Thursday, 8 March 2018

Outmuscled - Cheshunt FC Vs Waltham Abbey FC, Bostik League North, Theobalds Lane (20/02/18)

The distraction of seeing an open KFC considering the current great chicken drought of 2018, is a welcome one. I was really late picking up Tom from Waltham Cross station, almost half an hour. He was “cold” and it was “windy” while he waited. Such was his displeasure at my bad time keeping, blame the M25, he greeted me with a curtain moving side to side clenched fist hand gesture, that was a little bit rude.

Tom is quite right to be “suspicious” about what is in KFC’s popcorn chicken, considering they have been telling everyone they can't get any of the main ingredient, but are still able to sell this one product, hmmmmmmm.

Finding the entrance to Theobalds Lane is not a straightforward one, a hard left off a hectic dual carriageway if you happen to be coming at it from the right direction. If like us, you're coming at it from the wrong way, you watch where you want to be, go flying by. Meaning you have to drive up the road, turn around, and drive back the way you just came, but now on the right side of the road.

It certainly seems to be a running theme, maybe it's a money thing, but the non league car parks we've visited as of late, have been treacherous. Dark and foreboding, they take a brave Indiana Jones type like me to conquer and find somewhere to park.

Cheshunt FC’s (CFC) home which is also the home of the Tottenham Ladies team, you know I love to get in at least one Spurs reference, simply to spite Tom, at least once an outing, currently only has half the lights on, and there is little to no signs of life. One of the small covered terraces behind one goal is ratting in the wind. On the far side of the pitch there looks to be a disused and almost derelict looking stand. Covered in cones and red tape, with a few of its seats seemingly ripped out, the brutalist, yes my second reference to the modernist architectural movement of the early 20th century in as many weeks, all reinforced concrete and angular, is out of action.

There is some noise, coming from the small building, set a fair way back from the pitch, next to it a long black wall, with "We Are Cheshunt. One Community. One Club" written across it sandwiched between two of the clubs crests. One light is on in what I assume is the changing room, seeping out from behind the frosted glass is a bit of The Temptations, then some Edwin Star “war what is good for?’’. I can just about make out the glasses wearing, whisker adorned sight of the ever so slightly walrus/Charles Bronson looking figure of CFC’s manager.

A man we last saw in the final days of Billericay Town normalcy, in the last few days before the Tamplin revolution. Standing outside what was then a lion free home changing room, giving off no sign he was about to be overthrown in a non league revolution, by the fake tanned one.

The very, very tall referee and his assistants arrive not long after us. I watch them do their quick walk of the pitch, “all is well” he says to one of the ground staff. I realise towards the end of his inspection that it's not the 3G surface I was sure it was, but grass. Our intended match today had been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, and having convinced myself the pitch here was artificial, thought I’d found a banker. However, the synthetic surface is part of the greater complex and is not what CFC play on.

That would've been embarrassing.
“Glad we ain't got a game next week” explains a dour CFC official. With the wind even stronger here than it had been at the station, and almost nothing on all four sides of the ground to stop it, its almost non stop and biting. He carries on, adding that its only going to get colder, baltic air from “bloody Russia” means it's going to get to “minus temperatures” next week. Such is the near constant breeze, I'm getting a bit of headache as it whips across my sizable forehead. So I plunge in my bag for my olive green hat, putting it on regardless of how daft it makes me look.

Both sets of players heading out for the warm up look desperately unimpressed that they are having to do so. Not that the pitch is any kind of state at all, but wanting to make sure it's in the best possible nick for the match, both teams have been asked to warm up elsewhere, behind the long black wall, through a door no one seems to know is there. With no visible handle, it's like a non league priest hole.

Tom has vanished, he's not photographing the players, they've all just trapped back from the muddy back and beyond, to do their star jumps on the main pitch and he wasn't behind them complaining about mud on his trainers. When I call him he tells me he is in the clubhouse, a very generic one at that he explains, nothing to distinguish it from being one particular clubs or another. Nothing on the walls, no faded old team photos or tatty memorabilia, there is though a man selling signed Spurs pics 45 a pop.

There has been a fair old bit of coming and going in recent weeks at CFC, sitting just one spot off the bottom of the table, the new manager has been seen to quickly rejuvenate the squad. “Only recognise four of the faces” explains one of the stewards, there have been lots of “big changes”. They beat table topping Bowers & Pitsea in their previous game, but the key thing is “can they be consistent?”.

Among the reshuffle, CFC’s have had a bit of coup for a club at this level, they according to the same steward they have signed a “Champions League winner” an “ex Mali international” who won the much coveted European prize with “Real Madrid”. I don't think he's pulling my leg, I might be wrong, perhaps the fella fancies having a joke at my expense, but I probe a little further.

Annoyingly he can't remember the player in questions name. I’m desperate to know but he tells me “he's not even seen his name of the back of a shirt” yet the decorated new arrival has already “played one game” then “shot his knees poor lad” so I don't think we’ll be seeing him tonight.

With CFC’s visitors Waltham Abbey FC (WA) being from a mere three miles up the road, tonight is
one of those occasions. WA are hovering around mid table, but league position and who you beat in your last match count for little, when local pride is at stake.

“They will battle” explains the steward, it's a “derby” after all. I’m not wholly convinced by his laughter that follows. It's more nervous than confident.

It’s not so much a walk out onto the pitch for the players, who appear from two separate doors, one at each end of the compact changing rooms. There is no tunnel, it's more of a general space to mingle, the black tarmac making it look like a car park without the markings, more than anything else. In the dimly lit area the teams both form makeshift lines, before being led out by the referee.

A single CFC fan sings “amber army, amber army” louder than the whisper quiet PA. Someone has
turned him up a little when it comes to explaining the relevance of the pitch side presentation. Two CFC players have recently notched up one hundred appearances for the club, and are being given a keepsake by the all time record appearance holder. Following a quick handshake and a picture, they are soon jogging back to their half to start.

“Enjoy the game” says the voice over the PA, who is now at his loudest, this time he is not being muffled by the few fans making some noise as the match gets underway, “come on Cheshunt”.

The most sensible of people here are out of the wind and in the comfort of the main stand on the halfway line, there are a few people dotted about pitch side, but it's those in the stand, who get the best view, well better than us, it's right down the opposite end of the pitch, of the opening CFC goal on five minutes.

CFC are rampant, “robbed him” says Tom, when a home player hustles the WA player off the ball, dispossessing him, and initiating the attack. His shot unfortunately is straight at the keeper, but it shows CFC's intent, they are taking no prisoners.

“He's gotta go ref” screams a CFC fan following the appeal of the players and the crowd. There is no red card, but the man in charge has awarded a penalty. Two ahead after seventeen minutes, WA look a little shell shocked and Tom thinks they're lucky to have all their players still on the pitch, “thought he would send him off”.

With the referee taking centre stage for a moment, it has not bypassed Tom that he is a “big ref”. Not big in girth, but height, “reminds me of the headmaster from the Inbetweeners”.

One person not in need of any volume increase, he could do all the pre and post match announcements without the aid of a microphone, in fact a bit of volume control would not got a miss, is the all purple CFC keeper, who has not stopped barking orders since the start. One of those very vocal and communicative keepers, the kind of which give an almost constant commentary at the top of their voices for the full hour and a half. “4, 4, 4” he shouts, no idea what it means, I guess someone does. “He's gonna have no voice left” says Tom, concerned for the man's welfare.

Twenty two minutes gone and the home team have officially done a number on WA. The third of their quick fire goals, is the best of the bunch, an impertinent back heel, sees the player in the box slide the ball past the keeper.

Although they find themselves three behind, WA still have a bit of belief, despite so many of their heads noticeably dropping as they prepare to restart for the third time. They certainly have plenty of pace and a “great save” as someone in the stand describes it, from the CFC keeper, prevents them getting back in the match. CFC have another shout for a penalty, for a handball, but the referee in a very head masterly way shouts “no way”.

After the initial CFC onslaught, the game is a little more balanced now, ebbing from end to end, rather than the early one way traffic. The match is really turning into an engrossing one. Played at a high tempo, we bare witness to plenty of strong tackles, real blood and thunder stuff, real derby day stuff.

It could even be said WA are the better side since CFC’S third, the home team reduced to the occasional counterattack. Relying a lot on their number 9 to do all the running. Sturdy, maybe even bulky, he is in fact “a lot faster than he looks like he should be” says Tom.

“Come on the ambers” shouts one fan, his team having notably taken their foot off the gas. The incident of the hand ball, that was at least five minutes ago now, is still playing on the minds of a couple of players, who at any opportunity start nagging the linesman about it, whose rhythmic clicking heels as he runs the line in front of us is hypnotic.

Ten to go, WA send a ball right across the CFC box, but there are no takers. Tom has a playing football at school flashback when the stinging echo of a player stopping a shot at close range rings out, faux leather on bare cold flesh, “oh I bet that hurt”.

It's a WA siege as the half creeps towards the end, their forward looks a dead cert to score, but somehow puts it wide “how did he miss that?” gasps Tom. A late corner for WA sees them go close again, with the chances they have had, they could have easily dragged the game back to 3 - 3 had they just been a bit more clinical. A back post attempt with a knee, almost creeps in under the bar, but not quite. “Cheeky, cheeky” says Tom going a bit ‘Carry On’.

Other than the dilapidated concrete stand, as I’ve mentioned there is little to feast ones eyes on here, it's not even totally apparent there is a clubhouse. It is I’m told by Tom one of the nondescript white buildings scattered about, but you wouldn't know from the outside.

Tom has a special power, finding food at football. This great gift is tested to the max tonight, I can't see where he can possibly be getting his food from, and hes "really hungry" he only had a "small lunch", until he pipes up. “I see a burger van”, he reports. Pointing off in the distance, “you see those two white lights?”, he has noticed the faintest of glimmers coming from its side and he’s right you know, God knows how he saw that, but he's right.

CFC’s number 20 is unit, a tank, a beast. Not in a fat way either, but in a six chicken breast for dinner,
hand crushing kind of way. When he encounters a WA player running for the same ball as him, who is inconveniently in his way, he gives the much smaller player what he thinks is a gentle shove, but multiply that by his great mass, and the WA defender is sent flying, quite literally flying and a foul is given against him.

He looks distraught, the gentle giant meant no harm, Tom is appalled at his treatment, “punished for being strong” he shrieks. “He’s just a big boy” his defence of the forward continues. It’s not the first time CFC have “outmuscled” WA as Tom puts it, in his eyes they just “want it more” which is reflected in the score.

WA have a late flurry of chances, all but confining the home side to their own half. Three cracks at making a dent in the scoreline. After some quick feet on the edge of the box a goal bound shot is blocked. Two players get in each others way jumping for a header but it still “nearly goes in” states Tom, the keeper having to get down low sharpish to stop it, and then another header is just wide, but no joy for the team in blue and white.

“Brilliant first half” says a jovial CFC supporter. The PA is now overly loud, someones been fiddling with their levels during the game. He cheerfully confirms how it stands at the break, leaving an awkward pause between the home and away score, like he feels he's somehow gloating, eventually letting out a short sharp “0”.

Tom returns from beyond the picnic tables, adjacent to the caged child's size five a side pitch, while some very, very quiet Stereophonics play. He had asked me if I wanted anything, when I said no, he double checks, “you sure?” knowing full well I’ll end up pinching a chip, I decline again, so he asks the same question again, “you sure?”. Just like I do with my son, when he tells me he doesn't need the loo, and I know fair well he does.

The presence of the Welsh four piece is a pleasant change to the usual “pop shit” as Tom puts it. A bit of Oasis follows, but what's next is hands down the single greatest ever football song of all time, World in Motion.

What else does one need than John Barnes rapping while you enjoy your “nice” if not overly salty chips, Tom admits he “struggled with the shaker”.

Now in the main stand, Tom with one hand full of chips, the other with a burger, all balanced on his knees, around us an appraisal of the first forty five takes place, “since we got the third we've not really done anything” says one man, those around him all nod and agree. I’m not sure why, but one of the men the opposite side of me to Tom, has just produced a Nokia phone, from the era of when smaller was better, from his pocket, set it to stop watch and pressed GO on the whistle of the referee.

“Our turn now” says the WA fan forcefully in a large Tom Baker style green and white striped scarf. Three minutes into the new half and the visitors have been awarded a penalty. “Get the ball, get the ball” says a teammate of the scorer, no celebration, no time to waste, they run back to the centre circle. I think it's fair to say it's the least WA deserve.

There are some peculiar noises emanating from Tom, his last belch was of near Mr Creosote proportions. “I ate that well too quick” he says, he does have the habit of somewhat inhaling his food. Opening up a can of Dr Pepper to add to whatever is going on inside him, is not going to help.

There is a momentary flare up, both teams squaring up, following what Tom thought was a “studs up” challenge, but “judging by the punishment” the referee can’t have thought it was that bad.

“Fucking liven up” says the man in goal for CFC who has just pulled off the most remarkable of saves, this was Pele Vs Banks sort of stuff. A point blank range toe poke that somehow, only he knows how he got down to it, and was able to turn wide. Tom reckons that some “goal line technology” is in order, he says it “looked over the line to me”, but I reckon he has just pulled off an absolute game changer of a save.

With CFC now well and truly on the ropes, different players plead for teammates to “settle down” and while another points out quite rightly that they've “not started this half yet” it was a save that may well have prevented a full blown comeback.

I know for some it's quite an unpleasant smell, my Dad wasn't a fan, as it seeped from under the bottom of my door, stinking up the whole house, but the sickly, sweet smell of skunk is one I adore. Not that I touch that kind of stuff anymore, I’m a respectable adult with two kids, but someone close by most definitely does, and its intoxicating.

“Come on Cheshunt” murmurs a very softly spoken voice. If he had maybe spoken up a bit, his team might have heard him, but I don't think they have, and that little extra bit of conviction it may have brought is missing when they defend a WA free kick on sixty five minutes. The team in the glorious blue and white hoops, that is on the arms and body, not very common I think, Tom saying they look like a blue “zebra” have just pulled back a second with a “bullet header” as my learned friend puts it.

“Get the ball. Come on”. Once again no WA celebration, the CFC keeper is still picking himself up, nothing he could have done about that one, as the WA players have already scooped up the ball and are heading back to their half. They just look so dangerous every time they attack.

What a burp from Tom, but I think he feels a lot better now at least, he's been very quiet since the restart, “needed to do that for the last ten minutes”.

“Come on let's liven up” pleads a CFC player, and for a moment it looks like one player at least has taken inspiration from his words and goes on the most spellbinding solo run, that looks like it's going to go on forever, only for his attempt on goal to get blocked. I almost wish the defender had let it in, recognising for the greater good it would have been the perfect end to an excellent effort. Their attacks are few and far between, but at least they are starting to look a lot less composed and a little less rattled then they have.

Just shy of ten minutes to go, and CFC grab the goal they have so desperately needed. It might just be enough to settle the nerves of the players, who have been very wobbly and owe a lot to their keeper.

“Well played ambers” shouts a fan, as the tide shifts one last time, the remainder of the match, its all the home side. There is a slight moment of madness when they almost scored a comical own goal, worthy of a hummed rendition of the circus tune, common on occasions like this, but other than that the ball is only going one way. At one point the WA keeper is forced into a very fine save with his nuts.

I had had my suspicions, but being so close, it all happened so quickly, I wasn't sure, however one nearby home fan confirms when talking to a friend that WA’s second was an “own goal”. Into extra time, the wind now blowing its hardest, some home supporters have seen enough and start to head home, not walking at full pace though, slow enough so they can still half watch the match so as to not miss anything.

“Thought this would be interesting” says one to another, “four goals in a game what's going on?”, he replies. The same steward from earlier is a bit bemused people are going, but is satisfied that they at least go their “money's worth” tonight.

A late CFC attack sees one player bearing down on goal, he strikes the ball and as he does a fan cries out “boom” hoping he has timed his outburst perfectly with the fifth goal, but the shot is speculative at best and is frankly woeful.

 The "blue zebra" looking players according to Tom, are a bit of a sorry sight as they go through a lacklustre warm down, before trudging off. The CFC team stand in a loose huddle, their coaches I'm sure highlighting plenty of positives to be taken from tonight as well as plenty of negatives, until that
fourth goal, it really did look like they were going to throw their lead away.

When they eventually walk off, a few take the time to high five and chat with the fans who have waited to clap them off, the players making sure to recognise their supporters, walking the sporadic line of them on their way into the warm.

With February almost at an end I can only hope that this may be one of the last cold ones, I'm fed up of
having to spend ten minutes in the car warming my hands up and watching Tom hop around putting on thermal socks, as the same steward who I talked earlier said, "roll on summer".

Its unlikely, but there is a small chance that one of the CFC fans here tonight, happens to know or even work with a WA supporter, and I hope for their sake they do, because half the fun of a derby day win is having someone to bombard with crowing txt's or whose desk to loiter around, waiting for a chance encounter. Whatever level it may be, a win over your rivals, is a win. The derby day glory is all CFC's tonight, but just, the score line not quite reflecting how close they where to blowing it.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE 

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Thursday, 1 March 2018

Better Than Stamford Bridge - Thurrock FC Vs Hendon FC, Bostik League Premier, Ship Lane (17/02/18)

The Sun, what a sight for sore eyes you are and there's almost not a cloud in sight to block you out, what a treat. The appearance of the sun is not the only nice surprise today, the second being a much welcomed stowaway taking up a seat in the back of the car.

Tall, so tall Tom has to move his seat forward a few notches, young, he makes me feel very old when we asks me if I’m aware of a certain “grime artist” who is currently “blowing up” and dashing, chiseled features and floppy blond hair. Toms nephew Obe, is doing a fine job in reducing the average age in the car by about ten years, and is upping the cool quota too.

It’s another short hop from East London to Essex again, to a place probably most well known for its nearby shopping centre, than football club. The brick lined entrance and board with this afternoon's fixture on, customary shocking non league car park, with potholes you could lose cars in, gives Ship Lane a near instant feel of being a proper ground. No hint of a leisure centre, running track or any brushed steel, its football through and through.

One though can't avoid the hotel doing its best house from Psycho impression, overlooking us from its lofty position, perched on top of an adjacent hill, but this does nothing to detract from the charm of the place.

Inside and the fine weather is really showing off Ship Lane in the best possible light, the whole ground is positively iridescent. The centrepiece it’s main stand, with its high corrugated roof, flat black and intermittent green and yellow seats. The colours of the home team Thurrock FC (TFC).

It is the sort of stand that are few and far between on our travels, this thing didn't come out of a flat pack with instructions, this was built by hand from the ground up. I’m told by the very hands of the clubs long time owner and his father. The South family synonymous with this neck of the woods and once proprietors of the hotel.

Green and yellow is absolutely everywhere, the striped goal nets, fence around the pitch and the railings on the covered terracing behind each goal. Beyond the confines of the ground it's hardly scenic, long strings of criss crossing electricity pylons and a very nearby motorway, but none of this can diminish from the fact that its the kind of non league ground that gets people like me, who are excited by places like this, excited.

There is no sign of any players here yet, neither of the home side or away, Hendon FC (HFC). On the pitch one TFC coach, Tony, who if I said was larger than life, might not quite describe him properly, is taking some local children through a training session, while their parents look on from the sidelines.

Such is the involvement of the South family, when the owner Tommy pops his silver haired bed head out the top window of the red brick cottage clubhouse, still in his robe, asking the group below him, which includes Tom “alright lads?”, Tom is the only one bemused, “think that's his bedroom?”. It becomes instantly clear just how integral he is to the club and the club to him.

Our ties with TFC certainly don't stretch as far back as Tommy's, but we certainly feel a strong connection to them, after sharing the drama of the Ryman League North Playoff final last season. We’ve seen them play since, not that long ago at Margate, but a visit here has been long overdue.

The recently arrived HFC players doing their pre match walkabout still in their black tracksuits, are not doing much walking about, instead they are captivated by Tony's session which is coming to an end. When he pretends to call Lionel Messi for a chat, breaking into some at least A level grade Spanish, few people can resist the grin forming on their face, least of all the kids.

Not here long, and Tom is already a happy boy, not only is the sun out, but the sizable hatch to the Thurrock Snack Bar has pinged open, releasing an almost overwhelming smell of food cooking on the hotplate, which hits you like one of the trucks bombing along the nearby A282. A quick glance at the specials board, leaves Tom salivating.

Securing my programme, the vendor telling me “its not as much as that” when I produce a £10 to pay for it from the small opening next to door to the clubhouse, I’m 50% on the way to match day happiness. On hearing though that the golden goal seller is “unwell” for a split second feel like a really shitty person, I find myself more worried about not getting my fix, than the health of the person who normally sells them. I’m not a good person.

Obe has been nowhere to be seen since arriving, the draw of the clubhouse, some football on the TV and cheap beer, means he would rather sit roasting in there, it is unbearably warm, on the edge of the parquet dance floor, then wander around musing about the architecture of a stand, with us old fogies.

I’m kind of glad when he shows me that he has managed to get himself a golden goal ticket, it means there is someone here selling them, his is for the 41st minute, “just before half time” he's happy with that, but it puts us in direct competition. I eventually acquire mine, “oh 12 is good” my rival says, there is a slight gasp when I reveal my ticket. The stand in seller is someone who insists on calling us “lucky omens” for TFC, our lucky rabbit foot status bestowed upon us after the play off win, but after watching them lose at Margate, I feel our powers might be waning a little.

As bizarrely interesting as Obe’s tales of his time at the top of the playing Fifa online tree is, again he very easily makes us both feel ancient. Telling us about “trials” and “strict” kick off times it’s like he's talking about things from a different world. It’s also just far too hot to sit in here anymore to listen, the nearby radiators must be close to eleven, time for some fresh air.

“Testing 1, 2, testing 1, 2” says according to Tom the “delightful” sounding man on the PA, whose evaluation of the equipment is followed by some music. The tunes though play second fiddle to Tony who is taking the grown ups through their drills now and is just as enthusiastic with them as he was with the kids.

One player warming up away from the main group, has what looks like a very large black rubber band around his waist, with another coach holding onto the ends like reins. Tom reckons it must be some kind of "fitness test", Tony just thinks it's the ideal time to “neighhhhhhhh”.

Mike is a relieved man, “2:30 all done, very efficient” he tells us, taking a breather after completing all his match day toing and froing. Relatively new to the role of media titan and general all rounder, but a long time TFC supporter he tells us that he's like a swan “all graceful on top” and then mimes with his hands the manic feet paddling away underneath.

“Welcome to Ship Lane” says the voice over the PA, who does a quick run through of the teams. When its TFC’s turn he is super hyped, and gives it lots of vigour. The mascots, the same boys who had been treated to Tony's Lionel Messi call earlier are lined up outside the red brick cottage at the other end of the ground to the clubhouse. It’s very similar in appearance, although where the players are currently is single storey, so it's unlikely there is enough room for an elderly man to sleep in it. Hanging above the door, the yellow and green sign reads, Welcome To Thurrock FC.

Impatient, the youths are close to revolting, “why are we waiting?” they sing. They don't have to wait much longer to accompany the players on the very, very short walk onto the pitch and then the much longer one to in front of the main stand for the handshake.

“Come on Thurrock” shout the mascots making their way to their seats, behind them a ragtag group of adults try to keep up. The match is underway.

One thing we’ve learnt from our brief time in the presence of TFC fans, is that they are a lively lot. Their flags at the back of the squat terrace are already up and the group of no more than ten
are quick to get going, “come on Thurrock, come on Thurrock”. Their team do likewise, the game only minutes old and they've just cut a ball from out wide into the box, that was promising but comes to nothing.

“I've started a timer” says Obe, it takes me a second to work out what he's going on about, until he explains because of the lack of scoreboard and clock, he won't know if he's won the golden goal or not. Tom and I both explain it will be announced, but this does not placate him.

Part of me admires this ingenuity, his rivalry adding to the thrill, part of me is annoyed I didn't think of it.

Those singing in the stand along from us, “super Thurrock FC” do so with one arm raised and a hand shielding their eyes from the dazzling sun. I myself have adopted a one eye closed squint kind of look. Tom the perennial sun seeker tells me its "nice to see some sun”. Some of the home fans however reckon it's “toastie” in fact it's “too hot” and the game should be “called off”.

One supporter has got his outfit choice all wrong and is being made well aware of it. “What a terrible jacket” one person says laughing to themselves. The jacket in question is a bright blue puffy one with a fur hood, the likes of which are more commonly seen where Ranulph Fiennes is, not in Purfleet. The suggestion that he must be “sweating his bollocks off” does not look far from the truth as he peels it off, half exacerbated.

Despite the chants of “its like watching Brazil” from the TFC fans, following a passage of slick play and the comparison with the Samba Boys is made even easier by the fact they play in yellow, but the first twenty minutes from both sides has been a little tame.

There seem to have been more lost footballs than shots on goal, I've lost count of the amount of times a clearance has gone well past row Z, forcing a small child to rush off behind a stand to recover it.

Those who are maybe new to our blog, will not necessarily be aware of the fact I have a small obsession with pink kits, specifically pink goalkeeper kits. I’m therefore in seventh heaven at the sight of not one but two of them today. There is though some derision from Tom and Obe, who think I must be “colour blind” because HFC’s kit according to them is “orange” and not pink. It’s certainly not as neon Buffon as TFC’s but it's definitely pink, a coral pushing a salmon.

A “flambouyont” dive as Tom describes it, by one HFC player wins them a free kick, but after all the deliberation its a “weak” attempt says an unimpressed Tom. TFC are certainly edging the encounter so far, they are certainly more direct than HFC who pass the ball around a bit more, but as far as clear cut chances are concerned, there has been nul.

Obe is convinced the HFC player responsible for the big challenge, one where the sound of it sends a shudder through you, has “gotta go”. In fact two TFC players are down at the same time, but for unconnected reasons. The physio heads straight for the player involved in the punishing tackle. “Priorities” says Tom, like the man with the magic sponge picked him because they are BFF's.

“Can’t believe that” says Obe, stunned that the referee has not booked the player responsible for the less than textbook challenge.

One TFC fans powers of prophecy are a bit off, he is sure that the score is about to change, when they get a free kick out wide “1-0” he says as the ball is crossed in, but it ends up missing everyone in the box.

With five minutes to go, it's the visitors who fashion the best chance of the game, putting a shot just wide. Obe though has bigger things on his mind, I knew I liked this kid. Another injury, around the fortieth minute, the TFC physio is greeted with chants of “super hands, super hands” as he enters the pitch, means one of his golden goal tickets is about to become obsolete. “That's ruined” he says, looking at his timer. No concern for the player, just the prize, he will fit in around here.

A late offside call sees a TFC attack halted, wrongly in the eyes of the fans, “what a load of cobblers” says one, another suggests the linesman should “stick his flag up” his “ass”. Like most football fans, fickle, in the next breath they are praising the officials, when a foul is given their way, “well done ref” much to the annoyance of the HFC bench “what the fuck you doing?” they ask.

All square at the break, the TFC flags are down and have been packed away into a sports bag, for the short journey to the other end. Tom has made his way to join the queue at the snack bar, not for one burger, but two, as I am in the presence of two football eaters today, it must be a family thing.

Obe like his uncle has headed off early “to beat the queue at the bar”. I sit alone with a speaker two foot away from my ear blasting out overly loud Ed Sheeran, who is miraculously being drowned out by the mascots in full 'too much sugar' mode. Screaming, shouting while one kicks a drinks can about its a cacophony, rattling around under the metal roof of the stand. A couple of times the odd child takes a considerable tumble, and I expect tears, but they just pick themselves up and get back to tearing around like mad men.

Their indestructible nature might be down to one of them being the "terminator".

The sun has started to dip now bathing Ship Lane in the most gorgeous shades of pale orange and yellow, if the place didn't look picture perfect before, its gallery worthy now. A few white and green scarf wearing HFC fans have appeared where their TFC counterparts were before.

“Better than Stamford Bridge” declares Obe, finishing his burger, the same burger he had to ring Tom to remind him to put ketchup on.

TFC’s flags have reappeared from the sports bag, and hang from the back of the terrace once more. Their fans continue to sing as they did for most of the first half, but it's HFC who have come out much the brighter, and it is they who break the deadlock in the most impressive of style.

“Waste” says someone behind me, when HFC take their corner short. On first appearances it certainly seems that the set piece has not been taken well. Number 7 who receives the ball, looks to have nowhere to go, confronted by two TFC defenders, no amount of step overs or shoulder drops look like they are going to get him anywhere.

Still with the ball, he starts to move towards the halfway line, losing one of his markers, he sees his window of opportunity, quickly changing direction, he sets off back towards the box. His shirt being almost constantly pulled, the referee plays advantage, and thank god he did. Now in the the area, his hapless marker behind him.

Confronted in the box by a TFC player in yellow, there is still plenty to do, just over the line and from an acute angle, he bends the ball around the defender, well out of reach of the all pink keeper who is reduced to being an observer. One TFC player looks on as the ball nestles in the back of the net, he can only lift his hands, grasping his own head in dismay.

The celebration of the scorer is coolness personified, no choreographed handshake or shirt over his head, just a slow walk back up the pitch, he leaves it to his teammates to go crazy, leaping all over him. His bench are pretty happy to, “have that you cunt” one member of it shouts, another thanks the referee, I’m assuming for letting the play continue.

“Just what the game needed” says the same voice who suggested the short corner was a “waste”. The
match was screaming for a goal, but couldn't you have done your magic six minutes later number 7? I would have won the golden goal if you had. Instead one of the parents of the mascots looks like all his Christmases have come at once

HFC go close again, straight away, no idea how it wasn't a goal. The ball is slid across the six yard box, a foot from the goal line, the player sliding in, conspires to hit it over the bar, instead of into the back of the net. Tony is growing increasingly annoyed, “step it up” he shouts to the players.

I’m not quite sure what sparks it, but there is an near all team royal rumble at one point. It starts with both number 7’s rutting, before all twenty other players are involved. HFC’s manager sensing the possibility of things getting out of hand, directs two of his coaches to “get on the pitch” and to get their players “away” from the feud. The TFC fans behind the goal seem to be enjoying the exchange, breaking into song, “we are the fleet, we are the fleet”.

No-one is remotely concerned with my well being, when I’m forced to make an emergency manoeuvre to get out of the way of a flying ball, much more interested in the leftovers from the mass quarrel, one TFC player not very subtly barging one HFC player running for the ball right into the home dugout. For a moment the HFC player looks like he's going to retaliate, except for a shout from his own bench of “keep it together” stopping him.

The TFC fans are loving all the controversy, humming the Entrance of the Gladiators as things continue to heat up.

All be it a different member of the Sparks/Jones family, but the shout of  “ he's gotta go” is the same. This time a HFC through ball has caught out the TFC defence, sending the away player off towards goal, only for him to be unceremoniously clattered into, looks like the last man to me, but nothing is given once again. Tom can't believe it was anything other than a red.

“Get me a fucking goal” demands Tony under his breath to a nearby player. They almost do just that, firstly when a player on the far side wriggles free of plenty of attention and fires a low shot against the legs of the HFC keeper. “That's what he can do, that's what he can do” says Tony after the players effort. In contrast the HFC bench are not as full of praise, quite the opposite, enraged that the player was allowed to do that.

Tony’s wish is almost granted, in the most spectacular of ways. Pushing on, the number 3 heads towards the box, with no-one showing themselves for a pass, he decided to let rip a curling right foot shot, that from the moment he hit it look destined for the top corner. Not only looking a bit like Buffon in his stunning pink kit, the HFC keeper pulls off a save worthy of the sexy Italian, somehow getting a hand to it and tipping it over.

Another flare up, this time in the box, there are a few shouts of “embarrassing” from both sets of fans. Even the benches are going at it, “sort your fucking hair out” says someone on the home bench towards a coach on the away one. A TFC fan chips in, a big fella is calling a slightly smaller fella a “maggot”, it's getting a little bit unsavoury and we’re stuck right in the middle of it.

“I can’t hear you” screams Tony to the players, it might have something to do with the most excellent rendition of “come on you yellow and greens”. A chant before the end of last season I’d only ever heard sung by Celtic fans, but it has been adapted by the TFC supporters, who we saw belting it out at the playoff final.

“You don't see them given very often” says Tom, having just watched a HFC player go right over the top of the TFC forward in an attempt to clear the ball away. It looks like hes trying to climb on his shoulders for a piggyback. Regardless of the frequency in those kind of fouls being given, the referee didn't like it, and it's a penalty to TFC. “I believe in you” squeals one of the onlooking children.

“Fucking beautiful” shouts the HFC manager, as his keeper has just pulled off his second game changing save of the match. “It's just not their day” says Tom. TFC have had the chances but have found a man in goal having one of those afternoons.

They almost, almost score from the resulting corner, the keeper flaps at the cross, but the ricochet is kind and he gets another bite at the cherry and is able to gather the loose ball.

The sun has all but gone now, casting long spindly shadows of the nearby pylons across the pitch. The TFC supporters haven't stopped, despite the ups and downs “super Thurrock FC” and neither has Tony, non stop pacing up and down on the sidelines. At one point he explodes in a fit of swearing, only to remember he has his own audience of small people and apologises profusely to their stunned faces, explaining that sometimes he gets a bit caught up in moment.

“Last ten let's have it” shouts the ever energetic coach.

HFC introduce some fresh legs for the closing minutes, the voice over the PA’s attempt to read out his
name gets a few giggles. “He bottled that” says Obe, the voice aborting the name halfway, ending up just making a noise, he would have been better off if he'd committed to it, given it more of a go.

TFC fans are sure that the HFC keeper is taking a little too long with his kicks, counting out loud every time he has the ball, “1, 2, 3, 4 , 5”. HFC go close from a corner, the game on a bit of a knife edge, “come on boys” shouts a fan, as the voice over the PA has a little less of an issue informing us all there will be a “minimum of five minutes of additional time”, then he did with the recent substitute.

The expectations of a rip roaring final five don't materialise. TFC have a snap shot that gets a collective “ohhh” but for the crowd, that's about it. HFC spend anytime they have with the ball, running it into the corners.

While a few TFC players applaud their supporters, the voice for the last time today "thanks" us for our "attendance". The smattering of HFC fans, clap their players off, while their manager lets say has a bit of a heated chat with the referee and his assistants.

Ship Lane soon falls quiet, its almost dusk, and most people have left. Sadly there is a good chance that Ship Lane won't be filled with the sounds of football for much longer, its tenure as a ground coming to an end after thirty three years.

A little bird had told me recently  that 2017/18s may well be the final season for TFC and I don't just mean at Ship Lane, I mean full stop. It was just a bit of a rumour then, with no official word from the club, but that's all changed now.

Their demise is not due to some crooked landlord, debt or poor management, but due to ill heath Tommy South, who has decided after thirty odd years hes got to step down, and has put the club up for sale.

TFC are not the most well followed club, they are not blessed with hundreds and hundreds of supporters, but that small group who are here week in and week out, and the volunteers like Mike, who help things tick along, are just as important to the fabric of the game as those fans of a club with thousands, and thousands of them.

Having always been so kind and accommodating to us, in the few times we have crossed paths with them, we can not speak highly enough of TFC.

A genuine jewel in the crown not only of the Essex non league scene, UK non league scene, but of all football. I can''t even start to imagine what it would be like as a fan, to know that time is almost up. That the next home game, you are one game closer to not being able to stand in your favourite spot, buy that half time cup of tea or speak to that person whose name you don't know, but you always have a chat with on match day, because that's the power football has.

It's heartbreaking if I'm honest, I can only tell you that all our fingers and toes are crossed, and all our prayers are heading the to the football Gods way, hoping for a positive outcome.

Ultimately if you don't have a team to go and support, what else is there to do on a Saturday afternoon?

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE 

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Friday, 23 February 2018

Did Your Heart Flutter? - Welling Town FC Vs Sporting Club Thamesmead FC Reserves, West Kent Challenge Shield Quarter Final, Bayliss Avenue (16/02/18)

I’m struggling to find the words to adequately describe just how fucking frustrating it is crossing the river at around 16:30/17:00 on a weeknight. In fact I may well have started a blog just like this before, the last time we headed to the other side of the Thames. My hope was that with it being half term it meant it wouldn't be the normal ordeal, I was wrong. The amount of time we spend edging closer to the Blackwall Tunnels entrance, staring at the number plate of the car in front feels like an eternity.

Most annoying of all is that it's my fault, well partly, due my customary driving faux pas, I took a wrong turning, the kind of which I make at least once an outing..

Due to the fact we’re late, there will be no talk of what I’m listening to on the radio, what Tom’s been up to on FIFA or his weather forecast for the evening. Instead we’ll start just around where I make my second driving indiscretion of the day, almost there, almost close enough to touch our destination, but again I take a wrong turn and we watch today's ground whistle past us, all lit up, from our dual carriageway overpass vantage point.

The only thing getting me through this unmitigated disaster of a journey is knowing there is some Friday night football at the end of it.

My first impressions of Bayliss Avenue is that its modern, very modern. It looks like the Football Association headquarters of a small European once soviet satellite state. Lots of stainless steel and concrete. It is also hard to ignore the near constant hum of the already mentioned dual carriageway and that of the nearby airport. This is urban inner city football at its best.

Not out of the car long, Tom informs me he is “cold already” as we make our way across the gravel car park and heading towards the vivid green light emanating from beyond the large glass doors.

Bouncing down the stairs to greet us, in his white club polo shirt is, is Welling Town FC’s (WT) chairman, secretary and all round fixer, Kevin. Smiling and amiable he is quick to give us some insight into his team which is very much in its infancy, they were only founded in 2014, but have as he puts it had a “rapid rise” from “playing on a park pitch” into a “multi million pound stadium”. A ground that “matches” those at “Bostick league” level, at least four steps above them, although he admits it looks more like a “leisure centre” than a football club, but, “beggars can't be choosers”.

A life long Welling United fan, he like so many can't fail to see the substantial gulf that has grown between what he knew growing up going to Park View Road with his Dad and what football is today. The top flight as he puts it, simply isn't "reality anymore”. It’s the simple things like being able to “stand where you want” and that you are able to “socialise with opposition fans”, that makes non league football for him.

Standing with your opposite number on the terraces and not being corralled into one particular section of a stadium, are not the only differences, between the top and the bottom of the football pyramid you might come across. Admittedly seeing a player slip off from the warm up, to have a cheeky fag is not something you are likely to see in the Essex Senior League, let alone the Champions League, regardless of how relaxed people tell you non league football can be.

However no-one here even bats an eyelid at him lighting up. He does his best to do it discreetly, but the great plumes of smoke somewhat give the game away. The Sporting Club Thamesmead (SCT) player has a look on his face that having a pre match smoke is as much a part of his warm up routine, as doing stretches are.

It’s a very short walk for the players from the changing rooms to the pitch. A small slope leads from the doors out onto the “billiard table” like surface, Kevin's description of it when I asked if there had been any chance of a postponement, after all the recent rain. Either side of them, set back in to the base of the stand above are the almost brutalist in design dugouts. Just a single wooden bench and a small home and away sign hangs above the respective one. It looks more like a machine gun bunker than your traditional dugout.

Overlooking the ground a fair few people occupy the green and white seats of the two tier stand, most though with a pint in hand are getting their non league lean on, admittedly a bit higher up than I’m usually used to, as Kevin puts it the “draw of Friday night football” has worked.

The swelled numbers also I'm sure are down to it not being any old match, but the quarter final of the West Kent Challenge Shield which WT are the current holders of and its not any old opposition. WT the 'lodgers', are taking on SCT the 'landlords'. WT come into the game in imperious form. Undefeated in “league and cup” Kevin told us, SCT aren't doing too bad themselves, only one defeat so far this season, so tonight could be a hum dinger.

The spoils for the eventual winner of the competition, currently sits in the boot of Kevin's car. He wanted to have it out on show, the players walking past it as they came out, but the manager suggested that might be interpreted as being a bit “arrogant”.

Post kickoff we get a taster for the kind of challenges we are to expect. It's not so much the sight of one man clattering into another that makes the both of us feel a little queasy, but the sound. It’s the shin to shin contact that turns my stomach. Miraculously both players nine times out of ten get up without a scratch.

“Good challenge” says someone on the SCT bench, as the players untwist themselves from each other. I really am too soft and am dreading the thought of seeing a bad one.

Although it shouldn't be a massive surprise, considering it just dawned on us that the pre match smoker is in fact the SCT captain, but the attitude towards fitness is a little more lax this far down the pyramid. With the seams of one SCT’s yellow kit being put through their paces by its sizable wearer, there is maybe a debate to be had for getting some larger sizes. I wouldn't dare mock the bigger man, that would be a little bit stones and glass houses, if anything he is an inspiration.

A quarter of the game gone and it's a chance a piece for the teams, WT shooting wide of the post and SCT’s keeper being forced into a canny save. Other than that, it's been a little flat. There is plenty of noise coming from the stand, that mingles with the stacked up planes and the nearby HGV’s, but on the pitch is just a bit muted.

Tom points out the ketchup blob congealed on his camera from our last game, I’m only half listening mind. I’ve just spotted the reason we are here, Jon Main, in his grey sweatshirt and magenta bib, standing on the touchline, and I can confirm without a cigarette. The former AFC Wimbledon, Tonbridge Angels and Welling United player, according to Kevin, is still the National League's youngest scorer, he was “16” when he set that record.

At the beginning of 2017/18 we decided to sponsor a player, with the intention of following his exploits throughout the season, and ultimately going along to a game and meeting him. The resounding winners of our vote was WT and Jon Main was the player we picked. A brief hello and handshake from him as he joined his team mates for the warm up, sent us both a bit One Direction fan. Seeing him now though in his natural habitat, dishing out advice to his fellow subs, we just hope we get to see him in action.

“Ref we ain't here to watch you” shouts a person in the crowd, the man in charge having been a little bit inconsistent so far. Laissez-faire on some occasions letting the game ‘flow’ some might say, but then in the next breath he's a little whistle happy and the game gets a bit stop start.

When one player WWE body checks another, no problem, when Tom thinks I’ve spent too long seeing if Jon Main is coming on, he tells me “I’m not allowed near” him and that if I'm not careful he will get a “restraining order” against me, it feels like a total miscarriage of justice.

Having not seen SCT’s number 4 run yet, the same man with the struggling kit, he has clearly been deployed as sweeper, not a roll you see much anymore. I wonder when he approaches a SCT free kick on the edge of the WT box, that this might be his moment. His lack of mobility, given up in exchange for his prowess on set pieces.

“He's walking away” says a disappointed Tom. 4 having spoken briefly with a teammate decided this one wasn't for him and leaves number 10 to do it. His attempt is poor and Tom is convinced even more now than ever, that like an NFL special kicker, “thats why’’ number 4 is “here”, I hope so, I really do.

Admittedly the quality of football is lacking at times, but there are brief and fleeting moments of real class. One SCT players excellent turn away from his marker in midfield is followed by a precise ball out wide, that kick starts an attack. The ball is eventually turned into the box, the player with his back to the goal also turns well, still in possession of the ball, he seems to have his legs taken out from under him, but his shout for a penalty is waved away.

WT not wasting any time, playing to the whistle, I’m sure much to the delight of their manager, quickly counter, but can't quite capitalise on all the time and space SCT have allowed them.

“That's why they got him” says Tom on the confirmation that SCT’s number 4 is a bit of secret weapon. Only his broad shoulders are able to cope with the pressure of a penalty. With half time only moments away, there was an considerable coming together of two players just inside the WT box, this time the man in charge saw something he didn't like, I just saw something he had been saying was fine for the last forty five minutes.

The WT keepers attempts to psyche him out, pointing to one side of the goal, are futile, number 4 isn't falling for that, he slots the ball home, 1 - 0 to the Landlords.

A goal that the game has desperately needed. Just before the break, it could not have come at a better time for SCT. I don't think either team if I’m honest deserves to be ahead, neither side really shining, so WT might just feel a little aggrieved to find themselves behind, but they don't stand about licking their wounds, they do something about it.

I don't know for certain, but in less than two minutes, maybe two and half, the game is all square. “He was kicked in the face” says Tom about the WT player in green with black shorts currently face down in the area. It’s not though the referee who has given it, but his assistant. The referee having adopted his now familiar low swinging armed stance to signal he didn't think it was a foul, but his assistant running the line had other ideas and has raised his flag.

It’s down to the WT players to bring this to his attention, he was all but back turned and making his way up the pitch, before he blew up. He has a quick conversation with his colleague, turns, points and reverses his previous decision.

Bizarrely I think it's the same voice shouting “he's gotta go” before both penalties from the technical areas, from which one I’m not sure. Was one manager or coach being overly honest or a bit loopy. “Ref you bottled that” says another person, again I’m not sure if its because he didn't stick to his guns, he gave the penalty or because he didn't send off the SCT player responsible for the face kicking. That being the same player who moments before was fouled for the SCT penalty and who was smoking before the game.

Excellent penalty, from the much more slender taker. Right into the top corner.

WT end the half on top, their number 15 going on the most superb of runs, the SCT defender trying to mark him is a mere inconvenience, he just pushes the ball into the space ahead and runs around him. “Love that” shouts a person in the crowd. Another sliver of skill in a game that has been all but devoid of it.

No PA, no programme, no gambling, no problem. The lack of our match day staples didn't really occur to me until the break. As we have found however football and food are synonymous with each other, so that is certainly on offer. The players are already coming back out, “boys come on” shouts one fan, when my pocket buzzes and Tom tells me his is "just waiting for some chips".

Surrounded by an overpowering smell of vinegar, Tom is barely in his seat, when WT take the lead. All the action so far, being condensed into ten minutes either side of the break. It's a very tidy finish and an even better hurdle over the on rushing keeper, that puts them ahead. The scorer having avoided being wiped out well, celebrates with a jump and a punch in the air, before he is mobbed by his teammates.

“Get your fucking heads up” roars on SCT fan, one WT player at the other end of the spectrum claps his hands on his way to his half, happy with what he saw “better, better”.

Despite being behind, SCT are not out of the game by any means. A goalmouth scramble and a string of last ditch saves by the WT keeper, stops them equalising. With number 4 or “fat Xavi” as Tom has dubbed him, bit mean if you ask me, no need to bring his BMI into it, but as Tom points out, being compared to the diminutive Spaniard is a great honour, having been pushed up further into midfield, he can now show off his full range of passing

The guy has a genuine eye for a pinged ball forward. At one point he sends it over the WT defence with pinpoint accuracy, setting his teammate away and bearing down on goal, only for keeper to save preventing the goal. He is also not shy of a tackle, and not a late bone cruncher like some have been, but a well measured one where he inevitably ends up with the ball.

“Best chips I’ve ever had at football, might get some more” says Tom. He admits he would normally lean towards a “french fry” however the vinegar drenched fence post he has just polished off, each one about four inches long and two inches wide, has turned his head.

Big chips are not the only thing turning his head, “├»ts like watching Arsenal play” he says, with SCT really finding their rhythm, playing some excellent stuff. Their manager emphasises that it's “easy isn't it” annoyed that they have not been showing their real potential so far, and its takes them being behind to turn it on.

Jon Main continues to warm up, just below us, “did your heart flutter?” asks Tom, when he is within touching distance.

The shared notion that we both thought it was mild when we first arrived, is well and truly out the window. It’s not Thurrock United cold, that will be tough to beat, but it's certainly chilly and Tom is doing this thing he does when he tries to hide that he's shivering, and ends up looking like someone from Alive.

“Oh calm down” says a voice in the stand, after SCT’s number 9 absolutely loses his shit about the ball being a bit flat. He is nigh on frothing at the mouth, as he shouts to the sidelines demanding a new one.

With roughly a quarter of the game left, SCT are looking a “bit one dimensional”. Is it a consequence of number 4 being taken off, I think so. They are getting more of the ball, but even with the constant reassurance from the bench that they have “time” the players take no notice, panic and lose possession.

What might be the brightest example of technique all evening, comes with the execution of WT’s third, having been behind, they now edge even further in front of the team from the league below them, it looking unlikely now that there '0' is going to go.

The initial save from the SCT keeper right on the edge of his box stops one problem, but creates him another. When one door closes, another opens, as they say. This door is about 24 feet by 8 feet with a white net. Without a moment's hesitation the WT players delicately swings his right foot at the ball and sends it sailing over the stranded keeper, past the player trying with all his might to stop it on the line and into the back of the net from about twenty five yards.

If ever a goal deserved a Street Fighter style tiger uppercut celebration, it was that one. So eager to celebrate with him, one teammate jumps on his back, putting him in a rear naked choke that BJ Penn would be proud of. So impressed was the keeper with his efforts he's run half the length of the pitch to congratulate him and the whole bench are on their feet applauding .

“Well I was wrong” says a humble Tom. He was sure at 2 - 1 WT that was it for the goals.

Two goals behind now, but SCT still look like they have some fight left in them, their number 9 is causing all sorts of “problems” comments Tom, with his loan front man routine. An epic foot race sees the ball carried right across the pitch, the two players tussling and battling with each other all the way to the corner flag. It's the one in yellow who prevails, bettering his marker. His ball across the six yard box sadly lacks any conviction, and its hoofed clear by someone in black and green.

He's coming on “Main is here” says Tom in hushed tones, tapping me on the leg and bringing to my attention that he is stripped down, standing on the touch line blowing into his cupped hands to keep them warm, waiting for a break in play.

“Score!” demands the man in the stand to the SCT player one on one with the keeper, but he can't, the toe poked effort is saved by the keepers feet. Quickly follows another SCT chance, one can’t say they haven't had them, this time the goal bound header is cleared off the line.

There doesn't seem to be one of the WT bench actually on the bench, it's a busy little technical area. They watch on as they go close themselves, but don't have long to wait to have another goal to celebrate. Their fourth is from much closer range than the last, hit high up into the roof of the net, well out of reach of the keeper.

Maybe it was passing the spiritual home of Arsenal on the way here, but I opt for the Woolwich Wonders SEGA yellow and blue number as my option for today's, ‘match the clubs kits with a teams from the football league’. Tom likes the stylish faded numbers on the back of it, telling me its a “good look”, but also tells me its not blue, but black and I “need glasses”. WT’s dark green shirt and black shorts has Tom a little stumped, me too. I can't think of anyone who plays in that colour combination, green the least used colour in the football kit pallet. In the end I suggest Borussia M├Ânchengladbach, but don't think I'm even close.

So close, our Friday was almost complete, Jon Main nearly scored!.

The whole WT area lets out a collective “arghhh” in near perfect unison when they threaten to get their fifth, except for one player, who has his back to the match and is asking a friend in the stand, “where you going after?”.

“Fuck off ref” says the WT manager in the dying moments of the match, when the referee gives a late penalty to SCT. Well I say the referee gave it, again it was his linesman, the man in the middle once more having “waved it away” as the WT manager quite rightly pointed out, only to be won round by the vigorous waving of his assistants flag who “gave it”. “That proves just how shit he is” says the WT manager to someone in the crowd.

With no number 4, it's no great shock the late penalty is not as clinical as the first, the big burly back of the big man not there to take the strain of the watching crowd and expectant teammates. The WT keeper almost saves it, diving the right way he looks to have got a hand to it, but can't keep it out “Come back is on” shouts an optimistic SCT fan. It being the 91st minute I think any kind of heroics are doubtful, I put his wishful thinking down to the free flowing beer.

There is no time for a reply from the referees assistance when he is asked by the WT bench if he was “getting bored” hence why he awarded the penalty, because the whistle blows, and WT are through to the semi final. Just two games away from retaining their title.

“Wins, a wins, a win” says WT’s assistant manager, he reckons the team were a bit “nervous” the “pressure of defending” their title got to them a bit.

SCT are clapped off, “well done lads, chins up” says a man in the gallery. Their captain, isn't on his way in yet, it's a no smoking changing room.

Other than the joy of getting to watch football on a Friday, something we are big fans of, there are few better ways to end the working week, what was most satisfying about tonight was the lack of pretence. No paraphernalia, no distractions of a raffle or finding a programme, no badly made mouse mats with the clubs badge on, just football.

On the very odd occasion we visit clubs where their opinion of themselves isn't quite in line with what level of football they are playing at.. Almost what you might call deluded, I'm all up for being professional, and striving for greatness, but sometimes a reality check is in order. A reality check that football is in need of from top to bottom, even more so in some places that in others.

Tonight there were no inflated egos, no one lording it up over anyone else, just people appreciating the game we all love. Where the chairman is also the secretary and he does the clubs Twitter too, where his wife cleans the kit in the week and an old pro laughs with you afterwards without hesitation "nearly got your goal for ya". It's certainly a few steps up from jumpers for goal posts, but a hell of a way away from the madness of the top flight, its just about football in its purest form.

Kevin said to me when we'd spoken previously, that we would be "pleasantly surprised" when we eventually paid them a visit. Thinking that we were somehow dropping down to their level, lower than we're used too, that it might not be up to our standard. I can assure anyone who is interested in knowing, that our evening at Bayliss Avenue ticked every box going.

I'm not a smoker anymore, haven't been for a while, horrible habit. Tom has his vape, and when he gets drunk has the odd puff of the real thing, then regrets it. The sight of seeing SCT's captain puffing away got him thinking, "If he can smoke and still play so can I", our people will be expecting a call from your people Welling Town FC. Tom will only be a free agent for so long.


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Thursday, 15 February 2018

Got To Be In It To Win It - East Thurrock United FC Vs Spennymoor Town FC, FA Trophy 3rd Round Replay, Rookery Hill (06/02/18)

Small flakes of snow fall as I ready myself and step outside into the world, from the warmth of my flat. It’s still light, but its already bitterly cold and with light fading it's only going to get colder.

I’m starting to think it's some kind of a wind up, but once again the offering from Radio 4 is the bloody Kitchen Cabinet again, that's the third game in a row that I've had to listen to these twits go on about food related lunacy. Today it's about the best kind of dish to bake your cheese in. I’m so thankful that the few sentences from the “resident cheese head” are some of the last of the show and I don't have to suffer them prattling along for long.

Some of you may be thinking why don't you just change channel, well I will tell you why I don’t. The radio in my car picks up three channels, four on a good day LGR (London Greek Radio), Heart, Radio 1, sometimes Classic FM and of course Radio 4.

So when push comes to shove choosing between programmes in another language, shit music or shit music, my options are limited, and not wanting to sit in silence, I’m left with little choice and the very high probability of having to suffer someone going on about the best way to cook a pigs cheeks.

Anyway they're gone now and I’m only half listening to the next programme, but the quote from Charles Dickens about the ravages of winter, “the desolation of a winter night sat brooding on the earth, and in the sky”, seems quite apt.

It’s Toms turn to come bearing gifts today. Last time out I brought him a fresh and lovingly made cup of tea. Today he is offering, an apple Chupa Chup lolly, it's the thought that counts I guess.

We’re not long under way when he starts talking about the elements. He's yet to take his massive jacket off and when he tells me that it's going to be the “coldest night of the year” tonight, for once I don't think hes being his usual overly dramatic self. Normally a hefty pinch of salt is required when he inevitably shares his weather forecast, but there might be some semblance of accuracy in what he’s going on about today.

Regardless, there are much more important and frankly hysterical things to talk about. Having lent him FIFA 18 at the weekend, he has started his Arsenal Career mode, a career at his beloved Gooners which was short lived.

A new feature of the latest game is the more involved contract negotiations. Keen to tie down his creative German number 11 he goes head to head with the play maker and his agent, thrashing out the finer points of his new contract. Thinking he's come out on top, inserting a sizable buyout clause of £1,500,000 he reckons hes secured the services of the former Real Madrid player for the next four years, except.

Except that, two days later, two days after thinking his Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang front three were going to win that all important 4th place trophy, PSG swoop in, triggering his release clause and Mesut is on the first private jet to Paris.

I’m pretty sure I laughed the whole way to Essex, yes we're off there again. I’m not sure what was funnier, Tom thinking he'd got a good deal after some considerable back and forth or the fact he just turned it off and started again.

It’s dark now as we meander along the A1014 in search of today's ground. Tom thinks he sees the floodlights off in the distance, but I think he's confusing them with the nearby docks. This particular nearby stretch of the Thames estuary is positively glowing with the lights of ships and cranes.

I’m almost forced into a Fast and the Furious: Essex Drift type manoeuvre when our turn off, catches me out, despite the instructions on my Sat Nav. It's so dark, I’m dubious if there is even a road there to turn into, but try my luck.

The dimly lit entrance to the car park at Rookery Hill, home of East Thurrock United FC (ETU) is hardy visible. “Time to get cold” says Tom climbing out of the car onto the uneven surface under foot. We both head towards the nearest source of light coming from the small square windows of the clubhouse.

Pints & fruit machines and plenty of brown leather, fill the low ceilinged room. The pool table has been covered, and pushed up against the back wall, next to those machines which in exchange for 20p, dish out some Minstrels that look like they’ve been there too long. Tom’s first choice of where to sit he tells me is intentionally uncomfortable. I couldn't understand his thinking considering all the plush armchairs, he was just worried that he “wouldn't get up again”.

The high arms and soft back are like a warm leathery hug, I can understand his misgivings in choosing them, but they were too hard to resist. He isn't sitting for long mind, the call of the food menu coming from the bar is too loud.

“No chips” he tells me, but they did have turkey and stuffing flavoured crisps that he has quickly made a dent in, before offering me one. Looking out of the window, it looks cold, it's stopped snowing, there are no obvious signs of the “yellow weather warning” that Tom must have mentioned fifty times already, but I’m glad I’ve brought a hat, scarf and some Fagin gloves.

As ever Tom has taken his quest to stay warm to the next level, not just satisfied with a snood and his creepy gloves that allow him to use his phone, he has hand warmers. The same ones that made the four hundred mile round trip to Mossley, and he was too embarrassed to get out. A little closer to home, and well travelled, they are originally from Italy from when his other half went skiing, he finally plucks up the courage to reveal them.

They are out of date and not working, regardless of how vigorously he shakes them. The fact his “pocket is warm” I’m not sure quite justifies having them. The fact they are defunct means his back up, a pair of thermal socks, “might make an appearance”.

Although it’s predominantly black and yellow in the clubhouse, many of the home fans here are wearing their much needed striped scarves, except the dog at one person's table, he's just eyeing the crisps tantalisingly out of reach in front of him. In dribs and drabs there is the introduction of some black and white, and the unmistakable north east accent of the fans of ETU’s opponent tonight, Spennymoor Town FC (ST).

Locals and visitors are soon mingling, a couple of away fans are keen to get the lay of the land, finding out all the important things like where the loos are and if they can get food in the ground.

“Can I interest you in a 50/50?” asks the man in the ETU hat and Hi Viz waistcoat, yes you bloody can, I’ll take two. I hand over my money, he puts it in his Tupperware box and heads off to the next table, “got to be in it to win it” he says to the ST supporters, as he wraps us his latest sale.

Before heading off to flog some more, I overhear him confirm to them that there will be “no chips” or “pies” available tonight. Two hundred and fifty miles and no pies, they must think it a wasted journey.

Toms snood is out well early and for once I can't blame him. Peering in the window of the container that's been converted in to the snack bar, Tom looks a little like Oliver. He is trying to suss out if the lady unfurling great reams of tin foil sells her sausage rolls that currently sit under a plastic cloche hot or cold. “Think they're served cold” he says after some investigation, a little disappointed.

As what Tom calls “dandruff snow” starts to fall, his way of describing the lightest of light smattering of the cold stuff, he remonstrates with himself, “should of brought long johns”. People take all sorts of things to football, various “accessories” as Tom calls them. The horn one small person is blowing is not one Tom is particularly enamoured with, tonight the “ultimate accessory” would be a “hot water bottle” according to my chilly companion, whose “warm pocket” is doing very little to heat the rest of him.

While he finishes his sausage roll, he of course succumbed. I leave one person eating, only to interrupt someone else doing just that. The woman on the turnstile is mid snack, when I disturb her for a programme. Next to her a man stands next to a small wooden table, on top of it an even smaller tombola and in front of that a Quality Street box. Thinking I’ve stumbled across another opportunity for a flutter, he tells me its the “50/50”, gutted.

The club shop isn't open yet, I say shop, it is in fact a miniature conservatory. The large windows means the goodies inside are close, but oh so far, we will have to revisit it later.

Preceded by a crackle and then a hum, the speakers bring some life to a relatively somber ground, filling it with music I don't know. Tom couldn't care less about the music, the cold is the only thing on his mind, the socks have appeared much sooner than I thought they might. One passing steward is very impressed, “I see you've come prepared”.

There is not a lot to please the eye at Rookery Hill, a nice church is brightly lit behind one goal, and its quite intriguing to see what can be done with a shipping container, but other than that there is no real standout feature, saying that though the all glass dugouts are a first. It’s perfectly nice and in great nick, but it's just not abundant with character. Tom is not a huge fan of it, only because the colour scheme of green and yellow, is the same as our secondary schools PE kit was.

Behind one goal though, the same as the church is a large flag, we like a flag, we’re big fans of flags. It’s a yellow and black St George's cross with “We Are The Rocks” written across it. In the middle, is the club's crest, “why they got a grim reaper on their badge” asks Tom? Investigating closer he is quite right and I’m not sure. I’m not sure it is in fact the harbinger of death, but it's not far off, and I’m not sure why that would be your choice of badge. A frightening looking chap all in black, with a hood, beady black eyes and a sizable scythe.

To add to his deathly persona, it's not totally clear what he's “standing over” points out Tom. Lying at his feet is it the vanquished remains of other teams or rude groundhoppers?

The signature blue jackets of the National League, being worn by a few players as they materialise for their warm up, reminds me we are watching two teams from their respective north and south divisions going head to head. When Tom gets a glimpse of ETU’s keeper, stocky, bearded and bald, he’s sure he is the spitting image of a WWE wrestler, but can't remember his name. This bout of early 00’s nostalgia is halted when the CD player starts to skip and is allowed to do so for overly long

While the officials run their laps, the main man with his Britney mic already taped to his face, both teams go through the final throes of their pre match drills, and there is quite the stark contrast between the two.

The home team are quiet, lethargic and “lack enthusiasm” says Tom. The visitors, well they couldn't be more poles apart. It's like a scene from 300, loud and raucous. The pitch is “heavy” one of their coaches points out, some teams would baulk at this, but the men from the north east are unperturbed, “perfect from us” the same coach adds.

It really is cold, lost finger cold, Toms hand warmers are officially useless. It’s the toes though, that are starting to screaming the loudest. Things have got so bad for one home fan, that he's been forced to take desperate measures. He is nigh on forced to beg the custodian of the shop to open up. He tells her he wants a hat, pointing to his near bald head he tells her “its cold” and she relents.

Someone has finally found another CD, not that it's really needed. A decent sized group of fans from each team have set up shop behind each goal, and the ST fans have strung up their own flag. Its them who start to sing first, but I can’t quite make out what they are saying

Behind me a fierce debate has broken out between a fan of each team, a little bit of one-upmanship, about the playing surface “We love a flat pitch” says the ST fan thinking he's trumped the ETU one, however he has an ace up his sleeve, “we love a flat pitch” he says in reply aping his counter part. There is a brief pause, each thinking they have the better of the other, thankfully they don't come to blows.

“Hello good evening everybody” says the voice over the PA, who definitely sounds like he could be an East End villain in a Guy Ritchie film, cheeky, charming but with the distinct possibility of owning pigs. The away fans reply to the welcome with shouts of “Moors, Moors”. The considerable home turnout, most of whom are pushed up against the railing around the tunnel, offer up their support “come on your rocks, come on lads”.

There is a quick swap of ends for the fans, the MT supporters crack out a black and white chequered flag on the end of a thin spindly flag pole and the game kicks off, and what a game it proves to be, and we don't have to wait long for the action to start.

“A goal for the Rocks on 4 minutes” says Bricktop and is was not your everyday run of the mill goal. Tom is not sure he “meant it”, he reckons it was a “cross’’ that ended making it all the way in, catching out the scrambling man in the ST goal. I think it's a work of genius a thirty yard free kick that finds the top corner of the goal with deadly accuracy.

Quarter of an hour gone and its cautious. The away fans are certainly the most vocal, “Moors,
Moors, Moors” they shout and their team are most definitely still in the game, despite conceding early. One of their players embarks on a remarkable solo run, weaving in and out of the ETU players only for a last ditch tackle stopping his shot, “lucky bastard” mutters an ST fan.

Chances are coming thick and fast, ETU fire a ball right across the ST box, have a freekick which is not far off, then curl a shot just over. ST go close themselves with a shot that is spilt by the ETU keeper, but no one can get close, and he gathers up the loose ball.

Still the loudest of the two sets of the fans, the ST supporters stick to their reliable cry of “Moors, Moors”, occasionally brandishing their flag and mixing up the chants by singing “everywhere we go”.

Tom reckons in tonight's round of ‘match the clubs kits with a teams from the football league’ that its “Leyton Orient Vs Barnet” which is so wrong on so many levels, that I kind of don't want to play this game anymore.

Half an hour gone and the temperature on the pitch is rising, in the stand and on the terraces it is only spiralling downwards. The ST bench are livid at one foul which has left their players head “pissing with blood” as Tom puts it. The player a little aghast, does his best Terry Butcher impression, standing on the sideline while a bright white bandage is wrapped around his head. Such is their anger they have encroached a fair way onto the pitch, “get a grip of the game” shouts one of the bench to the man in charge. “Back on again and you're off” he says in reply, waving his hand at them, as they edge back closer towards their fish tank dugout.

This time the crowd are joined by the bench “Moors, Moors” they cheer, with just over ten
minutes of the half left. A slightly stooped close range ST header, means the game is all square. There is a brief celebration, the scorer dashing behind the goal among the flags which are in the air once more. He doesn't though revel in his glory for long and is soon making his way back to his half, along with his teammates.

“Have a grope around in your trousers” suggests the voice over the PA, his way of advising people to check if they have won the 50/50. The draw having been done, with the game still playing.

Alone now and sitting in one of the small stands,Tom has gone for food, I'm surrounded by people with blankets over their knees and Thermos by their sides. I find my tickets, not in my trousers but my notebook and suffer the ignominy of only being three numbers off the prize. The people at the next table along from us in the clubhouse I should think the winners.

Both teams are playing some “great football” as one fan puts it. When ETU have a shout for a penalty, one ST fan lets him know of in no uncertain terms what he thinks of his attempt to win a spot kick, “get up man” he says in his thick Durham accent.

“Come on rocks” barks a home fan, with the game flowing from end to end at quite a pace. The ST bench are close to peaking, I'm not quite sure what's wound them up so much, admittedly the referee has been a little dire, but they are near to erupting.

Tom returns clutching the most gargantuan burger “back on the double” that's a double pattie he tells me, the thing is dripping with cheese, the thin cheap paper serviette wrapped around it has almost disintegrated, unable to cope with its oniony greasiness.

In to added time and it's all change. The quite magnificent volley from well outside the box from the ST player all in red is destined for the top right hand corner of the ETU goal, is matched by an equally magnificent athletic save worthy of any top flight WWE wrestler, by the man who according to Tom looks just like one. At full stretch he tips the ball over for a corner.

2 - 1 ST, the “goal scorer to be confirmed” says the now hurting voice over the PA, this close to halftime I wonder if he has tidied away his team sheet, in preparation of his own “double” waiting for him in the wings.

There is a sizable evacuation after the half time whistle, most people making a beeline for the shelter of the clubhouse. Those fans not heading inside silently brush past each other right in front of us, the narrow pathway causing everyone to get very intimate. The ST fans going one way are led by the young man wearing a St Georges cross like a cape, rubbing shoulders with the ETU supporters most in yellow and black scarves going the other way.

Still not having confirmed the scorer, the voice does though remind everyone of the “FA regulation that everyone likes” that is in play today, that alcohol can’t be brought “back into the ground”.

Tom having finished his behemoth of a burger, realises the genius of the fans around us, “they've got the right idea” he says to himself, “where is my blanket?” he asks, like I forgot it.

The relocated ST supporters are quick to get back into the swing of things at the start of the second half, “Moors, Moors, Moors”. On the pitch it's got off to a bristling start. ST’s bench are in constant dialogue with the referee. “I appreciate the clarification” he says at one point, following one coaches observation on his latest decision.

Having been treated to one spectacular free kick tonight, I feel almost greedy, when we are offered up a second helping of set piece deliciousness. This one just as astonishing as the first. The ping of hitting the woodwork before heading in, the keeper caught out from the most ridiculous angle, it’s almost from the corner spot, is deafening. It’s replaced by the now familiar chant of the travelling fans “Moor, Moors, Moors” and a mighty shout of “get in” from the away bench.

Such is the enthusiasm of one ST player, there is a slight coming together between him and the referee. Tom suggest its a “barge”, I’ll stick with coming together.

Having been a goal behind, ST now find themselves two ahead, 3 - 1. One would think we’ve already had our allocation of allowed drama for one game. The remaining forty minutes of the match destined to be a dull affair. Anymore theatrics would just be gluttonous.

With the third ST goal feeling like it’s put this tie to bed, ETU have other ideas. Still with a little bit of fight left in them, they rally quickly and almost get one foot back in the game straight away. However they don’t have to wait long for an ST player to present them with another opportunity back into the match.

Through a body of players I can't quite make out what's happened, there is an almighty claim for a “hand ball” from both ETU’s players and fans. The referee has clearly seen something, blowing his whistle he reaches for his pocket. Not only is it a second yellow for the player responsible for the offence, but has also pointed to the spot too.

“Goal for the rocks” says a now much more animated announcer. Tom is also roused by ETU’s second, “interesting, interesting” he says to himself.

It’s a black and yellow siege in the moments following their goal, ETU taking advantage of being a man up, “come on you Rocks” pleads a fan in the stand.

I can’t quite believe what I’m seeing, let me get this straight, the team with the fewer players have just furthered their lead. Its a player in red, not yellow and black who is wheeling away from goal in celebration. Its a member of the away bench not the home bench punching in the air in response to a

The lady behind us sitting next to her young son in not best pleased with the language used by one let's say unhappy ETU player returning to his half head down. “Cunt” he shouts, the cunt in question being the referee, who in Tom's opinion has been “awful” all game. The unhappy player irked somewhat that he didn't give a foul in favour of ETU, allowing the game to play on, which ultimately led to the fourth.

Not that any of this is of any concern to the ST fans, “Moors, Moors, Moors”. They then give up on words all together and just go into a cycle of “ally, ally, oh, ally, ally, oh”. They have the best metaphorical seats in the house now, as despite having ten men, all the action is down the ETU end. Another fine fingertip save prevents a fifth, yes fifth goal, “Moors, Moors” they sing once more.

Unbelievable, might be one of the best games we’ve ever seen, I suggest to Tom, he reckons that's “bold”, but let me recap, oh and by the way the games not over, this is not the most abrupt ending to one of ours blogs ever, come on there are far too few superlatives. It's just ST have scored a FIFTH, and I’m struggling to think of a game which has had more than this one, my head is a mess.

One ETU fan thinks his team have “given up” one player certainly still seems to believe, “fucking loads of time left” he shouts, he's not wrong, thirty minutes to score three goals is not outside the realms of possibility, frankly I think anything is possible today, but the heads of the payers are low, very low.

Now in dreamland having just watched their team pull ahead by three, no pies, but they have all but secured the win and a place in the quarterfinals, they sing the loudest they have all night “we are Spennymoor”. To add to one fans good mood, Tom tells me it was one of them that won the 50/50. Having walked past the victor as he announced his wife was going to get “something nice” with the winnings.

The rest of the crowd is in shock, its gone very quiet. It’s just the very “merry” ST fans as Tom describes them, who are no longer singing just “ally ally o‘ing”. One in particular is beyond “merry” and is simply “very drunk” according to Tom. I’m not sure if it's him who is the ringleader of the six man conga, I imagine he is no position to start moving around, I imagine the only thing he wants to do is stand very still.

ST’s number 9 has been a menace all night. He is denied an absolute peach of a goal thanks to the quick thinking of the ETU keeper. The “touch” that one fan celebrates by simply blurting out the aforementioned word very loudly, on the run, is a thing of artistry and worthy of a goal.

Another conga and jibes of “you’re supposed to be at home” are usurped by a new song “black and white army”. A home supporter, fed up with watching, strikes up a conversation with a fan in the stand behind us, assuming he is from the north east, until he tells him he's from “Bracknell”.

It’s desperate measures for the home team, Tom noticing that they've put their “speedy full back up front”.

There has been an underlying current of tension all match, which has almost boiled over, but not quite. With about “2 mins to go” according to the ST bench, things get a bit out of hand, a spot of “handbags” as Tom calls it. The overriding consensus from most people, as the referee dishes out “another card” says an astonished Tom, and as one player puts it directly to the man in black “you've lost it”.

Toms theory that “you know when a ref is shit” because he is “dishing out all the cards” is a fair summing up of the man in charge. It’s never felt like he's had a tight grip on things.

On the pitch the players are flagging, the fans are just getting started, “we’re all going to Bromley” they sing, their opponents in the next round and another trip down south. No pies if I remember correctly at Hayes Lane but they do have a Pizza Hatch.

“Come on ref blow that whistle” implores an ETU player. When the boards lifted with five minutes of extra time on it, Tom can't work out where he “got that from”. As one fan in the stand states, “most” of the players are “going to work tomorrow” so lets get this game sewn up.

There is a slight spike in excitement when ST once again threaten to get a sixth on not one but two occasions. With his back to goal the player turns on a sixpence and shoots just wide. Again surrounded, this time next to the corner flag, the slippery player somehow manages to get the ball free and into the box, but the resulting shot is straight down the keepers throat.

The liquid in Toms vape is frozen, “enough is enough" he says, time to go home, the players feel the same, again an ETU player demanding  "ref fucking blow up”.

Clearly dejected its a nice touch of the voice over the PA to wish the ST fans a "safe journey" home, and what a journey that is on a Tuesday night. The ETU keeper also shakes the hands of those who have stood behind him for the second half, I hope in appreciation of their unwavering support all night. Their ever so slightly slurred version of what I've always known as the 'The Greasy Chip Butty Song' a highlight of mine, much better than any goal.

Although I'm sure in a rush to get off the pitch, changed and on the coach, the ST players have plenty of time to converse with their fans waiting by the tunnel. One replying to the thanks of one player for being there, tells him it was a "priviledge''.

A fellow Essex non league football enthusiast we bumped into during the match, David, was never put off coming tonight, despite the cold, the terrible crippling cold or the fact he'd had a long day at work. If he had been he would have missed the most thrilling cup tie, a 'proper cup' tie as people call them. Seven goals, one red card, and a comeback and victory with ten men of theological proportions, completely justifies sitting in the car, desperately waiting for the heating to kick in, hands and feet tingling with pain.

He much like us doesn't want to be "sat inside" because everything that has happened since 19:45, including the weather, "is what its all about".

P.S. To the person who forgot to order the pizza for the ST team coach home, did they let you on, or did you have to make your own way home?

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE 

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE


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