Sunday, 19 January 2020

Well Saved Legolas - Huntingdon Town FC Vs Burton Park Wanderers FC, United Counties Football League Division One, Jubilee Park (27/11/19)

The A1 is odd, very odd indeed. For such a major highway stretching all the way from London to Edinburgh its only two lanes in places, very poorly lit and littered with sex shops. Lone gaily lit petrol stations occasionally appear on the horizon like a mirage, disappearing as quickly as they appeared. The people who decided that slap bang in the middle of nowhere was the ideal spot for a caravan dealership and Christmas tree outlet was a good idea, might struggle if they ever decided to have a pop at the Dragons. They don't sound like the kind of people dripping with business acumen.

As you can maybe tell by the fact I'm not recounting chats about FIFA, that once again I’m alone, so even if I did want to stop off for a whip or the latest copy of Playboy, I don’t have anyone to hold my hand as I did. For the fifth time this season, Tom & I have travelled separately, and he’s arrived well before me, although his journey was far from seamless.

“A farm” he screeches over the speaker on my phone, his Sat Nav has forced him to do a “dodgy u turn” in the dark, where he was “sure there was a ditch” that he and his motor nearly disappeared into.

I’m glad to see as I manoeuvre across the vast gravel covered car park of Jubilee Park, that Tom’s car is all in one piece, with no signs of having ended up on his roof. Some may wonder why I bother commenting on the state of the car park in a football blog, well it’s because over the years we’ve spent so much time in them, some of which have been so horrifying, so outright dangerous, it's a pleasant surprise when I enter one, without the fear of maybe not getting out again in one piece.

Outside the clubhouse a dark haired man in a tracksuit frantically taps away on his phone, eventually bumping into Tom, he informs me the aforementioned man is the home side Huntingdon Town FC’s (HT) manager. The look on my face when he tells me, makes him think it necessary to reiterate the point he’s just made, “yes, he’s the manager”. My expression down to the fact of just how fresh faced he is, Tom informing me he is all of “twenty four years old”, and his frantic phone calls are by the sound of it to wrangle up the late comers.

The woman on a bar stool, with the equally high table beside her hands me my programme as I enter the parquet floored main room of the clubhouse, the bright strip lighting illuminating the almost Viking longhouse length tables, each surrounded by a host of blue padded chairs, but there is not a mead filled horn tanker to be seen.

There is though the most immaculate looking condiments table, the graphic covered PVC tablecloth tells you exactly what is on offer, teas and coffee, with plenty of pictures to match, however they are doing themselves a disservice, as well as their sponsor a local butchers, because there is also about the largest array of Cuppa soups available I’ve ever seen and the loud rattle of the the shutter over the bar, means the chance of some mead might still be on the cards.

“Shit shirts”, says Tom sneering, his appreciation of the decor is not exactly glowing. The framed Spurs shirt, plus a couple of England ones too, that line the walls are not quite his cup of tea. On closer inspection I notice there is a running theme among them, they are all signed by Harry Redknapp's favourite centre forward “my missus could have scored that one” Darren Bent, who it turns out is a local resident, who sponsors the home changing room too.

With some time to kill, Tom in some detail gives me the low down on his recent “Michelin star” meal, where he uses the word “foam” and “deconstructed” a lot. Our staggeringly bourgeoisie conversation though is soon somewhat overshadowed by the home keeper, who is half hanging through the glass door of the clubhouse leading outside where it’s looking rather ghastly, who is doing his best to get the attention of the HT Chairman.

“Doug” calls out the keeper, “turn the floodlights on please” he asks. Doug, who has no time for chatting, gives the request short shrift and points him in the direction of the “training pitches”. By the looks of it this was not the response the goalie wanted, whose attempt to negotiate doesn’t last long, “Half past” Doug snaps, confirming the agreed time the big lights go on, and if he’s not happy he should “talk to” his “manager or find another fucking club”.

Slowly but surely a few people start to trickle through the door, but it's little more than that, the biggest group are Burton Park Wanderers FC (BP) fans. One sports a BP scarf another has the initials of the club on the back of his coat, the small contingent of away supporters heading straight for the bar, more than one of them asking why are the floodlights still not on?

The lack of a clear landmark that floodlights so often can be for many, was an issue for one man, with the ground being “out in the middle of nowhere” the “no lights” meant he was “a bit worried”.

It’s almost biblical when eventually the lights do come on. Showing us what until now was shrouded in complete darkness, giving us our first view of the pitch, letting us quickly assess our surroundings and what kind of cover is on offer. The introduction of the lights for most also means the covered smoking area in now a goer and the tea bar is soon churning out a bit of grub. “Cheese burger?” asks the cook, offering a bit of table service to the crowd outside, but there are no takers.

A single white railing surrounds the pitch, the club's name is written across a white wall behind the far goal and thankfully there is some shelter but not much. Two small IKEA’ esq flatpack stands with red seats are on one corner of the pitch and an almost shed-like looking structure on the half way line. Low roofed and gloomy, and in a slightly odd stroke of architectural design, also contains the two dugouts, which are both basically much smaller versions of the structure behind.

Clearly content that his blue and white golf umbrella will suffice one BP fan, one rouge BP fan breaks away from the pack and heads the opposite way in search of somewhere dry to sit. The click clacking of the players at the start of the long paving stoned lined path from the club badge flanked double doors leading from the changing rooms to the pitch, initiate a minor migration, although a fair bunch stay in the smoking area, and as the players walk out, they can only stir a smattering of claps from the people here.

“It's horrible” says one of the linesman to the HT keeper, as he inspects the nets pre kick off. The rain has not stopped coming down and it isn't even really all that heavy, but stand around in it for the next hour and you'll end up with wet underwear.

The blast of the referee's whistle is sharp and cuts right through the clammer of the players and whatever mild noise the crowd are making. “Skippers please” he shouts as he calls over the captains. The home keeper has already earmarked himself as a talker, he’s incessant and the group under the cover of the smoking area haven't bothered moving yet. Kick off feels overdue, and the man in the middle double checks with each goalie, “keeper” before finally getting us underway.

Having opted for a spot in the shed, which is busy’ish, most people are huddled together at the same end as the home dugout, we are at the opposite end, leaning on the roof of the integrated away bench, the players totally oblivious that we can hear everything through the thin marine ply roof. Not very far away in his technical area, the HT manager sees his team, in his first game at the helm, get off to the worst possible start. Eight minutes gone and they are already behind.

It’s an absolute hammer of a shot, that although it's not far from the HT keeper, is hit with such ferocity that it flies past his outstretched arm, right over the top of him and into the goal. The laughing BP players below us are quickly scalded by their manager, “it’s too early for that shit”. He knows there is still plenty left to play, and they haven't won it yet and the excited players soon fall quiet again.

By the end of the night we will fat with one liners from the group around the home dugout and the away bench, the major culprits in the ‘banter’ deluge flooding towards the pitch. “That's assault ref” shouts one along from us, a BP lunge at a home player is a bit of a shocker, but there is no booking and the player responsible for the foul, judging by his gesticulating, is suggesting it wasn't his fault,
but down to the soggy conditions.

Never one to be outdone, Tom partial to a bit of the old follicular related chit chat then asks me with a totally straight face if I like the “goalies luscious hair?” the far from lofty BP stopper is indeed blessed with a very fetching mane of golden locks. Tom suggests it must “remind” me “of being sixteen” when yes I was too blessed with hair, all bit it dark brown, right down to my arse.

When he’s not talking about hair, and considering his job you think it would be the last thing he would want to do, Tom shares his thoughts on the home team's prospects tonight. “They are going to get fucked” and so engrossing is the match before us, the majority of the home fans are talking about, if not watching on their phones, tonight's Champions League matches, which is never a good sign.

“Dennis Irwin init” sniggers one BP substitute, as their left back goes on the kind of run I wouldn't normally associate with the dependable Irishman and most of the smoking area posse have finally moved, however it's the action of one person on the far side of the ground who has us totally captivated. Dressed in a black coat, milling about in the now driving rain, a man is plodding around with a bucket and Tom asks me if I think he is “fishing”.

Neither team has had a chance since the goal, it's just been a lot of toing and froing in midfield and very little else. A couple of brave souls are adding to the match inflicted torture by standing out in the elements and so fine is the rain, that it’s not until you look at the floodlights, can you see it's still coming down.

“He loves a tackle number 8” surmises Tom, the BP midfielder flying into another of what is turning out to be his signature move and despite insisting with the referee that he “got the ball” he thinks otherwise, and a foul is given against him.

Except for the respective managers blocking our view on occasion, it's a relatively good one we have from the safety of the stand. That's until someone below us starts to drag on their vape, sending a thick cloud of white smoke up and out over the pitch, like a locomotive and it's not until the culprit stands up and emerges, telling us he’s “got to stretch” his “legs” because there isn't “enough room” in there, we realise its the kit man and not a player.

Half an hour gone and the match is dead, deader than a dead thing, that has just been confirmed dead, by Professor Dead, Head of Deadology at the University of Dead. The BP manager turns towards the dugout to take a sip from his resting Lucozade before putting it back and returning to the match. Pretending I’m sure that he is actually thirsty, his team couldn't be more on top if they tried, he just wanted something to do. I think they could have subbed us on and they would still be cruising.

There is still plenty of chatter from the crowd, but none of it is about the match and one BP substitute is not backwards in coming forwards, a mistake from one of his teammates sees him ask “why we sinking to their level?”. Admittedly they have gone off the boil a bit after their quick start, but that's a pretty damning statement or the hosts who find themselves very much at the wrong end of the table at the moment and look every inch relegation fodder.

With zero goalmouth action to captivate us, we do though have a sopping wet pitch and each teams propensity for a full blooded tackle which combined is making for a “very physical” encounter as Tom puts it and when a chance on goal does finally come, by the home side no less, it's such a straightforward save for the BP keeper, he could have thrown his cap on it, as they say.
The response from one person in the crowd to the slightly overly dramatic stop, well in his defense he must be super bored, might go down as one of the best things I’ve ever heard at a football match, “well saved Legolas”.

Despite all the 50/50’s and sliding collision, the referees hardly had much to do either, and his latest awarding of a free kick, has the air of I just fancied something to do about it. The BP manager is perplexed at why he has just awarded it against his team, “what the fuck was that for?” he asks, arms out by his side. Turning back to get a drink, he mumbles to himself, “shit decision”.

You do hear, almost always when watching football on the TV, extra praise being heaped on keepers, when they pull off a stunning save having until then having almost absolutely nothing to do all match. Some such praise then must be heaped on “Legolas”, who has just pulled off the the most sublime fingertip save, tipping a HT free kick over and out for a corner. How he was able to get up and out of his deckchair that quickly is a feat of stunning athleticism.

The banter bus keeps rolling on courtesy of the group to our right, “9 is Adriano” says one as the home forward heads towards goal and sadly I don't think their association is because of his keen eye for goal, but more because he is a touch, and only a touch mind on the portly side.

HT have flirted with possession in the last few minutes, but if I’m honest I’m not sure they really know what to do with. “Come on Town, let's get started” shouts one of their players, his encouragement a tad late, considering it’s almost half time.

“Hit it, hit it, hit it” urges someone on the BP bench to the player with the ball, who backs up my theory of them simply not giving a toss, the one goal they seem to think is more than enough for the win, so why waste the effort. He does what the bench instructs and the wobbling shot moves so much the home keeper can't hold it. “More of that” encourages the bench, and for the second time one of them is scathing about HT, “proper shaky team mate”.

The fact that the blue and white golf brolly is now down, might mean it's safe to venture outside, however I’m very comfy and I’m enjoying earwigging on the BP players and as if like all twenty two on the pitch had just been hit by lighting, the final five minutes of the game, are actually enthralling. Relatively speaking, we have been starved of any real entertainment, after all.

“Came off his shin pad, would have been fucking incredible” says the shocked BP manager turning towards his bench, after a speculative shot at best by one of his players nearly found the top corner of the goal, from all of about thirty five yards. The chances though are not just reserved for the visitors and bearing down on goal one on one, HT look like they might just draw the match level, only for “Legolas” to go and break home hearts again and keep them out. Ricocheting off him, HT are soon back in possession again, but can't make anything of it, which draws a disappointed groan from Tom.
HT are tackling each other and BP are spurning the kind of chances to make any manager pull his hair out, “fucking hell man” says BP’s, when a simple pass for a tap in was all that was required, but they fluff it and when they do finally double their lead, it’s the least they deserve, actually if they had applied themselves just 10% more they would probably be into double figures now. The BP manager doesn't want anyone to be fooled by the one-sided scoreline, “that's masked how shit we've been”.

If this game has not been totally schizophrenic already, the puffed out cheeks of the BP assistant summing up how everyone was feeling after a HT long range shot almost crept under the bar, would have been the cherry on the top.

Other than the odd drive from way out, HT really have had very little going for them. BP are cutting
them apart at will, “their defence is awful” sighs Tom and when they do have the ball, and when one player beats one man, beats another, getting hearts racing, and then opts for a pirouette to beat a third, but is put on his arse, the BP bench let him know what they think of his showboating, “that's what you get for being a cunt”, it just about sums HT fortunes to a tee.

With the end of the half only seconds away, “Adriano” is in on goal, his finish though is far from decisive and another HT sighter that must have been from nearly forty yards, is beaten out by the blond haired one, and walloped clear by a defender.

Every player to man has to quite literally drag themselves off, as what has been far from the best half we've seen so far this season comes to an end and an eerie hush to say the least descends, made even worse by watching Tom bolt for his food. Leaving me all alone.

The only thing I can hear other than my own thoughts is the sound of the home substitutes kicking the ball about, one of them reckons “they should just call the game now” no point carrying on, if they did just sack it off at least he “can have some chips and go to bed”. Disgruntled to say the least, just what you need around a club going through a bit of a crisis.

Talk among the away substitutes is a little bit more up beat, “pitch is lovely actually” says one with a grin, another pointing out rightly that its “not cutting up as bad as I thought”.

BP come out positively marching, no sense that they are happy for proceedings to be cut short. Finishing up his food from the tea bar, Tom thinks, and I’m not sure quite why, but it might be the one that “finally kills” him. His first impression when handed it was hardly positive, “most miserable looking burger” and it's kind of been downhill since then, “tastes like it was cooked two weeks ago”.

Tom tells me he’s “surprised” that anyone came out for the second half, instead opting to stay warm inside. “Come on big forty five” says one HT player, “big” might be understating the issues, it's going to have to be massive and with less than a minute gone of the half, the BP bench are screaming for a player to “hit it”, is of concern. The shot clears the bar and the hedge behind it, an early let off, but HT looking are as porous as ever.
The introduction of a fresh face for the home side might be what they need to shore them up a a bit, but who on first appearance looks a bit “baby faced” as Tom puts it, might just be a youngster getting some much needed minutes, and only seconds after coming on he is clattered to the floor, Tom suggests that “this game is going to break him”.

We started the new half just to the left of where we finished the old one, but it's soon apparent it's nowhere near as comfortable and as Tom points out its “cold out here” so we soon move back. We are settled in our old position just in time to see a reducer challenge of Juan Zuniga proportions. A horrible crunching tackle, that stops the home attack dead and somehow results in no booking. The free kick that follows shows the first real bit of home ingenuity, a pass down the side of the wall and into the box catches BP out. The HT keeper cries for his teammates to “follow it up”, but the final effort is tame.

The unpunished reducer is the first of many robust tackles. The animosity is rising, it’s all getting very blood and thunder. The referee waves BP on after another hatchet job, allowing them to play the advantage after another hatchet job. In on goal, the BP bench grumbles in unison when the promising attack is undone, thanks to a woeful final ball.

Although HT have had more possession in the first quarter of the new half, than they did in the entirety of the first, plus a shot on goal, it seems to have done nothing to improve morale on or off the pitch. BP line up for a long range free kick, but it's a woeful, and in again, outnumbering the home defence at the back, a third surely a certainty, it again comes to nothing due to a complete inability to pass. The final ball is so bad, even the home fans sigh.

The banter boys are back, having done what Tom thought they might and stayed inside, but slinking out for the final thirty minutes. “Ref we heard that” one shouts, after a BP player is called over because of dissent, “thats disgusting” adds another, the group around him chuckle, before another pipes up, “you look scared ref”.

A free header by BP goes the wrong side of the post, after the winger followed the direction to “hit it” from the bench. There are a few quiet ahhh’s, as the ball goes wide and then it's all oohh's and a few more pithy one liners from the home crowd, “that's so shit” after the HT forward concludes his final run with a limp shot. A team mate watching on, runs both hands through his hair in frustration.

I don’t want to be enjoying the sight of the mass brawl as much as I am, but the game is giving us nothing, so I have to seek amusement from somewhere. “Walk away, walk away” barks the home keeper, but no one on either side is having any of it. The referee backs away from the melee to chat with his assistants who have joined him on the pitch, I wonder if either of them spotted the head being thrown in the throng? The fracas ignited by a late BP challenge, one HT supporter asking the downed away player, “how's it feel?”.

“He's not the sharpest” mutters the BP manager about his terrier like number 8, who is the last to break away from the confrontation. The referee and his officials have seemingly missed the head but. “Give them both a yellow and let's get on with it” shouts someone in the crowd and that's exactly what the man in charge does.

With order restored, the game offers up a rare bit of excitement, bearing down on goal the order from the BP bench to “finish it”, which is almost followed to the letter, except they didn't take into account the player changing towards the line, who makes an excellent clearance just in the nick of time.

The main BP protagonist in the ruckus is off, due to the injury from the tackle that sparked the melee, and not picked up in the following punch up, “did he get you properly?” asks his manager “right down the achilles?”. We are also reminded that appearances can be deceiving when we hear for
the first time who we thought was the HT youngster, who I can tell you is actually far from it and having snapped him a couple of times, Tom tells me “he looks much older on the camera” then we first thought.

A compliment, rather than tedious attempts at banter are the latest things to emit from the small crowd. “That was good from you bruv” says one, I know it's hardly glowing, but it's something, after a curling HT effort is saved by the keeper, but he can't hold on to the first attempt. Spilling it back into the box, he’s just about able to gather it up before he’s swamped.

“Even the ball wants to go home” scoffs Tom, a decent exchange on the edge of the BP box, sets up a player, but his side footed attempt is off target, sending the ball wide of the goal and right down the tunnel a good thirty yards behind.

If they really, really put their mind to it, I think HT could score, even draw level, but having had none of the ball, to now having loads of it, their need for about three extra touches too many is driving their manger mad. “Shoot” he exclaims, but with the ball on the edge of the BP box, they instead pass again, and the move breaks down.

“Keep calm Harry” urges a HT fan with the forward baring down on goal, but “Legolas” is out in a flash, closing down the space and saving with his feet and one HT supporter has finally lost his composure, having been almost restrained all match, his team have pushed him over the edge, “just fucking shoot”. Six yards out from goal, the player with the ball at his feet and the goal at his mercy dawdles, allowing a BP player to get back and block. Both the bench and those HT fans here are flabbergasted.

The HT manager has had the crowd in his ear for the whole game and has done well not to react. Again his team advances into the box, again they hesitate, again the chance is missed. It maybe goes some way to explaining why a portion of the crowd back in the smoking area are watching the football on the screen inside “VAR, VAR” repeats one, not even pretending to watch the game playing out behind them.

In an attempt to cajole his team for the final five minutes, the HT bench spell it out for them, “come on boys, you've got nothing to lose”. The shouts of “shoot, shoot” are only getting louder from the home crowd, but just like every time before, all the meandering on the edge of the box, sees them lose the ball at the vital moment. Falling to the feet of the not so juvenile looking player, his attempt is from way out, and wide. One man in the crowd continues to have faith, “it’s still on” he claims, but with the BP keeper now completely unnecessarily falling on the ball at every opportunity to waste time, the referee motioning at him and telling him to “get up”, how long they have to perform this miracle is limited.

To say BP have been forced back to their own goal line would be wrong, to say they're happy not leaving their own half might be more accurate. Yes it’s all HT, but when they are as blunt as they are up front, why would their opponent be worried how much time you spend in and around their box?

The vape smoke is coming from all corners now, covering some sections of the pitch in a cherry flavoured fog. Once more the crowd tells a player to “hit it” but you guessed its off target. Once more a player suggests “we're still in this”, but he can't actually mean it. Time and time again the ball is in the BP box, but nothing will stick for the home side, the supporters scream “shoot” the player oblige, but it's always wayward.

“Fucking hell lino I'm paying you not them” says one man among the smokers, after the assistant waves away a HT penalty claim, the crowd munitioning their imaginary cards, but the man with the red and yellow gives nothing.

The half ends with a fine flowing home move, until they shoot, and it's right at “Legolas”, a torrent of hair based gags aimed at him too, “will you take the hair out of the shower?” asks one man, “he brings a drain unblocker with him” replies another and a sweary outburst from the HT forward in a prime position on the edge of the six yard box isn't found, “shit”.

I'll keep it short and sweet for once, I won't go on for too long. I've three points to make:

1. You have to genuinely question why some people go to football, if you want to slag people off for an hour and a half, get a headset and stay at home and play Fortnite.

2. More clubs should have dugouts you can lean on and therefore listen in to what is being said inside, it's like an Amazon series with a non league budget and I loved it.

3. If Darren Bent is still up to it, and is willing to play for a Cuppa soup, HT should ring him and ring him fast.

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Sunday, 12 January 2020

Three Stewards For A Flying Teddy Bear - Kingstonian FC Vs Enfield Town FC, Isthmian League Premier, King George’s Field (20/11/19)

It’s another slightly lonely and quiet solo drive for me today, as I retrace my steps South, as our Wednesday match day handicap means we are heading back to a ground we visited only a couple of weeks ago. Tonight I do have the dulcet tones of former England and Arsenal physio Gary Lewin, no I’m not giving him a lift to Tolworth high street, but he happens to be the guest on the podcast I’m listening to and as interesting, uplifting and slightly horrifying the story is about being credited with saving Eduardo's leg, but it’s not a patch on the witty back and forths I usually enjoy with Tom.

The railway arch that precedes the final few steps to King George's Field, is even more foreboding in the misty darkness, than it was in the light of day. The two men manning the impromptu road block, instruct me to park under the aforementioned arch, right in the middle of it’s deepening shadows and I’m hoping its a case of them offering me the best place to leave my car and not because they think I resemble its usual goat eating resident.

A train races by not far above my head, along the track that runs all the way along one side of the ground, instantly lighting up the place, before quickly disappearing again and plunging my surroundings into darkness once more.

With Tom yet to arrive, I head straight towards the clubhouse, the walls covered in usual trinkets you would expect to find in such a place, framed shirts and a selection of scarves donated by visiting fans from all over the world, as well as one thing not so common, the dark wooden Memorial with the names of those lost during World War One scrawled in gold. They are not though the former players of the team we are here to see tonight, but those of their landlords Corinthian Casuals.

I try my luck asking the person behind the table that by the size of it looks like it's been pinched right out of a primary school if he happens to be selling 50/50 tickets, however the gent in the club tie informs me, he’s a one man StubHub, selling “tickets for the FA Cup” instead.

Kingstonian FC (KFC), this evenings home side, might have been sofa surfing around the local areas non league grounds for a season here or a season there for the last couple of years, but their nomadic lifestyle has done nothing to hamper them cruising all the way to the second round proper of this years FA Cup. Their impending home match is the talk of the town, as is the upcoming visit of the Football Focus crew. Tonight's paltry league game, almost feels like a tedious formality, before Dan Walker and the gang arrive.

Waiting by the single open turnstile, a man in a woolly hat, who has adopted a rather toned down barrow boy persona is flogging programmes, attracting the attention of those coming through with his gentle call, depositing the people's money in the old leather satchel hanging around his neck, with KFC painted on it. I use the word satchel very specifically, on no account is it a man bag or could it pass off as the one Joe wore in Friends, its every inch an Indiana Jones. Just ever so slightly squatter and with the initials of a well known fast food outlet daubed on it’s side.

Never have I seen a more non league sight, then the one currently before me. With my programme secured, and still hovering around waiting for Tom, overhearing the man on the gate being informed in hushed tones that they are expecting the “league president” tonight, repaint the toilet and make sure the helipad is clear, a man, a man is using the top of a wheelie bin to sell his vast array of pins and badges. More than one of them real pearlers, a few with some real age and quality to them. Absent among the many fastened to what look like thin sheets of leather, is an Arsenal tie pin I got for Tom for his wedding day.

The newly arrived players of Enfield Town FC (ET) are far from impressed with quite how cold it is. “Bit nippy isn't it” says a punter freshly arrived towards the well wrapped up programme seller, whose response is ladened with a heavy dose of sarcasm, “really? Cor blimey”. The players are not quiet as eloquent, “its fucking cold” says one marching towards the changing room. Another is not at all bothered by the temperate, his quick tempo is motivated by something altogether more pressing, “need a wee, need a wee”.

I thought the man using a bin as a counter top would be hard to beat for lower league spectacles tonight, however the man clutching the almost toddler sized teddy bear wearing a red and white KFC scarf might just have trumped it.

Tom’s just arrived, and is drawn first to the badges on sale, the proprietor offering up a small torch to assist in his perusal, in the end he opts for a very classy “vintage” one, splashing out an entire £10 on it, he must have won a scratchcard or something. I’m sure his first stop would have been the burger van, but the shutter is still closed, however there has been the odd rumble from inside, and the recent opening of the door to its side has given up a suggestion of what is in store later on.

With both sets of players now out on the pitch doing their best to keep warm on what is turning into a rather frigid evening, Tom has no such concerns, he has no need to jockey around some cones, he is fully kitted out. “Full Scandinavian shit” he explained about the outfit he is wearing underneath his long coat, “a full onesie”. I only have the warming properties of a cup of coffee served in a china mug, and I’m somewhat mystified that a couple of KFC fans we get talking to about how they think the match will go for them, “probably be a draw, hard to call, their playing well, we're playing well” are only wearing shirts.

The man in the ageing Ryman League coat is in the well prepared camp, unlike the under dressed KFC supporters. The choice of music, a spot of Fleetwood Mac and the stylized image of the clubs shirt on the front cover of the programme tick all the right boxes, and with kick off still a short while off, the atmosphere is already building nicely. The bar is busy, the burger van has thrown open its hatch and has quite the crowd around it, which all bodes well for the evening ahead.

Having sampled the food here before, Tom has fond memories of what he will be able to sink his teeth into later, “If I remember correctly the burger is quite good”. My continued search for a 50/50 has drawn a blank, however with the very calming voice piping up over the PA, “good evening everyone and welcome to the  King George's Field” I’ve no time left to fret about that.

“For the Towners” he announces, reading out the visitors starting eleven, before moving on to those lining up “for the K’s”. With those formalities out of the way, he gives the FA Cup tickets one last plug, before a succession of good songs, cementing KFC as one of the better clubs when it comes to Spotify playlists.

I’m pretty sure its the song from the old Milky Way advert, the one with the two battling cars that proceeds what might be the best walk out music, not just in non league football or simply football, but the entirety of sport. Catching glimpses on the far side of the pitch for the first time the players and officials emerge, Everybody Wants To Rule The World by Tears For Fears then starts to play, causing an overpowering feeling of 80’s nostalgia to wash over me. For a second I'm not sure if I'm in a John Hughes film or at a football match, and like a few around us, are compelled to join in and sing along as the players walk out.

Each team are well represented behind the respective goal they are attacking as the half gets underway. This is no great surprise, both KFC and ET are two of the more well followed clubs we have encountered over the years. “Come on you K’s” shouts one of the group to our right, the group to our left are quick to reply with a song only viable on away days, on account of them normally playing in blue and white, “green army, green army”. The away fans just about edging it in the nose stakes, because of the presence of an air horn. “We are the Towner boys” they sing, which is followed by indiscriminate blasts of every half marathon starters go to.

Only three minutes in and someone has already taken the lord's name in vain. “Jesus” he cries in response to the KFC half volley grazing the outside of the post as it flies off the forwards boot.

It’s a breakneck start by the home side, probing into the ET box again they cause a mild state of panic, and the ball is eventually whacked clear after a scramble and the air horn soon follows the first goal kick of the night, the KFC keeper not disturbed a jot by the nearby ruckus.

To say that the KFC manger is vocal, would be a gross understatement. “Well done” he shouts, which he accompanies with some vigorous clapping, his side having just dragged a shot wide of the post, the fans behind letting out a simultaneous “ohhhhhhh”.

Chatty, opinionated or even verbose don't quite fit the bill either, he nigh on dictates every pass, every kick off the ball. His go to catchphrase unwittingly opens a small window into his own personal pursuits outside football. “Lock on, lock on” he commands of one player, sounding like a certain Starship captain. Be it a wild shot wide, that misses the single red and white KFC flag and clatters into the metal stand beyond or a simple side pass completed, he is more than happy to heap praise on whenever it is required.

“He's very animated” says a bewildered Tom, the man has not stopped since the first whistle.

What looks like a rush hour ferry me home to Surrey special, ie, a really, really long train rumbles by and despite the high octane first fifteen, the away side are still very much in the game and slowly start to apply some pressure of their own. “Get it in” demands one of their supporters, the player in possession does just that, firing the ball right across the six yard box, this time prompting the ET fans into an on mass “ohhhhh”, and it’s around this time I noticed the KFC supporting teddy bear from earlier has been been lashed to the front of the stand, slumped, he looks like a hostage whose been tied to a radiator, it's a bit gruesome if I’m honest.

Keeping his instructions a lot less Star Trek, the ET manager is using language a bit more understandable, “don't let him inside” he tells his full back. However by the way the player responds, he might as well be speaking Klingon, because he does just that, allowing the KFC winger to disappear up the side of him, where he cuts the ball into the ET box, only a fraction behind his teammate who was all ready for a tap in.

Squirming at the sight of the ball flirting with the ET goal line, the home fans ohh and ahh as it ricochets around in the visitors box, “come on Kingstonian” shouts one fan, hoping his intervention will draw the ball over the line, but nothing comes of it and their latest attack confirms to both Tom and I that the home side are capable of playing some quite fantastic football at times, more than justifying their lofty league position.

Twenty minutes on the clock and KFC go close once more, testing the ET keepers resolve with a low
driven shot. “Frantic” comments Tom, KFC’s ability to close down the opposition and win the ball back is a joy to see, heavy metal football at it’s finest. The enjoyment of which is only marred ever so slightly in Tom’s eyes because their red and white striped shirt makes them “look like Where's Wally”.

A big shout for a ET penalty is energetically waved away by the referee, it looked close, the KFC supporters let out their loudest chant on the night so far tinged with relief it wasn't given, “come on you kkkkkkkkkk’s”.

Despite all his preparations, Tom is still suffering with the cold, “I think my fingertips may fall off”. The KFC manager is still repeating his now well used phrase “lock on, lock on” and when not checking if he still has all ten digits, Tom thinks he might have got to the bottom of why ET are looking at times a little disjointed in defense. “Bit of a weak link 3” he explains, “all out of position” and he’s noticed this hasn't gone unnoticed among the ET ranks, “6 isn't happy” he points out, the centre back is constantly scowling and Tom is starting to feel a bit sorry for the struggling left back, “he keeps getting shouted at.''

Tom recoils after a foul on a home player right in front of us and the home supporters celebrate that the referee has finally given something their way. A much stockier train passes by and then ET give the ball away at the back, and very nearly getting caught out.

“Fucking forward” screams a KFC player, it’s all they know, attack, attack, attack. The player in question I don’t think it’s one called “Cookie” Tom and I are still trying to work out who that is and the KFC manager makes it clear to his players he doesn't want them to “force” it, but to let things happen naturally, a very Manchester City holistic approach to things.

The main stand opposite us, with the name of KFC’s landlords emblazoned across the front is positively bustling, but one home fan behind the goal seems to have fallen over the railing, getting himself hung up on it, and looks in all sorts of bother. So much so, a fellow fan has to leap over to help him out.

A rare ET effort trickles wide and a brief sing off between the two sets of fans strikes up, but soon peters outs.

The referee at times is finding himself very much the centre of attention, from all corners. When the initial protests from the ET players after a foul on one of their numbers is ignored and with the player still down, the referee signals for play to continue, then pulling it back and instructing the physio to come on. It’s interpreted by the home fans as him doing what the ET player's tell him,and he is losing friends by the second. When a crunching tackle on the edge of the ET box sees them win back the ball and fly off the pitch in a blistering counterattack, is not penalized. Everyone is feeling like the victim.

Not far from the half time whistle, KFC’s managers voice is starting to fail him, “shoot, shoot” he tells his forward, his voice crackling and squeaking like my thirteen year old sons. The tackles are now flying in as we get closer and closer to the break, this inspires a few rousing songs from each set of fans, “we all follow the Towners” and it's their manager who is being forced into an early change, after a long touchline deliberation, they are required to make a substitution.

The home fans are far from sympathetic with the stricken ET player, and how long it’s taking him to leave the pitch, “try running”.

A succession of steps overs from one KFC players goes a long way in getting everyone's hopes up as he edges closer and closer towards the the ET box, his fancy footwork at the end of another blistering home attack, only for as soon as he is the box, does he slip over and all the promise is gone.

It's all KFC, but not before ET have another limp long range shot. If anything KFC might be accused of over playing at times, again they get to the edge of the ET box, but the exchanges and flicks all gets a bit fussy, and they lose the ball. Clattered to the ground on the edge of the home box, ET are awarded a late free kick, the air horn rearing its head as the KFC players arrange their wall. “Come on Towners” shouts an ET fan, the horn accompanying him, only to break mid blast like a teens voice, which gets a sizable laugh.

“Could have taken someones head off” laughs Tom, the walloped set piece missing the goal completely, instead thundering against the top of the stand.

More unnecessary step overs are followed by groans as KFC seem stuck in a loop of doing the same thing and being surprised when they get the same result.

“Four to add” I just about hear the referee tell a player over the latest ET song, “we love you Town we do” and what a four minutes it turns out to be an exhausting end to end blur. ET have another shout for a penalty turned down and despite their best efforts KFC cannot grant one fans wish of getting a “goal before half time”.

Tom’s visit to get food was almost as quick as a KFC attack and I’ve just about finished ear wigging on a couple of KFC fans dissection of their teams first half performance, “not many shots” was the resounding conclusion, and he’s returned, seemingly having only purchased chips. Tom can see the shock written across my face, telling me it's down to his “honeymoon diet”, but I can smell a rat and tell him just that, bullshit, seconds later he's retrieving a burger from his coat pocket. “Double patty” he informs me, “didn't ask for it”

The extra beef, didn't come without a downside though, with a look of chagrin, he tells me he “lost half” of his “onions”, when he “took the lid off” his behemoth to “put some sauce on and they fell out”.

As the players reappear the single home flag is rehung, a passing train momentarily drowns out the music and a single ET fan gives up a confident shout of support “come on green army”. Someone on the ET bench asks the players adjusting to the cold that he wants them to get going right from the start, and Tom tells me his “toes are numb” and it's time to “get the big socks out”.

Lucky for us the new half shows no sign of slowing down, two minutes in and an ET free kick skims off the head of the intended player on the edge of the six yard box and then a few minutes later they have another pop at goal from distance, this time the effort has a lot more venom.

The sluggish start by the home side, means their manager is required to give his captain a bit of a rocket, “get them out the dressing room” he screeches and continuing with his less than orthodox one liners, he tells his team they need to “get information to the ball”. It’s almost like eleven different blokes have come out and the ET supporters can sense the difference, “come on you Town, come on you Town”.

As far as the strung up teddy is concerned, his day just goes from bad to worse, and having not been securely fastened to the stand for the new half, having swapped ends in the break, he has just fallen. ET carry on looking the far better of the two sides, a back heel finds the forward skipping into the box, only for this final touch to let him down and the keeper gathers.

The angry shouts of “off, off, off” go unheard by the referee, not one but two fouls eventually fell the advancing home player. The referee allowing them to play the advantage before he is cut down and the free kick is awarded. “It's all your doing” gripes one of the many KFC supporters barracking the man in change, who they don’t feel he has a good grip on things and it’s their players are feeling the consequences.

More choruses of “off, off, off” flood from the stand and the ET supporters take it as a chance to have a dig at their counterparts, “we forgot that you were here” and not content with giving the referee grief, the teddy bear has just been flung onto the top of the stand.

The long delay before the free kick is taken can mean only one thing, its awful. The teddy is now on the pitch, forcing the referee to intervene for a moment and much to Tom's amusement the presence of “three stewards for a flying teddy bear” who was saved from the pitch, then hurled up into the air again, is like something from a farce.

Maybe it's the treatment of the teddy or the fact the home side haven't exactly been dynamic since the restart, but there has been a definite shift in mood. Where the fans were content with singing among themselves, they are now serenading each other, “shit club no fans” sing the KFC supporters, “shit fans no ground” reply the ET ones.

Sipping from a red mug, the KFC manager has been notably quieter as of late, the air horn officially
replacing him as the loudest thing here and it's taken his side almost twenty five minutes to “get out of the dressing room” as he put it, showing their first flash of class when their forward ventures forward, only to lose the ball at the vital moment.

Why it's taken them quite so long as it has to stir only they will ever know, but KFC are soon in again, this time one on one with the ET keeper, but the low shot is saved, sending one substitute leaping from the bench in frustration. “Come on kkkkkkk’s” chant the home fans, who stay on the edge of their metaphorical seats when the resulting corner is whipped in, showing plenty of promise, but it's cleared.

A low buzzing helicopter hovers close by and the game is building towards a thrilling crescendo. “Come on you Town” ripples from one end of the ground, “come on Kingston, come on Kingston” from the other. KFC have truly found their stride, turning well in the box, the player slams his shot goalwards, but it’s blocked. Now well and truly up to speed they go close again, one player shimmy's past the ET defense with ease, but his shot is high and wide.

“Keep your heads up boys” insists one home fan, with all these missed chance, he is concerned perhaps they might be talking a bit of a toll on morale. Flitting about the police helicopter, looking I suspect for the teddy chuckers, is a mild distraction and the ET fans are growing restless with their teams performance, they've had plenty of the ball, but their final pass is severely lacking, “come on Enfield”.

Trains, choppers, horns and the constant loop of “ETFC, ETFC” means one could be forgiven for thinking ear defenders could be in order. Tom is enamored with one KFC players facial hair, “proper maverick” and again the home bench are on their feet in anticipation of taking the lead when a shot from the edge of the box hurtles through a sea of legs, and surely unsighted, is saved by the ET keeper.

“You fucking bald cheat” screams one KFC fan, after the ball having bobbled along the ET goal line is hooked clear, but they are sure it was over.

Such is the current home onslaught, the nearby ET supporters are taking comfort in small mercies, “we'll have that” says one, after the home pressure is relieved when a foul is awarded. “Come on Towners” pleads a single voice, however the relief the foul gave is only momentary, and their goal is being peppered, it's all one way traffic.

The pressure their team is currently under, does not stop the ET fans behind the goal cracking into a country classic, with a North London twist, “take me home, country road”, although they do hesitate for a second when one of their players takes a ball straight in the face, leaving him prone and looking dazed to say the least. The home fans think he is just wasting time, so one ET supporter fills them in on the finer details, “he was hit in the head you fucking moron”.

“Play, play, play” says the KFC manager, his voice all but gone, he’s been reduced to a whisper. Far from losing their voice, the KFC supporters are still in rousing form “we got a foul, we got a foul” they sing, the free kick in a promising position might just break the deadlock, but the shot is high and Tom’s now sure any chance of seeing a goal has gone, “yep 0 - 0”.

I’m not so sure, hunting in pairs, the KFC players are voracious in their hunt for possession. Only an away foul stops them in their tracks, and the sight of a yellow card has one away fan confused, “it's not a bookable offence”.

“Fucking hell, drinks frozen” says Tom sipping from his subzero Coke, the match now in a constant state of flux, one team piling forward in search of the winner, only to loose possession and then beat a hasty retreat to try and make sure they don't get overrun themselves.

Now only able to squeak, the KFC’s managers voice has “gone” chuckles Tom, lucky for his team because they just gave the ball away on the edge of their own box, allowing ET to turn and shoot. The match is so there to be won and its either going to be a mistake or a stroke of genius that will do it.

“Go on Billy” urges an ET fan as their prolific front man shapes up to shoot, letting fly, it’s blocked and then the home keeper goes all sweeper keeper, charging out of his box to coolly and with good feet control a wayward through ball, only once the ball is cleared are home hearts able to return to where they belong.

ET continue to be unable to make that all important forward pass, “nooooooo” moans one of their fans when just a straightforward ball to the front man would have made all the difference, and it’s not a chance of their creation, but because of a KFC foul on the very edge of their box, that hands ET the chance to pinch the win. “That's cynical ref” says an ET fan, it's then their turn to suggest a player should get his marching orders, “off, off, off”.

The free kick joins the rest taken tonight as not being a very good one, this one whacking against the wall, making every spectator wince.

If we hadn't been entertained enough tonight, we get one last treat when the KFC manager storms up the touchline to remonstrate with the linesman, “what the fuck are you doing?” he asks right in front of us. Less than a few feet away, the referee of course can't stand for this behaviour, blowing his whistle he stops the game. “If you want a conversation, wait until the end” he tells the seething manager, who slowly starts to back away towards his technical area, “come out that far again, I’ve only one choice”.

The ET players and staff applaud the travelling fans stuck on repeat come the final whistle, “ETFC, ETFC” and quite the crowd made up of both home and away fans surround the tunnel to cheer off the departing players.

We all like to see goals, not as much as we like to see giant teddy bears flung about or men using bins as a pop up pin shop, but goals are where for most people the entertainment lies, the excitement derives from, and I’m no different. I want to see thirty yard screamers and bicycle kicks as much as the next bloke, but tonight it just wasn't meant to be and if I’m totally honest with you, I didn't mind one bit.

Rubbish I hear you cry, but hand on heart the lack of goals really made no difference. The match had more than enough going on, on and off the pitch to keep me happy. It's not just the 4 - 4 or wins after being behind that stick in the mind, but the 1 - 1 and 0 - 0 have their place too.

I can confidently say that was probably the best 0 - 0 I’ve seen……………I think.

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Sunday, 22 December 2019

Felt Like I Was Sucking On A Cow - Hampton & Richmond Borough FC Vs Wealdstone FC, National League South, Beveree Stadium (16/11/19)

There are certainly some grounds and therefore some clubs who for one reason or another we have passed through the turnstiles of and spent more time in the company of, then others. Be it because of a personal obsession with a certain non league club in N17, the fact it’s the team of your other half or that particular club just happens to play on Wednesdays, which for the last couple of years has been our go to midweek match day.

The fact that Hampton & Richmond Borough FC (HRB) are neither local, play on a Wednesday or as far as I know are not supported by any known loved one, I'm not quite sure why our visit today to their tidy West London home, The Beveree, tucked away at the end of cul-de-sac a stone's throw from the banks of the Thames, is our third, having seen them play a total of five times at home and away.

No end of nice cars, parked outside nice houses surround their little corner of the football world, and when I finally find a place to park with what in comparison to some of the motors, is a complete shit show of a car with it’s broken rear window windscreen wiper, drooping down like a gun dog's tail, it is a more than an agreeable walk to the ground.

The blue wrought iron gates, and similarly coloured turnstile at the end of Beaver Close, no really it is called that, are all very familiar, so are a few of the faces as we walk on in. The lady selling the golden goal tickets from the bespoke white wooden box with a hinged lid and the person managing the table outside the club's supporters trust office, which is a re-purposed shed, all ring a bell.

One thing I naively didn't expect to see, in such an affluent part of the capital was a table set up to accept donations for a local food bank. The lady behind the heaving table makes it clear in no uncertain terms that my assumption that such a thing can’t surely be necessary in an area where a river side dwelling costs probably the same as some small nations defence budget. In fact the necessity for such things is so great, they have just opened the “fifth” one in the borough recently.

With The Beveree you just about get the perfect mixture of charm, dilapidation and proper football. A tuck shop hidden away down the side of the slightly incongruent and extremely deep covered terracing on one corner of the pitch. A ramshackle all seater stand alongside it’s older neighbour in marginally better condition, are just a few of the options as to where to watch the match. If that’s not for you, you can always shelter underneath the mixture of scaffolding poles and marine ply behind one goal or if you’re feeling revering, you can take a seat in the stand named after the man who wrote such comedy classics as Steptoe and Son and Hancock's Half Hour, who until his death in 2017 was the clubs Honorary President.

Trees starting to lose their leaves surround almost the entirety of the ground, poking up into the murky Saturday afternoon sky, and they are all that separate the nearby houses from the match day goings on. Such is the proximity of the clubs next-door neighbours that if I remember correctly from a previous visit, they are not allowed to play music, but it does little to hamper the building atmosphere.

One thing any half decent non league ground wouldn't dare be without, is of course the humble portacabin, be it for a clubhouse, club shop or changing room, the building site staple that is front runner of affordable accommodation, is ever present today adopting a role rarely seen, and in a slight twist to the norm, is where we will be spending the afternoon.

An unexpected email was a welcome surprise among all the usual spam about penis enlargement pills and compensation claims. An invitation to join the guys of Fotmob, for a day of prawn sandwiches, that was only my assumption, any potential food that might be available was not outlined in the initial email, in surroundings somewhat far removed from what we usually do at a match, plus the chance to go to a game in daylight at a ground we’ve always enjoyed visiting, was too hard to turn down.

The second of the blue double stacked portacabins behind one goal, with the clubs crest adorning one end is where you will find the Chairman's Lounge, accessed along a narrow passage and winding blue metal staircase, that feels almost intertwined with the adjacent tree. Once inside the it’s not quite what I imagined, less VIP, more annex at the end of the garden built for an elderly relative so they can have some semblance of independence, but are close enough at hand for when they take a tumble that you can help, just minus the cats and the floral covered armchair.

The small tablecloth covered table with a kettle and selection of tea and coffee only strengthens this feeling, however I’m not sure Grandma has a small fridge containing completely beer. A small TV secured to the wall is not showing rolling Sky Sports News as I’m sure happens in such surroundings higher up the pyramid, but some random European rugby, that happens to be on channel four.

We are not alone however, and because of this, neither of us are brave enough to peel back the see through plastic that covers, if I'm not mistaken and I know my shop bought sandwiches, so I doubt I am, two platters of M&S’s finest.

Being the two salt of the earth kind of guys we are, somewhere to lean and a hot cup of Bovril is normally all we require, but with high life though does come the odd perk other than free coffee. The view the Chairman's Lounge allows is one of them. Ask me this again when someone has finally peeled open the delicacies and I might have a different answer for you, but for now the sliding patio doors allowing us exclusive access to the balcony and the obscured vista, is just about defeating the internal turmoil I’m experiencing, that we might have sold out.

Below us those having to struggle with only standard admission tickets seem happy enough, but really they don't know what they are missing.

“For the Beavers” says a well spoken voice over the PA as it crackles to life, the kind of voice from a person one might imagine wears a monocle and a freshly cut carnations in their buttonhole pocket, as he proceeds to read out the homes starting eleven.

With their allegiances not clear until now, the ever growing crowd, something that has been lacking somewhat on our recent outings, soon make which side they are rooting for abundantly clear. Catching me out somewhat the followers of Wealdstone FC (WFC) most if not all have congregated under the roof of the sloping covered corner terrace, break into song, “we are the Stone”. The home fans are quick to reply, with what I still stand by is the nicest football nickname in the world, a nickname that from as far as I can work out no one knows why they are called it, that could not be more diametrically opposed to something hard and coarse like stone, “come on Beavers”.

Combined both sets of fans make a fair old din when the players emerge from almost directly below us. For a moment it goes all very GTA circa 1997, our birds eye view of the top of the players heads filling out from our lofty position on the now almost full to capacity balcony, no one has taken up one of the single line of fold down chairs, is a new experience for us.

If I’m honest the thought hadn't even crossed my mind standing up here, but the WFC fans seem to
be goading us to “shit on the bastards below” or is their latest song about someone else? Whoever it may be, I feel for the unsuspecting people below in direct firing line of any potential dirty protest, should a certain section of the crowd get their way.

The home fans now down the opposite end of the pitch, sound faint compared to the rowdy gaggle of travelling supporters standing around the base of our ivory tower, who reply quickly not with songs about pooing, but something far more PG, “Beavers, Beavers, Beavers”.

Tom impervious to the vulgar exchanges and animal based chanting, mutters in my ear that he is quite fond of the blue and red faded shirt being worn by the WFC players, which is paired  with neon orange shorts, but I have to admit it looks like the kit man has packed the wrong kit. A kit clash, all in one strip.

We don’t have to wait long until the first chance of the match, a lashed HRB shot from close range skims over the bar, prompting a “ohhhh” from the home fans and a nervous “weyyy” from the away ones. There also isn't long between songs from the sizable WFC support, “oh when the Stones go marching in” they sing, the home fans respond as any good home fans should, by rattling the hoardings.

The flood lights flicker on and one person on the busy balcony comments “I didn't expect to watch a game under the lights”. Sounding like someone doing a Friends impersonation, one home defender does his best to emphasise to the referee that he is sure the ball has gone out of play “hello, hello” he repeats, only for the throw in not to be given, and the WFC attack is allowed to continue, culminating in a slightly panicked clearance, nudging the WFC supporters to belt out their next chant.

Another shout from the home players goes up that the ball has gone out, but it’s not given and again the table topping visitors are able to fashion another chance, much to the dismay of the angry HRB players. All the calling for the ball being out, means some are out of position when the ball is eventually cut into the box. This time the chance is over, however the away fans know full well they have had a stroke of luck, so thank the referees assistant accordingly, “nice one lino”.

Not one, but two quickfire saves from the man between the sticks for HRB keep the score level. Two saves one after another, which proves that the speed I’m able to get up off the floor after playing with my daughter is of concern, because he was up in a flash. “Well done keeper” applauds one home fan close by. WFC showing every inch of their league leading credentials, crafting the chance with some excellent football, turning it on all of a sudden like the manager had flicked a switch in the dugout.

Seemingly not needing much of an excuse to sing, the WFC supporters crack out another, “we play in white, we’re fucking dynamite”. One of their flags hangs over the railings and their singing does a cracking job in drowning out the constant call of the still covered sandwiches. Everyone is either too polite to be the first or they are just not quite as obsessed with free food as us too, so are yet to tuck in. By being the person to break the seal, I only reinforce age old stereotypes I’ve spent thirty five years trying to quash, ‘oh look at the fat bloke tucking in, typical, no wonder our NHS is struggling’.

A home fan spins their old wooden rattle and WFC chalk up another effort on goal, this time a wild volley, the player in question watches the ball dropping from way on high, but his connection is poor.

Having admitted to not really feeling very well, and having looked all sorts of sad when we met earlier, Tom is feeling the side effects of allowing someone to pump him full of rubella and typhoid, the inoculations for his honeymoon taking their toll. He does look a little grey and pasty, but the draw of football on a Saturday was too good to miss out on, so he’s resorted to the age old remedy of Coke a Cola and Ibuprofen, to keep him going. “Feeling rough” he says, as he necks his umpteenth white pill.

“They're threatening” Tom ponders between sips of coke. HRB in a matter of about five minutes go close to taking the lead on more than one occasion. “Ohhhh” gasp the home fans at the sight of a header going wide from a corner. A quiet cry from the far end of the of the pitch for a penalty is waved away, with the rest of the place stony silent and then on the stroke of twenty five minutes their best chance of the match. An up and under pass is plucked from the air by the forward, who has just enough time to bring it down and shoot, however the WFC stopper is out quickly to meet him, deflecting the ball out for a corner.

The acrid smell of a nearby bonfire is soon masked by the sweet smell of one tropical fruit or another as Tom takes a large hit on his vape. The wooden rattle goes up another gear and lets off its loudest salutation so far and the visiting fans in ever growing voice inform us all they “care about is Wealdstone”.

One conundrum I didn't expect to encounter during our VIP experience was Tom fretting about wanting a burger, but not wanting to bring it in to our luxury surroundings. He could just sit on one of the steps below us and have it, where one man passing does a fine job carrying a tray with three pints on and a Kit Kat, watching the match with one eye and the path ahead with the other, without spilling a drop.

Spelling out the name of their beloved team, “e…….a……..l” the WFC supporters deviate from their en masse spelling bee, to berate the free after their forward was clattered from behind as he shaped up to shoot on the edge of the HRB box at the end of a breakaway. “He's gotta go” insists one man about the guilty looking home defender.

The resulting free kick right on the very limit of the HRB penalty areas sees them bombard the home goal with not one, not two, but three shots, each one blocked in turn, until one WFC player mixes it up with a floated cross to the back post which has to be headed out for a corner. The defencive masterclass, the likes of which Tom could only dream of seeing from his beloved Arsenal pull off, inspires his one word review, “solid”.

I’m weak, I could not even hold out until half time, I got a sandwich. The break is only minutes away, but the lure of an egg mayo was too great.

A groan from the home fans follows a poor cross and Tom is starting to wonder if we have been “cursed” this season. We’ve not exactly been blessed with thrillers this year, the two we were supposed to go to, but missed because life as is its habit of doing so, got in the way, were both 4 - 3 barnstormers. Today's match although it's been OK, has hardly really got going.

“The referee has indicated two added minutes” says the voice over the PA. “No rush keeper” jokes
one WFC fan, the HRB stopper is not exactly hurrying to take his goal kick and come the double blast of the referee's whistle, it's a bit of a slow trudge off by the players. “Come on lads” urge the WFC supporters gathered around what is not an extending tunnel as has been the case on previous visits, but temporary fencing right off a building site and someone loudly reports in the lounge that “they got sweets downstairs, we’re missing out”.

Another potential stumbling block I didn't think we would encounter was what I call the Goldilocks Effect, it being a bit too chilly on the balcony but far too warm inside, so I’ve no idea where to put myself. The fans who don't have such dilemmas, swap ends and with the WFC ones departing it’s a lot quieter now. The whole of the covered terrace opposite us is now packed out, with their expectant faces peering out waiting for the restart.

I must admit not having to watch Tom eat a cheeseburger is quite a pleasant reprieve, I spend my half time for once chowing down. Scoffing coronation chicken and discussing parenting tips and stories of soft play. On tea duty, Tom is unhappy with my overuse of the milk, “felt like I was sucking on a cow” he tells me, but I’m not really listing, someone has just opened some spring rolls.

It’s the turn of the HRB supporters to serenade us now. Lower in number, they are are though no less passionate, “come on Hampton, come on on Hampton”. With ten minutes gone WFC appeal for a penalty, however nothing is given and the home fans are let's say far from impressed with how easy one visiting player goes down, claiming a foul. “Get up you inbred” shouts one, “thats unkind on inbreds” adds another.

Tom’s fears for another dull match are soon out to the sword. When a roar goes up for another home penalty, the referee is having none of it and then WFC race right up the other end and go close themselves. However with fifty six minutes gone and I think somewhat against the run of play, although Tom disagrees, HRB take the lead.

The quality of the finish and the subsequent celebration with the fans following the goal where the scorer effectively waited for the WFC keeper to sit down having gone one way, then another before poking it in, just about make up for being three minutes out on the golden goal, three minutes. Actually what am I saying, I’m gutted.

Seconds after the restart and WFC hit the target with a bobbling shot, the tension around the ground is palpable and for the first time both ends are quiet. On twenty three minutes HRB almost double their lead with a rising shot from a very tight angle that ripples the wrong side of the net, chatting a few home fans out, who have to cut short their celebrations.

“I get no pleasure watching” says the chain smoking HRB chairman, who I think spends as much time on the steps lighting up, than he does watching the match. He squirms and contemplates his next gig, at the sight of an edge of the box shot by WFC being touched over the bar.

WFC are starting to pile on the pressure, with a quarter of an hour to go. The smooth voice of the announcer giving the attendance goes unnoticed. The HRB keeper is forced into a rash punch to clear the ball and then pulls off another smart save low to his left to keep the visitors out. “Hampton fucking stick in there” pleads one fan. The feeling of impending doom only lifting for a moment when laughter breaks out among the fans, because of a bit of a shonky kick from WFC keeper.

It feels a bit like tempting fate, but the latest HRB song “you're top the league, you're having a laugh” could maybe considered a tad ill advised when they're only one goal to the good. Firing the ball back and forth across the HRB six yard box, not one of the WFC players are able to hit the target, instead they thrash the ball across the home penalty area, causing hearts to reside in home mouths. “Come on Beavers” chant the loudest section of the home fans, the home team now forced right back up against their own goal, the WFC hitting against them time and time again.

HRB’s one and only outlet when they have possession is a loan forward found with a big lump up field. A tactic probably sneered at in some circles, but it's working for them. With less than ten minutes left, they close one and one with only the keeper to beat, the forwards side foot finish is wide. “Ohhhhhh” go the home fans, who knew full well that was the cushion they so desperately need.

What better way to distract yourself from the anxiety of just about holding onto a one goal lead, then giving the opposition goalkeeper some grief, “you're going bald in the morning”. They then resort to some more traditional prose, with a less personal song, “aly o aly o red and blue army”, before all hell breaks loose, and all that tension dissipates in a heartbeat.

A well measured pass across the WFC box, a well timed run at the back post and side footed finish via the face of the away keeper and again against the run of play, although Tom still disagrees, HRB double their lead. The crowd below us erupt, pints are spilt not quite summer 2018 style but close and more than one person takes a tumble down the steps.

“Is there a fire drill?” they ask as some of the away fans who have seen enough, start to make their way home, “we can see you sneaking out”.

Two goals up against the league leaders and with less than five minutes to go, what better way to celebrate than slagging off your rivals, “we hate Staines Town”, as well as rubbing salt into the wounds of your opponents, “2-0 to the Hampton boys, 2-0”. The small group underneath us have hit
peak loudness, the hoarding is getting a kicking and they are struggling to comprehend how the team they look very close to beating, are so much higher than them in the table, “top of the league you're having a laugh”.

The final throes of the match all belong to the away side, the nerves at new levels, but you wouldn't know that judging by the fans below us, “cheerio, cheerio” they sing waving to the departing WFC supporters. The name of their manager is now stuck on loop “Gary McCann’s red and blue army” and one person hopes the WFC faithful have enjoyed their “stay in the good part of Middlesex”.

“4 minutes of added time” enunciates the PA, dripping with such regal magnificence , I feel like a have to curtsy in his presence. Every WFC error is greeted with a relieved “weeyyyy”, each one eating into their time to potentially score and make the last few minutes unbearable.

A third for HRB might have been a bit flattering, but with nigh on every WFC player in the home half, they were always going to be vulnerable to the counterattack might and bearing in on goal, one on one with the keeper, they miss the chance to once and for all put everyone's mind at ease. Which for some reason prompts one person to ask “are you Tottenham in disguise?” bit rude.

There is a collective "yeahhhh" from almost every HRB fan come the final whistle, separated by only the recently erected semi permanent tunnel, both sets of fans go at it. "We are top of the league" sing the WFC ones putting on a brave face, after I would imagine was somewhat of an unexpected defeat. The reply from the home ones is loud, with plenty of banging, every flat hard surface close at hand is whacked with a clenched fist.

With the ground all but empty, the last few fans who stuck around following both teams elongated tunnels have left, I take in my surroundings one last time and deliberate with myself if I've room for just one last sandwich. I also mull over the pros and cons of watching football this way, and I'm scared to admit that I quite liked it, which I'm not sure why makes me feel a bit annoyed with myself.

Who doesn't want a great view, plenty of room and the odd few nibbles too? I used to turn my nose up at those in the corporate seats, fat cats killing the game we all love, that don't care about the match, they're just there for the hospitality. Am I turning into everything I once loathed, is this a slippery slope, I've tasted it once, so now chasing the high? Sniffing around boardroom doors for a biscuit or the chance of a coffee in an un-chipped china mug?

I'll tell you one thing I understand why they call them fat cats, it's the sandwiches, all the bloody sandwiches. If I am going to take this up as my new way of watching football, I might have to get a gastric band or something, otherwise I'm going to become a very fucking fat cat indeed.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE


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