Friday 21 June 2019

I've lost my Shazam - Brackley Town FC Vs Spennymoor Town FC, National League North Play-Off Semi-Final, St. James Park (05/05/19)

A snapshot of my life with Tom, via our exchange this morning on WhatsApp:

[08:49] Tom: Where are we going?
[08:49] Tom: Want to check the weather
[08:50] Tom: Have a wardrobe crisis

“Two secs” he says to me an hour or so later after his enquiry about our destination. I can barely see him underneath the abundance of stuff he is carrying in his arms. If anything he is now over prepared, somewhat overcompensating for last times lack of snacks and wet weather gear and has nigh on brought a hamper, including his ginormous water bottle, and needs a second trip back to his car to retrieve even more.

Even though he has brought his entire wardrobe, he is still in somewhat of a pickle, “I still don't know what clothes to bring” he says agonisingly, “I don't know what jacket to wear” he wrestles with, as we embark on our polar expedition via Northamptonshire. “I need spring attire” he mutters to himself, taking the list of painfully middle class things he has said to me, without a hint of irony, in the last four years onto the nineteenth page.

Once we’ve pulled away, his dilemma continues, “I just don't own a spring jacket” he says on repeat three or four times, before adding further fuel to the fire, with the sky a dazzling shade of blue and with not a cloud in sight, when he asks himself if he needs “sunglasses”. Trying on my daughters sun hat, “do I need this?” I'm not sure if it's an East London fashion statement or he has lost it.

The obligatory Game Of Thrones recap chat is fleeting, because Tom finds himself in a state of discomfort, “gastric problems” he tells me, with a slightly pained look across his face. The combination of a few pints the night before and some “spicy Spanish sausage” means he is not feeling his best self today, and during a spare second between picking out snoods this morning he has decided he’s going to “eat healthy today”.

A somewhat concealed Brackley Town FC (BT) sign half in a hedge, ensures we are heading in the right direction and the large painted white BRACK on the road before us, only bolsters my confidence that out Sunday afternoon drive is on the right track.

The picturesque market town of Brackley is pretty, if not a little lifeless. The high street shut up tighter than a frontier town, that's got wind of the arrival of Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen. Navigating a sea of cones on our approach to St James Park, the steward instructs us to “park up the top”. Coming to a stop somewhat nervously teetering on the edge of a grassy precipice, Tom ensures I’ve put the “handbrake on” or we “will end up in the five a side pitches” below.

The distinctive sound of the kind of applause that only accompanies a good cricket shot, wafted our way from the pavilion beyond the far end of the ground. I would like to have informed you by now of our entrance into BT’s home, but we are still in the car park, and not because the car has taken a nosedive down the hill, but because Tom is insisting on trying on every combination of clothes, at one point putting on every item at once, ending up looking like Michelin Man if he shopped in Top Shop.

His full blown fashion show, is not going as smoothly as he would like, because apparently my car windows are too “dirty” and therefore he can't get a good look as his ensemble. “You know I’m a delicate flower” he reminds me, in a moment of clarity. It’s true, it's vital he gets his outfit right or I’ll hear no end of moaning about how cold or hot he is. He’s like a modern day Goldilocks.

Finally standing pitch side, Mick, BT’s gruff sounding Stadium Director, reckons there will be at least a “thousand” here today. Regularly they get about “seven hundred”, but as is normally the case with a big occasion like a Play-Off Semi-Final, those whom might be called not regular attendees, dust off their scarves and try desperately to remember the last time they came and watched a match here.

With the sun positively beaming, and Tom regretting all his layers, but not willing to admit it, one BT fan, suitably decked out in shorts, unfurls a long red and white banner and starts to attach it to the railings on one of the two banks of terracing, that flank the seated stand behind one goal. “South Bank Saints” it reads, with a crest at one end of it, similar to that of Amstel’s has two frothing glasses of beer on each side, and the motto “against sober football” below.

Not content with what is not an paltry offering by any means, more than most fans can muster, he is soon clambering on the seats of the neighbouring stand, attaching more flags to its back wall. “Spennymoor bringing five coaches” he tells me as he finishes hoisting a large Jolly Roger, BT’s opponents Spennymoor Town FC (ST) who we encountered last season in the FA Trophy, we know travel well, so it's no great surprise.

 “Job done” he says clearly happy with his work, “I’m off to the pub” he adds with a grin, the stand and terrace well adorned for the game ahead.

Nothing says The National League, more than a pale blue knee length jacket, and along with the slow drip, drip of BT players, the must have step three accessory can be soon seen everywhere. “One, two, three, four” says the man testing the PA, who then proceeds to sing. “Join in when you're ready,” he says, and in keeping with the best held tradition of the further up the pyramid you go, the more showy the stadium announcing gets, he has that aura of local radio, maybe he even has a spot on the county's BBC channel, exuding from every pore.

Today's match up is too close to call for one of the ST staff. The visitors having lost here in the league, but having won at home. “They are a canny team” he tells us in his thick North East accent, “they will be favourites” he adds with a hint of anxiety in his voice.

I’m parked up on a small picnic table, when Tom returns from the tea run, overflowing with delight from his time at the nearby sizzling refreshments hatch, with his eyes near enough out on stalks, “Burgers. Look. Really good”, he tells me delivering every word with the required drama to emphasise just how impressed he was by what has seen, “hand made, double up for two pounds. That’s a lot of pattie” the notion of healthy eating having lasted all of about four minutes.

From the highs of discovering the offer of two slabs of beef for just an extra quid, to the lows that have brought about the current sour look on his face, Tom doesn't half lead a roller coaster of a life. I have to turn around to see what is making him pull such a pained expression. “HP sauce on a burger” he scoffs under his breath, the culprit of the culinary crime only feet away, “sausages yes, but not a burger”.

Like white on rice the woman selling the 50/50 tickets in her vibrant red jacket, is all over me, taking my money before I’ve even had the chance to stand up and one half of my match day essentials is complete without even having to break a sweat. “Wish they had the same service for the burgers” tut’s Tom, who then tracks one passing man's meal so diligently, “the burgers are massive” so big in fact, he is considering the unthinkable, “not sure I'll have chips”.

He really is taking this healthy eating thing much more seriously than I first thought.

With time edging towards kick off, all the sights and sounds of match day start to bubble to the surface from the call of the man selling the “50/50 draw tickets”, the top of a bin is as good a place as any to rest his Jacobs cracker tin waiting for your change. The steam from the tiny tea hut billowing out from it’s open hatch, the offer of a “programme” from the man behind his white wooden rostrum and the constant tick of the turnstiles as more and more people arrive.

Clearly still preoccupied with thoughts of food, however unsure when to get his, “too early,” he told me before, but conscious not to leave it too late with the expected crowd making the chance of grabbing it at half time and not missing most of the second half a major possibility, he doesn't know if
he is coming or going.

This conundrum means other parts of his brain are only functioning at half speed, specifically his ability to recognise music. “I love this song” he gushes, “The Crash Test Dummies. It’s a classic, so bleak. '' It is not the Crash Test Dummies, and when I tell him this his second guess is off the mark too. He tries to remedy his mistake with the use of an app, that I didn't even know was still a thing, uttering a sentence I don't think anyone has said for at least ten years, “I've lost my Shazam”.

Our first glimpse of the ST team is them walking out onto the pitch. Their fans, many of them in the clubs colours of black and white, one in a pin covered baseball cap, carrying a flag, gives up a shout of support for the newly arrived players, “come on lads”.

It is reasonably uncommon in this country for a team to have a named fan group, like they do all across Europe, South America and even the US, but there are the odd few. At this level it’s even more rare, so the fact that BT seemingly have two, must make them pretty unique. Away from the flags and banners of the South Bank Saints, whose stickers cover vast swathes of the ground, the Brackley Massive, who have their very own roped off section with its own signage and everything, have transformed their little corner of St James Park, with a deluge of flags and scarves hanging from every available bit of space.

Poking up above the top of the turnstiles, a fleet of newly arrived coaches can hold back the torrent of ST within no longer. Flooding through the turnstiles they enter a ground that is a real mixture of the old and new. A long freshly poured slab of concrete along one side of the pitch is relatively desolate, with somewhat of a waste land surrounding it, but other parts of the ground make up for it with a reasonable dose of character.

The music is decent, with a definite indie vibe, and Tom having finally struck out to get his food, returns with a drink in a cup straight out of your local Cineworld and a real slab of a burger, barely contained within it’s white paper napkin. Sticking to his word, either because of his dicky tummy or new outlook on healthy living, he did not get chips.

With ketchup in his beard, his burger gone in record time, he lets out a satisfied burp, then tells me with a huge amount of hubris, “oh I could eat that again”. However by the way he’s looking at one man's passing chips absolutely dripping with sauce, I’m not sure he’s satisfied and he might help himself, but in fact he’s admiring his Rupert the bear style tweed jacket, “he’ll ruin it if that sauce goes down the front”, before he starts chastising himself about another food related faux pas, “I should have gotten some sweets”

As more and more black and white starts to fill the place, and I’m not saying the two are related, but some slightly bizarre pantomime booing has started to emanate from one part of the ground, Tom momentarily moves off the topic food, onto his other favourite subject the weather, “oh I hope it doesn't rain” , before flipping back, telling me about the fried potato sized hole currently within him, “I feel cheated without the chips”.

“Good afternoon and welcome to St James Park” says the voice over the PA, with all the pizazz of someone not unfamiliar with the drive time slot. Informing all of where they can pick up a “matchday magazine”, Tom agrees with me it's a programme, not a “magazine”, that he says like he’s a funny taste in his mouth, and having just visited to get his pin, Tom takes umbrage with the description of the club shop “can you really call it a mega store? A windowless room”.

Readying himself to climb the ladder towards his elevated vantage point for filming, ST’s cameraman Chris, is “nervy” with it being “such a big game” and much like everyone else we’ve spoken to, he “can't call it” either. With his pragmatic head on, he tells us “whatever happens it's been a good season” but in the next breath the romantic in him, likes the sound of playing “Notts County” next season. “How the mighty have fallen,” he says, when he realises a win today could get his team one step closer to that becoming a reality,

Both teams emerge for their warm ups, it’s fairly low key affair, with little response from the crowd. I barely noticed if I’m honest, too busy listening to Tom bleating on about how its “cold now” and cursing the county we live in for its unpredictable weather, “fucking England”.

Tom needs answers, and he needs them now, “why are they like that?” he asks me again, pushing me Paxton style, “give me an answer” he demands, why are one BT players shorts so bloody tight? The latest announcement over the PA, “line ups when I get them” is followed by a song which will always have for me very West London connotations, The Liquidator.

Having almost filled the much smaller section behind one goal, the BT flags at the opposite end giving them little option of where else to stand, the ST fans have started to make it feel like a home from home.

One flag is already up, another is draped over the shoulders of one supporter and more soon start to appear over the railings around the pitch. No away day would be complete without one person in a jester's hat with bells on, a black and white one of course, nor would it be the same without a song or two, which are soon flowing. Setting their stall out early, they are here to make some noise and are already in fine voice, “Spennymoor town is wonderful”, “we’re the black and white army” and my favourite so far, one about their towering red headed defender warming up, who they affectionately call “the ginger van Dijk”.

In front of us the BT players go through the motions, one of them also sporting a very uncomfortable looking tight pair of shorts, has the most stunningly intricately tattooed calves.

Organised into a line by the mouth of the vinyl red tunnel the mascots await the players, one wondering quite rightly why the sprinklers are on, because surely they'll “get the players wet”. The ST fans have not stopped since they arrived and with the BT fans now packed in behind the long banner we saw being put up what feels like an age ago, it's quite the reception for the teams when they appear.

Even though the now exceptionally excited man over the PA is shouting, he pales into insignificance compared to the din of the ST supporters, “Moors, Moors, Moors” they chant in a low rumbling tone. Falling some way short of the away fans, the home crowd offer up their own chant, “BT. BTF. BTFC”, which in combination with applause from around the ground, all adds to the growing early atmosphere.

If only the next forty five minutes, in fact the whole ninety could live up to the energy of the teams entrance, where the ST fans are a constant, and the BT ones certainly play their part, however the efforts on the pitch, never quite hits the same level.

Two minutes gone and a low driven BT shot is touched just wide, prompting the fans behind the goal into a song, “oh when the Saints go marching in” and quite early on it turns into one of those occasions where one is concentrating on the crowd, rather than the game. The rowdy ST supporters are not lets say impressed much by the offerings of their BT counterparts so far, “you’re support is fucking shit”.

When the ST fans aren't singing, which is very infrequently, St James Park falls quiet. The songs from the big open terrace slowly become more and more regular, but when they do come, don't last for long, “come on you Saints”. Stopping only to take a breath, the ST end is soon bouncing and bubbling again, “black and white army”. There are few places left along the entirety behind the goal, where a flag of one sort or another isn't fluttering, and the nucleus of the support, hammering the back of the stand, always ready to start a new song “something tells me I'm into something good” is packed in under the corrugated roof of the stand, and is in constant motion.

Not only contained to their respective end, the ST fans have infiltrated the BT one two, their own shouts and songs, are soon drowned out by the much larger contingent of home supporters, “whoo, whooo, whoo Brackley”.

A home injury just after ten minutes brings about a lengthy stoppage, with the sun out for the first time in a while, the downed player, who looks in some agony, his hand clamped over his mouth, gets short shift from a nearby ST fan, “get up man”. The two passing policeman, something I will never get used to seeing at a non league game, get a hummed rendition of the Laurel & Hardy theme sent their way, but take it in good humour, and Tom puts the very slow opening quarter of an hour down to the day of the week, “major Sunday vibes”.

Chances are few and far between, BT send a diving header off target and the fourth official has a job on his hands calming ST’s manager, who was certain there was a foul on one of his players in the build up to the chance.

A single big voice somewhere on the BT terrace, is the epicentre of most home chants, so resonant is it, that Tom questions if the noise being created is in fact just one person, “is that one man singing?”. His latest attempt to get the well packed home end going falls on deaf ears, “we all follow the Brackley”, when he tries again, “altogether now”, it’s stony silence. The same can not be said for the ST end, which is rocking, banging out the rhythm on the back of the stand, the fans respond with more thunderous shouts of “Moors, Moors”.

Beating his man, BT’s archetypal tricky winger, fond of a step over, or five, is encouraged to probe further by one man on the sidelines, “go on”, eventually dinking the ball into the box, his team mates attempted bicycle kick gets a sceptical “optimistic” from Tom, and a “what the fucking hell was that” from a ST fan as it flies, well, well over.

The sun has disappeared once again, and it's cold. This does little to quell the ST fans, “Spennymoor Town FC are the team for me”. Half an hour gone and the action is at an absolute minimum, when the BT captain telling off the referee, in his best serious Dad voice, “that’s two decisions you've got wrong” is about the most interesting thing that's happened, it's a concern. With a less than complimentary look on his face, Tom’s summary of the game so far is pretty damning, “snoozefest”.

Into the final ten of the half and at the forefront of their attack, BT have a bulldozer of a man, a number 9 with thighs like tree trees trunks, who is more than willing to use his considerable bulk to his advantage. Bamboozling a couple of ST defenders on the edge of their box with a drop of the shoulder, he cuts the ball across the area, only for it to be cut out, the potential of the move exiting the home crowd, “ohhhhhh”.

Livid maybe doesn't quite go far enough to describe the current mood of the ST manager, it was all his teams fault, that they were under the pressure they were, poor passing in midfield leading to the ball being fizzed across their six yard box. It almost seems contagious, as soon both sets of supporters are soon groaning at their own teams inability to complete a simple pass.

With the game really having failed to catch light, Tom is already asking me what happens if its a draw, extra time I tell him, “it's going that way so far”.

Unaffected by the on field performance, the ST fans are single handedly stopping me from getting out a broadsheet newspaper, plonking myself on the sofa and officially calling this one a sleepy Sunday, “we are Spennymoor, we are Spennymoor”.

Their teams best attack of the half comes right before its conclusion, a flowing move, they have heard their managers bellowing cries for more “quality” and a back heel and a slide rule pass down the wing later, the ball is whipped into the box, but the final pass lets the move down, and the eventual shot after a bit of hot potato is ballooned over. One ST player can only hold his head in his hands in response to the missed chance and the BT fans let out a sarcastic “weyyyyy”.

“Where did he get that from?” asks one BT supporter, the announcement of “two minutes added time” has just rung around the ground. Two chances follow, one for each team, that might leave a slightly false residing memory that it’s been quite a lively half, but it hasn't. A dipping ST shot, which forces the BT keeper to frantically back peddle, was always going over, but still gets a “ohhhhh” anyway and the instruction of “hit it” from one BT fan is acknowledged, but the player never gets hold of it, and it's easy for the keeper to gather.

“You’ve got no chance” sneers Tom, as I pluck my 50/50 tickets from my breast pocket in anticipation of the draw for the “record” pot of “£360” that is about to take place. I’ve seen it done by a referee, but never an away fan, the ST supporter being of no fucking help whatsoever, “out by two hundred” points out the smug one. Cock.

Sprouting out of the pitch like an unwanted gofer, the sprinkler gives the pitch a drink, and perhaps the slick surface might somehow improve the match? Wishful thinking on my part perhaps. “There is a breathless man in front of me” is not a quote from a Carry On film, but the latest from the PA, “the 50/50 has been claimed” he adds, and then spouts a colossal amount of waffle.

For what felt like a near biblical amount of people moving about in the break, neither set of fans have swapped ends, word must have just got around about the food, because its as you were for the start of the new half. BT are out first to a smattering of applause, ST are close behind, who go through a quick drill and one ST fan lets out an impassioned shout of, “come on the boys”.

With BT attacking our end now, it gives us a chance to get our first real up close glimpse of their blunt instrument of a number 9. “His thighs are stupid” gasps Tom, each one like the haunch of a large game animal, “does he need them that big?” he wonders, doing his best to conceal his little pigeon legs underneath his long jacket.

ST’s fans pick up right where they left off, the stand still taking a kicking and I notice one of their flags is from their London supporters branch. Noisy, but in a very different kind of way, a BT supporter who has joined the ranks of those around us, is certainly loud, but his output is boorish. He’s not singing or chanting, he’s just obnoxious. Fuelled by the snigger's of those in his immediate vicinity, he keeps up his shtick for almost the entirety of the rest of the game, “what a load of fucking bollocks”.

A foul on the edge of the BT box leaves both benches apoplectic, but for different reasons. The angry shouty fan tells one of the ST defenders arguing his case to “shut up” and is playing up to the crowd more and more. The ST players are claiming the BT one “fell over” and by coincidence I’m sure, and it’s what happens when I drink tequila, the ST fans have broken into a bit of The Champs. The home ends attempt to reply is an attempt at the Dam Buster theme, but it's a little lacklustre to say the least.

The team are on top, the fans are on top, “we love, we love, that is why we follow”, it’s near ST dominance. A black and white flag is being flown above the heads of the crowd and the visitors are getting closer and closer to taking the lead, just shy of a quarter of an hour gone, and they head wide, inspiring a roaring version, of “we’re the black and white army”.

A jibe from the ST fans, about the lack of noise coming from them “you’re supposed to be at home” as you can imagine does not go down well with the angry fan, who is close to bursting a blood vessel, and when they hit them with another lyrical jab, “is this a library?” he nearly pops. The most the BT fans have to offer is the mandatory “you’re shit ahhh” at every ST goal kick, but that’s it. The lingering “ahhhhhh” is very good, but the lack of songs is a surprise.

The ST supporters appeal en mass for a penalty, “handball”, but the referee waves it away. Moments later they watch on as their keeper pulls off the most remarkable save, after a swiping volley from a BT player requires a stop right out the top drawer, and the ST fans noise level only keeps on climbing, “ola, ola, Moors, Moors”.

After much movement and numerous overlaps, the BT cross at the end of all of it is “poor” says Tom. The home fans belt out another round of “oh when the Saints go marching in” their team in the throngs of a rare moment on top, a chest trap, a swift turn, and a shot wide, gets a “ohhhh” from the South Bank Saints, but Tom doesn't see all these half chances as promising, that a goal is imminent, but quite the opposite, “no one is ever going to score, we’ll be stuck here forever”.

This notion, that I have just spent five minutes trying to dispel is only compounded when the bulldozer number 9, barrelling down the right wing, cuts the ball into the box, but the player on the edge of the six yard box can’t connect, and while the home fans squeal and the chance goes begging, Tom is resigned, “it’s never going in”.

The loudest the home fans have been all game, “we love you, we love you” follows thirty seconds of sheer madness, the scramble to end all scrambles, where the ST goal is bombarded with chance after chance, rebound and ricochet, woodwork tested and last ditch saves, the ball eventually being prodded over by “the ginger van Dijk” and everyone to a man asking the person next to them, “how did they keep that out?”.

“It's never going to happen” mutters Tom, however a goal has never felt so likely, and when ST hit the woodwork directly from a corner, “did that hit the bar?” he asks, needing confirmation, ensuring
his eyes had not deceived him, a breakthrough seems looming.

The ST fans continue to be confident, do they know any other way, “we are going up” they sing. They test BT’s resolve with another corner, this time the BT keeper through the crowd, does just about enough to punch it clear. “He did well there”says a relieved home supporter.

Out singing and now out “you're shit ahhh” ing the home fans the ST supporters are monopolising, “Spennymoor, Spennymoor”, they will have the local noise pollution team here soon. Even when for the countless time a ball from the right wing sails through their box, they fail to be shushed. A shout from the home crowd for the players to “gamble” are ignored, and BT are getting into, ‘we are going to rue all these missed opportunities’ territory.

Into the final ten minutes of the ninety and BT are starting to look a little ragged. The ST players attempt to keep their energy up, necking tubes of sporty gel from the bench or are they apricot Frubes, I can't tell. On their feet, the ST technical area is full of stunned men with their hands on their heads, after battling into the box, the shot come cross looks to have rolled right along the goal line. “We’re the black and white army” howl the ST fans who now resemble the crowd from a heavy metal concert, it's almost a mosh pit.

A single BT fan does his best to rally the players, “come on you Saints” but gets little backing from those around him.

Flabbergasted, dumbfounded, lost for words, the ST bench once again are all on their feet, a superb ball down the right, finds the wide player, but no one can get on the end of his ball into the box.

BT mixing up, attack instead down the left and not the right this time, which ends up with a shot hitting the post, “ohhhhhh” go the fans, the sense that one goal is going to be enough, is clear to every person here. All day they've looked threatening from wide, great cross after great cross has made its way into the ST box, but maybe a certain amount of hesitation means “they're just not committing” says Tom, the keenest of anyone here to see a goal.

When the people stopped laughing, that should have been the sign for the angry shouty fan to give it up, but he’s still plugging away, and it's getting a bit cringey. As Tom puts it, “there's always one”.

For the first time today, into the dying moments the BT fans match the noise of the ST ones, “come on Brackley, come on Brackley”. A second half sub their number 12 toys with the ST defence, sending a defender one way, then another, his quick feet get him into a fine position, but his shot come cross is right at the keeper, they just can't make anything stick.

One last dig from the ST supporter, “shit fans, shit fans” can't stir even angry fan. ST have another shout for a penalty waved away and at the sight of the board going up, three minutes of extra time, Tom lets out a languid yawn, before saying mid stretch, “now or never”.

“Both teams playing like they don't want to lose” is a perfect summary of a game that's had chances, but has lacked any kind of real blood and thunder, a “very tense kind of game” as one person put it. Seemingly sure that extra time was a forgone conclusion, the BT physio returns from the changing room with a brand new box of revitalising gel, to help reinvigorate tired limbs.

“Bloody hell what happens now” asks an exasperated Tom, the final whistle has been blown, the whole place quiet, except of course those from the North East, “we’re the black and white army” and a couple of local kids, “come on Brackley”. Both teams huddle, two players clearly sprint for the loo, some have a rub down, one BT player, does what I’m sure is totally normal at times like these, he has his nails cut, “he’s having a pedicure” points out a amazed Tom.

Half over the hoardings, straddling them, the ST fans can’t have been anything but a positive force behind their team. Now it's the turn for the home fans to show the same level of fanaticism, as the voice over the PA tells them, its time “to be the twelfth man”.

The home crowd are little more than subdued now, at the start of the first half of extra time, even the sight of “ginger van Dijk” blocking a dangerous ball into the box can’t inspire them and just about summing up their time in front of goal, backing into his man, until he can turn, the bulldozer does all the hard work, but then shoots so off target, his shot in in danger of hitting a wicket keeper.

At a snail's pace the game gets closer and closer to a shootout, if Tom had his way, they would have skipped extra time altogether. ST still for me look the likelier to score, a back post volley is blocked, and they look like, thanks to the Frubes, that they have plenty of steam left in them

“Hit it, hit it, hit it” urges one BT fan, the BT player on the edge of the box delaying his attempt, moving the ball further and further forward, until a gap just big enough opens up, and he sends a shot spanking against the bar and after a near hiatus from making any noise, the BT fans wake up, “Brackley, Brackley”.

We’re so bored we’re talking about Roberto Carlos thighs, and angry fan is back, complete with chips. The whistle for half time momentarily wakes the BT fans, “come on Brackley, come on Brackley”. You’ve probably got bored of me telling you what the ST fans are doing, they’re still doing it if you were wondering, they probably won't stop until they are home in bed, and that is still up for debate.

The second half of extra time, is somewhat ruined by the constant bleating of the BT fan along from us, whose commentary is as voracious as ever before, “walk it off big man” he says, when the “ginger van Dijk” is injured and then he’s telling the ST manager to “get off” his knees, he’s gone the full Platoon on the edge of his technical area. One on one, he’s just watched a player send a low skimming shot, just the wrong side of the post. Almost starting to celebrate, his assistant turns away from the pitch, coiled like a spring, but having stopped himself just in time.

There are plenty of groans and near misses as a goal threatens, then seems unlikely, threatens once more and then seems completely unlikely again. BT are on top, but I’m not sure they could score if their lives depended on it. Missing the ball, and clattering in to his teammate, one ST player is down, the goal is empty the keeper stranded and all the BT number 9 has to do is roll it into an empty net, people have already started celebrating but you probably know what is going to happen, before I even finish this sentence, he misses. How God only knows, but lying face down on the pitch, I’m not sure I would have been unable to look up, I would have just stayed put until it got dark.

The gambit of emotions in the BT end is vast, up and down they bob, some are unable to look, some recoil at missed chances and poor passes, some stand quiet, some scream and shout. “A minimum of four minutes added time” announces the voice over the PA. The ST end off in their own little world, are doing what they do, the balls not been anywhere near them for awhile and BT are presented with even more chances to put the game to bed in added time, the bulldozer causing plenty of problems. From the wings again they get the ball into the box, but the shot from just outside the area goes screaming over.

“Got to get everybody up there” insists one BT fan, a free kick gives them the perfect opportunity to pack the box. In goes the ball, and out it goes again, once more its lumped back in, meeting a home head, only for the header to be soft and right at the keeper. More groans, and no time left for anymore
chances, penalties it is.

We all know how shootouts pan out, hero's and villains, heartbreak and happiness, and when the “ginger van Dijk” pointed towards the ST fans, having won the toss, one had an inkling they already had the upper hand. The body language of the two teams was worth noting too, ST tightly interlinked, arms over shoulders, BT scattered, some standing some sitting.

It's all even stevens until ST miss, and its not until the last round, that the visitors are handed a life line, BT's number 9 missing by a mile. ST score and then another BT player is overcome with the pressure of it all, his shot way off target too, he drops to his haunches, if ST score next, they are off to the Final.

They may have been singing about being the "black and white army" today, but its a flash of sunshine yellow that charges towards the final ST penalty taker and scorer. The garish colour of the players shirts can be seen at the centre of the maelstrom, the absolute scenes of pandemonium playing out on the pitch, the railings not able to hold back the ST fans any longer, on to the pitch they go for more songs, hugs and celebrations.

Far from a memorable match by any means, but one that will be remembered for the performance of the ST fans, and the people who climbed the near by trees to watch for free. Travelling all that way and being able to keep it up for as long as they did, is commendable to say the least. Tom and I were only an hour up the road, and I'm sure I saw him nodding off at one point.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE

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1 comment:

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