Wednesday 31 August 2016

A Hurdle Too Far - Croydon FC Vs V.C.D. Athletic FC, FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay, Croydon Sports Arena (24/08/16)

In the 1957, Bank Holiday Monday essential viewing, Word War Two epic ‘The Bridge On The River Kwai’ the POW’s of the Japanese prison camp are punished in a particular way. Placed inside a small iron box, they are forced to endure the hot Burmese sun for hours on end.

Fast forward fifty nine years, and although in no way am I comparing my plight to that of those fictional or non fictional, who had to suffer such horrors, but a very, very, minute part of me wonders if I have just had a taste, a flavour, a homeopathic sized portion of what those men had to go through, as I board the carriage of the Jubilee line.

It’s overwhelming, all consuming, stifling and frankly fucking hideous. Within moments the flask of water suspended from my rucksack and the reams of tissue I stole from work to mop my brow, seem woefully insufficient, it’s roasting. My aim for the next forty five minutes is to move as little as possible, the less I move, the less potential there is for creating any unnecessary heat.

There is an occasional breeze, the faintest hint of coolness, but it's all too fleeting, and is just a bit mean. “They got the heating on?” asks one man to another as they get on at a station two down the line, from where I did. Each new commuter makes the same face, a ‘wow, fucking hell’ face, it’s an all body reaction to the oppressive temperature. Many reach for anything they can, a newspaper, a magazine, to fan themselves.

Standing among the dripping suit wearing souls at Canada Water waiting for Tom, once again I’m early, that’s three times in a row, but he’s even earlier, darn it! Not only is he punctual, he is effortlessly slaloming between people, making his way towards me along the platform in his denim shorts and white polo top. Not only is he here before me, no gloating for me this week, he is suitably dressed for once, and is pulling it off with aplomb.

“Hot” is his first and only word to me. After affirming the blooming obvious, he has the cheek to moan that I’m not early enough, on the train he arrived on he “had a seat” and “it was empty”. The scene now, is similar to the platform at a Japanese train station, and we wait anxiously for the men with shovers to cram us all on.

Tom tries to comfort me, reassuring me that “at least it’s got aircon”, but it's still cosy, and I find myself wedged between another large fellow and a bright orange pole, like a reluctant and overweight stripper. Thankfully the journey isn't long, and for everyone's sake the man behind me doesn't have a handful of $1 bills.

Now south of the river, the blue sky of the north, has been replaced with a grey and overcast one, but guess what, it’s still hot.

I’m not going to pretend I can remember much about the the next fifteen minutes or so of my life, as the hunt for the bus stop, turns into a hunt for the ground, and I have to drag myself, one step at a time, towards the football. What I can recall aren't what I would class as memories per se, I think my brain is too sweaty to create and store basic things like memories, but they’re more of a hazy waft, like a few hours after waking up, and you half remember a bit of a dream from the night before. I think we passed a Crystal Palace pub claiming to be the ‘Home of the Eagles’ with a red and blue facade and same coloured flags hanging under window boxes, a restaurant called Full Belly’s, and I’m sure Tom reminded me that the following day was a religious holiday for him, ‘National Burger Day’, which he observes like you and I do Christmas.

Tom is of course chipper, asking himself out loud “what will tonight's dinner be?” and like a bloodhound sniffs the air when he thinks he can smell fish and chips, but his senses are failing him tonight, he “doesn't know where it’s coming from”. It’s coming from ‘Tony's SUP”A”FRY’, Tony’s fish and chips, why are you concerned with such things? I can barely stand.

Looking to the general public like someone who could benefit from a carer, I stumble along the pavement, stopping at every lamp post to take pictures of the abundant Holmesdale Fanatics stickers, drawing out our journey. When we do though eventually, somehow, arrive at the entrance to the Croydon Sports Arena, it looks remarkably like a building site.

An older green sign, with missing letters points towards a much newer one which at least spells out in full our destination, and confirms that we are in the right place despite the scaffolding alluding to otherwise.

It would be difficult to miss the neon pink entrance, with the name of the venue in large metallic letters adjacent to it. As we get closer it becomes apparent, that this isn't just a football ground, it’s an athletics stadium, which Tom confirms, when Tom blurts out “running track”, two words no football fan really ever wants to hear, ask a West Ham supporter.

A blue single storey building is doing an understated impression of Norman Bates’s home on a small hill, overlooking the pitch. On closer inspection and once we have traversed the zigzagging pathway with it's blue balustrade, a small sign on the front reads “Welcome To Croydon FC” flanked by two images of the clubs crest. Although the sign has ‘welcomed’ us, and the double doors have been pinned open, what is beyond is not exactly unwelcoming, but it’s not perhaps what you would expect.

I call out, “hello”, like someone entering a suspicious looking house in a 90’s slasher movie, I wait for the wind to pick up, slamming the door behind me, and prepare myself for my untimely demise, which may well involve my guts ending up on the floor. Tom stays in the doorway, quivering like Shaggy, “I think it's the wrong place” he says, as I venture forward. The large sports hall is empty, only the mats for an upcoming Yoga session litter the floor, all but one door and the far end is locked.

Tom is now inside, tentatively following me, a few steps behind. As we get closer to the open door I can hear the faint hum of a large TV, which I can see through the doorway hanging on the wall, a fan whirls away and a couple on a large blue sofa look up, and then turn back to the TV.

The club bar, or ‘Blue Room’ is what the mysterious place at the back of the hall turns out to be, and not the haunt of a Scooby Doo villain. It’s floor to ceiling Croydon FC (CFC), a veritable shrine, it’s as if it's been decorated by a football obsessed twelve year old. Every inch is covered with flags, scarves, pictures and pennants, it's wonderful, what every clubhouse or bar should be like, along with the customary fruit machines, it’s got everything you could want. A large all blue Union Jack hangs proudly with ‘Croydon FC’ written across it.

Tom was however half right, we are not in the right place, for the way in that is, a pint yes, but football no. So under instruction we are told to head back down the slope to the flash entrance we had passed.

“Who fancies a go at the golden goal?” asks a man clutching a sandwich bag filled with folded white pieces of paper, within about a nano second of getting in. You don't have to ask me twice, I pay, make my choices and get told not to “lose it”.

There is clearly a model, a standard blueprint for athletics stadiums, the Croydon Sports Arena, is indiscernible, except for a few differences, like the ping pong table trackside, to the few we have been to before, the same model stretching from Tower Hamlets to TeBe.

One large covered stand dominates, elevated so people can get a view of the far side of the track, and then there's a lot of space, especially between where you are expected to watch from, and the action in the middle. Although there are three covered standing terraces on the other side, there is also a hammer cage behind one goal, and a shot put circle behind the other, athletics first, football second, which is confirmed by Suniel a club official, who tells us that the club are only able to play on Saturday, Mondays and Wednesdays, so not to clash with the Croydon Harriers meets.

Suniel also breaks it to us that the “tea bar, is currently closed” no one it seems was “expecting a replay”, so the woman who runs it, is running late, due a prior engagement. This is not what Tom wanted to hear, what will he eat, this is also not what another supporter was expecting, turning the corner to see it closed, looking horrified, then checking his watch on his wrist, with a ‘surely it should be open by now’ expression on his face.

The ground is particularly quiet, other than CFC’s opposition, V.C.D. Athletic FC (VCD) warming up, and the occasional screech of the passing trams which appear, and then disappear again behind the fence on the opposite side, which explains CFC’s nickname ‘The Trams’ and is about the only thing I knew about Croydon as a place, is that they have them, it's very calm, very still.

When Tom mentions that there is “no music” playing, which he thinks might be a “first”, and we have come to love the eclectic mix of non league tunes we hear, so it's a shame not to be able to sing along with a bit of Golden Earring, except for the faint murmur of the dressing room hip hop, which seems to be the music of choice for most changing rooms, you could hear a pin drop.

It has become more than apparent to us, that the ‘non league world’ is a small one. We have definitely
started to recognize the same faces, some we exchange a smile or a handshake with. Tonight is no different, and we have a catch up with someone we met last season at the beginning of our ‘road to Wembley’, Billy from Erith Town FC. He however is here with ulterior motives, I’m sure he would rather be stuck at home in front of the open fridge, like the rest of us, but he is here on a clandestine mission. Erith are CFC’s next opponents and he is under instruction from his chairman to “take a notepad”, as he wants to know about every area of the team.

Tom is praying the tea bar opens soon, his small ration of Haribo is dwindling, and when it finally does, he is not the only one eager for a cuppa or something in a bread roll. His spider senses are quickly tingling at the sound emanating from the front of the queue, “does that sound like hotdogs?” he ask me, I give up.

“Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3” splutters the tannoy, broadcasting Suniel's gentle voice around the ground. Once he confirms that it works, he offers out a “good evening everybody” and gets on with reading out the team sheet, the same team sheet that has been pinned to a nearby door, and has caused a bit of a scrum among those who wish to amend their programs. To avoid getting a whack in the face, every so often a bang comes from the opposite side, alerting those outside that someone inside is trying to come out, and wants to avoid an accident. He struggles with the pronunciation of a few names, but finishes off like a pro, in his methodical voice, none of the razzmatazz of QPR, but different strokes and all that.

“Yes please gents” shouts the referee's assistant, after giving one of the changing room doors a good thump. His prompt results in a mighty roar from one team, who are just about to appear from the base of the main stand, walk up the short makeshift tunnel, and meet the referee who is waiting, fiddling with a ball.

Suniel’s subtle tones once again hopes that everyone will “enjoy the game”. From the stand fans of each team give a shout of support, “come on Vickers”, “come on you Blues”, “come on you Trams”.

Curiously from behind us, a man rings a small hand held bell, moments after the referee has blown his whistle. I join what is not a half bad turnout in the stand, climbing the few steps and picking the nearest empty yellow seat to plonk myself in, there is already a good murmur and the sound of chatting among fans fills the air.

Those like Tom who are not sitting are watching the women at the back of the tea bar feverishly chop onions, as quite the crowd has now formed in anticipation of the food to come.

The step difference, VCD are one above CFC, is apparent quite quickly, with not even fifteen minutes of the game gone the visitors have hit the post and have gone ahead, via the penalty spot. As nice an evening it is, it looks as though it might be a long and hard one for the home team.

“First time!” demands a fan from the stands, as CFC are presented with an opportunity to get back into the game, with just the keeper to beat, and a couple of VCD defenders in hot pursuit, the attacker takes the advice of the fan, but the VCD keeper, in my favourite shade of Buffon pink, saves well.

An outside of the boot flick finish sees VCD extend their lead, and compounds CFC’s challenge. “No not another one” says a CFC supporter next to us, sadly it is. The scorer does the kind of celebration which must send a shudder down his managers spine, a very acrobatic, 8.6 scoring front flip, which I’m sure if not pulled off correctly could result in a funny landing, a tweaked knee, and a month on the sidelines.

The VCD bench wants the players to play on as if it's “0 - 0” and for them not to “settle on this” but unless for a monumental meltdown, I have the feeling that this is wrapped up well before half time.

Tom finally returns, having watched both goals on the half turn in the queue for the tea bar, peering over the cover of the pole vault mat, which ever so slightly obscured his view. Although he almost didn't make it back to his seat with the food he just bought, “I almost dropped it” he tells me, he is very impressed, and thinks his burger might even have “mozzarella on it”, very fancy.

A combination of the weather and the running track, does make us both feel as if we are in fact in some corner of the Mediterranean, some Greek island, but that is all brought crashing back to earth when another tram passes, and lets off its ear piercing whine.

VCD think they have scored a third, but it’s ruled offside. One CFC fan wants good value from his night out, “come on Trams, get in the game, I want at least two hours for my money”. This is the same fan, who has been dishing out a booming running commentary from the back of the stand, for most of the match so far, his own voice louder than the tannoy, they should have got him to read out the teams.

CFC are not in this, are second to everything, and are probably a bit pleased to hear the halftime whistle. A whistle that doesn't follow any added on time, which is noticed by one fastidious timekeeper nearby “he didn't play any” he says, perhaps an act of kindness from the man in charge.

Not all is lost though for CFC if they can just get their number 11 more involved, he is rapid, scary fast, he should be on the track not the pitch, a Tokyo 2020 Olympian in our midst. When chasing the ball into the corner towards the end of the half, what seems a bit of lost cause, one VCD defender has a considerable head start on him, he quickly eats up the ground, overtakes him and pinches the ball, definitely an asset they should try and exploit in the second half.

The players douse themselves with water as they leave the pitch, even though the sun has all but gone, it's still bloody warm. A much welcomed breeze kicks up, Tom’s appreciation of it, that its “nice”, is grossly under playing it, it’s magical.

Whilst on the move to the opposite side on the running track for the second half, Suniel is back, once again sounding very far away, and is the bearer of bad news, “12 minutes” he confirms as the golden goal winning time, so we won't be pocketing the “£40”. Someone asks why the attendance has not been announced, “we're still counting” says a man in what looks like a CFC tie, must be a bumper crowd.

We’re still wandering along the inside bend of our first 200 when the game gets back underway. Tom plonks himself on the steeplechase hurdle, the perfect seat, but only after I have convinced him that trying to clear the water jump would be an error.

CFC seem a different team after the break, and get an early chance to stake a claim in the match, after a fizzing ball from the wing should have resulted in a goal, but it looks like the man in the box just didn't think it was going to reach him, “make a fist of is Croydon” demands someone loudly from the stand, that we can hear.

“Eight drops then it stopped” says Tom after some big dollop, monster rain falls briefly, we even hear a rumble in the distance but are not sure if it’s thunder or the imminent arrival of a tram, that are now only a few feet behind us.

Another boom, but this is neither Mother Nature or the local public transport, but a heavy duty block in the CFC six yard box, that prevents the VCD third, and lucky for them it did, because not long after CFC score, 2 - 1.

It’s just about the most simple of goals anyone can score, a mighty hoof from the keeper, who we both commented during the warm up, that he had an atomic weapon of a kick. The attacker gambles on the defender letting it bounce, which he does, the VCD keeper is lost in no man's land, and the attacker pokes it in.

While VCD berate their man in goal, the scorer has picked up the ball out the back of the net, and is running towards the centre circle, placing the ball on the spot.

VCD now look shaky at the back, CFC number 9 is throwing his weight around and number 11 is starting to make inroads. The home bench demands they are not to “switch off”, the away bench can see that they are under the cosh, and they shore up the defenses, “keep digging in” says someone, who perhaps has watched one too many episodes of Band of Brothers.

The advice from Captain Winters on the sidelines has clearly paid off for VCD, because not only do they think they have got a third, again, which is chalked off, again, with five minutes left, the precise moment that CFC should be plugging away with everything they can, they are now back on top.

One CFC player demands “one last push”, is there a special offer on World War Two films no one has told me about?

As it inevitably always does in the dying moments of most matches, a last and golden chance, will come, one side of the post or bar and its glory, the other, defeat. Such an opportunity falls at the back post, a free header, but it’s wide. Some players have their heads in hands, everyone's attention is on the player who failed to score, a ‘how did you miss that’ look in their eyes.

One VCD player asks the referee how long is left and is told “2 minutes”, when the whistle is blown for full time, another VCD player lets out a mighty “yesss”, many CFC players sink to their knees, or down onto their haunches then onto their backs. Many on the victorious side, show good sportsman ship, wishing those they have conquered, “all the best for the rest of the season”.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

For our video from the match, click HERE

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Sunday 21 August 2016

Making Hard Work Of It - QPR FC Vs Swindon Town FC, League Cup 1st Round, Loftus Road (10/08/16)

It’s no longer called the Capital One, Worthington, Coca Cola or Carling Cup, this year it’s been decided to give it a snappy, abbreviated, social media friendly name, the ‘EFL Cup’, or the League Cup to you and me, and although for the first time in my lifetime it’s not named after some two bit sponsor, it’s still the one that starts early, finishes early, and no clubs really want to be in.

I must admit it’s a competition quite close to my heart, in the twenty years I have been a Spurs fan, it’s the only thing I have seen us win, the memory of the last minute Allan Nielsen diving header winner against Leicester, is one no one can take away from me. It’s effectively the middle child between the FA Cup and the EFL Trophy (Johnstone's Paint Trophy), that gets you a day at Wembley, and nine times out of ten will derail your season if you win, because everyone is like ‘banked a bit of silverware there, season over’, but your thinking, 'come on it’s mid March, we've just lost four on the bounce'.

Perhaps trying to remember all League cups previous incarnations, is the reason I’m sitting on the bus with a skull crackingly bad headache, on my way to West London. It was the same round of the competition last year, that we made the trip to South East London, and the New Den, to watch Millwall take on Barnet in what turned out to be a minor upset. So when the chance arose to tick QPR off the list, all for £15, plus a £3 booking fee for ordering on the phone and collecting from the ground, can someone please explain what that is for?, it was an easy decision, also there is maybe, a very, very remote chance of bumping into Les Ferdinand.

I’ve been to Loftus road a couple of times, most recently to see Spurs in a completely unmemorable 0 - 0 draw, when the most interesting thing that happened was Sandro ruining his knee, or the colossal panic attack I had. Other than that, I took little away from my visit, other than it is tight, snug and compact ground.

Having only visited as an away fan, I enquired on Twitter as to the best place to sit. After sifting through the expected responses of “a seat”, “the directors box”, “3.2 miles up the road” which included a map showing the way to Leyton Orient, someone sensible suggested the “upper Loft”, but wherever I go, there will be no “leg room”.

‘Come on you R’s’ high up on one side of the ground is the first thing I see once the soft female robotic voice of my bus informs me I have arrived. The superstore below already has a healthy amount of people outside, and there's still over an hour and half to kick off, not that there is expected to be bumper crowd by any stretch of the imagination, one whole side of the ground is closed, but there are a fair few Swindon Town FC (ST) fans already milling about in their red shirts, who instantly make me think about Glenn Hoddle and the 1993 documentary ‘That’s Football!’.

Damn it, Tom is here before me, so I’m unable to gloat about being early two games in a row. Such was his promptness he has already been in the club shop to get his pin, I pop my head in, but quickly scarper like a soon to be victim in a Wes Anderson film, at the sight of foam fingers and a ‘Retro Section’.

ST’s coach passes us, and with no underground, multi story car park bat cave entrance, the likes of which you get at most modern stadiums, they just pull up on the main road, which separates the ground from a very large nearby housing estate, hop off and make their way in.

There is something wonderfully romantic, about these still standing suburban grounds, which were built in the early 1900’s, and over time a community has grown around them, intertwining with them, so much so it has become part of the landscape, in some places it’s hard to differentiate between house and ground. As we take in a lap it’s only the occasional gaps in the terraced houses, and the appearance of a blue gate that makes you realise what’s just behind, oh that and the flood lights.

Less than convinced by the food on offer at the local chippy or the burger van on the pavement behind a four by four, Tom asks himself out loud “does that look like a good place to eat? the answer must be a no, because we make our way in, food-less.

“A Kick Up The R's, brand new edition” shouts the fanzine seller standing in the middle of South Africa Road in the famous QPR hooped shirt, the black and red away version mind, not the blue and white home one. With a faded green money belt around his waist, he holds the publication high above his head, calling out like a throwback from an East End market.

In my early days going to White Hart Lane, I could put my house on the fact the same guy would be standing in the same doorway selling a Spurs fanzine. On one hand it has nothing to do with the club, completely unofficial, but on the other could not be any less important, than the ground or the badge. The humble fanzine is an integral part of football culture a counter voice to the party line, necessary satire of the club and a platform for the fans to speak their mind, all hopefully safe in the knowledge that you won't be getting a letter asking you to arrange a meeting to collect your season ticket.

One home fan is being turned away as we make our way towards our turnstile, a bit too much pre match loading I think, which is more than apparent by his crab like getaway.

“That’s a nice conservatory” says Tom as we climb the exterior stairs of the stand, such is the proximity to the nearby houses, I can make out the latest edition of Horse & Hound on someone's coffee table.

I wish I had been told to bring my glow sticks, because the music playing as we walk down the long narrow concourse to our block, is frankly a bit trippy, a little bit Whirligig, imagine black lights and neon trousers.

Most already here are standing heads tilted towards the TV screens showing Sky Sports news. Tom thinks he sees a rolling yellow banner alluding to an Arsenal transfer, and is as excited as someone who thinks they has just seen a Unicorn, but he isn't certain.

We find our seats, which isn't hard, its not a big stadium, but it’s perfectly formed, with it’s four closed corners. I wouldn't say we are high up, even though we are on the upper tier, it feels like I could reach down and touch the players warming up below. A few flags hang over the balcony of the stand to our right, the one to our left is closed, no-one will be occupying any of the white seats that spell out ‘QPR’.

“Welcome to Loftus Road” announces the voice over the speakers. The same voice shares with us the starting 11's, first up the visitors, who he reels off with all the enthusiasm of someone reading out a shopping list, even when he “welcomes back” an old player, his voice doesn't peak much above monotone. With ST done, it’s now QPR’s turn, which is preceded by what I can only imagine was a nose bag of amphetamines, because his change in tone and excitement level is remarkable, it could only be drug induced, it was so quick. All to its own pumping backing track, he reads out the home team players like it's the beginning of the super bowl, which is then finished off with a blast of ‘London’s Calling’ by the Clash.

Post audio assault, and thinking it can't be healthy for a person to be that up and down in a matter of thirty seconds, and with the sun slowly disappearing picturesquely over the roof of the far stand, it really is an agreeable scene, and I am quickly falling for this ground, but we are in pain, my knees and shins have been cut to ribbons by the chair in front, and we need to stretch our legs. Tom is sitting side saddle like a Victorian lady, and I think their is more of me in the aisle than in my seat, so we, or I should say Tom, with me following, go in search of food.

“£4.20 for Mums hot dog” considers Tom, not sure who's Mum’s it is, but I’m sure it’s some kind grey haired lady who before each match passionately hand crafts the frankfurters, and It’s not a cynical marketing trick to make it sound all cozy and homely and help you forget that it’s the pulverised eyelids and hooves that it is. When Tom spots one of ‘Mum’s’ in the flesh, he is quick to flash me an ‘ABORT, ABORT, ABORT’ look, instead going for the beer in a plastic bottle and pie.

I opt for an Oasis, which tastes like a bottle of a thousand melted ice poles, and refrained from food, even one gram of fat, might mean I won’t be able to get into any of my seat.

Tom as ever, is eager, pulling the pie from it’s hot plastic wrapper, he delves in with his wooden spoon. The next couple of minutes are similar to an episode of Alan Partridge, with a meat pie instead of an apple one and a football ground instead of a petrol station. Tom is forced to contort his face in such a way as to allow him to move the brown scalding mush around his mouth to prevent further burns, all with his mouth fully open, to allow for the escape of the meaty steam. He is appalled at the way he is behaving, the combination of the imminent kick off and the heat has reduced him, in his own words to eating it like a “dog”.

Bringing your own food, that’s the way to do it, we say it every time Tom finishes something he wished he hadn't and is overcome with self loathing. The woman sitting behind us who is surreptitiously prying open bread rolls and stuffing a bit of ham in it, before handing it out to her family, should be an inspiration to us all.

The big screen at the opposite end of the ground counts down to kick off, an army of fully kitted mascots and flag bearers mill about at the mouth of the tunnel. Despite the blaring Libertines song, the ST fans can be heard over the music, and are in good voice, “we’re the red and white army”.

“Welcome to the hallowed turf” says the alleged recreational drug user announcer, as the players arrive, amongst a blur of waving flags. The choice of music is akin to a montage from Top Gear, instrumental, guitar riff heavy, and the big screen repeats ‘we are QPR’ and ‘this is Loftus Road’ like something from Clockwork Orange.

“Get behind them from the first minute to the last” he shouts, as QPR prepare for kick off, the fans around us dish out their own customary call “come on you Hoops”, “come on you R’s”. ST’s fans are less than impressed, “your support is fucking shit”.

Along with hoping to bump into Sir Les Ferdinand, he just hangs around here right? The other former Premier League striker, we are guaranteed to maybe not bump into, but at least see, is Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, “there's Jimmy” points out Tom. It’s hard to miss him, standing on the touch line in a brilliant white shirt, just itching to twat a ball at one hundred miles an hour into the top right hand corner. I bet he could, I bet he could still almost break the crossbar.

Some football fans are reluctant to praise a player who plays for other clubs, taking the ‘he don't play for us, so he's shit’ approach, short of getting a tattoo and a shirt with his name on, I will happily give credit where credit's due, and with Hasselbaink I’ll dish it out in buckets, he’s one of my all time favourites!

“Hello, hello we are the Swindon boys” sing the ST supporters who have not stopped, and it’s their team that get the first shot on target, albeit a little tame, but they certainly look the more sprightly of the two teams.

Although the fans around us offer up the occasional shout, the noisiest are the mostly standing group to our far left, who have pushed themselves against the fence separating them from the closed stand, “everywhere we go”.

The home fans eventually have something to get excited about, but I’m not sure anyone could see it properly because the setting sun is now at such a level, most people are having to shield their eyes with their hands. It was a brilliant diagonal ball that found the player perfectly flying down the wing, and his half volleyed cross causes all sorts of furor, but no goal.

QPR are growing into the game, and are slowly starting to control it, creating plenty of chances. The cross field ball from left to right is working well, and they have good pace on the wings, but look determined at times to be the “authors of their own pain” to steal a Blofeld line. When they give the ball away, one fans timing near us is impeccable, “fuck off” he shouts, as ST shot on goal, which again resulted from QPR’s sloppy play, but thankfully it’s a bit limp once again.

Midgame a mobile number appears on the screen, inviting text’s from fans who have witnessed ‘unacceptable behaviour’, Tom suggests I “get my phone out” and prepares to dictate a message, convinced the seating arrangements could well be considered unacceptable, “I can’t feel my shins right now” is his proposed memo, “it’s the most uncomfortable I have ever been”.

The sun finally disappears over the roof of the School End, and although it's a bit chilly, people are reaching for cardigans and jackets, it's still a gorgeous evening for watching football.

ST are getting opportunities, normally with an assist from the home team, only the legs of the QPR keeper can stop their latest attempt, which is finally hit with some venom. QPR are hardly blessed with a decent cup record, in any competition. The grim look on many of the fans faces around us represents that, they seem resigned to the ultimate disappointment of defeat.

Tom’s analysis on the thirty minute mark is that QPR are good at “blocking”, insightful, I guess, if not a little brief. Not long after his Paul Merson’esq observations, this skill of theirs is required again, as ST look destined to grab a goal.

With the break approaching Tom wants me to get him a “Snickers”, but he will not consider another bottle of Carlsberg because it was “horrible”. Not only is Tom a fine barber, photographer, football pundit, but he also it seems has one finger pressed firmly against the beating pulse of the world of marketing, and has noticed a glaring hole in QPR’s branding: the signs around the pitch are advertising Ginsters, but they sell Pukka pies! This is akin to when Messi was seen drinking a Coke, heads will surely roll, I can only imagine he will be firing off an email to Tony Fernandes in the morning, offering his services like Mary Portas.

The half finishes with QPR once again being caught out inside the left back. The keeper is forced to charge off his line, is easily rounded only for a player to block the certain goal on the line. The man along from us has his head in his hands, two children in front of us, have had a enough, and have fallen asleep.

On the half time whistle sandwich making behind us recommences, and I think I spot a few coconut chunks being handed out.

QPR’s mascot a large black cat does the rounds, at one point he points to a person in the stand and gestures outside, maybe they have a bit of previous, but it seems very unsavoury from a club representative, tut, tut. The half time entertainment round here, which gets you a goody bag, is the challenge of chipping a football into what I can only describe as one of those things they use to wrap your Christmas tree.

One fan coming back to their seat is optimistic, “ 3 - 1 QPR” he says. Tom returns without his desired Snickers, but impressed that they have a smoking area, if he had known before hand, he wouldn’t have had to chug on his vape cig in the loo like a crackhead.

“Welcome back your Queens Park Rangers” says Bez on the mic, still super hyped and backed by more 90’s dance music.

A big shout for a home penalty plays out right below us, it was clearly shoulder to shoulder,  and when it’s not given, all the “fucking hell ref” and hard done by noises you would expect follow, Tom quite rightly says it would have been a bit “harsh” if it had been given. Much to the relief of the tense home crowd, not long after they go ahead, the players trot off down the goal line in front of us celebrating, close enough, you could join in.

The fans are now a lot louder, “we’re the pride of West London” they decree, the cage crew are now hitting their chain link partition with extra vigour, and stick it to their neighbours “stand up if you hate Chelsea”.

Tom’s legs have completely gone to sleep, I wish Sir Les was here with his helicopter, he could airlift him to hospital, he starts to scribble a will on the back of his ticket, he is not sure if he is going to make it, his agony is not helped by the referee's insistence of continuously blowing his whistle, he seems determined not to let the game flow, “it's getting boring” he says in his array of contoured pretzel like positions.

QPR’s lead lasts all but of about fifteen minutes, although not because they had slammed their fist on the big red self destruction button, it’s a fluke, a ricochet that sends the ST attacker unopposed and bearing down on goal, he waits for the ball to bounce and then hits it on the half volley. Whereas our end is engulfed in a large sigh, the ST end has erupted “we’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen” they claim, “if you love Swindon, stand up” they sing, I would definitely be standing love or no love, it would be far more comfortable.

It’s all ST now, the QPR fans seem again resigned to their fate, and are getting angry, one is even looking for divine intervention when the keeper almost blows it. Trying to be tricky in the box, with a drag back or three he almost gets caught out “JESUS” he screams, from my own experience deities don’t meddle in the world of football, except if your Maradona.

Jimmy does his best from his technical area, with his ear splitting whistle, but to no avail. There is a small outbreak of fistycuffs, a full team on team jostle, but nothing major, we are going to extra time.

More jumpers go on, preparing for another thirty minutes, the sky is now jet black. People seem a little deflated, ST are a division below, and really should be on the way home, when one shouts “come on Rangers” it’s a little lackluster.

“Deh, Deh, Deh Hoops” how the mood can change in the blink of an eye, another ball across the box a shout of “hit it” from someone behind us, and the player obliges, 2 -1. It’s QPR’s turn to "ollay" the team passing the ball about, the likelihood of another goal seems certain, but the win still feels less than secure.

Quick drink, quick word from the boss, change of ends, second half of extra time, “come on Rangers” someone shouts, which sounds like more of a plea, than anything else.

The metaphorical blue and white fist of QPR has lifted itself above its head and has firmly smashed the self destruct button, in fact it's lifting it up and down, repeatedly hitting away just to make sure, 2 - 2. Eyes roll to the heavens, I told you already they can't help you up there and many cheeks are puffed in disappointment, one fan says it best “poor”.

“We’ve only got ten men, we’ve only got ten men” sing the ST fans, have you? A couple of head counts later, they are right. ST have used all their subs, and a player has gone off injured, it's just extra salt in the wound. The woman with the sleeping children, who are now awake, is upset, but has to moderate her displeasure, “that's toilet”.

In the final moments of extra time, QPR chuck the kitchen sink at ST, whose fans are now the quietest they have been all night, the home fans have one more rally “COME ON YOU R’S”, someone is banging the back of the stand, and the players respond. A shot goes just wide “ooooo” and another is flashed across the goal.

ST’s keeper in a pink jersey, a rather garish shade, not an effortlessly cool Buffon one, tries halfheartedly to waste some time, claiming an imaginary head injury, but can't live with the shame of his public display of bullshit, and gives up, but it doesn't matter, shootout here we come.

The captains are led away by the referee for the coin toss. Much to the delight of the traveling fans, the players are making their way up towards them. Both teams line up arms around each other on the halfway line, as the first taker, a ST player, makes his way for the first penalty.

QPR’s keeper is the hero, with two saves, much to the audible relief and delight of the now departing home fans, after a mixed one hundred and twenty minutes for their team, one supporter is so over joyed he breaks free of the agreed restraints of the stand and dashes across the pitch, playing his own game of 'catch' with the lumbering high viz wearing stewards, side stepping and weaving away from their attempts to catch him.

“Talk about making hard work of it”, is the sentiment of one fan as we make our way home, one of the many children who are here, are far from sympathetic for their defeated foe, “Swindon are rubbish, Swindon are out” they sing with much glee.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

For our video from the match, click HERE

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Sunday 14 August 2016

Don't Follow Me, Follow The Seasiders - FC Clacton Vs Eton Manor FC, FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round 2016/17, Rush Green Bowl (06/08/15)

With the blinds of my bedroom doing a piss poor job of keeping out the bright shards of sunlight, it is that, and not my alarm that wakes me this morning. Usually this would get my day off to a less than ideal start, consuming most of my commute with vengeance directed at Mother Nature, today though is different, today is special, today football is back!

Saying that, it's not like it’s been gone for long. With the month long European Championship offering a pleasant interlude, or two weeks for an England fan, sigh, football in fact doesn't feel like it’s even stopped. When Ronaldo had finished posing, and Buffon cemented his credentials as world's coolest footballer, my summer, much like millions of others has been taken over by Pokemon GO. I did briefly watch some of the Chinese Super League, but decided wandering around a park hoping to catch a floating plant with teeth or firefly cat/wolf thing, was better for my soul.

Post bath, my first big decision of the new season is ‘shorts or no shorts?’. I opt for bare legs, even though they make me look a bit like a member of Alien Ant Farm. As I pack my rucksack, with all the attention and precision of Ray Mears, It crosses my mind that it has only been a couple of months since Alan Pardew was ruining the FA Cup a little bit, and Jesse Lingard made sure we all weren't subjected to any more fucking dancing, and it really is remarkable that the road to Wembley has started again so soon.

On our personal mission last season to do every round, we managed eleven. It was those early rounds specifically, those rounds where you could tell it was a big deal to progress, that were some of the highlights of 2015/16. Both of us were fully submerged in the romance of the competition, it really didn't bother us that we didn't make it to Wembley, because as we got closer, the passion and excitement got further away, nowhere was this more clear than at Arsenal Vs Hull in the fifth round.

Outside the sky is a brilliant blue, there’s not a cloud in sight, and my outfit choice is instantly vindicated. My local tube station is out of action for the weekend, so I’m forced into taking a combination of buses to meet Tom at Liverpool Street. Not that I’m actually that bothered, you're not going to catch a Snorlax on the Underground, are you?

Oh my bus is on a diversion, oh no one thought to inform me of that at any point during my journey, oh you have now dropped me off in the wrong place. For the second time in less than a couple of hours, an event which would usually send me into a downward spiral of under my breath swearing, is like water off a duck's back, I’m just not bothered, football is back.

Where I have been dumped, works out OK in the end, and I’m soon on my way. I’m sure it’s just living in a large city, but when using public transport, it seems unavoidable not to notice or overhear something interesting or have some kind of interaction with someone of one kind or another. While I feverishly swipe my phone, trying to get those all important PokeStops, I’m caught up not so much in the conversation of the two actors behind me, “I’m just trying to get paid” says one, but more their hearty, Kenneth Branagh, thespian laughs, that are always in unison, and never independent of each other.

The world again tries to test me, my bus announces that it’s changing destination, but once again I’m unfazed, I would say I’m as cool as a cucumber, but it's stiflingly hot, thankfully the small lady asking people if they are “a Christian” is also handing out leaflets which come in handy as a fan. I’m again distracted from my jogging blue haired avatar, as the small lady decides to inquire about the driver’s religious beliefs, “I will say a pray for you” she tells him, I just want her to let the guy drive.

A new season, means new ways, for one of us at least, I’m on time. I’m chuffed as I look up at the big electronic clock on the departures board at Liverpool St station, that I am a whole two minutes early.

All in black, wearing jeans and a jacket, Tom descends the stairs, sporting a nifty pair of Ray-Bans, looking effortlessly cool, only he, even in his totally overdressed state, with the thermometer hitting over 25 degrees, can pull it off. I stare at him slack jawed, half Irish and overweight, wondering how does he do it? I almost brought a towel to mop my brow, he just shrugs “ you know I never get it right”.

Something else that hasn't changed, is his somewhat consistent bleary eyed’ness. Queuing to get our train tickets he tells me of last nights escapades that involved a DJ on the back of a flatbed truck. I must admit I was up a little later than usual, taking in the cultural event of the Rio Olympic opening ceremony, but I was not eating vodka filled scotch eggs or snorting deep fried absinthe cheese straws.

“No Thomas” shouts a Grandmother to her grandson in an Arsenal shirt, causing Tom to turn in his seat, look at the little boy, and wonders for a second if he has just fallen into a time rift, all in the time it takes to pull out of the station.

Our train is far from modern, it’s verging on the antique, it’s deafening, when other trains pass, it feels like we are being shot out of a gun. It is however not loud enough to drown out the slurping noise the man sitting next to us is making, as he eats a ginormous heritage tomato, this is no supermarket tiddler, it’s like an apple, he only stops occasionally to eat a hunk of bread, like an extra from Wolf Hall.

“I’m getting quite hungry” says Tom “should of got a sandwich” he adds. Where as I have tried to turn over a new leaf, my time keeping, Tom is just the same, always thinking about food. As we get closer to our stop, continuing through the freshly cut rolling fields of Essex countryside, our final destination inspires the conversation: fish and chips, pickled onions and Tom’s Dad's addiction to saveloys. Tom has to get something off his chest, I can see from his face it’s just trying to burst out, “I love a battered sausage” he admits, after saying it his eyes dart around the carriage like he has just admitted to a heinous crime, hopping no one heard.

“Clacton only” says the train, we are next.

On arrival the carriage is filled with the high pitched squeals of children. The train quickly empties and instantly the air is filled with the signature sound of the seaside, squawking gulls. It is though quickly relegated to second place, and replaced by the tedious rumble of pulled luggage, as families landing with bags and buckets and spades, race off to start their summer holidays.

As we get closer to the seafront the telltale signs of a British coastal resort become apparent, old ladies eating ice creams on benches, kids tearing about because of too many sweets, annoyed looking parents trying to catch the aforementioned children, the clicking of the rides, men with their shirts off, when it's really not that hot, and the flashing lights of the amusements.

“Arcades, 10p machines” says Tom, as we pass Magic City and I have a job on my hands keeping him out. On the promenade, he is again mesmerized, “oh hello” he says like Terry Thomas as he spots one of the many fish and chip stalls near the pier, and he decides for the both of us, what we are having for lunch.

Although it was one of the better deep fried sausages I have ever had, it was fresh atleast, not a bendy meat torpedo, which has been in it’s hot glass prison for eternity, it doesn't sit quite right with either of us.

Have you heard the one, “there was a Spurs fan, an Arsenal fan and a West Ham fan in a taxi……” you probably haven't, but it is the situation we find ourselves in. Our driver, a forward thinking Hammer, talks about understanding the “bigger picture” when it comes to West Ham leaving their “home” the Boleyn, but nonetheless is not ecstatic about the move.

When we tell him where we are off to, he is quick to sing the praises of FC Clacton (FCF). It’s always nice to hear when a club are active in the local community, he tells us about the many kids teams, for boys and girls they have, as well as ‘Fun Days’ at the ground. Once we’ve paid him and as we both getting out, he fills us in on one of the fans chants “sea, sea, sea, siders”.

A long white wall outside the Rush Green Bowl has the club's name emblazoned on it, in tall blue letters, along with the club's crest, which includes all the things you would expect from a club on the coast, clam shells and boats.

It’s a lot quieter out here than by the front, the only thing interrupting the sound of the gulls is the whir of an air conditioning unit and ‘Bye, Bye Baby’, by the Bay City Rollers. The entrance is little more than a door in a brick wall, there is a turnstile, but such is the size of the gap, you can easily sidestep it, and avoid the customary click.

Once in, a small band of the nicest CFC blue cap wearing hustlers get to work, the first one Chris, is behind an old round dining table with a few copies of today's programme fanned out, next to a pile of change. With that sorted, next down the line is an older chap in charge of a table jam packed with club merchandise, front and centre a bumper sticker that looks like it has seen better days reads “don't follow me, follow the seasiders”.

“Start as you mean to go on” he says to me, clutching the all too familiar half time draw scratch card, and it's not long until I have handed over £2 and he is telling me to be in the clubhouse at half time, to find out if I have won.

Not content with our money for my programme and Tom getting a pin, the Apprentice contestant in him steps forward, “want something for the winter?” he asks, holding up a blue club fleece in front of me to see if it fits, like when your Mum took you shopping. I declined because I can buy my own clothes now thanks Mum, oh and it’s a bit small, and it’s too fucking hot!

Running a non-league football club requires you to be inventive, resourceful, and smart. Nowhere is this more apparent, than the pink Wendy House being used to balance the PA system on top of, blasting out a solid mix of what you might call ‘Dad music’, in no way is that a criticism, I only have praise for a club that plays ‘Back in the USSR’ by the Beatles, I just don't think you are ever going to hear ‘Hotline Bling’ here.

Both teams are warming up, CFC are doing one particular drill Tom thinks is a bit “mean”, drop the ball and you have to go and play on your own.

Always keen to tick off a few boxes in my ‘I Spy book of non-league football’ I dust it off after its summer hiatus, and tick off, ‘man on grass bank playing an acoustic guitar’ but can't find one for ‘child’s toy used as part of sound system’ so add that to the notes section. When the “guitar man” as Tom describes him, strides past us with it slung on his back like the member of a Mariachi band, this prompts Tom to take a walk of his own to take some pictures, and leaves me sitting on one of the blue benches of the ‘Mars Drury Stand’ one of three in the ground. Opposite, and much in need of exploring is the curiously named ‘Bus Shelter’ with flags hanging on it’s back wall.

With the blue sky filled with only a few fluffy white clouds, you could not ask for a more picture perfect scene, all with a little bit of Chesney Hawkes playing. People are scattered out around the ground, one man in a scarf, why?, leans on the blue and white railing around the pitch, flicking through his programme. It’s not long until I’m joined by a couple more people, “can I get round you young man” one man asks me as he climbs up the benches to the back of the stand, his friend, looking very smart in a green cardigan, IS HE NOT BOILING?, wipes down his intended spot with a tissue before placing down his own personal cushion.

Tom returns, telling me he has been told to talk to one particular fan who he refers to as “Mr Clacton” the go to guy for questions about the club’s history, but he has been warned, “we might miss the match though, he likes to talk”.

Requiring a much needed drink we head to the clubhouse, where it’s cool, and the majority of the people are hiding. These are the same people, who clearly love a CFC baseball cap, be it blue or white, old or new, almost everyone to a man is sporting one, of one design, or another. While I’m waiting for my change, I overhear a group discussing cobbling together their money to sponsor a player this season, their main choice, ticks all the right boxes it seems “he's good” confirms one of them to the rest of the group, who all agree.

Pitchside, with the ice in my glass rapidly melting, we join the others congregated around the thin green path leading from the changing room to the pitch. It’s about now I start to panic ever so slightly, while everyone around me doesn't seem to have noticed, am I the only one who has seen in the distance a plane, yes a plane, not one of the model variety, a real life size light aircraft is baring down on us all, like the scene from a Bond film.

Thankfully there is no spectacular explosion, no union jack parachute, but as it comes in to land mere feet away for the pitch, it is close enough to see the flying goggles and fur lined jacket of the pilot.

“We've come all this way for one thing” shouts one of CFC’s opponents, Eton Manor FC (EMFC), as they are led by the referee on to the pitch, all to the rhythmic clapping of ‘We will Rock You’ by Queen. Tom asks if EMFC’s kit is the same as the old QPR red and white number, and admittedly it does look very similar. For a brief moment the two teams line up, and shake hands. As they make their way to their half a couple of players from each side shout “come on Eton”, “come on Clacton”.

“Good to be back” says Tom to me, moments after kick-off.

Spirits are high, and communication has clearly been the buzzword of pre season training, lots of players are shouting all sorts of things, but mainly one word, very loudly, “heads”, “seconds”. EMFC’s keeper falls into the ‘motor mouth' category, and is non stop.

Tackles are already flying in, Tom makes the same prediction that he normally does about this time, ten minutes into most games we watch, after wincing for about the fourth time after a ’50/50’ “someone is getting sent off”.

“Well done keeper” shouts someone ironically from the stands, as a fumble from the man in goal for EMFC results in CFC going ahead. Tom recalls him moaning about his gloves during the warm up, trying on different pairs, perhaps that was a factor in his butter fingers, but really he should've done better with the low cross.

One EMFC player demands “calm” from his teammates, since going behind the away team have been at 6’s and 7’s. The “beast”, the now generic name for a big unit centre forward, and how Tom describes EMFC's number 9, is causing problems for the defense, but his marker who is almost half his size, is for the time being keeping him under wraps.

I’m not sure if I have mentioned it yet, but it is warm, so when Tom points to the man in front of us wearing the jumper, “I was going to buy”, I’m first impressed, well done for flogging that in August, but then I’m flabbergasted, is everyone cold blooded in these parts, or do I need to just get a grip?

To our left, a group of four home fans, watch on from the sidelines, their own flag draped over the fence in front of them. One stands out from the rest, the guy rocking a double denim, Eagles concert, jeans and jeans jacket combo, paired with a cap covered in football pins, and a club scarf and shirt. With a thin lit rollie constantly in his mouth, he occasionally pulls a quarter bottle of vodka from the inside pocket of his jacket, takes a glug then puts it back, now that’s a way to enjoy your Saturday.

We love non-league football, we love the stripped back, no nonsense feel of it, but one thing I think would be worth adopting form their multi million, spending pre season playing a Boutan best 11, to boost shirts sales cousins on their lofty perch, is a jumbotron or two.

Ok, perhaps jumbotron is wishful thinking, just a moderately sized screen for replays, because when EMFC equalise, I happened to be writing in my notebook, looking up at the point the ball is sailing over the CFC keeper, Tom has a ‘that was a wicked goal’ look on his face, and the scorer has strolled to the sidelines, very nonchalantly, waiting for his team mates to mob him, knowing full well he has done something great.

Things quickly go from bad to worse for CFC, when in the matter of of about five minutes, the match has done a full 180, and EMFC go ahead. “How have you let that happen?!?” shouts Mr Smirnoff from the sidelines, the home bench is just as livid “do you want anything from this game?”.

With an almost carbon copy attack that resulted in the first goal, CFC seem destined to score again, but can’t, this time the keeper doesn't have any issues with his gloves. The end finishes with CFC having plenty of the ball, but they are just unable to make the right pass when it matters, Tom’s mind is wandering to thoughts of half time snacks “can you smell those onions?” he asks me, which are wafting on the breeze from the burger van behind one goal. When I ask him if he is getting something, he reacts with real disdain, “no, it's a healthy season” he snaps.

The ground is a little muted on the half time whistle, most pick themselves up and head to the bar. Those who don’t, like us, stay in the shade of the stand, and start the analysis of the first half, many gesturing to now empty parts of the pitch, claiming players should have been “here” or “there”. Two people passing us, chatting among themselves, are a little less tactically minded. “Game started alright” says one of the other shrugging, the reply from the other is someone who could never be called a fair weather fan “we will watch them, we ain't going anywhere, they are trying their best”.

For a moment a pleasant hush falls over the ground, only the occasional sound of gulls and shooting practise interrupts, soon this changes when the music starts again, unfortunately now with a more contemporary vibe, boooooo, bring back the music made before 1984.

Tom has insisted we move, and as the new half gets under way, we are standing behind the goal in front of the burger van, the same burger van whose side window is being propped open with a broom, so the person inside can watch the match.

Going by the first half's, ‘open style’, more goals seemed inevitable, and the Gods don’t disappoint, with CFC pulling things equal early, “quick start” says Tom, he’s not wrong, I think some people might still be getting a drink.

Although we could see the group to our left in the first half had a flag up, we could not see what it was. They have also moved, so we can now read what’s on it ‘Vic Dave Les 3 Old Gits FC Clacton Forever’.

The bad habit of not being able to hold on to a lead is shared by both teams. When the diminutive home number 5, who has been doing such a good job marshaling the EMFC number 9, is culpable of a foul in the box, the referee points to the spot. It’s more scuffed than well hit, one EMFC player can’t bare to look and turns his back, one CFC fan near us reckons “it's going over, he'll miss”, but no such luck, it’s 3 - 2 to EMFC.

I’m struggling to keep up, as soon as CFC almost equalize again, this time a lobbed ball over the out rushing keeper, misses the goal, instead hitting the broom holding up the burger van window sending it flying, I once again miss a goal, and by the sounds of it, it makes the first one I missed sound like a pea roller.

This time all I hear is the ping of the ball off the woodwork, look up to see the CFC keeper stranded in no man's land, and the scorer, the EMFC number 9 now has his second, flying off. People are saying things like “35 yarder” and the ref is manically signalling towards the hysterical away bench for the players to get off the pitch and stay in their area.

Really, a big screen for replays can't be that expensive, can it?

CFC are in disarray, the 4th goal it would seem has pulled the rug from under them, and another comeback looks unlikely. If it is going to happen, it will have something to do with the tall thin, striding number 11, who has carte blanche on the right wing, his long legs allowing him to continuously leave his marker for dead.

“Sea, sea, sea, siders” for the first time in the match the Bus Shelter comes to life, banging on the back of the stand, they offer their support “come on Clacton”, and they along with the rest of the fans are full of praise when one player performs a goal line clearance and prevents a 5th for EMFC.

I think the sun has got to Tom, “that's a very pretty pigeon” he says pointing his camera at some nearby wildlife, as the players take a much deserved water break. He is though quite right, it’s much nicer than the one legged, mange covered ones we get at home, but I do wonder if he should have brought a hat.

There is no celebration from the player, the fans it's a different matter, the Bus Shelter sings once again “come on you whites, come on whites”. CFC’s number 11 has just scored a very classy goal, the EMFC keeper is quick off his line again, gets nowhere near the ball, again, and number 11, takes the ball round him with a deft touch and has an empty net all to himself. Before the keeper can compute what's happened, he has the ball in his hands and he is running back towards the centre circle.

“Get your fucking heads up” shouts someone from the EMFC bench, again they have let CFC back in the match, when it should be out of sight.

“Sea, sea, seasiders”, it's now all CFC, they are firmly on the front foot, the EMFC players are asking the ref “how long is left?” and are desperately trying to see this one out.

Football chants have a habit of being a bit generic, swap team A’s name with teams B’s, or swap team C’s colours with teams D’s and you have your average football song. So it’s refreshing when you hear a new one, something a little different, no more so than the rendition of “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside” coming from the Bus Shelter, love it.

“Looks bad” says someone, “he’s hurt” says someone else after an EMFC player clashes with a teammate. No theatrics, just a long pause in play as the player in question who came off worst is checked over.

With the break in the match, one of the ‘Gits’ is on the phone, giving an update to someone “not going very well I’m afraid” he tells the person on the other end, such is his pessimism he adds that he “has his boots on” and does a little jog on the spot as he tells them.

Thankfully the downed player is up, he is walking off, albeit assisted, and the restart brings a cry from a home fan “come on you Whites”.

A back post header for the EMFC number 9, gets him his hattrick, and sends him running up the pitch with his ear cupped to the crowd and surely he has put the game to bed, once and for all. The away bench, which unlike the home one is a crowded bustling one, more people than I can count are pacing around, offering their twopence, one tells the team that there is “5 minutes left”. The players know the score and are in no rush to get the ball going out of play “leave it” says one to another, the referee is quick to cotton on and tells them “let's go gents”.
So that's the FA Cup over for CFC for this season at least, but with the speed it goes around, it won't be long until they're back at it again. EMFC on the other hand are through, and God only knows how far they might get, what I do know though is I felt pretty bad when the hattrick man asked me “tell me you got that goal on video?” and I have to break it to him I don't, he looks distraught.

Having not checked out the Bus Shelter, before we leave I have a quick nose about, the rest of the ground is pretty empty, a solitary CFC players cleans up the bench and we hear a loud cheer from the away team dressing room. The flags are down now, and it reveals, some graffiti, nothing of the cock and ball kind, but kind words from passing football fans, and an actual bus time table.

Tom could not have put it any better, it’s good to be back.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

For our video from the match, click HERE

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