Friday, 14 June 2019

Steelfest - Corby Town FC Vs Bedford Town FC, Evo-Stik Southern League Central Play-Off Semi-Final, Steel Park (01/05/19)

Tom and I are different in so many ways, some obvious, some not so much. “I forgot my belt” he tells me, suggesting that he might unintentionally look like one of those guys who fashionably wear their trousers so low that their arse is hanging out, and me at the opposite end of the spectrum has done my belt up so tight, I feel like a link of sausages.

As is always the case with an evening fixture, my day has already been relatively chocka with looking after my daughter, a personal highlight of today was changing her on the boot of my car, with no baby changing facilities at hand, and it means I’m already a little pooped by the time we set off. The close conditions doesn't help, but some intensive Game Of Thrones chat, helps the time go by, until Tom’s child sized bladder and constant need to snack, somewhat consumes us.

Have you got any food in here I'm starving?” he asks while rifling through the glove compartment, “! Should have brought Jaffa cakes” he says to himself, when he’s unable to find anything.

“I had my pizza too early” he adds, racked with anguish at the realisation he might have to wait a whole sixty minutes before being able to eat.

The fleeting shower has Tom concerned, but how humid it is, is bothering him the most, “it’s like there is no air” he gasps, his nose and mouth pressed up against a crack in the window, like a dog locked in a car. A smattering of bizarre straight out the packet houses occupy him for a moment, “It's like the Truman show”. However the return of the rain, which is much harder than before, falling from some sinister black clouds above, has him all Schafernakering once more, “here it comes”.

As you can imagine I’ve got used to Tom’s incessant need to eat over the last four years, but today seems to have hit a new level, a level which even has him concerned, “I don't know why I'm so hungry all of a sudden” he says, before his self diagnosis takes a turn towards the ridiculous. Like when someone with a cough, Googles their problem and ends up thinking they have TB, “I’ve got worms”. Stepping it up from rifling, now more like a thorough police search, he is on the hunt for food again, “have you got any weird baby crackers in here?”, he puts to me, muttering under his breath when I tell him I don’t, “well that's disappointing”.

I considered shorts before leaving today, “bad idea” says Tom shaking his head, and he’s probably not wrong, its much cooler now and the rain has been ever present for the last half an hour. Tom flits from upbeat, “ohhh a castle” he chirps when we pass a local landmark, to the down right morose, “this can fuck right off” he snarls with the rain getting harder.

Pulling up outside the frankly dreary and grey looking Steel Park home of Corby Town FC (CT), the situation outside the cars four walls, is not exactly welcoming, “not getting out of the car until it stops” huffs Tom, in full protest mode. I’m just waiting for him to hold his breath and lie down on the floor.

When I eventually tempt him out, he has a face like thunder, the very same thunder that is lurking in the churning sky above, that has turned a concerning shade of black since our arrival. “Erghh fucking horrible” he grimaces, his face contorted as the rain patters against his hood. There is only one thing, well three in this case that might shake him from his funk and he needs them stat, “a can of coke, a packet of crisps” and most importantly a “wee”.

Pool table, tick. Dancefloor, tick. Stage, tick. Chuck in some fairy lights and leather sofas too, and the Steelmen Bar, is just about as textbook a clubhouse as you can get. In fact, considering the large J├Ągermeister banner and the choice of music, it’s the Beastie Boys playing when we take a seat, it's more like a Student Union.

“Bit of a workout getting up here” I overheard a man much fitter than me say, after ascending the steps to the first floor bar, and he’s not wrong, I’m gasping, but as I pant away, Tom is off in his own little world, he’s already furnished himself with a pack of crisps and a drink, so he’s dandy.

Rage Against The Machine on the sound system and people gassing about how cheap the larger is, it's like the early 2000’s all over again and although Is never went to university, Championship Manager 2 squashed any hope of that. I visited a few with friends who didn't let a football management simulator get in the way of their higher learning, and I’m getting some serious flashbacks.

The bar is getting fuller, which can only mean the weather is getting worse. Talking to Macca CT’s head of media before taking on Mount Clubhouse, he said they would have expected "seven hundred” tonight, but a combination of the bad weather and “Barcelona Vs Liverpool” on the TV, it could be a bit less than expected.

I genuinely can't believe it's taken him this long to check, so preoccupied with scoffing, when he eventually gets round to find out what his all seeing weather app thinks we have in store tonight, his post Walkers high, takes a considerable nose dive, “rain until eight”.

Wafting up the stairs, like something from a Tom & Jerry cartoon, the smell of the burger bar below us, has just hit Tom. I want to stick around and listen to more Nirvana, but he’s ready to move on, motivated by his gut, “I'm hungry”, yeah really, you kept that quiet. “I'm gonna go eat” he says as he stands up, barely giving me time to gather myself, and he’s off. I suggest I’m not sure it’s ready yet, but he thinks he knows better, “smells ready”.

Tom acts like he knew all along that it was closed and doesn't acknowledge the ‘I told you so’ look on my face. Making a beeline instead for the black and white container that houses the club shop, we pass a man in a CT hat whose pint is slowly being diluted by the rain, doing his best from behind a fold out table, to keep the match day programmes dry, “two pounds a programme” he shouts, towards those ticking through the turnstiles opposite him.

For all our sakes I hope the club shop is open, it doesn't look very open, and Tom is close to going the full Wicked Witch of the West. It’s not, fuck.

In matching flat caps and CT coats, two men approach, offering us with an air of Arthur Daley about them some “half time draw” tickets. I explain I’ve already got mine, purchased from the second of the two soggy men, where I also got my programme, that was out of the box and into my bag in record time, to avoid even the slightest bit of water damage. “But we always sell the winners” says one of them, and as much as I would like to believe them, and as much as I would like to shell out a couple more quid for a guaranteed winner, I’ve got Tom’s mental health to consider. He’s been out in the rain for a full five now, and he’s starting to unravel.

The sickly sweet overtures of Taylor Swift are booming from the speakers in the substantially sized main stand, where Corby is spelt out in white seats and it's only a shame the music outside doesn't match the calibre of that playing inside. I’m as fond of Lady Gaga as the next man, even her duet with Bradley Cooper not “Bradly Wiggins” as Tom thought it was, however, I'd much rather the playlist from the clubhouse if I'm honest.

As impressive as the main stand is, the size of which you just don’t see that often at this level, The vast covered terrace behind one goal, named after a local VC recipient James Ashworth, is a whole other kettle of fish. Stretching from one corner flag to the other, and reaching back what must be up about a story, it's a beast. Already in position, a couple of the local young guns have staked a claim to their spot for the night, and have strung out their black and white Union Jack. There is also quite a sizable drum among their ranks too, so we could be in for one of our noisier nocturnal outings this season.

How is it that footballers never look bothered by the rain, but everyone else, who generally are wearing far more than they are, protected by hoods and brollies, look totally devastated by its presence? “Alright boys” says the CT manager to a couple of CT supporters, in his thick Scottish accent, the very same one we encountered only a few months ago, where his persistent use of the word “pish” as his team played their part in a remarkable 5 - 3 defeat, had Tom in stitches.

The shop is tight, but well stocked. Rosettes cover one wall. A shirt from CT’s Norway supporters club is on display and the decapitated head of manikins, show off an array of hats for sale. “Very nice
badge” comments Tom, looking happy for perhaps the first time today, “can't go wrong with black and white”.

In the shop and seemingly not there to buy anything, I think it's more a case of wanting to be out the rain and to have a chat, one man's monologue, apparently not directed at anyone in particular, the shop staff get about serving customers, highlights a very interesting point and one I might be inclined to agree with him on. “I wouldn't wanna be Bedford” he announces, “coming all that way and can't get promoted”.

Other than the rain, this particular quirk of the FA’s league restructuring has been the main topic of conversation since we arrived. CT’s opponents, Bedford Town FC (BT) are indeed unable to get promoted, even if they won today and went on to win the play off final.

“Not sure we are far enough north for gravy” ponders Tom, as he runs his eyes over the extensive menu at the Steelmen Refreshments, that despite the rain is still busy. Very much in the Midlands, Tom doesn't think we are strictly in chips and gravy territory yet and as tempted as he is to ask for a healthy slosh of brown stuff, his favourite of all the food groups, he declines. Buoyed by the size of the boy in fronts cheesy chips, Tom is raring to go when his food makes an appearance.

Almost a quarter filled with the rain water, the bucket holding the condiments is at risk of sinking. Tom hurriedly applies a single large squirt of burger sauce to his cheeseburger, before putting the lid back on, before bolting for the main stand. The integrity of the napkin around it, is deteriorating by the second, and it's only a matter of time before we have a soggy bun situation on our hands.

The first whack of the drum is an attempt to disrupt the warm up of the BT keeper. More orchestrated hitting is followed, and we get our first chant of the night not long after, “come on Corby, come on Corby”. The ever present music is turned off so the teams can be read out. Back on and the first tune after the starting elevens, couldn't be further away from Taylor Swift if it tried. I think, and I’m not 100% sure by any means so don’t hold me to it, it’s Keith Allen's Vindaloo being performed on the bagpipes.

From the mouth of the long humbug looking black and white striped tunnel that has been hauled into place, filling the considerable gulf between the changing rooms and the pitch, the players appear to more thumps of the drum from underneath the cover of the uber terrace, while the excitable voice on the PA, welcomes us to “Steel Park”.

Soon though all the noise is silenced by the song that accompanies the players as they cross the pitch. From the opening bars its clear its an oldie, this is no Kasabian, and it takes me a moment to realise the significance of it, but when I do, It could not be more perfect.

“Steel men, hey. Working on a bridge of steel”.

Jimmy Dean over with, all the sounds of a busy football ground fill the air, the drum and hoardings are both brought into play to amp things up, which inspire more cries of “come on Corby” that ring out from all four corners of Steel Park. A small shed to the side of the main stand, where somewhere at its summit Tom is waiting for me, the two ladies inside are slinging out the last few cuppas before kick off and the man on the PA who has only slightly calmed down, informs us all that there will be “half an hour extra time, then penalty kicks” should the scores be level after ninety minutes, I can tell you now, there will be no need for that.

As the referee prepares to start, the drum beats out the first rendition of the home fans main chant, that is a tad unusual lets say. It’s not the lyrics, they are relatively standard “come on…” then insert name of team, it's more the way it's delivered. The first line is slow and almost staggered, the second line, a repeat of the first, are this time much faster with far shorter pauses between each word. A new one for me.

“Not started well” says a concerned sounding home supporter, in the opening five minutes BT have already carved out two solid chances, going close to scoring on both occasions. First heading over, then it’s only the feet of the CT keeper that stops the visitors taking an early lead,  after one BT player squirmed all the way to the edge of the six yard box, past some statuesque looking CT defenders.

The Eagles are not yet showing any signs that the game to them is just an obligation, they have started with considerable verve.

With maybe the best seats in the house, the very back row of the main stand, the entirety of Steel Park stretches out before us. A mixture of home and away supporters cascade all the way down to pitch side and although it’s not immediately clear, simply from the back of their heads which team they are vying for. The oohing and ahhing, the involuntary reactions to a bad pass or a missed chance, gives the game away and somewhere within the throng someone has a wooden rattle.

The BT fans in the age old non league tradition are standing behind the goal they are attacking and there seemed to be no question that the still falling rain, was going to put a stop to this. Braving the rain, they are in reasonable voice, their spirits not dampened, they’ve time for a quip about the futility of the tie, “we’re not going up”.

Setting it’s stall out early, tonight's game has decided already that its not going to be a cagey affair, a chess match, a tactical dual, it’s going to be an all out attack fest. After the early home scares, it’s their turn to test the BT keepers nerve. The shot at the end of a fast paced counter is pushed in to touch, then a header from the resulting corner goes the same way, deflected wide. “Steelmen, Steelmen” sing the supporters behind the goal, gathered behind their single flag.

Outnumbered and far soggier, the BT fans continue to give a good account of themselves, “la, la, la Eagles” and their sides performance justifies their ebullience. A dipping long range shot is just over the bar, which inspires another round of “Bedford town, Bedford town”.

So packed is the main stand, I’m still unable to work out who is wielding the rattle, among the sea of heads in front of us. Tom is far from impressed by the latest CT attempt, “pony” he sneers, after a low lacklustre shot bobbles along the ground straight at the keeper. Not long after a flicked header from their number 9 is far more like it and a few moments after that, after their less than convincing start, the home side took the lead.

A blocked cross falls kindly to a CT player on the edge of the box, whose neat one touch and turn sees him send a shot goalwards, that the neon orange clad BT keeper can only parry, straight into the path of the eventual scorer who hammers the ball into the roof of the net. An archetypal “poachers goal” as one CT supporter put it and taking full advantage of the wet weather the scorer dashes for the corner flag, before jumping, his knees sliding along the turn, ending up reclined on his side like one of Jacks French girls.

Almost the entire stand is on its feet, except the odd BT board member in their distinctive Southern League coats who just grumble among themselves, bemoaning missed opportunities. The drum strikes up, and the fans around it join in, “we are going up”. They then turn their attention towards the BT supporters, who despite just finishing a song, “come on Bedford”, they still ask, “can you hear the Bedford sing?”.

They are rather muted calls of “off, off, off” from the BT fans in the aftermath of a robust CT challenge. The fans are far too busy taking their turn to rib the home crowd, “can you hear the Corby sing, I can't hear a fucking thing” they ask, who considering their number, plus percussion section, are not exactly raucous.

One of the flat cap wearing, half time draw guaranteed winner, ticket selling spivs, standing on the other side of Tom, describes the opening twenty minutes or so perfectly, “fast and furious”. It’s been extremely entertaining and known to be prone to the odd moment of the clairvoyant in past, Tom “definietly feels like there is going to be lots of goals”, and he’s clearly having one of his more accurate days because seconds after he gave up his reading of the leaves, CT double their lead.

“John Crawford’’ bellows the man on the microphone, just along from us in his glass fronted booth. Punching the air, and gesturing towards the fans behind the goal, the scorer, number 11 has almost scored a carbon copy of the first goal, stabbing home from only a few feet out, another one for the fox in the box column. Wondering if it was simply a one off, the second high pitched whoop from someone in the stand, confirms that it’s one particular persons go to celebration. The BT fans respond like every half decent set of supporters should, “come on Bedford, come on Bedford” but it already feels like a very, very long way back.

The shouts this time of “off, off, off” are far louder as another CT tackle brings about a stop to the game. “Might be a red” suggests Tom, the stand has fallen quiet, as the referee talks over his actions with the player responsible for the foul. Relief, the noise levels quickly rise again when the crowd sees its only a yellow.

BT could probably consider themselves rather hard done by, being two goals behind. It’s just a case
of being CT being clinical, that they are almost out of the game before its even really got going. They force the CT keeper to make another save one on one and for the second time in as many minutes the relief is palpable about the place, when the home fans notice the referees assistant stood with his flag raised.

“I drink it quite a lot” Tom informs me, supping from a bottle of all things Irn Bru. Tom reckons it all part of the long reaching influence of the clubs Scottish manager that it’s available to buy. The luminescent orange drink is not to everyones taste, certainly not mine, but I can see Tom is getting somewhat of a heady buzz from the fifty eight grams of sugar per sip. So leave him to it.

“Get in” shouts a loan BT voice in the stand, when it looks like the away team might just have got themselves back in the game, only for the leaping header to come back off the face of the post. Those still standing out in the drizzle, belt out once again “come on Bedford”, the rattle whirls in response, but I still can’t see who has bloody got it. Tom who has noticed me scanning the crowd to see where the distinctive noise is emanating, has a theory, that it’s not actually here at all and it’s being “piped in, like at Spurs new ground”.

BT look deadly from the wings, and are causing CT all sorts of trouble. An unfortunate deflection of a CT players balls, after it was fired into the box from the flanks, almost finds its way in after the agonising ricochet. The player in question who put more than most on the line, for the sake of their team crumples down to the ground and as you can appreciate is slow to get back up.

Whatever the man with the microphone is putting in his tea, I want some, he is bouncing off the walls. Talking of tea, Tom is trying his best to persuade me to go and get him a “nice cuppa and a Kit Kat” at the break but I’m not budging and come to think about it, maybe the man on the PA is not in a drug induced state at all and he is simply high on life. The joy in his voice when he announces the name of the scorer of CT’s third, you would think BT are now dead and buried, by the “player wearing number nine”, the combined distance of CT’s goals scored standing at about eighteen yards, if that, is infectious.

Using the slick surface to his advantage, another sliding celebration is opted for, but this time it's not the customary on the knees, but his side. Coming to a stop with his head propped up by one hand, with one leg cocked, like his is posing for a still life class.

CT almost crown what might just be about the most perfect half a team could ask for, with a fourth, only this time it's their turn to experience the frustration of watching a well taken header come back off the woodwork. More of a up and over, than the bullet like BT’s effort earlier, the BT keeper can only watch as it sails over him, saved only by the frame of his goal.

The announcement of “three added minutes” of extra time I imagine is the last thing BT wanted to hear, CT can smell blood. The announcement though of a prog rock festival happening at Steel Park in the coming weeks, our second prog rock, football crossover in as many games, an unlikely alliances, but one nonetheless, is like music to my ears, when Tom fills me in on “Steelfest”.

A yellow card after a BT foul is received with plenty of panto “boooo” from the home fans. CT’s free kick prompts Tom to point a bit of a glaring issue in the BT keepers arsenal, “he’s very flappy” as he makes hard work again of what looks like a simple ball.

Apparently not wanting to get caught up in the half time rush for a meal deal, that Tom was very taken aback by, as he was by the “lots of chips”, the drum and the CT flag have already made the move and are nowhere to be seen or heard when the referee draws the goal filled half to an end, with the most timid of blows of his whistle.

Ecstatic probably doesn't go far enough to convey the unadulterated frenzy in the voice of the man on the microphone, he’s only dishing out some advice for those looking for a drink or maybe a spot to eat during the break, you would think he was sharing with us he’d just won the lottery. “Not often we start like that” says an almost shell shocked CT fan, as they start to pick over the first half performance. “Good evening John, you look very happy for a change” says one man to another, no one its seems can quite believe the shift their team has just put in.

“04201, if you have that lucky number you've won £179”, don’t even bother wondering if its me walking away with the prize, of course its fucking not, and Tom’s smirking “you've got to be in it to win it” is so unnecessary.

Another Scottish reference rears its head, the latest a reminder about tickets for a friendly against Rangers and Tom rightly points out, “where were they?” as the big terrace gets a “very patriotic” makeover, when a succession of really big St George's Crosses are erected by the BT supporters in their second half home. Dashing about the main stand, a group of young girls stop to take a breather in seats of the visiting club officials that have been vacated in the search for prawn sandwiches no doubt. Coming over all Dad like, he will be married soon it’s only a matter of time, he says something so out of character, I’m forced to make a double take, to ensure it’s still him next to me, “they are in for a rude awakening”.

Jimmy Dean gets his second airing of the night, the sound of the BT fans dotted around their flags on the steep steps of the terrace, ever so slightly mar his performance, “come on Bedford, come on Bedford. The clubs signature tune, means the players are on their way back out and Tom calls for a “redraw” when its announced the 50/50 “has not been claimed”. Shooting him a quizzical glance he tells me “I’m trying to help you”.

A bit of cover, some decorating and the rain no longer drumming against their heads, has made a world of difference to the BT fans. They have well and truly found their voice as the second half gets under way, showing off some of that kind of blind optimism, only football fans poses, “we’re gonna win 4 - 3”.

It’s a howler at each end, that gets the new half underway. CT’s keeper has a case of butterfingers, but BT can’t make the most of it, and then from point blank range one BT player conspires to miss, sending his shot high and wide, from almost under the crossbar. In between the end of season gaffs & bad misses montage contenders, BT’s fans in their new spot secure their position as the loudest of the two sets of supporters. CT’s still drumless, didn't fancy getting it wet perhaps, don’t have much of a reply to the latest BT jab, “you're supposed to be at home”, and considering I’ve never been to Bedford, I would love to be able to make out what makes it so “wonderful”.

Just shy of ten minutes gone, and CT’s first attack of note presents them with a chance at a fourth. Clutching his knee, half in the foetal position, it’s hard to tell if the BT keeper who in combination with a teammate somewhat wiped out the CT player who burst into the box, is trying to garner sympathy, making out it was him who was fouled and not the other way round to avoid the inevitable or he’s actually hurt.

There are calls for his dismissal, “red card referee” says one man pompously. No amount of apparent injury to the “flappy” keeper prevents what everyone knew was coming, and as the man in charge prepares for the spot kick, the man on the PA takes the opportunity to tell us they are “still looking for
the 50/50 winner” and once again Tom calls for a “redraw”.

There is no card, and despite his earlier anguish, the keeper is up to face the penalty, which CT’s number 9 dispatches coolly. The fans as he takes his run up “ohhhhhhhh” in anticipation, sending the keeper the wrong way, he celebrates not by skimming along the pitch, but with a mixture of Maori war dance and WWE heel, drawing his thumbs across his throat. As fantastic as that sounds, he is somewhat upstaged by a teammate, who rushes to the byline to pick up a hat that has been chucked onto the pitch, proceeds to put it on and gives the fans the sign of the devil with each hand.

When talk around us starts to turn to the Play-Off Final, one man isn't ready to have that conversation quite yet, “just wanna get through this one. Anything else is a bonus” and after such a high tempo first half and similar first quarter of the second half the game has slowed somewhat, it almost feels like a case of each team running down the clock. Off the pitch it's a different matter, the BT supporters only keep on getting louder, regardless of the scoreline. Maybe it's the opulence of their surroundings that has boosted them, “You are my Bedford, my only Bedford, you make me happy when skies are grey”.

A consolation goal, a lapse in home concentration, the start of the most remarkable comeback, call it what you will, but BT have just scored, a sublime header, from a fair way out, that sailed perfectly over the hapless CT keeper and the BT fans are encouraged, “we’re gonna win 5 - 4”.

A ripple of polite applause for the goal meanders through the main stand, after the scorers name is confirmed. Another appeal for the 50/50 winner to make themselves known goes out again and like a broken record, Toms repeats his new catchphrase, “redraw”.

The score from the other semi final, soon spreads around the ground like wildfire, bearing in mind they have just conceded, there still doesn't seem a doubt in anyones mind that this game is anything than theirs, except the BT fans of course, “we're gonna score in a minute”.

BT are now well and truly on the front foot, it looks like a case of CT being more than happy to now sit back and absorb whatever the Eagles can throw at them, conserve their energy for the final, rather than them having a wobble. “Come on Corby” shouts one fan anxiously and Tom puts the change in fortunes for a team who looked like they had been well and truly blown away, down to the “big bald bloke” a recent BT sub.

Tom is not the only one who possesses powers of the supernatural, “stop the cross” demands one CT fan, who has foreseen danger as the BT player prepares to whip it in. Although to be fair, you wouldn't exactly have to be Dr Strange to work that one out, BT have been formidable from wide since the start, regardless, CT don’t stop it and in an attempt to challenge the BT forward in the air, the CT defender clumsily bangs into him from behind and they are awarded a penalty.

Many of the local youth rush towards the other end to goad the taker, crashing whatever they can against the hoardings, they do their job perfectly and probably the loudest cheer of the night goes up following the one handed save from the CT keeper to deny BT their second. Punching the air widely, like a man possessed, I think the CT stopper might just be a little bit happy and for what feels like the first time in a while, the home fans sing, “come on Corby”.

Even though they missed their chance to put the cat among the pigeons, to at least make the final throes of the match interesting, their heads have not dropped. All until, just after the “official attendance” of seven hundred and thirty eight is declared, they are reduced to ten.

“Off, off, off” insist the home fans, and this time they get their wish. The BT player from right down in front of us is forced to take a very long walk down the tunnel, which sadly does not get even one cheerio. Tom shouting over the cheers of the home fans tells me he doesn't know “what all the fuss is about” the challenge he didn't think “was that bad”.

An invasion of the BT end by the mini CT ultras somewhat distracts from the goings on the pitch for a moment, although it might be foolish to look away for too long, might miss another goal. “They're about twelve” laughs Tom, the mob hammer the hoarding, they are about the loudest the home fans have been all day. Spinning scarves above their heads, they taunt the BT fans, but get very little in return

Behind the referees back a “battle” as Tom puts it, is playing out between the two opposing number 11’s. One hitting the other and it goes unnoticed. Into the final ten minutes and the BT fans still cling to their faith, “we’re gonna win 5 - 4” and the once positive shouts of the CT supporters around us, are starting to turn a little irritated. “Come on Corby” snaps one man through gritted teeth, BT have just halved the deficit, a miss kick in CT defence presents the perfect ball for one BT player at the end of his late run into the box to tap in and along with the rain, the tension descends.

“If we'd just scored the penalty” hypothesises one BT fan, thinking over the ifs and buts. The home “twelve year olds” full of all the energy of youth are still going at it, and it's giving me a bit of a headache and if the game hadn't had enough already, we’re treated to our seventh goal and CT’s fifth. The towering number 4 celebrates with his manger in his arms and sounding like the name of a shit game show hosted by Robert Kilroy Silk, Tom reckons the short lived comeback has well and truly been stopped in its tracks, “nullified.

Just shows what I know, twenty five minutes to go, and I thought the game was being played out, a foregone conclusion, how wrong I was. What action, what ups and downs we’ve seen and it's not quite over yet, the ground now quiet, the other semi final still a stalemate, I overhear murmurs about which of those two teams they would rather face, the football Gods send one last hurdle, one last test for the CT supporters to overcome, BT have just bundled home their third.

Bonkers.

“Five” exclaims one CT supporter, the amount of added on time and in turn the time for BT to score two or god forbid three, is too much to bare. The BT fans, who have been close to non stop this half are now stuck on loop, “blue and white army”.

With the game on somewhat of a knife edge, I’m surprised to notice many of those around me are watching the Barcelona Vs Liverpool match huddled around the screen of a phone, “he’s in, he’s in” says one, but the apparent chance in Catalonia comes to nothing. The BT fans are still stuck on the one song, stopping only briefly to sing a song to the tune of 'Unchained Melody, but soon take up where they left off, “blue and white army”.

The game comes to an end but not before one last blooper from the BT keeper, he allows a big hoofed clearance to bounce on the edge of his box, "looks nervous" says one CT fan as he looks for a second to have misjudged the bounce.

For the third and final time Jimmy Dean washes over Steel Park, and I've gone from wondering what
the hell he was going on about, to humming along in just ninety minutes. His 1960's upbeat, post war, chipper outlook on life, is the ideal way to toast a victory. Still concentrating all their efforts into the one song, BT's fans applaud their approaching players. A loss is a loss, even if it ultimately meant nothing and you can see that across the faces of the BT players in their blue and white stripes.

Most of those CT supporters not cheering the teams impromptu walk about from the main stand, have gathered around the mouth of the tunnel, where the rattling metal fence makes for a perfect alternative to the drum, and one CT player, perhaps injured or suspended, greets almost every departing player with an intense embrace and a growl that would put Conor McGregor to shame.

The Irn Bru and Rangers makes perfect sense after our post match history lesson. CT getting their nickname due to the clubs association with a local steel works, and the area is dubbed "little Scotland" because of the influx of Glaswegians to work in the aforementioned.

Fancy a Jagerbomb, a meal deal and free scoring football? Steel Park is the place for you.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE


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Thursday, 6 June 2019

Jazzy - Bristol Manor Farm FC Vs Paulton Rovers FC, Evo-Stik Southern League South, The Creek (27/04/19)

Non World War Two military history nerds like myself, may not have heard of the LRDG, the Long Range Desert Group, one of the precursors of the SAS. A mixture of tough chaps from Eton, leading tough blokes from the East End, they would venture deep behind enemy lines for hundreds if not thousands of miles, with only what they could pack on the back of their jeeps to aid them, to sabotage German air field and disrupt supply routes.

If you've got this far, thank you for bearing with me, because this sightly odd intro to the blog is relevant I promise, because Tom is standing in the open doorway of the passenger side of my car, with more stuff, equipment and provisions, then those men seventy five odd years ago, would have taken with them to wage war!

“Car snacks”, jackets and his “long rage chilly”. Such is the length of our journey today, about three hours, he has found it necessary to upgrade his usual water bottle, drafting in one the size of a naval guns shell. At least among all his junk, he has finally brought some half decent CD’s, no sign of the the bloody Red Hot Chili Peppers this time.

Not long on the road, and he is already tucking into his ration pack, which in his opinion has one glaring omission, “I should have brought Jaffa cakes” he says out loud, like as if he wants me to show him some kind of sympathy for his mistake. I do offer him some of my daughters space cheese. No NASA have not branched out into the party food game, well not intentionally, it is a legitimate child nibble, that he refuses, and considering he'll eat anything. I may have to reconsider giving it to my children in the future.

Storm Hannah is battering everything in sight as we head west. Passing high sided trucks make us both feel a bit nervous as we watch them teeter in the high winds. Tom falls just short of clutching my thigh Thierry Henry style when we see one's back end start to fish tail and he gives me a knowing look, which required no words, get the fuck away from it.

A confetti of brown leaves showers the road, there are notifications about closed bridges and the nearer to our destination we get, the worse the conditions become. Having not made a drastically early start, Tom doesn't really have much excuse for seeming a little sluggish, until he explains he babbled in a bit of weed the previous night, a “light dusting” as he put it, and is still feeling the effects now.

I therefore justify not leaving him on the hard shoulder, his brain is addled with Mary Jane when he utters perhaps the most heinous word that possibly exists in the entire English language, not one I had ever heard before, and I hope to never hear again, which he uses when I ask what his other half is up to today, “wedmin”. Shudder.

His new Hunter S Thompson lifestyle, also explains why he has just demolished his pack of “limited edition Haribo”, a much nicer sounding alternative to dehydrated Neil Armstrong curd, so violently and to why he is as mesmerised as he is, by the name of a place we pass on the outskirts of Bristol, “Aztec West, that sounds exotic”.

He is starting to sound a little bit like double rainbow guy.

A missed turn means we see a bit more extra time in the car then we had planned on, snaking alongside the River Avon, steep grey cliffs on one side, water on the other, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge in the distance. It's not unpleasant by any means, but were also not here sightseeing either and we cover quite a bit of ground, before we finally find a place to turn round, by a large wicker whale. Above us a tiny woman, clings precariously to the side of the aforementioned rock formations as she makes her way up it at the other end of a neon orange rope, in a case of rather you than me.

Arriving at the top of a steep slope, below us the home of Bristol Manor Farm FC (BM) is laid before us, The Creek already looks like one of the more tidy and impressive grounds we’ve visited this season. Once inside, where Ballroom Blitz by Sweet is blaring out of the wall mounted speakers, we are greeted by a man in a suit and club tie, who like us is also a fair way way from home too.

Kevin is not a Bristolian, not by birth anyway, he’s from our neck of the woods “Stoke Newington” he tells us. A “Chelsea fan”, I try not to show my displeasure, and I notice Tom’s trying not to grind his teeth too loudly either, he used to travel religiously to Stamford Bridge from his new home, while a season ticket holder of the West London club. Until one fateful day he noticed The Creek from the window of the train that runs along the bank down one side of the ground, and “gave up” his season ticket and has been watching BM “ever since”.

Less than a stone's throw from the River Avon, in fact Kevin tells us of a time he came to a match and “it was coming under the hoardings” where the crowd encouraged the players to keep “the ball up there” so the game wasn't called off, he also points out a few local spots of historical interest, which he relays with an obvious passion. He might not be originally from here, but he's certainly embraced the place, he shows us the site of an “ancient Roman port” that once stood opposite the ground.

I could have listened to him talk all day.

However with his clipboard in hand, he is clearly a man with stuff to do, and although I’m sure he could have gone on a lot longer, he’s not Simon Schama for Christs sake, so he leads us towards the clubhouse, and out of Storm Hannah, that although we’ve only been here ten minutes, feels like it may well be causing some havoc today. The few BM flags attached to one fence behind the goal, look close to being torn from their moorings and the two flags above us on their respective gold orb topped flag poles, are making one hell of a noise.

The low ceiling clubhouse or I should say social club, as the large sign on its outside refers to it, is heaving. The few dark wood tables and red leather sofa that encircles a large portion of the room, are filled with people watching Spurs take on West Ham. Where even though we are a good fair way from N17, the gleaming white tentacles of the Lillywhites have got its hooks into someone, “go on Dele Alli”.

Not only are we here because BM have come up a fair few times over the last few years as a club well worth a visit, and from first impressions that seems spot on, but we’re also here to finally watch the player we’ve been sponsoring this season. A man one person described as “Mr. Versatile” Jay Adams, who this season has excelled playing in a multitude of positions across defence and midfield, and I'll leave it up to you too decide, if that is because of his association with us. I think we all know what the correct answer is.

One of the perks of sponsoring a player, is an invite into the boardroom, which in the case of BM is the skittle alley next to the bar, where the lane has been covered by a roll of beige carpet, and long tables have been set up covered in white table cloths. “Not used to this” whispers Tom, after Rachel, BM's Club Secretary takes our drinks order and gives us free reign over the buffet that covers one table at one end of the room, all sorts of bite sized morsels sit waiting for us underneath plastic cloches.

A quick visit to the loo, where the cistern is covered in no end of Utrecht stickers, highlighting one of football's more obscure fan friendships between a club from the Southern League and one from Hollands topflight. I return just in time to find my coffee has arrived, Tom has his tea and has helped himself to one of the biscuits on small plates on the table, to witness Spurs go a goal behind.

“Fuck off” I exclaim, forgetting where we are, and Tom is quick to scold me, reminding me that that kind of behaviour will not do around the club tie types, “we’re not in the rough section”. Beyond the perfectly cut sandwiches and linen tablecloths, one person is very happy, ecstatic even and is losing their shit.

Is this part of the world a bolt hole for Londoners?.

Talking like one of the world's great philosophers, examining the sandwich in his hand with all the concentration of an Antiques Roadshow expert, Tom utters a sentence so profound, that I’m almost
impressed, “I always underestimate the cheese sandwich”, before telling me with equal gravitas, that Spurs will “win two one” and I almost believe him.

Doing the rounds with her black bucket in hand, the lady selling the red raffle tickets, does not get far before I pounce on her and force my money into her possession. The small table, that passes for a club shop, in the picture covered hallway outside of the bar, where some stunning haircuts of yesteryear, and the people sporting them, join me watching the sadness wash over Tom’s face when the man manning it, informs him they are out of pins, he could have a “shirt” or a “fridge magnet” instead.

The consolation of the promise of a “prog rock band” playing after the match, the stage, which puts all other clubhouses stages to shame, it's like the Astoria, has been “set up” Tom tells me in anticipation of a man playing a flute and a stack of three Casio keyboards.

Another chance for a flutter presents itself, via a man table hopping with the promise of “lots of money” to win, he had me at “lots”. Having thought the “Pools” was something people of my grandparents generation last did, it’s somewhat novel trying and predict some of the scores of four of this weekend's fixtures. Not wanting to get lynched, I of course opt for wins for both of the Bristol teams, but it's not until I hand over my money, does the man running this little racket, or should I say scam, who was eagerly nodding along with me as I made my decision, informs me that neither Bristol side are “playing very well”.

I might as well have chucked my money in the Avon.

Storm Hannah is howling, and I’m not sure what is more annoying the wind whipping around my ears or Chumbawamba playing over the PA? The kind of food Tom is normally more accustomed to eating on match days, is served out of a pitch side transit van with a hole in its side. The sun is coming and going and there is something bizarrely comforting about the sound of the diesel train plodding back and forth every so often,

The 90’s premier political no marks are soon replaced with a succession of “Dad rock” tunes, which in turn are replaced with a song from the “debut EP” of local band “Falling Stacks”, who are sponsoring the match ball today, who Kevin introduces over the PA, before treating us to their two chord punk thumper, “Standing Leg”.

A surge of new arrivals are soon adding their change to mine in the bucket of the raffle ticket seller, who has expertly positioned herself in a bottleneck on the way in, practically forcing people to shell out a couple of quid, before moving on their way. “Where has the sunshine gone?” asks one man as he rummages around for some coins, however the lady with the bucket has no answer for his weather based small talk, where its gone after it’s recent spell, is of little concern to her, she just wants his cash.

The music is pumping, Kevin is doing his best to lift what has the potential to be a bit of a flat afternoon, with quite an eclectic playlist. It being the last day of the season and with neither team, BM or their opponents Paulton Rovers FC (PR), a few of their fans visible because of their dark red and black scarves, have anything to play for whatsoever. Kevin reckons with a local side playing in a “big” playoff clinching match today, is where the “neutrals” will be heading.

Back on the microphone, Kevin welcomes the players and fans of PR, wishing them a safe journey “back under the suspension bridge” after the game, and in case anyone wasn't sure “refreshments are available from the burger van” that does “exactly what its says on the tin”.

Standing outside the grey and red building that houses the two changing rooms, the referee pulls a large white hanky from his pocket, gives his nose a good blow, before instructing his assistants to tell the teams to get a move on. We’ve seen a few makeshift tunnels in our time, but we’ve never seen one made up of what are essentially red barriers pinched from the local roadworks, that wobble in the wind, before.

The door from the changing rooms to the outside word, is not quite big enough to allow two players out at a time, so there is a fair bit of friendly jostling, before both starting elevens are out, and the referee can lead them down the concrete steps onto the pitch.

As the teams line up, neither are quite in position when the handshake commences. Another train passes behind them, and other than the sound of the constant wind, it's quite a muted start to the game. There is a definite feeling of, let's get this over with, I’ve got a Yes cover band to listen to.

The Creek is not a ground without options, you have your pick of not one, not two, but three stands and terraces all along one side of the considerably slopey pitch. We’ve opted for, and I say this with love, a small covered spot between the two dugouts, that is ever so slightly reminiscent of a place you might keep the bins. Inches behind us the train will be rushing past any minute, the smell of diesel still hanging in the air from the last one.

We are not alone in what I will affectionately refer to as the bin shed, snugly packed in, one man lets outs a very west country, “oh bloody hell”, when after what feels like less than a minute, BM’s keeper has had a bit of a wobble. His defence let a corner bounce on the edge of the six yard box, and his attempt to clear it is less than convincing, punching through a sea of bodies, it hardly goes far, and as one man puts it, “got away with that”.

It’s a tad of a concern that with the game not even five minutes old, and we are already discussing which kit we like more. Normally a chat reserved for the seventy minute plus mark, and never normally this early, there is not exactly much urgency among the players, a sedate pace is how one might describe it.

As much as you “can't go wrong” as Tom rightly puts it with a red and black kit, its PR’s for me that takes the accolade of strip of the day. A blue base with three yellow stripes down the font and three down the back, it’s quite attractive. We both particularly like how the stripes down the side, marry up with those on the shorts and I’m not sure if Tom’s had some more to smoke, but he then uses a word that I wouldn't normally associate with him, calling PR’s get up, “jazzy”.

It’s the PR keeper called into action next, and his save to deny one BM players turn and shot, is far more reliable then that of his counterparts moments ago. Getting his fingertips to the ball he touches it over the bar, sending it over the billowing net behind him, and straight in to the river.

Every so often the bin shed gives up a little rattle when the wind picks up and judging by the trees opposite us swaying all over the place, we might consider ourselves lucky if we still have a roof over our heads come the end of the match.

Neither manager is happy. BM’s wants his team to “tidy it up”. It has been a quite a sloppy start from his side on occasions. However they are not alone, PR too are undisciplined and it's this errant passing, that leads to BM taking the lead. “Too easy” sighs the PR manager, “we can't keep giving the ball away” he adds, all while his counterpart, a few feet away from him, punches the air in celebration.

From the halfway line, BM’s number 11 is able to at ease, and not without the attention of a couple of PR players, that he simply shrugs off, to skip down the wing, and in to the box, where he dispatches one last defender, before passing across the six yard box for a teammate to tap it in.

The hand shakes and gentle back slaps, again highlight the lack of a toss being given by the teams. Tom as ever has his own things going on, a keen weather watcher he makes a predictions, “there's a storm coming” and purely by coincidence, nothing more, he will put it down to the power of his Met Office app, the rain is soon upon us. “Here is comes” he says smugly. The sound of it hitting the corrugated roof above us ominous, but he is somewhat baffled by the fact that just over yonder, “it's nice and sunny”.

With very little of note in the first fifteen minutes, other than the goal to speak of, the save just on the stroke of a quarter of an hour, by the PR keeper seems even more spectacular. Somehow, when it looked nailed on for a BM second, he managed to claw the ball out from behind him. Getting back to his feet, he has no time for plaudits, instead he bollocks his defence, “free header”.

Another sweeping BM attack, their pace down the wings proving too much for PR to handle, almost results in a second, our man Mr. Versatile, playing and captaining the side from right back, is at the heart of it and the reemergence of the sun, sends those who scurried into the bin shed for cover, back outside again, and means there is just about enough room to swing a cat.

“Book him for diving then” is not something you normally hear a manager say about one of his own players, but so incensed is the PR gaffa, after they have a pretty strong case for a penalty waved away, he has briefly lost his mind, “free kick anywhere else” he adds.

It might not be from the penalty spot that they find their way back into the game, but judging by his current performance, there is a very good chance PR might be thanking the BM keeper at some point, if he continues with his ill timed brain farts. Another attempt at a punch, results in another yes you guessed it, shocking clearance, but PR can’t capitalise.

Its official, he must still be stoned, Tom's just used the word “jazzy” for the second time in twenty four hours. Overcome with reefer madness, it's the only way he knows how to describe his liking for something, on this occasion, Mr. Versatiles boots.

“He’s in” gasps a BM fan, racing away towards the home teams goal, the PR player only has the keeper to beat, but their first shot of the match, after twenty five minutes, only proves that the BM keeper might be crap with his fists, but he’s not half bad with his feet and although there was no goal at the end of it, the far less pensive of the two managers, BM’s has since kick off looked deep in thought, PR's takes some optimism from the attack, “better, better”.

Flicking through the big book of how to get yourself sent off, on page two, after snapping both legs of an opponent's off, is, getting right up in the referees face, so close he can smell what you had for dinner. How the PR number seven stayed on the pitch, after getting so up close and personal with the man in charge, I’ll never know. I wasn't sure if he was going to kiss him or nut him.

Overly lenient, intimidated, couldn't be bothered to do the paperwork, it is the last day of the season after all. Whatever the reason was, the referee just repeated, “do you want a caution, do you want a caution?”, until a teammate pulled the number 7 away, without going into the the referees little book.

The rains back, and our fair weather neighbours are back too, and with the rain falling, it sets quite an atmospheric scene for one of my personal highlights of 2018/19. Jay Adams managing to kick a PR keeper in the nuts, while trying to win back the ball through his opponents legs, leaving the PR player clutching his groin in agony.

Pure Nick Hancock's Football Hell kind of stuff.

One player who hasn't yet packed his espadrilles and factor fifty, which he’ll need for his shaven head, is BM’s number 11, who has not stopped slogging his guts out since the start. The same though can not be said for a few of his associates, such lethargy, contributing to PR’s undeserved equaliser with less than ten minutes of the half to go.

A lazy attempt at a clearance, sees one BM player completely miss the ball, inadvertently setting up the PR scorer to slide in and poke home and while the PR players celebrate, the BM keeper picks the ball out the back of his net, saying fuck, fucking hell or a variation on the theme, about eight or nine times.

Nigh on on top of us, it feels like the end is nigh, when the latest passing train near enough shakes the bin shed to its foundations. A pleading shout of “come on Farm” goes up, after PR send a header from a corner, and then Tom uses the word “lackadaisical” when talking about the lack of application of the players, and I’m starting to think he has taken some Ayahuasca.
“Please have your raffle tickets ready for the beginning of the second half” requests Kevin, as the players trudge off. One BM fan thinks the referee might have been a bit hasty when bringing the half to an end, “bit early?”. Kevin is not around for long, and Falling Stacks are back again, and the amount of airtime they are getting, means their song is starting to grow on Tom, “quite like it” he informs me, before heading off. Returning with a sizable burger that he describes as “weighty”, his visit to the transit van did not disappoint.

The sun continues on its here one minute gone another routine, as Hannah shrouds it in thick cloud whenever she is able, “chilly now” says on PR player. The visitors who come out for the restart with lots of purpose, a new lease of life you might say, they mean business. That sense of being on the beach or being “lackadaisical” as Cheech put it, has gone right out the window, and they almost pull ahead early into the new half.

Again the shouts from the home fans are tinged with a bit of desperation “come on Manor”, who are second to everything. The PR manager is very pleased with what he’s seeing, “better tempo”.

A full quarter of an hour elapses before Kevin pipes up with the “winning raffle numbers”. My tickets have almost dissolved in my sweaty grasp, and although I won't be pocketing the first prize, that's “already been claimed” he tells us, there is still a chance I could bag the runners up one, I can just about make out the numbers on my withering tickets, until he says its “on blue” and mine are red.

The well executed drag back in midfield by a PR player, leaves his marker for dead, and sees him away surging towards the BM box. “Shoot, shoot” shout the bench, but his attempt is a little wayward, unintentionally falling to a teammate in front of goal, who can only win a corner and with Toms “weighty” burger and chips finally finished, he still has the weather on his mind, when I tell him I overhead someone saying they thought a “goal is brewing” and he goes all Captain Ahab, “there is a storm a brewing”.

PR’s manager is willing to use any tactic he can to gain his team an advantage, employing a bit of that well documented Dave Brailsford Voodoo. “Drop it, drop it” he says under his breath, attempting telekinesis, when his team send in a cross, and he tries with the power of only his mind, to force the BM keeper to commit another clanger, but he holds on to it, “arghhhh”.

BM are well and truly on the the plane to Malaga, they really haven't turned up so far this half. One PR player sends a vicious long range drive goal wards, that is well held and again a supporter of theirs utters the fateful words, “got away with that” when they are beyond careless on the edge of their own box, giving the ball away in the worst possible place.

“Get up you tart” barks a PR fan, when a BM player goes down in the box, and there's a second call for a booking for simulation. With his back to goal, one BM player turns, and is afforded the time to shoot, but it's well wide. “We’ve got to work harder” demands the away team's manager, as all their early vigour is starting to wear off.

Stunned, absolutely dumb struck. Crouched in his technical area the PR manger is lost for words, who I think is his assistant is just frozen with his arms out in front of him. “I thought that was in” says a bemused Tom. Swinging in a free kick, BM fail to pick up the back post runner, who slams a header against the upright. Bouncing goal wards and seemingly over the seated BM keeper, he somehow manages to get a single hand up in time to swat the ball away from goal.

PR heads turn towards the linesman, was it over the line, and then the referee, but nothing is given. “Just something” prays the PR manager, they have been the far better side since coming back out, but nothing is going there way.

Although there is nothing from either the crowd or the players, the PR tackle on a BM player in their box, looked far from a fair one to me, but with fifteen minutes left to play, maybe nobody can be arsed to claim for it, it will only delay the final whistle . “Don't think he got much of the ball there” suggests Tom.

The PR bench calls for “enthusiasm”, but looking the opposite of enthusiastic a BM substitute limps past us, boot off, his sock three quarters of the way rolled down, and his ankle scarlet, you can almost see it throbbing with pain. Catching a PR goal kick and rolling it back the way it just came, Hannah starts to play her part in the match as we approach the last fifteen minutes and somewhat surprisingly the pace picks up quite considerably.

“Big push” appeals one BM player. If they are going to get anything from today, it will be down to their number 11. Whenever he is on the ball, it looks like something is going to happen. Getting on the end of a well delivered cross, he just can't convert, but a goal feels imminent. On their second half display it should for PR, but I have the distinct feeling after all their huffing and puffing, BM might just nick it.

The rattle of the stand only gets louder and the motion of it more violent as Hannah ups her intensity. “Unlucky” says someone on the PR bench, “keep banging on the door” encourages a supporter, after a shot sails just over and then one BM fan is so riled by their number 11’s sometimes complete inability to make the simple pass, holding on to the ball too long, and trying to do it all himself, he reckons it’s enough to bring the Messiah to tears, “Jesus wept”.

Once more the PR bench employ some unorthodox techniques to give them the edge. Reenacting on the sidelines how they envisage their latest free kick playing out, it might just inspire the players, “touch it, crash it in” says the managers number two, but in reality it's not even close.

“Come on Manor Farm” shouts one of the home fans congregated in the busy little corner around the turnstile. The bin shed is positively rocking, not to the eight minute kazoo solo of a prog band, Hannah is pissed and Tom turns to me with a worried look all over his face.

PR’s bench is getting increasingly involved, “shoot, it's your chance”, but nothing comes of it, they are going to get something more than just a single point from his game if its the last thing they do, they are willing the team on with every fibre in their beings. BM’s is stony quiet, their manager contemplative. Their supporters chime in, “get us the winner” shouts one to the last throw of the dice about to come on.

Into the final five and the horn of the latest passing train cuts right through me, it's terrifying. The home fans are growing a little restless. “Give him a chance” shouts one, when a pass to the wing has far too much on it, and an attack all but breaks down. The intended player mind, manages to make something out of nothing, with a spot of help from Hannah, he lets fly a shot that nearly creeps in under the bar, the supporters around us letting out a considerable “ohhhh”.

PR are piling on the pressure, a couple of last ditch diving clearances from the BM back line are the difference between going behind and staying on par. However no end of spectacular headed defencive work can do anything about the shot from PR’s angry number 7, that is right out the top draw. “Henry” ‘esq as Tom dubs it.

"He should be knitted for that" says about the only person able to get a full sentence out. The BM players have fallen to the ground like the very skittles that will sometime soon stand at the end of the alley in the boardroom, once the carpet is up of course. Mobbed the BR number 7 is even flabbergasted at what he has just done, not only has he scored a worldie, a blinder, but he's almost certainly won the watch.

Considering his penchants for the theatrics, I'll leave it to the PR coach to describe the goal. He shapes up just as the number 7 did on the edge of the box, after a lacklustre clearance, and mimes the first touch the scorer took to take the ball away from his dozing marker. His next and final touch is a swipe of the "outside" of his "right foot" the coach doing just as the number 7 did, and the rest is history, the ball destined for the top corner from the moment it left his boot. A stunner.

The rain is now falling at it's hardest one man holds his jacket up over one ladies head, but the few PR fans around the dugout don't seem even a little bit fazed.

Despite the rain, the players still make the time to approach the travelling supporters come the final
whistle, shaking the hands of those who made the effort to come, even with there being nothing on the line or up for grabs. Having done so, the players don't wait about, and sprint from the changing room.

Kevin runs through all the necessary "thank yous" required at this time of year, for the hard work of the "ball boys" and for the fans "support this season". A song then plays which takes the North London in Bristol connection to two today, when Telstar, written by Joe Meek, who had his office on the Archway Road, is played at an almost deafening level, to a near empty ground and if the scene couldn't get any more surreal, the rain now almost torrential, with not a person in sight, the Grandstand theme starts to play, with a guitar solo that must have come in after Des Lynam started talking, because I've never heard that bit before. Oh and the sun has popped out, and I'm starting to get a sweat on.

What a welcome, what kind people, what a setting, what a goal to win the match, what a nice bloke Jay was in his stylish grey spectacles and what an advert Tom is not to do drugs, you end up using words like "jazzy".

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Thursday, 30 May 2019

Too Early For Ribbons? - Baldock Town FC Vs Biggleswade FC, Dudley Latham Memorial Cup Final, Forde Park (24/04/19)

Late nights are for the young, not big fat Dads with two kids and I can’t even blame copious amounts of booze, a pub crawl, finished off with a kebab sitting at a bus stop, for why I feel so crap. A shocker of a trip back from my annual Easter trip to the North West Easter to see the in laws, took about three hours longer than it should have, combined with an agitated one year old, I really just want to curl up under a blanket and block out the world for the next forty eight hours.

Tom has his own problems, “I can't work out what jacket to wear, so I've got two”. Climbing into my car, he’s not exactly enamoured with the state of it, the remnants of the long drive home the previous night, means that everything from the dashboard to the foot well is littered with crap, “Costa, Costa” he says, trying his best not to tread on the numerous dark red paper cups underfoot.

Although I’ve brushed my teeth and gargled at least a pint of Listerine, there is no escaping what I had for lunch making itself known. “What have you eaten?” grimaces Tom, turning towards me with the most tortured look on his face, “dude” he exclaims as the smell of the chicken Kiev I had only gets stronger. “So garlicky” he scowls, as my meal repeats on me, and I do my best to direct the fumes away from him, but it’s not working.

The sobering sight of an almighty crash on the opposite side of the motorway, puts an end to Tom's bellyaching, both of us relieved we are not sitting in the mile after mile of tailbacks that it's caused, but also both with all our fingers crossed that no one has fared too badly.

I thought we were done with all the wedding chat, but Tom treats me to a “wedding exclusive” which I’m unable to share with you, but I can assure you, you're not missing out on much. Turning off the motorway, we are confronted with a strange concrete structure, that looks like a cross between a rook from a chess set and something from East Berlin.

Passing through the red gate of Forde Park, the initials of the home team Langford FC are spelt out across it in red iron work, as we complete our hattrick of recent cup finals, at another neutral venue. Tom's costume dilemma is only worsened by the ever changing sky, “gonna get wet” he prophesises, the lack of “cover” and the “big grey clouds” means he is sure we are in for a soaking.

To say Forde Park is minimalist, might be an overstatement, shipping containers and conifers are about the only thing of real note. There is a flat roofed clubhouse that looks remarkably like my primary school, a small stand with its name plastered across its back, with it’s faded red seats that are now more like a light shade of pink. There is also a considerable gap around the entirety of the pitch between the side lines and the railing. The dugouts, all brick with black pitch roofs, look like they should have an Air Raid Warden manning them.

If we are treated to a deluge of any kind, there are scant amount of places to scurry to prevent a certain soaking.

The building site fencing that leads all the way from the back of the clubhouse to the edge of the pitch, forming the tunnel that must be at least fifty metres long, just about sums up the make do and mend vibe here. Talking to Pinky, the Baldock Town FC (BT) fairy Godmother and all round non league legend, what she does and the effort she makes for the club and her “boys” as she affectionately describes them, is award worthy, she does not need to tell me she's “nervous, it's painted all over her face.

“Big cup final” she says fidgeting with something in her hands, dressed almost exclusively in pink from head to toe. BT take on Biggleswade FC (BFC) tonight, the team we saw BT play in the most extraordinary match just a few months ago, which ended with a 3 - 2 win for BT. A win that was the only momentary blip in BFC’s march towards the league title, which they won only a couple of days ago.

Pinky through for all her devotion and commitment is coming to the end of her time with BT, after six seasons. Having only started off playing a bit part at the club, in her tenure she has become the beating heart of it. “Only three games to go” she explains, tonight's match, one more in the the league and another cup final, could see her swan song potentially showered in silverware.

“You're our lucky charm” she says to me, a moniker that has been bestowed upon us before by other  teams, which has never ended well, I almost wish she hadn't said it. “So nervous” she tells me again, I wish I could call on a St. Bernard with it’s barrel of brandy, and offer her a stiff drink to settle her nerves.

The BT players are all wearing their Sunday best, one is getting grief for not having a tie on, and is told if the manager notices he is in for a “fine”. Ones outfit choice has Toms chin near enough on the floor, “look” he says pointing at one wearing the full Ronnie Corbett, a pair of tartan trousers. Wandering out onto the pitch, the sun now making an appearance, the BT players look like a wedding party milling about on the lawn at a reception, only one of them is moaning about the grass being too “long”.

Another familiar face, this time a BFC supporter we saw last loitering around a fruit machine when we saw the two sides go head to head, he echos a few of the same sentiments he shared with us that night, that BT will try to “bully” BFC, which was spot on and that there is “no love loss” between the two teams. Both clubs managers might have just been having a cordial chat, but come game time that's all forgotten.

To be fair to BFC, we are probably the last people they would want to see here, “third time lucky” jokes the fan, who won't be the last person to say that to us tonight, as we currently have a 0 - 2 record seeing BFC this season. One of them being their FA Vase Quarter Final, so we might want to keep out heads down.

It has not gone unnoticed by either of us, that the topic of “hangovers” has come up a fair few times since we have arrived, among the BFC supporters and players. Clinching the league title four days previously, I get the feeling the celebrations have only just come to an end, which could maybe work in BT’s advantage.

“That's it, when they're done, they're done” says a man in a grey suit clutching a handful of yellow programmes, that he hands to the old man in a flat cap, sitting inside the small shed, that passes as a turnstile here. There is plenty of the green and white of BFC already on show, they may well be a relatively new club, only formed in 2016, however they have garnered themselves quite a following already, which they proved when they near enough took over Salters Lane for their match in the FA Vase.

The main car park is already full, so the overflow is called into action. Lined up behind one of the goals, one car is just a fraction away from an insurance claim, when a stray ball from the warm up, almost crashes into its windscreen. When a man arrives with a box full of green and white flags, and a lady with an armful of scarves, I think it's safe to say we are in for another partisan crowd. There may well be BT fans here, but they are not quite as apparent the BFC ones, “Green army”.

“I beat you” says the man who has just hoisted his BFC flag on the end of what looks like the longest
fishing pole I’ve ever seen, to a lady holding one of the green ones being handed out, that looks like a toothpick in comparison.

Appearing for his warm up, the referee not for the last time, is the focus of people's attention, but at least on this occasion what they are saying is not preceded or followed with a four letter word. It's all very jovial for now, as he starts his jog, somewhat amused, as is anyone else whose clapped eyes on the kit he’s been provided with. “I’ve gone back to the 90’s” he says laughing to one of his assistants. His green and black shirt certainly has an air of the Uriah Rennie about it.

The mega flagpole is getting some mixed reviews, “you sad bastard” says one man coming out of the bar, the BFC physio is somewhat dumbstruck “what the fuck?”, another person takes the approach my twelve year old son would, when I do something embarrassing and he hits me with a heavy dose of sarcasm “you look really cool”. One man asks what everyone's thinking “is that your fishing rod?”, and the last of many I overhear, is maybe the most damming of all “you need to get out more”. 

Saying all this mind, the owner doesn't seem to give a toss, water off a duck's back you might say, he’s too busy bragging about the size of it to anyone in ear shot, “mines bigger than yours”.

Cars are now having to circumnavigate the entire pitch to find a place to park, “I think you're lost mate” suggests Tom as one disappears out of view for a moment behind the stand as it drives by, near enough pitch side.

“You recovered from Saturday yet?” asks one BFC fan to another, both looking a little bleary eyed. Most of those BFC supporters if they are still suffering a little bit, have taken the hair of the dog approach, as the beer is already free flowing.

When Tom gets his first glimpse of the oversized flag pole, he’s a bit scathing, “it's a bit silly, a bit unnecessary”, OK fun police. A point he does make is that it could do with a “bigger flag” the one flapping about, and I’m not exaggerating thirty five feet up in the air, looks a bit like a green and white hanky, he could do with upscaling. All eyes are off the flag briefly when a ball, and it was only a matter of time, strikes a parked car and gets an agonised “ohhh”, but soon people are back gawping at the man and his pole, which if I'm, honest, I think he is quite enjoying.

There are lots of shouts for the BFC players as they disappear towards the gloom of the unlit tunnel following their warm up, “come on you greens”. However the same cannot be said for the BT players who walk off almost unnoticed. Those still arriving, the car park heaving, no doubt can hear the song that has broken out in the BFC changing room.

Only a few feet onto the pitch, past a couple of waving green flags, the teams are brought to a halt by the referee, who is keen to get the handshakes over with. With cars still passing along the far side of the pitch, windows down, trying to catch a glance of the players huddling. When the ends have been decided, the customary migration takes place, the journey of the BFC flag is not exactly without drama, as he finds itself somewhat entangled with one of the floodlights and one passing BT supporter tells us he, “hopes you can bring us some more luck today”.

The pressure!

For the last time today the ref is a figure of fun, instead of ridicule, when he takes a tumble in the opening minutes, “I want a pint of what he's on” says one person nudging the man next to him. One puts it down not down to the booze, as the hangover talk continues all around us, but down to the state of the playing surface, “that's what happens when you play on Langford pitch”.

Across the next ninety minutes the referee will be at the end some of the most intense vitriol I’ve ever witnessed in all my time watching football.

With not one of them sporting any club colours, the let's say boisterous group to our right, only make their camp known, when one gives up a “come on Baldock”. With the game fully underway, the cars are still pulling up, and I notice our first non league dog in a long time, decked out in a green and white jacket.

After the five goal thriller back in February, it was unlikely we were not going to be treated to a bit of goalmouth action, however I'm surprised it's taken all of thirteen minutes. A header across the box from a BT free kick, sets up the man at the back post perfectly, but his flicked header goes wide, and just like when we saw them last time, BT a big team, look very dangerous from set plays.

The missed BT header somewhat opens the floodgates, as the chances are soon coming thick and fast. “Proper got over it” says one BFC fan, following a half volley from the edge of the box that is sent thundering goalwards, but is blocked by one of the hulking BT defenders. Then moments later BFC send a curling shot well over, that gets a decent round of applause, but it’s more for the effort than the quality of the strike.

After quite a glorious sunset, the sun has now dipped out of sight behind the long row of trees opposite, the sky is clear, and it's ended up turning into a nice evening, the chance of Tom getting wet seems minimal and the flagpole is still turning heads, “is that a fishing rod?”.

“Ref!” barks one of the group to our left, a slaloming BT run has just been brought to an unceremonious end, via the chopping right boot of a BFC midfielder. Looking like a certain free kick, the referee waves play on. “Ref!” snarls the same man, less than a minute later, again a BT player is brought to the ground, this time though the foul is awarded. In decent range for a shot at goal, the BT player tries a Ronaldo esq knuckle ball, and its wide and frankly not very good.

With the season creeping towards its end, it's getting to a point where we start to reflect on the games and teams we’ve watched over the past months. In BFC they are without a doubt one of the best technical sides we’ve seen, who play a truly excellent brand of football. Breaking on BT they switch the play from one side of the pitch, then back again with ease. The flowing move culminates in a shot from the edge of the box, that is just off target.

Twenty minutes gone and a BT foul ignites the first signs of friction, but the referee is on hand to quickly nip it in the bud, before it gets out of hand. BFC float the resulting free kick into the box, where a back post runner tries to steer it across goal and over the keeper, but its wide. “Ohhh” go the flag waving BFC fans to our right, us seemingly acting as some kind of human Donald Trump wet dream between to the two sets of fans.

If it had come off, it would have been a blinder, a goal of the season contender not because it was thrashed in from forty yards, but because of the movement and technique that led up to it. Neat quick one touch exchanges, a turn on a sixpence and an attempt at a back heel assist, very nearly comes off, but the point at the end of the attack, just can't finish it off.

Not that it really matters, because within sixty seconds BFC find themselves ahead. A close range volley high into the net, after a deft dink takes the scrambling BT keeper out of the game. The goal is greeted with the wafting of flags and the giggling of a toddler by one person in the group to our right, the BT fans to our left are quiet and glaring.

“Well read” comments one BT supporter loudly, when his team intercept a lazy BFC cross field pass and are straight on the attack, just after the restart. The long range shot at the culmination of the climax of the move is on target and requires two attempts by the keeper to gather it. BT are a resilient bunch and won’t let going behind rattle them for too long.

It’s all well and good taking your kids to the football, I’ve tried a couple of times, with mixed results. One of the major downsides of it, is maybe not a reason that you would first think of, the fact they have bladders the size of a thimble. “Dad I need the toilet” says one young man, whose Dad is not best pleased with his timing, “If we miss a goal, I won't be happy”.

BT go close again, unsurprisingly from a free kick. The goal bound header is deflected wide, and the big bearded BT coach standing steadfast pitch side, arms crossed, kicking nigh on every ball, flinches in direct response to it going just the wrong side of the post. That was inches away from an equaliser and he knew it.

We’ve encountered our fair share of oddities over the last four years. I always reference the dog in a pram at times like these, which is still yet to be beat, however the sight of a grown man howling, after repeating “Wolves, Wolves, Wolves” is a new strong contender for the top spot of the bizarre list. Wolverhampton have taken the lead against Arsenal, much to Tom’s annoyance, his phone pinging seconds later with a notification to confirm the scoreline.

Even though BFC are ahead, BT are looking the more dominant. Approaching the thirty minute mark and they send a ball careering across the box, but its cut out with a bit of a last ditch thrust. Not that the group of four men behind us would know anything about it, they are huddled around one of their phones watching the Wolves Vs Arsenal match.

Next to the BFC dugout a group of BFC fans are occupying themselves with a few songs, firstly one about someone "having no hair” but they “don't care” and then with a very straight to the point one about how they “hate Baldock”. With the game having slowed quite considerably after such a manic start, they have more time on their hands for the odd shanty.

“Cheers young man” says one BT player, straight out of an episode of Downton, when he hands over
the ball, having retrieved it from a bush. Thanks to the running commentary behind us, we get an excitable update when Wolves go further ahead, which is followed by much scoffing. However things soon take a turn on the pitch, that turns the atmosphere of it rather toxic.

“Ref he's gotta go for that” says one of the BT fans, who is probably about the only one who is not frothing at the mouth or whose eyes aren't about to pop out of their head, having just watched one of their players reduced to a crumpled heap on the floor, after the most shocking of high, late and lunging “animal of a tackle” as one person puts it, by the BFC number 9, a proper strikers challenge. Right out the Alan Shearer book of trying to win the ball back.

After much rutting and shoving on the pitch, the BFC player is shown a straight red, and like most players who get dismissed, has a look on his face of injustice, but he hasn't got a leg to stand on.

As you can imagine the language from those around us gets a little fruity, “dirty cunt” shouts one as the BFC player makes his way off slowly, “lift your head up and get the fuck off” growls another. About the only thing said that could be repeated pre watershed, is another hark back to a bygone age, one man giving a very chipper, “cheerio”. If the red card wasn't punishment enough, the final indignation is that there is no one on hand to open the gate for the BFC player, so he is forced to fumble it open himself.

A long break ensues, while the BT player is attended to by the big beard from the BT technical area, and it allows the referee and his team to pick the bones out of the brawl which followed the horror tackle. Two players are singled out and marched off for a talking to, the BFC player getting himself a yellow, which one BT sub called a “bottle job”, and just when the BT’s players and fans probably thought their luck had turned, BFC down to ten, their number 10 is shown a red for his part in the melee and both teams have now been reduced to 10, which yes you guessed it, is not well received, “ref that's fucking stupid”.

With both teams as one person points out having “lost a forward”, I’m not sure what that does to our chances of seeing many more goals. With the game back underway, rumour start flying about that the departing BFC player was “attacked” in the tunnel, “hit from behind twice” apparently, which if it's true, is certainly a “a discharge” as one BFC fan brands it.

Feeling every bit the buffer between the two sets of rival fans, Tom whispers in my ear, “just a little bit” when I suggest its all got a little bit tense.

One young BT fan is feeling upbeat, back from his toilet run, his Dad maybe missing all the chaos of the sending off, but not a goal, announces “we are gonna win this”, which gets a less than positive reply, “we've more chance winning the raffle”. You what, there's a raffle, how hard is it just to put a little bloody poster up, advertising the fact a hamper of local cheese or a shit bottle of wine is up for grabs at half time.

“Good half ref” says one BT fan, playing the sarcasm card. It’s lets say a muted reception for both teams as they head off. Plenty of players and staff want the ear of the man in change, who does well to fend them off, as he heads back to the sanctuary of his dressing room. Considering the attendance, it's very quiet in the break, Tom’s off and the flag at the end of the big pole is looking a little sad, dare I saw droopy. A few of the green plastic ones aren't faring much better, they've been abandoned by their owners in search of a drink I suspect and Toms night just goes from bad to worse, Arsenal are now losing by three.

“No chips, no raffle, no water, warm Coke” is about as close as you can get to a personal nightmare for us two, and these are Tom’s first words on returning from the clubhouse. He does have a burger for himself, but because I didn't specify a secondary drink option, I’m going without.

Lifting it to his mouth, Tom takes a knowing sigh before telling me, “right I hope this doesn't kill me” and then proceeds to take a bite of his burger. Mouth still half full, the tone of his voice takes a rapid upturn, “ohhh it's quite nice” he says, and then does something he has never, ever done before, offers me some, “I kind of want you to try it”.

The ground is rife with talk of punch ups, rumours are flying around about the brother of the fouled BT player, who according to one person it's his “birthday” today, going after the BFC number nine up the tunnel.

BT are out well early, but the BFC starting eleven are nowhere to be seen, just their substitutes, and as it gets ever closer to kick off, one person suggests BT “might not bother”. The delay in their appearance has sent the conspiracy theorists in the crowd into overdrive, someone saying he reckons BFC might just “call it quits” even Tom is swept up in it, “you think they're coming out?”and although I think it's very unlikely they would just quit, the fact the referee is not out yet either is a bit odd.

“What would happen, would Baldock win?” hypothesises Tom.

Kick off is well past schedule when BFC finally make an appearance, one person sounding like a friend does when you turn up late for a night out, “oh here you go”, when they start trickling out. Around us the BT mob have been replaced by a BFC one and it's like the recording of a Derek & Clive LP. I’m a fan of the word cunt when used on choice occasions, I understand it's not a word for everyone, but I've never heard as many times as I do, in the next forty five minutes, in the entirety of my whole life.

There are a few shouts from the BT fans and from a couple of the players too, “come on Baldock”. When the game does eventually get underway, it's a false start and has to be taken again.

A new arrival to the nearby BFC ranks, is doing a thing I can't abide, far worse than swearing, pyro or a bad tackle, he’s, and I’m struggling to type this, defacing his programme, writing the substitutions in it. Quick, pass me the carbolic soap, I feel filthy just saying it.

It's a feisty start to the new half to say the least, “refs going to lose control of this game soon” says Tom, the match feels precariously balanced on a knife's edge, like it’s going to boil over at any moment and I almost wince at the prospect of the next tackle . BFC have the first chance of the half, a header from a corner bounces down into the turf and over and in their number 7, with his shock of Sonic the Hedgehog ginger hair, they have a player who is at the centre of almost all their attacks, “one to watch” says Tom. He was impressed both times we saw him before and he is again tonight.

It’s all BFC, “he’s never going to give that” tuts one fan, rustling their green plastic fan, the end of a “nice” BFC move as Tom calls it, sees a player go down in the box, but its waved away. BT can’t get out of their own half, and its wave after wave of green attacks. Another “ohhhhh” rings out when a bouncing volley from outside the area, skips just wide of the post, with the BT keeper left grasping at air.

The reasonably stiff breeze and my overly long hair, I’m in desperate need of getting it cut, has Tom smirking to himself, he takes much pleasure when in his professional opinion he tells me through a grinning mouth, that my barnet looks like “Donald Trumps”.

If BT are going to get back into this match, it feels like the only way will be via a set piece. Again they go close when a back post header, is hooked off the line. When they do attempt to shoot from open play, nine times out of ten its high and wide, one such shot clearing the goal and hitting one of the cars behind it, “have a shot next time” chuckles an unimpressed BFC fan.

Showcasing again the standard of football they are capable of, BFC almost score the most obscure goal, so well crafted. It all starts with a scooped pass over the BT back line, ginger Sonic races through, latching on to it, he shoots with his first touch. On this occasion the BT keeper is equal to it and going the full starfish, he blocks it from going in, and gets the plaudits from both sets of fans, “good save keeper”.

Another flare up, a heated exchange between players, at their feet BFC’s number 7 is prone, and I’m struggling to work out what exactly happened to result in the best player on the pitch, going down clutching his head. Tom uses the distraction of the injury, to slyly take a bite of a Snickers he had secreted in his pocket, I think he thinks I didn't notice, but I did.

From behind the goal to our left, and as one BFC fan quite rightly points out, when some BT fans make what I think can be considered some unexpected noise, wonders “where they've been?”

“Hit it” demands one BFC supporter, the BT keeper well out of his goal when the ball falls to the feet of a BFC player in midfield. You can see him contemplating the lob, but in the end doesn't try a David Beckham circa 1996. BFC have really hit their stride now, they are positively purring, the fans clap their slick passing, the woman standing behind her newly erected BFC flag over the wall around the pitch, one of the most appreciative.

Sticking to type it’s a BT corner which for a moment looks like it might be their way back in once again, but this time as one confused BFC fan says, the player in the box heads the ball “the wrong way”, instead of goalwards, its back towards the corner flag.

The tension has somewhat depleted, Tom holds up a single finger, he thinks we’ve seen all the goals were going to get, “1-0”. He takes further bites of his Snickers, “got to keep my fuel up” is how he justifies his selfish snacking, remember my mouth is parched, no thanks to him. A lady hands out further flags, a couple more go over the wall around the pitch, but more and more people are discussing the goings on at Molineux now, than the game in front of them.

The game may have tailed off somewhat, but we still have the tireless BFC number 7 to entertain us, “he doesn't stop” comments Tom, almost out of breath just at the thought of the miles the BFC wide man must clock up in a match, and doesn't look any worse for it. There are more shouts for a BFC player to “shoot” this time it's from the bench, but again the players hesitates, and again a sigh ripples from the crowd.

“He’s class” coos a BFC fan, their number 7 is back at it again, bundled over on the edge of the BT box after a “great run” as one supporter puts it, he is somehow not rewarded with a free kick. “Come on referee” decries one supporter.

Twenty to go and BT have their first shot in what feels like an age, and it inspires a chant from their newly formed glee club behind the goal, “let’s go Baldock, let's go”. The big flag pole is doing laps now, but its not without incident, “tree, tree” warns one person to its barer, but it's too late and for the second time tonight he finds himself entangled.

 “Get him off cunt” shouts one of the pitchfork waving mob of BFC fans, after another brutal challenge, which leaves one BFC player in a heap. Bombarded, the referee is given all sorts of advice from the sidelines, “don't bottle it ref”, “its knee high”. After a brief explanation to the offending player, he reaches for his top pocket and presents BT with their second red card of the match. Reducing them to nine, the dismissed player makes the slow walk off, as the BFC player still down is treated with almost an entire can of cold spray, and the leaving BFC player is serenaded, “cheerio, cheerio, cheerio”.

BT are losing their heads, the sending off still fresh in everyone's minds and they commit another foul that gets fans and players alike all riled up. “Knob” says one BFC supporter behind us towards the BT perpetrator, from underneath his sizable beard, club hat and scarf.

If it was any other team, you might call it showboating, but having seen BFC the amount of times we have now, I think you would just say it’s the way they play. A back heel, a pirouette, and just as he was about to shoot, the BFC player is clattered to the ground. “Knee high, red” screams one BFC fan, those three words quickly becoming the catchphrase of the occasion, dished out following any kind of contact. In the eyes of the whole ground a stonewall penalty, in the referees a corner. Outrage ensures.

BT prepare themselves for one last push, shouts of “gamble” from the bench, push them ever further up the pitch, but they now look even more prone to get picked off by one of BFC’s pacy counter attacks. With less than ten to go, its a case of all up front, a soft punch in a crowded penalty area by the all blue BFC keeper, presents the ball to a BT player on the edge of the box, who takes a powerful swipe, sending his shot through a sea of bodies. The man next to me a BFC fan predicts a “goal”. Ending up in the arms of the keeper, who falls to the ground clutching it, there are loud shouts of “handball” from the BT fans, but the referee squashes any suggestion of a penalty.

BFC counter and it looks like number 7 is going to get himself on the score sheet, one on one with the keeper, one BT supporter instructs the keeper to “come out now” which he does, and in combination with a less than convincing shot, he saves with his feet and keeps BT in the game for just a little bit longer.

“Drill it” demands a BT fan, as the ball falls to a player in red on the edge of the box once more, he does just that through a packed area, and again there are shouts for a pen and again its waved away. “All or nothing now” says Tom, BT’s last hurrah has come so close to an equaliser, but they are wide open at the back and it feels like just a matter of time before one of these BFC attacks culminates in their second goal.

“Gotta be four at least” thinks one person, considering all the stoppages, there might be even more added on. The green and white flag at the end of its uber pole now hangs over the pitch and around the mouth of the tunnel all the necessaries are being prepared for the presentation of the cup.

Maybe tempting fate, one BFC fans thinks we might have broken our “duck” as full time approaches. It’s almost a case of him counting his chickens when BT go close for the last time and then BFC do what they have been threatening to do for the last twenty minutes or so, outnumbering BT at the back, they bag their second. The first shot from out wide is parried into the six yard box, BFC’s number 7 almost gets on the end of it, but it won't fall to him, instead it falls to a teammate who slots it home.

“Too early for ribbons” says one of the men in suits crowded around the table covered in the maroon boxes containing the winners medals and the short silver cup. The game still going on behind him he rummages around in a paper bag for the appropriate coloured accessory to adorn the prize.

In the moments after the final whistle, many of the things you would expect following the conclusion of a cup final play out. The BFC players punch the air, the BT ones fall to the ground. A firecracker of some sort goes off in the distance and some of those on the move already, not waiting around for the presentations, honk their horns in celebration as they leave.

Not content with the single green ribbons added to the cup, one BFC fan adds her own finishing touches, and by the time shes down, green streamers are cascading down from each handle. BT are the first of the two teams to break their post match huddle to collect their runners up medals and then of course its the turn of the victors, to lift into the nights sky their second bit of silverware in less than a week, breaking into a few short lived lines of "championes, championes".

Handed a few bottles of fizz, not a drop is wasted on the pitch, instead its directed straight into their
managers face, from close range, leaving him struggling to catch his breath, staggering backwards with his eyes closed, absolutely drenched.

With BFC promoted, its probably not a bad thing these two sides don't play each other for a while, or they might need a fleet of those tiny helicopters from Mash. Blood and thunder to the enth degree, on and off the pitch. A game that just about had everything, goals, cards, Tom said he saw one of the dismissed players watching the remainder of the match angrily from his pitch side car, not sure you could ask for more.

If I didn't fancy being a referee before, I definitely don't after today. In a moment of non sweary clarity, one BT fan rightly said it was a "difficult game" for the referee and I think when all is said and done, he had a good game. I couldn't put up with all that grief and come back for more, so all the power to him.

Oh and the flag pole had a name, not mega pole or uber pole, but something far more poetic, far more bohemian, Spirit Of The Air.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE


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