Monday 4 November 2019

From The Road - Corinthian-Casuals FC Vs Folkestone Invicta FC, Isthmian League Premier, King George's Field (12/10/19)

It’s officially that time of year, where it feels like the chance of the football match you intended going to is more likely to be cancelled then go ahead, in the non league world at least. Rapidly hurtling towards winter, each check of my Twitter time line is done tinged with apprehension, scrolling past tweets about games being called off come thick and fast and it's surely only a matter of time before the club we'll be making our way to fires one off about Mother Nature getting the better of their pitch.

The short video from Tom of the torrential rain overwhelming the storm drains near his work and the vision out of my own living room window of almost twenty four hours of solid rain, doesn't bode well for our first Saturday afternoon match of the season, and it’s not any old Saturday may I add, but the final international break of the year too, which can only mean one thing, its Non League Day.

We were relatively slow on the uptake when it came to non leagues holiest of holidays, but since having devoted ourselves completely to the cause, we have tried to make as much of a grand day out of it as we can. Last year's trip to North Ferriby meant this year had a lot to live up to, however I’ve an inkling where we will be going won't disappoint.

I even have a little nosey around in search of some alternative fixtures such is the deluge of rain drenching the world outside my flat, in doing so feeling almost like I’m cheating on the club we have arranged to visit, but they are making all the right noses on social media, so I’m able to go to bed relativity confident that our game will go ahead.

Such is the location of today's destination, almost equidistant between Toms and mine, we are both riding solo, so there is no FIFA, cheese or honeymoon chat for us today. I’ve even failed to charge my portable blue tooth speaker so can't indulge in a bit of a Spotify sing along, instead I try my luck with my supposedly broken radio, which as is it’s want, occasionally plays the CD stuck in it, Michael Jackson's History, a present from my elder sister circa 1995, but unable to adjust the volume, I nigh on deafen myself with a succession of Jackos hits, before the scratches on the disc and the din its producing become too much to bare, so end up sitting in near silence, just the sound of the motorway and the sloshing of standing water under my car's tires for company.

I must be honest, railway arches are not the kind of places I usually like to hang around, the chance of bumping into one of the Mitchel Brothers or some such villain is greatly increased, but I’ve little option but to make my way under the one ahead of me, the road, which might be a bit harsh on roads, the pot holed track, which might be a bit harsh on pot holed tracks, the shot to shit ground before me means I’m forced to creep along at no speed at all, in fear that at any moment I might lose a wheel or god forbid my entire car to one of the numerous and cavernous holes that litter the ‘road’ ahead.

Thankfully the car park of King George's Field is in much better nick than what precedes it outside. Past the high white sign welcoming you, held aloft in the best non league tradition by a structure made of scaffolding poles and there is an unusual detail as you enter, the clubs initials painted in raised white lettering on the floor.

On first impressions this little part of Tolworth, in the shadow of an adjacent railway line rising up steeply along one side of the ground, is not the most picturesque of places we have visited. Neither and I don't think it is rude of me to say so, is it one in the best condition either, however it is soon very apparent, in its own very understated way, that this little part of Tolworth can happily say it is responsible in some small part for Ronaldo, Romário and Zico. It can lay claim to being responsible for the Brazil team of 1970, and a national obsession that might just be unrivalled around the world in its importance to a single nation's identity.

Very rarely do you see a kid walking around your local shopping precinct wearing the white of Germany, but I can guarantee you have seen plenty in the yellow and green of the Canarinha, the little canary, with the single word names of their heroes on the back.

However all the magic of an airport themed Nike advert feels a very long way away at the moment, Corinthan-Casuals FC (CC) are in the words of maybe their most ardent supporter, Roger, and I say that based on the tattoo on his calf that he showed me within five minutes of meeting him, that “used to be pink and brown” he tells me, the famous colours of CC having run from his permanent expression of the love he has for his club, are “struggling this season”. In fact “struggling” might be an understatement, in ten league games, they are yet to win one, as Roger puts it, “we deserve more points then we've got”.

Standing beside the pitch, a pitch that Roger informs me is all good to go, thanks to the efforts of those with forks still tending to it as I arrive, he tells me about just how important it is to some from over five and a half thousand miles away, specifically the supporters of S.C. Corinthians Paulista.

As a Spurs fan, I'm not sure that if the fabled lamp post the clubs founders huddle around to form Tottenham Hotspur is treated with such reverence, in fact I’m not even sure it's even still there, but the patch of grass covered in white lines next to us, is the “father land” to those fans of S.C. Corinthians Paulista according to Roger. A place of pilgrimage, their Mecca if you will. A tangible link to their own clubs roots, the birthplace of its history.

“Brazilians come” says Roger, almost half astonished he just said that. They “walk to the centre circle” and “kiss it”. Some don't even come for the match, “they come after the games finished”, just being here for however long is enough, it moves some to “tears” and where others “laugh” explains Roger, he’s on hand to put an arm around them, because he gets it.

From a little bit closer to home and nowhere near as exotic as São Paulo, King George's Field is expecting some noted visitors today Roger explains, the “Preston Casuals are coming”. Admittedly Lancashire is a long way off south eastern Brazil, but this small group of Preston North End supporters are just as committed all the same, and their reason for being here just as intriguing.

After their own PNE game was called off due to bad weather, they stumbled across CC playing an away fixture, while in search of their football fix, up the road from their abandoned match. After getting over the fact that their League game had fallen foul of the poor conditions, but a non league one had survived and thanks in some large part to Rogers expertise in public relations, insisting they all “swapped scarves”, they were taken in by the travelling CC faithful, following the away side because “we were the away side” and a friendship was forged there and then, the same group making their own mission to Tolworth now “three times a year”.

Standing beneath the pink bunting hanging from the ceiling of the area immediately outside the clubhouse, littered with a couple of picnic tables, and surrounded by a few nods to CC’s founding fathers and its lasting impact in South America and like I said before the references to the clubs stature in football history are not flashy at all. The pictures and biography of those concerned are very understated, considering their significance, they look like something a few notches up from a well put together school project. I talk to Stuart CC’s photographer, about the clubs 2015 visit to Brazil, seven days of being “treated like royalty”, “living off adrenaline” and people everywhere they went wanting the “shirts off their backs” that was all captured in the stunning documentary, Brothers in Football.

You might think Stuart is boasting, when after talking about his visit to São Paulo he casually tells me about CC’s “summer in Budapest”, where in the best traditions of the club they took part in a European tour, but I can assure you he’s not. I just think you get to say things like that, when you’re involved with this fascinating old club. As he says, it’s just upholding the “Corinthian ethos” carrying on being “pioneers of taking football around the world”.

The gentle sound of the ever present drizzle on the corrugated roof above the makeshift seating area and my conversation with Stuart is interrupted by the boisterous arrival of the Preston Casuals, “here
comes some of the Preston boys”, each barrelling through the single turnstile and making their way straight to the bar.

“Lovely weather, lovely weather” says one rubbing his hands together. Another speaking to Roger recounts the conversation he had with his wife last night, after getting home from a late night out, “you’re not getting on that train in the morning” he says, mimicking his other half's voice, and despite feeling a little worse for wear, he was never going to miss today, “life is for living”.

Although the order for the bar has already been taken, there is something far more crucial than a pint to be sorted first, and that's a picture with the silverware CC claimed during their summer in Hungary. Stuart hurries off to not the most auspicious of locations, a nearby shipping container, to fetch the large silver trophy, that is soon front and centre of the group, whose phones are hurriedly passed around to grab a picture of their own.

Normally I’d be quite concerned to say the least Tom is as late as he is, but if I'm honest I had lost all track of time, due to the thorough history lesson from Roger and Stuart, so I’m not that fussed at all and by the sounds of is he’s had a far worse time then me. His Sat Nav opting for a very bizarre route indeed. At one point he along with all the open top buses, crossed over Tower Bridge.

His first words though are not an apology, but after a quick glance to the heavens, he asks me “if I've seen the forecast”. I haven't, for the precise reason I explain to him, I don't want to make myself depressed, however he’s more than happy to be the bringer of doom, “come three o’clock, 90% double rain drops”.

Perhaps it's down to a bit of foresight, but along with the myriad of flags that now adorn the low roofed main stand, one man in no danger of getting wet should Tom’s deluge arrive, he has already found his spot not far from the halfway line, and is single handedly demolishing a pot of hummus. As eclectic a collection of flags it is, there is of course an S.C. Corinthians Paulista one, as well as plenty more in the clubs famous chocolate and pink, that Stuart told me is down to that be the the racing colours of one of the clubs creators, I can't quite take my eyes of the man inhaling the pureed chickpeas at a rate of knots.

The homage to “Mr P Nut” on the side of the burger van gets the copyright lawyer inside of Tom all riled up, “that's not Burger Man” as it claims to be he points out. I try and calm him with tales of the clubs famous four cheese chips they have on offer, but not for the first time as of late he reminds me of his aversion to multiple cheeses all at once.

My golden goal tickets are not secured from the small closed shed, with a sign on its front that alludes to it being the normal place one would get them, but instead from a man on a small table and via the tiny wooden counters all contained within a blue cotton bag. Quite the change from the “scraps of paper” as Tom puts it, that we normally come across very classy indeed.

I’m not sure that a shed can really be dubbed a Mega Store and I imagine there is a slight sense of irony about the single window wooden structure, filled with a vast array of scarves and merchandise, really being mega at all. The only thing that was mega, was how mega hard it was to fit through the door, in constant fear of turning too quickly I might knock it down. As is the case with everywhere else the store is awash with all manner of chocolate and pink goodies, as well as a few black and white ones too. Such was the high standard of pins on offer, Tom emerges not with one, but two.

“Welcome to King George's Field for today's slightly damp Isthmian League fixture” says the exquisitely well spoken voice over the PA. The kind of voice that would soothe you to sleep in your Anderson Shelter during the blitz, a proper BBC voice, and following her few bits of housekeeping, the music replaces her and the feeling of match day gets ever nearer.

There is a certain level of desperation in the voice of the lady calling out to the CC manager as he and the players appear for their warm up, “please win today”. Even more flags decorate the stands, a Brazil one now hangs from the back of the covered terraces behind one goal and astutely watching CC’s opponents Folkstone Invincats FC (FI) warm up, is someone who I can only describe as looking like a Bond baddie. Head to toe in a black suit, black polo neck jumper and silver hair, he is only missing a white cat. One false move by the FI players and it's the shark infested water for them.

Waiting very patiently in the uncovered tunnel, I say tunnel, it’s two lengths of a chain link fence, the players are held up by the stragglers at the back before the referee and his assistants can lead them out and then we are all caressed once again by the silky smooth tones of the announcer, who reads out the starting elevens without fault. The players don’t walk far before stopping to perform the hand shake, one CC player forced to awkwardly do it with his wrong hand, on account of his right one being heavily bandaged and out of the corner of my eye I notice we are in the presence of a former England cricket captain, Alec Stuart, who not only donned the whites of England but also the famous colours of CC once upon a time too.

The very large group still around the door of the clubhouse, are spared the motivational one liners by the players in the seconds leading up to kick off. The ends decided and the match seconds old, the group are soon in motion, the exodus has begun. The CC fans leisurely make their way to behind the goal they are attacking, where even more flags are hauled from a Tesco bag for life and strung up.

Decor sorted for their first half home, the CC supporters squeezed in under the small terrace start to sing, “Corinthian, Casuals”, however where I imagine on most match days there is no response from the visiting fans, today is not the case. The reasonable number of black and orange FI fans in the much larger terrace opposite them, respond almost instantly “come on Folkestone, come on Folkestone. Sea, sea, seasiders”.

The small pitch covered dugouts are not quite big enough to house all the CC substitutes and staff too, and unless he is a Biease fan, one man has seemingly drawn the short straw and has been relegated to sitting outside of it atop a blue cooler box and despite all the history, and all that is associated with CC’s famous colours, Tom is not digging it at all. “I don't like their kit” he says shaking his head, “Brown should never be on a strip, unless its mud”.

Eleven minutes gone and FI go close. Their effort draws another song from their fans, “oh when the stripes go steaming in”, hammering away at the back of the metal stand, it’s proving to be an excellent piece of percussion. It's the latest passing train that’s the inspiration for the next home supporters song, despite the distinct lack of attempts on goal by their side, "the grass is green, the sky is blue, The railway train goes rolling through".

Tom is still going on about CC’s shirt, “home kits too busy” he moans. He briefly halts his bellyaching to point out the very impressive looking “joint” one FI fan is smoking, impressive on account of its size, Tom suggesting it could be the “worlds biggest” that was “perfectly rolled” too, showing me quite how massive it was, by holding his two index fingers about the length of a shatter ruler apart.

Just past the quarter of an hour mark and we get our first moment of real excitement, the visitors are in on goal and look about to take the lead, only for a last ditch stretching tackle by a CC defender poking the ball away just as the forward was about to pull the trigger, clearing out the man and stopping the danger in its tracks. Considering it happened right in front of us, I can unequivocally say it was a foul and the calls from the FI fans for a penalty should have been rewarded, but they weren't, the referee pointing to the corner flag instead.

Tom is not as certain as I am, which means he is wrong, “I can't work out if that was an amazing tackle or a foul” and one CC player following the corner felt it was worth reiterating with the linesman that it was “a fair tackle”. Tom now in a mild state of shock, his brain unable to compute what the right call should have been, he is thankfully jolted free of his conundrum by a passing train, and right on cue the CC fans start to sing.

“It seems to be getting heavier” says Tom, having to speak up slightly because of the sound of a plane buzzing overhead, the rain is certainly plentiful, but it’s doing little to discourage the fans or the players. A new much smaller section of singing CC supporters have sprung up, around about where the hummus eater was, surrounded by a swathe of flags.

The FI bench is growing increasingly frustrated with the players, when after advancing all the way to the edge of the CC box, the home back line gives them nowhere to go and they lose possession. The FI supporters are still dishing out their songs, although their attempt to make “oh ah Invicator” stick is not quite working and considering the home attacks are still not exactly frequent, the sight of one forward plucking a long ball out of the air having broken the FI back line, it’s almost a shock. However he’s offside, but maybe they have found a chink in what until now has been a rather stingy defence, who give up another chance not long after, conceding a corner, much to the home fans delight, their little stand taking a battering, “ally o, ally or pink and brown army”.

Glancing towards the linesman to double check he is onside, having just latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the CC box, it takes a moment for it to dawn on the FI player he is, before he gives the home keeper the eyes, thinking I reckon judging by the look on his face he has sold him the wrong way, but how wrong he is. Not one, but two saves in quick succession, really high end close quarter stuff, keeps the home team in it. Lightening quick he is up after the first block, to do the same again. The crowd at the far end behind the goal erupt like they had scored a goal and it's all whistles and claps from the main stand on their feet.

Sadly, he can do very little about the low curling effort from the edge of the box, less than a minute
later, that puts FI ahead. “Well done” says one FI supporter to the celebrating player on the other side of the goal to us, who turns to except the crowds plaudits. “Come on Casuals” shouts a home fan from the main stand, and the demure voice informing us of the name of the scorer, is rudely interrupted by the chanting FI supporters, “sea, sea, seasiders”.

The rain gets even harder still, and sends those last brave souls, those without a brolly who had been standing out in the elements near the dugouts to flee for the safety of the terrace. The small choir in the main stand has more than found its voice and is belting out a song about a subject much talked about in certain circles, “we've got four cheeses on our chips, quattro formaggio”.

Into the final ten minutes of the half and a smart low one handed save from the FI keeper stops CC drawing level, who worryingly, are spending less and less time in the visitors penalty area. A man in the main stand is at least encouraged, “better” he says at the sight of the effort, as are those packed into the terrace, “come on Casuals, come on Casuals” and one benefit of a slick playing surface is it allows for as Tom puts it “a lovely wet grass tackle”. The CC player using every bit of the soggy turf to his advantage to aquaplane and win the ball.

So saturated are the flags perched on the top of the white flags poles dotted along one side of the ground, they can hardly move and the CC keeper has two hairy moments in the final minutes of the half, forcing home hearts into mouths. A swirling shot from outside the area, is moving too much to be held, forcing him to palm it out and it's not a case of “butter fingers” that strikes, but a “butter foot” as one FI imaginatively describes it, after his attempt to clear a back pass, spins up horribly in the air and out for a throw in.

The mood of the song that follows the half time whistle, reflects somewhat the downbeat feeling coming from the home fans, who are getting a little too used to the notion of being on the back foot this season. Another train thunders by, the CC flags behind the goal are quickly down and it seems to only be the man with the large golfing umbrella in FI colours, who is willing to break cover, everyone else, except Tom driven by his need to eat, is staying put.

If it wasn't for her winsome charm, I’d be a lot more upset than I am when the voice over the PA announces “the winner of the scratchcard”, that I somehow missed out on. Tom’s trip to the burger van, was a productive one. “Super burger and chips” he tells me, a proper “brioche bun” no imitations here like we have come across recently and so hot are the chips, the white polystyrene bowl they were served in, is starting to melt, like a scene from Aliens.

A single home made looking flag has followed the FI fans to the opposite end of the ground, the players return gets a few shouts from the CC supporters joining us in the much more spacious terrace and they will be very encouraged by what they see from their team early in the new half. A bonafide fire in their belly, they have come out with bags more purpose, and are looking far more assured on the ball. With less than a minute on the clock a breakaway looks more than promising, only for a slip at exactly the wrong moment, means the forward can’t get on the end of the pass and the crowd to a man, each do their best pirate impression, “arghhhhhh”.

The passing Jamie Byatt, who I first saw today supping from a cup of tea in front of the burger van, gets his own song from the home crowd, and as he should, being something of a local folk hero and club legend, not only in South London I’m told, but Brazil too.

It’s like a different team have walked out, CC looking the far sharper of the two sides. In again, it's only a last ditch block on the edge of the FI box, that stops them hitting the target and the crowd to our right respond in kind, “we’re pink, we’re brown, we’re coming to your ground".

A somersault at the end of a slaloming FI run, the shot just wide, gets the first hummed rendition of the Entrance of the Gladiators we've heard this season and a certain section of the home fans are growing a little tired of their teams lack of creativity, the “ohhhh” when the final ball on the edge of the FI box fails to materialise is heavy with disappointment. “Could have slipped him in” says not the actor to the bishop, but a CC supporter who could see what needed to be done, so I don't understand why the player with the ball couldn't see it either.

The next home attack, yes, like I said, a different team, that is two in more than forty five minutes, sees the player slipped in this time, he reaches the by line, and his near post shot is beaten out. All the signs are there of a resurgence for the home supporters, who and I would agree with them when they start singing about being “into something good”.

With the rain now hammering down, the water cooler has been abandoned and the home bench is positively heaving. FI almost double their lead, but somehow the player charging towards the ball can't make any contact, and the gaping goal goes untouched. “Sea, sea, seasiders” sing the FI supporters, the home ones reply by informing them and anyone who might care to listen, that they are the “pride of South London”.

There are more ohhhs from the home crowd, but still they wait for an equaliser. An unorthodox thigh pass across the FI area following a free kick, ends up in the right place, but no one can make the most of it and then the ohhhs are replaced with laughs, when a FI player slips over in the CC box, but he at least sees the funny side of it, “not very good” he says grinning.

“Well done Jack” cheer the home fans, after the player in question crashed a long range shot goalwards that was touched over the bar. Tom thinks CC are showing signs of “running out of steam”. They should have “scored at least three times”, he says after they have a goal bound shot blocked on the line, but struggle to recover when FI race right up the other end and almost score themselves. The more and more CC go in search of an equaliser, the more they look like getting caught out at the back.

“That's inches outside” says a concerned sounding CC supporter, drawing the air in over his teeth, when a FI player is barged over, in what I was sure was the penalty area, but the referee thought otherwise.

It can't be said that CC have not had their moments to score, but that all important killer pass has eluded them all day. “That’s horrible” says one fan at the sight of another lacklustre attempt to find
the player at the end of a move and just about summing up their day in front of the goal, when presented with probably their best chance of the entire match, they miss.

“I thought that was in” gasps one man, the same one who had berated his team for “wasting” the corner, and taking it short, but it found the player at the near post perfectly, who somehow managed to bounce his point blank range header down and wide from a foot out, falling to his knees, arms aloft, he goes the full Platoon.

From the brief time we have spent in the presence of the CC supporters, it's clear to see that they are a ‘sing regardless’ bunch, not an ‘only when things are going well’ lot. The on field action, having little bearing on them, “ally, ally o” they sing, while FI race away for the umpteenth time and the home keeper pulls off another super save, keeping his team just about still in contention with ten to go.

As the clock ticks down, a few fans around us start to dissect their teams performance, “we're not that bad,'' says one, “compared to the other teams in the league, we're just not taking our chances,'' which based on today's performance I would say is just about bang on.

Caught in two minds, one CC player with the ball doesn't know if he should listen to one fan and ignore the other or visa versa, “do it” says one, “don't” says another, in the end he doesn't pass it, the internal dilemma, the hesitation is written all over his face. Dawdling on the ball, CC’s hopes of getting anything at all are dwindling fast.

The man with a four pint beer carrier is very popular as he returns from the bar, much more popular than the latest CC player whose attempt to find a team mate is poor. The singing still continues “Casuals, Casuals” and the small section in the main stand are still focused on having “four cheeses on our chips”, and then the old seductress pipes up, caressing us for the last time with her dulcet tones, when she informs us that there are “four minutes of added on time”.

For the final time today, and by far the loudest they have been, the home fans give one last rendition of “something tells me I'm into something good” the stand around us sounds like its close to collapse, they are positively booming, “ally, ally o” their volume not dropping a decibel even when FI at the death almost score their second. “Why did he shoot?” wonders one of them, the away forwards decision making a little confusing.

One last wild home shot gives the supporters a momentary glimpse at hope and the man in the first floor scaffolding made filming gantry gives the team one last push, "two minutes left, lets keep going", however it's all in vein and CC fall to another defeat, however the disappointment of which is
soon forgotten, as the players begin their customary thank you to the fans. High fiving those who want to be high fived, shaking hands and even hugging one supporter, as they complete their lap of the pitch. A fine way to finish any football match, a mutual recognition of each others efforts.

Keen to join those already in the bar, his bag of flags in one hand, Roger a CC fan for "thirty years" who despite needing them in the CC documentary, I don't require "subtitles" to understand, is pragmatic to say the least.

His club rooted to the bottom of the division after promotion last year, CC it's important to point out and in accordance with the ethics of their original formation don't pay the players, only travel expenses and that's only a recent thing, puts things into perspective so beautifully, the beer already starting to flow just a few steps away, the Preston Casuals pink flag now hanging from the ceiling, the songs have already started. He shares with us a notion, one that is worthy of getting a tattoo of myself, one every football fan should remember, that league position, players, grounds are all immaterial. Its the club, the badge that is all important. As he puts it, even if they got regulated, and lost their famous old home, "if they're playing in the road, I'd support them from the road".

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