Sunday 13 October 2019

Stanley Matthews Would Have Scored - Bracknell Town FC Vs Westfield FC, Isthmian League South Central, Larges Lane (18/09/19)

I have to admit I do feel a tad guilty as I disembark the good ship parenting, my daughter in the middle of a full blown meltdown, I can still hear her as I speed march away from my house, leaving her in the capable hands of my other half, who was let's say not best pleased at my decision to ascend the gang plank, at this particular juncture.

The last vestiges of summer are still clinging on, which of course means I’m opting for shorts, despite my ravaged legs, and I don't mean that in a sexy Victorian way, more an eaten alive kind of way, they're looking a little ropey to say the least. In fact the weather is surprisingly good, you'd be hard pressed to imagine it's almost October, however the melancholy playlist Tom’s opted for, oh yes I forgot to mention he’s driving again, insane, is bumming me right out.

His song choices reflect perfectly the “anxiety” he admits to feeling as we head towards the M25. “It never ends well" he sighs as we head down the ramp and merge with the four lane behemoth. He’s right of course, any previous venture where this particular highway has been required has very rarely gone to plan. Tom pointing out “as long as it's not closed”, we might just be OK.

I do my best to distract myself from the absolutely dire music, by staring at his new kidney bean shaped car freshener Tom now has dangling from his rear view mirror, but thankfully soon our surroundings are more than enough to occupy me and help me forget I’ve just been subjected to three Radiohead songs in a row.

“Oh fancy” chirps Tom, as we pass a very swanky looking university, and you can feel the closer we get to the Royal County, that the property prices start to sky rocket. “Bit rich round here” he adds, “Range Rovers, Astons, that's all I’ve seen so far”. I must admit I’m somewhat relieved I’m not driving, my little tin can would stick out like a sore thumb.

Past Wentworth Golf course, past what look like ancient ruins, that are probably just some affluent garden ornament, ‘I’d like a to scale Acropolis out front please’ was one home owners request, and when we roll into Ascot, well it's a game changer, this really is how the other half live.

“Well nice, here” gasps Tom, money quite literally dripping from the street lights. Right before us the monolith that is the racecourse grows up out of the ground, like something from a sci fi epic. The main stand draped in union jacks, barely contained by the piddly red brick wall that surrounds it. It’s quite a sight and has completely taken my mind of Tom’s morose playlist.

Pointing to a shop window, full of mannequins dressed in race day finery, Tom suggests we could stop to get me a “hat”, knowing full well that my ‘megaton warhead’ as my brother calls it, is completely unsuitable for any off the shelf headgear, prick.

A bowed head, purple jacket wearing steed immortalised in bronze stands proudly on the centre of the roundabout we pass as we leave, where Tom lives it's usually a shopping trolley, so makes for quite the change and he reckons, and not for the first time, he says we should consider a “day at the races” some time soon.

Walking through the gates of Larges Lane home of Bracknell Town FC (BT) it's clear from the off that money is a running theme in these parts. The last moments of some local kids training session plays out on the immaculate 4G pitch, the name of the club and their badge emblazoned into one side of it. The tea bar, however this is far more than just a hole in the wall, is totally in keeping with the uber modern feel of the place, with its black leather benches. On the front of the counter heaving with all manner of goodies, is the clubs honours board, but despite the plethora of things on offer, Tom only opts for a tea and a packet of crisps.

Outside the sun has started to set, but it's still warm, sitting on the back row of the prefab covered stand, with its rather flimsy red fold down chairs. Admittedly flimsy for a lump like me, I’m sure they are fine for normal people, Tom explains his reasons for not nabbing a couple of cookies and the reason he’s got chapped lips, that isn't because of a “weeks worth of kissing”, but because he’s a “bit unwell”.

His supposed ill health is certainly not getting in the way of his appetite, telling me in one breath he feels “worse” then he did when he got to mine, but then shovels a fist full of Walkers in his gob in the next, I’m not convinced.

The sound of the kids kick-about and the odd parental shout of encouragement wafts around the ground as we finish our teas, and having been studying it for some time and with no crisps left to occupy him, Tom pipes up with a slightly odd comment, “lots of rules here”. He then proceeds to reel off a whole list of dos and don'ts, including “no gum, no standing” and now he’s come to mention it, there are a lot of authoritative signs scattered about the place.

There is no mistaking there are a few stand out accents among some of the people here, mostly emanating from the teen boys wandering about in flip flops, the undeniable twang of our cousins from across the pond. On closer investigation, the black containers at one end of the ground, are not re-purposed boutiques like Tom is familiar with in London's trendy Shoreditch, but in fact dormitories for foreign players on scholarships. Such was my interest in them, I didn't realise until it was too late that the window I was staring in, looked right onto someone's bedroom, who hurriedly shut the curtain, leaving me feeling slightly chagrin.

The international academy we’re told is modelled on that of the La Liga giants Valencia that has produced the likes of Isco and David Silva and explains the their badge on the left arm of the kids shirts. Those in attendance from far afield and closer to home, hoping that Larges Lane can be their doorway to greatness.

“That's a cool water bottle” says Tom, pointing at a passing child admittedly “not very practical” but very cool looking flask, made up of three interlocking footballs stacked on top of each other, with no apparent convenient place to hold it.

Tom’s head is on a near constant swivel, there really is no end of things to look at, things that aren't exactly the norm at most if any of the other non league grounds we have ever been to before. Don't fancy a spot to eat in “the diner”, which is how I’ve heard one person refer to the tea bar as, then maybe you fancy a go on the red baize pool table in the bar or maybe you'd like to hit the gym? The one next to the bunk bed filled shipping containers, complete with massive tyres for flipping or those long heavy lengths of rope for wiggling.

“2 -2 fuck off” mumbles one of the passing home players, sticking his head in the side door of the now much frequented “diner” where most are watching Spurs chuck away a two goal lead in the Champions League.

It would seem that despite being in a completely different county, the midge epidemic is rife wherever we go. Tom bursting into seizure like movements, blowing raspberries and waving his hands around in front of himself, “a midge just flew in my face”.

It doesn't matter who you are or what level of football you play at, you have to be pretty darn good to
justify gold boots, my Dad would say the same thing about playing with an alice band in your hair, but that's another story. The Westfield FC (WFC) keeper more than does so, with his excellent footwork, impressing Tom to the point that he suggests he should be an “outfield player” who in their blue and yellow kit, Tom thinks look like “Sweden”.

The floodlights flicker into life, but take a while to bathe us in their stark unforgiving white light and I might have to check Tom’s temperature, because he swears blind he just saw “Rick Flair”.

Despite their banner strung up behind one goal, the Bracknell Ultras are nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they will be joining us post march from their local watering hole or they are preparing their latest anti UEFA tifo and the sudden spike in the noise levels, is not because of the arrival of some scarf face covered pyro fiends, but because someone has just purchased a coke from the very loud vending machine, that lets out a deafening clunk every time it dishes up its contents, and the arrival of the players for their warm up. All of whom seem in very high spirits, which might have something to do with the top of the table clash to come, it is “first vs fourth” after all, someone reminds us.

Plenty of burgers are being dismantled from white greaseproof paper and the gentle chatter of a football crowd mingles with the sound of the players drills. Who turns out to only be Rick Flair look alike passes us again, and Tom lets out a quiet “wooo” and the promise of a decent sized crowd seems a possibility, even with ultras still nowhere yet to be seen. There were “three hundred” here on Saturday, but as ever it being a weeknight, it's always hard to gauge how many will turn out.

For a moment there it didn't look like there was going to be much of a crowd at all, but then with five minutes to kick off, it's a bit like shit, where did all these people come from. Most of whom are sensibly wearing trousers, with the sun now a distant memory, its chilly, but I daren't tell Tom.

The tap tap tapping on the head of a microphone reverberates over the PA, not that anyone is listening, far too many people are still inside watching the Spurs game, some crane their necks from outside the packed room to catch a glimpse of Tottenham's capitulation. Those inside struggle to hear the commentary over the whir of the machine doing some last minute pumping up of footballs taking place in one corner of the room.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen” says a voice, breaking up after every other word, the reading of the team sheets sounding like morse code. The announcer gives up, perhaps all the giggling got too much, returning after the teams have walked out, the WFC manager high fiving every one of the starting eleven and post the well observed silence, for who he explains with crystal clarity was for a recently deceased former player, “a club” legend and “all time record scorer”.

“Come on Bracknell” shouts a man in the crowd, as the referee puts his whistle to his lips and we are underway.

“Pretty important game” says a stocky man to our right, with a thick American accent, to the small gang of WFC fans who have pitched up just to one side of the almost Bakelite looking bright red plastic away dugout. Which doesn’t have a hint of the homemade or the once was a conservatory about them, they look right out of the showroom.

I’m officially cold now and despite not letting on, Tom can tell I'm suffering, “regretting the shorts?”.

The fact that WFC’s kit has not turned out to look like “Sweden” has somewhat disappointed Tom, he is actually quite scathing about both strips on show, “both kits are horrible” he sneers. WFC’s looking like it has been “washed on too high of a heat” and BT’s looking like a homage to Lady Gaga’s “meat dress”, it’s only saving grace the shorts, with their continuing stripe from just under the armpit to the knee.

A booming home shot after five minutes is touched wide by the gold boot wearing WFC keeper, exiting the packed out section of home fans behind him, some standing behind a solitary flag. Then Tom sounds like one of the ‘football was better in my day’ brigade, passing judgement on the technicolour footwear of one player, “amazing how colourful boots have got” he mutters. Coming from a bloke who used to play in the park with gold and white ones, it’s a bit rich.

Tim Howard, Brad Friedel, Peter Schmeichel, Paul Robinson and now you can add the name of the BT keeper to the illustrious list of goalkeepers who have scored. He can also join an even greater but shorter list, having done it from his own half, this was not a bundle it in from a corner jobby. This was some quick thinking, a free kick taken from just outside his area that has caught out everybody here, and while he is being rightly mobbed by his teammates, and the BT fans are going insane behind the goal, the beaten WFC keeper can only take a sip from his water bottle, rub his hands on his towel hanging from the back of the net and look as dumbfounded as everyone else.

First blood to the home team. “We go again” shouts the stunned looking WFC manager, clapping his hands, trying his best to get his dazed looking players to focus.

“Keep playing Westfield” insist one fan, the same fan next to us who will be a constant stream of quotable one liners for the remainder of the evening. “You've had your bit of luck Bracknell” he announces. And Tom is now concerned about his “burger” as the crowd only look to be getting bigger.

BT unsurprisingly look pumped, having taken the lead they are being more than proactive about getting a second. “He’s got dancing feet” says Tom, out on the right the wide man does a quick shoe shuffle and is past his marker and into the box, but between complementing players on their footwork, he is fretting about his dinner, “I should have eaten early, look at all those people”. He then does his best to try and deduce who he thinks has eaten and who hasn't, to try and gauge the state of the queue come half time.

Home pressure sees WFC attempts to play out from the back, almost end up with them going further behind. “Get after them” comes a shout from the home bench, WFC are showing signs of panic and the BT manager wants his team to capitalise.

An injury to a BT player halts play, the ground falls silent except for a lone voice from the other side of the pitch, “come on Bracknell” and a deluge of instructions from the WFC manager, and despite all the home managers insistence his team “get after” their opponents, two minutes later the score is level, the goal occurring in almost equally calamitous circumstances as the first.

“Keeper, keeper, keeper” goads the loudest of the WFC fans, scrub that, the only WFC fan making any noise, to the BT goalie, whose attempt to catch a high looping ball, ends with him clattering into the post, dropping the ball to WFC player on hand to stab it home, 1 - 1.

“Thats unfair” says Tom, a card carrying member of the goalkeepers unions, feeling sorry for the BT keeper who has gone from the high of scoring, to the absolute low of being single handedly responsible for his team losing their lead, in no time at all. Not that there is an ounce of compassion on show, and quite rightly so, from anyone following WFC.

The familiar feeling of something crawling up my leg is back, I dispatch whatever it is with the top of my foot, smooshing it against the back of my calf, steadying myself on the railing around the pitch. The midges are here, in nowhere near the numbers we have seen recently, but their presence is being felt.

End to end, the match swings excitedly between one goal mouth to the other. The WFC orders of “go get it back” the ball that is, have not really been heeded and it's a case of you have the ball, no you have it, that sees possession yo yo like it does. The tackles are flying in and in their first attempt since being pegged back, BT roll a shot just wide of the post, which gets a “ohhhh” from the crowd.

“Plan B, Plan B” shouts the WFC manager, “whats Plan B?” asks Tom, and I really have to stop myself from making any reference to the UK hip hop artist. Whatever it is, it works and soon the visitors have broken the BT back line, but a poor touch kills the move it in its tracks.

Into the garden of the flats behind, goes the latest BT effort, a lashed half home volley is heading
right towards one of the neighbours gnomes. The WFC commentator now in full flow, lets the “unlucky” number 10, know just what he thought of his wild attempt, however his comments are pretty even handed, he offers up his little jibes not only towards the home players, but his own too. “Poor” he grumbles following a loose pass, by one of his number.

“I don't believe that” groans a WFC fan, the BT keeper has just made up for his clanger with a point blank save, he had no right to get to, the same supporter stands with his head in hands, unable to get his grey matter  around how that didn't go in. “It will come Westfield, be patient” he offers up, having a go at being good the cop for a bit.

A pass like a screwball in snooker almost finds the BT forward but its snuffed out and when the BT keeper is called into action again, Tom is blown away by his “massive kick”. Both the WFC bench, “play, play” and the fans, “it will come” are sure that a second goal is only around the corner, and they look to be almost spot on, going close with a skimming low shot that goes the wrong side of the post.

“50/50, pound a ticket?” asks a man in a quiet American accent, a couple of the international academy have been roped into badgering old gits like me for a couple of quid, that I’m of course more than willing to put some money in the plastic pint glass, and the chance of a flutter makes up for the fact it's only an electronic programme on offer today.

Almost on the stroke of halftime a BT shot is blocked by the WFC keepers feet, but Tom’s mind is on other things, “the queues all the way to Ascot” he says.  Turning on a sixpence a home player looks to be away, but is wiped out, the awarding of the foul doesn't go down well with one WFC player, “stop guessing ref”.

The resulting free kick is taken not once, but twice, much to the annoyance of WFC’s most vocal fan, “why because if wasn't on target?” he asks in the most condescending of tones. The second attempt is another try at a Ronaldo’esq knuckle ball that goes wide too, much to the amusement of the same WFC fan, who comes out with a pearler of a line, to conclude the first half, “Stanley Matthews would have scored”.

His explanation to those baffled faces around him, is because both the player who took the free kick twice and Stanley were “both number 7’s”.

The curse of the crackled microphone is back, and despite the broken pauses between words, I can tell the “winning number” is not mine, and my small pink tickets go back into the breast pocket of my shirt, each moistened by a single tear.

Tom returns in record time, licking his fingers as he walks back. “They had a katsu curry that looked great,” he tells me with a kind of light in his eyes, I don't think I’ve ever seen before, but he decided it was probably a bit “messy” the “kind of meal you wanna sit down for” so opted for his usual. The service he informs me “super efficient”, in and out in no time at all, “I was four from the front, then next please”.

BT are out early for a rather vigorous looking warm up, and when the WFC keeper followed by his teammates appear, he’s almost gone hoarse with still a half yet to play, “straight in, straight in” he demands. The referee just outside the centre circle, raises his whistle, “keeper, keeper” he asks each stopper.

The BT fans along with their flag have shifted ends, there are plenty of them, but there is little to no noise coming from them at all and it’s the home side who have the first chance of the new half, cutting in off the right the wide man’s shot is “poor” says Tom, who thinks each teams overriding desire to not concede, means the game is “too tight” to call.

This though, after quite a fast paced first ten minutes, if not a little bit stilted, is soon to change.

“Finish it” gasps a WFC fan, their hulking great number 10 is away, with only the keeper to beat. Poking it delicately past the onrushing goalie, the table toppers take the lead. The bench are off their feet and while the players celebrate going ahead, one WFC coach high fives the outstretched hands of those WFC fans who have retaken their first half position next to the dugout.

Not the usual response to going behind, the BT fans directly behind the goal, the very young BT fans may I add, are taking part in what you might call horse play, what Tom calls “play fighting” that skirts the line between looking like a laugh and a full blown punch up. “Very, very aggressive” tut's Tom, with his Dad hat firmly on, but secretly hoping that Lita might appear and jump off the top rope, “I couldn't see if Rick Flair was involved”.

A quarter of an hour gone and the home pressure is ramping up, “tell them to weather the storm” appeals the WFC manager, the WFC fans are pleading with their team to “push up” as they drop deeper and deeper. When they are able to break out, their counterattacks look more than dangerous, but on this occasion the final pass is lacking, and it comes to nothing. “Unlucky” applauds the manager, glad to see his team out of their own half.

I’m cold, and Tom suggests I should get myself some of those “rip off” trousers, Mel C style, however I don't have time to respond to his suggestion I should go the “full Dad” with my own pair of detachable drawers , because the WFC manager is shouting “pigeon steps, pigeon steps” and I’m trying to work out what the hell he is going on about.

Turning the screw, BT go as close to scoring as they have since taking the lead in the first half, a deflected shot from the edge of the box spanking the cross bar and a man who sounds frankly scary bellows from the opposite side of the pitch, “come on Bracknell” and one WFC player is calling for “calm” and for his team to “get back on it”. They look a little rattled to say the least and the home side can sense it.

It’s the same player who hit the bar, the one “with no neck” as Tom describes him, who is running the show for the home team, “he’s everywhere”. Both number 11’s are giving a very good account of themselves, but the fans behind the goal couldn't seem to care less about the match anymore, as another rumble broke out. Tom tutting to himself as they start to leap on each other, “too much testosterone”.

“Good save” says one WFC supporter, when a free header is tipped over the bar by the very extremities of the BT keepers fingertips. WFC’s chances are few and far between, BT go close with another half volley and then their twisting forward gets the crowd very animated, turning his maker inside out, sending him one way, then another, eventually getting hacked down, which is received with a mighty cheer.

The resulting free kick is just about as impressive as his earlier ones, and gets a rousing response from our nearby motor mouth “three times 7, not one on target”.

It’s all BT, WFC have been reduced to only the odd counterattack, and Tom is amused by the obvious case that going behind has really “pushed” BT on. “Funny how much better they've got” he muses, their manger can he happy at least by the response he has received from his players, they have anything but given up.

“Ohhhh” go the small group of WFC fans in unison at the sight of the rolled ball from the wing to their man in the box, going fractions behind him, missing out on an almost certain third. “Come on
Bracknell, come on” screams the maniacal voice from the crowd opposite. The players respond in kind, one asking his teammates to “raise it”.

When WFC are on the ball, they could maybe be accused of being guilty of overplaying it at times. “Too many touches” bemoans one supporter, their manager concerned about how easily they are giving up possessions asks his team to “think about looking after the ball”.

It’s the turn of the home crowd to let out a sizable “ohhhh” after their team fizz a ball through the box, but no one is able to get on the end of it and frustrations start to set it, BT are getting increasingly physical, giving away free kick after free kick, which is doing their chances of getting back into the game no good at all.

Into the last five minutes and one WFC player gets no end of shit from his team mates, his attempt at a low direct shot at goal from a free kick, instead of crossing into the packed box, does not exactly go down well and then another high class save, plus a bit of iffy finishing, maybe confirms it's just not going to be BT’s night.

“Jesus Christ” shrieks one home supporter. Turning away from the pitch after instead of tapping the ball into the back of the net, the forward in the six yard box hit it directly at the keeper. The blistering attack deserved more, and it’s a another chance missed.

Not calling on the almighty this time, instead just reeling off a couple of expletives, “fucking hell” the same fan watches on as another ball flies through the WFC box, but it can’t find its intended target.

A flare up of monumental proportions somewhat mars the end of what has been a quite excellent spectacle. Both challenging for the ball in the area, the BT keeper wins the duel, claiming the ball and in the coming together, the WFC forward falls to the ground. On his way back down to earth, with the BT player at his feet, there is no denying that there is contact, the accusation from the WFC players is that it was a stamp by the home keeper, which results in the fracas between both sets of players.

The resulting accompanying sound that follows any kind of handbags, emanates from the crowd and frankly I would expect nothing else. While the referee clears up the mess, the BT keeper entertains himself with a succession of skill level ten keepie uppies. The crowd are losing patience “get on with it”, all this mucking about is eating into their time to equalise, the terrifying voice lets out his final blood curdling cry of the night, “come on Bracknell”.

“Referee how long please” asks a WFC player, the game finally back underway and the league leaders are hanging on to their tenuous lead. WFC’s number 11 is away again, flying down the pitch he is quite cynically scythed down by BT’s number 5, who knowingly walks away, quite at peace with what he has just done. Another big tackle this time by a WFC player, ends with the home player down, the WFC one having started his slide to meet him a fair way away is still going, and the referee waves on play, despite calls of “studs showing” from the crowd.

I have to admit, I somewhat agree with the calls from the home fans that its all "getting silly", the referee looks close to losing control. WFC do their best to waste time, holding onto the ball when its a home throw in, taking forever to take goal kicks, this obvious stalling riling up the BT players more and more.

"Well done Westfield, well, well done", comments the now much calmer WFC supporter who did not take a breath for the whole match, come the final whistle. Quiet descends quickly, the crowd soon dissipates, leaving both teams on the pitch to mull over the match. One BT player applauds the fans before crumbling to the floor, clearly exhausted. One WFC supporter talking to one of their players, points to his marker laughing, "he's still looking for you".

Still relatively early in the season, it was quite a treat to watch a top of the table clash, where it was clear both teams were there to give it everything, not to mention seeing a goalkeeper score, something we I'm sure are unlikely to see again any time soon.

Other than the seventy yard lob, two things stood out for me tonight, the WFC keeper ensuring his manager went the full accidental Partridge, ignoring his gaffa, who just shouting "Rossy, Rossy, Rossy" over and over, just like the well known East Anglian radio star.

Second was a point Tom raised, when discussing the BT kit, that from afar certainly had the air of a raw bit of meat about it, and the dilemma that may cause some people, "unless you are super vegan, you can't not play for a club, because you don't like the kit".

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE

'LIKE' us on Facebook


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our YouTube channel

Follow us on Instagram - @beautifulgame15 - @beautifulgame15_ultra_stickers #beautifulgame15

No comments:

Post a Comment