Sunday, 17 November 2019

I'd Go Closer, But I'd Need A Snorkel - London Lions FC Vs Enfield Borough FC, Spartan South Midlands Football League Division One, Rowley Lane (16/10/19)

Thank Christ for A Tribe Called Quest, was never a sentence I ever thought I would utter, I say utter, I just roll it around in my head, having tentatively opened the passenger side door of Toms car in anticipation of a deluge of morose music like last time out, but instead I’m greeted by the New York four pieces 1993 hit, Electric Relaxation, what a relief.

Although I don't have long to enjoy their melodic hip hop beats, as tonight's ground is less than ten minutes away from my house, its eight minutes to be precise, I have just about enough time to consider the advice of my other half, “I don't know if its a big jacket day” she said to me as I left and just how thankful I am for ignoring her this time, because the last game we went out I was freezing and tonight's even colder.

Another reason for a coat, is not just the plummeting thermometer, but the very high chance of getting wet, “at least it's not raining” mutters Tom as we step out of the car, the fact it's not is a minor miracle. It's been raining non stop for what feels like days and looking out across the floodlit pitch, the car park within touching distance of it, Tom says pretty much exactly what I was thinking too, “there is not much here, but it's very nice”.

A single all seater blue stand, The Alan Mattey stand, with its many yet to be occupied blue plastic seats runs along one side of the pitch and that and the blue framed curved roofed dugouts really is all there is, Tom was not kidding. A white railing, the kind I always describe as looking right from race course surrounds the playing surface, and like I said, that really is all there is, as Tom puts it, “it feels more like a Premier League training facility than a ground”.

Midweek games can be testing for many non league clubs at the best of times, but according to Velina London Lions FC (LL) 1st team Secretary in her long almost knee length club coat and high red boots, she reckons they would be lucky if they got more than “15 or 17” tonight. She also points out that come kick off, the sections of fencing currently lent up against each other in one corner of the car park will be used to “build the tunnel”.

The clubhouse is more of a “conference suit” than anything else says Tom, a couple of large round tables sit in front of the bar, the rest of the room is empty, the enormous parquet dance floor is yearning for Barry from accounts to start doing his best Travolta impression.

Scouring the bar for things to eat it’s soon apparent that its little more than bar snacks and J20’s available, Tom most likely is going to be going without any kind of dinner tonight. The face on him as he sits down next to me in the seat previously inhabited by either someone at a wedding reception or the speaker at a medical seminar, is not a happy one.

“Dinner: Coke, crisps, Snickers” he explains, plonking them down on the table, he even contemplates nipping off to McDonalds, if it didn't mean he would most likely lose his parking space. He follows all that up with a couple of biscuits pinched from the hospitality table at the far end of the room. Where the hot water urn we grabbed our coffee from, makes a very unfortunate and flatulent noise, whenever anyone uses it.

“It's a nice evening for some football, shame we've had too much rain” says a man on the adjacent table to us, breaking the deathly quiet that shrouds the large room. Tom is head down, food all gone, opening a couple of FIFA 20 packs on his phone, his bad mood emanating from him like a bad smell, only looking up to tell me “they've got free Wi Fi”.

Outside it’s still dry and thank God for that, because the pitch sounds so soggy underfoot of those brave enough to venture out across it without armbands, but it’s getting colder. “Bit nippy” grumbles Tom, trying his best to pretend it’s not his snood he’s just pulled from his rucksack, telling me like I was born yesterday it’s a “hand warmer” and not the much maligned go to for the latest South American import playing in Yorkshire in December for the first time, but that he’s trying to bring back every Victorian ladies staple, the muff.

A man starts to build the tunnel and some very swanky cars jostle for position in the now rammed car park. The click clack of studs on concrete sees the players swerve around the makeshift construction, as they make their way to warm up. “Whats this?” squeals an Enfield Borough FC (EB) player, bending down to touch the sodden pitch, “oh my, Lord” he says on the realisation of just how saturated it is. Tom in a mild state of shock, astonished that anyone is allowed to warm up on it in the first place, the potential for absolute carnage, very high.

Over the constant buzz of the nearby motorway, one EB supporter comments to one coach about the long line of “unfamiliar faces coming out of the changing room”. The coach in hushed tones then reels off a long list of “missing first team regulars”. Those readying themselves to pull on the clubs shirt tonight are a “young squad” many of whom are no older than “seventeen, eighteen” or “nineteen”.

With the DIY complete, the referee stands at the head of the long temporary tunnel, that highlights one benefit of it’s bespoke design, it's probably about wide enough to drive my car down, and there is tons of space for both sets of players, no shoulder rubbing here, plenty of room to swing a cat or even a couple of cats.

It is a rather muted entrance as the players walk out, there are a few enthusiastic shouts from the home players “come on Lions” but there is little noise from the crowd, most of whom are in the stand, that after doing a quick head count, might just exceed Velina prediction.

Standing just to the side of the emerging players, a small group of men with the air of committee members about them, are having a right old grumble about the pitch, the pitch which is showing some rather significant signs of the recent work of a ride along mower. Three or four great scars cut into the turf. “I’m worried about over there,” says one, pointing off into the distance.

I can't be certain if all the vigorous hand clapping by the players is a technique to gee each other on, accompanied by the odd hearty shout or its just a way to keep their hands warm. There is one other EB fan in attendance, he gives himself away by giving up his own shout with kick off imminent, “come on borough”.

In front of us the referee's assistant runs the line, I say the line, because as Tom points out he is about “a foot” off it. To actually run the line, would mean stepping foot on the worst affected part of the pitch. “This side is bad” cringes Tom, on the few occasions the lino does get close to the white line, the squelching sound is akin to that of a person punching a bucket of jelly. Overhearing us discussing his predicament, the man with the flag engages in some top level, non league official bants, “I'd go closer, but I'd need a snorkel”.

With just over five minutes gone the home side are first to hit the target, a rising powerful shot is pushed wide of the post, the home side in a kit Tom is a bit keen on “I like it” he tells me, the unusual design a nice break from the standard Nike template with the name of a local accountants on the front.

The visitors weather the early home pressure well, and the young team slowly but surely start to get their foot on the ball and when they do, they move it around well. So much so, their ability to shimmy past the LL players is starting to affect one or two of them to “this is shit, get tighter.''

Tuned into these kind of things, I must admit it completely passed me by, but Tom informs me of the slew of people who just prior to kick off “sneaked in” via an open gate by the overflow car park, one
person who came in the official way, wished he had just stayed put, “£5 to get in, I could have watched from the car”.

“He's got the right idea,” says Tom pointing to one man, who has just walked the full length of the pitch to get some crisps and a drink and is making his way back to his motor. “Perfect view” as well as a “bit of music and the heaters on” in Tom’s eyes is a no brainer and if he could get away with it, he would be off doing the same thing, but not on my watch.

“Where are we?” screams for what will not be the first time tonight, the LL manager. EB are starting to run riot, the pendulum has fully swung their way now and the home players are rattled, “tighter” shouts one. The captain is emphatic to say the least, waving his arms at his teammates demanding more from them.

A late away tackle doesn’t stop the flowing home attack, the referee allows play to continue, the move coming to an end with a dinked cross, that almost looks like it’s floating, the flight of which almost catches out the EB keeper and instead of praising the man in charge for allowing the match to carry on, Tom calls the referee “fat” and complements him on his dry cleaning, “I like his white collar”.

“There it is” says a home fan, in a moment of clairvoyancy but the shot from the LL player is inches wide of the post, but minutes later they take the lead, much to the displeasure of the lone EB fan, who is prone to the odd outburst, “fucking hell man” as are a a couple of the players watching on as the LL ones celebrate, “too easy”, the ball looking to go right through the keepers midriff.

Despite taking the lead, the home manager is not exactly impressed, “not good enough, by a long way” he hollers. His voice already starting to show the strain and we’re only about twenty minutes in.

It’s around now and not for the first time since going to non league football, I see a sight that I imagine you might be hard pushed to see in your whole life, let alone twice in only four years, a dog in a pram, a dog in a bright pink pram, that by the looks of it is nicer than my own daughters.

“It’s not a baby” clarifies Tom, like for a second I thought it was just a very hairy infant. Peering out of its luxurious carriage, its owner sitting in the front row of the stand like it's totally normal to take a canine in a buggy to a football match.

The home goal has somewhat left EB, following their promising spell, looking a little bit shell-shocked and the home side are now officially bossing it. The linesman has officially given up actually trying to run the line, having stood still for about thirty seconds for a stoppage in play, he has almost sunk down to his ankles, but neither of us can take our eyes off the dog. “It's just sitting there,” says Tom, “licking its lips”.

I must admit the presence of you know who, is a tad distracting. I’m trying to work out why the need for its own personal transport. Tom suggests it might be “too old to walk” or “its got no legs”. Legs or no legs it looks very happy, it's probably better wrapped up than me, its little head poking out from among all its blankets. I do though have to take umbrage with Toms suggestion that it is “cute” it's the opposite of “cute”.

One of the many things that non league football has over its relatives higher up the pyramid, is the chance of the officials giving a little bit back to the crowd, in response to getting it in the neck about something or another, and the half swimming half, officiating one before us, is just that sort, and I have to admire him for it.

Assured, confident and with great feat the home captain is showing all the qualities that you would want from the person leading your team. Playing the ball out from the back, he has been the architect of LL’s resurgence since going ahead. They go close again following a corner, but the effort on goal is caught on the line and within the blink of an eye, EB show off just what they are capable of. Racking up the other end, it's a foot race with only one winner, bearing down on the home goal is the EB forward, but the keeper is there just in time to gather in the ball, curling up and clutching it to his chest.

The pitch is holding up surprisingly well and it's an uncharacteristic error from the home captain, charging out from defence and missing the ball completely, that sees EB in again. A drop of the shoulder and the EB front man is in again, but he shoots straight at the keeper.

Chances are coming at both ends. A curling LL shot from the edge of the box gets a “oohhhhh” from the crowd, and it needs two attempts by the EB keeper to gather it, who is starting to look a like shaky and the first booking of the match is for a EB player and not long after the home players are calling for another. “How many ref?” asks one, after a particularly agricultural EB tackle goes unpunished.

Despite the away side seemingly unable at times to make a two yard pass when it counts and the home side wasting a Pep Guardiola amount of possession, the game has been far from dull. A home shot that’s high and wide bounces off a car in the car park and the away bench is full of praise for the player who just made the slide rule pass inside the LL right back, cutting him out of proceedings with ease, “that’s the ball I want”. The shot at the end of the move is low and from a tight angle, but again it’s right at the keeper.

The simple awarding of a corner, would not normally be worth a mention, however detailed I like to be, however this particular one awarded to EB might be worth bringing up not for the set piece itself, but because for some reason the EB player assigned to take it, decided the corner flag was getting in his way, so he plucked it from the ground and chucked it. Not impressed in the slightest with his unsporting behaviour, the referee blows up and makes the offending player recover it and put it back before we can continue. The EB player looking a little sheepish as he does so.

Reaching ever new heights of displeasure, the LL manager is scathing about this players efforts, “you're going deeper and deeper, that's not good enough, that's lazy” he shouts. This criticism nearly has the desired effect, because they almost score a cracking goal. LL’s number 7, who has a touch of the Griezmans about him, hooks the ball out the air with his right foot, wriggles away from his maker and the crowd are celebrating his impending goal, before it's even gone in, but awkwardly for them, his shot is a fraction off target.

The phrase ‘if that was Barcelona’ comes to mind on the stroke of half time, when a one touch master class by the home team sees them threaten again, however where Messi and the gangs attack would end in a goal, queue the big inflatable pitchside men at the Camp Nou, this one ends with one LL player hoofing the ball right up a teammates arse.

EB finish the half with the last effort of what has been an action packed forty five minutes. In on goal one person in the crowd is not exactly confident, “bet you he misses” which he does. The visitors are more than competent, they have the skill set and are prone to the odd nutmeg or two, but their lack of cohesion across the team is killing them.

With the teams gone, the dog well and truly becomes the centre of attention for those unlike Tom who haven't gone in search of tea. By the size of the crowd that has gathered around the pooch, they could have charged a fiver for people to come and see it with no problem and when Tom returns with tea, the brown sweet liquid in the polystyrene cup is life giving and much needed.

There are new shouts of “come on Lions” from fans and players alike as they appear for the second half, but not one cry of the visitors nickname, The Panthers. If I followed a team named after a big cat, I’d be shouting it at every possible opportunity.

The break and whatever words of wisdom the EB manager had for his team have worked a treat, and it’s a very strong start for them, racking up three half chances early doors, one as Tom puts it “their best of the match”. The mini EB onslaught has one LL player to a point of imploring, “come on guys, what are we doing, do your jobs”. The home side having looked at one point like they were going to roll EB over, have come out half asleep, the bench is incensed for them giving away “too many fouls” and as one player puts it “we’ve gotta start playing”.

What a glorious sound, what a hit from long range that more than deserved a goal, however the LL player responsible for the shot from well outside the area can only look on as we do as his effort comes back off the crossbar, the sound it made as it did so still ringing out as the ball spins back into
play. Winning back possession outside, LL go close gain with a flashed shot wide.

It’s a pass of sublime accuracy that does all the hard work, and makes the actual scoring of LL’s second a formality. “Goal” says the man standing next to me, before playing on the other of the pass from midfield down the right hand channel of the EB box, has rounded the keeper and slotted it home.

The applause from the stand is as much if not more for the player who supplied the ball than the scorer himself. “Great football” says an appreciative voice from behind us. LL have notably stepped it up a gear in the last five minutes, the goal a culmination of three or four chances in short succession. They are stroking the ball about with ease.

Some have paid to get in tonight, some have sneaked in and one man has climbed a rather steep hill to stare through a fence. Whatever way they have ended up watching, they can't ignore the furore the LL manager is getting himself into, high standards doesn't quite go far enough to describe his demands, “keep the ball, keep the ball” he screams, his team absolutely cruising.

When EB have a rare half chance of their own, they are flirting with possession at best, sending the ball across the edge of the LL six yard box, it sends the home manager into near meltdown, “you must do better. KEEP. THE. BALLLL”.

Football is better at changing one's mood, more than any drug. “Benji. Welcome back son” purrs the home manager, “Benji” who I’m not sure where he has been, has just scored LL’s third, making his gaffa sound like he’s just taken a very strong dose of a high grade upper, the EB players are reduced to signifying their discontent by simply letting out a long succession of pained groans.

A shout for a home penalty is waved away, but three goals to the good, they don't seem all that fussed its declined, as Tom points out with the EB defence in such disarray, “I've never seen a back four or three, I’m not sure, look less comfortable on the ball. None of them want it
None of them are talking” a fourth goal for them seems like only a matter of time.

“Well played Lions” gushes a member of the crowd, that fourth goal with us sooner than I thought, a fumble from the EB keeper, pushed the ball to the waiting LL scorer, who even though he was falling over as he does, he is able to poke the ball into the empty net. “That's it” says Tom turning towards me, following the muted celebrations from the home players. The away players are probably louder in their remonstrating with each other, “fucking shit”.

Into the final quarter and Tom suggests LL have, how do you put it, taken their foot off the gas, “it's like they went up a gear and now they've gone down one, happy to just pass it around”.  The EB keeper is forced to vault the barrier in search of the ball, slipping over, his return to the pitch much more straightforward if not a little embarrassing. NAME on hand to open a nearby gate to allow him back on.

“Keep it going to the end lads” motivates the LL keeper and so far his teammates look to be doing every bit of that. “Show off” chuckles Tom, the home side demonstrating a few of their tricks and flicks, totally in charge, they can afford too.

Having eased off, it does allow EB the odd probe forward, one run into the box ends with a poor shot and the home player responsible for the lapse in concentration raises his arm in apology, which does not go down well with the bench, “I don't want your fucking hand”.

Although the EB ball into the box comes to nothing, the home manager is still livid, his voice almost gone, his latest shouts reduced to screeches, “I don't want everyone saying sorry, get it right, get it right”. Tom almost whispering, frightened of getting scolded himself if he hears makes the understatement of the year, “he’s angry”.

When EB score a goal that is little more than a consolation, his anger hits a new peak, ripping into his team, “you think you're all too good”. The players do their best to rally each other, “keep your composure” says one, “we want the three points” says another, sounding like they know full well they are in for a deluge of shit if they somehow conspire to balls this up.

A “cracking save” as one of the crowd puts it by the hand of the home keeper pushing the ball onto the post stops EB’s second going in. “We’ve got to keep the ball” barks the LL manager, “tighten up” instructs one player as the home side suffer what is quite a sizable wobble, putting their comfortable lead in jeopardy. “Get them to liven up” says a concerned fan of one of the players. EB go close again, the keeper forced into another excellent save, this time the visitors are offside, but LL’s drop off in performance, must be causing their manager to have kittens.

"Oh my God" says the EB keeper, prone on his back, for the second time tonight what was a tame shot has completely evaded him. If there was even the slightest suggestion of a comeback, that's been well and truly put to bed with LL's fifth.

A four goal advantage and only minutes left to play, one might think the LL manager might just relax a
bit, the jobs done, the points secured, but not on your nelly, he's still going apoplectic at the smallest of errors. "Want the ball, want the ball" his new deranged mantra. The sight of his team almost bagging a sixth, a curling shot from wide, brings no respite at all. It's only a late tackle on one of his players right in front of the bench, that sees him direct his vitriol at the referee for a brief second and away from his players, "fucking deal with that".

EB very nearly get a second of their own, but a last minute interception saves not only the goal, but everyone in a ten mile radius's eardrums and the crowd have seen enough, they are suitably entertained, but its time to go, "blow the whistle it's cold".

You're not going to come to Rowley Lane for the chance of a hulking great beef burger, the rickety old stand or the years and years of history and non league charm. You're going to come for the chance of seeing a good team play good football, a manager putting himself through the ringer and of course because you might see a dog in a pram.

You'll go to Rowley Lane for the chance to hear your mate say, “it's got a pink jumper that matches it’s pram”, it will be worth it just to hear that alone, I promise you.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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Monday, 4 November 2019

From The Road - Corinthian-Casuals FC Vs Folkestone Invicta FC, Isthmian League Premier, King George's Field (12/10/19)

It’s officially that time of year, where it feels like the chance of the football match you intended going to is more likely to be cancelled then go ahead, in the non league world at least. Rapidly hurtling towards winter, each check of my Twitter time line is done tinged with apprehension, scrolling past tweets about games being called off come thick and fast and it's surely only a matter of time before the club we'll be making our way to fires one off about Mother Nature getting the better of their pitch.

The short video from Tom of the torrential rain overwhelming the storm drains near his work and the vision out of my own living room window of almost twenty four hours of solid rain, doesn't bode well for our first Saturday afternoon match of the season, and it’s not any old Saturday may I add, but the final international break of the year too, which can only mean one thing, its Non League Day.

We were relatively slow on the uptake when it came to non leagues holiest of holidays, but since having devoted ourselves completely to the cause, we have tried to make as much of a grand day out of it as we can. Last year's trip to North Ferriby meant this year had a lot to live up to, however I’ve an inkling where we will be going won't disappoint.

I even have a little nosey around in search of some alternative fixtures such is the deluge of rain drenching the world outside my flat, in doing so feeling almost like I’m cheating on the club we have arranged to visit, but they are making all the right noses on social media, so I’m able to go to bed relativity confident that our game will go ahead.

Such is the location of today's destination, almost equidistant between Toms and mine, we are both riding solo, so there is no FIFA, cheese or honeymoon chat for us today. I’ve even failed to charge my portable blue tooth speaker so can't indulge in a bit of a Spotify sing along, instead I try my luck with my supposedly broken radio, which as is it’s want, occasionally plays the CD stuck in it, Michael Jackson's History, a present from my elder sister circa 1995, but unable to adjust the volume, I nigh on deafen myself with a succession of Jackos hits, before the scratches on the disc and the din its producing become too much to bare, so end up sitting in near silence, just the sound of the motorway and the sloshing of standing water under my car's tires for company.

I must be honest, railway arches are not the kind of places I usually like to hang around, the chance of bumping into one of the Mitchel Brothers or some such villain is greatly increased, but I’ve little option but to make my way under the one ahead of me, the road, which might be a bit harsh on roads, the pot holed track, which might be a bit harsh on pot holed tracks, the shot to shit ground before me means I’m forced to creep along at no speed at all, in fear that at any moment I might lose a wheel or god forbid my entire car to one of the numerous and cavernous holes that litter the ‘road’ ahead.

Thankfully the car park of King George's Field is in much better nick than what precedes it outside. Past the high white sign welcoming you, held aloft in the best non league tradition by a structure made of scaffolding poles and there is an unusual detail as you enter, the clubs initials painted in raised white lettering on the floor.

On first impressions this little part of Tolworth, in the shadow of an adjacent railway line rising up steeply along one side of the ground, is not the most picturesque of places we have visited. Neither and I don't think it is rude of me to say so, is it one in the best condition either, however it is soon very apparent, in its own very understated way, that this little part of Tolworth can happily say it is responsible in some small part for Ronaldo, Romário and Zico. It can lay claim to being responsible for the Brazil team of 1970, and a national obsession that might just be unrivalled around the world in its importance to a single nation's identity.

Very rarely do you see a kid walking around your local shopping precinct wearing the white of Germany, but I can guarantee you have seen plenty in the yellow and green of the Canarinha, the little canary, with the single word names of their heroes on the back.

However all the magic of an airport themed Nike advert feels a very long way away at the moment, Corinthan-Casuals FC (CC) are in the words of maybe their most ardent supporter, Roger, and I say that based on the tattoo on his calf that he showed me within five minutes of meeting him, that “used to be pink and brown” he tells me, the famous colours of CC having run from his permanent expression of the love he has for his club, are “struggling this season”. In fact “struggling” might be an understatement, in ten league games, they are yet to win one, as Roger puts it, “we deserve more points then we've got”.

Standing beside the pitch, a pitch that Roger informs me is all good to go, thanks to the efforts of those with forks still tending to it as I arrive, he tells me about just how important it is to some from over five and a half thousand miles away, specifically the supporters of S.C. Corinthians Paulista.

As a Spurs fan, I'm not sure that if the fabled lamp post the clubs founders huddle around to form Tottenham Hotspur is treated with such reverence, in fact I’m not even sure it's even still there, but the patch of grass covered in white lines next to us, is the “father land” to those fans of S.C. Corinthians Paulista according to Roger. A place of pilgrimage, their Mecca if you will. A tangible link to their own clubs roots, the birthplace of its history.

“Brazilians come” says Roger, almost half astonished he just said that. They “walk to the centre circle” and “kiss it”. Some don't even come for the match, “they come after the games finished”, just being here for however long is enough, it moves some to “tears” and where others “laugh” explains Roger, he’s on hand to put an arm around them, because he gets it.

From a little bit closer to home and nowhere near as exotic as São Paulo, King George's Field is expecting some noted visitors today Roger explains, the “Preston Casuals are coming”. Admittedly Lancashire is a long way off south eastern Brazil, but this small group of Preston North End supporters are just as committed all the same, and their reason for being here just as intriguing.

After their own PNE game was called off due to bad weather, they stumbled across CC playing an away fixture, while in search of their football fix, up the road from their abandoned match. After getting over the fact that their League game had fallen foul of the poor conditions, but a non league one had survived and thanks in some large part to Rogers expertise in public relations, insisting they all “swapped scarves”, they were taken in by the travelling CC faithful, following the away side because “we were the away side” and a friendship was forged there and then, the same group making their own mission to Tolworth now “three times a year”.

Standing beneath the pink bunting hanging from the ceiling of the area immediately outside the clubhouse, littered with a couple of picnic tables, and surrounded by a few nods to CC’s founding fathers and its lasting impact in South America and like I said before the references to the clubs stature in football history are not flashy at all. The pictures and biography of those concerned are very understated, considering their significance, they look like something a few notches up from a well put together school project. I talk to Stuart CC’s photographer, about the clubs 2015 visit to Brazil, seven days of being “treated like royalty”, “living off adrenaline” and people everywhere they went wanting the “shirts off their backs” that was all captured in the stunning documentary, Brothers in Football.

You might think Stuart is boasting, when after talking about his visit to São Paulo he casually tells me about CC’s “summer in Budapest”, where in the best traditions of the club they took part in a European tour, but I can assure you he’s not. I just think you get to say things like that, when you’re involved with this fascinating old club. As he says, it’s just upholding the “Corinthian ethos” carrying on being “pioneers of taking football around the world”.

The gentle sound of the ever present drizzle on the corrugated roof above the makeshift seating area and my conversation with Stuart is interrupted by the boisterous arrival of the Preston Casuals, “here
comes some of the Preston boys”, each barrelling through the single turnstile and making their way straight to the bar.

“Lovely weather, lovely weather” says one rubbing his hands together. Another speaking to Roger recounts the conversation he had with his wife last night, after getting home from a late night out, “you’re not getting on that train in the morning” he says, mimicking his other half's voice, and despite feeling a little worse for wear, he was never going to miss today, “life is for living”.

Although the order for the bar has already been taken, there is something far more crucial than a pint to be sorted first, and that's a picture with the silverware CC claimed during their summer in Hungary. Stuart hurries off to not the most auspicious of locations, a nearby shipping container, to fetch the large silver trophy, that is soon front and centre of the group, whose phones are hurriedly passed around to grab a picture of their own.

Normally I’d be quite concerned to say the least Tom is as late as he is, but if I'm honest I had lost all track of time, due to the thorough history lesson from Roger and Stuart, so I’m not that fussed at all and by the sounds of is he’s had a far worse time then me. His Sat Nav opting for a very bizarre route indeed. At one point he along with all the open top buses, crossed over Tower Bridge.

His first words though are not an apology, but after a quick glance to the heavens, he asks me “if I've seen the forecast”. I haven't, for the precise reason I explain to him, I don't want to make myself depressed, however he’s more than happy to be the bringer of doom, “come three o’clock, 90% double rain drops”.

Perhaps it's down to a bit of foresight, but along with the myriad of flags that now adorn the low roofed main stand, one man in no danger of getting wet should Tom’s deluge arrive, he has already found his spot not far from the halfway line, and is single handedly demolishing a pot of hummus. As eclectic a collection of flags it is, there is of course an S.C. Corinthians Paulista one, as well as plenty more in the clubs famous chocolate and pink, that Stuart told me is down to that be the the racing colours of one of the clubs creators, I can't quite take my eyes of the man inhaling the pureed chickpeas at a rate of knots.

The homage to “Mr P Nut” on the side of the burger van gets the copyright lawyer inside of Tom all riled up, “that's not Burger Man” as it claims to be he points out. I try and calm him with tales of the clubs famous four cheese chips they have on offer, but not for the first time as of late he reminds me of his aversion to multiple cheeses all at once.

My golden goal tickets are not secured from the small closed shed, with a sign on its front that alludes to it being the normal place one would get them, but instead from a man on a small table and via the tiny wooden counters all contained within a blue cotton bag. Quite the change from the “scraps of paper” as Tom puts it, that we normally come across very classy indeed.

I’m not sure that a shed can really be dubbed a Mega Store and I imagine there is a slight sense of irony about the single window wooden structure, filled with a vast array of scarves and merchandise, really being mega at all. The only thing that was mega, was how mega hard it was to fit through the door, in constant fear of turning too quickly I might knock it down. As is the case with everywhere else the store is awash with all manner of chocolate and pink goodies, as well as a few black and white ones too. Such was the high standard of pins on offer, Tom emerges not with one, but two.

“Welcome to King George's Field for today's slightly damp Isthmian League fixture” says the exquisitely well spoken voice over the PA. The kind of voice that would soothe you to sleep in your Anderson Shelter during the blitz, a proper BBC voice, and following her few bits of housekeeping, the music replaces her and the feeling of match day gets ever nearer.

There is a certain level of desperation in the voice of the lady calling out to the CC manager as he and the players appear for their warm up, “please win today”. Even more flags decorate the stands, a Brazil one now hangs from the back of the covered terraces behind one goal and astutely watching CC’s opponents Folkstone Invincats FC (FI) warm up, is someone who I can only describe as looking like a Bond baddie. Head to toe in a black suit, black polo neck jumper and silver hair, he is only missing a white cat. One false move by the FI players and it's the shark infested water for them.

Waiting very patiently in the uncovered tunnel, I say tunnel, it’s two lengths of a chain link fence, the players are held up by the stragglers at the back before the referee and his assistants can lead them out and then we are all caressed once again by the silky smooth tones of the announcer, who reads out the starting elevens without fault. The players don’t walk far before stopping to perform the hand shake, one CC player forced to awkwardly do it with his wrong hand, on account of his right one being heavily bandaged and out of the corner of my eye I notice we are in the presence of a former England cricket captain, Alec Stuart, who not only donned the whites of England but also the famous colours of CC once upon a time too.

The very large group still around the door of the clubhouse, are spared the motivational one liners by the players in the seconds leading up to kick off. The ends decided and the match seconds old, the group are soon in motion, the exodus has begun. The CC fans leisurely make their way to behind the goal they are attacking, where even more flags are hauled from a Tesco bag for life and strung up.

Decor sorted for their first half home, the CC supporters squeezed in under the small terrace start to sing, “Corinthian, Casuals”, however where I imagine on most match days there is no response from the visiting fans, today is not the case. The reasonable number of black and orange FI fans in the much larger terrace opposite them, respond almost instantly “come on Folkestone, come on Folkestone. Sea, sea, seasiders”.

The small pitch covered dugouts are not quite big enough to house all the CC substitutes and staff too, and unless he is a Biease fan, one man has seemingly drawn the short straw and has been relegated to sitting outside of it atop a blue cooler box and despite all the history, and all that is associated with CC’s famous colours, Tom is not digging it at all. “I don't like their kit” he says shaking his head, “Brown should never be on a strip, unless its mud”.

Eleven minutes gone and FI go close. Their effort draws another song from their fans, “oh when the stripes go steaming in”, hammering away at the back of the metal stand, it’s proving to be an excellent piece of percussion. It's the latest passing train that’s the inspiration for the next home supporters song, despite the distinct lack of attempts on goal by their side, "the grass is green, the sky is blue, The railway train goes rolling through".

Tom is still going on about CC’s shirt, “home kits too busy” he moans. He briefly halts his bellyaching to point out the very impressive looking “joint” one FI fan is smoking, impressive on account of its size, Tom suggesting it could be the “worlds biggest” that was “perfectly rolled” too, showing me quite how massive it was, by holding his two index fingers about the length of a shatter ruler apart.

Just past the quarter of an hour mark and we get our first moment of real excitement, the visitors are in on goal and look about to take the lead, only for a last ditch stretching tackle by a CC defender poking the ball away just as the forward was about to pull the trigger, clearing out the man and stopping the danger in its tracks. Considering it happened right in front of us, I can unequivocally say it was a foul and the calls from the FI fans for a penalty should have been rewarded, but they weren't, the referee pointing to the corner flag instead.

Tom is not as certain as I am, which means he is wrong, “I can't work out if that was an amazing tackle or a foul” and one CC player following the corner felt it was worth reiterating with the linesman that it was “a fair tackle”. Tom now in a mild state of shock, his brain unable to compute what the right call should have been, he is thankfully jolted free of his conundrum by a passing train, and right on cue the CC fans start to sing.

“It seems to be getting heavier” says Tom, having to speak up slightly because of the sound of a plane buzzing overhead, the rain is certainly plentiful, but it’s doing little to discourage the fans or the players. A new much smaller section of singing CC supporters have sprung up, around about where the hummus eater was, surrounded by a swathe of flags.

The FI bench is growing increasingly frustrated with the players, when after advancing all the way to the edge of the CC box, the home back line gives them nowhere to go and they lose possession. The FI supporters are still dishing out their songs, although their attempt to make “oh ah Invicator” stick is not quite working and considering the home attacks are still not exactly frequent, the sight of one forward plucking a long ball out of the air having broken the FI back line, it’s almost a shock. However he’s offside, but maybe they have found a chink in what until now has been a rather stingy defence, who give up another chance not long after, conceding a corner, much to the home fans delight, their little stand taking a battering, “ally o, ally or pink and brown army”.

Glancing towards the linesman to double check he is onside, having just latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the CC box, it takes a moment for it to dawn on the FI player he is, before he gives the home keeper the eyes, thinking I reckon judging by the look on his face he has sold him the wrong way, but how wrong he is. Not one, but two saves in quick succession, really high end close quarter stuff, keeps the home team in it. Lightening quick he is up after the first block, to do the same again. The crowd at the far end behind the goal erupt like they had scored a goal and it's all whistles and claps from the main stand on their feet.

Sadly, he can do very little about the low curling effort from the edge of the box, less than a minute
later, that puts FI ahead. “Well done” says one FI supporter to the celebrating player on the other side of the goal to us, who turns to except the crowds plaudits. “Come on Casuals” shouts a home fan from the main stand, and the demure voice informing us of the name of the scorer, is rudely interrupted by the chanting FI supporters, “sea, sea, seasiders”.

The rain gets even harder still, and sends those last brave souls, those without a brolly who had been standing out in the elements near the dugouts to flee for the safety of the terrace. The small choir in the main stand has more than found its voice and is belting out a song about a subject much talked about in certain circles, “we've got four cheeses on our chips, quattro formaggio”.

Into the final ten minutes of the half and a smart low one handed save from the FI keeper stops CC drawing level, who worryingly, are spending less and less time in the visitors penalty area. A man in the main stand is at least encouraged, “better” he says at the sight of the effort, as are those packed into the terrace, “come on Casuals, come on Casuals” and one benefit of a slick playing surface is it allows for as Tom puts it “a lovely wet grass tackle”. The CC player using every bit of the soggy turf to his advantage to aquaplane and win the ball.

So saturated are the flags perched on the top of the white flags poles dotted along one side of the ground, they can hardly move and the CC keeper has two hairy moments in the final minutes of the half, forcing home hearts into mouths. A swirling shot from outside the area, is moving too much to be held, forcing him to palm it out and it's not a case of “butter fingers” that strikes, but a “butter foot” as one FI imaginatively describes it, after his attempt to clear a back pass, spins up horribly in the air and out for a throw in.

The mood of the song that follows the half time whistle, reflects somewhat the downbeat feeling coming from the home fans, who are getting a little too used to the notion of being on the back foot this season. Another train thunders by, the CC flags behind the goal are quickly down and it seems to only be the man with the large golfing umbrella in FI colours, who is willing to break cover, everyone else, except Tom driven by his need to eat, is staying put.

If it wasn't for her winsome charm, I’d be a lot more upset than I am when the voice over the PA announces “the winner of the scratchcard”, that I somehow missed out on. Tom’s trip to the burger van, was a productive one. “Super burger and chips” he tells me, a proper “brioche bun” no imitations here like we have come across recently and so hot are the chips, the white polystyrene bowl they were served in, is starting to melt, like a scene from Aliens.

A single home made looking flag has followed the FI fans to the opposite end of the ground, the players return gets a few shouts from the CC supporters joining us in the much more spacious terrace and they will be very encouraged by what they see from their team early in the new half. A bonafide fire in their belly, they have come out with bags more purpose, and are looking far more assured on the ball. With less than a minute on the clock a breakaway looks more than promising, only for a slip at exactly the wrong moment, means the forward can’t get on the end of the pass and the crowd to a man, each do their best pirate impression, “arghhhhhh”.

The passing Jamie Byatt, who I first saw today supping from a cup of tea in front of the burger van, gets his own song from the home crowd, and as he should, being something of a local folk hero and club legend, not only in South London I’m told, but Brazil too.

It’s like a different team have walked out, CC looking the far sharper of the two sides. In again, it's only a last ditch block on the edge of the FI box, that stops them hitting the target and the crowd to our right respond in kind, “we’re pink, we’re brown, we’re coming to your ground".

A somersault at the end of a slaloming FI run, the shot just wide, gets the first hummed rendition of the Entrance of the Gladiators we've heard this season and a certain section of the home fans are growing a little tired of their teams lack of creativity, the “ohhhh” when the final ball on the edge of the FI box fails to materialise is heavy with disappointment. “Could have slipped him in” says not the actor to the bishop, but a CC supporter who could see what needed to be done, so I don't understand why the player with the ball couldn't see it either.

The next home attack, yes, like I said, a different team, that is two in more than forty five minutes, sees the player slipped in this time, he reaches the by line, and his near post shot is beaten out. All the signs are there of a resurgence for the home supporters, who and I would agree with them when they start singing about being “into something good”.

With the rain now hammering down, the water cooler has been abandoned and the home bench is positively heaving. FI almost double their lead, but somehow the player charging towards the ball can't make any contact, and the gaping goal goes untouched. “Sea, sea, seasiders” sing the FI supporters, the home ones reply by informing them and anyone who might care to listen, that they are the “pride of South London”.

There are more ohhhs from the home crowd, but still they wait for an equaliser. An unorthodox thigh pass across the FI area following a free kick, ends up in the right place, but no one can make the most of it and then the ohhhs are replaced with laughs, when a FI player slips over in the CC box, but he at least sees the funny side of it, “not very good” he says grinning.

“Well done Jack” cheer the home fans, after the player in question crashed a long range shot goalwards that was touched over the bar. Tom thinks CC are showing signs of “running out of steam”. They should have “scored at least three times”, he says after they have a goal bound shot blocked on the line, but struggle to recover when FI race right up the other end and almost score themselves. The more and more CC go in search of an equaliser, the more they look like getting caught out at the back.

“That's inches outside” says a concerned sounding CC supporter, drawing the air in over his teeth, when a FI player is barged over, in what I was sure was the penalty area, but the referee thought otherwise.

It can't be said that CC have not had their moments to score, but that all important killer pass has eluded them all day. “That’s horrible” says one fan at the sight of another lacklustre attempt to find
the player at the end of a move and just about summing up their day in front of the goal, when presented with probably their best chance of the entire match, they miss.

“I thought that was in” gasps one man, the same one who had berated his team for “wasting” the corner, and taking it short, but it found the player at the near post perfectly, who somehow managed to bounce his point blank range header down and wide from a foot out, falling to his knees, arms aloft, he goes the full Platoon.

From the brief time we have spent in the presence of the CC supporters, it's clear to see that they are a ‘sing regardless’ bunch, not an ‘only when things are going well’ lot. The on field action, having little bearing on them, “ally, ally o” they sing, while FI race away for the umpteenth time and the home keeper pulls off another super save, keeping his team just about still in contention with ten to go.

As the clock ticks down, a few fans around us start to dissect their teams performance, “we're not that bad,'' says one, “compared to the other teams in the league, we're just not taking our chances,'' which based on today's performance I would say is just about bang on.

Caught in two minds, one CC player with the ball doesn't know if he should listen to one fan and ignore the other or visa versa, “do it” says one, “don't” says another, in the end he doesn't pass it, the internal dilemma, the hesitation is written all over his face. Dawdling on the ball, CC’s hopes of getting anything at all are dwindling fast.

The man with a four pint beer carrier is very popular as he returns from the bar, much more popular than the latest CC player whose attempt to find a team mate is poor. The singing still continues “Casuals, Casuals” and the small section in the main stand are still focused on having “four cheeses on our chips”, and then the old seductress pipes up, caressing us for the last time with her dulcet tones, when she informs us that there are “four minutes of added on time”.

For the final time today, and by far the loudest they have been, the home fans give one last rendition of “something tells me I'm into something good” the stand around us sounds like its close to collapse, they are positively booming, “ally, ally o” their volume not dropping a decibel even when FI at the death almost score their second. “Why did he shoot?” wonders one of them, the away forwards decision making a little confusing.

One last wild home shot gives the supporters a momentary glimpse at hope and the man in the first floor scaffolding made filming gantry gives the team one last push, "two minutes left, lets keep going", however it's all in vein and CC fall to another defeat, however the disappointment of which is
soon forgotten, as the players begin their customary thank you to the fans. High fiving those who want to be high fived, shaking hands and even hugging one supporter, as they complete their lap of the pitch. A fine way to finish any football match, a mutual recognition of each others efforts.

Keen to join those already in the bar, his bag of flags in one hand, Roger a CC fan for "thirty years" who despite needing them in the CC documentary, I don't require "subtitles" to understand, is pragmatic to say the least.

His club rooted to the bottom of the division after promotion last year, CC it's important to point out and in accordance with the ethics of their original formation don't pay the players, only travel expenses and that's only a recent thing, puts things into perspective so beautifully, the beer already starting to flow just a few steps away, the Preston Casuals pink flag now hanging from the ceiling, the songs have already started. He shares with us a notion, one that is worthy of getting a tattoo of myself, one every football fan should remember, that league position, players, grounds are all immaterial. Its the club, the badge that is all important. As he puts it, even if they got regulated, and lost their famous old home, "if they're playing in the road, I'd support them from the road".

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Thursday, 24 October 2019

Engage - Highworth Town FC Vs Swindon Supermarine FC, Southern League Challenge Cup 1st Round, The Elms (02/10/19)

“You live in a stupid area” whines Tom, annoyed that the space my car has just pulled out of, yes I’m driving, the status quo has resumed, is not big enough to accommodate his wide hipped gas guzzler. “Silly small car, silly parking” he mumbles under his breath like a cantankerous white haired muppet on a theatre balcony. It takes him at least three tries, in three different spaces, before he eventually finds one he can get into, much like the Goldilocks of parking: one was too short, one was too narrow, the third being just right.

Just about settled in, just about over his parking debacle, Tom’s choice of topic of conversation is of course the weather. “Is it going to rain?” he asks himself, peering out of the car. “Its that time of year” he says, exactly what he means by that I’m not sure, but it's clearly causing him much consternation what combination of numerous items of clothing he has dragged from his car into mine.

The latest incarnation of FIFA occupies almost the entirety of our drive west, and Tom's upcoming honeymoon in the Maldives, that despite my best efforts, will be happening during the season. Tom going all European on me, having himself a winter break, while we’re all Brexiting at home.

As is the case each year, Tom talks to me through the intricacies of Football Ultimate Team, speaking almost in another language, I try and decipher a few bits I think I understand, but it's all a bit over my head. I’m very much a career mode guy, got to get Southend to the Premier League, as I have done, with the few exceptions of when I did it with Barnet, every year for the last fifteen.

Only two other subjects manage to crowbar their way into proceedings, one is, unusual player celebrations, and Tom’s aversion to anything including mixed cheese. He’s OK with a single cheese, like on a pizza or toast, but mix multiple cheeses in one meal, well let's just say it’s not pretty, “does not react well” he says while having a momentary flashback.

Something that certainly is pretty, is the countryside we are winding our way through, in this particular part of Wiltshire. Yes Wiltshire, when I said West, I didn't mean Chiswick and after all the cheese and FIFA chat, the car has fallen very quiet. A quick glance over at Tom and I understand why. He is astutely studying his phone, I ask him what he is doing, and he tells me “buying and selling”. His FIFA 20 grind extending much further than his living room sofa, as I negotiate the motorway, he’s flogging second division Spanish players, to earn a handful of FIFA coins.

Anyone who is a regular player of computer games, will know grinding is a routine part of 99% of games nowadays, collecting thousands of stone or wood to craft a new cart, but who knew such behaviour was required in FIFA?

Despite the well meaning sign, what it is actually pointing to is not exactly clear on first inspection. A further sign, one displaying the details of tonight's match confirms we are in the right place and I can see The Elms home of Highworth Town FC (HT), floodlights and what I’m guessing is the clubhouse perched overlooking the pitch, however between us and it is a sizeable field with kids playing on it.

It is soon apparent why all the signs direct you to the spacious car park, the other side of the field, and not to the one directly next to the ground, that it shares with the neighbouring swimming baths, because it's tiny and full of parents dropping their children off for their lessons.

I must do at least three or four laps of it, until I’m lucky enough to stumble across a space just about big enough to fit my modestly sized car, the same could not be said if it had been Tom’s, so up yours mate. However some people are not so lucky, as we approach the single turnstile, one man is going around and around and around, all signs of hope having completely drained from his eyes.

At the far end of the pitch, one very eager Swindon Supermarine FC (SSFC) supporter has already fastened their flag to the fence behind the goal, however there is something much more apparent between us and it, that needs mentioning, something the kind of which you won't see everyday, even in non league.

“You looking at that hill?” asks one SSFC player barely able to contain his laughter to another coming in, who looks slightly in shock. The change in gradient from one corner of the pitch to the other is staggering, as Tom puts it, it's like a pool table in the pub that too many people have sat on the corner of. Regardless of what you do, the cue ball always ends up rolling that way.

Other than the slope, there is not much else of mention. It’s a very peaceful setting, the sound of dogs being walked in the park behind occasionally break, the relative silence. It's getting a bit dark for anyone to be playing in the playground visible over the fence, and in another twist, to add to the rarity of the slope, the ground is only three sided, which we later learn is down to the adjoining cricket club, the fence having to come down whenever a game is on and HT have to get “special dispensation to play without it”.

The man in one of the two flat roofed stands with their mixture of black and red seats, sloping down the hill along one side of the pitch, the same side as the large tree that might be responsible for the conkers littering the goal mouth, is absolutely hammering his packed lunch and won't have any left if he carries on at the rate he’s going and I can only hope Tom’s premonition of rain is wrong, because there is a distinct lack of cover.

“Lots of wood here” notices Tom, and he’s not wrong. The Elms most definitely has a bit of a Nordic sauna feel to it, well at least one part of it does. The brand spanking new structure by the entrance stands out quite a bit compared to the rest of the ground. Opposite it, with a plaque on the wall celebrating past glories, Hellenic League Champions 2004-05, is a building much more in keeping with what we’re used to seeing. Single storey, white UPVC windows and swinging doors, the clubhouse.

“Not coming in here with them” says the apparent HT prefect standing guard on the door to a man who has just arrived with his own chips, “disrespectful” he mutters to those clutching their non club sanctioned food.

The sun now gone, having set gloriously over the cricket pitch side of the ground, its now cold, really cold and Tom smirks, “I bet you’re glad you don't have shorts on”. The warm lights of the clubhouse draw us in, the doorman is nowhere to be seen, our entrance is accompanied by the Champions League music buzzing through the speakers of one of the TV on the wall.

It’s been a while since I’ve stepped into one, the summer to me at least making them a bit redundant, much rather sit outside, then be cooped up inside, but edging closer and closer to winter they really come into their own. The shelter from the cold, the promise of a warm drink, the reassuring blinking of the fruit machines lights, absolutely delightful.

“Food is limited” whispers Tom, after his brief stint at the small table covered in milk and sugar, making our teas. “Pot Noodle” he informs me is about as good as it gets, before slinking off to the loo in a bit of a grump. On his return, he doesn't bother to sit down, “time for a Pot Noodle and a pie” he tells me, the menu having doubled in size in the brief time he was in the toilet, and although it's not going to be as plentiful as his usual order, he admits it will “fill a hole”.

Sitting in its own silver tray, which is sitting in half of a yellow polystyrene one, Tom looks far from enamoured with his dinner. “They've got a Cornish pasty” he tells me before taking a bite of his pie, his back drop the kind of advertising covered board you'd usually see Brendon Rogers conduct an interview in front of, and I’m trying to suss out why he is drip feeding me the menu information, it’s so tedious. However with a mouthful of pastry and chicken he’s soon moved on, ruing the fact he “should have bought a thicker coat” and for at least the two hundredth time in almost five years, he tells me that he needs to get himself a “Wenger jacket”.

It’s quite the descent down the slope from the changing rooms behind the clubhouse to pitchside, where the referee waits with a neon yellow ball in hand and it’s now we get our first taste of the booming PA. Which had previously been playing a reasonable selection of music at a very appropriate level, but the volume the starting elevens are being read out at, is of Deaf Leppard’esq proportions.

Tom is far from a fan of midweek cup action, the possibility of extra time and even penalties, winds him up no end, so I know he will be just about the happiest person here when we are all told by the person manning the microphone, that he has been “intelligently informed that the match will not go to penalties” if it is a stalemate at the end of the ninety.

A very angry “get into them” from a SSFC player follows the whistle as we get underway and Tom having had a quick scan of our surroundings, is somewhat surprised that “there are a few people here”, but no one stands with the SSFC flag still hanging alone at the far end of the slope, sorry I mean pitch. Some have “not bothered leaving the bar” he laughs. The terrace outside the bar, is as far as a few are prepared to venture, but as Tom points out they've probably got the “best view here”.

It’s a feisty start to the game, which Tom confirms is normally the way according to an overheard conversation earlier, two home fans discussing how there is always seemingly a “red card in this game”. Both sets of players are very shouty, very vocal, and there is a reasonable amount of chatter and general football noise coming from the end SSFC are attacking, however the other, where the sad flag is, is deserted. Which might have something to do with quite how narrow it is, about a man wide or the chance of being hit by a falling conker being very high.

“Cheeky” scoffs Tom at the sight of a slightly ambitious snap shot by a HT player, that is well, well over and its soon SSFC, the team from the league above time to have a pop, there shot at least hitting the target. An unfortunate slip by a home defender sees them in, but the HT keeper is equal to the attempt, and stops it with his feet. Then HT go close once more, the match swinging from one end to another, a low shot wide of the post and then SSFC sting the palms of the man in goal for the home side with a long range dipping shot, all this action condensed into about four or five minutes.

Now you will understand why I won't pass comment on Tom’s latest observation, as it could be construed to be a little hypocritical if I did, but he is convinced the referee is a “bit fat”. When he gets no reply from me, he answers his own quandary, “he looks a bit tubs” and when I don’t entertain his body shaming, he sharply changes topic. Informing me as he always does around this time of the season, about how he’s “not looking forward to winter this year” and I remind him as I always do of the time he told me how much he looked forward to the day of a snow covered match, and we conclude that he likes the idea of aspects of it, how nice it will look on his Instagram feed, but he has made no practical consideration of how fucking cold it might get.

Both the home and away players cackle at the referee's latest decision, for wholly different reasons. The SSFC player went down very softly, “he dived” interjects Tom, winning the set piece in a threatening advanced position.

A quarter of an hour in, and as Tom puts it SSFC have notably “ramped it up a bit” kicking into a higher gear, they stroke the ball around effortlessly, testing the home keeper again with a thunderous
strike, that he is only able to palm away. “Fucking hell” he says to himself, the ball moving all over the show, almost catching him out.

The introduction of an early SSFC substitute is unfortunate for the player going off, clearly in some discomfort, and is also the cue for another assault for our eardrums. I’ll take some responsibility for the fact that we are standing quite close to a speaker, but the volume the announcement is being broadcast, I’m surprised isn't forcing locals in their droves to write angrily worded letters to the council.

Looking on in woolly hats and gloves the substitutes watch HT work the ball up well to the edge of the box, cutting in from the wing, a home fan senses some promise, “go on” he stammers, but the final ball is nigh on assaulted out of the box by “big blue” as Tom dubs him, a hulking SSFC defender and the danger passes.

The way footballers talk never ceases to intrigue me, their choice of words and blurted one line sentences, make up a whole dialect, reserved only for the ninety minutes of the match and very rarely at any other time. Sometimes it can be easy to decode, easy to get the gist of what they are getting at, but sometimes it can be impenetrable. To this day I still don't know what “pigeon steps” means. The SSFC winger though fluent in footballer knew exactly what the man in the box meant when he said “a little one”, the wide man dinking the ball to him perfectly on the edge of the six yard box, but his flicked header is over.

Judging by their performance so far, with almost twenty five minutes gone, it's clear SSFC have ever more gears to change up into if they wish, they are running at half speed if that, them scoring feels like only a matter of time, their number 9, Tom points out is “the one to watch” his dribbling “amazing”. He is very much at the centre of everything.

“Bit harsh” sniggers Tom, the home bench far from happy at the foul being given against them, “fuck off”. Another HT indiscretion, another free kick awarded, this time there is little complaint, the tackle getting a teeth sucking “ohhhh” from Tom, it wasn't pretty. The resulting set piece sees SSFC go close once more, they are giving the home keeper a right work out. The low stooping header is somehow kept out and minutes later the HT stopper is at it again, his one handed save from another header even gets the plaudits of the SSFC substitutes “save”. Managing to push the ball wide, he looks on as it bobbles along the goal line and out for a corner.

Our conversation with Derek an HT official about the “tricast predictor” and how “half” the money raised goes towards helping to maintain “the pitch”, is interrupted by him becoming very animated, “good save” he cries. It’s now the turn of the SSFC keeper to display some cat like reflexes, a header at the end of a quality cross is kept out and would have been quite an undeserved lead, had they taken it.

Derek also confirmed, something we have known for a while that the League Cup equivalent in this division, is as well respected as it is everywhere else, which is not at all. This season the Southern League couldn't even find a “sponsor” for it he tells me, and tonight's encounter is “more competitive than it normally would be” because “of who the teams are”, otherwise it would be a very damp squib.

It’s only the home players laughing this time, when their reasonable claim for a free kick is waved away and then its the turn of the SSFC number ten to reel off a few expletives when he can’t get the ball out of his feet in the box, “fuck off”. He needn't be too hard on himself, they have another chance to take the lead shortly after, but the stabbed effort is right at the keeper, it’s only a matter of time.

“Get hold of the game ref” barks a man from the SSFC technical area, following a home attack that started after a very heavy challenge. One HT player insists the player responsible, “got the ball”, making his sides case, as the player now in possession flies down the wing, but nothing comes of it

It’s a low key response to the half time whistle to say the least. Tom follows Derek having taken him up on the offer of a much needed cup of tea or coffee in my case. A SSFC official clutching a clipboard passes us having a hotly contested debate with himself, suggesting, to himself may I reiterate, that it’s “only a matter of time before the first red card”.

With Tom having already eaten, and no anticipation of the raffle or 50/50 results to come for entertainment, although it’s more entertaining for Tom of course, who takes much glee from how depressed I get when I don’t win, it's a rather sedate half time for us, however we are both shaken from our reverie brought upon us by the hot drink by the growling SSFC keeper making himself comfortable at our end, “straight in” he barks.

Surprisingly, it's the home side who go close first, the new half only minutes old. “You what, no way” says a SSFC player, dumbfounded that the referee has awarded HT a corner, many of the visiting players each wear a look of unbridled shock across their faces and this phantom corner kick, rears its head the next time the ball goes out. “Corner, corner” appeal a couple of SSFC players, the referee not seeing the funny side, instead pointing to the keeper to signify a goal kick with a very sour look on his face.

Despite the amount of time the ball has spent in the HT box, Tom is certain the game has “0-0 written all over it” and if no one is going to make the effort to at least get in the penalty area, “no one in the box man” laments one SSFC player, a cross into the channel goes unchallenged, he might be right.

“Ohhh that would have been nice” grins Tom, his mood improved by a rising SSFC shot from the edge of the box, that just misses the cross bar, the ball having been latched onto after a poor punch from the HT man in goal.

We might not be getting any closer to a goal, but we are certainly edging ever closer to a red card. “Oh that's a tackle” grimaces Tom, a full blooded HT challenge wins the ball back, but how fairly I’m not sure. SSFC’s number 9 trademark slick passing is just not sticking anymore and the “home players are fighting among themselves” Tom highlights, all making for an unpredictable final thirty minutes.

I’m trying to keep upbeat, but the chance of a goal is diminishing by the second, the fact the the visitors almost score directly from a corner, but don't, makes me wonder what have they got to do to take the lead and a slightly scything SSFC tackle sees the first booking of the game.

“Does it really need to be that loud” gripes Tom, the PA is deafening us both once more, “you’d be really pissed off if you lived over there” he states, pointing way off in the distance. He rightly adds, there are “only a couple of hundred people here” so it really does seem unnecessary.

Just before the quarter of an hour mark SSFC go agonisingly close with a back post volley, Tom is close to freezing and is asking me to go and get him “some woolly gloves”, and much like a London bus, we then don't just get one goal, but two in as many minutes.

“That was a very muted celebration” says Tom, the fact they have actually finally taken the lead only
made certain by the return of the PA, but he’s not much help, “scored by Supermarine and I‘d love to tell you who he was”.

If Tom thought the display that followed the first SSFC goal was underwhelming, he’s not seen anything yet. The reaction to doubling their lead by the SSFC players is “even more muted” than before, says a confused Tom. We know barely anyone gives a toss about this competition, but they could at least pretend to be happy. Tom’s overriding concern now, is not that we are going to see no goals, but that we are going to see “loads”. He also wonders if HT are going to well and truly “fall apart” after quite a spirited performance so far this half, SSFC second might just tip them over into, ‘we just don’t give a shit territory’.

“Engage, engage, engage” repeats the SSFC keeper, a clear Star Trek fan, doing his best to instruct a defender to stop the HT player getting closer and closer to his area. On one bench someone is blasting away on their vape, leaving a massive and slightly guilty looking cloud hanging above them and not for the first time tonight, the HT keeper, despite conceding, does his man of the match credentials no harm with a super save beating out a goal bound header.

SSFC keeper is continues to quote Jean-Luc Picard and Tom is pretty sure HT haven't had a shot on goal yet, with more than twenty minutes on the clock, which might explain the players continued squabbling, one calling another a “fucking dickhead”.

“Ohh he’s back” shudders Tom, the PA is on again, and as Tom adds the “bar sounds lively” the goings on in the clubhouse more than audible and having watched a fair bit of Star Trek as a kid, I was a Next Generation enthusiasts, sod Deep Space 9 I never heard Jean-Luc Picard say “fucking engage”. This time the SSFC keeper taking it up a notch, his defenders sloppy, allowing the HT player far too much time on the ball to send his dipping shot just over.

Heading towards the final quarter of the game, the chances are still coming. A SSFC cross causes all sorts of confusion, the ball eventually hacked clear by a HT defender, but the visitors don't have it all their own way, the crowd “ohhhh” following a save by the SSFC keeper low down to his right, only for SSFC to show just what they are capable off, racing off straight down the other end, outnumbering the HT defence, but can't capitalise

“That dog is pissed” says a concerned Tom, a nearby K9 going bonkers somewhere off in the darkness, that other than the Enterprise obsessed SSFC keeper, it is the loudest thing here. The home crowd are silent, so much so that when someones phone starts playing Tequila by The Cramps, I don't think there is a person here not humming along.

Applause, an actual emotional response, SSFC have just added to their tally, and the bench are feeling ruthless, “lets score again”.

One way to not ingratiate yourself with your teammates, is the overuse of flashy unproductive footwork, especially when you are three goals down. Back and forth, back and forth goes the HT winger, one drag back after another, that gets him nowhere, eventually he loses the ball, his teammates livid and his manager even more so. “Tell him” he shouts. What I imagine that would be is, stop prating about.

Even though they have well and truly taken their foot off the gas, no need to expel any unnecessary energy, SSFC crown their rout with a forth, that gets a “yesss” from the crowd, there is life out there after all, the SSFC scorer slamming it home from the edge of the box.

The final five minutes is just one SSFC attack after another, the visiting players are queueing up to score, Tom thinks for all concerned that referee should just call it quits, “come on blow the whistle I’m cold”.

It's only because we hear the referee tell one HT player there are “two minutes” left, that we have any idea how much more of this we have to endure. As Tom points out, “they don't even bother with the stoppage time board” and when the game comes to an end it's only because all the players starting walking off towards the slope to trudge back up the hill, do we know the game is actually done. A few SSFC fans offer up a few shouts of congratulations, “well done”, but all in all, tonight might just be the dearest four nil win, we are ever likely to see.

We learnt two things tonight, firstly about the interesting relationship between the two clubs which are no more than four miles apart, where as Derek put it over the years there has been "quite the interchange of players" between the sides. Players "fall out with one club" but "don't want to travel too far" so just end up playing for the other, more than a few "go round in circles".

We also learnt something really we already knew, something that we are reminded of each time we see a game like this, in a competition no one gives a toss about, the only saving grace tonight being the match up was between two "local rivals" as the booming PA put it, which gave it a modicum of intrigue, but as Tom put it, there was the distinct feeling from more than one person, that "no one wanted to be here".

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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