I have been very open in the past about my issues, this blog is a cathartic way to air my feelings, I’ve never held back, I’ve always been honest and gone into great depth about my unquenchable thirst for a 50/50 or half time raffle, so feel more than comfortable in discussing my newest breakthrough, as admitting you have a problem, is the first step to recovery.
Along with my aforementioned fiancee and son, I’m currently on our week away from the mundane at the seaside, searching out the perfect Slush Puppie, constantly reassuring my partner that she isn't terribly sunburnt, “no hun, you look great”. Tom is visiting his mum in Cornwall, so it should be a time to kick back, and relax, but a part of me is unable to switch off, and forget the blog.
The bank holiday fixtures were however an all too powerful force, so I’ve managed to shoehorn a game into my trip. “It’s Dad’s holiday as well”, is how I just about sell it to my 9 year old son, who if it isn't Minecraft or Marvel, just isn’t bothered.
I think I’m fooling Rachel when I tell her that it was an impromptu decision, off the cuff, an afterthought, but she knows it’s bullshit, just as I do. I sent out a tweet over a week ago, asking for recommendations about teams in or around Margate, and some not inconsiderable research went into today's decision.
Ramsgate, a ten minute train ride from where we are staying, is warm and breezy, with blue skies. On our way to the promenade, I join my son in a bit of Pokemon Go, but all the time I'm very conscious of my internal, Jack Bauer, ‘24’ style clock ticking down towards kick off.
The walk to the front takes a little longer than expected, but was at least pleasant. As I sit and wait for an oaf in a hi viz waistcoat to finish his ice cream before he starts the fairground ride that my son is sitting on, from the shade of his control booth, all whilst a man does bad covers of Simply Red songs on a pop up stage with an acoustic guitar. I have to pretend that all this sitting around is not affecting me, I have to pretend I’m more than happy to watch this bloke eat his Cornetto, counting the seconds before he turns on the blasted ride, so we can get going again, we are wasting valuable minutes.
More walking, more aimless walking looking for somewhere to eat, I’m sweating not because of the heat, but because Google's suggestions keep ending up closed. Doesn't it know its the August bank holiday? We pass a pet shop with a basket outside full of the skeletal remains of some kind of animal, a sign hangs above it “postman’s legs” can't we all just have a bit of that, that will tide us over, surely.
Where we do eventually end up is quite the oasis, from the public holiday, Mick Hucknall, blazing sun madness. A record shop come cafe, that has turntables playing Neil Young next to the polenta cake, and has just about enough cheese left over after the morning rush to feed my son, so I don't have to explain to his Mum that I gave him bones to chew on for lunch.
This is all well and good, but time is not on my side, I’m used to arriving with plenty to spare with Tom, which allows us to get comfy, take some pictures, ease into our surroundings. All this ambling, all this cooing from Rachel over the houses we pass, means I’m close to losing my shit.
Thankfully the brown sign pointing to “Football Ground” alleviates my withdrawal, we are close, close enough that the president won't die or a nuclear bomb won't go off, we are going to arrive in time, we won’t miss the start, not that I’m bothered or anything.
Once we are all paid up, and on the other side of the red and white turnstile, inside Southwood Stadium the home of Ramsgate FC (RFC), the jovial man dead ahead knows a sucker when he sees one, and is straight on me, and doesn't have to ask me twice, “jackpot tickets, 5 for a pound, best jackpot ticket you will buy all day”, he might as well have said “give me your money” and I would have.
Although I love Rachel very much, I make my payment to him low key, it’s not far off a folded banknote in the palm of my hand, she has helped me through some tough times, and I would hate her to think I have relapsed, but the chance to win a hamper of homemade cakes, a bottle of wine I’ll never drink or £23.46 in change, is just sometimes more compelling than love.
A no nonsense Stockportonian, Rachel can sometimes be a little too frank, so when our attempt to enter the club shop, a raised white portacabin next to where we just walked in, is halted because as she puts it, “it's full of old men shaking hands”, we have to bide our time, until admittedly a large group of ‘old men’ in club ties does pile out, and we can have a quick nose about.
The pleasing musk of old old football programmes, and a display of club merchandise, greets us, and there is not much room to swing a cat, so it's probably not a bad thing that the ‘old man’ quota has reduced a little. Josh and I pick a pin for Tom, and he is very amused by the use of farmyard animals as props among the scarves, mugs and pair a of signed goalkeepers gloves, think Selfridges at Christmas, but with a very distinct ovine feel. One miniature has Josh particularly entranced, because it’s managed to get it’s head stuck in a tiny fence, such is his curiosity the man running the shop has to tell him that the “sheep are not for sale”.
Match day is in full swing once we emerge, sadly for Josh minus a sheep, but with a few bits to keep Tom sweet, considering he’s missing out. As Josh reminded me on the way here, “it’s not Two Men In Search Of….” today. A few people, wisely if you ask me have taken to sitting on one of the concrete steps behind the goal with a pint, flicking through the programme or as it’s called here, the ‘matchday magazine’ soaking up some vitamin D.
“Hello good afternoon, welcome to Southwood” says the voice over the tannoy, not long after what I’m sure was the theme tune to Channel 4 news. Rachel and Josh have made a beeline for the shade of the main stand, which stretches along one side of the pitch. It’s curved, humped roof, has an almost art deco feel to it.
I stick around the mouth of what might be the longest players tunnel in all of football. A red floored pathway, boarded with wooden fencing, is very narrow and must stretch back a good 50-60 metres to the changing rooms far off in the distance. When a man in a straw hat, great choice, tells the man in a woolly hat, crazy choice, on the gate that the players are “coming”, there is much peering and watch checking, when they don't appear. Maybe they set off thirty minutes ago and all stopped off for a Little Chef, it’s that long.
When they do finally appear, all to the tune of 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra' by Strauss more commonly associated with the moon landing, after their pre match hike, they seem at double time. Kick off is imminent, and time is pressing, but every player to a man still has the time to shake hands with the woolly hat wearing gate keeper who wishes them all good luck.
“Come on you Rams” shouts someone in the big red migration once the teams have chosen ends, and Josh and I join them on their way to the John Reeves stand, a covered terrace, which is red and white of course, keeping in check with the rest of the ground. Underneath it, long concrete steps stretch out beyond it’s cover, most, including ourselves, lean against the red brick wall at its back, well in the shade.
One fan brave enough to stick in the sun, going by the scorched sections of the pitch, they might be better off out of it, has a brief exchange with the referee's assistant “have a good game” he says, the man with the flags reply is brief and to the point “I will”.
RFC get off to a flying start, get a couple of early chances and their number 11 looks exciting. This gives the group along from us every reason to be noisy, one, has a bit of the ‘late 1970’s punk band front man’ about him and I can’t quite work out what he is saying. It’s either a ‘Martha and The Vandellas’ reference, very niche, but very cool “nowhere to hide baby” he’s yelling or it's a play on words, considering RFC’s opposition is Hythe Town FC (HT), “nowhere to Hythe baby”, whatever it is, it has a certain ‘I quite like a ciggie or three’ gravelly tone, so I can't be certain.
“How they getting that back?” asks Josh when the ball sails over the wall behind us into no man's land. The person next to us talking to his grandson, suggests he “goes down to JD sports and gets a new one” all is not lost though, when someone simply shifts a loose fence panel and disappears, returning not long after with the ball, much to Josh’s relief, “the ball is back” he tells me.
Both men in goal have been reasonably busy, when HT have a couple of half chances the RFC keeper does well, and the fans show their appreciation. HT’s keeper in front of us, has probably kept out the best chance of the match so far, what should have been a certain goal, was smothered well, the attacker just dawdled that little bit too long, less than six yards from goal. As fine as his reflexes in goal have been however, it is his perceived time wasting that is getting the most attention, the noisy lot along from us, are making the referee aware of this at every opportunity.
When play is back underway, Josh brings up a few points with me from the game so far. Firstly he “can't believe how much they swear”, that's the players, not the fans, and wonders, with all the shoving and fowling “if they actually like each other?”.
“Come on you Rams” chant the supporters low and slow, after they go ahead, and it's the least that RFC deserve. The same player who didn't take the chance not long before, the dawdler, puts the home side in front from the penalty spot. “You've got it Rambo, this is it” shouts someone as he takes a short run up and scores, he continues his run, jumps in the air, pumping his fist at the same time.
When the tannoy comes on to confirm the time of the goal and the name of he scorer he sounds like the announcer at a train station. I’m straining my ear, like someone waiting for the announcement of their platform or an impending cancellation, he is completely inaudible.
“So far so good” says one fan to another not long after the halftime whistle, as the players start their long walk back to the changing rooms. The main topic of conversation around us, is the penalty, most people’s opinion being that, it wasn't one. “It was a goal, but it wasn't a penalty, I know that for sure” says one fan, “never a penalty” says another, “it was never a sniff of one” says a third.
When the winning jackpot numbers are being read out, its done at such a pace, I can’t keep up. I’m
still fumbling around to find my tickets, by the time he's finished, it's like he doesn't want anyone to know who has won so he can keep the hamper of fudge for himself, or whatever the prize may be. One ‘Rain Man’ has managed to keep up with his machine gun number reading, and is swinging his arm with a ‘darn it’ motion, not a winning ticket there then. Apparently the “prizes will be available in the club shop” but I will have to find out if I’ve won yet.
We have mentioned before that we enjoy the mix of music you get at non league football grounds, I’m sure there is a Tom Hanks, Oscar winning, chocolate based analogy I could give to encapsulate what I’m trying to say, but I can't think of it off the top of my head, nonetheless the Southwood Stadium has not failed to disappoint, and has admirably kept up the tradition. Before kick off the Channel 4 news theme tune, as the players arrived a bit of Strauss and now the cherry on the top, the theme tune to Police Academy, everyone's favourite 80’s cop movie franchise.
Josh is quickly learning that the recovery of footballs is a crucial task at every club in the ‘lower leagues’. We are both however caught by surprise by one man’s efforts, as we make our way to join Rachel in her red plastic chair in the Colin Hill Stand with the rest of the prawn sandwich brigade, normally one for roughing it on the terrace, today she opted for comfort. All of a sudden perched high on the wall at the back of the stand, showing all of the dexterity of a leaping mountain sheep, a man appears grinning down at us both, Josh both stunned and amused asks quite rightly, “how did he get up there?”.
Rachel is quick to share her thoughts on the first half, and we have some differences of opinion, we can though both agree on the “dazzling array of top knots” on show “ from “both teams”. Although we agree on the abundance of trendy haircuts, and that RFC’s 11 is looking great and she add’s that HT’s number 9 is doing well also, with the only downside being that he thinks everything is a hand ball, we differ on the match itself, she thinks it's been quite an even game so far, I think it’s been all RFC.
Tom would have loved these seats, not so much for the view, it’s not all that, but for the smell, the nostril busting smell of the onions wafting over from the beige mega shed tea bar, right next to where we are sitting.
Forty five minutes is how long I got out of Josh today, which might be a record for how long a football match has held his attention, but for the start of the new half his nose is buried in my tablet and he misses HT’s early chance.
Its RFC though who should have gone further ahead, only for a miss of “Ronny Rosenthal” proportions, which is how one fan puts it so eloquently. Somehow what should have been a tap in, after the player had the ball laid back to him on a plate, he somehow conspired to miss, from less than six yards out. In his defense it must have taken a nick or the slightest of deflections, because it results in a corner, which lets him save face a fraction, but he had to score..
A good barometer for how well, or how badly RFC are doing, is reflected in how many people are on the sidelines shouting and gesticulating. One person is a constant, “Del Monte” as Rachel has christened him, the manager in a straw fedora, not a pearly white one like the pineapple hunter I must admit, he is playing out every kick and pass. If things start to take a downwards spiral then he is joined by another chap in a white polo shirt, who standing less than a foot away mimics the gaffas poses. If things hit rock bottom then a third man appears, who clearly has not got the memo about what to wear, he is in black shorts and t-shirt, and all three go hell for leather, dishing out instructions to the players, and give the linesman on the near side an ear full.
They have every right to be unhappy, RFC are being sloppy and if it wasn't for the raised flag of the assistant, HT would be on a level pegging and really would have had no right to be, with the game now descending into a scrappy, slightly heated one. The HT number 3 seems to kick out following a challenge, the assistant who is on top of it, gets it both barrels from the bench, Rachel is sympathetic, “poor lino”, the rest of the supporters are not, “warn that number 3” demands one fan, ‘Del Monte’ looks to be on the edge of a complete melt down and another fan a few rows in front of us is appalled, and accuses him of skullduggery “I don't think he wanted to see it”.
He’s back again, “nowhere to hide” he bellows following a goal, RFC’s second, a close range header following a cross from the left, the resulting celebration almost goes a bit ‘Steve Morrow’ with the man whose lifted up the scorer just about holds on to him, and avoids dropping him on his head. Hopefully now the nearside assistant will get a bit of respite, as there is a palpable drop in the RFC management's collective blood pressure.
Before number 11 gets the third of the game, a goal he has richly deserved, there is a five minute spell of absolute pandemonium, as RFC condense a game's amount of chances into 300 seconds. A cross come shot, almost catches out the HT keeper, but he tips it over well, there's a curling shot from just inside the box and an overhead goal line clearance. Someone is quite right when they say that little spell was, “worth the entrance fee”.
‘Del Monte’ jogs up the touchline punching the air following his team’s third and final goal. When the man on the tannoy comes on, in an obvious state of frenzy, he has turned himself up a bit too loud, as it's verging on the deafening, but he sounds like he is having fun wherever he is.
The final moments of the match following the goal and the maelstrom, is a bit of a come down, as the game peters out, to be fair no one could keep that pace up and it's probably a good thing for the RFC double act, not sure they could've handled much more. One HT player is lucky to stay on the pitch, after he cannons the ball off a downed RFC player, imagine Ashley Williams on Van Persie, but without quite as much theatrics.
When the away team get a shot on goal, which has been a scarce thing in the second half it's well off target and one fans asks “how wide do you want the goal?”
When RFC’s number 11 is subbed off, he gets the biggest round of the applause of the day. Slight, small, with good touch, and a taste for the tricky, he was my man of the match.
“Where did that come from” asks a confused fan when the board goes up with the added on time, one fan though sees it as a positive “4 mins, 2 more goals”.
Those leaving around us can agree that RFC “needed the 2nd goal” that’s what effectively did away with HT, or as one person put it “killed them off”. HT are off and down the tunnel pretty sharpish, but not before a couple of home fans and players have done the sporting thing, “well played Hythe”. Some HT players except the acknowledgment, “cheers mate” some not being surly or rude, say nothing, with heads down, they leave the pitch.
RFC on the other hand are bright eyed and bushy tailed, and applaud the fans waiting at the fence for their support. ‘Del Monte’ wants to ensure there is a proper warm down, and catches a couple of subs trying to slink off, but they are back soon enough. On our way to the clubhouse, for a much needed drink, we hear the RFC players in high spirits, cheering and hollering.
More chances to gamble, really, I thought I was the one with the problem. The opportunity presents itself when one of the bar staff approaches me clutching a white board, saying for only £3, I can enter the draw, but I decline. I need instant gratification, I cant wait three weeks for the results, I’m not about the long game.
Perhaps Josh’s highlight of the day once we’ve found a seat at the edge of the obligatory non league clubhouse dance floor, just left of the small stage, with a cold drink, is when he discovers the ground is a Pokestop. While he gets those all important Ultra Balls, Rachel and I reflect on our singed ears and blushed cheeks, and realise the only one sensible enough to bring a hat was the 9 year old, not that I could pull off a Batman baseball cap, if I’m honest.
Curious I should think about the person who asked the team to pose with a flag after the match, the chairman of the supporters association and club committee member, in his pristine tie with tiny golden rams leaping all over it, comes over and introduces himself. “Makes a change” is his reply after I congratulate him on the good result. Today was also a good result for the coffers, a decent increase on the head count thanks in some part to the good weather and bank holiday. With the combination of non league day and the FA Cup for their next home game, not that he will see it, he is off on holiday and will miss the next “3 games” which he looks miffed about, they are hoping for another big crowd, “keep the momentum” he explains “keep the income coming in”.
Josh did a good job at filling in for Tom today, more ‘One and a Half Men..” than two. He took a couple of nice pictures, didn’t manage to watch the whole match mind, but at least he didn’t go on about food so much.