Monday, 15 July 2019

Do I Have To Pay For These? - Chertsey Town FC Vs Cray Valley Paper Mills FC, FA Vase Final, Wembley (19/05/19)

Sitting anxiously at the end of my road early on a Sunday morning, the world around me having not really stirred, has become somewhat of the norm over the last few weeks, except for the anxiously bit. The mild feeling of terror is not because we are about to embark on a long journey to some far flung part of the country, we’re only going fifteen minutes up the road, but because of the magnitude of today's game, and because somehow we have been able to wangle a level of access I don't think either of us could have ever dreamt of.

It’s probably no bad thing we are only in the car for a short while, it's eerily quiet, the nerves already getting the best of us, the silence only occasionally broken by the sound of Tom’s vape or one of us saying out loud, “what are we doing?”.

Snaking around the back of a well known Swedish furniture outlet, both of us considering jacking in what we are supposed to be doing, stopping for budget hot dogs instead, the task ahead of us too daunting. The reality of what we are about to undertake, has just been made all that more real by our first glimpse of today's venues most prominent feature, its white iconic arch poking up into the gloom, on what is turning out to be not one of North West London's better days.

Not shy of a nostalgic look back on my footballing past, it must have been around the mid nineties when I first visited Wembley Stadium. A stadium then in the truest meaning of the word, very different to the space age monolith that towers above us today, as we negotiate the multitude of streets around its massive footprint, eventually finding our way to event car park yellow.

It wasn't for a match mind, that would come a little while later, England Vs Chili in a pre World Cup ‘98 warm up, where Micheal Owen and Dion Dublin made their debuts and my Dad spent the whole evening shouting “Dublin for Ireland” after the then Aston Villa's players less than auspicious performance.

With its twin towers, apparent lack of suitable toilet facilities for women, and a not inconsiderable gap between the stands and the pitch, the whole place even then clearly felt in need of a makeover, little if any of it seemingly having been updated or modernised since being built, it was still completely awe inspiring. The very place I’d seen the SAS demolish the Netherlands, where Gazza scored that goal against the Scots, the place where the greatest football tournament played out in the Summer of ‘96, that forged my love of football.

Much like my first visit here for a tour, all piped in crowd noise as you made your way to the royal box, the crossbar from the 1996 World Cup Final, that sparked fierce debate about if it was over the line or not, and the very medical room Paul Gascoigne was treated in, after his ill timed tackle against Nottingham Forest. Wembley is devoid of much life, just swathes of bare concrete, the odd sign of yesterday's FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Watford, and lots and lots of men in hi viz.

There is none of the energy and near dangerous cruses that peppered my subsequent visits, meaningless England friendlies, Arsenal Vs Panathinaikos in their Champions League experience, and numerous visits post makeover, with Tom and on a few occasions my Dad once again. His surprise of tickets to a friendly against the Ukraine, always received with mixed emotions.

My own feelings on our nation's stadium are varied, it is obviously from a spectators point of view a much better place to watch football, no speedway track and if you happen to be a woman, the fact they have more than one loo is an improvement, but it’s no longer somewhere I can honestly say fills me with an instant feeling of occasion.

That might have some small part to do with my own recent visits, when acting as Spurs temporary home, they lost both times, it’s not exactly associated with the fondest of memories.

There are more staggering Man City fans, lurching out of the front doors of the various surrounding hotels, then there are of either of the four teams playing here today, but that's no huge shock, kick off is still over two hour away.

What there is however, is a huge amount of people checking into hasty set up stations on the very lowest rung of the Wembley cake stand. Signing in, picking up their complementary packed lunch, and receiving instructions on what part they will play in the running of the production, each of them an intrinsic cog in the greater machine.

Passing through the metal detector, my bag opened and fumbled, today finally feels like it’s actually happening. Both of us secretly unwilling to acknowledge what had been promised to us, until right now, and when I place the large multicoloured laminate and the end of a white Football Association lanyard around my neck, Non-League Finals Day across it’s top, my miserable faded picture looking out at me and below a succession of numbers highlighting where I am able to go, it hits me, this is real, somehow we have pulled this off.

A whistle stop tour of where we have access to, goes close to spinning my head right off my shoulders. Travelling in the lift, guided by one of the Wembley press team, trying not to look too giddy because my pass says FA Media on it, we descend from street level to floors denoted by letters and ever decreasing numbers.

Along a poorly lit road within the vast grey bowels of the stadium, so cavernous is the space a large coach is parked, with still enough room for another to park on top of it, there are more and more remnants of yesterday Final. Signage and all sorts litter the floor, a box that reads “FA Cup plinth handle with care”, all discarded, ready for the tip.

The next few hours are somewhat of a blur, when we are led out pitch side and are basically told there you are, have a good day, time slows and I feel I imagine what someone halfway through an Amazonian drug trip might feel. The very seats Pep Guardiola sat in less than twenty four hours ago are within touching distance, his effortlessly cool scent probably still all over them, but I'm not sure rubbing myself on them would be a good look.

There is only the thinnest of cordons stopping us from walking out onto the hallowed turf and when we are asked to move because they are about to test the pyrotechnics, the warmth of the shooting column of fire only contributes to my state of fervour. A brief encounter with the scourge of both Arsenal and Spurs, former Bolton player Kevin Davies, being recognised by a BT commentator and touching the wrinkled bronze face of Sir Alf Ramsey's bust, that peers up the tunnel, out the double doors towards the pitch, it’s enough to make a romantic like myself, breakdown.

Running through his lines, the bloke who used to do the comedy casual on Soccer AM prepares for the TV broadcast and neither of us know what to do with ourselves. I can tell that everyone else knows we shouldn't really be here, that we are very much imposter's, we do our best to look like we fit in, but are failing miserably.

A lack of notes and somewhat hazy memories, means my recollections of everything between now and kick off are somewhat limited. A brief visit to each teams palacious changing rooms, each with a larger floor plan than my own two bedroom flat, both are lovingly tended to by the kit men of Cray Valley Paper Mills FC (CVP) and Chertsey Town FC (CT).

The appropriate coloured lighting, green in CVP’s case and blue in CT’s, bathes each players crisp new kit in an almost ethereal glow, today's date and opponent embroidered into each one, is a sight to behold. Messages from loved ones and pictures are dotted about, making the most alien of places feel a bit like home. Everyone having to pinch themselves, however the staff of the respective clubs, are doing a much better job then I am, of keeping their cool.

On the bottom left of our passes in a small grey box are the initials TVG, which stand for TV Gantry, which is where we will be watching today's match from, in our attempt to capture the day on behalf of
CVP, who somewhat miraculously got us the very passes that weighs somewhat heavily around our necks.

Circumventing the pitch, we watch the players of both teams, most with a phone in hand, each documenting the day in their own small way, take the customary pre match walk on to what is an exquisite playing surface, no key prodding or heel stomping required here, before we start our ascent to the very top level of the stadium.

Two service elevators later, each one guarded, each time our passes inspected, each time we’re sure we are going to get rumbled and turfed out, each time we are let by with a smile, each time we can't believe it, we step out onto the vertigo inducing gantry, surrounded by camera crew sporting hats and hoodies from the previous major events they've covered like Champions League finals, their multiple thousands of pounds cameras poised, as we prepare our wonky charity shop tripod and John Lewis camcorder.
The warm ups complete, my memory fast forwards again in this disjointed account of our final game of the season. A large advert for the competitions sponsor has been stretched out across the centre circle, the red carpet has been rolled into place, a plinth has been placed pitch side and a sponsor covered backdrop for the teams line up has been erected.

CVP are not the most well followed of teams, and therefore the CT end is far more populated than that of the team from South East London. There is the odd bit of green and black below us, a row of youngsters in CVP shirts and the odd sighting of a green and black scarf, but compared to the sea of blue and white flags, homemade banners, one of which surfs over the heads of the crowd, nigh on the whole of Chertsey must have tuned out.

Ten minutes to get up here, so ten minutes to get back, is how much time I need to allow myself to scale the various elevators, bypass all the security and make it to the tunnel in time to see the players emerge, like a bearded overweight Tom Cruise. I leave Tom, who is no fan of heights and is looking a little wobbly, flanked by two cameras that are making him feel woefully inadequate, as I prepare myself for the most dreamlike tunnel experience of my life.

Normally cramped, dingy and with little room to move, really no place for a mountainous man like me, your average non league tunnel is not the most conspicuous of places. At Wembley though there is no end of room in the vast tunnel beyond the double doors. One could probably quite easily find a corner and set up a home there, and I’m not sure anyone would notice.

Carried out by a representative of each club, both if I remember rightly gleaming examples of the kind of tireless volunteers that are the beating heart of non league clubs, with a handle each they escort the shimmering FA Vase. They like so many today now have their own moment that will be hard to forget. Delicately placing the spoils of the day atop the plinth, the players arrival is now only moments away.

“Discipline, discipline” asks the CVP manager of his players, each now with a mascot in hand, their arrival giving their fidgeting hands something to do, many if not all are raring to go. CVP’s manager, the imperious looking Ming the Merciless type, has a steely look of determination chiseled onto his face, like at any moment laser beams might come shooting out of his eyes.

Echoing around the lofty, not even half full stadium, the booming voices of the pitch side announcers welcome the two teams out, as does the quite unnecessary pyro show, perhaps a left over from a recent concert. Flanking either side of the tunnel, the two dugouts, already filled with their bib wearing substitutes, applaud their teammates as they make their way past the numerous flag bearers, out for what might be the biggest day in their playing careers.

Led by the captains, the suited dignitaries are introduced to the starting elevens, walking slowly along the unfurled red carpet. Taking my surreal o’meter close to breaking point, I then have the quite bizarre honour of watching a woman in an immaculate cream ball gown, no less than ten feet away from me belt out the national anthem. The dignitaries, having completed their meet and greet, each standing tall alongside each other, chests puffed out, give just as good as the lady with the classical training, all while the fans of each team appear on one of the two massive screens, smiling inanely when they realise they’re on, and then cut off before they are able to do anything to daft.

Both teams huddle, never before I’m sure has a huddle seemed so vital, the chance for a few choice words from the captain to help steady any nerves. Exchanging pennants and handshakes, the armband wearing ones, perform the coin toss, and after another round of handshakes, CVP are to get things underway.

On account of having to repeat the great trek to get to our appointed position in the gods I have to rely on Tom’s analysis of how the first ten minutes have gone. In the time I’ve spent staring at the brushed steel interior of Wembleys lifts he has come to the conclusion “Chertsey are going to win, it’s been all them”.

Having made quite the racket when we saw them take on Northwich Victoria in the semi-final, CT’s greatly swelled numbers means the travelling fans from Surrey have done a grand job of filling their allocated quarter of the stadium, they are making an impressive cacophony whenever they get going, “Chertsey, Chertsey, Chertsey”.

Tom has not spent our time apart pining for my return, but instead swanning about in the “media lounge”, getting his hands on anything that he can. “Do I have to pay for these?” he asked the lady behind the bar, who shot him a withering glance, you’ve clearly never been here before. The long table next to him, which was empty when I left, is now covered in numerous large handfuls of Celebrations.

The other side of the professional cameras manned by men who need little effort to move them, which is no mean feat considering their size, the commentary team made up of our friend Kevin Davies and his BT Sport compadre, are sat using those ancient looking microphones, that I thought were last used on The Big Match.

“Ohhhh” gasp both sets of fans, when CVP send a header just over the bar following a corner. Looking like a mixture of Sensible Soccer and performing ants in a travelling circus, our vantage point allows us an unparallelled view of a game, that neither of us have experienced before and Tom is so mesmerised by the goal side 2D sign that appears to be 3D, that I have to nudge him clear of his reverie.

Equally as raucous as when we last saw them, just in far greater number, the CT’s fan keep up their well earned reputation, and are quick to point out the distinct number of empty seats in the CVP end, “you’re support is fucking shit”.

The excitable cry of “Baxter” from the BT commentator is enough to make one jump, delivered in that excitable TV way, at the sight of the CT player with his back to goal attempting to put his team ahead with the most audacious of overhead kicks from just outside the six yard box.

A succession of meaty challenges from each team, one almost after another on the touch line below, the next in retaliation to the last ends finally with a CVP free kick. The CT fans are spelling out the clubs name, one letter at a time “C...H…E”, which is followed by the occasional blast of a dwindling air horn.

“It’s weird to think Sterling banged in a hat trick yesterday and now we're here watching this” ponders Tom, the game if I’m honest somewhat passing us by, neither of us really having yet snapped
out of the fact we have been given the chance that we have. A burst of CVP pace sees the wide man beat his nearby marker easily, his low cross into the box has promise, but is eventually cleared.

I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a shaky start, more a slow one by CVP, but nearly thirty minutes in, and they unlike us are starting to appear from their, ‘fucking hell I’m at Wembley’ fog, and start to show some of what has made them one of the most entertaining sides we’ve seen all season. A shimmy and a drop of the shoulder, sees one player out wide loose his man, but the final ball is not quite there.

Such is our altitude, Tom is starting to feel a bit chilly, “might have to put my scarf on”, admittedly it's not the most balmy days, but it's far from a crack out the snood kind of afternoon. On the pitch, and with every passing minute, CVP grow more and more confident, their latest effort a goal bound shot cleared off the line.

Not waiting around to lick their wounds after conceding the attempt on goal, CT are quick to counter, the danger of which is apparent to all, no more so than when one CVP midfielder who hauls the advancing CT player with the ball to the ground, conceding a free kick on the corner of the box.

“Ohhh foam” notes Tom, no expense spared by the FA today, Tom telling me there is even “goal like technology” in play, but is quick to point out “no VAR” as the referee marks the spot the set piece is to be taken from, and what a set piece it is. A wicked curling effort, that is only just tipped over by the CVP keeper at full stretch.

The closest either team has got to going ahead so far, inspires the loudest chant of the day so far, a roaring rendition of “Come on Chertsey, come on Chertsey”.

Laid out across the wiry obstacle to stop pitch invaders, a few CT flags bring a much needed colour change, against the many empty red seats, and with just short of ten minutes left of the half, a half filled with lots of “almosts and nearlys” as Tom put it, where CVP have failed to so far impress up front, and somewhat against the run of play, its takes a stroke of individual excellence, to give them the lead.

The twenty foot high picture of CVP forward Gavin Tomlin fills the screens at both ends of the ground, the stadium announcer bursts out his name, as the CVP fans for the first time are the loudest. All on their feet, they applaud the scorer, who just sneakily cut in off the left wing and sent his low angled shot pass the CT keeper, who is now racing towards the celebrating fans, his teammates in his wake, calling on those in the CVP end to give them all they’ve got, and they will do the same.

Two minutes after going behind and CT are awarded another free kick on the edge of the CVP box and considering how well the last one went, the fans and players I’m sure must be optimistic. However this one is a little less spectacular, and instead of clearing the wall and heading goalwards, it clips it and goes out for a corner.

Delivered at pace with some considerable bend, and in what looks like a case of overloading the six yard box and out muscling their opponents, there was no end of takers in blue and white to get on the end of the corner. Heading it almost from the penalty spot, the attempt is well out of the reach of the straining CVP keeper, but unfortunately for the CT player his well placed header, is just a fraction off target hitting the foot of the post instead of the back of the net.

Looking like the quickfire chance to level things up has avoided them, favour then falls somewhat fortuitously in their lap, presenting CT with another bite of the apple. Bouncing neatly back into play, the ball drops squarely on the right boot of one of the CT love train looking on in the box, who has the easy job of poking it into the empty net.

It’s Sam Flegg’s turn for his giant likeness to grace the screen and for his name to be energetically shouted over the PA. Racing off towards their fans, in a similar manner to which the CVP scorer did just minutes ago, the CT players take their celebrations up a notch, with an en masse knee slide.

For once I can excuse Tom’s sombreness following the goal, “back to square one,” he sighs. After our last three consecutive games have all gone to extra time, two all the way to penalty shootouts, Tom is longing for a game to finish in regulation time, “need a goal” he mutters to himself.

Normally the sight of pissing rain would send us fleeing, “getting heavy” points out Tom, who more than most objects to getting wet and is normally one of the first to seek cover. Such is the setting of this very non, non league encounter, we have no such concerns today. The same cannot be said for those in the very first few rows, who are forced to retreat as the rain starts to cascade down onto them.

“It’s not a retractable roof?” he then asks, unwittingly opening an age old can of worms, containing accusations of horrendous funds mismanagement and multiple missed deadlines, that I really can’t be arsed to get into now, so I confirm his statement.

“Ohh I’m hungry” Tom tells me, watching on as the exodus for food begins, after the blow of the referee's whistle, that sounded so far away, it was only the players heading off towards the tunnel, that confirmed the half had in fact come to an end. Tom won’t be off in search of lunch, even his voracious appetite of football food has its limitations, and £13.00 for a cheeseburger, as well as the fact it's so bloody far away. Means his last remaining Celebrations will have to suffice.

The same can not be said for Kevin Davies, who is off like a shot.

No food, no raffle, a non league game without a raffle is just not the same, as well as the blaring music, doesn't exactly make for a fun filled half time. The sight of the two cup carriers being awarded with their own trophies, in recognition of their commitment and hard work, is something I think we can all agree we’d like to see more of, and the sight of far more organised people then us tucking into food from home on the big screen, has Tom whining, “I wanna packed lunch”.

Are we here to watch the Foo Fighters or a football match? “Welcome back your finalists” says the exuberant voice over the PA, who is soon drowned out by some pounding Fat Boy Slim, more fire, and Tom almost starts a two man mosh pit.

A minute into the new half and after a sharp intake of breath from almost everybody, the first yellow card for the match is awarded to a CVP player. Whoever travelled to 2010 to get a Vuvuzela should be commended for their efforts for mastering time travel, but then should be kicked out, as they have no place in civil society. CT go close with a header at a corner and without the rain to contend with, the fans from each team start going at each other across the black mesh divide between their two sections.

Considering just how expertly the CVP number ten bought his free kick, absolutely conning the ref which was as plain as day, if you were a CT fan or player you would probably be somewhat aggrieved if the resulting set piece had culminated in a goal. Just how close it was, can be deduced by the sound of the CVP fans, whose “ohhhh” is barely audible.

Following suit, the first quarter of the new half, much like the entirety of the first, except for the two goals, is filled with lots of near chances, and fluffed lines. A mix up in the CVP defence presents one CT player with a free shot on goal, which he puts wide. As he berates himself, the CVP defenders frantically wave their arms at each other, between them trying to find a scapegoat for the error.
The somewhat frantic first fifteen concludes with an appeal of “handball” from the CVP players and supporters, a blocked shot by a prone CT defender, has been deemed by those in green and black to have been done unlawfully, but the referee waves play on.

Below us the battle of the fans is heating up, now almost all on their feet, the twelve to fourteen year olds, plus a few older blokes who should know better, are giving each other the old clenched fist hello, flags and scarves are being menacingly waved and the CT fans are asking, “shall we sing a song for you?”.

“It’s amazing what a bit of mesh can do” laughs Tom, each set of fans allowing the barrier to bolster their bravado, “if that was Italy, it would be on fire”.

Block after block after block in the CVP box, gets a fireworks display like reaction from the CT fans, “ohhh, ohhh, ohhh” and when the ball is finally cleared, they let loose one of their infrequent but stirring cries of “Chertsey, Chertsey”.

After thirty eight games together, I think we can be excused for the odd quarrel or lover's tiff and it
certainly gets a bit frosty on the gantry for five minutes or so, when the debate about if we should stick around for today's second of the days double headers. Tom is a firm no, I’m a yes.

“Shoot” shout the CVP fans, twenty minutes on the clock and a poor kick from the CT keeper falls right to a CVP player in midfield, but he hesitated, the goal gaping, he opts for the sensible, a pass wide, instead of the sensational.

“What a tackle that was” shouts Tom, half leaping out from his Westlife stool he’s been perching on, but making sure not to be too animated, to avoid going over the railings head first. One CVP player has just taken the ball quite literally off the toe of a CT forward, the timing and execution impeccable. Once back on his feet his effort is applauded emphatically by one team mate and moments later, CVP are up the other end, curling a shot just wide.

Approaching the final twenty minutes, the game hardly a stormer, the camera man next to us is almost asleep, the pace having slowed to say the least, Tom putting it down to the pitch being “so big” and its continues to get a little bit tasty directly below us, idle hands and all that. With no game to really get their teeth into, the fans are growing increasingly bored and are looking to fill their time one way or another.

Edging closer and closer towards extra time, Tom is fading, and when a CVP flurry brings about a few sighters and a shout for a pen, which only the downed player and fans appeal for, but nothing remotely clear cut I fear his premonition of extra time is all but nailed on.

“At least the security guards are earning their money” comments Tom, by the looks of it the witty back and forth has been taken too far and one CT fan who is being manhandled out, to the sound of the airhorn and surrounded by his fellow clapping fans, “Chertsey, Chertsey, Chertsey”.

The dawning realisation that we are more than likely going to see another thirty minutes at least, has just hit Tom like a ton of bricks, “extra time again, really”. One of the two security guards, standing by the door to the gantry, who confirms a CT fan has been removed, “there's always one” tuts Tom, winces at the sight of a clattering CVP challenge, “ohhhh” and the CVP player resplendent in all green with a very fetching black check on one shoulder joins his teammate in the referees book.

Another foul, another CT free kick, CVP are getting increasingly physical, a sign of their frustrations perhaps. Tensions are close to boiling over. Their third foul in quick succession brings about calls from the CT supporters of “off, off, off, off”, seething and looming over the player he just poleaxed, CVPs number 10 then gets himself entangled in some afters, before the referee can quickly separate them.

CVP are struggling to get out of their own half, of the two sides they are the one starting to now look the most leggy. In a rare break out, Kevin Lisbie, once of Charlton, who has also graced the international stage with Jamaica, shows that class is permanent, regardless of age. Delaying his shot to allow support from the wings, a pass wide seems imminent, but instead he chooses to shoot, his effort blocked, he had better options.

In recent weeks, Tom has become quite prone to prosaic statements, “now or never” his most frequently used, looking at me afterwards and waiting for the dramatic Hollywood cut scene, that never comes. As has also been the way, it's always “never”. The stunning curling cross by CVP is on target, the intended player is ready and waiting to head it, but it's taken away from him at the last.

“That was it, that was the chance” he fumes, “fourth game in a row going to extra time” he’s close to tears, the outstanding CT keepers fingertip save from the resulting corner the difference between Tom getting home in time for his roast and suffering a little longer.

As a large red five appears on the screen, to signify how much added on time is to be played, the match enters a state of near hysteria. CVP’s keeper almost hands the win to CT, when he palms what looks like quite an innocuous cross upwards, sending the ball behind him, and only thanks to a quick thinking teammate, who is in place to head it over.

Again Tom goes all hackneyed, “now or never” and again absolutely nothing comes of the ball into the box.

Neither team can say they haven't had the chance to win it in normal time. Both have squandered some gilt edged opportunities, both have had attempts well saved or blocked. The sound of the collective sigh from the CT fans is one I will struggle to forget, “he had an open net” howls Tom. Somehow, with the goal at his mercy, the ball cut right into this path, the player has contrived to put it over.

“Next goal wins” I quite clearly hear the BT commentator say, like they are watching a school lunch time match, and the buzzer is about to sound. Echoes of relief and screams of near misses ring around Wembley. Doing his best to turn in the box, one CT player with his back to the goal is crowded out, dawdling, Tom can't understand it, “what's he doing?” his eventual shot straight at the keeper.

It happens almost in slow motion, the ball squirming into the path of the CVP player in the box who has continued his run, the one two with a team mate not quite coming off, but a stroke of luck finds him bearing down on goal. He takes a single touch, putting just enough on the ball to help him evade the attention of one defender and then with a single swipe of his boot he unleashes his shot, the CT keeper all but beaten, the ball slapping the face of the bar.

Barely down from its momentary orbit, the ball takes a solitary bounce, before the referee blows his whistle.

Extra time it is.

Plenty of players on each team are being seen to. Cramps, niggles and other injuries are being ironed out by the hard working physios. The high pitched chant of “Chertsey, Chertsey, Chertsey” from a group of young CT fans, does just about enough to keep the yawning camera man next to us awake, and the occasional blast of a 90’s rave whistle, gives away one persons past.

“Getting a bit excited over there” says Tom, motioning towards the commentary team. Going on and on and on, one CT player runs the full length of the front of the CVP box, before eventually shooting, but its wide. CVP don’t seem fazed after going so close to winning it, a succession of corners sees them ramp up the pressure, however they can’t make one count. A dinked cross into the box goes close to one player, but he just can't reach it.

Kevin Lisbies last contribution is giving away a daft free kick in midfield, and when he’s substituted, the boos from the CT fans are deafening, he’s become somewhat of a panto villain over the last hour and a half, his replacement getting a far warmer reception from the CVP supporters.

Tom is quickly turning into a toddler, “make something happen, make something happen” he says on repeat badgering me. CVP find themselves in a great position once more, but again the final ball lets them down, “pony” he says, a phrase I’ve never heard any of my kids use before.

The faint shouts of “green army” are hardly vociferous from the CVP fans, but when on the stroke of half time, a clumsy challenge awards CT a penalty, they are instantly quashed.

Kissing his wedding ring and pointing towards the CT fans, CT’s number 9 has dispatched the spot
kick with an exorbitant amount of coolness, the boos of the CVP supporters did little to put him off. I’m sure his heart was in his mouth for a moment, when the CVP keeper chose to dive the right way, but it was one of those that hits the side net before the back one, and he was never going to reach it.

“You’re not singing anymore” chant the CT fans between frenzied waving of flags and ruffling of banners.

The singing from the CT supporters continues throughout the short break, “we are Chertsey, we are Chertsey” and once the game gets back under way, CVP's indignation is growing by the second, players and supporters don’t feel anything is going their way, much to the delight of the increasingly mouthy CT fans, “sit down shut up, sit down shut up”.

CVP are again let down by their final pass, time after time today they have found themselves in the right places, but that killer pass has been the difference between the two teams. The CT end is close to anarchy, “if you love Chertsey stand up” they sing, it's hard to pick out individuals amongst the ocean of flags and jumping people. A long range dipping shot of theirs with five minutes to go, is just reached by the very end of the outstretched CVP keepers hand and pushed over the bar, and moments later, the corner of blue and white becomes euphoric.

The goal that seals the victory, and the Vase for CT is the pick of the bunch, a low curling outside of the box effort, that would not look out of place in any goal of the season competition. A quick one two just outside the area, allows the scorer enough time and space to formulate his shot. He has every right to march no swagger over towards the fans, performing a textbook knee slide, and then finding a chink in the defences and leaping into the crowd.

Now in a state of full pandemonium the CT end is bouncing, “if you love Chertsey stand up”. Not once but twice, CT almost grab a forth, their supporters now “ole-ing” each pass, as the team do their best to keep possession and ride out the final minutes. All on their feet the CT bench look imploringly up at the giant scoreboard, the time ticking down at almost half speed. “Two minutes of added time” informs the voice over the PA.

Plunged into the pitch, a blue and white CT flag, tossed from the ecstatic crowd, claims Wembley for the Curfews and it's fans. I didn't see who committed the Graeme Souness impersonation, but no doubt it was one of the jubilant players, who after climbing those famous steps, and disappearing from view, reappeared a short while later a good couple of storeys up, the name of the club rolling below them on the electronic boards, to hoist the trophy into the air. Who are now celebrating with the fans, some taking their children from the crowd, for a chance of a picture for the living room wall.

Queen, Bowie and Diamond rattle off the victory play list, in front of the CT supporters the players get to reenact the trophy lift, this time with the added drama of a few bottles of bubbles. The ground staff, one of which nearly kicked us out not long after arrival because of Tom's foray onto the pitch, are eager for a quick turn around, the Leyton Orient fans are flooding in, in anticipation of the FA Trophy final.

Exhausted doesn't quiet describe quite how worn out I feel as I slump into the seat of my car. Far from a normal match day, means I really feel far from normal and it's hard to express quite how grateful we are to CVP and those who made what happened today possible. Bumping into their goalkeeping coach, we share a laugh when we both realise the last time we saw each other was Punjab United. From the Elite Venue to nations stadium in just a matter of weeks.

On the floor of the CVP changing room, the very same one which had a DJ setting up in it when we stuck our heads in was a sign that read "dare to dream". Unfortunately for CVP that dream ending, that dream ending that was almost written in the stars, what better way to toast your centenary year with a win at Wembley, didn't quite come true.

For us, we both could only ever have dreamt of standing on the pitch at Wembley, standing in the tunnel and brushing shoulders with Harrows own David Elleray. Today only goes to prove, that dreams can come true.

Hang on, isn't that a Gabrielle lyric?

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Friday, 5 July 2019

We Only Got Promoted - Chorley FC Vs Spennymoor Town FC, National League North Promotion Final, Victory Park (12/05/19)

Let me ask you this: Who knew that the Lighthouse Family were still a thing? Now be honest, don't nod like you really knew that twenty three years later that the lift music producing double act were still belting out the same one track they were singing when I was still at school.

For those of you thinking surely not, they were crap then, how has their whimsical upbeat music achieved such longevity, I would agree, however I just saw them on the sofa of one of the many sofa based Sunday morning programs that fill the morning slot as I left the house.

Considering the frequency of which we have gone to football on a Sunday this season, it has almost become the norm, instead of just something that our European neighbours did. Having forgotten my briefcase sized folder of CD’s on our last few outings, the tables have officially turned when Tom produces a mere handful from his bag, and I present to him my entire music collection condensed into one black polyester holdall I got off Amazon.

The Champions League, a Game of Thrones and that awful expression “wedmin” Tom’s go to when explaining what his other half is up today, all get an airing, before the music even gets a look in, as we make the long drive North.

When Tom's first CD of choice begins, I have to be sensitive, it’s one from his late father's vast collection, he tells me it's one that evokes childhood memories of family holidays, the must listen on long drives. So I have to somewhat bite my tongue as bizarre rendition after bizarre rendition of TV and movie soundtrack covers spill out from my speakers one after another. They are neither the original recordings nor are they from any films or TV shows you have ever heard of, but he’s happy and he’s not said “wedmin” again, so I do my best to just tune it out.

Going a long way to dispel the myth that its ‘grim up north’ the weather is in fact getting nicer the further up we go, but the brilliant blue sky and that I’ve had to crack the window because it’s getting a bit bloody warm, all seem quite insignificant after the admission from Tom that he has “never been to a circus”.

There will be no lions or tigers today, unless Chorley FC’s (CFC) Victory Park has a surprise in store for us. I can offer him a James Bond esq para glider flying perilously low over the motorway, the sight of a woman driving nigh on horizontally, I shit you not and he’s already contemplating “chips and gravy” as we will officially pass into “chips and gravy” country.

The tightly packed warren or terraced houses and single file streets don't make for easy navigation in the immediate vicinity of Victory Park, that so far, and somewhat disappointingly is both lion and tigerless. It was perhaps a tad naive of us to think we could just rock up and park a stone's throw from the ground, like we usually do. The narrow pavements are packed with people making their way to the match, and not any old match, one with a place in the National League at stake.

In keeping with one of English football's finest traditions, one would have no idea on the face of it that there was a football ground at all among the red brick houses, if it wasn't for the streams of people. Having eventually found somewhere to park after a few laps, and heading up what I’m told is not an alleyway but a ginnel, it’s hard to ignore the call of the programme seller, “programmes, three pounds a programme”, and the ornate wrought iron gate beside the turnstiles, with the pitch just viable the other side, that is all that stands between us and our penultimate game of the season. 

After a four hour drive, and having somewhat underestimated just how far away Chorley was from home, we are almost in Blackpool, we have not arrived in our usual overly punctual manner, but it’s a thrill to be here all the same and the setting could not be better.

If it’s name alone spelt out in white on the shiny metal black gate wasn't impressive enough, the kind of name to strike fear into anyone who dares enter, much more commanding than a ground or stadium named after a DIY chain or Middle Eastern airline. The infrastructure is straight out of the crumbly but charming column. A mixture of prefab and what looks like it could be pre war, it’s a real stunner.

With the pitch almost already completely surrounded, two people deep in some places, and with segregation in play, the fans of Spennymoor Town FC (ST) many of whom I'm sure are the same ones we saw spill on to the pitch at Brackley, after seeing them secure their place here in a penalty shootout win, our options for where to spend the afternoon are limited.

There is not an empty seat in the steeply angled roofed main stand, all the first floor places to sit have been filled by those with far better sense than us, who actually turned up in good time. The big shed behind one goal, with an imposing black and white flag hanging from its back wall is certainly inviting, but by the looks of the average age of the people in there, it might be a bit rowdy for us fogeys.

At the foot of the main stand, at the bottom of a flight of stairs that leads to the seating, no more than four or five thin steps lead down to the edge of the pitch forming a kind of mini terrace if you will, that is slightly elevated, and is yet to be filled.

If the name of the ground wasn't enough to intimidate you, the six foot plus magpie in a red baseball cap doing laps, may just be the icing on the cake. For now he seems happy parading around with a black and white flag, posing for pictures with children, but we all know magpies can be pretty vicious things, and I can’t be the only one to feel slightly on edge, that it could turn at any moment.

Following up behind the cap wearing bird, two young CFC fans share the burden of carrying a sizable sign that reads “Chorley we are going up” and in the away end, the ST supporters have packed the small and equally steeply angled roofed stand behind the goal. It’s back wall not covered in flags, but what looks like the artwork of local children. So tightly packed in are they, it’s hard to tell if it's seating or terracing, and those filling the stand waving yellow balloons above their heads, many of whom I'm sure were the highlight of the semi final, the game itself is a bit of a stinker, it is excellent to see they have travelled in such good numbers, but it's not a surprise, neither is the fact they are already making a decent racket, “Moors, Moors, Moors”.

The blazing sun only adds to the highly charged atmosphere. When the CFC players emerge for their warm up, the noise level takes a considerable spike, everyone to a man applauds them and the shed, which is not quite to the same proportion of the monster at Bromsgrove, but of a decent size all the same, breaks into its first chant. Ian Curtis and Joy Division playing over the PA are soon drowned out by“Chorley, Chorley, Chorley”.

Those arriving after us are finding it even harder to find a desirable place to stand, “if you see a good spot jump in” says one man to his kids, acting as pathfinders, as they frantically look for somewhere they can all squeeze into. Other than the ground and its excellent name name, the level of preparedness from the CFC fans can't fail but to impress. From those sitting pitch side on what looks like patio furniture brought from home, the young girl standing on her very own little stool so she can see over the hoardings and the man next to us who produces his own spork to enjoy his pie, it’s clear these are not fair weather fans, these regardless of age are old pros, regular visitors I would say.

Big flags, small flags, some as big as your head flags fill almost every available space, the whole place is heaving, the ST end looks like it couldn't possibly fit another soul, as it continues to vibrate to the sound of “Moors, Moors, Moors”.

The bumper crowd though spells bad news for Tom and his hopes of getting his hands on some chips and gravy. “I’m not eating today” he says forlorn, the “queue is so long” and for once he’s not exaggerating. It’s not a case of a couple of blokes waiting for their Bovril, that stand between him and lunch, but a snaking long line of hungry people. The promise of brown gloop covered fried potatoes is so close, we can almost touch the Magpies Nest from which they are being served, it’s almost cruel.

With it only getting warmer, Tom is soon starting to feel the effects of not only not being able to get something to eat, but to drink too. “Ohhhh that bottle of Dr Pepper looks very nice” he mumbled, his hand almost starting to reach out to pinch it off a small child. When another young CFC fan pops up with a Fanta, things are close to getting out of hand, “I’m so thirsty! You and your Fanta” he says loudly, while giving a ten year old the evil eye.

When CFC depart, their warm up complete they are showered with a rapturous ovation from the home crowd, and one young fan gives up a shout of “come on Chorley”. The magpie and the boys with the placard have now teamed up and are doing laps of the pitch together and the next song on the PA is just about the most nostalgic football related song going, other than Three Lions and World in Motion of course, Eat My Goal by Collapsed Lung.

With matching club colours, there is a definite monochrome feel to Victory Park, with more and more ST flags having gone up, one person has scaled the large grass bank to one side of the away stand, and fastened one to a fence. Both ends now look fit to burst, ST’s a hive of activity, the shed now full, but not before a couple more flags have gone up in their too.

Ten minutes to kick off, and whoever decided to put Chumbawamba on, should be up for gross misconduct. A corridor of children has been formed from the edge of the pitch, each are put into position at regular intervals, and are handed a black and white flag, in preparation of the teams arriving. For the first time the shed breaks into song, however its short lived. They go again, the first time a dry run, and it's far louder, “la, la, la, la Chorley”.

“Good afternoon and welcome to Victory Park” says the cheery voice over the PA, who is quick to offer a “warm welcome to Spennymoor Town”. The flag bearers, with kick off still five or so minutes away are already swaying their striped flags, but much like the shed who fire off another song, they are warming up too.

As is normally the case, the person wielding the PA’s microphone is far more animated when reading out the home team, than the away one. The ST fans start to sing over the names of the CFC starting eleven, “I’m Spennymoor till I die” however the “weyyys” that follow each name from the home crowd, are far louder

Each time the home fans belt out a song, it gets louder each time, “the Stretford End of Chorley” as one woman refers to it, the shed to you and I, is well and truly finding it’s voice, “na, na, na, na Chorleys going up”.

A few ST fans not holding up yellow cards in the stand, which I suspect are the same colour as the tequila sunrise looking strip they will be playing in today, considering the glaring kit clash, have gone all Henman Hill, and have opted for the grassy bank or “knoll” as Tom calls it, basking in the sun, but sadly without any Pimms.

The music that welcomes the players out, along with the super excited high pitched screams of the boy perched on the edge of a wall next to us, “come on Chorley” and the roar of the shed, is the kind of trumpet fanfare, with a touch of the Rocky about it, that is more commonly heard at a state occasion or royal wedding, not at a National League football match.

“Like that music” says Tom, doing his own bit of impromptu “wedmin”, but I can tell him now, Charlotte would never go for it.

At the very epicentre of the shed, it's bouncing heart, is where the songs are starting from, “up the National League we go” and then quickly spreading. “ The ginger van Dijk” as the ST fans effectively call their towering red headed captain wins the toss, and opts to kick off. When the two captains are asked to shake hands the contact is minimal and the eye contact non existent. “Up the football league we go” sings the shed as the game gets underway and from somewhere within the dense crowd, comes the sound of a drum.

Such are Tom’s hunger pains, he is now trying to convince me to go and get his food, that I’m supposed to simply “climb over the wall” behind us, shimmy down it and get him his grub and without even knowing it, the CFCs fans shout of “you fat bastard” towards the ST keeper, is somewhat poetic, as its for exactly that reason, I won't be jumping over any walls any time soon.

ST send in an early cross which is easy for the keeper to claim, and then CFC inspire the first “ohhhh” of the day from the fans, unmarked in the box, the player heads the ball back in the direction it came from, sending it just over the bar.

“He tried to hit him” says Tom, the attempt at a dig by one ST player has gone unnoticed by the referee, who only has a quiet word with the two players involved in the coming together on the edge
of the ST box. The game only five minutes old, the scene is set for what will be a heated encounter.

Our proximity to the food is not only causing Tom a dilemma, “I shouldn't stand here, all I want is pies” but other people too. One CFC fan is finding it hard to fight the temptation, and when a lady passes us, her hands filled with a large tray, and a gust of wind lifts the paper covering, revealing a swathe of fresh pies, Tom once again urges me to do his dirty work, “steal one”.

“Bit closer than I would of liked” puffs one CFC supporter, it’s ST turn to just miss the target with a header. The visiting team's effort does little to dampen the mood in the shed, “come on Chorley, come on Chorley” who are soon teasing the ST fans, “it's all gone quiet over there”.

If the man behind me continues with his deafening claps, I may have no choice but to throw myself over the wall and with a quarter of an hour gone, the sight of a rebounded clearance being scooped up by the ST keeper, is to Tom an ominous sign, the football equivalent of reading tea leaves, “going to extra time again” he says resignedly and if he’s right, that will be our third game in a row, one of them, the semi final we saw ST win, going all the way to a penalty shootout.

The grassy knoll has been cleared by some robo cop looking types and Tom is now growing even more pessimistic, “I think 4-2 was a bit optimistic” he says in reference to our pre match predictions. Despite their near constant songs, “oh when the Moors go steaming in” the shed is still poking fun, “your support is fucking shit” and Tom is staring to loose it, “needs a goal, needs a goal” he mutters quietly to himself. Only stopping when the home crowd en masse cry “hit it” to the man on the edge of the box, but the ball rolls away from him, the chance is gone and Tom reverts to sounding a little bit like a scary bloke on the bus.

Again the home fans are more than happy to voice their opinions, “hit it” they all shout, as the ball once again falls to a player on the edge of the box, but the shot is scuffed. The shed seemingly not the slightest bit bothered it's not really clicking for them up front so far, they are somewhat in their own little world if I’m honest, “CCFC, CCFC”. One man on the front row instead of bemoaning his teams link up play, is showing no sign of the frustrations others are displaying, and has decided instead to heckle one ST substitute about the state of his hair, “bloody hell that's thin”.

Just shy of the half hour mark, ST break, two on two, they look on to take a somewhat undeserved lead, but the final shot is wild, and well, well over, which is received with a relieved “weyyyy” from the crowd and I’m it turns out I’m not the only one getting fed up with the nagging of a food whinger. “If you want some chips, get some chips” says one lady, thrusting her purse in to the hand of her son, having heard just about as much as she can bare, but on seeing the queue, he hands it straight back.

“Get in Sergio, one nil” shouts a man two along from us, punching the air, a single earphone in, his attention split between here and what's going on in Manchester City's latest title chasing encounter. The home fans are getting a tad restless, “lazy” says one after a less than inspired pass. Lethargic is not a word that can be used though when discussing their bulky number 6 and captain, who loves a surge forward from the back, and it’s not him but a fellow defender who plays their part in a big crunching “50/50” as Tom calls it wincing, that looks like someone might stand up with a foot pointing the wrong way, but all involved are fine, both getting up in one piece, shaking hands and carrying on.

Despite his team forcing ST further and further back into their own half, the CFC manger is still “very angry” points out Tom, who is growing concerned for his welfare, “he might have a heart attack”. As the minutes tick by, it's the home side who are looking more and more in control, ST looking more and more on the back foot.

For the third time the CFC fans demand a player “hit it” for the second time the player in question is able to get a shot away, winning the home team a corner.

“Free header” gasps Tom, thinking this is the moment, the moment that means there is a chance we might get home before midnight, but the CFC player puts it over, to a chorus of “ohhhhh” and more thunderous claps, from the loud clapper, that are starting to cause irreparable damage. Growing ever louder, “la, la, la Chorley” the shed stops mid song to expel a “you fat bastard” at the latest ST goal kicking, picking up where they left off as soon as its taken.

In Tom’s opinion ST are set up to only counterattack, and their fans who I can tell you have been anything but quiet, are still getting it in the neck from the shed, “your support is fucking shit”. CFC are slowly turning the screw, allowing the ST back line less and less space to manoeuvre, lucky for them they have a captain who really shone the last time we saw them, “the ginger van Dijk” has a great knack of being in the right place at the right time. “Not getting that ball back” laughs Tom, when the aforementioned defender smashes one clearance so high it almost clears a nearby house.

“Yes 2-1” shouts the City fan, who has upgraded his celebration, this time jumping into the air. A home injury sees almost every player take on water, we are somewhat fortunate to be in the shade of the main stand, they must be feeling the full force of the sun. Tom is starting to wither, he seems almost delirious, making garbled comments about every person's passing food and drink. One such person, food in hand, who has braved the queue, talks as if they have just returned from war zone, “its crazy over there”.

“Oh Lancashire is wonderful” sings the shed, paying homage to their home county, and soon like Tom they think the vital breakthrough has been made, by no one other than their marauding captain, who for such a unit, shows a fair amount of agility, neatly swivelling and crashing his shot past the ST keeper, sending the shed into euphoria, and everyone else for that matter, only for it to be ruled offside. Tom more crushed by that, then when he realised he might not be eating.

In a thick Northeast accent, and right over Toms shoulder in his ST tie, a man who looks like a visiting board member, gets right into the home fans, and their “premature” smoke bomb as Tom dubs it, that has just gone off at the back of the shed. “Sit down shut up” he shouts bravely, such is his closeness to Tom, he does his best to make it clear to those turning towards the vocal away fan, that they are not together.

A toe poked effort with a minute left to play, is the final chance of the half and is right at the ST keeper. The back of the shed, the smoke bombs final remnants still lingering is bounding to the tune of Tom’s favourite song after a few drinks, “lets go fucking mental” and Tom is reaching crisis point, a level of desperation I’ve never seen in him before, “I’ll give you a tenner for those chips”.

The immediate moments after the whistle are a little subdued, the applause not being delivered with much gusto until a flare up on the pitch, riles up both sets of fans. “He elbowed him” exclaims Tom, one ST player is prone, the man with the spork who missed the incident, asks Tom if he saw what happened. When he explains what he did see, Mr Spork gives a totally unbiased response, “fair tackle then”.

“Just before we bring you the half time draw a few announcements” says the man over the PA, unnecessarily elongating my agony. Bizarrely after going on about his lack of food for almost an hour and a half, Tom then produces a biscuit, “came prepared” he tells me, and I’m a little lost for words.

“Birthday announcements” are up next, and as nice as they are, can he just get down to the important business of telling us who has won “£400”. A short interlude is filled with the Underworld song from Trainspotting that gets everyone moving, Tom energised by his snack has certainly got a bit of life back in him, “love this song”.

Not quite fully recovered, and still somewhat out of it, Tom is still offering some astronomical amounts of money for people's food, “twenty quid chips, twenty quid chips”, and is even considering drinking some quite ungodly stuff, “I hate Pepsi Max, but I could down that”. When we finally get round to the half time draw results, my tickets that I nabbed at breakneck speed on the way in, are of course not winners.

“They're out early” notices Tom, ST running a few drills on the edge of the pitch, before CFC arrive to another glorious musical welcome, “here they are” introduces the voice over the PA, before We Will Rock You starts to blast out, and on approaching the shed the CFC keeper shakes the hands of those fans asking.

From the sublime to the ridiculous, Tom never fails to disappoint, “chilly now” he tells me. As the game gets underway, the only thing I can hear is one father's attempts to calm his son down, who is mid tantrum and has worked himself up into a right frenzy, “James, James, James”. Sadly for them both, they have become somewhat of the focal point for those around us, all eyes off the game and on them

“We’re gonna score in a minute” sing the shed, however it’s ST who have the first meaningful chance. Running from almost one end of the pitch to the other, completely unabated, however by the time he makes it to the CFC penalty area, his lung buster of a run has finished him off, he had options but never looked up, “he ran out of gas” sighed Tom. His effort at the end of this one man charge, tame to say the least.

Unfortunately the child sized meltdown is only getting worse, and is capturing more and more people's attention. “I’d ring you” says Tom, foolishly suggesting he'd be relying on my fatherly advice to help him out of a similar situation, I’d call someone else if I was him.

Earphone man who for the moment is very much in the know, is offering up his two pence on CFC’s second half performance so far, all that first forty five minutes energy has dwindled and they are retreating, further and further back, “you're too deep”. The whole place is somewhat sober, one old lady is giving a ST substitute the finger as he warms up in front of her and Tom is contemplating drinking the water the players are spitting out, even going as far as to mime catching it.

Ten minutes gone and an ST lay up is cut out just at the last, as the ball is rolled to a player waiting to hit it from the edge of the D. Not long after and ST’s first attempt of the half is a long range one, that the ST keeper spills, forcing away fans hearts into mouths, until he gathers at the second attempt.

Mouth wide open, aghast, Tom can only mutter two words, “open goal”. From the edge of the six yard box, latching onto a kind ricochet, all the CFC player had to do was prod it over the line, but instead it’s right into the keepers arms, “it's got 1 - 0 written all over it”.

With no food to occupy him, Tom is finding the extra time on his hands is allowing him to dish out more of his tactical pearls of wisdom then usual. His Pep hat having travelled with us all this way. “Same against Brackley” he says about ST’s set up, “sat back, second half slowly ramped it up”, he suggests, then hurriedly replacing his Pep hat with one you can hold two cans of beer in, with attached straws, when his food envy kicks in again. “What's he eating?” he says squinting to get a better view, “a little tub of chicken wings and we can't get anywhere near it” oh the injustice.

“3-1 city get in”, and that's the Premier League title all but wrapped up, what we would do for just one goal, let alone four. Over twenty minutes gone now and with no real chances for either side, half chances at best, the CFC fans hold their breath, “go on, go on, go on” says one close by, as the forward cuts into the box, and unleashes a shot, that is deflected wide.

“Been quite a lot of handbags this game” comments Tom, as the tension mounts and players patience starts to wane. The ST end give their thoughts on the player who fouled their man, “wanker, wanker, wanker’’ and the shed gives theres, “we love you Chorley we do”.

Clearly a man of many talents, CFC's captain can hit a mean free kick too. From a fair way out his dipping effort has some thinking it’s in, but it's a fraction over, “ohhhhh”. Still flitting between here and the goings on at the other end of his transistor radio, well more likely an app on his phone, earphone man rejoins us for a fleeting moment, “come on Chorley” then he’s off again. The shed, now stuck in a loop of “Chorley, Chorley. Chorley” is getting louder and louder, one fan having removed his shirt, is whirling it above his head, and they all soon disappear behind the fog of the latest smoke bomb.

Nearing the thirty minute mark, the match is dire, the only thing keeping either of us afloat is the home fans display, and Tom clinching to the possibility that at some point he will eat, “thats a big plate of chips” he says drooling. The chant of “no pyro no party” goes up once more, this time the blue smoke bomb is not exactly plentiful, and Tom wonders if it's just someone with a particularly high setting on their VAPE, “has someone been smoking in there?”

“Yesssss 4-1” shouts earphone man, it's like he is trolling us and doesn't even realise it, what I would do for a goal right now.

“It's all Chorley at the moment” says Tom agonisingly, they are just unable to make their sustained pressure count and it's killing him. Various free kicks and more half chances, are just not being made the most of. The shed is almost relentless in its goading of the ST fans, “it's all gone quiet over there” even though they have been very rarely anything but raucous, “Moors, Moors, Moors”.

From the steps on the main stands to a large yellow bin, there isn't a place someone is not standing or sitting, counting down into the last five minutes, and we can't be the only ones sending a quiet prayer to the football Gods for a goal.

The tan bandage that now covers nearly all of the ST’s captains head, is doing little to hamper his performance, falling short of going the full Terry Butcher, after quite the bang to the head. CFC still
look the more likely to score, one player allows the ball to bounce over his shoulder, turning and unleashing a first time shot, but it’s over. ST look like the most likely of the two to get someone sent off, if it wasn't for the more than lenient ref. “Does he have any cards in his pockets?” asks one fan after the latest ST foul. “He don't like cards” laughs Tom, the referees laissez faire approach has not gone unnoticed.

“Cheeky” coos Tom, when one CFC player tries to catch the ST keeper out with his free kick. Shooting and trying to curl it in the near post, instead of crossing it in as everyone had prepared themselves for.

It’s getting nervy to say the least, a CFC pass back rolling towards their goal has some biting their nails, until it’s cleared, no time for mistakes now. A rare ST attack sees their shot blocked by one CFC players testicles and while he recovers the ball is hurriedly cleared, hand the ball straight back to ST, its all getting a bit manic.

“Three minutes of added time” announces the voice over the PA, which is then followed by Tom’s somewhat redundant question, “does no one want to win anything this year?”. His prayers, which were probably the loudest are almost answered not once but twice in the dying moments of the half, but again CFC can't make it count. Stretching the forward can poke the ball over the keeper, but his shot his wide and then with almost the last kick of the game their captain, puts an effort wide too.

“City won the league” informs earphone man, to all those around him. A bit of Fat Boy Slim plays while the players take on water, and like a miracle, when I was praying for goals, he was praying for food, Tom has bagged himself some chips, however they had “run out of burgers” and within seconds of getting back to our post, his face beaming, he’s already got gravy down his front, “really!”.

With the shed maybe quiet for the first time today, it’s a toss up between the sound of Tom inhaling his chips and the ST fans for who is loudest.

It’s taken over an hour and a half of football for the referee to produce a card, and it’s not a huge surprise its for a ST player, physicality is very much part of their DNA, and the awarding of the booking gets a jeer from the home fans, “whooooo”.

The resulting free kick looks like a straightforward one for the ST keeper to deal with, but maybe what is now a weary mind, makes a bit of a meal of it, spilling it, he then quite literally puts his head on the line, or should I say face, blocking the follow up, with his boat race.

Standing on the steps of the main stand, the CFC mascot has turned spectator, no longer wandering, he watches on, occasionally fluttering his wings on the head of the women below him. Two young girls desperately try and get his attention, “Magpie, Magpie”, coolly turning towards them, with the air of an old Hollywood star about him, the mere lifting of his wing sends them giddy.

If the home side think they are going to get any joy from lumping the ball into the ST box, they need to think again, ST’s captain is on the end of everything, bandage or no bandage, he is an absolute rock and it's is not under his watch but a teammates, that sees a CFC player go down in the box. The whole place is sure its a nailed on penalty, they all look, including the players towards the referees assistant, who hesitates for a fraction of a second, before motioning play on.

A real hush has descended, the ST fans are still buoyant, “we’re the black and white army” but the home supporters have fallen very flat. Spending most of their time grumbling, despite their team being well on top as far as possession is concerned, but once again, not really coming together in front of goal.

“He's all over him” barks one CFC supporter, the referee able to see too the ST players attempt to climb inside the home players shirt and is penalised accordingly. “Yes” shouts one fan as the resulting free kick is curled over the wall and starts to creep inside the post, only for the ST keeper at full stretch to get enough on it to turn it wide.

The Magpies lost his shit, the blue smoke is pouring out the shed once more and the ST players are remonstrating with each other, who was picking him up they ask. Ghosting in, the scorer of CFC’s goal was able to head the home side ahead with ease. It's about the first time ST’s captain had not won a header in his box all game. Flying off towards the corner flag, the scorer soon propping up a pile of his team mates.

“Thank fuck for that” rejoices Tom and for some reason the CFC fans are calling for the dismissal of one ST player, “off, off, off”, who only receives a yellow, before the game restarts.

I couldn't tell you exactly how long it took for the CFC supporters bubble to burst and Toms for that matter, but it wasn't long, a couple of minutes if that. One CFC fan summing it up perfectly, “what a nightmare”, ST have equalised.

The ST players bundle head long into their fans, who break out their loudest rendition so far today of “Moors, Moors, Moors” which quickly gets a sniping reply of “we forgot that you were here”. Embraced, engulfed near enough devoured by the travelling fans, the all yellow wearing ST players have a new spring in their step, having just gone behind, one motions towards the crowd for them to give everything they've got.

Both teams huddle, the young CFC fans are still trying to get the mascots attention, “magpie, magpie, magpie” but he’s far too cool to react. It’s the ST end turn to go all Tom’s had two pints, “lets go fucking mental” and the latest announcement over the PA, nearly causes Tom to cry, “pie and chips now £2.50 from the Magpies Nest”, which is the last thing he wanted to hear, “now they fucking tell me”.

With the game poised to restart, the request over the PA for the fans to “stay off the pitch” come full time, is a complete waste of breath.

The ST end erupts as their keeper approaches and it the visitors who get the first chance of the final period of extra time. “He wasn't blowing up for anything in first half” complains one CFC fan, when ST are awarded a free kick, and the inconsistency of the man in charge is starting to wear a little thin. The shot is on target, but also right at the keeper, much to the delight of the home crowd, “weyyyy”.

ST’s equaliser has well and truly knocked CFC, and with what feels like every call going their way, they are very much getting the run of the green, its ST who now look the most likely to push on and win. Home heads are down, the fans try to rally, “come on Chorley” but for the first time it fails to take off.

“It's gotta be on the deck, they are too tall” comments one nearby CFC supporter, his team's approach, and the size of the ST defence, means they are heading down a blind alley. When a call does go their way, it's greeted with sarcastic cheers, but they soon turn to gulps when its only their captains right boot that is the difference between ST scoring or not. Stepping in with expert timing, he’s able to stop the ST player bearing down on goal.

The CFC fans continue to struggle with the referees decisions, presented with two consecutive corners they have little impact. The ST supporters are growing in confidence, the mascot is on absolute tenterhooks.

“How long is left?” asks one CFC fan out loud, not long enough. Penalties will be required to conclude one what one persons calls "the two magpie derby".

I find it somewhat amusing, that the beginning and end of my day is punctuated by naff, cheesy pop music from the middle to late 90's. The Lighthouse Family waved me off this morning, and Heather Small warbling about being "proud" brings it to an end.

After having seen CFC miss out on promotion at Halifax two season ago, and being pipped to the title by Stockport this season, because of amongst other things a loss to ST, the raw and unbridled outpouring of emotion following the one handed save by the CFC keeper, to clinch the win is a sight to behold.

The choice of song would not have been my pick, I understand the sentiment, but ultimately its irrelevant what they played. Among the madness unfolding before us, the fans of course not listening to a word the PA said about staying off the pitch, those haring around on the grass, couldn't care less if it's Heather or Chopin being played.

While the fans are leaping onto it, one CFC player is leaping off it and into the crowd to celebrate with friends and family. The flags in the main stands are going back and forth, and of course the magpie is right in the thick of it. "We only got promoted" screams one person into their phone, as grown men cry, and hold strangers like long lost loved ones and it doesn't take long for thoughts to turn to new away days next season, "we're going to Notts County" says one person in a mild state of  shock, before sights shift to settling old grudges, "Stockport County we're coming for you".

Post trophy lift, post one player catching a face full of bubbly, the players some with flags over their shoulders that read "we're going up" are more than happy to let fans pose with their medals, one sits on the pitch alone, his still around his neck, just staring at it, contemplating his achievement.

The robustness of the trophy does not quite live up to the treatment it gets, hoisted over and over, pulled from pillar to post, the moment it falls apart, one player is left with a long metal rod in his hand, and all the constituent parts at his feet, like a scrap metal kebab.

Not a game that will be remembered for long, but a ground that certainly will be and two sets of fans who despite each others claims did not stop. For me the lasting memory of this match, with our season rapidly coming to end, will not be the look on Toms face when he finally got to eat, but that of one CFC player being carried across the pitch on the shoulders of the fans, with a smoke bomb in hand, drinking it all in.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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Friday, 28 June 2019

Let's All Have A Disco - Bromsgrove Sporting FC Vs Corby Town FC, Evo-Stik Southern League Central Play-Off Final, Victoria Ground (06/05/19)

Within seconds of stepping out of bed, I’ve already trod on an upturned plug, which we all know is only second to an eight point Lego brick as the most painful thing a person can tread on, but inches away from my sleeping daughter, I have to bite down hard on my bottom lip, to stop me waking her with my agonised screams.

I’m awash with all kinds of deja vu, picking Tom up from the same place, him giving me the same wave, with the same dopey look on his face, that he was wearing only twenty four hours earlier. “Hello again” he says in his own special monotone way, “we’ve got to stop meeting like this”.

Retracing our steps from yesterday almost completely, the overpowering feeling of I’ve done this before continues. Tom has “forgotten the CD’s” which is probably no bad thing, considering his recent offerings and admitting to being “more of a greatest hits man”, which is very accidental Partridge.

Expecting only the sound of Tom’s gargantuan VAPE and the odd grunt bringing to my attention a passing amusement or place of interest for company, I’m a tad surprised when Tom, quite unprompted I might add, comes over all William G. Stewart, deciding to test my football general knowledge, asking me to name Ballon d'Or winners and the teams and players who hold various European Cup/Champions League records, and not to blow my own trumpet too loud, I did pretty well.

Having spent the previous afternoon at a Semi-Final, where the game really failed to take off, only turning into any kind of a spectacle with the final kick of the match, the winning spot kick sending the hoards of travelling away fans flooding onto the pitch, one can only hope that today's Final will have a bit more incident and points of interest.

Stepping into the Victoria Ground, home of Bromsgrove Sporting FC (BS), and without even having seen a ball kicked yet, the day is already one step ahead of yesterday, simply because of the venue.

Don’t get me wrong, St. James Park home of Brackley Town is pleasant enough, but it's not got a patch on what surrounds us now. Compact and imposing in the same breath, its a real cracker of a ground, from its old wooden main stand, climbing up a reasonable way from the edge of the pitch on the near vertical, to the club's name spelt out in tall red letters on a white wall behind one goal. However, the pièce de résistance is the shed, which I mean in the most agricultural of ways, straight out of some grainy nostalgic footage of football days gone by. Green, big and simple, it’s sheer size, and therefore the amount of people it can hold, is a sign of exciting things to come.

Overflowing with nervous energy, BS’s Secretary Dave, I think wishes that today had fallen on any other than his birthday, “I just want it to be over,” he tells us, not necessarily because I think he’s super keen to open his presents, but because the stress of such a huge occasion, is already proving too much to bare. Along with everything else a person in his position has to deal with on a day like this, it's only magnified by the fact they are “expecting three thousand” today.

Through the window of the club shop, Tom having just nabbed himself a pin, a tiny enamel version of the clubs badge, featuring not what we first thought was a dragon, having noticed it on our way in, but a Rousler or “devil dog” as Dave put it, that if local myth and legend is to believed, used to roam local yonder hills, eating livestock and the odd baby.

Already in their high viz jackets, a troop of 50/50 sellers have formed an impregnable cordon by the still closed turnstiles, awaiting the supporters and giving them no other option but to buy a ticket, before being allowed to pass. On the steps of the uncovered terrace in front of the clubs giant painted name, stewards are being quite literally put in position one by one and setting up behind a wooden market stall, complete with red and white awning, a man in a red club hat is manning the Supporters Trust table, ready to shift a few programmes.

The clunk of a sliding bolt means that the turnstiles are now open, which is then quickly followed by the tick, tick, tick of the metal rotating barrier. “We’re in” says one, him and many other taking heed of the notices to get here in plenty of time, “let’s go straight in the shed” says another new arrival, having managed to avoid the grasping tentacles of the 50/50 sellers like a wiley clown fish, and is not willing to take any chances of missing out on a spot which I imagine will be the main focal point of the home support.

Sounding I’m sure like a right old git, but the average age of those passing through the two narrow openings to the outside world don’t look much older than my twelve year old son. The man behind the market stall, now offering up his wares with a cry of “programmes” is getting short shift from the young'uns, only those of a certain vintage like myself are interested in such trinkets.

It’s not hard spotting the away fans, those of Corby Town FC (CT) a side we rubbed shoulders with only a few days ago, in their Semi-Final, who stand out somewhat in their distinctive black and white shirts and scarves.

Out on the pitch the CT players and staff get their first feel for the surface, with over ninety minutes still until kick off the place is already buzzing and the queue for the snack bar is so long it's put Tom right off. I might be jumping the gun a little, however there is plenty of potential for today to be our most electric match of the season. “It’s going to be heaving” says Tom.

Having only played six weeks ago, BS running out winners on that occasion, it is maybe an ominous sign for the visitors, but having seen them somewhat blow Bedford Town away in their Semi-Final at Steel Park, we know from firsthand experience they are a team who know how to score, it is though probably worth mentioning they have been a bit porous at the back, on the two times we've seen them, conceding eight. “Come on the Steel Men”, shouts one of their supporters as they depart from the pitch and into the shed, the paraphernalia has started going up.

Although BS play in red, the flags being hoisted each pay homage to the clubs former incarnation Bromsgrove Rovers FC, who played in green and white. Hence why one of them reads “green army” and the other with a snorting boars head on, nods its head to Bromsgrove Rovers badge, which had a very disgruntled looking toothy pig on it.

It's a near constant stream of people coming through the turnstiles, the BS fans heading one way, those here to follow CT going the other, because although there is no formal segregation in place, it’s quite clear which is the home and which is the away end. CT’s fans slowly turning the very red and white open terrace black and white, their monochrome Union Jack already hanging over the railings around the pitch.

Fat Boy Slim is playing over the PA, but Norman might as well save his breath, you can’t hear his late 90’s dance anthems over the sound of all the people. The steps of the shed are currently occupied
by swathes of sitting teens and somewhere on the other side of the pitch, from my vantage point high at the very back of the almost all wooden main stand, with tiny Edwardian sized drop down chairs, and floors with the kind of give one might expect when stepping into a boxing ring, I can make out Tom in the snaking line for food.

“This is boring” he messages me, he has been gone for some time and although I have a seat, and am reasonably comfortable, watching people wracked with indecisiveness trying to work out where to sit, “here, here” they say, sitting for a second, not liking the view and moving on again, is hardly riveting.

Tom is not the only one complaining about the queues, “I tried to get a pint” says one exasperated and drinkless man, his attempt to get his drink on in the bar, where apparently the CT fans are not allowed, a fool's errand. The presence of the selective door staff sparks a new conversation about how shocked him and his friends are the game is not segregated, and here's hoping the latest offering from the PA, The Kaiser Chiefs, I Predict A Riot, is not a premonition.

I’ve almost given up on Tom now he’s been gone so long, maybe he’ll remember where the car is and he will have the common sense to meet me there after the match. Standing pitch side in a crisp looking suit, the BS manager flanked by this son looks on as his team starts to jog out. First the keeper who is greeted with rousing applause from all corners, not far behind him the rest of the team, which sends the noise levels soaring, and the first rendition of “green army” emanates from the shed.

“Jesus Christ” says Tom, wearily plonking himself down beside me, and between mouthfuls of half cooked ships, recounts tales of a “drunk” person at the helm of a “mobility scooter” and having spent a reasonable amount of time in the front lines, he's not sure BS are “ready for this”.

While his burger in it’s somewhat over sized “big bun” is filling the required hole, the dulcet tones of Sweet Caroline feels a little premature. A few people join in, “hands touching hands” but it doesn't really take hold, “so good, so good”.

Even more BS flags now hang from the railings around the pitch and as the BS players approach the shed mid warm up, they get a very warm reception, one player even going as far as to wave his arms asking for more, which he dutifully gets. Stretching out their hands, kids line the perimeter asking for a high five, and are not disappointed. The appearance of CT gets a few pantomime boos, and for the first time the CT’s supporters drum strikes up, and so do their supporters, “come on Corby, come on Corby”.

Not something you see much outside the football league, a mascot, otherwise known as a poor sod sweating in a costume, who can't see where they are going is quite unique in non league. Doing laps and posing for pictures the man sized Rousler, is far friendlier looking than the sneering version on the clubs badge. Maybe not a bad idea toning down the attitude just a little, you want kids running towards it, not away from it.

With still three quarters of an hour to kick off, and even more flags now hanging from its back wall, there is now no doubt in my mind the shed is going to be absolutely rocking. Every so often, low rumbling songs waft out, “everywhere we go”, washing over the heads of those already in position, hands raised above their heads clapping. An announcement over the PA informs anyone hoping to sit in the main stand to get a move on, because it’s almost “full”.

Those having already secured their spot long before any chance of missing out was a possibility are well prepared for the wait, a few around us are nose deep in a book, one man is even flicking through the latest edition of the Spectator.

The bang of the CT drum jogs Tom into saying he thought “there would be a lot more” travelling fans. They are not here in inconsiderable numbers by any means, but in comparison to the home fans, it's like a drop in the ocean. The shed now almost totally full, Tom reckons it's going to get pretty snug in the main stand too, there won't be any room to read a broadsheet for much longer, “it’s going to be like sardines in here”.

Hoicked up by a fellow fan, one does his best to secure the latest addition to the away end, but the flag is quite large and the wall just that bit too tall, things are only made somewhat easier when a nearby bin is drafted in to help. Much like at the other end the CT players respond to the claps and songs of their supporters as they finish up their warm up, “that is why we love you” and while the fans continue to struggle with the flag, a sex doll is now flying around the tops of the heads of the BS fans in the shed.

I think I've seen it all now.

Massed around the home dugout, which sits on one side of the tunnel, a group of sugar fuelled kids are heckling the walking devil dog. “Is he a Teletubby?” asks one, referencing something that at their tender age, I’m surprised they even know what that is.

Flossing and then dabbing, the mascot knows all the latest trends, “fresh moves” laughs one of the rowdy junior onlookers, even I know Pogba’s signature move is a bit blase now. Asking or should I say demanding “high fives” the smiling red dog looks almost hesitant to approach, not really wanting to put it’s hand though the bars in fear of not getting it back. “Up to capacity” announces the PA, the shed is full, and the CT players get it both barrels from the home end as they jog off, “who are ya, who are ya”.

Now armed with balloons the gaggle of children, who have just about left the mascot in one piece are letting loose their very own high pitched screams in anticipation of kick off, “come on Sporting”. The tension is building by the second, after each name of the starting eleven is read out, there is a substantial “weyyyyy”, and now a whole variety of items have joined the sex doll, including a far less risque beach ball.

Ten minutes to kick off and please don't think I’m over egging the pudding here, but the place is rocking. A healthy mix of nerves and excitement are bubbling to the surface, the shed has found its voice and is belting them out, “oh Bromsgrove we love you”. The chipper PA welcomes all those in attendance, “good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” before thanking them for “getting here nice and early” which means “no delay to kick off”.

The balloons of the kids do not stay intact for long. The shed is heaving and is loud, very loud, “come on Sporting”. The CT fans are jumping and both ends are telling their opposite numbers how shit their support is, “shall we sing a song for you”.

It’s not the most spacious of tunnels at the base of the main stand, the players are quite literally rubbing shoulders with each other waiting for the referee to lead them out. The few remaining balloons rain down on the players, as they take their first steps onto the pitch. The noise levels now at jet engine proportions, the crowd like one from a top flight match, not a non league one, roaring as the teams line up to shake hands, the shed completely in unison, “whoa, whoa, whoa Sporting”.

It doesn't take long for the action to start, less than five minutes after the whistle and the home fans in the stand are on their feet, “go on son” encourages one man, like he’s on the final furlong at Kempton. A BS breakaway, sees the forward with only the keeper to beat, but his shot is wide, “ohhhh” exhales the whole ground in unified disappointment.

An elongated period of head tennis, “try it on the ground lads” barks one nearby fan, is frustrating for
BS, but I’m sure is of some relief to CT who are almost caught out again, outnumbered at the back, the final pass just short, which is received with a chorus of groans. The visitors look shaky, their fans dish out their unique staccato chant, “come on Corby, come on corby”.

The far more child friendly sight of bubbles in the shed take the classification rating in there down to a respectable PG, but the decibel level takes it straight back up to an 18, “come on Bromsgrove”. The odd pop of a balloon, is causing some, me included to jump every time it happens and after what was a less than convincing start, CT are slowly growing into the game.

“Must have lead in her legs” snigger's Tom, as a young girl who was previously perched on the wall around the pitch, who then dropped down onto it, despite the attention of various different burly men, can't be lifted back off it again.

There are bubbles in the main stand now as the carnival feel amplifies, and twenty minutes in, CT register their first effort on goal. I say on goal, the side footed attempt, the player was unmarked may I add, so he was under no pressure, after the ball had been rolled perfectly into his path, is so over, it spanks the facade of the shed a good thirty feet up, much to the amusement of the home fans, “what the hell was that?”.

No chances in twenty then three in about as many minutes. “Come on Corby, come on Corby” sing the fans as CT break, the attack culminating in a low curling shot from outside the box, that takes the BS keeper two attempts to claim. Their third comes at the end of another counter attack, after a home move broke down, which gets more groans, which turn to gasps as the CT player attempts a lob, and with the keeper stranded he can only watch it sail over.

Having clearly not been listening during our brief history lesson with Dave, I can only tut when Tom asks me, “why green army, when they play in red? I don’t understand.'' It's been quite the role reversal after BS's blistering start, and CT’s wobbly one. All the chances are coming via the front line of the visitors. Breaking to the edge of the box, the latest CT shot is a scuffed one, and straight at the man in goal.

“Come on Sporting” shouts one home fan, tinged with apprehension, its only a last ditch lunging block that denies the CT player baring down on goal and when the home side don’t get a free kick they feel they deserved, “fuck off referee” the grumble-ometer start to climb, reaching near breaking point when a not too dissimilar BS tackle, earns their players a booking, “you soft bastard” shouts one supporter.

As will be the way for most of the afternoon, the game will ebb and flow, one team having their time on top, before being well and truly under the cosh. A BS free kick is headed goalwards, the floaty header is left by every CT defender in the box, for a moment looking like it is going to creep in, only for the keeper to grab it at the last and we then hear for the first time CT’s Scottish manager letting his players know in his distinctive way, what he thinks of their defending when a BS cross is allowed to make it almost right across their box.

The home fans continue to demand their team “get it down and play”, the consensus being that they are not playing to their strengths. A relativity tame home shot gets a bit of an “ohhhh” from the main stand and the shed is blasting out its latest offering “la, la, la, la, la Sporting”.

I’m not sure the BS keeper knows much about the save he just made, more of a muscle memory twitch than a conscious decision, swatting his hand at the ball he gets just about enough on it to turn it on to the bar, allowing a teammate to make a swinging hoofed clearance as it drops into play. He can though do very little about the low shot, that evades his outstretched boot, nestling in the corner of his goal. The CT number 9 playing on the shoulder of the defender perfectly, meets the reverse pass into the box and gives CT the lead.

Those visiting fans who have snuck into the main stand don’t hold back, most if not all are quickly on their feet celebrating, and the CT keeper races towards the CT supporters behind him, manically punching the air with both fists.

The response from the home fans is instantaneous, “everywhere we go” but for the first time it's not the shed but the CT end which is quite literally bouncing, “whoooo, whoooo, whoooo” The drum and the claps as loud as they have been all day.

Two minutes after going ahead CT are in again, around the keeper the forward goes, only for the ball to run away from him and the chance to double their lead goes begging.

CT are ahead for all of about five minutes, BS drawing level in some huge part thanks to their much coveted number 9, Jason Cowley, who absolutely skins two CT players on the right wing, sending in a deft chipped cross, that is met with a low stooping header, 1 - 1. The scorer cupping his ear towards the away fans all while the shed erupts.

From up against it to flying high and now back down the other side, CT are on the ropes once more, BS nearly complete the turnaround, only for the player on the edge of the six yard box to curl his shot against the face of the bar, the shed already mid celebration before it’s in, has to cut them short, one young nearby BS fan is utterly perplexed, “how has he missed that”.

“La, la, la, la Sporting” sings the shed in full flow, before taking the opportunity to poke fun at the dormant CT fans, “can you hear the Corby sing?”.

It’s the visitors who finish the half marginally on top, a poked effort from close range is well saved and an edge of the box shot is just off target. One BS supporter a few rows down from us wants his team to shut up shop for the remainder of the half, “keep it tight at the back”, but I’m not sure either team have got that in their repertoire.

With the seagulls circling, ready to pick off the dropped chips and the birthday boy Dave padding about with a stopwatch around his neck, both teams only have “one minute added time” left to play in what has been the most exhilarating half.

“My hands are shaking” says the boy to his Dad next to me, not because of the decision to play George Ezra, but because, as he admits, “I’m so nervous”. The bang of upturning chairs mingles with the shouts from each set of fans as the players head in. One man is straight back to solitaire on his phone, with no sign of the first half having any adverse effects on him like my neighbour. Another person offers out mints to those in his immediate vicinity and nigh on everyone reaches for their pockets when the winning 50/50 ticket is read out, and by the sounds of it, no one near me came close to winning either. 

As if to rub it in, a man then appears holding a black chalk paddle, with the winning number scribbled on, parading up and down, it's quite the sickener, over 600 could have been mine. Tom’s attempt to get a drink is short lived, “no chance” he tells me. Even the most committed of football food getter's like him, is not prepared to wait that long for a can of Irn Bru. His attempt to go to the loo is equally thwarted, “hope you don't need the toilet, it's just as bad”.

Dave is wished a “happy birthday” over the PA and I’m pretty sure the last time I caught sight of him,
he was now sporting a badge pinned to his shirt, straight off the front of a child's birthday card.

With the game all level and each team showing their ability to advance forward, but also give up chances at the back, in equal measure, it's hard to separate them. “I can't call it” says Tom, all while some pumping dance music blasts out over the PA and when the players reemerge, the main stand breaks into impromptu applause, more bubbles appear from down below us, the obligatory football match air horn lets off a few toots, the CT drum beats out their go to chant, “come on Corby, come on Corby” and the shed stirs, “green army, green army”.

BS get things underway with a wild shot, well off target. Preparing to take the resulting goal kick, the CT keeper stands fast in the face of a deafening barrage of “you fat bastard ahhhhh” from the entire shed. Which then goes all summer 2018, as pints start being atomised as they are chucked into the air, and the whole place bounces to the sound of “let's all have a disco”.

The home side look like a team who have had a rocket put well and truly up them, they are straight on the front foot, shooting at every opportunity, a fierce snap shot from outside the box inches wide. There is a steady stream of late comers, those who have no shame in asking those who have got back to their seat in time to stand up so they can shuffle by, clearly with more patience than Tom, and are far better hydrated.

Not even five minutes gone and the game hits a new level of excitement, skipping through the CT box a BS player is felled, and the referee has no hesitation in pointing to the spot. The shed demands the CT player is dismissed, “off, off, off” and the commotion that follows what is only a yellow card is almost as loud.

There is a significant delay between the penalty being given and being taken, one CT player hurt somehow in the build up to the foul, is knelt on the pitch, flinching as the physio pokes what look like large wads of cotton wool up his bleeding nose.

Perhaps it was the stoppage for the injury, the CT drum, the keeper bouncing on his line, smacking his crossbar causing it to shake violently or was it just down to the fact it was a less than impressive penalty. Straight down the middle the taker went, with not much power and even though he chose to dive, the keeper was still able to get a sizable piece of this left boot on it.

The lights of the recording phones in the shed, hoping to capture the moment the team takes the lead, soon go out, like someone has taken an almighty blow at a birthday cake. The CT end not unsurprisingly is going berserk and one steward is having an absolute hissy fit. Having been asked to move so one spectator could have a better view of the impending penalty, he has flounced off, slamming the door of the tiny security cupboard at the back of the stand, with a right face on him.

Tom’s head is on a swivel as a passing man clutching four mugs of tea, walks by. The shed is still suggesting everyone gets a bit early 1970's, “let's all have a disco” and from the sidelines, bellowing the CT manger is demanding his team “squeeze”. They have been close to being run ragged since the restart, much like the start of the first half, slow to get going you might say, and it’s only a case of BS not taking their chances they don’t find themselves well behind, but that's all about to change.

It is only the slightest of touches from BS’s number 9, connecting with a low driven cross from the wing, that sends the ball over the keeper at his near post, and into the roof of the net, finally after all their attempts, putting the home side ahead. The scorer doesn't stick around for long, dashing towards the corner flag, soon finding himself at the bottom of a pile of bodies.

The smoke bomb that follows in the shed, is a little lacklustre, I can definitely smell its distinct odour, but what is emanating from the back of the stand is little more than Tom blows out when using his VAPE. The singing however quickly makes up for the cut price pyro, “la, la, la, la Sporting” and now ahead, BS are in the mood of putting this match to bed.

What seemed like neither a cross or a shot is reached by the CT keeper, it having been fired across his area. An attempt by one BS player to make something out of the cross field pass, that looked like a lost cause. Not able to clear it or catch it, he only manages to stop it, dropping it right onto the foot of the BS player in the box, who only has to volley it into the empty net. It’s gone from 1 - 1, to 3 - 1 in about the space of three minutes.

A wooden rattle from somewhere in the ensuing madness adds to the bedlam, Tom is thinking probably just what all those solemn looking CT fans must be thinking, “what happened to Corby”, they have collapsed. BS look absolutely rampant, and the shed is quick to add salt to the wound, “and you fucked it up 1 - 0” they sing, one man doing so with a green and white Bromsgrove Rovers scarf stretched out in front of him.

Close to running out of suitable boxing analogies, CT having looked dead and buried, wave it off ref and send in the man with the stool and the oxygen, they start to somewhat miraculously show some signs of life. Causing I'm sure what were until now some very confident home hearts a flutter, they go and grab their second, which breathes life not only back into their fans, but also their players, many of whom I’m sure were feeling that all was lost. BS’s keeper not exactly showering himself in glory, his parry of the first CT shot, falls right to the original tackler, who doesn't need a third try, sending it home at the second time of asking.

In the space of only twenty minutes we’ve had a saved penalty, and two goals, and now the home crowd appeal again for a spot kick, but this time its waved away, which does not go down well, “the referees a wanker”. Briefly crowd surfing, I wonder if the person shimmering across the heads of the people in the shed, is aware of just how much CT’s tails are up. Having recovered from the initial shell shock, they look every bit a part of this contest.

“That's a booking” insists one BS fan. His description of what the player in question should be going into the book for is pretty accurate. The CT forwards attempt to beat his marker to get on the other end of a cross is little more than a “forearm in the back of the head” and the move right out of the square circle rightly gets the CT player a yellow. The young home fan next to me in his green scarf, which is still causing Tom much confusion as were the latest chants of “green army” thought it “should have been a red”.

So did the BS manager, he is livid.

CT’s second goal has not dented BS’s swagger too much, and they carry on in the spirit of the day looking to score again. “Nice, nice, nice” says one home fan on the edge of their seat, with his back to goal, a player turns on a dime, curling this shot just the wrong side of the post. Such is their desire to extend their lead, one players attempt at a bicycle kick, goes the full Paul Scholes Vs Tunisia, nearly kicking one CT players head clean off his shoulders.

As I said earlier, back and forth the game continues to swing. CT are finding space, getting their shots
off, trying to work themselves into that game levelling position. The shed resumes goading the CT fans, “it’s all gone quiet over there” but that feeling of superiority many of those around us were exuding, has melted away, they are getting jittery and it’s a real teeth sucker of a moment when CT whip a ball right through the BS six yard box.

Football fans, much like children can be so cruel. When the CT keeper falls over taking a goal kick, the laughter is close to ear bleedingly loud, but I think it’s a cover up, a way for them to take their minds off the clear fact that CT look the far likelier of the two sides to score again. Another chance for the visitors, a header, back from where it came from as they say is only just shy of the target.

When the home fans are complementing what an away player does, you know it's not half bad. “Good ball” says one as CT switch the play from one side of the pitch to the other, “great cross” says another, and it looks like only a matter of time before its poked in, but somehow it’s saved. The feeling of relief is unmistakable and again the shed masks its concern this time with a song, “everywhere we go”.

It’s been coming, I can’t say I'm surprised they have equalised, more shocked that after looking so imperious BS have let their hold on the match slip. “Bromsgrove just switched off” points out Tom, CT are able to bundle the ball over the line from close range, their manager applauds their grit then asks for more of the same. Some players leap into the crowd, one man has hold of the goal net and is shaking it so forcefully, he looks close to pulling it down and the away end is signing once more, “whoooo, whoooo, whoooo”.

The shed has been silenced, both managers repeatedly check their watches, and the CT fans give as good as they've got all day, “you're not singing any more”. Giving more and more instructions from his technical area, the CT manger is prolific, however all Tom can hear every time he speaks, is a single word, “pish”.

No longer shaking, just outright dejected, the shouts of the young man next to me, are dripping with misery, “come on Sporting”, in fact the mood of the whole place has taken a bit of a nose dive, every misplaced pass or “shit cross” is met with more vehement groans. “A minimum of three minutes added time” says the PA, whose own cheery disposition has slipped a bit.

“Do or die” says Tom, forgetting he’s not in a Jason Statham film and montages of explosions don't come after saying things like that.

What you might call polite, if not a tad miffed applause ripples around the stand after the final whistle. Almost every BS player is sprawled out on the pitch, maybe it’s a telling sign, but CT are all on their feet, except one who is  clearly in agony having his calves massaged. Spectator man is still reading when the game restarts, and the odd shout of “come on boys” trickle from the crowd.

Having seemingly had their sugar levels topped up, the kids around the dugout are chomping at the bit, however their energy is a little misdirected, shouting “who are ya” at anyone or anything that moves, including their own players.

“Big save” says an impressed Tom, big probably not giving it the due it deserves. It’s quite possibly a game-changing save by BS’s keeper from point blank range, the shed behind him holding its breath as the CT player shapes up to shoot. The dad next to me, has no intention of keeping it together for the sake of his son, he’s in bits, “I think they're going to nick it” he says.

Right on the edge of the BS box, CT are awarded a free kick. Taking his time to line it up, there is plenty of prevaricating before the player eventually takes it, and as always seems the case, it’s woeful, well, well over, much to the delight of the home fans, “wanker, wanker”. Tom asking me, “who did he think he was, Messi?”

The man next to me, might just have been right, CT look like they are going to “nick it”. They send another dangerous ball into the BS box, but no one is there, people just aren't making the runs that they were, both sides are starting to tire and fast.

A stinging BS shot, inspires a chant from the shed, “la, la, la Sporting” and a brief spot of handbags between two players only riles them up more. It’s the home sides turn to send a decent ball into the box, but again, no one is there to make anything of it, “it’s like they don't want it” says a baffled Tom.

Both ends have fallen quiet and Tom with his Pep hat on for the first time in a while, reckons CT are “playing the long game” they won’t be rushed, they have taken a leaf out the Ali play book, “rope a dope” and then in the second half it will be “attack, attack, attack”.

His theory is more than plausible, but it's not like they are not probing all, it's not like they are sitting right back. There is so much curl on one of their corners it looks like it's going straight in, and BS’s keeper is required to pull another save right out the top draw to prevent them taking the lead, but as CT have proven before they have a bit of a soft underbelly, and falling short of drawing the crocodile for you, if you let a player advance without stopping him, and we’re talking a fare old distance here, and allow him all the time in the world to shoot, nine times out of ten, it's only going to end in tears.

“What they got discount smoke bombs? I could do more with my pipe” shouts Tom over the din of the home fans celebrating their forth, which might just be the pick of the bunch. A driving run with a powerful shot at the end of it. The pyro show once again is a little disappointing, I can smell it, but instead of billowing smoke coming from Worcestershire's very own Curva Nord, it's just a bit foggy at the back of the shed.

The break between halves goes by in the blink of an eye, the shed has reached peak awesomeness, “green army, green army”. Can CT do it again, can they come back after another blow, they have previous, so its not outside the realm of possibilities, but they've played a lot of football today, do they have anything left in their tanks?

“Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio” sings the most sarcastic choir ever, it's a straight red for the recovering CT defender, doing his best to keep pace with CT’s number 9 closing in on goal, he clips his heels, and is sent from the field.

Could this be the turning point, the CT keepers second penalty save of the day, Tom again blurts out the only goalkeeper related cliche he has in his arsenal “big save”, but it could be so much more than that, “they can't get it past him” says Tom, it could be huge, especially with CT’s power of revival.

Close to an absolute breakdown the man next to me can barely get his words out, “hoping to wrap it all up there”. Home fans then turn on fellow home fans, when an attempt to waste time, by not giving the ball back, is recognised as futile, it is only going to give CT more time to equalise again.

I’d be amazed if the referees assistant can hear the requests of one home player on the bench of “how long” is left over the sheds uproariousness “green army, green army” and the local kids barracking of the CT manager.

The BS bench starts to play it's only little game, one coach agonising over which ball to kick on to the pitch, trying to buy his team a few precious seconds. BS have more than enough opportunities to score a fifth in the dying moments, but want to do it the most painful way possible, missing gilt edge chance after gilt edge chance. Even once the board showing the “one minute added time” goes up, one players in the final sixty seconds, one on one with only the keeper to beat misses.

One of, if not the single largest outpouring of joy we've ever seen develops at breakneck speed in the seconds then minutes following the final whistle. It's not the easiest of walls around the pitch to clear, probably for good reason, but it's not high enough to hold most back and soon they come flooding on to the pitch. The players like magnets, some who have collapsed to the floor, some who are embracing others, are the focus of the fans celebrations and are soon swapped. Once quite distinct in their bright red kits, they are soon indistinguishable.

First stretched out in front of the main stand, one of the largest of the BS flags is soon draped over the front of the single small balcony halfway up the main stand in preparation of the cup being lifted, a mere token the real prize promotion. More smoke bombs are let off, giving who ever brought them even more reason to ask for their money back, they are a bit measly. Much more effective  are the handheld confetti canons that fill the air with hundreds of pieces of coloured paper.

The lifting of the cup doesn't go off with out one small hiccup, a slight delay caused by the dropping
of its lid, falling about a storey, elongating the "whoooooooo" until its recovered, put back in place, and lifted into the air, followed by a player led chant of "we are going up".

From the back of the main stand the gaffer now with the mic, lets say is a better football manager then he is a singer. Having thanked the fans and his team "I couldn't be prouder of the lads", we get our second airing of Sweet Caroline, which is of the kind of standard to make dogs cry.

The appearance of an ambulance on the pitch takes the edge off things for the moment, until we find out its because one mans attempt to vault the wall, has resulted in him dislocating his knee. With the players now long gone, one walking off telling his manger with a wry grin the result was "never in doubt" many fans, those who have now headed straight for the bar, are still milling about on the pitch, some taking the chance to score their very own goal in front of the shed.

What a day, what a match, what agony for Corby, what jubilation for Bromsgove. The sight of the packed shed, the bobbing sex doll and the crap smoke bombs is one that will stay with me for a long time, the "magnificent 2,983" in attendance as the voice over the PA declared, a sight to behold.

Devil dog or no devil dog, it's worth running the gauntlet, the Victoria Ground is not one to be missed.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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