Sunday, 10 January 2016

Listen To Geoffrey - Edgware Town FC Vs Ampthill Town FC, Spartan South Midlands League One, Silver Jubilee Park (02/01/16)

Hello 2016, hello non stop rain, hello endless Tweets about postponed games. Thankfully our match has stuck two fingers up at Mother Nature and shouted in her face “you will not win!”, because Edgware Town FC (ET) have a 3G pitch. You could drop an ocean on it, and once you have swept all the starfish away, you would still be able to play, in the immortal words of Wayne Campbell “GAME ON!”

Tom’s timing is immaculate, I notice a flat cap wearing figure appear from the gloom, at a bus stop en route. Once aboard it takes him a minute to realise that I'm sitting about a foot away, or he is ignoring me, we exchange pleasantries about how annoying our families were at Christmas, how much cheese we ate, and what PS4 game we received that allows us to waste endless hours collecting bobbins or fancy hair brushes.

Off the bus, and a short walk later, a large green notice board at the entrance to a very soggy park lets us know we are on the right track. Not too far in the distance, past the waterlogged fields, and miserable looking dog walkers, four thin floodlights stretch up into the sky, too narrow to even cast a shadow, they are beacon in the ever worsening weather.

Not put off by the burnt out car just past the entrance, a homemade sign written in black marker pen, stretched across a fence next to an intriguing small red brick turnstile tells us we have arrived “Silver Jubilee Park”. I had seen it online abbreviated to SJP, I’m sure the club would like it made clear, as would I, that the abbreviation is in no way infringing on the copyright of ‘Sex In The City’ actress, and wife of Inspector Gadget, Sarah Jessica Parker. No-one wants a Victoria Beckham, Peterborough United FC situation on their hands.

From Inside his cosy, dry turnstile, Chris greets us in his woolly hat. A first year club board member, and newly appointed women's team manager, he is more than happy to venture into the drizzle to excitedly point out works and developments underway, all across the ground.

I think it's fair to say the ground is a little sparse, for now, but you can see that is all about to change. The clubhouse and changing rooms are elevated along one side of the pitch, tacked on end is the main and only seating area. A small green covered terrace sits at the top of a slope behind one goal, with only a low hedge separating you from the surrounding park and picturesque tree covered green hill, that rolls off into the distance.

The warmth of the clubhouse is much appreciated, and except for a few ET fans in their green and white scarves by the bar at one end of the Viking Longhall we are first to arrive. Two things are clearly king here: darts and dancing. There are six darts boards, four on one wall, two on another, and a large wooden dance floor, that takes up the majority of the floor space, and shines some light on the sign on the way in “dancers this way”. The Dundee derby is playing on a large screen at the opposite end of the room, as we take a seat on one of the tables covering the centre of the room, stopping Tom from breaking out a few moves he highlights the obvious “they like their darts”. We can hear the music playing in the changing rooms through the wall, like a neighbour having a party.

“Happy New Year” says the man behind the bar, which is three quarters optics and beer pumps and one quarter tea room, snack bar and club shop. Mugs, scarves, programmes and old pictures fill every available inch of space. The bulging, cling film wrapped rolls take pride of place, stickers written in biro sit on top of them, letting you know what’s inside, it’s just a cup of tea for now, but I have a feeling that we will be back.

Tom is on weather watch, every so often peering over my shoulder out the window behind me “still raining”. The ham salad rolls on the bar proved too tempting, and he is quick to grab us one each, producing a bag of crisps from his rucksack to go along with them. In hunt of a programme I nip back to the ET corner, and meet the club chairman, and former Port Vale FC player Daz.

A tall Northerner, he is beyond modest when I compliment him on their fantastic season so far, “yeah doing alright” he says in a mannered Staffordshire accent. One loss in the league, three in all competitions, a goal difference of +45, score lines such as 6 - 3, 12 - 3 and 9 - 2 twice, I think can most definitely be described as a lot better than “alright”. Perhaps somewhat the perfectionist he tells me of their “100% away record” but he is a little perturbed when he talks about their home form “lost all our points here” he says, pointing outside. That is five points by the way, one draw and one defeat, hardly relegation form.

Back at our table, it’s not long before the inevitable, its raffle time. Curiously Tom gets involved, perhaps the chance of a bit of Kit Kat money has tempted him to the dark side. It’s not your usual set up, it’s a scratchcard the likes of which we have only seen once before at Wadham Lodge FC. Pick your team and if it appears under the silver panel, you’re the winner. Arsenal are taken much to Tom’s annoyance, so he opts for Wolves, Spurs are not even on it, so inspired buy the game on the TV, I go for Celtic.

Patiently waiting, while we deliberate what team to pick, is club committee member Geoffrey, who tells us that the raffle is a big help in raising funds. By his own admission he has never had any interest or “involvement” with football before, but as a recent retiree, he needed something to fill the void. Even though new to the ‘Beautiful Game’ he seems to have got to grips very quickly with the importance of grassroots football. He then encapsulates its necessity, in two effortless sentences, he sums it up so perfectly that I wonder if there is any need to go on, his words will probably be on t-shirts some day, children of the future will ask, when they are watching the PC World International Sky Plus Yellow Tie League One “why did we not listen to Geoffrey?!”

“It’s like a tree, you need the roots. If you don’t keep the roots going, the tree doesn't grow”.

Daz joins us “what’s up?” he asks, I’m now armed with my notebook, and he is more than happy to tell us in more depth about a club with a dark recent past, but with a much, much brighter future.

In 2008 due to the loss of their ground ET’s original incarnation went under, and was reformed in 2014, all due to what seemed to be a flippant comment between friends. “Why don’t we start our own club, so we don’t get fired” said Daz to the now owner, who happened to own the rights to the ET name. Always interested to know what drives people to start a club, it is a well documented headache, what is their plan? “Promotion back to the Ryman Premier and take the club back to where it was”.

£250,000 has been spent on the ground to get it up to a category C standard, which will eventually be big enough for nearly 2,000 spectators. A much higher standard than they require he admits, they get about an average turnout of 80, but they will be ground sharing with Hendon FC of the Ryman Premier League, it’s a perfect partnership. “God send, the 3G” he says as the rain continues, so many clubs at this level I’m sure are envious of it, many away games have been canceled, and a fixture backlog is growing.

“Hard work at this level, but it’s rewarding”

The local community, “lots of local schools use the pitches for free” and attracting new fans is high on the agenda. With a large catchment area, and not a huge amount of competition, only Barnet FC whose prices for a League Two side some might deem a little steep, what better than a local affordable club.

He introduces us to the match day secretary “I do all the hard work, then he takes over so I can relax and have a few pints”.

There feels like a lot going on at ET this afternoon, and it’s not long until we we bump into a familiar face Deryll David the sharpest, youngest referee in the land, who recently made a video with our friends at Pitch Talk. Imagine a dash of James Bond, mixed with the cool kid from your secondary school, he looks well turned out in his suit, and is at ET because his game had been called off. Referees are a bit of a theme, and why the boardroom is out of bounds, the match officials are being assessed and as Daz put it, gesturing to the men in dark suits “we just leave them to it”.

“It’s easing” says Tom, the rain has gone from cats and dogs to a downpour, as he returns to the noisy clubhouse after taking some pictures of the ground ,“some flags out” he tells me, hanging from the back of the covered terrace.

The low slung roof of the main stand and it’s pillars are reminiscent in a very small way of the back of the west stand at Highbury, and make for a slightly obscured view, but Tom is quite right when he says “we will stay dry unless the roof collapses”. Opposite us on the far touchline, someone is “really struggling with that tent” as Tom puts it. The removable roofs of the slightly squiffy dugouts, are getting caught in the wind, a two man job proving almost impossible for the poor soul who drew that short straw. Tom does wonder if something is afoot, you hear stories of clubs making the visiting team’s life as hard as possible, no hot water, smaller changing rooms or in this case a roof “do you think the away team get one?”.

The visitors Ampthill Town FC (ATFC), are oblivious to the shenanigans, and are finishing their warm up just in front of us. The coach can maybe sense a bit of anxiety amongst the players “very quiet today, let’s get the talking going” he says, and attempts to inject a bit of confidence in them “no reason we can’t get 3 points”. One player slips off the edge of the pitch, looking angrily at where he lost his footing, clutching himself, wincing. The coach ushers the team inside “lets go, lets go, lets go” reminding the players there is no-one to clear up after them “make sure you take water bottles and tops in”..

“Ted, you will be able to give up work” shouts one fan over to the man who has just been told he has won the raffle, although not bitter, Tom is perhaps a little sore to say the least considering the winning team was Arsenal.

The King starts to play as the team’s walk out, I love an eclectic choice of entrance music. One ET fan is still full of the New Year spirit and sings along making his way to his seat “it’s the wonder, the wonder of EDGWARE!”. The music is also a cue for the people still inside to make their way outside, there is now a noticeable amount of other football scarves on show Boreham Wood FC and Hendon FC whose games were abandoned.

“Stop cuddling and get on with the game” shouts the singer “hate that huddle” he announces. The voice over the tannoy is a bit more genteel, “hope you all enjoy the game”.

ET get off to a flyer, scoring after four minutes, and don’t look back, “come on you wares” shouts a supporter. Tom thinks the celebration is a little muted, the players perhaps have a feeling they will be getting a hatfull.

Despite Tom’s slight objections, “the rains picked up” we move after the goal, in search of a better vantage point, and join the few who are braving the elements, standing behind the goal, only once we have squeezed past the club photographer under his humongous fishing umbrella, next to the stairs from the changing room down to the pitch. A few people with their own more sensibly sized brollies stand pitchside.

Toms mind is wandering, perhaps not fully recovered from his East End barrow boy themed New Years party “that pot noodle sounded nice”.

Fifteen minutes gone, 2 - 0 the green machine keeps rolling on. One ATFC coach is understandably not best pleased “too easy” he bellows. For a moment, both our attentions are taken away from the celebrations, as what I can only describe as scene from ‘The Birds’ is playing out, a mass of gulls, and smaller darker birds clearly angered by the ATFC defending fill the sky.

ATFC get their first shot on target after about twenty minutes, and even though it’s pretty tame, the fact it was allowed to happen does not best please what is a tough crowd to please round here, “come on Edgware” he says like a disappointed parent.

Just shy of thirty minutes gone ET get their third, a goal one player tells the scorer was “superb” another that it was “mustard”. “They might look like Brazil, but they don’t play like it” is Tom’s opinion on a pretty torrid thirty minutes for ATFC.

“Come on Edgware”

“What you having at half time?” I ask Tom, “a pot noodle with a hot dog sticking out”. However, before he can get stuck into that, ET have a goal chalked off for offside, but they have no reason to worry, they are making chance after chance, it could be in double figures already. When they do get a fourth just before pot noodle time, Tom describes it perfectly “he went through everyone”, the player rounds the keeper and scores, it finishes off a dominant, rain soaked half.

“Well done boys”

A large Geoff Shreeves holds the attention of most people, as he shouts in that way he does, about what looks like a very dull first half in the Premiership. “I love a pot noodle” says Tom, the fiend, I'm not sure how you can it fucking stinks. It’s space age contents stew away and every so often he peels back its tinfoil lid, only to close it back up, because it's not quite ready.

The heads of the referee, followed by the players bob past the small window of a door next to big Geoff, and we make our way outside, the steward on the gate, that lets the players onto the pitch, shares a joke with one “you actually going to start playing?” This half we are joined by a lot more people, ET are attacking this end now, with the shelter it makes for a much more inviting proposition.

More fans means more songs, and the group from Boreham Wood FC, who we recognise from our recent visit, join in a few “we’re green, we’re white, we’re bloody dynamite”.

“Rains back” says Tom, I’m not sure it ever went away, but it’s now difficult to see anything that is not illuminated by the floodlights, except for the Griswold’s house the other side of the park or a Temple, with its golden spires perched on the hill in the distance.

I’m not sure if one fan has been working on this song, slaving away like a creative type, surrounded by scrunched up balls of paper, or has come up with it on the hoof, nonetheless it’s quite impressive “we’re not Real Madrid, we’re not FC Barcelona, we’re Edgware Town and Matty is our owner”.

ET are in complete control, and the game has been a bit of a procession since half time, they make chances, but as one fan puts it “we’re just going through the motions”, like when a burst of pace down the right, results in a good ball across the box, there is not one ET player there to meet in, no player is really busting a gut, much to the annoyance of one screaming fan “why is no-one in the box!?!”

“Got a bottle of Vodka in there” says a fan to the ATFC keeper while he takes a drink “4 - 0 at halftime, you need a drink son”.

A goal from ATFC, a great flicked back header, brings what just seems like a counting the minutes to home time exercise, to life. ET’s players are furious, and argue amongst themselves, as one fan puts it it’s only a “consolation goal”, but a clean sheet always makes for a better result.

“Come on Edgware, come on Edgware”

“Can you hear the Ampthill sing?” sing the group near us, and although there is no response, you can most definitely hear the green and white spirited horn one fan has produced from his bag, giving it a blast every time the ATFC keeper takes a goal kick.

“He comes from Italy, and wears Versace”

The home team players continue to grumble with each other they are being sloppy, “Jesus, boys” shouts one towards his teammates. With about thirty five minutes of the second half gone ET get their fifth goal, a shot from the edge of the box fizzes into the back of the net, and the referee might as well blow the whistle now.

Very little of note happens in the remaining minutes of the half. We do marvel at the fact four people are huddled under the mega umbrella, and I wonder if you have to pay Council Tax on it, it’s so huge. A mass exodus of two fans means they are serenaded by those who are staying for the final whistle “is there a fire drill, is there a fire drill”. There is a chance in extra time for the ET number 11 to make it six, only to hit the post from a yard out, leaving everyone, no more than him, a little baffled.

The saturated ET players are clapped off “come on you ‘wares” and Tom almost gets as muddy as them, as we make own way down the grass verge just in front of where we had been standing, and he almost go arse over tit, I’m fine however, thank God for Doctor Martins!

Things are looking very rosy for ET, so many pieces of the jigsaw seem to be falling into place, just at the right time and it’s quite remarkable so soon after its rebirth. If you fancy some darts, a dance, a pot noodle or some Elvis, ET is the place to be.

For all our photographs from the match, click HERE

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