Thursday, 6 June 2019

Jazzy - Bristol Manor Farm FC Vs Paulton Rovers FC, Evo-Stik Southern League South, The Creek (27/04/19)

Non World War Two military history nerds like myself, may not have heard of the LRDG, the Long Range Desert Group, one of the precursors of the SAS. A mixture of tough chaps from Eton, leading tough blokes from the East End, they would venture deep behind enemy lines for hundreds if not thousands of miles, with only what they could pack on the back of their jeeps to aid them, to sabotage German air field and disrupt supply routes.

If you've got this far, thank you for bearing with me, because this sightly odd intro to the blog is relevant I promise, because Tom is standing in the open doorway of the passenger side of my car, with more stuff, equipment and provisions, then those men seventy five odd years ago, would have taken with them to wage war!

“Car snacks”, jackets and his “long rage chilly”. Such is the length of our journey today, about three hours, he has found it necessary to upgrade his usual water bottle, drafting in one the size of a naval guns shell. At least among all his junk, he has finally brought some half decent CD’s, no sign of the the bloody Red Hot Chili Peppers this time.

Not long on the road, and he is already tucking into his ration pack, which in his opinion has one glaring omission, “I should have brought Jaffa cakes” he says out loud, like as if he wants me to show him some kind of sympathy for his mistake. I do offer him some of my daughters space cheese. No NASA have not branched out into the party food game, well not intentionally, it is a legitimate child nibble, that he refuses, and considering he'll eat anything. I may have to reconsider giving it to my children in the future.

Storm Hannah is battering everything in sight as we head west. Passing high sided trucks make us both feel a bit nervous as we watch them teeter in the high winds. Tom falls just short of clutching my thigh Thierry Henry style when we see one's back end start to fish tail and he gives me a knowing look, which required no words, get the fuck away from it.

A confetti of brown leaves showers the road, there are notifications about closed bridges and the nearer to our destination we get, the worse the conditions become. Having not made a drastically early start, Tom doesn't really have much excuse for seeming a little sluggish, until he explains he babbled in a bit of weed the previous night, a “light dusting” as he put it, and is still feeling the effects now.

I therefore justify not leaving him on the hard shoulder, his brain is addled with Mary Jane when he utters perhaps the most heinous word that possibly exists in the entire English language, not one I had ever heard before, and I hope to never hear again, which he uses when I ask what his other half is up to today, “wedmin”. Shudder.

His new Hunter S Thompson lifestyle, also explains why he has just demolished his pack of “limited edition Haribo”, a much nicer sounding alternative to dehydrated Neil Armstrong curd, so violently and to why he is as mesmerised as he is, by the name of a place we pass on the outskirts of Bristol, “Aztec West, that sounds exotic”.

He is starting to sound a little bit like double rainbow guy.

A missed turn means we see a bit more extra time in the car then we had planned on, snaking alongside the River Avon, steep grey cliffs on one side, water on the other, and the Clifton Suspension Bridge in the distance. It's not unpleasant by any means, but were also not here sightseeing either and we cover quite a bit of ground, before we finally find a place to turn round, by a large wicker whale. Above us a tiny woman, clings precariously to the side of the aforementioned rock formations as she makes her way up it at the other end of a neon orange rope, in a case of rather you than me.

Arriving at the top of a steep slope, below us the home of Bristol Manor Farm FC (BM) is laid before us, The Creek already looks like one of the more tidy and impressive grounds we’ve visited this season. Once inside, where Ballroom Blitz by Sweet is blaring out of the wall mounted speakers, we are greeted by a man in a suit and club tie, who like us is also a fair way way from home too.

Kevin is not a Bristolian, not by birth anyway, he’s from our neck of the woods “Stoke Newington” he tells us. A “Chelsea fan”, I try not to show my displeasure, and I notice Tom’s trying not to grind his teeth too loudly either, he used to travel religiously to Stamford Bridge from his new home, while a season ticket holder of the West London club. Until one fateful day he noticed The Creek from the window of the train that runs along the bank down one side of the ground, and “gave up” his season ticket and has been watching BM “ever since”.

Less than a stone's throw from the River Avon, in fact Kevin tells us of a time he came to a match and “it was coming under the hoardings” where the crowd encouraged the players to keep “the ball up there” so the game wasn't called off, he also points out a few local spots of historical interest, which he relays with an obvious passion. He might not be originally from here, but he's certainly embraced the place, he shows us the site of an “ancient Roman port” that once stood opposite the ground.

I could have listened to him talk all day.

However with his clipboard in hand, he is clearly a man with stuff to do, and although I’m sure he could have gone on a lot longer, he’s not Simon Schama for Christs sake, so he leads us towards the clubhouse, and out of Storm Hannah, that although we’ve only been here ten minutes, feels like it may well be causing some havoc today. The few BM flags attached to one fence behind the goal, look close to being torn from their moorings and the two flags above us on their respective gold orb topped flag poles, are making one hell of a noise.

The low ceiling clubhouse or I should say social club, as the large sign on its outside refers to it, is heaving. The few dark wood tables and red leather sofa that encircles a large portion of the room, are filled with people watching Spurs take on West Ham. Where even though we are a good fair way from N17, the gleaming white tentacles of the Lillywhites have got its hooks into someone, “go on Dele Alli”.

Not only are we here because BM have come up a fair few times over the last few years as a club well worth a visit, and from first impressions that seems spot on, but we’re also here to finally watch the player we’ve been sponsoring this season. A man one person described as “Mr. Versatile” Jay Adams, who this season has excelled playing in a multitude of positions across defence and midfield, and I'll leave it up to you too decide, if that is because of his association with us. I think we all know what the correct answer is.

One of the perks of sponsoring a player, is an invite into the boardroom, which in the case of BM is the skittle alley next to the bar, where the lane has been covered by a roll of beige carpet, and long tables have been set up covered in white table cloths. “Not used to this” whispers Tom, after Rachel, BM's Club Secretary takes our drinks order and gives us free reign over the buffet that covers one table at one end of the room, all sorts of bite sized morsels sit waiting for us underneath plastic cloches.

A quick visit to the loo, where the cistern is covered in no end of Utrecht stickers, highlighting one of football's more obscure fan friendships between a club from the Southern League and one from Hollands topflight. I return just in time to find my coffee has arrived, Tom has his tea and has helped himself to one of the biscuits on small plates on the table, to witness Spurs go a goal behind.

“Fuck off” I exclaim, forgetting where we are, and Tom is quick to scold me, reminding me that that kind of behaviour will not do around the club tie types, “we’re not in the rough section”. Beyond the perfectly cut sandwiches and linen tablecloths, one person is very happy, ecstatic even and is losing their shit.

Is this part of the world a bolt hole for Londoners?.

Talking like one of the world's great philosophers, examining the sandwich in his hand with all the concentration of an Antiques Roadshow expert, Tom utters a sentence so profound, that I’m almost
impressed, “I always underestimate the cheese sandwich”, before telling me with equal gravitas, that Spurs will “win two one” and I almost believe him.

Doing the rounds with her black bucket in hand, the lady selling the red raffle tickets, does not get far before I pounce on her and force my money into her possession. The small table, that passes for a club shop, in the picture covered hallway outside of the bar, where some stunning haircuts of yesteryear, and the people sporting them, join me watching the sadness wash over Tom’s face when the man manning it, informs him they are out of pins, he could have a “shirt” or a “fridge magnet” instead.

The consolation of the promise of a “prog rock band” playing after the match, the stage, which puts all other clubhouses stages to shame, it's like the Astoria, has been “set up” Tom tells me in anticipation of a man playing a flute and a stack of three Casio keyboards.

Another chance for a flutter presents itself, via a man table hopping with the promise of “lots of money” to win, he had me at “lots”. Having thought the “Pools” was something people of my grandparents generation last did, it’s somewhat novel trying and predict some of the scores of four of this weekend's fixtures. Not wanting to get lynched, I of course opt for wins for both of the Bristol teams, but it's not until I hand over my money, does the man running this little racket, or should I say scam, who was eagerly nodding along with me as I made my decision, informs me that neither Bristol side are “playing very well”.

I might as well have chucked my money in the Avon.

Storm Hannah is howling, and I’m not sure what is more annoying the wind whipping around my ears or Chumbawamba playing over the PA? The kind of food Tom is normally more accustomed to eating on match days, is served out of a pitch side transit van with a hole in its side. The sun is coming and going and there is something bizarrely comforting about the sound of the diesel train plodding back and forth every so often,

The 90’s premier political no marks are soon replaced with a succession of “Dad rock” tunes, which in turn are replaced with a song from the “debut EP” of local band “Falling Stacks”, who are sponsoring the match ball today, who Kevin introduces over the PA, before treating us to their two chord punk thumper, “Standing Leg”.

A surge of new arrivals are soon adding their change to mine in the bucket of the raffle ticket seller, who has expertly positioned herself in a bottleneck on the way in, practically forcing people to shell out a couple of quid, before moving on their way. “Where has the sunshine gone?” asks one man as he rummages around for some coins, however the lady with the bucket has no answer for his weather based small talk, where its gone after it’s recent spell, is of little concern to her, she just wants his cash.

The music is pumping, Kevin is doing his best to lift what has the potential to be a bit of a flat afternoon, with quite an eclectic playlist. It being the last day of the season and with neither team, BM or their opponents Paulton Rovers FC (PR), a few of their fans visible because of their dark red and black scarves, have anything to play for whatsoever. Kevin reckons with a local side playing in a “big” playoff clinching match today, is where the “neutrals” will be heading.

Back on the microphone, Kevin welcomes the players and fans of PR, wishing them a safe journey “back under the suspension bridge” after the game, and in case anyone wasn't sure “refreshments are available from the burger van” that does “exactly what its says on the tin”.

Standing outside the grey and red building that houses the two changing rooms, the referee pulls a large white hanky from his pocket, gives his nose a good blow, before instructing his assistants to tell the teams to get a move on. We’ve seen a few makeshift tunnels in our time, but we’ve never seen one made up of what are essentially red barriers pinched from the local roadworks, that wobble in the wind, before.

The door from the changing rooms to the outside word, is not quite big enough to allow two players out at a time, so there is a fair bit of friendly jostling, before both starting elevens are out, and the referee can lead them down the concrete steps onto the pitch.

As the teams line up, neither are quite in position when the handshake commences. Another train passes behind them, and other than the sound of the constant wind, it's quite a muted start to the game. There is a definite feeling of, let's get this over with, I’ve got a Yes cover band to listen to.

The Creek is not a ground without options, you have your pick of not one, not two, but three stands and terraces all along one side of the considerably slopey pitch. We’ve opted for, and I say this with love, a small covered spot between the two dugouts, that is ever so slightly reminiscent of a place you might keep the bins. Inches behind us the train will be rushing past any minute, the smell of diesel still hanging in the air from the last one.

We are not alone in what I will affectionately refer to as the bin shed, snugly packed in, one man lets outs a very west country, “oh bloody hell”, when after what feels like less than a minute, BM’s keeper has had a bit of a wobble. His defence let a corner bounce on the edge of the six yard box, and his attempt to clear it is less than convincing, punching through a sea of bodies, it hardly goes far, and as one man puts it, “got away with that”.

It’s a tad of a concern that with the game not even five minutes old, and we are already discussing which kit we like more. Normally a chat reserved for the seventy minute plus mark, and never normally this early, there is not exactly much urgency among the players, a sedate pace is how one might describe it.

As much as you “can't go wrong” as Tom rightly puts it with a red and black kit, its PR’s for me that takes the accolade of strip of the day. A blue base with three yellow stripes down the font and three down the back, it’s quite attractive. We both particularly like how the stripes down the side, marry up with those on the shorts and I’m not sure if Tom’s had some more to smoke, but he then uses a word that I wouldn't normally associate with him, calling PR’s get up, “jazzy”.

It’s the PR keeper called into action next, and his save to deny one BM players turn and shot, is far more reliable then that of his counterparts moments ago. Getting his fingertips to the ball he touches it over the bar, sending it over the billowing net behind him, and straight in to the river.

Every so often the bin shed gives up a little rattle when the wind picks up and judging by the trees opposite us swaying all over the place, we might consider ourselves lucky if we still have a roof over our heads come the end of the match.

Neither manager is happy. BM’s wants his team to “tidy it up”. It has been a quite a sloppy start from his side on occasions. However they are not alone, PR too are undisciplined and it's this errant passing, that leads to BM taking the lead. “Too easy” sighs the PR manager, “we can't keep giving the ball away” he adds, all while his counterpart, a few feet away from him, punches the air in celebration.

From the halfway line, BM’s number 11 is able to at ease, and not without the attention of a couple of PR players, that he simply shrugs off, to skip down the wing, and in to the box, where he dispatches one last defender, before passing across the six yard box for a teammate to tap it in.

The hand shakes and gentle back slaps, again highlight the lack of a toss being given by the teams. Tom as ever has his own things going on, a keen weather watcher he makes a predictions, “there's a storm coming” and purely by coincidence, nothing more, he will put it down to the power of his Met Office app, the rain is soon upon us. “Here is comes” he says smugly. The sound of it hitting the corrugated roof above us ominous, but he is somewhat baffled by the fact that just over yonder, “it's nice and sunny”.

With very little of note in the first fifteen minutes, other than the goal to speak of, the save just on the stroke of a quarter of an hour, by the PR keeper seems even more spectacular. Somehow, when it looked nailed on for a BM second, he managed to claw the ball out from behind him. Getting back to his feet, he has no time for plaudits, instead he bollocks his defence, “free header”.

Another sweeping BM attack, their pace down the wings proving too much for PR to handle, almost results in a second, our man Mr. Versatile, playing and captaining the side from right back, is at the heart of it and the reemergence of the sun, sends those who scurried into the bin shed for cover, back outside again, and means there is just about enough room to swing a cat.

“Book him for diving then” is not something you normally hear a manager say about one of his own players, but so incensed is the PR gaffa, after they have a pretty strong case for a penalty waved away, he has briefly lost his mind, “free kick anywhere else” he adds.

It might not be from the penalty spot that they find their way back into the game, but judging by his current performance, there is a very good chance PR might be thanking the BM keeper at some point, if he continues with his ill timed brain farts. Another attempt at a punch, results in another yes you guessed it, shocking clearance, but PR can’t capitalise.

Its official, he must still be stoned, Tom's just used the word “jazzy” for the second time in twenty four hours. Overcome with reefer madness, it's the only way he knows how to describe his liking for something, on this occasion, Mr. Versatiles boots.

“He’s in” gasps a BM fan, racing away towards the home teams goal, the PR player only has the keeper to beat, but their first shot of the match, after twenty five minutes, only proves that the BM keeper might be crap with his fists, but he’s not half bad with his feet and although there was no goal at the end of it, the far less pensive of the two managers, BM’s has since kick off looked deep in thought, PR's takes some optimism from the attack, “better, better”.

Flicking through the big book of how to get yourself sent off, on page two, after snapping both legs of an opponent's off, is, getting right up in the referees face, so close he can smell what you had for dinner. How the PR number seven stayed on the pitch, after getting so up close and personal with the man in charge, I’ll never know. I wasn't sure if he was going to kiss him or nut him.

Overly lenient, intimidated, couldn't be bothered to do the paperwork, it is the last day of the season after all. Whatever the reason was, the referee just repeated, “do you want a caution, do you want a caution?”, until a teammate pulled the number 7 away, without going into the the referees little book.

The rains back, and our fair weather neighbours are back too, and with the rain falling, it sets quite an atmospheric scene for one of my personal highlights of 2018/19. Jay Adams managing to kick a PR keeper in the nuts, while trying to win back the ball through his opponents legs, leaving the PR player clutching his groin in agony.

Pure Nick Hancock's Football Hell kind of stuff.

One player who hasn't yet packed his espadrilles and factor fifty, which he’ll need for his shaven head, is BM’s number 11, who has not stopped slogging his guts out since the start. The same though can not be said for a few of his associates, such lethargy, contributing to PR’s undeserved equaliser with less than ten minutes of the half to go.

A lazy attempt at a clearance, sees one BM player completely miss the ball, inadvertently setting up the PR scorer to slide in and poke home and while the PR players celebrate, the BM keeper picks the ball out the back of his net, saying fuck, fucking hell or a variation on the theme, about eight or nine times.

Nigh on on top of us, it feels like the end is nigh, when the latest passing train near enough shakes the bin shed to its foundations. A pleading shout of “come on Farm” goes up, after PR send a header from a corner, and then Tom uses the word “lackadaisical” when talking about the lack of application of the players, and I’m starting to think he has taken some Ayahuasca.
“Please have your raffle tickets ready for the beginning of the second half” requests Kevin, as the players trudge off. One BM fan thinks the referee might have been a bit hasty when bringing the half to an end, “bit early?”. Kevin is not around for long, and Falling Stacks are back again, and the amount of airtime they are getting, means their song is starting to grow on Tom, “quite like it” he informs me, before heading off. Returning with a sizable burger that he describes as “weighty”, his visit to the transit van did not disappoint.

The sun continues on its here one minute gone another routine, as Hannah shrouds it in thick cloud whenever she is able, “chilly now” says on PR player. The visitors who come out for the restart with lots of purpose, a new lease of life you might say, they mean business. That sense of being on the beach or being “lackadaisical” as Cheech put it, has gone right out the window, and they almost pull ahead early into the new half.

Again the shouts from the home fans are tinged with a bit of desperation “come on Manor”, who are second to everything. The PR manager is very pleased with what he’s seeing, “better tempo”.

A full quarter of an hour elapses before Kevin pipes up with the “winning raffle numbers”. My tickets have almost dissolved in my sweaty grasp, and although I won't be pocketing the first prize, that's “already been claimed” he tells us, there is still a chance I could bag the runners up one, I can just about make out the numbers on my withering tickets, until he says its “on blue” and mine are red.

The well executed drag back in midfield by a PR player, leaves his marker for dead, and sees him away surging towards the BM box. “Shoot, shoot” shout the bench, but his attempt is a little wayward, unintentionally falling to a teammate in front of goal, who can only win a corner and with Toms “weighty” burger and chips finally finished, he still has the weather on his mind, when I tell him I overhead someone saying they thought a “goal is brewing” and he goes all Captain Ahab, “there is a storm a brewing”.

PR’s manager is willing to use any tactic he can to gain his team an advantage, employing a bit of that well documented Dave Brailsford Voodoo. “Drop it, drop it” he says under his breath, attempting telekinesis, when his team send in a cross, and he tries with the power of only his mind, to force the BM keeper to commit another clanger, but he holds on to it, “arghhhh”.

BM are well and truly on the the plane to Malaga, they really haven't turned up so far this half. One PR player sends a vicious long range drive goal wards, that is well held and again a supporter of theirs utters the fateful words, “got away with that” when they are beyond careless on the edge of their own box, giving the ball away in the worst possible place.

“Get up you tart” barks a PR fan, when a BM player goes down in the box, and there's a second call for a booking for simulation. With his back to goal, one BM player turns, and is afforded the time to shoot, but it's well wide. “We’ve got to work harder” demands the away team's manager, as all their early vigour is starting to wear off.

Stunned, absolutely dumb struck. Crouched in his technical area the PR manger is lost for words, who I think is his assistant is just frozen with his arms out in front of him. “I thought that was in” says a bemused Tom. Swinging in a free kick, BM fail to pick up the back post runner, who slams a header against the upright. Bouncing goal wards and seemingly over the seated BM keeper, he somehow manages to get a single hand up in time to swat the ball away from goal.

PR heads turn towards the linesman, was it over the line, and then the referee, but nothing is given. “Just something” prays the PR manager, they have been the far better side since coming back out, but nothing is going there way.

Although there is nothing from either the crowd or the players, the PR tackle on a BM player in their box, looked far from a fair one to me, but with fifteen minutes left to play, maybe nobody can be arsed to claim for it, it will only delay the final whistle . “Don't think he got much of the ball there” suggests Tom.

The PR bench calls for “enthusiasm”, but looking the opposite of enthusiastic a BM substitute limps past us, boot off, his sock three quarters of the way rolled down, and his ankle scarlet, you can almost see it throbbing with pain. Catching a PR goal kick and rolling it back the way it just came, Hannah starts to play her part in the match as we approach the last fifteen minutes and somewhat surprisingly the pace picks up quite considerably.

“Big push” appeals one BM player. If they are going to get anything from today, it will be down to their number 11. Whenever he is on the ball, it looks like something is going to happen. Getting on the end of a well delivered cross, he just can't convert, but a goal feels imminent. On their second half display it should for PR, but I have the distinct feeling after all their huffing and puffing, BM might just nick it.

The rattle of the stand only gets louder and the motion of it more violent as Hannah ups her intensity. “Unlucky” says someone on the PR bench, “keep banging on the door” encourages a supporter, after a shot sails just over and then one BM fan is so riled by their number 11’s sometimes complete inability to make the simple pass, holding on to the ball too long, and trying to do it all himself, he reckons it’s enough to bring the Messiah to tears, “Jesus wept”.

Once more the PR bench employ some unorthodox techniques to give them the edge. Reenacting on the sidelines how they envisage their latest free kick playing out, it might just inspire the players, “touch it, crash it in” says the managers number two, but in reality it's not even close.

“Come on Manor Farm” shouts one of the home fans congregated in the busy little corner around the turnstile. The bin shed is positively rocking, not to the eight minute kazoo solo of a prog band, Hannah is pissed and Tom turns to me with a worried look all over his face.

PR’s bench is getting increasingly involved, “shoot, it's your chance”, but nothing comes of it, they are going to get something more than just a single point from his game if its the last thing they do, they are willing the team on with every fibre in their beings. BM’s is stony quiet, their manager contemplative. Their supporters chime in, “get us the winner” shouts one to the last throw of the dice about to come on.

Into the final five and the horn of the latest passing train cuts right through me, it's terrifying. The home fans are growing a little restless. “Give him a chance” shouts one, when a pass to the wing has far too much on it, and an attack all but breaks down. The intended player mind, manages to make something out of nothing, with a spot of help from Hannah, he lets fly a shot that nearly creeps in under the bar, the supporters around us letting out a considerable “ohhhh”.

PR are piling on the pressure, a couple of last ditch diving clearances from the BM back line are the difference between going behind and staying on par. However no end of spectacular headed defencive work can do anything about the shot from PR’s angry number 7, that is right out the top draw. “Henry” ‘esq as Tom dubs it.

"He should be knitted for that" says about the only person able to get a full sentence out. The BM players have fallen to the ground like the very skittles that will sometime soon stand at the end of the alley in the boardroom, once the carpet is up of course. Mobbed the BR number 7 is even flabbergasted at what he has just done, not only has he scored a worldie, a blinder, but he's almost certainly won the watch.

Considering his penchants for the theatrics, I'll leave it to the PR coach to describe the goal. He shapes up just as the number 7 did on the edge of the box, after a lacklustre clearance, and mimes the first touch the scorer took to take the ball away from his dozing marker. His next and final touch is a swipe of the "outside" of his "right foot" the coach doing just as the number 7 did, and the rest is history, the ball destined for the top corner from the moment it left his boot. A stunner.

The rain is now falling at it's hardest one man holds his jacket up over one ladies head, but the few PR fans around the dugout don't seem even a little bit fazed.

Despite the rain, the players still make the time to approach the travelling supporters come the final
whistle, shaking the hands of those who made the effort to come, even with there being nothing on the line or up for grabs. Having done so, the players don't wait about, and sprint from the changing room.

Kevin runs through all the necessary "thank yous" required at this time of year, for the hard work of the "ball boys" and for the fans "support this season". A song then plays which takes the North London in Bristol connection to two today, when Telstar, written by Joe Meek, who had his office on the Archway Road, is played at an almost deafening level, to a near empty ground and if the scene couldn't get any more surreal, the rain now almost torrential, with not a person in sight, the Grandstand theme starts to play, with a guitar solo that must have come in after Des Lynam started talking, because I've never heard that bit before. Oh and the sun has popped out, and I'm starting to get a sweat on.

What a welcome, what kind people, what a setting, what a goal to win the match, what a nice bloke Jay was in his stylish grey spectacles and what an advert Tom is not to do drugs, you end up using words like "jazzy".

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