Thursday, 3 October 2019

Fake Brioche - Biggleswade Town FC Vs St Neots Town FC, FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round Replay, Langford Road (11/09/19)

We are blessed once again by the football gods with a lovely evening, but the spots of rain falling on the windscreen of Toms car could be a sign of things to come, however I’m far too preoccupied with the fact that he is driving again, completing his hattrick, I think I’d be ok if we were driving into the middle of a hurricane.

We don't exactly have far to travel tonight, which might just explain Tom’s eagerness to get behind the wheel again, ensuring he has plenty of credit in the bank when it comes to this season's first slog up to Yorkshire or some such far flung parts of the world and it’s not long before we get our first sight of this evenings ground, hurtling past it on the motorway. “Floodlights” squeals Tom, like a child who just spotted the sea first on a family day trip to the coast, cutting short our conversation about “8K” TV’s.

For a medium sized market town, Biggleswade is somewhat spoilt for choice when it comes to non league teams. Last season we saw two of the three that take their name from it, United and FC, but tonight’s visit to Langford Road will mean we can consider this part of Bedfordshire complete.

My legs are still in bits from our last outing, where the entire midge population of Essex convened for an all you can eat buffet on my lower legs, which are no longer the muscular pins of old, but now pot holed, scab covered horror shows. I look like a victim of the bubonic plague, from the knees down at least, but this has not deterred me from clinging onto my shorts for another week, much to Tom’s amusement.

The car park of the Carlsberg Stadium, Langford Roads alternative name, can join the long list of non league shockers. The kind of which where you fear for the safety of anyone who might be unfortunate enough to walk around it in the dark, such are the depth of the numerous craters or for anyone whose car is not quite robust enough.

“Need my sunglasses” says Tom squinting, the low summer sun just skimming the horizon, flirting with the idea of disappearing, but sticking around for just a little while longer. Behind us a sea of turning windmills fill the sky, and having successfully navigated the car park, we head towards a rather bland configuration of single storey tan brick cloured buildings. On the front of one is the large green and white crest of Biggleswade Town FC (FC) featuring a very proment heron or stork, and although I’m no ornithologist, it’s certainly not a wader or a pair of waders, which BT are known as.

There is no getting away from the sound of the nearby motorway, in fact ‘nearby’ might not go far enough to explain quite how close it is. Running behind one end of the ground, the goalkeeper who happens to be up that end, is at risk of being hit by a discarded fag butt or unwanted apple core.

Doing a good job in drowning out the noise of the passing traffic are the kids arriving as we do, rushing off to one of the adjoining pitches for their football training, all from what I can see arrive present and correct, having not disappeared down one of the car parks treacherous crevasses.

In Mr Draxler, BT have a cigar smoking club secretary who has the air of a Sopranos mob boss about him, who tells everyone he is involved in ‘waste management’ but they all know that's baloney. In his long dark blue coat, ornately patterned trousers and club tie, he is smartness personified and chatting to him briefly, it is soon clear being a fellow “Muswell Hill boy” like us, he is unlikely to instruct anyone to give you a concrete overcoat.

His story, like so many we have heard in the past, is such a common one in the non league world. Coming on board a decade ago to help where he could, in his case as the “physio”, he’s quick to point out that he is “not qualified” in any way, but you “didn't need to be then” all you needed was a “bucket and a sponge”, he has risen to the top of the family, sorry I mean football club, now pretty much running the show.

He tells us he would expect around “three hundred” here tonight, which is not bad going, there were “two hundred and eighty eight” at the original fixture, so he sees no reason why there wouldn't be around the same the second time around.

The clouds above us are straight out of a Constable, the sun spearing through them in broken shards, however my enjoyment of the picturesque Cscene before me is shattered by the agonising sound coming from the PA, that’s like metal dying.

“It’s broken” says the young man sheepishly setting it up, but whatever caused the din, is soon sorted, replaced with a playlist of music one would not really associate with a person in their early teens, the first song verging on inappropriate, the opening bars sounding like a panting woman mid orgasm and what follows all has a definite 70’s disco theme, the kind of music which makes some put on their best lilac colored shirt and strut about the place.

“This music's shit” groans Tom, the choice not really in keeping with his current nu metal flex. With the sun now set, the next song arrives with impeccable timing, “ain't no sunshine when she’s……”, which mixes with the hubbub of both teams now warming up and the latest passing HGV.

From the front row of the modestly sized main stand with its BT themed clock above the tunnel and of course green and white seats, I spot on the far side of pitch, dancing in the provocative way they do, a swarm of midges, shit! This though is of little significance right now, because Tom is mid melt down, the appearance of Lionel Ritchie is the last straw. “This music is fucking depressing” he says staring at the floor, his next point though is not a bad one, however its delivery is a little over dramatic, “It's hardly galvanizing anyone”.

The crackled voice over the PA gives a brief respite from the relentless music, however I can barely make out what they are saying and soon the salvo of wedding reception hits has resumed. Sweet Caroline, normally a song reserved for toasting a victory or a punch up in the crowd at the boxing is up next, the green tunnel under the clock has been extended and it welcomes out both teams.

There is no mistaking Mr Draxler who has taken over proceedings as the stadium announcer, his havana tinged vocals more than audible as he divulges the starting 11’s and I’m pretty sure tells off someone for trying to cadge a free look over a nearby fence. Pitchside the turnout he predicted looks pretty bang on, plenty who have paid to come in, now stand under moon filled sky which has turned all sorts of shades of purple and blue, each one I’m certain letting out a small sigh, Tom’s however is far from small, at the announcement of the possibility of “extra time and penalties”.

Surely contravening various FA codes of conduct, the BT technical area is absolutely chocker, at the centre of it the home manager, with his slick back hair, tied up in what I can only describe as a ninjas top knot. Every maneuver, every pass seems to be being dictated from the sidelines, the BT staff very hands on to say the least and from very early on, the league difference between the two teams is quickly apparent. BT are off flying down the right wing, cutting the ball into the box, only for it to be
blocked by the St Neots Town FC (SNT) keeper.

Less than ten minutes gone and I feel the first midge of the night start to tuck in. Next to me sat on the floor a young lady with no interest in the game, who has clearly been dragged here against her will, plays with her phone, above her, her parents lean against the white fence that surrounds the pitch looking like something from the edge of a race track, which lets out a whimpering creak anytime anyone goes near it.

“I think your whitewash might be on, they've been the by far the better team” says Tom, it's been all BT since the off.

“Noooo” agonises one of the nearby SNT fans, at the sight of their first attack of the night breaking down. Presenting BT with the ball they quickly engage a rapid counterattack, that is brought to a momentary halt by a “good tackle” applauds one SNT supporter, only for the loose ball to fall straight to a home player who is on hand to flash a shot across goal, which is followed by a rousing “ohhhh” from the home crowd. The majority of whom, as Tom points out as is always the case, fill the corner closest to the burger van in one corner of the ground. It must be the extensive selection of pick and mix it has strung out across its counter keeping them close by.

Just over a quarter of an hour gone and BT go close with a thunderbolt of a free kick. “Well look at that” marvels a SNT fan, “wouldn't that have been special” he begrudgingly admits, however a minute later he is not anywhere near as complementary, when his team fall behind.

The powerful shot from the edge of the area almost bursts the net as it flies in. There is no shortage of people to hug in front of the home bench, one of them mid embrace letting out a celebratory, “come on”. Mr Draxler is clearly delighted, he confirms the name of the scorer, “Solomon Samboooooo” and sounds every bit like the cat that's got the cream.

“Jesus look at that” calls out one SNT fan, turning to God as the only person who can maybe  stop the BT player skipping through their defence. Six yards out from goal it's maybe the almighty or just a defender in the right place at the right time who manages to get a foot in, and stops the home side scoring a quick fire second.

“You wanna go on the 50/50?” asks a small voice behind me, I turn to be met by a woman clutching a green bucket and a book of white tickets. “Absolutely” I reply, catching her off guard somewhat with my theatrical reply, she almost has to catch her breath, taking a few steps back, before she responds with a line I must admit I've heard a couple of times before, “that's the most enthusiastic response I’ve ever had”. As I tuck my tickets into the breast pocket of my shoulder, the lady tells me over her shoulder as she beats a hasty retreat, that the results will be “announced at half time”.

It takes SNT almost twenty five minutes to register their first meaningful attack, “promising” says Tom. It’s not the most cultured of moves, a well timed ball over the top, that is met by the sprinting forward, who lets the ball bounce once, before hitting his first time shot well over the bar.

The resulting goal kick also gets the first “you’re shit ahhhhh” from a gaggle of SNT youths behind the goal, which is greeted with a smirk from the home bench, who point out to the laughing BT keeper, “you'd take the lot”.

“Sit down shut up” barks one SNT supporter towards the home bench who are all on their feet appealing for a foul, which the referee waves a away. One section of the home fans then squeal in delight at the dancing feet of one player who is turning his marker inside out, leaving him for dead and continuing as he pleases.

The midges are getting worse and you can easily pick out those being plagued by them, they're the ones who almost look deranged, waving their arms around at what appears to be nothing, when it fact something has just flown up their nose.

Half an hour gone and the game has “gone a bit flat”, says Tom. His attempt to lift the mood falls flatter than flat, inspired by one of the away teams apparent nickname “Sharkie” he starts singing “Sharkie and George crime busters of Biggleswade”.

Shocking.

It’s a long succession of general noises of disgruntlement now emanating from the SNT fans, they get so few attacks, when they do happen, they are just not making them count. Someone, who they are following is not abundantly clear, is much more than merely disgruntled, they by the sound of it are not having a very nice time at all, “God that babies loud” recoils Tom, sounding every inch like a person without children. Admittedly the wailing bairn is all the way on the far side of the pitch, but still sounds like it’s right next to us.

“Great ball” shouts the home bench, the curling cross finding the player in the box, who somehow conspires to put his stooping header wide, much to the benches confusion. Each and every one of them buzzing around the dugout clasping their hands to the back of their heads.

A rare away attack is snuffed out as the the match hurtles towards the break and the referees assistant is in for an ear full from the traveling fans. “Lino make up your own decisions” one shouts, the referee behind play, at first doesn't give the foul, blowing up seemingly after the home bench appeal that he does so. In contradiction of his assistants flailing flag.

On the stroke of halftime SNT are awarded a free kick, which is taken, but it's hardly convincing. “No” mutters Tom, turning towards me, however I can see his attention is soon drawn towards something else, something far more concerning. “It's like a snow storm above us”. I slowly tip my head skywards, and he’s not wrong, if anything he’s underplaying it, its like a fucking blizard of insects swirling just above our heads.

“See you after the break,” says a very chipper Mr Draxler, followed by the rattle of the tunnel. Somehow only a goal behind, one SNT fan is still hopeful “we’re still alive” and Tom having popped off for food just before the whistle, you can take the boy out of Arsenal, but you can't take Arsenal out of the boy, returns with dinner. A burger of course, with “good onions” but he is a little bit dubious about the legitimacy of what from the outside at least looks like quite a fancy bun, “fake brioche”.

Mr Draxler confirms I won't be “heading to the bar” to collect the 50/50 prize when he reads out the winning numbers, which of course are not mine and I’m all about football clubs who share their nickname with 1960’s TV shows, one SNT fan letting out a supportive shout as the teams rejoin us and we prepare for the kick off of the second half, “come on the Saints”.

I am somewhat comforted by the fact that it is no longer just me the midges want a bit off. Tom is now sputtering away next to me, swatting at one that just went in his mouth, trying his best to get it away from his face. I’m not exaggerating it's like something out of the bible, we are infested.

On the pitch, the game feels somewhat critically balanced. BT’s slim lead doesn't exactly feel under
threat, they go close in the first five or six minutes when the ball over the top finds its target but his attempt is blocked and then close again with a free header from a free kick, “too easy” bemoans the visiting keeper, is put wide. However SNT still show the odd glimmer of opportunity. Latching on to a loose pass in the final third by the home team, they are quick to counter. Which is brought to an abrupt stop by a hacking home tackle.

“Be interesting to see what the Premier League would be if it was this lenient” ponders Tom, as we witness our second crunching challenge in short succession. This one almost thigh high on one home player, that gets an impassioned response from the home bench, “could have broken his knee” but only a talking to from the referee.

Cannoning off the head of a pitch side photographer, Tom is more than impressed that even though he was struck forcefully by the ball, “he didn't flinch”, and then pulls a Snickers from his pocket, biting off half of it, before putting the rest back in this pocket to attract fluff.

BT’s scowling manager is angry, his team as Tom puts it is creating plenty of “near chances”, case in point when another free header just before the quarter of an hour mark that instead of going towards the goal, goes straight up in the air, much to the bemusement of the players around him, can’t for the life of them put this game to bed. In his mind I imagine the thought of throwing it away again, doesn't bare thinking about.

“That's fucking naughty ref” barks a home fan, the bench are livid too, “he’s gotta go for that”, but it’s only a yellow much to their dismay, “he’s gotta send himself off?” asks one of the multitude of BT staff swelling the technical area. The absolute hatchet job, bringing to an end the most mesmerizing of runs.

Sadly for the home side the free kick is “shit” as Tom so eruditely puts it, the home bench admittedly are not that much more eliquant, “fuck off”, but thats all soon to be forgotten.

“Sambooooo” bellows Mr Draxler back on the mic, the ball having eventually found its way into the SNT net, via a very circuitous route. A mazey run down the left ends with the high pitched ping of the ball hitting the post. Bouncing back into play, the ball ricochets up into the hand of a defender which is followed by an almighty claim for a “handball” by the players, fans and bench, but before the referee can respond, the goal scorer is on hand to bundle home his second of the night.

Despite being two goals to the good, the home bench is still a little anccy you might say. “Proper tantrum” laughs Tom when they somewhat lose their shit over the ten or so yards the SNT player has been allowed to take the throw in from away from where the ball actually went out and exactly because of being two goals behind, the visitors are starting to lose their leads, getting increasingly sloppy.

In their number 11 BT have a player judging by his performance so far, who relishes in a bit of physicality. “He’s a pitbull” shudders Tom as he steamrollers his marker, leaving him prone clutching their shin. His tenacity, matched with end product, he’s not just betting heels then doesn't know what to do, gets no end of praise from the bench. His eyes full of unbridled rage, with clearly only one thing on his mind as he goes after the ball, kill, kill, kill.

The latest SNT foul gets more unanswered protests from the BT manager and his crew, “fucking get hold of him ref” fumes one, “how many times?” asks a player. Another surge forward cut short by a chopping challenge. The BT manager stopping himself midway though telling the player responsible just what he thinks of him, “oh you……..”.

Into the final quarter, SNT attacks now rarer than hen's teeth, it's taken them over thirty minutes to register their first of the half. “Ohhhhh” gasps Tom, “that could have been good” he adds, a blistering attack ends with a rising shot that’s high and wide. One might be able to say the result, which seemingly is all but assured might just be a case of the home side being more clinical, BT taking their chances, the visitors not. I think it’s simply a case of them being the better side.

Lets manage the game” insists one of the many bodies still occupying the small rectangle in front of the home bench. One SNT player could maybe me accused of being delusional, telling his teammates, “let's go on and win”, which as Tom puts it, is “a bit optimistic”.

Nowhere to be seen in the first half, I didn't notice them at least, maybe they were enjoying the pick and mix. It’s taken me almost forty minutes to clock the two green and white BT flags strung out behind one goal, with another hanging from the back wall of the metal covered terrace. Many of the Green Army as one flag dubs them, wearing green and white scarves, offering up their own hearty support.

“Finish, finish, finish” urges one as the home team race way from the SNT defence, who have all but given up, however the pass at the end of the charge across the box is lacking a bit of finesse and the chance peters out.

Flooding forward the green and white machine is in full flow, the SNT team not far off just standing by and watching as they push on for a fourth. “No way that’s rubbish ref” remonstrates an angry spectator in the main stand. The SNT keeper is down, the goal is gaping, but before the ball can be rolled over the line, the officials blow up for a foul.

Outnumbered attack, after outnumbered attack keep coming. “Stay on side” hollers one person from the crowd, but the team can't and the chance goes begging. Forward they come once more, but this time the shot is way off target, but SNT are soon to be put out of their misery, only “three minutes of added time” are left to play according to Mr Draxler.

It’s without a doubt not Neil Diamond singing his well known classic, that gets its second airing of
the night come the final whistle. The Green Armies flags are soon down and Mr Draxler has one last thing to add, over the sound of the strange cover and the clapping of the crowd as the team's walk off, “we progress to the next round”.

The opponents of which has already been decided, they will face Ware FC, which inspires a little comedy back and forth between two leaving fans “where”, “Ware”, “where”, “here”.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE


Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE



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