Tuesday 15 September 2015

Riddled With Cockney - Wingate & Finchley FC Vs Tonbridge Angels FC, Ryman Premier League, Harry Abrahams Stadium (05/09/15)

This afternoon was a bit of last minute decision, as we could not find a fixture on Sunday, and I was supposed to be shopping for furniture for my new flat, but a late start to the day by the other member of my household, put that to the sword, so the only conclusion was a Saturday afternoon at the Harry Abrahams Stadium, home of Wingate & Finchley FC (WF), the first non league team we visited, back where it all began.

Today saw 3rd Vs 4th in the Ryman Premier, with the visitors Tonbridge Angels FC (TA) the opposition. The team in the words of Paul Lerman a WF board member, who was such a fantastic host back in January, are “flying”, in fact a few teams have got off to a strong start, flexing their muscles early on.

Considering we only decided to come to the game gone 14:00, and once certain people got ready, we arrived at the match with about 15 minutes to kick off. Just enough time to grab a cup of tea, the milk, sugar and spoons laid out on a table, allowing you to make it to your own taste.

Our scientific tea making is interrupted by the rattling of the blue cage used by the players to get from the changing room to the pitch,  I can only imagine that it’s required to prevent all the baying fans pelting the away team with coins or flares, it extends from the beautiful blue and white art deco stand, which dominates the ground.

As the, according to my girlfriend, dishy referee strolls up the tunnel, gripping a ball in one hand, I slip past the person manning the cage to stand between the dugouts, and manage to get a few picture of the teams lining up, jostling, shoulder to shoulder, waiting to walk out. Following up the rear is the dapper looking WF Manager, not any old Manager, but the Manager Of The Month, according to the voice over the tannoy.

“Kiss of death!” shouts a TA fan, but she is unable to piss on his parade, and for a moment he looks very chuffed at his achievement. The “support” from the TA fan is just the tip of the iceberg, and the beginning of the very vocal travelling contingent.

What was once a dreaded week for me, the international break, a footballing desert, and even more so now after falling out of love with watching England play, especially against San Marino, but since discovering a universe outside the Premiership, it is no more, the show still goes on, illustrated by what is a great turn out by both sets of supporters, and as the teams change ends after the toss, the TA fans migrate to behind the goal their team is attacking.

The first half is a relatively turgid affair, both teams looking dangerous-ish, getting off to a quick start, but guilty of giving away possession. Both teams threaten in their own way, WF pass the ball to feet, exchange passes around the edge of the box, and get into good positions. TA look great from out wide, and look close to scoring every time the ball is crossed into the area. Neither though look like they will make the break though, and at times it turns into a bit of lump it from end to end competition. A highlight is the long haired, alice band wearing TA number 10, who is distributing the ball well, and looks a little notch above the rest.

“Come on Angels” is perhaps the nicest chant you will ever hear at a football match, and is quite a juxtaposition to their burly following, who at any opportunity give anyone they can, the referee in particular, some grief. The WF keeper must have tinnitus by halftime. Every time the man in charge makes a call against TA he sends them into near hysterics, “how much are they paying you!?!”

13 minutes on the clock, my £1 golden goal ticket is now defunct, I could have been rich if someone had just scored 1 minute earlier, I rip it up into confetti, and toss it into the air.

The WF captain is getting exasperated by his team, “we are just giving it back to them” and demands more from them “TEMPO LADS!”. Their early performance, has also brought the manager down from the stand, to take up position in the technical area, ticking off one player “I tell you to swap, you don’t just swap”, the player in question assumes his manager has amnesia, and intimates he thought he had told him to. The main stand is a fair distance from the pitch, maybe he misunderstood the hand signals.

TA’s best chance of the half, is the result of a good corner, and the resulting scramble, can’t provide a goal, much to the annoyance of their fans behind the goal. WF go close to grabbing a goal not long after, but instead of shooting the number 11 is unselfish, passes square, giving the keeper time to close him down and save, forcing a corner.

Before kick off, I had noticed a man in cycling shorts wandering around the ground with a bucket, but just put it down to one of those odd things you sometimes see. It was however made clear that he was here for a very good cause, raising money for charity. Cycling from TA’s home ground to each of their away matches this season, I was happy to donate, but he gave us a little incentive,  “the more you give the more your team score, it’s true! Last match Tonbridge scored 7!”

I’m lucky enough to bare witness to two pieces of “football speak”, sentences that would be defunct and ridiculous outside the confinements of a football pitch, but somehow seem relatively normal and sane when spoken at a match. The first was just before half time, courtesy of the WF manager, and was so wonderfully profound “be careful we don’t go blind when we squeeze”

I have noticed the word or expression “squeeze” is a very popular in non league football, I don’t think I have heard another word more.

The same young man from the turnstile who sold me my golden goal tickets, convinces me to part with another £1, perhaps the half time raffle will make me rich instead.

As the TA manager with his scouring pad voice, has had enough of his players whinging, and puts them straight, “stop moaning, get on with it” the familiar rattle of the cage means the half time whistle is any minute.

The break is relatively uneventful, other than sitting on a discarded chip and not winning anything on the raffle, now I’m £2 down, we do though walk around to the opposite side of the ground to check out the awesome flags of the home supporters “COME ON YOUR BLUES”, “RIDDLED WITH COCKNEY” and my favourite, one that was here the first time we came, and was what we nearly named the blog, written across a red London Transport sign “MORE FANS THAN FLAGS”.

We stand under the the Jack Fisk stand, opposite the still lovely main stand, if architecture and football
are your things, old stands with lots of character WF has to be top of your list, it is a thing of beauty. Far in the distance Alexandra Palace, is visible on what is a turing into a nice clear almost Autumn afternoon.

There are two definites in the first 15 minutes of the new half, all the pressure is going one way, TA are looking better and better from wide positions, their corners must bring a goal at some point, and the noise from the TA fans, not so much singing or chanting, except for the odd shout of football sweetes chant, but just chit chat/banter/verbal, call it what you will, it doesn’t stop.

Three TA players make a meal of a free kick in a good position, neither of them knowing what to do, and it all ends in a bit of a flop “congratulations on that one from the training ground” shouts a WF fan.

Regardless of the level, someone will always be checking the scores from around the league, working out how things will look if the results stay the same, come a quarter to five, and going through a multiple of permutations like some sort of Rainman, the chap next to us gives his friends a constant update “Bognor 0, Enfield 1, SHIT!”

Whenever the home side play their game, they look to threaten, but there has been a distinct lack of that in the 2nd half, and as someone said to me after, you have to commend TA for forcing them to play their way, because they are dominating in the air, WF can’t get close, and the pressure is about to pay off, with a little help from a deflection. TA’s number 10 latches onto a loose ball in the box and his team go ahead, resulting in a big cheer from the TA fans behind the goal. They almost go ahead by two, the ball squirming under the WF keeper, rolling towards goal, but he manages to get hands on the ball, and prevent the goal.

The WF fans near us are getting annoyed at their team’s style of play. “That’s a stupid ball” one fan shouts after the team gives up possession again. An attempted cross field diagonal pass, that doesn't come off he expresses his annoyance to a fellow fan “they keep playing the Hollywood pass”.

Today’s second gem heard at a football match, comes from a WF fan. He has been getting increasingly annoyed to say the least as his perceived ease that a certain TA player has been going to ground, and in a moment of sheer genius, I pray to the football Gods it was a moment of pure adlib, because that would make it even better, he shouted these immortal words with such gusto, totally disgusted at the ungentlemanly conduct of the player “you must have a cauliflower arse”. Regardless of anything else, this alone made it worth coming today.

It’s almost 16:45 and the points are only looking like they are going back to Kent today. The WF captain is becoming increasingly red faced and frustrated, when he has the ball at his feet just shy of the halfway line, no one from his team is very forthcoming in looking to drive on, and he is a bit fed up “ANYONE WANT IT!?!?”

A first for me today, was a brief conversation with the linesman, during the game, he looked like a smiling Hedghood Syvalin family toy. It comes after one player calls another a “woman” and my girlfriend says how stupid that was. He is standing right in front of us, looks over his shoulder and agrees with her. I pose him the question has anyone ever been sent off for being sexist? People have been sent off for lots of other ‘isms, but how about this one, is there even a rule in place?

As the final whistle goes, I spy Paul standing arms crossed on the touchline between the dug outs, and the TA players walk over to their supporters and offer the ever noisy fans a round of applause, “Well done reds”. As the migration back to Tonbridge beings, I overhear an away fan rub one last bit of salt into the wound of the WF Manager “that your lucky suit gaffa?”

I will try not to repeat word for word, the end of the blog I wrote the first time we visited, because my opinion has not changed, if anything it has improved. WF is such a cracking club, run by great people, with one of my favourite stands. Todays match will go down in the not so great pile, but I’m sure it’s just a blip, because when they did do there thing, they looked great going forward, and always looked solid at the back. If a team ever deserved to keep on “flying” in fact soaring, it’s Wingate & Finchley FC.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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