Sunday 22 November 2020

Classic 0 - 0 - Leverstock Green FC Vs Biggleswade United FC, Spartan South Midlands Football League Premier Division, Pancake Lane (20/10/20)

It’s all doom and gloom in the car today, there is no nostalgia riddled soundtrack like the last time out, the notification of an impending news conference from the Prime Minister, means the dial on my radio is very much turned to Radio 4 and when old Boris appears over the airwaves, he brings word of Manchester being placed into tier 3.

I was already feeling a little anxious, having left the daughter for the first time with a babysitter, but I can assure you she was displaying no signs of someone who was remotely fazed by it, and I’m not sure she even noticed me leaving the door. The aforementioned tightening of restrictions in the North West makes me feel that London and the South East is surely only days or weeks away from a similar fate, maybe even lockdown again. It very much feels like our window for going to football is closing.

Due to Tom having his own flirtations with Covid, I’m happy to say it was in the end a false alarm and me having caught something via my daughter from the germ factory that is her nursery, we’ve not been out for a couple of weeks. Every missed opportunity to get to a game is a tough one to take, in these uncertain times. However when you are curled up in the fetal position on the sofa, being sick into a waste paper basket, there's not much you can do about it.

It is thankfully a glorious autumn evening, the trees that line the road have already changed into their new outfits or are very much on the way. My car feels far too big for the tiny lane I find myself on, and it's not a boy kicking a ball I find myself creeping along behind like at Godmanchester Rovers, but a girl on a horse.

Spotting the tops of the floodlights above the fence always sends a bit of a shiver of anticipation down my spine, and once safely past the horse, I'm turning through the black wrought iron gates that pave the way into not just any old non league football ground, in fact any old ground in the entire universe of football, be that now, in the past or the DeLorean reachable future, became this is a ground simply known as, are you ready for it, Pancake Lane.

“Gates are up, that’s a bonus” says Tony Leverstock Green FC’s (LG) Vice Chairman, who is busily setting up an olive green gazebo with all the apparatus that is all too common now at grounds, QR codes to check into the NHS track and trace app and a device to measure your temperature, which is basically a small white gun, you have to stand still for, while he points it at your forehead.

The lack of “elite football” locally he tells me means people are searching out football in all shapes and sizes, and Pancake Lane is as good a place as any to get your fix. There are a few downsides though to the nationwide rules, the “bar is restricted” Tony explains, however “some people don't pay any notice”, he adds, but its still “better than it being closed”. 

As a man of a somewhat limited stature, he’s struggling with the roll down zip up door of the gazebo and I'm caught in an awkward position of should I help him or leave him to it, thankfully a steward steps in and I’m not forced to treat a man much my senior, like a toddler.

Both the home and away managers and their entourages arrive at the same time, LG’s much like the visitors Biggleswade United FC’s (BU) are all weighed down with bulging bags full of kit. It’s all very convivial, plenty of hellos and nods of recognition. Every one of them passing by a large Welcome To Pancake Lane sign on the side of the flat roofed clubhouse, but none of them are anywhere near as giddy at seeing this club's great home name emblazoned in black block capitals. For Christ's sake people the place is named after something you have for breakfast.

The actual bar is closed, the optics secured behind a metal shutter, the room though is busy, and Tom is a fan of the home shirt framed on the wall, “I like that green kit”. The 50/50 notice on the board next to me is a promising sign, as is the honesty pot and the small pile of programs on a table by the door on the way in. An actual paper programme, my first of the season, remarkable.

“We're up, we're down” explains an LG fan, his face says it all of the clubs current fortune when he tells us they “lost to ten men” in their last game, “Saturday was disappointing. His summation is disturbed by the rattling din made by the shutter as it is hoisted upwards. The lady doing it, then prepares herself for a bit of table service.

Outside the tiny tea nook, with the menu scrawled on a small bit of card affixed beside it, has flung open its doors. The nearby white board with the lineups, has yet to be updated, and shows the starting 11’s of the last game here.

With the players out to warm up, Tom heads off in search of a hot drink, and above the pitch, only half illuminated, a bat swoops, snagging bugs drawn in by the lights. Not allowed to train on the pitch, the BU manager instructs his players to vault the railing around it and warm up on a grass verge next to the stand behind us. “Focus, focus” he encourages as they dash back and forth. “Fucking three points” demands one player. 

A man in the most fantastic Hummel jacket has me somewhat hypnotised and I almost consider half hitching it, but it's so tightly zipped up, and long, it’s almost down to the wearers knees, I wouldn't be able to do it without him noticing and such is my admiration in this vintage get up, I miss the teams coming out, however it's another underwhelming entrance, no music, no fanfare, the norm now really.

“Captains please” instructs the referee, who promptly join him in the centre circle. The coin is tossed, the ends are picked, forcing the sides to swap ends, before we can get underway.

The word from Tony was that “whoever plays at home wins” in this particular fixture, but it's the visitors who go close first, and second a long distance screamer smacking the cross bar and third, only a point blank block inside six yard box prevents the player teeing up his effort, from putting BU into an early lead. “Good challenge” screams an already animated away supporter.

BU’s early pressure is somewhat relieved by the home side's first half chance, but the cut back into the box is well and truly hoofed clear. 

With all this action, you’d think Tom would be suitably entertained however he’s already playing the ‘he looks a bit like someone else’ game. The referees assistant on our side, he has already dubbed “fat Clarkson” and the referee himself is either “Pepe Reina” or a “thin Benitez”, saying he didn't know the once Liverpool stopper had “taken up refereeing”.

The dugouts are ludicrously far apart, meaning if the managers want to have a set too, they've a long walk before doing it. Tom thinks I was a bit “optimistic” with my “3 - 1” home win prediction, it's all BU and Slim Fast Benitez is already showing his relaxed Mediterranean nature. “Fucking referee” bellows someone on the home bench, everyone of his decisions is greeted by some level of remonstration from one bench or the other.

It’s taken LG a quarter of an hour to register their first chance of meaning, a looping cross into the box is met by the head of a player but it's over. The latest away attack a few minutes later only reinforces Tom’s earlier comment of how well they “transition” into attack, as well as showing off the angular, almost Cubist numbers on the back of their red and blue shirts. Again it’s only another last ditch tackle that stops an inevitable goal.

One late arrival to the pitchside car park, momentarily shines an unwanted spotlight on one goal with his headlights, before shutting them off. It would perhaps be too much to say LG had been under the cosh so far this half, they are taking a while to get up to tempo, but are showing signs of maybe putting a bit of weight behind the statistics Tony shared with me before.

A free kick finds the intended player in the box, but he can't get the ball out of his feet and the chance for LG goes begging. BU are quick to counter, however LG win the ball back not long after, forging then their own attack and forcing the BU keeper into a smart low save.

According to someone on Twitter the food is supposed to be pretty good here, I share this with Tom as we edge closer to the break, but he nigh on snaps my head off with his reply, “I’ll be the judge of that”.

In a brief lull one home player displays football's sometimes unfathomable grip or lack of, of reality, “good start, let's make something happen”. It’s been anything but a good start, they are lucky to not be behind. The referee also shows his credentials as a laissez faire, letting a horrible BU challenge go unpunished. “Come on guys, let's go” shouts the distinctly Spanish sounding BU manager, but Tom’s not quite sure of his origins, “do you think he's Spanish?”.

“Unlucky Bullet” says the same nearby energised BU fan as before at the sight of the away number 9, turning on a sixpence and sending the most mesmerizing shot towards the top corner of the goal from outside the box, only for it in turn to be matched by an equally top draw save from the LG keeper. “That was a bullet” sniggers Tom, sounding slightly like a red top headline writer.

Bullet is not the kind of person you want to anger, his hulking frame and bullish mentality means he is quite the force to be reckoned with. “Come on” he snarls after doing all the hard work, great feet and a pin point cross into the box, only for none of his teammates to have made a run, much to his annoyance.

“How did we not score” wonders a flabbergasted LG player, the ball from a corner having just traveled through the entirety of the BU box, but no one was able to get a touch on it. “We just watched it '' says one teammate, such was it’s likelihood of going in, everyone assumed that surely it was going to.

Bullet is down in the LG box and quickly claims a penalty, “reffff”, but he gets no response. A glance towards “fat Clarkson” hoping he'll give it, gets no reply either. He and everyone knows the only thing getting him over is a bulldozer, “fat Clarkson” who is a chatty assistant to say the least, reassures Bullet he wouldn't “mug him off”.

Into the final ten, and things are reaching close to boiling point. “How many more?” asks the home bench, after another robust BU tackle. “You're not going to get away with it” mumbles Tom, BU barreling people over time and time again.

A blatant hack from a BU player on a LG one, after the referee had already awarded BU a free kick, sees the player downed in the book emphatic to go unanswered and off he marches for his time out on the naughty step. This rule like every other time we’ve seen it confusing the hell out of us both.

“Let's settle down and play” pleads the BU captain, however his intention for calmness, feels a little bit late. 

LG’s keeper is doing his best to take as long as possible to do everything, which this early on is a bit of a “worry” as Tom puts. Bullet flattens an LG player like he wasn’t ever there and when a LG player goes down like an extra from a war film, the home bench erupts. “Why is he screaming like has been shot?” asks one nearby person of his friends. “Looked like a yellow from here” interjects “fat Clarkson”. The home fans are asking for the sin bin, and the home bench are asking for a bit of consistency after claiming a BU player just “swore” at the man in charge. I say in charge, I'm not really sure he is.

The half ends with a bit of a question mark hanging over it, the referee on the sidelines before blowing his whistle talking to a home steward from a prolonged amount of time, the players standing around twiddling their thumbs, “ref get on with the game”. My first inclination is that during all the commotion of the recent flair up, something has maybe been said by someone in the crowd towards a player perhaps. Tom states that that’s the “point of non league football” audience participation, I guess it is to some extent, but it’s a fine line.

Tom returns from the food hatch with talk of absolute madness, struggling with one of non leagues greatest dilemmas, where to balance your burger and chips so you can have a drink.                    Rumour is rife about what caused the referee to have his elongated chat with the steward.

 “Big half” demands one of the freshly returned BU players, and just over five minutes into the new half, his team spank the LG cross bar for the second time tonight. The home side are still a man down, both the bench and fans ask the referee “how long?” has he got left in the naughty corner and even if the game is devoid of goals, “fat Clarkson” can't help but get involved, engaging in a full blown conversation with a man behind him at one point.

All the chances are coming BU’s way as they look to overturn the form book of the home side always being victorious. “Fucking hell” exhales one travelling fan, the ball having traveled all the way through the LG box, however again no one is able to poke it in, before finally being met at the back post by a player who is only able to scuff his shot directly at the keeper.

“It's going to be a match of near misses” says a wise Tom.

Bullet once again shows his undoubted class, Tom thinks he’s “too good for this team”. Holding up the ball, then with a delicate flick he releases his teammate, who surges forward only to let loose the most dismal shot at the end of his run.

The chatty assistant delivers perhaps his best line of the match so far, in response to a whinging player, “keep your hands to yourself and grow up”. An LG kung fu kick of a tackle, that results in no free kick sees the entirety of the home crowd slacked jawed at the decision and the referees assistant completely undermines him, saying quite clearly, ”in my opinion it’s a foul”. In Tom's opinion, “Pepe Reina is losing a grip on the game”.

BU are in again and it's only a spread eagle save with his right foot, that denies what feels like an impending BU goal, “he’s pulled a few out the bag today” comments Tom. 

Considering everyone else is having a chat with him, I try my luck striking up a conversation with the chatty assistant, asking him why he just sidestepped a ball rolling out of play, when he could have easily just stopped it, and he is of course more than willing to explain his reason behind it.

A big midfield 50/50 challenge leaves one BU player screaming, but the referee just waves play on. Bullet is then dispatched, and LG counter, their long range effort is straight at the keeper, who spills it, but he’s able to gather it at the second attempt. The referee continues to get it in the ear from all corners, the latest big challenge is still being discussed.

“He had him panicked” rues Tom, a rushed home clearance is straight to a BU player who hits it first time, straight back from whence it came, forcing the home keeper to furiously back peddle, the ball eventually going just over the crossbar.

Bullet is off, how he leaves the pitch without at least one goal to his name is a mystery. Into the final fifteen and as Tom put it, “it’s all going on”, players are starting to bicker, tackles are flying in and a break in play comes about after one LG player stays down clutching his neck, the incident brought to the referees attention by “fat Clarkson” repeatedly shouting, “heads, heads, heads” at him.

I’m not sure if it's the departure of the BU front man, but the game's quality has somewhat dipped, so much so we are talking about Covid 19 Christmas. An LG cross is then just above the heads of the players in the box, drawing a “ohhhh” from the crowd, Tom reckons they are going to “nick it” and “wouldn't deserve” it one bit.

A BU free kick on the edge of the LG box is in a promising position, the first runner is a decoy, the one behind him strikes it straight into the wall. A cry of “handball” goes up the referee shakes his head. Another big challenge, this time by the visitors, results in a mighty yelp from the player on the other end of it, but once more no foul is given.

Five to go and the game is frantic and sloppy in equal measure, the dog pottering about the stand behind us seems to have lost all interest. LG are so wasteful in possession, their number 9 telling a teammate who tries to find him with a through ball, “I can't do that, I’m not that kind of player. Again the referees assistant isn’t shy telling the players, “why don't you worry about playing the game and stop whining”.

Tom is still sure “someone is going to nick it” but who that is, he’s now not so certain. The home bench call for the team to push up, “too deep” shouts the manager. One player asks his team mate to “dig in” with the final whistle rapidly approaching.

LG have their chances to “nick it” as Tom put it, in added time. A hooked shot over the bar looks to be their last one of the match, but when they are gifted a corner, they are granted one more go at threatening the BU goal, but as Tom put it, it's “shit”. A free kick in a dangerous position is rushed, taken while the ball is traveling. All the late home pressure comes to nothing and come the final whistle one person leaving puts it perfectly, the match will go down as a “classic 0 - 0”

There is plenty to like about LG, more than just the wonderful name of their ground. As I overheard one BU player say “this is some fucking ground to find”, but it’s worth it. Any club that has Our Guests above the away dugout, are a classy one to say the least. It might be a bit “wiggly windy” as another player put to get here, but you won't be disappointed.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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Wednesday 4 November 2020

Snacktastic - Godmanchester Rovers FC Vs Ely City FC, Eastern Counties Football League Premier Division, Bearscroft Lane (30/09/20)

It’s only our second game and I'm already alone, but I should really get used to it, suck it up and be a big boy, because a change to Tom’s shifts at work means I’m going to be spending most evenings flying solo to games. It’s OK though, an upgrade to the blogmobile over lockdown means my radio now has a much greater scope of channels and I’m more than happy to spend the sixty minutes or so driving, sans my other half listening to a mixture of 90’s indie and 70’s rock.

The large white sign that welcomes me at the start of a long narrow gravel lane confirms I’ve arrived in the right part of Cambridgeshire, a rather soggy part at that. As I creep along behind the young man kicking his football in front of him, he kindly steps to one side to allow me to pass. Not even turning around to acknowledge me, the crunching of the loose surface under my tires enough to signal he needs to move, and once he does, edging past him, I catch a glimpse of the expression on his face in my wing mirror, it is one of a person who wished they had brought a coat.

It is of course apt that I pass a farm on the way to a ground known as The Farm and take great comfort that the nickname of Bearscroft Lane home of Godmanchester Rovers FC (GOD) is not because of the smell or abundance of bovine swanning about the place.

Stepping out of my car there is not much to feast my eyes upon, not helped by the inclement weather, everything is a little grey. The music playing from the single tiny speaker on the way in is of a very different genre to that I’ve been enjoying on my way here. If I’m not mistaken it's a spot of 90’s garage and Craig David to be precise. The couple of tatty looking flags atop their long white poles have seen better days. The rain is a constant, not heavy, just making itself known, however if we have learnt anything these last five years, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it's all about scratching the surface to see what's underneath.

In the distance some wind turbines slowly turn. Braving the camera gantry, a scaffold structure between the two dugouts on the far side of the pitch, a man attempts to thread a red golf umbrella up though it’s broken roof to plug a hole above him, to try and ensure he’s not utterly soaked come the end of the match. However his initial attempts look to have been fruitless and its soon folded away, but he’s clearly determined to make it work and not long after he’s back at it, the brolly sitting precariously above him, nervously holding onto the handle to stop it from blowing away.

The bright crimson umbrella the only bit of colour on what is turning out to be a very drab day.

Brightening up the place further, the arrival of a visiting fan, one of Ely City FC (EC) in his red and white scarf means things are on the up and the warm glow of the lights now on in the clubhouse, seeping out the small windows on its side, draw me in, past the now familiar sight of a sanitation station.

Blue dots with white footprints guide you around the carved up clubhouse, black and yellow tape on the floor makes sure everyone keeps a sensible distance from each other, the few tables scattered around the edges of the room, are all allocated their own intimate section. All the must haves of any good club bar are present: a dart board, aging silverware, old team photos, a club scarf pinned to the wall and a highly polished wooden honours board. A small TV in the corner is showing the local news at a deafening volume. However I can just about overhear the conversation among the group of EC fans, unsurprisingly it's about the weather.

Tom’s eventual arrival is somewhat dramatic and his time at our table in the corner is fleeting, sticking around only to tell me he got “lost”, “very, very lost” and “nearly died three times”. Dropping that bombshell on me before bursting through the door of the nearby loo, returning not long after looking a whole different man, “ohhhhh that's better”.

Outside the teams warm up in the rain, a man with an umbrella in the home team's colors, does not do a bad job of conducting the session from underneath cover, while the players as ever are seemingly unfazed by the downpour, all while everyone else clambers for shelter under the various lean toos and small stands dotted about.

Having caught wind that the tea bar is open Tom is off. A stray ball hits the roof of the metal stand I’m in and gives out a terrifying crash. Such is the combination of the wind and heavy rain, the roof is almost redundant, on the horizontal, I’m getting wet regardless. 

One of the referees assistants warming up as Tom points out is far from “into it” as the conditions worsen, however with Tom’s return he comes baring news far worse than a bit more drizzle and once over the fact his cup is either half full or empty depending on how you look at it, I ask him has he spilled it on this way back and he tells me that's simply what he was “given”, by who turned out to be the GOD “chairman” who he was instructed to accost by the man behind the bar, he finally breaks it to me, there is “no food”.

I’m half expecting tears to start rolling down his cheeks, the “woman who normally does it, is on a course”. He is gutted.

As at Windsor, there is no grand entrance by the players, just dribs and drabs, ones and twos filtering out of their respective changing rooms. There are a few GOD fans to welcome the home players with a high five or a word of encouragement, and there is now quite a crowd here to witness them take the field. The EC supporters are by far the loudest, the small contingent from the clubhouse, offer up a few shouts as the players limber up, “come on Ely, come on boys”, one from behind his red and white face mask.

“Start fucking bright” screams one GOD player loudly as the referee prepares to get things underway, the player is matched in volume by the cry of one away fan as the man in charge draws his whistle to his lips, “come on Ely”.

Despite all the available shelter, the EC fans have stayed out in the elements and the smell of Deep Heat from one nearby player is on the verge of overwhelming, I can almost taste it, and I don’t think there is even two minutes on the clock and EC have taken the lead, sending their nearby supporters into a chorus of woops, some waving their hands in celebration about their heads. “Good start” affirms one, “come on Ely'' shouts another.

Every time they get the ball, venturing forward, EC look dangerous, “too fucking easy” shouts one GOD player, they are not exactly making it hard for them. The visitors pony-tailed right back is at the heart of a lot of their attacks, flying down the wing he looks a threat and I'm not sure if it's Tom’s influence, but I can't take my eyes off his curly flowing mane. 

A spitting player catches Tom’s attention, who he quite rightly scalds, albeit under his breath, “oi Covid” and the proximity of us to the match, as is the non league way, means we both get to enjoy the

audible growl the EC captain gives out every time he jumps to challenge for a header.

With just over ten minutes gone the home players pleas for a red card, their player through on goal, is tugged back, go unheard. It's a free kick and no card. A free kick taken by one of the centre backs, “interesting” comments an intrigued Tom.

It may well be because of the rain weighing them down, pitter pattering on the corrugated roof above us, but the goal nets are unflatteringly saggy and one nearby EC fan recounts to another in a flat cap his exchange with his wife who thought he wouldn't be “going to football if it's raining”, laughing as he tells his neighbour just what he told her, “don't be daft.

The home side continue to be their own worst enemies, “stop giving away free kicks” barks one player, which one old voice responds to from the back of the stand, “shut up whining” and when they are presented with a rare chance in front of goal, they fluff it. “It would have been easier to score”, muses Tom. The deep cross is met by the intended player at the back post, but somehow he manages to head it away from goal, instead of towards.

It’s the first of a couple of quick fire wasted GOD chances, their “fast” front three as Tom highlights have plenty of potential, they constantly look for the same ball over the EC defence, but the crucial first touch or final pass is lacking.

“Aren't you a bit wet out there boys?” asks one EC fan of those still standing, quite unnecessarily out in the rain, they could take about four steps right or left and be dry.

A big challenge on a home player, which Tom brushes off as being a “50/50” all's fair in love and war is his opinion, leaves him in a heap. There are no theatrics, no screaming, so you know he’s actually hurt, but after a short break he’s thankfully back up.

In the twenty five minutes since taking the lead, EC haven't forged a chance on goal. The awarding of another free kick to the visitors doesn't go down well with one home player, “he’s taking the fucking piss” he suggests to the referee. His petulant reaction, one away supporter puts down to a case of “ohhhhhh just because you're losing”. After such a lull since scoring, it maybe explains the wild shot from the EC number 10, after robbing the home captain on the halfway line, surging goalwards, “go on son, go on” encourages one supporter, he lashes it way over the bar. “He got a bit excited” laughs one away fan.

Tom’s got “wet shins” he tells me, as the rain batters his lower legs. EC have a penalty appeal waved away and despite the bad weather Tom is convinced the referee is really “enjoying” himself, after suggesting earlier he didn't want to be here. Very rarely does he not have a huge smile on his face. 

Into the final five of the half and EC have decided to up their game a bit, after bursting into the GOD box it's only a fine low stop from the home keeper “a good save” as Tom puts it, that stops EC furthering their lead. 

The upturn in their performance inspires a few new shouts from their supporters, “come on boys, come on Ely”. Again they burst forward, “go on, first time” urges an EC fan, the player opts for a pass instead, finding his team mate with a well timed through ball, only for a GOD defender to be on hand for a last ditch block. The less said about their final chance of the half mind, the better. The shot in danger of hitting one of the coaches parked in one corner of the car park, way beyond the boundaries of the ground.

Some late home pressure sees plenty of “nice ideas” but “no end product” as Tom puts it and the half concludes with a bit of hands bags, and one home player after the whistle is helped to his feet by the clubs physio, the players wrist looking all sorts of odd and the man with the cold spray fashions a makeshift sling out of the players shirt as he leaves the pitch in clear discomfort.

“Good football that” says a satisfied EC supporter. Tom’s visit to the bar is a short one, a bar which is currently showing “Corro” he informs me. With an insatiable need to eat at least something everywhere we go, and with no hot food options, Tom instead opts for a packet of the well known crips brand Snacktastic, and a couple of bags of their Worcester Sauce flavour.

The away fans who were braving the wet weather have moved on, to stand behind the goal their team will be attacking in the new half, and someone on the home bench is clearly very displeased with the team's first forty five minute performance and is letting anyone in ear shot know about it.

“Come on boys” implores one home player and his words seem to have had the intended impact, as GOD are on the front foot right from the off. “They've come out very energetic” says Tom, one of the home side attempting a “little bicycle kick” he giggles. The player with the injured arm has not returned and the EC supporters sensing their teams decline, make their own attempts to arrest their teams slide, with a loud “come on Ely”.

A collision between the GOD keeper and a defender sees a long break, the physio is on, and that hush that inevitably descends when a player is down, and before everyone is sure its nothing too serious, shrouds the place. It’s only when the defender starts to slowly limp off, that the noise returns. 

“Unlucky Ely” shouts one nearby fan, following a header sailing just wide from a corner. “Ohhh” sigh both home fans and players sensing they are losing their momentum, that they got away with one there. One player demanding his teammates carry on where they “fucking left off” at the end of the first half.

It really is the least they deserved, and seven minutes into the second half GOD are back on level pegging. “Come on” screams one player mid celebration, a nice move down the wing, a low cross and a blocked shot, sees the ball drop kindly, and it’s thumped home.

“Was that a tannoy?” queries Tom, the tiny single speaker that Tom points out is “pointing the wrong
way” seems for a moment to have come to life, but it's far too quiet to know for sure if it was just a bit more Craig David or the name of the scorer. 

In the space of five minutes things go from bad to worse for the visitors, who looked so assured in the first half, “what a turn around, dear oh dear” sighs one one of their fans, as the scorer of GOD’s second knee slides across the slick pitch, having just scored directly from a free kick. A free kick he neatly slotted underneath the jumping wall and into the back of the net. It’s like something right out of Fifa.

The shouts of “come on Ely” are far less frequent now. The team look shell shocked, a bit all over the place to say the least. It takes a stunning finger tip save from their sides latest free kick to stir them, “come on boys”. The man in goal for GOD is just able to get enough on it to tip it over the bar. 

EC’s Pirates of the Caribbean looking number 2, the influential marauding right back from the first half then hits the post, he really should have scored, some of the EC fans hang their head in their hands. They go close again as their resurgence continues, putting wide from a set piece. “Keep going boys” urges one supporter.

Plenty of hardy souls are still braving the rain and despite a string of rash home fouls, the referee keeps his cards in his pocket. The the drama is ramping up, each team doing their best to buy as many fouls as they can.

The sight of the home team going further ahead is too much for one EC fan, “see you later mate” he says, as he beats a hasty exit. It’s a bit of a comedy of errors that leads to the corner that the goal results from. A shanked away clearance is greeted with a sarcastic “weyyyyy” and the goal itself is a near carbon copy of the first. The ball absolutely leathered in from close range, after a brief bit of six yard box pinball.

It feels like any sort of EC fight back has well and truly been squashed now, however the home bench want to make sure the team don’t give away anymore “stupid fouls”. The third goal has really fired up GOD, and it is attack after attack, they are “rampant” as Tom puts it. The bench are loving every minute, no more shouting or scalding, just excited sounds at the sight of a big crunching tackle won in front of them, “fucking love it”. 

EC look a shadow on their former selves, their number 9 is particularly angry, showing his anger from inside the pocket of his marker the home number 6, who won’t let him out of his sight. Nothing is falling their way at all, and when it looks like their keeper handled outside his area, things are close to full implosion, but the referee deems him to be just inside his box. “Come on boys some energy” demands one EC fan, to which one player responds bluntly, “we’re losing 3-1”.

A round of substitutes are displayed via some cards on the touch line Play Your Cards Right style. EC are well and truly pinned back, “get up the fucking pitch” screams one player, but they can’t and its only a last ditch tackle of the highest order, nigh on, on the line that stops a home fourth from point blank range. They might be on course for a loss, but the away fans appreciate the effort all the same.

There is nothing like a penalty in the final five minutes to help a fan base find their voice and give a team a lift. EC have just reduced the deficit by one, roused the supporters to let loose a few rounds of “come on Ely, come on Ely”, who then go close to equalising, only for another reaching block by an GOD player stopping the goalwards shot.

GOD gets some respite, winning a free kick, which leaves one EC fan fuming, “he didn't touch him, get up you wuss”. Frustrations are starting to show from all corners, players and fans. “Get up, get up” screams a home player as his team falls further and further back. 

A big home ball forward sees two players collide, and when the foul is given in the eyes of many of the EC players, the wrong way, many are sent into fits of rage. Ahead, GOD seem happy to try and see out the last few minutes hunkered down in their own half. “Forward, forward” instructs one EC fan, who have found their voice again, “come one Ely”, the chance of rescuing something from this match, is tantalisingly close.

“Keep working” beseeches someone on the home bench, with every hoofed clearance, the ball just comes back at them again. The attempt at a whistle from the crowd, does not surprisingly stop the game, a late EC corner has hearts somewhat in mouths and a final booming “come on Ely” can't will
the ball over the line, come the final whistle the plaudits of “unlucky Ely” from the traveling contingent, seem genuine. 

Perhaps because the din of the match has subsided, the PA is all of a sudden more than audible, thanking everyone for “turning out”. 

It’s nights like these, wet and miserable ones, that you see what your fan base is made of, and considering the gate I would say both GOD and EC’s are made of pretty stern stuff. Depending on the length on the woman's course, yes there is a chance you might have to just have crisps,  and don't be put off by the choice of music either, because if there is a chance of seeing more set pieces formulated on a PS4 then I’m game for another visit, and so should you be.

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Wednesday 7 October 2020

Lets Go Football - Windsor FC Vs Burnham FC, Hellenic League Premier Division, Stag Meadow (26/09/20)

It’s strange because on the surface everything seems normal, Tom is still waiting for me in the same spot outside my flat to pick me up, he’s already nose down playing the latest game on his phone “I’m playing some pool” he tells me. The topics of conversation are still as varied and banal as before, WWE and of course Call Of Duty Warzone and our numerous visits to Verdansk, where we both spent the majority of lockdown.

However if you look just under the surface it’s clear that things are far from the same, in fact things couldn't be any more unnormal as the world is gripped by a pandemic that's still claiming lives on a daily basis, and as best as the country tries to limp back into some kind of normal rhythm again, after having just spent half of 2020 on the sofa, it’s all just a bit odd. The sign on the side of the M25, our favourite of all the major gyratories, illustrates the state of things perfectly, “don’t be a fool, use the 2m rule”.

When Tom asks me if I “have a mask”, I confirm I do, but neither of us are really sure of what the etiquette is, what the rules are.

Having been inside for the majority of the summer, there will be no sunny Saturdays in shorts at football, no barmy August evenings when it's still light at 21:00, and although the sun is out, my other half tells me not to “trust it” and Tom backs up her theory and is already moaning about it being “cold”. Today is the first time I’ve worn jeans in months, and Tom is shocked to see my legs covered, expecting me to be in shorts, which would then be followed by me “complaining about cold shins”.

Dominating its surroundings, we both marvel at the resplendent Windsor Castle as it comes into view. Soon we notice that every other car is a Range Rover, and the roundabouts have dancing Vegas style water features. This neck of the woods is hardly downmarket, I mean look who has their holiday home here, as Tom puts it, “welcome to Windsor”.

It’s a minute sign halfway up a lamppost that directs us towards Stag Meadow, home of Windsor FC (WFC), a tiny lane gets even narrower as we drive on, the smart looking houses on each side getting ever closer, at one point I’m not sure Tom’s big car will be able to go any further, and what look like the remains of a church, means this is certainly one of the more vestigial settings for a match we’ve ever been to.

The constant buzz of nearby Heathrow somewhat detracts from the sanctity of the place, Tom suggests the clubs Royal neighbour can hardly be chuffed with every ten minutes a jumbo jet off to Dubai is soaring over her bedroom, but I’m sure she will be fine, because when the din of the planes die down, it’s green and peaceful and very pleasant indeed.

“Lets go football” announces Tom, repeating again his newly coined catchphrase of the day as he hops out of his car and makes the short walk to the way in, past the countless dog walkers and pleasure ramblers heading off into the nearby Royal park. A Royal park that one of the two jolly men manning the gate points out is certainly “picturesque”.

Having slipped as I do so often into a place of naive complacency, when we are prompted to check into the NHS track and trace app, scanning the QR code pinned to the red iron gates, reality strikes. The opponents of WFC are spelt out on a number plate along with the date and kick off time, all back dropped by a welcome sign, the colours of the home sides unique home kit.

The clubhouse is the perfect place to shelter from the “breezy” conditions as Tom describes them, before being able to venture inside the low ceilinged room with a bar at one end, a TV on the wall at the other, with the obligatory dance floor in between, we are required to don our masks and stop at the hand sanitizing station.

Inside each table is spaced out to government regulations, each with its own bottle of sanitizer. Black and yellow tape with “please keep a safe social distance” written across it, cordons off the bar, preventing anyone from getting too close to the staff behind it. Discussion about what's OK and what's not is going on between the bar women and Malcolm WFC’s kit man, bar manager, webmaster, programme editor. The ever changing guidelines mean we are not the only ones not quite sure of what is appropriate, no one wanting to fall foul, everyone wanting to make sure they do their bit.

The opulent beige sofa in one corner almost completely consumes me as I take a seat, and it's at that point I’m allowed to remove my mask. Malcolm tells us they have sold “one hundred and thirty” tickets for today's game, so are expecting quite a turnout, which perhaps is adding to the pressure of making sure everyone knows the protocols before they all start to arrive.

“I've got no issue telling people to fuck off”, I overhear the bar lady tell Malcolm, as they discuss their strategy of how to deal with people who are unwilling to comply with the rules. The taped off bar means its table service, perhaps the most un non league thing ever. When tea arrives atop a black tray, Tom can relate to the struggle of the lady bringing us our drinks is having with her mask and glasses combo, she’s having “bloody murders”, as his spectacles steam up.

As nice as the clubhouse is, we decide to take our drinks outside, which allows us in turn to take in our surroundings in a bit more detail. “Mmmmmm, very pretty” summerises Tom, sitting back in one of the faded red seats in the main stand. Opposite us gnarled old trees stand tall, and the slanted corrugated roof above us, and black vertical girders holding up, offer up a kind of familiarity I’ve really missed. The narrow tunnel from the rear of the stand, to the front, does that thing I do love, of slowly presenting the pitch before you, like the aperture of a camera.

The arrival of the 13:31 to Melbourne somewhat shatters the tranquility, “oh that's annoying” grumbles Tom. Each side of the main stand is flanked by the brick dugouts outs, and the remainder of the ground is a mixture of long concrete uncovered terracing, and a long covered one down the far side of the pitch.

When the planes pass on, it's just the sound of the rattling nylon straps that hold the goal nets taught and the swirling ball of birds flitting around above us, it really is quite tranquil. Only for another plane to soon crash the party, much to Tom’s annoyance, who then takes a bit of a Bill Oddie turn, pointing out a large bird of prey circling.

We all had to find new things to occupy us during the long days of lockdown, rediscovering Championship Manager was what did it for me, for Tom it seems that plane spotting has become his new past time, “fucking hell that's a big one” he says, as what looks like a Airbus 8380 creaks up slowly into the sky in front of us, banking away towards sunnier climbs.

Soon it’s not only by the sound of planes and Tom cooing over them assaulting me, but now the crap music that we always hear leaking out from beyond the opening and closing doors of the respective home and away changing rooms, and I notice Tom with an upturned palm towards the sky, as the darkening clouds start to spit on us. 

Both WFC and Burham FC (BFC) take to the pitch for an en-masse team chat, each without a win this season so far, and even though it's relatively early days, it adds a little frisson to this local encounter.

In search of lunch, our return to the clubhouse finds it, despite all the precautions, a much more convivial scene than the one we found earlier. Most of the tables are now full, table service is in full flow and Tom has not beat around the bush in ordering, “burger and chips on the way”. When the lady in a WFC embroidered apron approaches, his eyes light up and I realise all these months that we’ve spoken fondly about getting back to football, his expressed desire to do so, had nothing to do with me or the match itself, but the food.

A newly arrived man at our neighbouring table, is far from impressed with the clubhouse entertainment on offer, the Taylor Swift playlist playing out is not his cup of tea and he turns barking towards the bar, asking for them to put “Football Focus” on. Unfortunately for him, that ended a while ago and the person with the remote has instead replaced Taylor with Escape To The Country. “Is he winding me up?” he asks his son, unable to fathom the change. A man behind us suggests he would have been “better off with Taylor Swift”.

Whipping back and forth the green, red and blue corner flags, as well as the ones on the half way line,

are tossed about in the ever shifting wind. More and more people steadily arrive, most heading straight for the clubhouse, where the numbers are limited, so some might be disappointed. The sun is trying it’s best to break through, one can only hope the threatening rain holds off.

Strung out on blue chairs beside the away dugout the BFC substitutes are lined up like people waiting in a dentists reception and there is no grand walk on, no side by side line of eleven arriving gladiators, no heart pounding music to get us all in the mood, just a drip drop of ambling players, the home subs with jackets on that read “we are one” on the rear. No referee leading them down the ramp, with the home team initials built into the brickwork. Just plodding, meandering at best. Both teams huddle, and for the first time today we see the WFC home kit in all its glory, well I say glory, for some it's the opposite of glory. A head to toe green, red and white Union Jack design.

WFC huddle ends with a raucous applause and Tom quips that “I bet you're glad you didn't wear shorts” as it’s feeling very autumnal all of a sudden. There are plenty of cries of “come on boys” and other such motivational slogans before the sharp high pitched blast of the referee's whistle gets things underway.

“Come on Windsor” shouts one of the fans standing on the terrace behind us, however early away pressure and a rushed clearance has the home side on the back foot from the off. Calls of “relax” from one player is a little concerning considering the game is only a couple of minutes old.

With the shirt WFC are wearing, it's hard to not fall into a prolonged spell of kit chat. Tom is far from convinced by the flag inspired get up, much more in favour of the more traditional BFC blue and white pinstripe number, “Brighton” esq as he puts it. He’s also much more in favour of the away goalkeepers kit too, which he describes as making its wearer look like a “bumble bee”, the man in goal for WFC in his lime green and pink shirt, looks like something from a pick and mix.

The sweetie resembling keeper is soon front and centre, when he spills a flicked header from a BFC player, “shaky hands” sighs a home supporter. A big crunching tackle by the visitors wins them the ball, and their number 9 is away again, but his run is too soon, and shouts of “offside” comes from all corners. Tall, strong and athletic, BFC number 9 is already causing the home defence a few issues, and looks like he will continue to do so for the remainder of the afternoon.

With just their heads sticking over the fence around the edge of the ground, two passers by treat themselves a view of WFC’s two quick fire chances, both against the run of play and both from long range. The first striking the foot of the post, then the keeper, then agonizingly bobbling along the line, before it cleared. “Too slow on the follow up” laments one home fan.

The second comes from a poor away clearance, the ball finds itself just outside the box at the foot of one WFC player whose dipping shot is bashed away by the forearm of the BFC keeper, who had been having a very relaxed time of it, until now. This flurry from the home team, who had been rather passive until now, draws the first bit of noise from the supporters.

A quarter of an hour in and WFC almost shot themselves in the foot with a loose pass at the back, but the BFC forward finds himself offside again, so they get a reprieve. After a bit of a nervy start, WFC are in once more, their fans growing louder and louder as their team gets into the swing of things, but the latest ball into the box is swerving high into the car park behind the goal, much to Tom's concern, “that's hit the car”. The resulting corner presents WFC with a free header on the edge of the six yard box, but it's wide.

Frustration is starting to show among the fans and players on both sides. When the home number 2 makes a forward pass, but no one makes a run, he has what Tom calls a “Fortnite tantrum”. When BFC’s number 9 receives the ball on the edge of the box, but tries one took many step overs and drops off the shoulder, one supporter asks, “how many twists and turns can you do?”.

Since the start WFC have looked like they've got more than one gaff at the back in them, and approaching the thirty minute mark, they gaff BFC the ball in front of goal once more, “what's he doing?” laments one home fan, but fortunately for his team BFC are somewhat shy in taking a shot, and the score remains 0-0. With BFC in again, the same fan is adamant that “someones got to shoot”, this time he gets his wish, but it's off target. 

A decent crowd scattered across the steps either side of the main stand, watch BFC sting the keepers hands with a long range effort and twenty six minutes gone, the somewhat inevitable happens, BFC take the lead. All thanks to the twinkle toes of the winger on the left who did all the hard work, giving the eventual scorer very little to do, other than to tap it in.

“We go again” insists one WFC player as the game gets back under way, and go again they do, because less than a minute after going behind, the score is level again. It very, very nearly wasn't, the scuffed shot could have very easily dribbled wide, “he almost miss kicked it in” says one home fan, there is no “almost” about it, it was a horrible connection, but this is of little concern to the leaping WFC supporters behind the goal.

The quickness in response from WFC means there's not been enough time for heads to drop “great reaction boys” rallies one player, although this does not mean they are any sturdier at the back, and after a horrible challenge on the BFC number 9 and more sloppy play, one player goes red in the face screaming, “liven up”.

A chink in the WFC defences, this time the perimeter fence and not their back four, means the people who were sneaking a peek, have now fully crept in, and they all get to enjoy the home players telling their teammate number 2 to “shut up” as he quickly starts to boil over, the referee calling him over for a chat, “yes please” with the steam almost bursting from his ears, at the injustice of his treatment.

There are many small things I’m very fond of when it comes to football, a pink goalkeepers shirt, an Oliver Bierhoff thumping header, a last ditch tackle, ala King vs Robben at White Hart Lane in 2005, and high up there is the scoring of a goal with an unorthodox part of the body, and when five minutes before halftime, when one WFC player chests it in for the home sides second, it’s a sight to behold. 

It’s the least they deserve since equalizing, they have been the far better team, they almost bag a third, the BFC number 3 clueless to the WFC player standing behind him, “he needed a call there” proffers Tom, is powerless stop the ball almost finds the floating forward, but the move breaks down.

Another sign of the ‘new normal’ come the half time whistle is that the players don't leave the pitch, restrictions on numbers in the dressing room, mean they stay out on the pitch and while WFC put on coats to stay warm, BFC are being shouted at. The two gents next to us, forgo a visit to the clubhouse and instead opt to sit on the steps of the terrace, one producing a couple of cans and a couple of cups from his bag, and they get their drink on, all while, some kids are tearing about, which is always the way.

Someone who is allowed inside is the referee and his reappearance prompts both teams into concluding their pitchside drills, BFC were a little late starting theirs, on account of being told off and the referee is soon at work, and all without even blowing his whistle yet. The BFC manager has seemingly said too much in their exchanges as they walked out, and despite being pulled away from the man in charge, the manager is given his marching orders. 

“Referee you're awful” castigates a person from the crowd, as the BFC manager trudges towards his seat in the main stand.

It’s clear that the delay in the restart is of some embarrassment to most of the visiting team, who by the looks of it, just want to get back under way. Although sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for, because WFC are straight back on top, picking up where they left off. “Too easy” bemoans a BFC supporter.

Struggling with a high cross, with the ball “in the wind” as one home fan puts it, the bumble bee can't hold it, only able to pat it down to a WFC player whose attempt to poke it in from point blank range is blocked.

Not that the first half was dull by any stretch, but the start of the second is turning into an end to end affair. BFC have a corner, only for WFC to counter attack after winning the ball back. They cross into the box, and the player on the other end attempts a high stand up volley, but instead of hitting it goal wards, passes it right back to whence it came, “have it back” giggles one supporter.

WFC are dominant, a fine fingertip save stops them taking the lead, another corner, again the wind is causing havoc, and almost catches the man in goal out again. All this home pressure is not to say that BFC don’t fashion their own chances, and it's only a scramble in the box of epic proportions that stops the visitors from taking the lead. 

A home shout for a penalty is turned down by the shaking head of the referee and the claims it had to be by the fans fall on deaf ears. BFC then craft themselves an opening, but the forward player is chastised for being “lazy” by his own fans, when he wanders offside. Frantic is probably the best way to describe the ensuing, and the referee is losing a bit of a grip on things. After the latest foul on one of their players, the away bench asks “how many more, man?” before he produces a card. Although Tom is not sure it was even a foul in the first place, “looks like he fell over”.

It's far from cold really, however Tom is already planning ahead, “think I’ll get the puffer jacket out” he tells me, it might even be time to “dig out the snood”.

A home back post header goes wide, then it's BFC’s turn to claim a penalty, but that's dismissed too. WFC are in once more, but the shot is woeful, “ohh fucking hell” moans one supporter, Tom reckons the player needed to give the ball a “Ronaldo chop” to get it on his other foot, but such a piece of skill didn’t really look on the cards.

Tom continues to persist with jacket chat, regardless of me showing little to no interest in the topic whatsoever, “it might finally be the year I get an Arsene Wenger” and just when it felt like there hadn't been a chance for a minute or two, BFC fizz a low shot just wide, reminding WFC they are are still very much still in the game. 

Such has been our time away from football Tom is momentarily very alarmed “what's going on, everyone's stopped” he exclaims only to quickly realise there isn't anything to panic about, “oh its a substitution” and in those six months since our last game, its things like a boy doing laps of the pitch on a bike or the home number three barking and hissing at opposition players, to put them off in possession, I realise are what I've really missed.

I’d also forgotten quite how shouty non league football can be, as everyone chips in their two pence, even the WFC physio is getting into it with a BFC player as he trots on to the pitch to attend to a downed player.

“The balls up there, what we doing down here?” asks one of the running children of his friends. If I was them I'd keep bombing about, the game has got a little ugly, one of attrition and niggly fouls, and not the back and forth attack fest of earlier. “Who too?” wonders a home fan, as the ball is hoofed up field, neither side able to keep hold of the ball for very long.

It’s been awhile since the last real bit of quality, so when WFC link up in a rapid passing attack, it holds everyone's attention, but the eventual ball into the box is cut out. The threatening rain is finally here, but for now it’s just a few spots here and there, and this is doing little to deter the freeloaders as the freebie numbers have swelled even more. 

“Fucking pressure” encourages one BFC player, his call to arms inspires people from all sides of the ground to try and rally their respective team for the final five minutes. Edging ever closer to the end, and neither side having won in the league yet this season, nerves are starting to show. The child contingent of WFC fans now straddle the railings and have found their voice, given the hoardings a bit of a whack too.

WFC are losing their composure, they look like they are struggling to hold it together. When a BFC corner travels all the way through their box, hearts are in mouths and a late “raking” challenge as Tom describes it, is petulant to say the least.

Nerves are close to breaking point, the kids still on the railings beating out a tune “deh, deh, deh deh”, however no-one else seems anywhere near as relaxed as them. A BFC corner in the dying moments looks like it might be the source of some anguish, but it’s wasted by the visitors and the cheer from the crowd and jumping embrace between the manager and he’s staff, really emphasizes how crucial it was to secure the three points.

As he leaves the pitch the referee is in for some more stick, sharpening their pitchforks, a small contingent of the BFC supporters herangue him, “very poor”, one calling him a “liar”. This is all lost on the WFC players, “fucking finally” says one, who is then quickly told off “oi, watch your language” and the kids who are going a bit loopy. The bumble bee shakes the home fans hands and the kids now line the ramp up to the changing room, to high five the players. A few of the BFC supporters yet to leave, dissect the performance, “chalk and cheese again”.

A splendid ground, run by lovely people. WFC came highly recommended and it did not disappoint. I can't stop thinking though as we leave, will all their hard work be for nothing, will all the hard work of non league clubs up and down the country mean nothing if Covid 19 rears its head once more?

Tom’s ever so slightly sobering comment on the way here highlights a dark cloud hanging over us all, over the survival of so many clubs as the purse strings tighten and the coffers empty, me, him, you, have “no idea what the future holds”.

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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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