Monday, 30 January 2017

Bit Late For That - Canvey Island FC Vs Bognor Regis Town FC, Ryman Premier League, Park Lane (21/01/17)

With not even a month of 2017 gone, the world has already witnessed a major historical event, one that might join that list of such monumental happenings, that it will forever punctuate people's lives, “I remember where I was when…….”,

Now don't go and get ahead of yourself, I’m not talking about that micro handed buffoon, who unnecessarily mouthed “thank you” a lot, and quoted whether deliberately or not, a baddie from a Batman movie, no I’m talking about something much more seismic, I got a car.

I’m sure some of you might think, ‘but hang on Dan, you're inadvertently sabotaging yourself, how will you now fill a large portion of the opening of your blog, with petty tales, of your hatred of public transport?’, and alas that has dawned on me, but do not fear concerned reader, I have not set fire to my Oyster card quite yet, and we will still be traveling on the train or bus, like the rest of you, again soon. However, having our own wheels means our horizons are now a little broader, and what better way to mark the arrival of our silver steed, than popping down to Essex, for the afternoon.

Before I am able to break free of the M25, I must navigate the Holloway Road, alone, with only the sound of my beating heart for company, as I do everything in my power, not to kill or be killed, on the way to pick up Tom.

Having only taken one wrong turn, ended up down one dead end, and been glared at by one cyclist, I feel it was a successful journey, on my arrival at Tom’s swanky converted shipping container, grass roofed, flat, in London’s fashionable Dalston.

No longer having to rely on scribbled directions on a piece of paper on the passenger seat, Tom turns out to be quite a proficient navigator, with a little help from the lady on his phone, he relays her instructions well, and an hour later, we are making our way through an Essex housing estate, but not before we pass a woman in the road clearing up after a crash, “why’s she got a broom?” asks Tom, and a zombie apocalypse car, covered in fake blood, and with a severed hand, decorating the front grill.

The car park of the Len Salmon Stadium, home of Bowers & Pitsea FC, is one we have been in before, although it was summer then, today it’s crisp and frosty, but it’s a ground we’ve never watched a game in. Our last visit, was not for our other blog, ‘Non League Carparks’, but because it was the staging post for the coach, which took us, and the team to the Essex Senior League Cup Final in 2015.

Bowers are a team, who in the short time we have been doing what we do, we have shared some big highs, as well as some big lows with, and today was our chance to finally see them at home, after watching them three times, all away. For one reason or another, whenever we try to come, something occurs, an inevitable spanner in the works, illness, train strike, family emergency, and today is no different, in fact I would be suspicious, if it was all plain sailing. Today the culprit, a frozen pitch.

We arrive to a scene of much mulling, the players and staff of Bowers, in a group on the pitch, as a frankly over dressed referee in a blue suit and pointy brown shoes, walks the side of the pitch, which lies the shadow of the main stand, that is currently rock hard, conducting his inspection.

Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, Robbie Williams explodes over the sound system, serenading a near empty ground. When the away team arrives, bolstering Robbie’s audience a little, they quickly dump their kit bags, and are soon on the pitch, looking it over, themselves. Some producing keys from their pockets, and giving the surface a prod, some just doing the age old, ‘smash your heel into it’ routine.

“There's a couple of faces I recognise” says the ever smiling, Rob Small, Bowers manager. His prognosis is less than positive, “not hopeful” he tells us. They are waiting on the arrival of the club groundsman, Darren, to see if he can work his magic. “Brush it”, “water it” are all things Rob tells us might work, or they have tried, I’m sure I even saw on Twitter, a picture of a pitch with running cars on it, to thaw out the ground, anything to make sure the game can go ahead. The rest of it is “perfect”, adds Rob, it’s just the thin strip, holding us all to ransom.

Darren soon arrives, and unless he can “move the sun a bit”, he doesn't think there is much chance of the referee letting things go ahead, he tells us the man in change is going to “put his boots on” and give it one last check, but not until he's “had his coffee”. One arriving fan has his own drastic suggestion, “just cut this off, then we’re on”, he says, pointing to the roof of the stand, that is currently blocking out the sun.

Now with more appropriate footwear on than before, his winkle pickers back in the changing room, the referee and his assistants run the line, but it’s soon clear that we are not going to be breaking our Bowers hoodoo today, “destined not to see a game here” says Darren, today at least he is right, but much like the Terminator, we will be back, hopefully in a cool, second movie kind of way, and not an old, and kind of embarrassing third and fourth movie kind of way.

The away team, notified of the cancellation, quickly shift their focus from the game. On our way to the car, we hear a very loud suggestion from one player, of going “down the pub”. We on the other hand, will not be heading to the nearest ‘Dog & Duck’, but must see if we can rescue today, and find another game.

Deeper into Essex, towards the coast, via a multitude of roundabouts, that I traverse with varying levels of success. The pot holed, gravelly car park of Canvey Island FC (CI), is already reasonably full, manned by what I think is a father and son team, both in matching orange high viz, the boy a smaller carbon copy of his Dad.

The entrance to Park Lane is a contrast of old and new, what looks like a brand spanking new clubhouse and turnstile, sit just in front of the Danny Green Community Stand, an uncovered concrete terrace, with yellow railings. On the side, it's easy to miss a mark showing the “sea level”, which is about four foot off the ground, and is I’m sure, making today our first ‘subaquatic’ match.

Like lizards on a rock, most people are spread out on the pale grey steps of the terrace, a natural sun trap, because despite the clear blue sky, with not a cloud in sight, it iss bitterly cold, and they are a small haven for those wanting to keep their core body temperature above ‘0’.

“They got Bovril”, says Tom as we pass the ‘Food Bar’, outside it among the familiar local Essex twang, we hear a few not so common broad Lancashire one’s, a few Bolton fans whose game at Southend, was also scuppered, have made their way here.

There are a mixture of children hovering around the entrance of the pitch, moments before kick off below a faded sign, “Welcome to Park Lane” , imagine like at the top of the steps at Anfield, just more seagully. There are those appropriately dressed for the weather, done up to the nines in winter coats, waiting for autographs, and there are the rest, today's mascots. A mixture of the clubs and Benfleet FC’s, under sevens, all in shorts and shirts, who are jogging on the spot, trying their best to keep warm.

“Welcome the teams out”, says a voice not dissimilar to Deputy Dog, over the tannoy, a little melancholic, and it’s greeted with the distant high pitched hoot of an air horn, which in turn is followed by a mention of today's sponsors, “T.I.T., Trotters, Independent, Traders”.

Both teams huddle, a column of steam rises from them both, “it's warm up here” says a relieved fan behind us, the terrace most definitely the place to be, until the flip of the coin that is, and the teams change halves. “Other end we go” says a miffed Bognor Regis Town FC (BR) fan, who I imagine quite fancied at least one half in the sun, but now has to go and stand in the shade.

“Still 0 - 0 a minute after kick off” are the fateful words of one CI supporter, delighted that his team are yet to concede, though this is short lived, and not long after a chorus of “come on Canvey” from a group at the back of the terrace, banging on its wall, CI go a goal behind, and the mood quickly changes. “Gonna be 8 - 0” says one particularly pessimistic fan, “two minutes in!” says another exasperatedly.

CI currently lie twenty third in the Ryman Premier League, BR first, “could be a long afternoon”, suggests one supporter. Another seems to think the writing is already on the wall, telling a friend, that they will at least have the “best clubhouse in the Ryman North”, that’s the league below the one they're currently in.

Despite their early setback, CI slowly but surely, get back into the game, and find no difficulty in creating numerous half chances. A hooked shot from inside the box clips the face of the crossbar, “most excitement we've had in about a year and a half”, announces one fan. The current score though doesn't diminish the enthusiasm of the small group behind us, who continue to bang the wall, and cheer on their team, “Canvey, Canvey”. I must admit this is far more agreeable, than the BR air horns, or tortured woodland creatures they are manipulating to create a quite ghastly noise, which is already wearing a little thin. It’s ear piercing squeal, is normally preceded by a shout of, “green army”.

“Want one of the world's hardest sweets” offers my companion, on his return from the tuck shop, where we watched the first goal go in, whilst queuing for his tea, and pre made sandwich bag of pick and mix. The mood of those also in the line was far from optimistic, with one small child not pulling any punches, “we’re gonna get battered”.

BR think they have scored again, but it’s chalked off, for offside, quite to the relief of the home fans, whose team almost score themselves, only for the chance to be missed, a “fucking free header”, quoting I think, the Harry Redknapp manual of coaching, CI continue to create chances, and are getting in good positions, but just can't capitalise.

A clearance from the BR keeper, cannons off the rear end of a CI player, sending the ball looping towards the goal, all eyes are fixed on it, willing it in, but it’s just over, landing on the roof of the net, “ohhhhhh”. “Come on Canvey, it’s gonna come”, shouts the flat cap wearing man next to me, encouragingly, who has continued since the start, with his positive vibes.

It’s CI that are playing the better football, they are more than able to string a few quick passes together, but as Tom quite rightly puts it “they need someone who can shoot”. The slick play, has caught one fan off guard, “whats going on?” he asks out loud, one is so delirious, a madness brought on, by his team's efforts, he goes as far as to suggest, “it’s like watching Brazil”.

“Yellows, yellows” sing the fans, buoyed by the team, who are also fed up with the BR supporters choice of instrument, “stick your air horn up your arse, from the first min to the last”, I wouldn't dream of being so crass, but it really is annoying.

CI have a big shout for a penalty turned down, the referee waving away any claims of foul play, one fan suggesting the pull in the box, was so blatant, it was more like a, “fucking hug”.

Shortly before the half is over, the opinion of the home fans is that the BR keeper is already trying to buy his team a little time, “1 - 0 up, and you're playing like this?”, “it’s embarrassing!” one bellows half over the railing, at the keeper who is making extra specially sure, that the ball is in the right place, for every goal kick.

“This the same team I’ve been watching?” asks one fan to another, who is so confused by the performance, of the team he supports, they have become unrecognisable. Again they get the ball in the right place, but again, can't get it over the line, this time two players go for the same ball, just outside the six yard box, both missing, the ball eventually bouncing tamely into the keeper's arms.

Regardless of where you are, there are a few almost certain things taking place, rituals if you like, at every football ground, around a quarter to four: the extra time is being worked out, the tea urn is getting a top up, a fresh batch of onions are going on the grill, and if it’s a game we are at, without fail, Tom is thinking about eating, “how's the food here?” he ponders.

One person, already making his way to the bar, asks a fellow fan, “how are we not winning?”, the reply again, is like a cattle prod in the side of fate, much like the comment of the fan in the opening minutes of the game, “you've gotta take your chances”.

“Two shots, two goals” mutters someone, when BR score again with the half all but over, “fucking useless” mutters another. The man next to us, tries to see the best, of what has been a difficult half for the home team, “best we've played” he says quizzically, not sure after all those chances, how they are now two behind, which is nearly added to, BR though unable to make it three, from three.

Tom is off like a flash, abandoning me for the already snaking queue for food, which by the amount of people already returning getting their food on, is doing a roaring trade. I take a seat on a cold step, and watch a tanker, pootle up the Thames estuary, which lies just beyond the opposite goal. We have enjoyed our view from the peak of the terrace so much, as well as Tom insisting on taking advantage, of every last ray of sunshine, we ignore, normal non league protocol of swapping ends for the second half, and decide to stay put.

‘Morning Glory’ by Oasis, is momentarily interrupted by the stadium announcer, informing all of the imminent draw of the 50/50. I remove the bright yellow tickets from my notebook, and cross my fingers that I can get my hands on the “£86” on offer. Yeah right, new year, same old shit.

The Stone Roses replace there fellow Mancunians, still on my own, I pass the time, taking a series of Instagram worthy shots of the sun dipping over the roofs of the nearby houses that surround us on three sides, and finally disappearing down behind the yellow and blue stand, that runs along the side of the pitch.

Shouts of “Canvey”, have been replaced with shouts of, “come on you rocks” and the abundance of yellow and blue, has now been replaced by green and white, which is of course accompanied by the horns, which on closer inspection, are not air horns, as you would know it, but what looks like a bicycle pump, used very much in the same way you would to re-inflate a tire, but instead producing its signature sound.

There is a familiar symmetry between the start of the second half, to the start of first, except that the pale blue sky, has now turned many hues of orange, pink and purple, one might even say Turner esq, get me, very high brow. CI craft a chance, don't take it, then BR score early again.

When I use the word ‘lanky’, don't think I'm trying to be offensive, or demeaning, but it's really the best way to describe the scorer of BR’s third, their number 9. Tall, athletic, rangy, raw, would also be suitable adjectives to sum up the forward, who gets a bit of luck with a deflection, to grab his goal. He is the point at the tip of the BR attack, and by the end of the day, will have done a thoroughly good job of single handedly terrorizing the CI defence.

Slowly descending into a pit of self loathing, the stadium announcer, who had admittedly sounded a little dispirited before, I’m sure he would just like to read out a CI goal scorer, once in a while, now sounds distraught. Confirming the name of the most recent scorer, and the time of his goal, with a noticeable deflated tone, he sounds like he is all but ready to go home.

Once again a shout of “green army” goes up, one BR fan is spot on when he says almost apologetically after his team have furthered their lead, that CI “played well in the first half”, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduce, as he put it, they just, “didn't take their chances”. There is a single cry of “come on Canvey” from the estuary end, but as one BR fan puts it, it's a “bit late for that”.

It’s hard not to be hypnotized by the slow moving boats, floating past silently, combined with the ever plummeting temperature, I find myself slumping into a kind of glazed state. Thankfully the continuous noise of the BR horns, stop me going fully catatonic and Tom noticing my hands are turning a shade of blue, he offers me a tiny pair of what I imagine are child's gloves, that are so tight, it’s more comfortable not to wear them, and to expose my extremities to Mother Nature.

There is suddenly a moment of controversy off the pitch, a flashback to a bygone era of football hooliganism, when the local hard nuts, a couple of kids maybe no older than fourteen, infiltrate the BR end, decry that they “hate Bognor”, and then quickly revert to type, running away, like children playing knock down ginger.

“Save” says almost everyone, me included, when BR’s keeper gets a hand down low, to a close range snapshot, that prevents CI clawing back some kind of dignity. The resulting corner and clearance, which quickly becomes a counter attack, just about sums up the home team's day.

A big hoof up field, and in the blink of an eye, it’s gone from a CI set piece, to an instant break away, BR outnumbering those CI players not in the box, two to one. It’s no huge surprise when the towering number 9 coolly slots it past the keeper, making it four for the visitors. The late tackle from the recovering CI defender catches him, but he effortlessly rolls out of it like a commando, springing to his feet and punching the air.

As ever, football fans fail to show an ounce of sympathy to the plight of their opposite numbers, I’m especially worried about the announcer, when everyone in the BR end start to sing, “you're going down”.

Every BR attack feels like it’s going to result in a goal, “few holes in that defence”, says Tom as CI are carved open again, as we make our way from the terrace to pitch side, he's not wrong, you could sail a couple of those tankers, right thought it.

Over my shoulder, I’m conscious of not getting in the way of those stood up against the glass of the clubhouse, pint in hand, enjoying the central heating, with a look on their faces of, ‘I know I should be outside, but I need to self medicate with alcohol’. It’s the marauding, Aquascutum wearing children, who are still singing, only their high pitched shouts, are all that now can be heard from behind the the goal their team is attacking.

It’s of course a different situation if you're winning, the BR ranks still fill the concrete monolith, it could be snowing, and they could all be in t-shirts, and they wouldn't give a damn. One person, has taken one small precaution against the cold, having draped his green and white flag, “BRTFC GREEN ARMY” over his shoulders like a cape. The majority though keep warm, by singing to the leaving CI fans, I wonder if the announcer is one of them, “we can see you sneaking out”.

“Should of just cleared it, it’s embarrassing” snarls one CI fan, his yellow scarf around his neck, he stands side on to the pitch, turning away, unable to watch anymore, after a CI player dawdles on the ball in the box, has it pinched off him, allowing the the mountain BR number 9, to gets his hat trick, and BR’s fifth. He rocks a bit of a John Cena celebration, before jogging towards the fans, many who are now lining the fence, “who are we, green army”. I’m relieved when a familiar voice comes over the tannoy, and although he’s clearly not in a good place, he is at least ok, and hasn't walked off into the sea, like Reginald Perrin.

In the dying moments, CI almost get a consolation, an expression I have never understood, when an outside of the box screamer is just helped over the bar, by the fingertips of the keeper.

There is a touching moment, an expression of real die hard support, when a young boy, stands by the tunnel, his hand outstretched, high fiving the sullen CI players, as they leave the pitch. No words are exchanged, every player good enough to respond to his offer of support, except one, who not only hits his hand, but asks him, how his recent “holiday” was.

On the pitch, the mood is quite the opposite, walking towards their supporters, clapping, the BR players acknowledge the traveling fans, whose horns have finally broken Tom's last nerve, “that fucking horn”, but what do they care, “we are top of the league”.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

For our video from the match, click HERE





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Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Twenty Eight Wins, Two Draws - Bridon Ropes FC Vs Crowborough Athletic FC, Southern Counties East League Challenge Cup 3rd Round, Meridian Sports Club (11/01/17)

Hello 2017, hello first game of the New Year, hello shiny North Greenwich station, hello smug look on my face, as for the second game running, I’m early, and here before Tom, don’t let anyone say you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

Annoyingly Tom doesn't allow me to wallow in my new found  smug glow for long, or to gaze at the impressive sky line, the shimmering Canary Wharf just off in the distance, as he soon arrives, bearing gifts. Handing me a long, slender box, wrapped in a curious goth black paper, which he apologises for, “sorry”, he wishes me a late “happy birthday”.

I needed cheering up, not because I’m a year older since our last match, I’ve done that crying, but because I spent a large portion of today watching the new Martin Scorsese film, ‘Silence’. A graphic, heart wrenching tale of the attempted introduction of Christianity into Japan, that has left me feeling a little low. When I unwrap my present, but only once I’ve made it past the overly used sellotape, do I feel very touched, when I discover I’m now the owner of a sparkling, silver Parker Pen.

“Fed up of you chewing” he says, in reference to my propensity to gnaw on the end of my biro, between notes, which I imagine is a less than attractive site.

Tom's gift giving, and me opening it, has meant we have taken our eye off the ever expanding queue for our bus, we really should have paid more attention, the bruises on our arms from the elbows of pensioners, desperately trying to get to the front, should've set off the alarm bells, but I was too busy gushing about my new pen, and Tom was too busy lapping up the praise, I was heaping on him.

Eventually on board, Tom somehow finding a seat, I’m stuck in the doorway, deflecting the tuts of people trying to get off, as we wind our way through South East London, where every stop seems to start with ‘Millennium’, but not one of them ends in ‘Falcon’.

“Always think that’s a bit morbid”, says Tom, the bus dropping us off outside a care home, which is only separated from the nearby cemetery, its headstones partially lit by the full moon, by a stone wall and black iron railings. He then makes a kind of motion implying that they, ‘they’ being the elderly residents, once expired, are simply tipped over the fence.

A potholed, tree lined car park, where Mums and Dads wrangle their children after the end of football practice on the nearby astroturf, who beep their horns at us to get out of the way, as they race home, is where Google maps has brought us, “Meridian Sports and Social Club” reads Tom out loud from the sign in front of us, but something doesn't feel right.

We continue on, in that pioneer spirit we both embody, ignoring the ‘where the fuck are we’ look, Tom is giving me, we round the corner of a big white building, that dominates surroundings, eventually arriving at the poorly lit doors of the Meridian Sports Bar, peering through the windows, at a room full of people inside.

Adjacent it looks like there is a further pitch, there are certainly flood lights, but they are off, the full moon quite literally unable to shed any light on, if we are in fact in the right place. We are somewhat relieved, when who turns out to be the groundsman instructs, who turns out to be the coach of the visiting team, that they are to warm up away from the pitch, but can jump on “ten minutes” before kick off, so they can “get used to it”. I suspect it might be in a bit of state, something to do with the recent inclement weather.

Tom’s glare has now been dialed back a bit, but he is still not convinced. Once in the bar, the players of tonight's home side, Bridon Ropes FC (BR) are sitting side by side, with their opponents, Crowborough Athletic FC (CA), all in their respective club tracksuits, their kit bags littering the floor, we both can finally breathe easy.

It’s a cup of tea for Tom, which he waits for as the staff discuss the rota for an upcoming wedding. He returns from the long bar, excitedly, with a green packet of crisps, the bold writing on the front, has got him intrigued “pleasingly punchy”, they claim. However after a few bites, he informs me slightly disappointed, that they are “not very punchy” and are “just cheese and onion crisps”.

Being the trooper that he is, he is quickly reassessing his options, “looking forward to curry and chips” he tells me, reading from the menu above the stainless steel topped food counter, a young woman uses it to keep her balance, standing on top of a gold hoverboard. “Bacon roll”, announces the tabard wearing woman from behind, “BACON ROLL” she shouts, finally getting its recipients attention, who goes up to claim it.

“Maybe a baked potato, you can't go wrong with a baked potato”, Tom informs me.

It’s a short, but sweet “hello” from the BR’s Chairman, Clive. Not in any way suggesting he was dismissive or rude, but he just seemed like someone with a 101 things to do, and one of them was not gassing with us two. He very kindly tells us we are welcome to look around, and then he’s off again.

Outside the floodlights are now on, and it gives us a much better idea of our surroundings. The big white building, with the children in their gi’s doing laps of the upstairs function room, is very much the main feature of the ground, the lights have also illuminated the small turnstile, next to it a sign, “home of Bridon Ropes FC”, which features the clubs badge, a coil of rope.

“It’s too cold”, says the woman hovering between the turnstile and the bar, not wanting to commit herself to standing outside for too long. When she does take up position, I overhear her suggesting to Clive, they should get a heater, he jokingly replies that they “can't afford one”.

I think its right to say that the Meridian Sports Ground is minimalist in appearance, no unnecessary
clutter, except for a ride along mower that looks like it's seen better days, I bet the place has great feng shui. A pale fence, the kind you have in your garden surrounds the ground, a simple white metal railing separates the spectators from the players. There is a small, blue seated stand on the halfway line, opposite the clear perspex dugouts, and behind them a long line of bare trees, on the horizon the blinking light of Canary Wharf. Behind each goal large nets prevent stray balls going in the car park at one end, and into people's houses at the other.

Despite its low key setup, it has everything you need, and is very tidy, the pitch in particular catching Tom’s eye, who he thinks the person responsible for it, might be partial to a bit of “Fifa”, because of the geometric pattern mowed into it. I suggest that perhaps they have taken inspiration from the King Power stadium. Also any thought of it being a mud bath, after the groundsman's comments before, are quickly dismissed, it looks like a fine surface, which is confirmed by a CA player leaving it after the warm up, when a club official says, it “looks nice”, the player replies “it is”.

The players tunnel is long and dark, the referee's assistant, a mere silhouette, only when the changing room door opens, does the light from inside flood out. As is more often the case in non league football, BR ground share, so they have their own ‘home’ changing room, upstairs, and the visitors use the actual ‘home’ changing room, of the team who they share the ground with, a bit of a head scratcher.

Unlike the Olympistadion in Berlin, there is no escalator, to bring the pampered stars from upstairs to down, just an unpainted staircase, with a pair of double doors with round portholes at the bottom.

Both teams line up side by side, shivering and fidgeting. Some I imagine are already cold, and some nervously anticipate the wall of cold air that is about to hit them, once they step outside.

“Come on Ropes”, “come on Crowborough” shout both supporters and players as the teams arrive on the pitch, greeted also by a stiff wind. Above where the players emerged, a couple of people have bagged the best seat in the house, the first floor balcony of the sports bar/changing rooms/dojo. They only get a couple of feet onto the pitch, before the referee stops them, initiates the handshake, between the hopping, hand in shorts to keep warm players, no need to walk in this chill all the way to the centre circle.

With the visitors being from a league above BR, it is no great surprise that they start very much on the front foot, however it’s the underdogs if you like, that get the first meaningful chance, much to the announce of one CA player who remonstrates with the lino, after losing the ball in a robust challenge, asking, while still on the floor, “how is that not a foul?”, all whilst BR counterattack, their attempt requiring a fingertip save to keep it out.

There are the occasional shouts from the two sets of supporters, the majority of the home ones are gathered around the dugouts, the majority of the away ones sitting, or standing near the stand. The players as ever are noisy, shouting instructions at each other, those kind of inspirational, could be from a poster, kind of one liners, however both fans and players are overshadowed, about a quarter of an hour into the half by the young girl, maybe 7 or 8, in a white winter jacket, running down the side of the pitch shouting “FOOTBALL”, and looking as happy as Larry.

“Game heads” shouts the BR keeper to his teammates who have all just mobbed their coach on the sideline, joined by the rest of the bench, following a quite unexpected goal, that puts them in the lead, completely against the run of play.

There is a lot of the game to go, but one nearby BR fan is already speculating about how it would be a, “good result for us”, if they were able to win. I also hear him explain to the person next to him, the somewhat mythical run CA, are currently one, “29 unbeaten”, he explains, for it to come to an end against a team from a league below, would be a bit of shock.

CA almost equalised straight away, a constant of the match so far, has been their prowess in the air. Two corners, one right after the other, are very dangerous. BR’s coach looks on, “that's a ball you don't know what to do with” he says to himself. His keeper, in his own words, being a little bit “flappy”, they are lucky to come out unscathed.

Since their goal BR have come on leaps and bounds, growing into the game you might say, fashioning themselves a chance to double their lead, the shot is flashed across the goal, bringing the bench to its feet in anticipation, but its wide. The home coach is a real picture, turning and squirming, either standing bolt upright arms crossed, or rocking down low on his haunches, he doesn't know what to do with himself. CA look a different side since the goal, rattled and out of sorts, lacking any of the confidence they were showing, before they conceded.

“Tell my ankle that” says a downed CA player to the referee, after a big, “50/50” challenge, as Tom puts it, which is not the first of the night by any stretch of the imagination. The man in charge saw nothing wrong with it, and let’s play continue, and certainly doesn't enter into any kind of conversation with the CA players talking joint,  which if I was him, I would keep under wraps.

Much like, if such a thing existed, I wouldn't know about these kind of things, I’m a family man, some kind of food pornographer, Tom whispers in my ear “jacket potato”, which sends a shiver down my spine.

This must mean the end of the half is close, if he is thinking about food again. It does end shortly after his sweet nothings, but not before one last scare for BR. A skewed kick out from their keeper, puts the ball at the feet of a CA player, just outside the box, which doesn't come to anything, but one female spectator is on her last nerve, “STOP IT” she screams.

Lucky for her the whistle blows, allowing some respite, Tom joins pretty much everyone else making their way back to the bar, leaving me, watching the substitutes, try and keep warm, with a a bit of shooting practice.

Players have to crisscross with fans, holding hot drinks in white cups, as they return for the second half, a couple of standoffs break out, “you first”, “no you first”, but I’m happy to report, they all end amicably, without gunfire.

In one hand a cup of tea, in the other a groaning, yellow polystyrene tray of what Tom says are “half cooked chips”. With no obvious place to rest his drink, my frozen hands are full, so I’m of no help, he finds himself with a bit of a conundrum. There is a brief moment of silence, and I think if I were to look close enough, I could see the cogs in his head, trying to figure out how to overcome his predicament.

Surely what any respectable person wouldn't do, would be to lift the tray to their mouth, reject millions of years of evolution, the need for an opposable thumb, and attack the the chips, head on, like a character from Hungry Hippo. Oh wait, hang on……..

Once he’s removed the mayonnaise, which I think is in fact salad cream, but he won’t hear a word of it, from his face, as well as the BBQ sauce, which he liked very much, he tells me of a halftime, handbags, that has spilled outside, meaning the second half is a bit of a blur of watching Tom devour chips, with no hands, telling me why he did not get a jacket potato, because of the “20 minute” wait, and pointing out one of the main protagonists of the aforementioned handbags, who is not very far away from us, and is repeatedly, and very loudly  using the expression, “mugging me off”.

Not sure of the context of the “mugging off”, I wonder if he thought his chips were half cooked? He should have just slathered them in the BBQ sauce, and everything would've been good in the world.

As we all the know, the basis of most male friendships, is taking much glee in watching their friends
embarrass themselves, and as we moved to a new vantage point, I was the length of a white shatterproof ruler away from being able to recount the story of Tom being hit in the head by a stray ball, for years to come, it was so close!

Usual service has resumed once again, and it’s all one way traffic, the idea of BR getting out of their half, seems like fantasy, eventually CA’s pressure pays off, the constant waves of attack prove too much, and they get themselves a penalty. “Horrible challenge” says Tom, it wasn't cynical or dangerous, just poorly timed.

“Possibly the worst penalty I've ever seen” states Tom ,”power over precision” he adds, proving pressure is a two way thing, after CA’s number 10 skies the ball over the bar.

There are many expressions applicable, to BR’s current situation, ones that adequately encapsulate how the game is playing out for them right now, ‘backs to the wall’, ‘in the trenches’, or why not reference a well known 13 siege Texas Revolution, ‘ The Alamo’. Following a long range, screamer of a shot from CA, which is just fractions over, one BR player shouts, “regroup”, chillingly echoing some fallen platoon, on its last stand, just need Michael Caine, and a dodgy upper class accent to complete the scene.

CA are being equally stoic, their keeper yelling at the top of his lungs, “give everything”. Tom on the other hand, while the poetry of human suffering is playing out in front of us, is talking about “wintering in Spain”, as the cold slowly gets to him.

With the game entering its final moments, BR get a rare corner. “Why’s the big man taking it” queries Tom, as the towering BR player approaches the corner flag, and is joined, by a much shorter teammate. His stature would imply he would be better off in the box, but when his team mate nudges him the ball, the man mountain stands inches from the flag, the ball at his feet, with two CA players trying to win the ball back, to no avail. With not a single BR player in the box, Tom cotton's on, that we are witnessing the dark arts in play, running down the clock. “That's why” he says, as the ball bounced off the unit for a goal kick, eating up valuable time, and their dastardly plan is complete.

It was coming, CA’s impending goal seemed inevitable, there was some small glimmer of hope that the football Gods would allow a bit of an upset, but CA had been so relentless, looking particularly dangerous all game from corners and crosses, it’s not a huge surprise, that it’s a headed goal, that draws things level. There is little celebration from the away team, the scorer jumps and punches the air, dishing out a few low fives to his teams mates, but one player has already picked up the ball and is jogging towards the centre circle, there is no time to waste. BR like statues in the blue, are motionless and distraught that they were unable to hold out.

The CA player with the ball, puts it on the centre circle, and the visitors now have the air of a team, going for the kill. The BR coach from the dug out, does his best to lift the players, “heads up”.

“How much is left” asks Tom, as the match descends into a bit of a twilight zone, it feels like it should've been well over by now, but it just carries on, each minute that passes, feels like a minute closer to CA scoring again. It’s a small miracle it’s not happened already, following the most almighty of goal mouth scrambles, which had goal line clearances, and a cross come shot hitting the bar, and going out, BR are holding on for dear life.

Stunned silence, from everyone in the ground except the celebrating CA players and supporters. The supplier of the cross from the wing, which resulted in CB’s second goal, their second in maybe just over a minute, another header, is getting all the plaudits, his teammates rushing over to him, even the keeper, makes the full pitch dash to jump on top of the bundle.

Once again, there is a cry from the home dugout, “we fucking go again”, but it’s wishful thinking, this dream is over, heartbreak all round.

BR’s coach has the job of literally picking his players up off the floor, following the final whistle. The dejection and sorrow of the last minute loss, is clear to see across everyone's faces. CA have been gathered in a group, for an on pitch debrief. I’m sure the sentiment of the management being, that’s what happens when you don't give up, that's what happens when you give it everything you can until the last.

As they leave the pitch, their supporters line the exit, “come on Borough” someone shouts, one person is whirling a wooden rattle, in recognition of their efforts.

With the ground empty, the cold and wind driving everyone inside, it’s only us and the BR cameraman, climbing down from his homemade gantry, which has a tripod and a bar stool on top, left in the ground. He explains how the videos are a massive help for the coaches, amazing how at this level, measures like that are being taken to improve the team, but also in case a player scores a “worldy”, they can see it again.

Before we leave, Tom needs to visit the loo, which it turns out are also the away team showers, he returns with the look of someone who has seen more than he was prepared for.

Having already been aware of CA’s remarkable current record, before the BR fan had mentioned it in the first half, such is its near Biblical status, I wanted to confirm it for myself, with someone from the club, to make sure I wasn't mistaken. I interrupt a man in a CA jacket, who's just about to dig into a plate of chips, to confirm the run, “twenty eight wins, two draws”, he confirms, wow!

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

For our video from the match, click HERE





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Monday, 9 January 2017

Come On Allsorts - Tooting & Mitcham United FC Vs Whyteleafe FC, Ryman League South, Imperial Fields (31/12/16)

A dense mist hangs over my road as I leave the house, on the last Saturday of the month, in fact the last Saturday of the year, on the very last day of 2016. Although it obscures my view of the end of the road, hampering my ability to spot the arrival of my bus, it is in no way of the Arthur Conan Doyle proportions that have shrouded most of London in the past weeks, not so much a White Christmas, but a foggy one.

December has been a bit of a drought month for us, our last game being all the way back at the end of November, and our trip to Lisbon, but the stars have aligned to ensure we can at least squeeze one in at the eleventh hour. Having been unable to take advantage of the abundance of football, on the festive calendar, Tom being away, and I’ve been busy with my son, eating chocolate oranges and playing Monopoly, it's a relief, that I’m off to meet Tom in South London, for a 3 o'clock kick off, which are a bit of a rarity for us.

Having vowed recently to relent on my commentary about my no love loss for the Underground, for once there is nothing to mention, most people are so comatosed from their intake of gammon or are fastidiously reading the T&C’s on the receipt for an unwanted or ill fitting gift, it goes past without incident. I’m so engrossed anyway in the program I'm watching on my tablet about Victorian Bakers, learning about their plight, and watching a woman chop up tripe to put in a mince pie, that a troop of clowns could have walked through my carriage, and I wouldn't have even raised my head.

I am only temporarily distracted from educating myself about quite how much of an influence the Victorians had on the Christmas we know and love and the fact that if in doubt, the baker from the 1800’s will just add more currants, to make everything ok, by the fact my evening plans for New Year's eve, are slightly lacking.

Tom is off romantically glaring at his girlfriend across a Kentish Town restaurant table, then hiking up a hill to watch the fireworks, other friends are shacked up with their new baby, while the rest are attending various house parties, at the moment all I have is an invitation from my Mother to watch Star Trek, and eat spaghetti bolognese, with her, my brother and about five cats. Gone are my drug and booze fueled 31st’s, in black light lit rooms, staying up until sunrise.

I disembark my train, climb a small flight of stairs, exit the station, and wait patiently for Tom. I’m early and here before him, which is always a good start to the day. He is though close behind, his fuzzy shaven head an easy spot among the crowd. We exchange Christmas based niceties, and make our way to a nearby bus stop, for the very short and what feels like very wobbly ride to today's ground.

“All looks a bit Juve” says Tom, commenting on the abundance of black and white, visible even from the opposite side of the road of Imperial Fields or the KNK Stadium. The two name situation similar to that of Arsenals Emirates Stadium or Ashby Fields. As nice as the setup is, and the similarity in shirt design between our hosts and Juventus, which is my second favourite kind of football strip, after white with a blue trim of course, I’m pretty sure this is where Tom’s Turin based reference ends. I don’t think he is trying to suggest the ground before us, bears any resemblance to the Juventus Stadium, for many reasons, one being, although I might be wrong, is the fact it’s adjacent to a BP garage.

Today’s venue though has a much more inspiring name, not ‘KNK Stadium’ which is the name of the sponsors, a local building firm, whose blue and yellow vans fill the car park, but ‘Imperial Fields’, which sounds like somewhere gladiators go to die, and as we pass through the black iron gates, on one half TM the other FC, along with a welcome sign that has seen better days, we have arrived on the home patch of Tooting & Mitcham United FC (TM) otherwise known as ‘The Terrors’.

TM are a team we have seen before, at last season’s London Senior Cup Final, where we were very impressed by their support, as well as their nickname, which would strike the fear into the heart of any opponent. Nothing warm or welcoming about ‘The Terrors’, it sounds like something to do with the Spanish Inquisition. If you heard you were playing ‘The Robins’, what's the worst a small garden bird can do?, or ‘The Hatters’, what are you gonna do hit me with a boater?, you might think you were in with a chance, but ‘The Terrors’, that's a name to make you think twice.

Tom of course is not concerned with the imposing tone of a clubs nickname, or the decorative qualities of some gates, because his eyes are locked on to the mural covered hut in the distance, ‘The Shak’. It’s name, set among blue sea, yellow sand and palm trees, quite the oasis, in our current grey suburban reality.

“Caribbean takeaway”, shrieks Tom, much in the same way I imagine he did on Christmas Day, when he opened his beard oil, or new snood. He is though quick to ask himself out loud, with The Shak's shutters down, if it will be “open today?”.

What is very much open, a stream of TM players making their way in through the small door in the black and white striped wall, sport bags over their shoulders, which most have retrieved from the boot of their nearby cars, is the ‘Sports Bar’. Tom stops momentarily to read the sandwich board outside, suggesting we “stay here all the night” as it closes at “five in the morning”.

The Old Firm derby holds the attention of most people inside, despite no sound and it being played out to some boy band, they watch intently nonetheless, still "oohing" and "ahhing" at a close shot, or mistimed tackle.

At the bar, it’s tea for us, nothing stronger yet. As we order, a man in a TM polo shirt leans over the bar and discreetly tells one of the girls behind, that there is no loo roll in the “referee's toilet” and can they sort it out, he then hands them a handful of programmes, which results in her being quickly set upon, by me included, handing her £2, to secure my copy.

We take up a seat on a high table near the door, just behind a chap in an England shirt with ‘Stevo 69’ on the back, who's selling programmes to those too slow to have bought one of the few from behind the bar. Our table has a small lantern full of fairy lights in the middle, in keeping with the the rest of the room, which has the last few visible signs of Christmas, still hanging on the walls. We don’t have time to settle, as we have company, a tall man, in flat cap.

@HackbridgeHarry, as I’ve known him until now, despite a name like that, he’s not a member of the Krays gang, but as Steve puts it in his own words, “an aging punk”, who “loves football”. After the handshakes, he wants to clear something up, “who's Arsenal?” he asks, I give him my best ‘not me governor’ face, Tom having “already noticed the pin”, that's the Gooner one on the side of his hat, raises his hand, admits to his sin, and they both spend the next five minutes discussing the highs and lows of following them lot in red and white.

Steve’s love affair with the lot from Woolwich, is all but over from the way he is talking, “I fell out of love with the Prem” he tells us, that's why he started watching TM “10 years ago”. Post move from Highbury, it had changed for him, as I’m sure it did for a lot of Arsenal fans. Tom suggests that “we”, pointing at me, and we being Spurs, should take heed, with the impending stadium change not far away, but we will be ok, won’t we?

Our table is quickly surrounded, and again someone I’ve only ever spoken to via the internet comes over to introduce himself, David, TM ‘s programme editor, who was responsible for using our Cup Final blog in the clubs programme. He adds to the warm welcome, his silver white beard, big smile and spectacles, giving him the air of a character from ‘Wind in the Willows’ about him, as well as an undeniable resemblance to Richard Attenborough.

His jolly demeanor does slip for a moment, when Steve’s son tells him that there is a “mistake in the programme”, and he gives him a friendly tap on the head. Mistake or no mistake, it’s a programme they are clearly very proud of, and as Steve puts it, they consider it more of a “fanzine”, a light hearted and humorous window into the club and its fans, one where they are more than happy to “take the mickey out of themselves”, adding that they try to be a bit different from the “po faced” ones so many clubs create.

Before Steve takes us off for a tour, David kindly invites us to the boardroom at half time, where we can sample the soup and crusty roll, which he describes as “magic”.

First stop of the tour, the corridor connecting the two changing rooms with the tunnel, heavy with the smell of Deep Heat, the walls covered in club memories, as well as the ‘House Rules’, the last point being ‘say hello/goodbye’. We are introduced to the manager, tall, slight, with floppy hair, who has a handshake that could bend steel, I have to make sure I don't wince, as he momentarily turns my hand purple with his python grip. His assistant, shorter, with salt and pepper hair, and an accent from north of the Watford gap, has an equally Marvel superhero esq handshake, that I’m sure could stop a speeding bullet. I might need a moment with the physio.

From the home changing room, a loud roar goes up, stopping us all for a moment, as the music, which was well above 11, suddenly stops. Someone forget the charger? A power cut, or is someone meddling with the playlist? Whatever the issue may be, normality is quickly resumed, when it returns.

Down a slight slope, the pitch beyond perfectly framed by the end of the white plastic tunnel, we go from the relative gloom of inside, into the brightness of the day, and for the first time get a look at Imperial Fields from the inside, and there is much to be impressed by.

Formally “Chelsea and Crystal Palace’s training ground” Steve informs us, it is very smart. Much smarter than most teams at this level, Steve agrees, and suggests it’s easily good enough for a team at “National League level”.

Behind us, the main stand, TMFC spelt out in white seats, against the rest which are black, many of which are already occupied by people digging into their chips, Tom might be in luck, The Shak, might be open after all. To our left and right two identical large banks of terracing, both partially covered, both nameless. Steve tells us, that whatever end TM are attacking, its known as the “bog end”. Opposite is a long grey fence, with bare trees, a field and houses visible in the distance.

Steve has been a font of knowledge and an outstanding guide, but we feel we are keeping him from a warm drink, so tell him we can explore from here, and bid him farewell, until kick off at least. As he disappears back up the tunnel, the tannoy comes to life, blurting out what Tom always calls “Dad music”, and which I can only ever describe as the kind you get on CD’s advertised on TV around Father's Day or in a cardboard sleeve, free in the Sunday paper.

At the same time as TM, their opposition for the day Whyteleafe FC (WFC), are called in by their respective coaches, “in we come Whyteleafe”, shouts someone in a WFC tracksuit. “Yes please gents” says TM‘s manager, or ‘Bone Crusher’ as I have affectionately nicknamed him, although not to his face, I’m not mental. As both sets of players oblige, following their instructions, the groundsman starts the thankless task of prodding down the divots, created in the warm up, with his mighty trident.

The smell of Deep Heat is still prevalent, but it’s a lot quieter outside the changing rooms now, than it had been before. ‘Bone Crusher’ and his tag team partner, ‘Iron Fist’, pass me not long after calling the players in, they have done their talking, and have left the players to it, who quickly turn the music back on. When one of the referee's assistants appears, clearly finding the music choice agreeable, he’s carried along by it, approaches the TM dressing room with a swagger, knocking on the door, and wishing the person who answers a “Happy New Year”.

With the ends decided, WFC’s four flags are up sharpish, the largest of them, simply says “LEAFE” in green, but from the other end of the pitch it looks like it’s flanked by two Umpalumpas. TM‘s fans are a little slower to climb and fill the concrete steps, which Tom and I have scaled to the top of, allowing us a great view, but their flags, of all sorts of designs, a Jolly Roger and a black and white St George’s Cross, are soon up, and they are quickly singing, “come on Tooting, come on Tooting”.
One TM fan, who seems so far at least to be the origin of most songs, the Capo, if you will, with his jacket done up tight with a black and white scarf poking out, is not impressed by the numbers that make up the traveling contingent, “a flag for every supporter”, he says in an unmistakable, gravelly, South London drawl.

To be fair to those that have traveled from East Surrey, although there is not many of them, huddled together on the middle of the terrace, they do make a good noise when they sing, and their Willy Wonka themed banner has me intrigued.

“Time check please” I ask Tom, “ten past three” he tells me. It’s taken him a full ten minutes to tell me “he's hungry”. He is going to have to wait until half time, maybe we can go and get our hands on some of that soup.

The chanting from the home end is non stop, WFC are singing, but it’s hard to make them out, over the din around us. “Tooting” shouts the Capo, the rest responding, “Mitcham”. They also make sure to let anyone who's listening know, that they know what they are, and that's the “Champions of London” referencing their win over Hendon in last years London Senior Cup Final. When we can hear the away end, their repetitive shouts of “Leafe”, sound a lot like ‘Leeds’ which isn't lost on those around us.

“Lovely shirt keeper” shouts one fan to WFC’s pink clad man in goal, but I sense he may not be being genuine, perhaps even a bit sarcastic, so I refrain from striking up a conversation with him, about how I really do love a pink jersey, how it takes me back to my youth, and watching Italian football on a Sunday with my Dad, because he might look at me like I’m a tit.

WFC’s leafy home, Church Road, where we have in fact been, two seasons ago now, is very pleasant, just skirting the M25. This therefore to London centric types here, might as well be Somerset, because in between their own chants, “come on you stripes”, the home supporters are shouting at the opposition fans in West Country accents about “tractors” and things being “bad for the harvest”, although I’m not sure what things. They also suggest that they, know what they are, that being, “extras from Poldark”. Now I’m no expert on the BBC period drama, but isn't it basically Sunday evening softcore porn? Sounds like the perfect program to be involved in, to me.

As far as the game is concerned it’s been a bit of a non event so far. Steve suggested that WFC would
be a “tough nut to crack”, but I wouldn't say it’s any masterful display of the defensive arts from the visitors preventing a goal, in fact TM have the first meaningful chance, but the attempted finish sums up the home attack so far, a little lack luster, low in quality, the shot is easy for the keeper to palm up into the air, and then catch.

The lack of action, means a fierce debate has broken out on the terrace, “how good is the SPL?”. The most staunch advocate for it being a bit shit, is a young man in a brown jacket, who I think is a Fulham fan, who is forthright with his opinions. “It’s a stepping stone”, he says, talking to who I assume is a Celtic fan, about Dembele, and his continued meteoric rise, he suggests the Hoop’s fan is “deluded” if he thinks they will hold on to him for the next “6 years”.

When not talking about the state of football north of the border or farming equipment, the referee and his assistants are the main focal point. “Get the custard out your eyes” bellows one fan in front of us towards the assistant, Tom agrees, suggesting he is a little “flag happy”. Such is the amount of time the said flag is being raised and dropped, the same fan who made the custard clearing comment, suggests said lino, should get a “bell" for it, so he can use it "for his morris dancing”, signing off this particular tirade, mumbling, “one eyed git” into his scarf.

“Lovely little move” says one person, after TM go ahead, a little out of the blue, with thirty minutes of the first half gone. A tidy finish, is followed by the scorer, arms outstretched, running to the corner flag, looking up at the crowd behind the goal celebrating, “come on Tooting, come on Tooting”.

With the half slowly coming to an end, the sun dipping over the nearby houses and not much happening on the field, the two stewards next to us, having very little to actually steward, one of whom has written ‘steward’ on the back of his high viz coat with a black marker pen, conversation once again takes a Caledonian turn, but this time it’s about the New Years honours, and one Sir Andy Murray.

The previous SPL chat, had thankfully been devoid of any attempts at Scottish accents, but for some reason the ever so slightly squeezy, Bricktop from Snatch looking fella in front of us, offers up his own contender, late in the day I know, but it’s worth considering, for the single worst attempt at one ever made, I mean it makes Mel Gibson's in Braveheart, sound like he grew up in a Glasgow tenement his whole life.

All out of current affairs to discuss, the attention again falls on the officials, “you’re a waste of skin” shouts one person, “open your eyes you one eyed wanker” shouts another.

WFC finish the half, with their first meaningful chance, but put it wide. There is a collective, “ahhhh”, from the TM fans, but not for too long, because there is a player to remind of his miss, “how wide you want the goal?”.

On my way to meet Tom at our rendezvous, he went wandering as he does for the latter part of the first half, I pass Steve packing up the flags, whose opinion on the game is still a cautious one, “could still go either way”.

Have I been stood up? Where is he? I call him, and it takes a moment for him to answer, when he finally does he tells he’s in the queue at The Shak, thinking with his stomach, rather than sticking to the plan, I’m not hugely surprised, he then utters a sentence which is a first for me, “I’m getting the Bovril in”.

Still in the same position, just now at the other end of the pitch, and just after Tom confirmed the figure on the WFC banner is not an Umpalumpa, but in fact what looks like Beethoven drinking a pint, not sure of the relevance of the great composer to a non league football club, but it’s cool nonetheless, he hands me what he describes as “gravy in a cup” or “hot marmite”, and is amazed at the fact, that it’s the first time I’ve ever had this 60’s throwback of a beverage, “I can’t believe you've never had Bovril before”, alright mate, get over it.

Tentatively sipping from my white styrofoam cup, at the steaming murky liquid inside, Tom extracts a pattie from a paper bag, takes a big bite, and tells me it's, “nice”, but in the same breath suggests, he doesn't really want to think about what’s in it. He explains how he ended up with the West Indian snack, after first ordering a “sausage roll”. When he got the reply from the server, “a square sausage roll?”, thinking it was a mistake, and he had misheard, he reiterated, he wanted a “sausage roll”, but he was the one mistaken, the person serving him did say “square sausage roll”. From the expression on his face alone, a little baffled to say the least, the server went onto explain, that The Shak sells a square sausage, in a roll. Not familiar with such delicacies, and not feeling adventurous, he opted for the pattie.

“Should've just got a cup of tea” Toms says out loud to himself, buts it’s clearly aimed at me. Bovril has been one of those things I’ve never done at football, that I’ve always wanted to do, like holding a flare or spinning a wooden rattle, so I can at least tick it  the list off now, but Tom wishes we had stuck to the norm, “you and your stupid ideas” he says in a bit of a Laurel and Hardy moment, and continues to grumble on about why we didn’t go and get some soup.

Steve rehangs the flags and not long after, early in the second half TM really should have doubled their lead, a free header from a corner is missed, the player motionless, head in hands, as the rest of his team run back up the field.

Once again the on field action can’t hold the attention of the fans for long, the WFC support seem equally subdued, and are very quiet, prompting the suggestion from one nearby fan that they only “sing where they’re ploughing”.

A Chelsea fan among the ranks on the terrace becomes the figure of playful ribbing, although I’m not sure he sees it that way, he looks ready to pop. The Premier League leaders are struggling against lowly Stoke, and the constant updates of the score are frankly starting to piss him off, kids are scurrying up to him, telling him they have gone behind, then scampering off. When someone suggests the team he supports, are just a “small club in Fulham”, he bites, marches up to those giving him stick, and gives them both barrels, his delivery a little bit panto with a touch of stroppy teenager, “Chelsea will still be top, so I don’t care”.

Worst thing he could have done, there is a brief moment of silence, then as one, a chorus of Vic and Bob “ohhhhhhhhhhh” rings out, just needing someone to pretend to lift their handbag to their chest, and it would have been totally authentic. When Chelsea eventually turn things around, he is quick to let everyone know, “2-1 to Chelsea, so up yours”, which again gets a “ohhhhhhhhh” and what I imagine is a rhetorical chant from one person, “have you been to Stamford Bridge?”.

WFC go about as close as they have all match, with twenty minutes of the game left, a fierce shot, that requires a smart save and a tip over from the man in goal. TM miss a near open goal, five minutes later, in defence of the attacker the combination of the bouncing ball, and the tight angle, means he perhaps can be forgiven.

An explanation for the lack of prowess in front of goal, comes from the custodian of all things football photography, and the owner of the excellent Chicken Balti Chronicles. Stephen, a local , informs me of the recent sale of the clubs top striker to Greenwich, which he says has had some part to play in TM ‘s recent slump.

Bovril 2 - 0 Blogger, as I admit defeat, Tom has already craftily secreted his cup down on the floor, further along the terrace from us, I have got closer to the bottom of my cup than him, the part of the drink Tom says his Dad always said was the “best bit”, the kind of “sludge” as Tom put it, being the pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance of the experience, but the fact it’s repeating on me already, means it’s won, horrible stuff.

Football fans can a lot of the time be accused of being crass and vulgar, and there is some truth in that, but they can also be poetic, intelligent and imaginative. No more so than the nickname of one Danny Basset, who on his marauding runs down the wing for TM, is encouraged loudly by the home fans, “come on allsorts”.

With seventy five minutes of the game gone, TM finally do the decent thing, score again, and in doing so put WFC out of their misery. This prompts one fan to get the, “trumpet out”, raising a traffic cone to his lips, and starting a song.

“Don’t let them back in!” screams a home fan on the side line, not far from the dugouts, after the final minutes of the five that have been added on, that no one can explain where they came from, WFC, with a huge chunk of help from TM, score. “They don’t deserve anything”, shouts the same fan, ‘Bone Crusher’ in his long black sleeping bag, Arsene Wenger special, wants more “energy” from his players in the dying moments, which he yells, with a heavy tone of frustration in his voice, from the edge of his area.

On the final whistle the referee's eyes are firmly fixed on the floor in front of him, with the ball under his arm, he briskly heads back to the protection the four walls of his changing room offers. He receives some of the standard reviews, I’m sure the kind of which one can expect in his position, “rubbish” and the fact one fan thinks he “stole the show”, but I’m not sure anyone has ever called him a “big bird heron”, which is what I’m sure I hear one man sneer in his direction.

Replies on a postcard please to BeautifulGame Towers, if you have ever heard such an insult, or any other bird related abuse, like you ‘twatty owl’ or ‘fat crow bastard’.

“I can’t feel my fingers” moans Tom, and all I can think is he should have finished his Bovril, that would have sorted him out. I can tell you one thing worth moaning about though, and that’s the fact that TM have a another game in “48 hours”. One coach we overhear, is less than impressed by the players slinking off, and not doing their post match necessities, “got to warm down better than that” he says to the players.

A quick visit to the boardroom, high at the back of the main stand is a quick one, a chance to thank those who have been such a fantastic help today, and not to tuck into the fish fingers on offer, I do however take advantage of the glass of lemonade I'm handed, anything to get this beefy, bottom of the Sunday lunch baking tray taste, out of my mouth.

Although the fans, and therefore the club by association, might be seen from the outside at least, as the tough talking, 'Sarf Londers', 'The Terrors', which I'm sure there is no denying some people probably quite like, simply scratch the black and white surface, just a millimeter, and you will find a club, and a set of supporters, who Steve rightly described as "terrific", whose welcome and warmth, will go down as the stuff of legend, in our annuls of non league football at least.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

For our video from the match, click HERE




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