got to get back in this game” pleads one person, after BT flash a header wide and somehow, somehow miss a near open goal, following a superb lofted ball into the box, a neat turn, but the shots ends up in a nearby tree.

I’m nearly overcome by the pungent smell of someone's nearby pickled onion Monster Munch, they however are not affecting the megaphone lady who continues to make her quiet offering to the atmosphere, stuffed toy still in hands.

In the next two minutes, are more chances on goal, then I think has been in the whole ninety minutes of regulation time. HB slide the ball to the back post, a scramble ensues in the box, for a moment it looks like they might poke home, but it ends up in the arms of the BT keerer, which is followed by shouts of “back pass” but the referee does not think so.

For a brief moment HB seem truly on top, for the first time since going ahead, only for BT to then go close themselves with a low bending shot that goes just wide of the foot of the post.

“Beavers, beavers” sing the home fans, truly unified for the first time today. HB then win a free kick in a good position, only for BT to win the ball back almost instantly, and it's only the scything tackle of one player, that stops the rapid BT forward from getting closer to goal, who had just rode three challenges, before he was stopped.

“You are my Hampton” sings a child with a very odd voice, who is then joined by the adults. His face a picture, he turns to his dad pumping his fists, “I did it”.

Still no goals, the teams swap ends for the second half of extra time, “we always do better coming this way, we’re going to win this now” says one BT fan confidently. The PA just before the restart, for what must be the fourth time now, cheers on his team, “come on the beavers”.

The HB fans are back, the flag is back, it now dances over the heads of the people behind us. One supporter has taken off his scarf and is whirling it above his head, this is the kind of noise from these fans we expected, finally finding their voice, better late than never.
“BT look tired” says Tom, who doesn’t see this going any other way than penalties. I’m not so sure, HB might have just peaked at the right time.

Still not feeling like any call is going their way, the HB fans froth at the mouth, so angry at the ref. “He lives” one shouts after a downed BT player who let out the most agonising scream gets back up. “Fucking clown” is how one fan brands the referee.

He just can't bare to watch a BT corner, so turns his back to the pitch, only turning back once it's cleared. The other fans don't have such worries, they are all going “bouncy, bouncy” again.

The half ends with late BT surge, “get into him” cries one person. There is one shout of “come on Hampton” so loud, one fan turns round in a near state of shock, patting her chest, implying the sheer volume of it nearly brought on a cardiac arrest.

Tom just shakes his head, BT were given the chance to win it on a plate, the ball across the area is not a difficult one to control, but the player on the edge of the six yard box fluffs his lines and will not be claiming the glory for himself.

Penalties it is.

“Sometimes you just don't like football” says a nearby HB fan, the penalty takers decided, one person confirming that it will be your standard old school ABAB routine when it comes to the spot kicks, and not the new fangled swedish pop group “ABBA”.

“I’m actually going to die”, “I can’t watch” are just some of the murmured comments from those around us.

Both teams lineup, arms around each other on the halfway line, here we go.

The first HB penalty is hardly convincing, but he scores it, punching his fist to the crowd. BT’s first taker steps us, “I hope this goes in the river”, I’m not sure where it ended up, but it's over, well over, HB ahead.

HB’s second is saved, by an ecstatic BT keeper, and BT’s second is put away, it's all level.

Up steps the Predator, “keep it simple” suggests one supporter, it's almost too simple, a bit lackluster the BT keeper almost getting a hand to it, but it squirms in.

“After two kicks its two all” says the voice over the PA.

BT score, and then its down to the HB number 10 who has been their stand out player of the match, there is some concern from those behind us about his record from the spot this season, and they have every right to be so, his kick heading towards the same spot on the river as the BT attempt earlier. He pulls his shirt up over his face, struggling to comprehend what has just happened.

BT score again, HB do too, probably their best penalty of the day, top right hand corner. It all comes down to this final kick for BT, score it and they are through.

We'd seen HB three times before today, every time they'd won, our good run comes to an end as the BT player dispatches his kick far out the reach of the HB keeper, wheeling away, the boos and jeers of the HB fans not enough to put him off. BT win, BT are promoted.

The BT fans unsurprisingly haven't paid any attention to the words of the voice over the PA said about not going on the pitch, a tidal wave of orange soon breaks over the barrier and floods towards the players and coaches. The HB fans in a quiet state of shock, applaud their departing players, having to watch what might just be one of the toughest sights in football, someone celebrating a promotion on your own patch.

All the National League gubbins is set up for the awarding of the gleaming silver trophy, that bares a striking resemblance to the FA Cup. BT’s manger is in floods of tears, and the voice over the PA tries in vein to instruct the BT fans to get off the pitch, telling them the presentation can’t happen until they do so.

A fantastic display of sportsmanship is shown by some HB fans, who applaud the BT players after their quick sprint back to the changing room. The HB players stand by dejected, some embracing BT players, commiserating and congratulating offered by each in equal measure. They have to watch on as each BT player is called up one by one up to receive their medal, as the fans, who are not quite off the pitch sing once again, “we’re just a pub team from Essex”.

The slightly Orwellian animal farm figure of Barwick is quick to get out of the way, having just handed over the trophy to the BT manager and captain, the bottles of fizz are soon popped, one player has got far too enthusiastic and crashes through the new erected boards, tumbling to the floor. Trophy held aloft, it’s not the players turn to sing, “we are going up”.

Many selfies, many tears, many hugs and many more songs about how “shit” Chelmsford City are, follow. The kids with flags as capes zoom around the pitch, players embrace fans and family members. One BT coach is already thinking about the post match party, “Sugar Hut, what?”. As one BT fan also called Dan put it, not the drum carrying one, “we finished 6th, we finished 6th”, which in his eyes makes what they have just done, that little bit more unbelievable.

I’m fairly sure a few peoples attempts to get their picture of the winning team, who happily pose for their fans, were ruined by the half inflated palm trees floating about. However no-one is fussed, they’re all too busy shouting, “iron, iron, iron”.

For once it's not the fact I didn't win the golden goal that is the saddest part of the day, but seeing the
HB fans who we have got to know, simply because of the amount of times we’ve seen them play, just how gutted they were. That is not to say we are not delighted for the couple of BT supporters we have also come to know.

I’m sure there is a Game Of Thrones reference one could make about BT, one family from the much watched show I’m sure are known as ‘ironborn’, who come from the Iron Islands but frankly I’m too frazzled to make it. Anyway the words of a mother dragging her family home, who walk past us in the car, are much better than any poor attempt by me to knit together the world of dragons and white walkers and that of non league football.

The reason she gives to her protesting brood for why they were going home, was phenomenal, “we’re all hungry, and dad has had enough to drink’’.

 

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