Thursday, 27 August 2020

The Season That Never Was - 2019/20 End Of Season Review

One could not have asked for a better start to the season, a sweltering hot day on the coast, we do love a trip to the seaside, and two sets of boisterous fans spectating a local derby no less, with one section of the home support marching from the local pub, banners, flare and a very accomplished drummer in toe, 2019/20 kicked off perfectly. 

The match wasn't half bad either, improved somewhat by the nearby presence of the away teams very own club radio commentator, and as we drove home somewhat singed by the 30c plus heat, Tom’s air con blasting, we and none of the almost one thousand other people watching the ‘El Clasicoast’ had any idea that this particular season would be cut short by a worldwide pandemic, which would claim the lives of hundreds of thousands, changing life forever, and bookmarking it as the strangest post war season on record.

Before the angst though, before lock-down, before only being able to see my friends via Zoom, my Mum from the bottom of the steps outside her house, when I dropped off her shopping because she was too at risk going herself, before the hours of Call of Duty, many more of Championship Manager, ups and downs in my own mental health as the months shacked up at home started to tell, there were still twenty one games, there were still monster sized fish finger sandwiches and a dog in a pram. There were still plenty of good memories, fine times and some brilliant goals. Well before they were expunged from the history books, like a painting with Trotsky in.

I can’t bring myself to take the customary glance over my right shoulder to catch a glimpse of the de facto White Hart Lane, after yesterday's shit show against Newcastle. Knowing full well it will be glimmering like a brand new penny, looking quite resplendent with a cloudless backdrop, all lit up by the late August sun, I’m still just that little bit annoyed.

Tottenham's quite dismal run out against Steve Bruce's men, very nearly ruined what was until then a quite excellent Sunday. Ben Stokes heroics at the crease, followed by a BBQ at my Mum’s. I set my Sky box to record, catching the game a few hours after the final whistle hoping with a beer in hand it would be the crowning glory, but it was quite the opposite.

It really doesn't feel all that long ago since we were staggering away from Wembley stadium, exhausted from the FA Vase final, talking about a football free summer, with plenty to occupy us until it all started again, not least of all Tom’s wedding. El Clasicoast - Worthing FC Vs Bognor Regis Town FC, Isthmian League Premier, Woodside Road (26/08/19) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Worthing FC Vs Bognor Regis Town FC

I moved house yesterday, which meant despite getting up at the crack of dawn I was still struggling with an array of flat pack furniture come 22:00 and didn't even have the comfort of knowing I had my own bed to fall into. It doesn't arrive for another two days, so I flop onto the sofa, certain of the fact that I will be waking up in the morning with a crick in my neck and a bad back.

I’m too tired to even think about shooting Spurs’s new home a look, so plough on east, relieved that Tom is driving again, because I’d be a menace to other road users if I was. Such is my state of near exhaustion, I don't even have the energy to fully revel in this momentous event. Tom driving to two games in a row, will surely mean today will become some kind of national holiday, joining the other obscure ones you see on calendars, but quite can’t put your finger on exactly why it's there.

“False alarm” says Tom, ever so slightly out of breath, our journey to deepest darkest Essex getting off to a worrisome start, after he thought he had forgotten to double lock his front door, and we ended up doing a lap of the block at breakneck speed, the car not quite at a standstill before he swung open his door to find out it was a lot of rushing around about nothing. BLOG: He Can't Head The Ball For Toffee - White Ensign FC Vs Takeley FC, FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay, Burroughs Park (04/09/19) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - White Ensign FC Vs Takeley FC

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. BLOG: Fake Brioche - Biggleswade Town FC Vs St Neots Town FC, FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round Replay, Langford Road (11/09/19) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Biggleswade Town FC Vs St Neots Town FC

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. BLOG: Stanley Matthews Would Have Scored - Bracknell Town FC Vs Westfield FC, Isthmian League South Central, Larges Lane (18/09/19) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Bracknell Town FC Vs Westfield FC

“You live in a stupid area” whines Tom, annoyed that the space my car has just pulled out of, yes I’m driving, the status quo has resumed, is not big enough to accommodate his wide hipped gas guzzler. “Silly small car, silly parking” he mumbles under his breath like a cantankerous white haired muppet on a theatre balcony. It takes him at least three tries, in three different spaces, before he eventually finds one he can get into, much like the Goldilocks of parking: one was too short, one was too narrow, the third being just right.

Just about settled in, just about over his parking debacle, Tom’s choice of topic of conversation is of course the weather. “Is it going to rain?” he asks himself, peering out of the car. “Its that time of year” he says, exactly what he means by that I’m not sure, but it's clearly causing him much consternation what combination of numerous items of clothing he has dragged from his car into mine.

The latest incarnation of FIFA occupies almost the entirety of our drive west, and Tom's upcoming

honeymoon in the Maldives, that despite my best efforts, will be happening during the season. Tom going all European on me, having himself a winter break, while we’re all Brexiting at home. BLOG: Engage - Highworth Town FC Vs Swindon Supermarine FC, Southern League Challenge Cup 1st Round, The Elms (02/10/19) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Highworth Town FC Vs Swindon Supermarine FC

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 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. BLOG: From The Road - Corinthian-Casuals FC Vs Folkestone Invicta FC, Isthmian League Premier, King George's Field (12/10/19) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Corinthian-Casuals FC Vs Folkestone Invicta FC

Thank Christ for A Tribe Called Quest, was never a sentence I ever thought I would utter, I say utter, I just roll it around in my head, having tentatively opened the passenger side door of Toms car in anticipation of a deluge of morose music like last time out, but instead I’m greeted by the New York four pieces 1993 hit, Electric Relaxation, what a relief.

Although I don't have long to enjoy their melodic hip hop beats, as tonight's ground is less than ten minutes away from my house, its eight minutes to be precise, I have just about enough time to consider the advice of my other half, “I don't know if its a big jacket day” she said to me as I left and just how thankful I am for ignoring her this time, because the last game we went out I was freezing and tonight's even colder.

Another reason for a coat, is not just the plummeting thermometer, but the very high chance of getting wet, “at least it's not raining” mutters Tom as we step out of the car, the fact it's not is a minor miracle. It's been raining non stop for what feels like days and looking out across the floodlit pitch, the car park within touching distance of it, Tom says pretty much exactly what I was thinking too, “there is not much here, but it's very nice”. BLOG: I'd Go Closer, But I'd Need A Snorkel - London Lions FC Vs Enfield Borough FC, Spartan South Midlands Football League Division One, Rowley Lane (16/10/19) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - London Lions FC Vs Enfield Borough FC

Bumper to bumper traffic and 40 mile per hour speed restrictions make for slow going, but at least I have the unusual, but not to say enjoyable mix of the Queens of the Stone Age, George Michael and Soundgarden to entertain me, as I journey along the M25. With no Tom, the music fills a void, however I miss our banal chatter and friendly bickering. Tonight, as has been the case on a few occasions this season, because of the location of our destination, we are both travelling solo.

Entering the Guildford Spectrum Leisure Complex, the UK’s number one leisure complex by all accounts, the name I accept is quite a mouthful, and not one I think that will be remembered in the annals of time with other more evocative stadiums like Anfield and the Camp Nou, is visible from quite a distance.

Illuminated like something from a Spielberg film set, it's about as far from the usual non league set up then we are used to then you could imagine. The rows and rows of parking bays, many if not most are filled, signs pointing off in all sorts of directions towards one thing or another, an ice rink and bowling alley and not one of them says club shop. Modern, bright, and more concrete then you could shake a stick at, a monolith built in honour of wholesome family entertainment. BLOG: In Direct Line Of The Burgers - Guildford City FC Vs Hanworth Villa FC, Combined Counties League Premier, Spectrum Football Ground (30/10/19) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Guildford City FC Vs Hanworth Villa FC

There are certainly some grounds and therefore some clubs who for one reason or another we have passed through the turnstiles of and spent more time in the company of, then others. Be its because of a personal obsession with a certain non league club in N17, the fact it’s the team of your other half or that particular club just happens to play on Wednesdays, which for the last couple of years has been our go to midweek match day.

The fact that Hampton & Richmond Borough FC (HRB) are neither local, play on a Wednesday or as far as I know are not supported by any known loved one, I'm not quite sure why our visit today to their tidy West London home, The Beveree, tucked away at the end of cul-de-sac a stone's throw from the banks of the Thames, is our third, having seen them play a total of five times at home and away.

No end of nice cars, parked outside nice houses surround their little corner of the football world, and when I finally find a place to park with what in comparison to some of the motors, is a complete shit show of a car with it’s broken rear window windscreen wiper, drooping down like a gun dog's tail, it is a more than an agreeable walk to the ground. BLOG: Felt Like I Was Sucking On A Cow - Hampton & Richmond Borough FC Vs Wealdstone FC, National League South, Beveree Stadium (16/11/19) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Hampton & Richmond Borough FC Vs Wealdstone FC

It’s another slightly lonely and quiet solo drive for me today, as I retrace my steps South, as our Wednesday match day handicap means we are heading back to a ground we visited only a couple of weeks ago. Tonight I do have the dulcet tones of former England and Arsenal physio Gary Lewin, no I’m not giving him a lift to Tolworth high street, but he happens to be the guest on the podcast I’m listening to and as interesting, uplifting and slightly horrifying the story is about being credited with saving Eduardo's leg, but it’s not a patch on the witty back and forths I usually enjoy with Tom.

The railway arch that precedes the final few steps to King George's Field, is even more foreboding in the misty darkness, than it was in the light of day. The two men manning the impromptu road block, instruct me to park under the aforementioned arch, right in the middle of it’s deepening shadows and I’m hoping its a case of them offering me the best place to leave my car and not because they think I resemble its usual goat eating resident.

A train races by not far above my head, along the track that runs all the way along one side of the ground, instantly lighting up the place, before quickly disappearing again and plunging my surroundings into darkness once more. BLOG: Three Stewards For A Flying Teddy Bear - Kingstonian FC Vs Enfield Town FC, Isthmian League Premier, King George’s Field (20/11/19) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Kingstonian FC Vs Enfield Town FC

The A1 is odd, very odd indeed. For such a major highway stretching all the way from London to Edinburgh its only two lanes in places, very poorly lit and littered with sex shops. Lone gaily lit petrol stations occasionally appear on the horizon like a mirage, disappearing as quickly as they appeared. The people who decided that slap bang in the middle of nowhere was the ideal spot for a caravan dealership and Christmas tree outlet was a good idea, might struggle if they ever decided to have a pop at the Dragons. They don't sound like the kind of people dripping with business acumen.

As you can maybe tell by the fact I'm not recounting chats about FIFA, that once again I’m alone, so even if I did want to stop off for a whip or the latest copy of Playboy, I don’t have anyone to hold my hand as I did. For the fifth time this season, Tom & I have traveled separately, and he’s arrived well before me, although his journey was far from seamless.

“A farm” he screeches over the speaker on my phone, his Sat Nav has forced him to do a “dodgy u turn” in the dark, where he was “sure there was a ditch” that he and his motor nearly disappeared into. BLOG: Well Saved Legolas - Huntingdon Town FC Vs Burton Park Wanderers FC, United Counties Football League Division One, Jubilee Park (27/11/19) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Huntingdon Town FC Vs Burton Park Wanderers FC

Scrambled eggs, a side of jalapeno pretzels, James Bond with my half asleep mother and my son glued to his laptop, all topped off with a can of American Fanta and that's before we have got into the nitty gritty of the Hootenanny and the half cut guests pretending to celebrate the dawning of a new decade in and around the second week of October.

New Years Eve is a lot different now since having children. It all used to be ecstasy, too much booze and rejection and ultimately not having a nice time. Now there are no drugs or girls to fawn over, just crap music and bar snacks that give me heartburn.

Fireworks display consumed and having just about successfully ignored the fact I’m turning 36 in less than a week, for a few hours at least, January the 1st sees Grandma on babysitting duty, while I make myself scarce for a few hours. BLOG: Three At The Back, Undertaker Up Front - Berkhamsted FC Vs Welwyn Garden City FC, Southern League Central, Broadwater (01/01/20) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Berkhamsted FC Vs Welwyn Garden City FC

Sitting on a bench outside a Co-Op, waiting for my other half to stagger her way over from Greggs with a bag full of sausage rolls and pizza slices, doing her best not to vomit, because last night she forgot she is in her 40’s and is not a teenager anymore, after going out with some old school friends, was not quite how I envisaged starting today.

I say starting, because in fact this debacle began about eight or nine hours earlier with a swathe of drunken selfies and the sounds of retching as she crashed around the downstairs of her parents house attempting to make toast, being frankly quite annoying.

It’s grey, dry and cold, the weather doing a fine job in summing up my mood. What was supposed to be an early birthday present, a trip to one of possibly my favourite places to watch football, has instead turned into babysitting an almost fifty year old Harry Potter lookalike, making sure to shield her from even the slightest of noises, because they might force her to curl up on the floor and I'll have to call her Mum to come and pick her up. BLOG: No Need For The Boos - Stockport County FC Vs Boreham Wood FC, National League, Edgeley Park (04/01/20) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Stockport County FC Vs Boreham Wood FC

Sitting in Tom’s car, pootling along through the Saturday afternoon traffic, Feeder tumbling from the speakers, I can’t quite get my head around why Tom isn't anywhere near as tanned as I thought he would be.

Two weeks in the Maldives and I expected him to come back looking not far off beef jerky, but not quite David Dickinson. Tom very much falls into the sun worshiper category and admittedly he is glowing, he’s taken on a bit of colour, however I frankly thought I was not going to recognise him.

Not long into our journey and I'm starting to slightly regret accepting his offer to drive, by his own admission he is a little “spaced”, having only landed forty eight hours ago, and still feeling the effect of a five hour time difference. I do manage to coax a bit of detail out of him, his trip to “turtle reef” where most of the passengers vomited on the transfer. His evening on the “top deck of a boat on a bean bag” being “given canapes'' and the night of the “three lobsters” and sounding a tad spoilt, admits “I never want to eat lobster again”, as well as lazy sun drenched days “kayaking” and “paddleboarding” a “once in a lifetime” experience. BLOG: Head Says Move, Heart Says Stay - Chesham United FC Vs Taunton Town FC, The Meadow, Southern League Premier South (25/01/20) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Chesham United FC Vs Taunton Town FC

“There is not much fun in a 15 nil’er” says my other half as I peruse the league table of the team we are heading off to tonight, while I wait for Tom to arrive. The home side Long Buckby FC (LB) are second and have an impressive goal haul so far this season, over + 50. The away side, Lutterworth Athletic FC (LA) who are bottom of the table have a goal difference of - 50. Each team's form couldn't be more polar opposite if they tried. As I rub my hands in anticipation of a bit of a goal fest, Rachel reminds me of the match where we saw a team get pumped 15 - 0 and the referee called it early, which on reflection, was a bit of a relief, it made for very uncomfortable viewing.

The admittedly stunning sunset means I have to endure Tom singing Nants' Ingonyama, after pointing out that it looks “a bit Lion King”. The rest of our journey North is thankfully sans any more Disney singalongs, and by the time we arrive at Station Road, Tom is getting tetchy about quite how far from home we are, its pitch black and the only real sign that we are in the right place, is a charming back lit sign high above the doors of what I’m guessing is the clubhouse.

“Can I ping you in?” asks a man with wispy white hair, unloading music equipment from the back of a van, probably wondering who the hell are these guys. The unfamiliarity of our surroundings has us a tad flummoxed, and neither of us really know if what is effectively a working man's club or British Legion in front of us, is anything to do with where we are supposed to be or not. Passing through the double doors he kindly held open for us, we enter a scene from the lesser known Back to the Future spin off, Marty McFly does the 1970’s. BLOG: Skittle Master - Long Buckby A.F.C. Vs Lutterworth Athletic FC, United Counties Football League Division One, Station Road (29/01/20) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Long Buckby A.F.C. Vs Lutterworth Athletic FC

Necking a handful of Ibuprofen, I bid my daughter farewell, but it's tinged with a modicum of disdain. It is after all because of her and all her snotty little friends at playgroup that I feel like shit. Her kinds propensity for bad hygiene, sneezing and drooling on everything, means it's only a matter of time before I’m struck down with whatever lurgy she has brought home, along with her latest collage of painted pasta shells and glitter.

I’m sans Tom once again, a sentence I seem to be writing more than not this season. Instead I have Trevor Francis for company, the “million pound man” proves to be a worthy replacement, his self-deprecating tales of making his debut for Forest in the European Cup final, where he scored the winner, all said in his slightly monotone West Country way is very endearing and helps the time pass satisfactorily.

We're both early, both because we made the mistake of believing Google Maps tells the truth, so it means we have some time to kill, and I find Tom hunkered down his car, with the heater blaring. There is some time of course for a brief bit of Fifa chat, Tom is back at it after a short hiatus, but more interestingly he tells me after effectively retiring, he is playing Pokemon Go again, yeah I didn't think anyone played it anymore either. Like many millions of people I was too caught up in its initial fanfare, but had stopped long ago. Much to his delight tonight's ground, Bridge Road, is a Pokestop. So while I talk at him, getting very little back in reply, he is catching a whole host of Snorlax and Rattata. BLOG: Bloody Flags - Cambridge City FC Vs Soham Town Rangers FC, Isthmian League North, Bridge Road (05/02/20)VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Cambridge City FC Vs Soham Town Rangers FC 

“Ohh it’s sunny” says Rachel, as we beat a controlled retreat from my Mum's front door towards the car at the bottom of the long array of steps, having just ditched the kids, on the promise that we will return at some point later today after the football, baring fish and chips. Fiddling with something in the boot, Rachel is confused at what's causing the hold up. We are sans children, which is an all too rare occurrence these days, so she asks me quite plainly, “what are we still doing here?”.

I imagine the fans of Stockport County FC (SC), regularly ask themselves a similar question, ‘what are we still doing in the National League?’. Nine years since relegation from the Football League, how have they still have not managed to ascend back to the promised land is anyone's guess. Until our visit to their home Edgeley Park in early January it was looking like a possibility, but since they've not won a game, not scored in the league, and have crashed out of the FA Trophy to a team from the step below them, their form has been of some concern.

We said after watching them take a bit of a hiding from Boreham Wood, that we would give them some space, as they never seem to do all that well when we are there, but the fact they are playing thirty minutes from our house today, it’s too hard to resist. BLOG: The Curse Has Been Lifted - Dagenham & Redbridge FC Vs Stockport County FC, National League, Victoria Road (08/02/20) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Dagenham & Redbridge FC Vs Stockport County FC

With a belly full of Mexican food I should really be preparing for a siesta, not embarking on a two hour drive towards the South Coast. It will be of no shock to hear I’m without Tom, but like some kind of minor miracle, call the Vatican and tell them I saw the face of Jesus in the display of my until now broken radio, it now, without explanation is working again. So I flit between Michael Jackson’s History, and Radio One’s drive time show.

The further into Sussex I go, the signs on the motorway read more and more like the Isthmian league table, each exit seeming to have it’s own team. Passing through Dorking, there are an abundance of cocks, and in a couple of rare moments of excitement I notice first a dog in its own car seat, and at one point have to wait behind a police roadblock, because someone has been dragged from their estate car and is currently face down on the roof, with their hands in cuffs.

There are new football grounds, The Emirates, really new grounds, White Hart Lane 2.0 and really, really, really new grounds, which is the category tonight's tongue twister of a venue falls into, The Camping World Community Stadium or as I believe it’s known as by locals, The Hop Oast. BLOG: I've Tried Cashmere - Horsham FC Vs Burgess Hill Town FC, Isthmian League Trophy 2nd Knock Out Round, Hop Oast (12/02/20) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Horsham FC Vs Burgess Hill Town FC

As car parks at non league grounds go, the one at Chadfields is a bit of a shocker, I’m not sure it’s even legal. The narrow unlit drive up the side of the clubhouse, leading to the spaces behind, feels fraught with danger. The main car park at the front is already full, I’m late on account of a police roadblock, stopping me from getting here the way I wanted, sending me instead on a circuitous tour of the towns that litter the banks of this part of the Thames estuary.

My detour does allow me at least to get a good view of the nearby docks, all lit up like a Christmas tree, crane after crane covered in bright white lights, the ships that they service and a whole slew of slowly turning wind turbines. As I wind and weave through the dark Essex countryside, eventually the floodlights come into view, through the cast iron gates, I arrive to find Tom, who is back to his loitering ways, but not before I’m scared half to death by the ghoulish face of, not my compadre, but part of a fairground ride in the neighbouring plot.

The words of Journey’s Don't Stop Believing drift over the breeze block wall that separates us and the ground beyond. Not even here five minutes and we catch a glimpse of the baseball cap wearing reason for us being in this corner of Essex on a wet Wednesday evening. Spencer Brown of Spencer FC, YouTube royalty and co founder of what might be the most divisive football club in recent memory, Hashtag United FC (HU) BLOG: They Don't Like It Up Them - Hashtag United FC Vs Hadley FC, Essex Senior League, Chadfields (19/02/20) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Hashtag United FC Vs Hadley FC

Pulling up next to Tom, having been in the gloomy car park of Gander Green Lane for all of ten seconds, he is already moaning, holding up his left hand showing me three fingers, I can just about make out what’s he’s saying from inside his dimly lit station wagon him mouthing, “three degrees”. It is soon clear this is not a reference to what is playing on the radio, but the temperature, and he is soon wobbling about on one foot by the boot of his motor, putting on a hefty pair of socks.

The car park is well patronised, one could maybe even say bustling, sadly though that is not down to an expected bumper crowd at tonight's match, but because of all the extra curricular activities going on. Tom seems to think there is a gym somewhere nearby and beyond the half open blinds in the windows of a large function room, where a group of older ladies are sitting in a circle, they are not playing “bingo” as Tom suggested, but are members of the local Weight Watchers.

As is usually the case, I only really have half of Tom's attention, he is busy on his phone, in the throws of a domestic with his wife. Some of the purchases on his recent spending spree, have not been well received. Along with his new “coffee machine” the kind you insert those multi coloured capsules George Clooney is always banging on about, his choice of garlic crushing implement has not gone down well either, “she doesn't like the garlic press”. BLOG: Snot Rocket - Sutton Common Rovers FC Vs Ashford Town (Middlesex) FC, Southern Combination Cup 1st Round, Gander Green Lane (26/02/20) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Sutton Common Rovers FC Vs Ashford Town (Middlesex) FC

I have to be honest I’m a bit sad that Tom has not said anything about my new shirt, but not as sad that it's the Strokes playing as I climb into his car. Their dirgey New York sound was never one I was particularly enamored with, but let's be honest it wouldn’t have taken much effort to pay my new clobber a little bit of a compliment would it?

Much of our drive is occupied with the hottest of topics, the Coronavirus epidemic sweeping across the world, Tom’s other half has already been instructed to work from home, but Tom’s profession, a barber, means he’s unable to do it via Zoom, and his clients, much like his wife are able to “work at home” so his days are getting quieter and quieter. As well as the dent it's going to take on his pay packet, how it’s going to affect football and what we do comes up too, but considering what's going on in other parts of the world, it frankly doesn't seem all that important.

We try to not dwell too much on the negative, Tom is soon sharing another and equally important life choice challenging him right now, the getting of a dog. He thinks a “puppy is a bad idea” his IKEA showroom of an East London pad is not quite suitable for all the chewing, pissing and endless bounding of a young K9, so thinks he might “adopt”. However that in itself comes with its own concerns, an element of the “unknown” with a pre owned pooch has him worried, his biggest one and I’m not joking, is that it might be “racist”. BLOG: I Won't Shake Your Hands - Banbury United FC Vs Oxford City FC, Oxfordshire FA Senior Cup Semi-Final, Spencer Stadium (11/03/20) & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Banbury United FC Vs Oxford City FC

At this time of the year, it is so important to thank all those Twitter accounts,YouTubers and organisations who have regularly helped us this season, in some cases giving us a platform in print or online to reach an audience we could only dream of & all the clubs, officials, teams & players who without their help, what we do would be impossible.

Also a big thank you to anyone, who has shared, re-tweeted, commented or liked any of our blogs, pictures or videos. Your kind feedback about the work we do is so greatly appreciated.

Maybe because of the way the season so abruptly came to an end, looking back over the games we did get to, I feel even more sentimental than normal, even more dare I say emotional about the memories I forged with my best mate, the fact we saw a dog in a pram AGAIN, discovered that there is an active skittle league at Long Buckby A.F.C. and that for the fifth year running, non league football has outdone itself when it comes to the generosity and kind spirit of nearly everyone we met.

It would seem the great powers that be after allowing seemingly every other sport to allow spectators to return, have determined that outdoor arenas with little more than ten men and a dog are not at risk of causing a Covid spike, and the return of non league football is only weeks away. Five months since out last match, where people joked about not shaking hands, and laughed at the idea of touching elbows instead, are like so many yearning to get back to a match, and will hopefully be standing pitch side somewhere again soon.

However the next time Tom is tucking into a burger or I'm deliberating how much to spend on the 50/50, there is a very high chance our choice of places to visit will have diminished. Many clubs have found the lockdown too much to bare, their minute budgets decimated and in some cases hundreds of years of history have been wiped from the face of the football pyramid.

The far reaching tentacles of Covid 19 will be affecting us all for many, many years to come and as much as I'm looking forward to getting to a game again, what exactly I will be returning to, is a tad daunting.

For a full photographic review of 2019/20, click HERE

Watch our end of season review video↓ HERE ↓




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