Monday 27 February 2017

This Wasn't Here Last Wednesday - Billericay Town FC Vs South Park FC, Ryman League Cup Semi-Final, New Lodge (21/02/17)

There have been a few changes of late since our last outing. I got a Sat Nav, so I no longer have to rely on my accomplice navigating, between rounds of Candy Crush, as I now have an ever so aggressive sounding lady in a box, telling me where to go. Oh and I found out that my fiance and I’s impending child, is going to be a girl, so nothing major, well chuffed with the Sat Nav, even though she is bit curt.

Despite the machine now protruding from my windscreen, which tells me what lane to be in, our expected time of arrival and the presence of any speed cameras, it unfortunately doesn't make me any better at driving, and even though it clearly highlighted the left lane in a lurid shade of fuchsia, I’m bombing along in the right lane in 5th gear. I realise my mistake too late, and add a seven mile detour, on this evenings foray into Essex.

Tom and I while away the added miles, discussing all manner of things, house prices, if we are good enough at FIFA to become professionals and the realisation that our partners love us going to midweek games, so they get the house to themselves. Tom even lets me on to the fact his girlfriend, his University educated girlfriend, who claims to have never heard of Billericay, asked him if it was a “Greek island”.

There is only a momentary silence, when the car is filled with an unpleasant smell, both of us I’m sure wondering if the other is responsible. I challenge Tom, who simply and conveniently blames it on being in the “countryside”, an easy get out.

Listening solely on the directions of the talking box, and removing any common sense from the equation, can be costly, a lesson I have learnt already in my short time having it, but it doesn't stop me falling into the same trap, time and time again. Following the highlighted route to the chequered flag, means we pass New Lodge, home of Billericay Town FC (BT) which is wonderfully lit behind what looks like a recently pruned line of hedges, making it easier to see from the road, than maybe it ever has been, as well as Tom saying “there it is”, doesn't stop me, because it's not where I’m being directed.

I have to admit defeat, when Tom points out we have just parked in the Billericay Lawn Tennis Club car park, at the end of a narrow, cone lined road. Expecting to see fellow football types, exiting the numerous arriving cars, it is in fact mainly people in an array sports wear, clutching tennis racquets.

A U turn later we have our spot in the car park/field, adjacent to New Lodge, and it’s only a short walk back up the road, and with a hefty suck in of the gut later, I’m just about through the white turnstile, and we’re in.

I don’t know who Keith is, but I need to know where he is ASAP, because according to the whiteboard, only feet from where we have come in, just next to the clubs shop which is in the process of being opened, he is the man selling the 50/50 tickets.

“This wasn't here last Wednesday” says a man in a BT scarf gawping at what he tells us are brand new dugouts, and a white railing around the pitch. The same man advises us that the snack bar isn't “open yet”, (he said “yet” Tom, keep cool), and the best place to get a cup of tea, would be in the clubhouse.

When you think of clubhouse, you think of a pokey but charming bar with a few faded old club team photos on the wall, and a couple of tatty chairs. Now take that image, package it up inside a rocket and fire it into space, because the clubhouse at New Lodge, is like the ballroom from ‘The Shining’. A sea of tables, all with blue upholstered chairs, a carpet which has a design reminiscent of country pub, and the club's name scrawled in large swirling blue lettering on the back wall.

It’s a simple cup of tea for us, although by the looks of what's on offer from the well stocked bar, with a blue and white scarf hung above it, they might be able to whip you up a Cosmo. We find a seat at one of the many tables, and join the other patrons looking up a mournful Paul Doswell, Sutton United FC’s manager, discussing the ugly repercussions of ‘Piegate’.

“Who wants the job at Blackburn?” asks the bar man rhetorically, as the scandal of a big man eating for money, is replaced with the news of the most recent casualty of the Blackburn Rovers managerial merry go round, “I do” replies a lady in a BT shirt, happy to toss her hat in the ring. With all that sorted, her CV will be in the post in the morning, Sky Sports news is substituted for the gentle sound of snooker.

What might be earth's quietest sport, matches the calm of the mega clubhouse, it also makes Tom and I start to whisper, as if we were actually there, “fancy some crisps” he asks me quietly,  not wanting to distract the player from his difficult shot. He distracts himself from his hunger pains, which is hard as he has been ill all week and is under instruction to keep his energy up, by reading the “commercial opportunities” pamphlet on our table.

“Club mascot” he proposes, which I think we can all agree would would be all kinds of wrong, I’m just far too big for one, although if you are interested, you can be for £150 and you get a free kit. A kit that just like at Barking FC, Tom notices has a striking resemblance to that of Chelsea's, “Courtois in goal”, he comments, pointing at the keepers strip.

This however can only hold his attention for so long, and soon he’s off “I’m gonna get some crisps”. Not wanting to upset him in his delicate state, I refrain from telling him what I hear, when I think some of the clubs catering are asked “what they got” for tonight, and one of them replied “frogs legs”, it would only depress him.

Ahhhhh, this must be the Keith I have been looking for, who with blue bucket in hand, is selling 50/50 tickets to the table next to ours. The pound coins are already rolling around my sweaty palm when he walks over and asks, “50/50 tickets?”. I’m sure he’s able to sense my eagerness, he tells me to put my cash in the “bin”, which he carries in the crook of his arm, while he tears my perforated tickets from the book and hands them over, wishing me “good luck”. When he asks Tom if he wants one, he points to me with that judgmental look on his face, “no, he's the gambler”.

Music like for so many people, is a huge part of my life, in fact football took a bit of a back seat for me in my teens, when I discovered my parents turntable and knackered vinyl in the loft. Neil Young appealing to me, a lot more, than twenty two men running around.

Although football is now very much back on the scene, it has far from dislodged my love of music, so therefore, what’s being played at the grounds we go to, is always a point of discussion.

Generally I would say there are two camps, which most clubs fall into, as far as the music they play are concerned:

Camp 1. Everyday chart hits, the kind of stuff you hear on Radio 1 or MTV
Camp 2. What Tom has affectionately dubbed “Dad music”, classic rock of a Top Gear montage persuasion.

After tonight, there are officially three! We had a similar experience at A.F.C. Hornchurch and Fisher FC, which I thought must've been an apparition, an anomaly, however as we walk out of the clubhouse, milling around pitch side, the tannoy comes to life, not with Little Mix, but a piano rendition of ‘Stairway To Heaven’.

Do my ears deceive me? No, it’s most definitely the familiar melody of the much overplayed, nowhere near to being their best song, how about ‘The Battle of Evermore’ for example or 'Gallows Pole', I have to agree with Wayne's World “No Stairway”, however it is such a drastic change from the norm, it's caught me unawares.

Slipping into a hazy long haired, wavy screened, adolescent flash back, I notice the arrival of a few away fans, in their red scarves, which stand outs somewhat among the of blue and white of the home supporters. The players of South Park FC (SP) have not been here too long either, all in matching black tracksuits, they are taking potshots at goal.

Before we go any further, I can assure you from this point on, you won't read one lazy mid 90’s cartoon reference from me, many more music, TV and film ones may well appear, yes, but I can swear on my unborn child's life to not fall into that net, Tom however is convinced we will hear one “Cartman” reference before the night is over.

“Lets wander in” says an SP coach from the side of the pitch, towards the nearby players, who are soon filing along the caged tunnel, and through the players and officials door. None of that is particularly remarkable, a scene replicated at many clubs around the country, but how many can claim it was all done to a bit of Led Zeppelin, which is soon replaced by some jazz, wonderful, wonderful jazz, which now fills the airways, and as the last SP player leaves the pitch, it's all to the backdrop of a rambling six minute trumpet solo. So infectious is the melody, a passing BT coach hums along, as he goes about his duties.

A single BT player doing his stretches in the dugout, is able to enjoy a bit of Frank Sinatra, that is far louder than the music in the changing room, which for once is just a murmur in the background. Soon the silky, local radio voiced person responsible for this awesome playlist, makes himself known, “What’s going on?” he asks.

“Welcome to Billericay Town” he adds, before informing us of the “plethora of stationery” available at the club shop, that the “Blues cafe” is selling “burgers in a bun” and “sausage in a roll” and the fact that you've “gotta be in” the 50/50 “to win it”.

The music once again takes another turn, “guess who just found a double CD of TV themes?” he says, as the reggae starts to play, he signs off, “who can tell me what tune this is?”, fading out expertly.

While I’ve been reveling in the excellent music, Tom has been in the club shop, he hasn't returned with a pencil and ruler set, but did manage to get a pin, which was a little tricky, considering he had to do it in near pitch black. “Hit a cable” that powers the shop he was told, a little hiccup, after the recent home improvements.

New Lodge is a mixture of old and new. The obvious recent additions, like the sparkling dugouts, stand side by side with the small hunched back corrugated roofed main stand, which sits just behind them. From the outside the red brick clubhouse with Billericay Town FC in large white letters on the side, looks a bit like my old primary school, and dotted around the ground, there are covered terraces and stands of different shapes and sizes, and the snack bar which looks a bit like a beach hut.

Chatting to BT’s physio he comments how the little touches, like the newly “painted stand” are only small, but go a long way, and make a big difference. When he asks me if I've “been in the toilets?” I’m a little stumped, thankfully he goes on to explain, they have had a complete makeover, “looks like a nightclub” he explains, “like its marble” he adds, before clarifying, “its not”, they’re not made of money.

“Listening to Phil Collins” is the reply I get from Tom, when I call him, trying to find out where he is. He appears, just as the BT players finish their warm up, a couple of fans line the way in, with outstretched hands, high fiving the players, and wishing them “good luck”. I’m in no way shape or form a Phil Collins fan, but the DJ somewhat undoes all his good work, when he pops on the Spice Girls, although perhaps being able to sense the collective rage of the crowd, he soon redeems himself with a bit of Queen.

I’m pretty sure it’s Eminem playing in the BT dressing room, moments before the players appear, as I do my very best to stay out of the way. The blue door is closed, and it's a mixture of Marshal Mathers and encouraging shouts from the players coming from beyond it. When the referee's assistants arrive, one is known to a couple of the BT staff, his name causing a few giggles. “Wally”, one coach remembers, and you can insert your own Where’s Wally?, and red and white scarf jokes here, which by his own admission, “he’s heard all before”.

The door opened and soon the players are being checked over, by Wally's opposite number. Instead of lining up with his team mates, BT’s number 3 holds back, pacing the corridor, at one point making such intense eye contact, I don't know what to do with myself. To say he is pumped, might be an understatement. SP feel a long way behind, but eventually line up next to BT, all in red.

“Come on blues” shouts one fan as the players make the short walk to the pitch, the woman from the clubhouse, is now standing the the other side of the tunnel, holding up a shimmering blue pillow case sized flag, “Billericay Town FC Pride of Essex”. What I can imagine is only heightening the adrenaline levels further of BT’s number 3, is the theme from Rocky, which welcomes the players. The fans also do their bit, banging the back of the stand behind the goal, adding to the collective din.

No beating around the bush here, the entrance music has clearly had the desired effect, because only two minutes in, BT are celebrating their first goal. A header from a corner, the goal scorer acknowledges the jumping fans behind the goal, he then stops and waits for his teams mates, all of which would not have been possible, if it wasn't for the referee's assistant, holding back the corner flag, which was whipping about all over the place in the wind, and was at risk of taking someone's eye out. The fans behind the goal, break into their first song of the night, "singing i i ipy, we come from Billericay, i i ipy, ipy i".

“Don’t think you had thirty seconds” says Tom, confusing tonight's gambling, with my other poison, a golden goal.

They nearly double their lead moments later, the ball going agonisingly wide, the SP keeper scrambling, all eyes watching on as the ball bounces the wrong side of the post, the onlooking fans let out a unified “ahhhh” as the ball goes into touch. Another chance, this time the keeper is just able to stop the ball from squirming under him, but there is no respite, and not long after a curling shot flies just over, hitting the back of the stand.

There is a league separating the two teams, and at the moment every place between them is showing, its an onslaught, in years to come, some may even call it, 'The Siege of New Lodge’.

“Interesting goal keepers kit” says Tom, about the curious little number SP’s number one is wearing. It’s got a kind of a mid 90’s Kevin Pressman feel about it, although I’m sure the retro look of what he has on is far from his mind right now. He is being bombarded on and off the pitch, every nervous goal kick or pass back gets “ohhhhhhhh” from the crowd, and I bet he wishes he could have a moment to get his breath back. BT’s man in goal, on the other hand has had almost nothing to do, but still insists on shouting “up, up, up, up” to his players, who if they were any further forward, would be in the stand.

2 - 0, twenty five minutes gone and a nice finish across the outstretched keeper, doubles BT's lead. The fans just behind are in great spirits, “oh what a night, watching ‘Ricky on a Tuesday night” they sing.

“I wonder when it’s a good time to eat?” asks Tom. I roll my eyes, “what?” he replies, “there are a lot
of people here”.

3 - 0, SP's keeper does well with his feet to block the close range shot, but no one is marking his team mate on the edge of the six yard box, who mops up the ricochet, tapping the ball into the empty net. The scorer is lifted into the air briefly by the player who took the first shot, he's nicely brought back down to earth and it's back slapping and hair ruffles for everybody.

Nudging me in the side, Tom points towards the approaching Keith, who is holding up a clipboard, like a holiday rep at a Mediterranean airport. On it is not the name of a resort, but the numbers of the 50/50 draw. As he edges closer, I’m all fingers and thumbs, trying to dig out my tickets from my notebook. “It’s an early one” he tells me, I instantly get my hopes up, as I must've been one of the first people to purchase a ticket.

Why do I do it to myself, no winnings for me today. It's like a dagger in the heart, every time. I thought we were friends Keith.

Post the early onslaught, and the three quickfire goals, the high tempo has relented a little, BT calling a momentary ceasefire, allowing SP to evacuate their wounded. Sitting off their shell shocked opponents, who are now able to venture out of their half, such leniency only goes and backfires, as totally out of the blue, and I must admit we totally missed it, SP score, and never in all my time watching football, has a goal been received with such an eery silence.

Normality is soon restored, the blip of conceding is quickly forgotten as BT score their fourth. “Keeper you’re shit” shouts someone from the crowd, to the man in goal who is currently sitting on the floor, legs sprawled out in front of him like a giant toddler, with a look of pure shock on his face. A nearby child, cries out “come on ‘ricky, punish them!”. You’re four one up and it’s not even half time, what else do you want, heads on spikes?

The smooth voice confirms the score as the players make their way inside, he also suggests that the 50/50 victor should use the break, to find Keith so he can “dispense your winnings”, I won't be doing anything of the sort, because I’m a loser, so will sit in the stand, while Tom joins the queue for food.

A father and son duo of SP fans, who were just specks at the other end of the pitch for the first half behind the opposite goal, pass me doing the half time shuffle. Both in red scarves, the boy is checking the scores on his phone, his father looking a little dispirited.

“You're a gent” is the greeting for one man struggling with two hands full of styrofoam cups, returning from the tea run. Some fans are a bit more self sufficient and are pulling flasks out, and crack on with a cuppa brought from home. One SP fan rejoining his friends in the stand, is asked if he is going to “put his boots on” for the second half. Which triggers a five minute monologue about the virtues of “possession football”.

I make my way over to the elevated terrace behind the goal for the second half. I find Tom, back pressed up against the wall looking guilty. With greasy lips and an orange polystyrene tray in his hand, he has already devoured his burger and chips, which he says was nice, but now feels “sick” because of “too much burger sauce”.

The stand behind us is packed, and from somewhere within the throng, emerges Paul, and we have one of those social media, real life crossover moments. “Since I was this high” he says, doing that thing we all do, hovering your hand around ours knees, to show we mean little or young, when he tells us how long he has been a BT supporter. “Lots of ups and downs, more downs” he explains, but he proudly tells us they’re “my team”. Considering they lost to the Ryman League's basement club in their last game, and are romping all over this one, it sounds about right when he says BT are a “funny team, you don’t know who’s gonna turn up”.

It’s cold now, the wind is close to howling, and BT have picked up where they left off, however there is a short spell, not long into the new half, which could amazingly prevent, what at the moment seems like near certain appearance in this years Ryman League Cup Final.

“Abandonment” shouts a fan, “is there an electrician in the crowd?” asks another, as part of New Lodge is plunged into darkness, “we can't pay our bills”, suggests one supporter, when some of the floodlights go out. The referee blows his whistle, and there is a moment where no one's sure if we are going to see the end of the match, however after a short deliberation, he seems happy to continue, even if one side of the pitch is a bit gloomy.

With one potential banana skin avoided, having to stop now with a three goal lead, in a semi-final, would be a bit hard to bare, the straight red card for a BT player, is the next hurdle they are going to have to overcome, and is a lot more likely to have an impact on the game, than it being a bit dingy.

“Better not cost us the final” says a fan jokingly, with a hint of superiority/arrogance considering the score, but be careful, because as most watch the dismissed player make the walk of shame, SP only go and grab a second, and the same jolly voice from moments before, has a slightly different tone now, “oh dear”.

The mood has definitely dropped, even more so when SP nearly get a third, “fluffed that” says Tom when the player missed, forcing one BT fan to ask those around him, with a bit of a high pitched shriek, “what is going on this evening?” and for the first time the small band of traveling fans, make themselves heard.

“Fucking hell” shouts someone, “liven the fuck up” says someone else, from the near stunned pack behind us, SP taking full advantage of the extra man, score again. Now when the home fans chant or sing, its almost sounds like a plea, to just get over the finish line, “come on Billericay”, “come on blues”. BT have gone from absolute cruise control, to panic stations. Tensions soon boil over on the pitch, and there is a little bit of argie bargie, that quickly blows over.

SP’s keeper, who has been getting it the neck since the first minute, is now getting grief for something as simple as cleaning his boots, “stop kicking them, they were new 30 years ago”, barks one fan, when he bangs his studs on the goalpost. Now I’m no psychologist, but I believe this is called ‘projecting’, transferring one's own anxieties on to others, to relieve internal pressure.

Ten minutes to go, and SP fashion another chance, there is a feeling of inevitability from those around us, that the BT ship is going down, in the most spectacular fashion, they are second to every ball, and are frankly all over the place. “You can walk slower than that” suggests a fan to a departing BT player being replaced, one person can’t take the strain and needs medical assistance, “get the heart defibrillator, form an orderly queue”.

“Looked like a penalty to me” says Howard Webb in a cupboard or Tom to you and I, when an SP player is felled in the BT box. The away side continue to get closer and closer to an equaliser, it's BT’s turn to be camped out in their half. Every SP shot, pass or tackle is followed by a chorus of jittery “ohhhs” and “ahhhs”.

I can think of slightly more pleasant ways to describe going home, than “let's make like baby and head out”, but this is exactly what one leaving BT fan says to his small group, who perhaps are unable to bare anymore of the match, which has descended into a error ridden, last days of Rome, headless chicken, please don't let us fuck this up-athon.

“Bring me sunshine” plays over the tannoy on the full whistle, beautiful glossing over the previous ninety minutes of madness. There is an almighty cheer from the fans behind the goal, which undoubtedly is tinged with a huge dose of relief. The players applaud the fans, and the fans reciprocate, as they leave the pitch, each side of the fenced off corridor, is lined with people who continue to clap and praise them.

On our way out of what is now a very, very windy New Lodge, I get a glimpse first of the board room, like Oliver peering through the window into Scarface's opulent living room, with carved glass inlay doors, and then the new toilets, which are decorated with some black sparkling materiel, straight out of Liberace's house.

It may be worth putting New Lodge high up on your list of grounds to visit, if its only to see the vaulted ceilings of the clubhouse, the most dazzling toilets in non-league football, or simply because I get the feeling more change is on the wind, and it might look a lot different in the not to distant future.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

For our video from the match, click HERE

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Sunday 12 February 2017

IOU - Barking FC Vs Sporting Bengal United FC, Gordon Brasted Memorial Trophy 2nd Round, Mayesbrook Park (31/01/17)

It is only the lights on at the adjacent running track, that give any kind of inkling that we are in the right place, or in fact, there is a football club here at all. The ‘Welcome’ sign is nailed high up on some chipboard on top of a graffitied, makeshift white fence. It does at least confirm, as it puts it, that this is the “Home of the ‘Blues”, Barking FC (BFC).

Undeniably gloomy, and with a faint whiff of what Tom thinks is “pickled onions”, which he hopes with his one track mind has no bearing on the “burgers”, the car park is at least quiet, which allows me a few moments to decompress and unwind.

My journey here was mostly solo, having picked up Tom from a nearby Tube station. I navigated the rush hour filled North Circular and a large chunk of the East End alone with only the voice coming from my phone, barking instructions at me, my phobia of large roundabouts, and the thumping of my heart, as company.

Once we've squeezed through the tight white turnstile, manned by Geoff in his blue BFC scarf, who is kind enough to let us in a bit early, even though they're not strictly “open” yet, it is still only thanks to the second hand light from next door, partially illuminating Mayesbrook Park, that it’s clear there is a football ground before us.

The weather doesn't help, it’s overcast, miserable, and dark, very dark, also the fact that the floodlights are yet to be turned on, means we are really unable to get a good look at our surroundings. Geoff and a small posse of staff are waiting for the club Chairman, Rob, to do the honours, who is yet to arrive. Because of this, our tour by Geoff is cut short, as by his own admission, there's “not a lot you can see in the dark”. He is though able to check if there is any standing water in the goal mouth, which amazingly there isn't. Considering the recent deluge across London, much to his surprise, and that of the BFC manager who had told him the pitch, “was better than he thought it would be”.

Nearby, coming from a doorway of what looks like a white shipping container, there is a glow, which has the same warmth and dazzling quality of the briefcase in the diner in Pulp Fiction. The clubs crest fastened to the inside of the door, drawing us in. We can soon hear the chatter of the large TV on the bar, just in front of a mirror, with ‘BARKING FC’ spelt out in blue, between two black and white footballs.

The kind offer of a cup of tea, is hastily retracted, on the realisation there is a shortage of cups, only enough currently for the referee and his assistants. The ability to see, and now drink, hinging on the arrival of the all powerful, demigod of a Chairman.

Loud music from the home changing room, a blue shipping container, which the use of Tom thinks is great, "cheap and cheerful", soon floods into the clubhouse, drowning out the TV and pretty much everything else. Not arriving on a cloud or with thunderbolts shooting from his fingers, Rob is finally here, in his long club coat, not only with cups, but with the capability to turn the lights on.

Leaving the clubhouse, along with another stunning example of an over dressed referee, I mean really, he looks like a pimp. Geoff is able to finish showing us around, telling us, I’m sure much to Tom's dismay, that the “burger bar is not ready yet”. Passing through the wire tunnel, which evokes the feeling of some South American stadium I've seen on YouTube, all enclosed because of a fear of breeze block or severed animal head being thrown, but in East London, he tells us smiling he is also “security” and one of his jobs is to “keep the tunnel clear”.

With the light, comes the drizzle, visibly falling though its rays. One player takes the opportunity to tentatively shuffle towards the pitches edge, in socks and flip flops. “How soft is it”, he asks me, I tell him I've no idea, not having braved it myself yet, even though I have a far more sensible choice of footwear on than him, he lightly prods at it with his beachwear, “very soft”, he says, before beating a hasty retreat back inside.

Drizzle has turned to full blown rain, Tom with his practical hat on, is reassured by the fact there is at least, “enough cover”. We have the pick of a corrugated roofed terrace behind one goal, or the 'Brad Robinson Memorial Stand', which runs almost the length of one side of the pitch, with it’s curved roof and red seats. He is though a little perplexed, by the blue and white barrier that surrounds the field, “not often you see a brick wall around the pitch”.

Having spent the past few moments staring off into the distance, Tom turns to me, looking like he's just seen something he shouldn't have, like the small Amish boy in 'Witness', he murmurs “weird ritual”. I delicately ask what he means, handling someone with a mild case of shock, with the required kid gloves, he eventually tells me how he watched a player “poor two polystyrene cups of water” one on each boot, “before coming onto the pitch”. I must admit, my first thoughts were not voodoo, black magic or any other form of the dark arts, but a bit more of a sensible one: perhaps he was cleaning them? I suggest, which seems to put his mind at ease.

“At least it’s not cold” says Tom, as we both huddle in the away dugout, which if you can imagine, looks like a half finished conservatory, with no windows, trying to keep dry. He is however correct, it is certainly not cold, not Canvey Island or Harlow Town cold, but even with the lights now being on, it does still seem very dark. Compared to the ]nuclear glow of next door, it does still feel a little murky, Tom reckons that BFC might just be “saving on a bit of power”.

Tom sees a coach of the away side, Sporting Bengal United FC (SBU) coming across the pitch, and it's time to scarper, Tom seems especially keen to make a move, because it is in fact the manager, or the“angry one” as Tom put its. Angry is doing him somewhat of a disservice, vocal and passionate from the sidelines yes, but angry no. His team when we saw them earlier in the season were having a particularly bad day at the office, so he was a little emotional, but in fact, he is probably one of the nicest people you could meet.

He’s happy enough to let us stay put in his dugout, as he prepares for the warm up. He is a little
concerned about the pitch, telling us his foot “sank in” on the walk over. As far as the game is concerned, he wants to make sure they can keep it “respectable”, BFC are top of the Essex Senior League and somewhat flying, SBU are languishing, near the bottom, their biggest problem at the moment is they are “creating chances, but can't put it in the back of the net”.

I feel a little bit guilty disturbing the lady in the clubhouse, who is midway through having a bit of dinner, when I ask her for a cuppa. Thankfully there are now plenty of cups, however the same could not be said for change, my £20 note sending her into such a tailspin, that she eventually just gives them to me, and tells me to come back later.

Tom and I enjoy our fine cup of tea, standing at the back of the terrace, as the two teams warm up, who in spite of the conditions, are very sprightly. That can’t be said though for one BFC late comer, who is making slow progress across the pitch, to join his team mates, one coach telling him, he is “oozing with enthusiasm”. The same can also be said for one SBU coach, shivering, he declared to me, how he “hates Tuesday football", reeling off reasons why they shouldn't have to do it, which mainly focused on, the traffic when traveling at rush hour, and the cold.

Finally the lights are at full power, but all they do is highlight quite how much rain is falling, Tom is concerned for the groundsman, “this pitch will get ruined”, it's already showing signs of wear and tear, and we've only had the the warm up. I’m surprised to hear when one person says it wasn't even “touch and go” as far as the pitch was concerned. A few of the home fans seem to be optimistic also, one suggesting that “as long as its doesn't start pelting” that the pitch should hold up.

There is not much waiting about, the players are not contained to the all wire tunnel, similar to something your hamster might be kept in, for long. There is though an ever so slight delay, for the presentation of an engraved silver dish, to a BFC player for making his 100th appearance for the club, but it’s a short ceremony, and soon the players are lining up, shaking hands and preparing for the kick off.

Tom is already very comfortable in the press box, just shy of the halfway line, in the main stand. Its slightly raised position, and curved wooden back chairs, that look straight out of a local pub, give us a great view of the two early BFC chances. The second one brings out a bit of the Carry On in Tom, as a player tries to lob the keeper, “cheeky”.

It’s all BFC, chances are coming thick and fast, so the crowd is a little stunned when SBU look to have gone ahead, only for it to be disallowed. The referee deciding that the indirect free kick had not had the required amount of touches, before hitting the back of the net. Chalking it off much to the dismay of the SBU’s, chain smoking, coach, the shiverer from before, who's standing next to us, instead of in the dugout, because of the “better view”, who was adamant a player, “touched it”, before it went in.

The occasional roar of a plane overhead, the lights of a nearby block of flats twinkling through a line of leafless trees, and the not quite pelting, but very close to it rain, is a somewhat bleak, but not unpleasant backdrop, for a game, that since the disallowed free kick, has become very entertaining. An end to end affair, and fast paced, as fast as the sodden pitch will allow, it's only slowed, by the astronomical amount of offsides.

“It's a 50/50” challenge, says a BFC supporter, nonchalantly, after a big clash, that leaves one SBU player clutching his leg, rolling in the mud. It results in a yellow card for the home player, and although I’m sure the conditions had a big part to play in it, it certainly didn't look cynical, however it was the kind that makes you draw a short sharp intake of breath, through your teeth.

The SBU coach, can now add fidgeting, and doing a running commentary, to the list of skills, that accompany his loud advice, and plenty of supportive clapping. He only occasionally breaks character, to ask a friend for the up to date Liverpool score, but quickly slips back into the role, very method, when he is appalled by one players missed chance, that really should've drawn the game level. “How you miss that?” he bellows, but he can play the good cop too, when SBU get close to scoring, soon after, he is quick to praise them as well, “good effort”.

I have little sympathy for Tom when he starts moaning, “I’m fed up of being wet”, he tells me, this little outburst coinciding suspiciously with hearing that Arsenal are currently losing 2 - 0 to Watford at home, which he simply rolls his eyes at. I’m even less inclined to feel sorry for him, with the arrival of an old fella, wearing BFC blue almost head to toe, scarf, hat and jacket. Clutching his brolly, with the the sound of a squawking, Talk Sport presenter emanating from a radio, secreted somewhere about his person. He is sodden, he’s on stray ball duty.

With the rain inching closer and closer to being considered “pelting” the SBU coach, doesn't think either team “can do anything on this turf”. Prompted by the ball getting held up during a SBU counterattack, he reiterates his point to the nearby assistant “lino can't do anything on this surface, not playable”.

A collective “yes” rings out, from the small pockets of fans dotted around the ground, after BFC break the deadlock, not that I had a great view of it, the man with the flag, was ill positioned, right in my eye line. “Come on Blues” shouts the blue man, now sitting in the front row of the stand, the SBU coach next to us, a little dejected, “we don't deserve that”.

We soon witness his best bad cop, after a another glaring miss, “yo shit man how many you going to miss?” he asks from the stand, before reverting to good cop again, “next one” he says, making sure to knock the player down, then build him back up, in a matter of seconds. Under his breath though, he curses them “what a time to fucking concede” they had held out almost the whole half, only to go behind on the stroke of forty five minutes.

As the players drudge off, some whacking their boots on the wall by the tunnel, clearing them of the accumulated mud, most people stay put, wanting to keep as far away from the ever increasing rain for as long as possible. Instead, like me, they stay in their seat, half listening to the hysterical, hyperactive shouting that is Talk Sport, coming from the radio. A few hardy BFC subs, take to the pitch, for some shooting practice, however Tom, is nowhere to be seen.

He soon materialises from the gloom, hood up, damp, but it’s fleeting, he has to go back and get his burger and chips in “ten minutes” The teams are already coming back out, and it's time for him to “get my burger”, thinking he had a few moments to sit, their arrival only reinforcing the fact he feels, “halftime always goes so quickly”.

“Come on you Blues” shouts the man all in blue, his radio almost as loud as our SBU neighbour, who is still offering instructions, “smash it”, he shouts as the away side rack up the first chance of the half, the shot is well hit, saved, spilled, then recovered.

The intrepid food explorer is back, clutching two white paper plates, his meal concealed between them, he looks like a greedy person returning from a buffet. He seems happy, revealing his cheeseburger, with onions, always going to get extra points if you give Tom onions, but his reply does make me question the mood he is actually in, when I ask him how he is, “soggy”.

“Offside lino”, “bad defending lads” is the exchange between an SBU supporter and the official, after BFC double their lead, with about ten minutes of the new half gone. Once again the man in blue, offers up the only kind of a chant or song from the crowd, if only he would mix it up a bit “come on you Blues”.

“It's like watching Porto Vs Chelsea away” says Tom, a comment I think we can all agree, is a little bit out of left field, on a wet Tuesday night in Barking, but when he explains his thinking, the similarities in the clubs kits, I can see where he is coming from, kind of. Our banal conversation, is somewhat put to the sword, when the home keeper, quite suddenly, and with nobody near him, falls to the ground, sprawled out on his back.

There is a sudden blast of the referee's whistle, someone in the crowd suggests a “head injury”, however I didn't see anything. It’s a little tense, and a hush descends, as the referee jogs over, to attend to the downed player.

Cramp, totally undramatic, cramp. The keeper it would seem has been struck down by a particularly violent strain, “how long will this cramp last?” asks someone in the stand. The players look miserable, the rain has gone up another notch, and they do their best to stay warm. The break does allow for a bit of audience participation with the assistant however, when one chatty soul asks him if he's, “got his trunks on?”

Eventually he's up, but needs plenty of assistance to limp off, “that doesn't look good, he can barely stand on it” says Tom, who then wonders if BFC, “have a replacement?”. They do, and after a good eight or nine minutes, he's on, and the game gets back underway.

Regardless of Tom’s appraisal of the pitch, “the ball just ain't moving”, it really is a mess, with Tom adding that it must be like “playing in custard”, it is however moved well enough by BFC that they are able to get a third, with just under twenty minutes of the game left. “Nice move” says a suitably impressed Tom, a move, that sends the winger down the right, he cuts the ball back into the box, allowing for a simple finish. “School boy error” comments the SBU coach, once again in bad cop mode, he's not impressed.

SBU’s managers assessment of their recent problems is not far off the mark, they have indeed missed some sitters, they have had a hat full of chances, some which they really should've converted.

“That's their third disallowed goal”, says Tom, when once again, the ball is over the line, but again SBU are offside. Tonight has been a case of them very much being in the game, but never looking like at any point, that they were going to take it by the scruff of the neck and win it. One player does have a hit and hope moment, from far out, just before the end, a speculative shot , that is just saved, that draws a “wooo” from the crowd, but once again, it’s close but no cigar.

“I don't think this pitch will ever be playable again” says Tom, both of us looking out across a marshland, a new inner city RSPB waterfowl sanctuary. The referee, perhaps having had enough of running around ankle deep in cold mud, catches everyone out, with the full time whistle, not playing any of the anticipated extra time, because of the “freakish cramp” as Tom puts it.

“Can think of better things to do on a Tuesday night” says a drowned rat BFC coach, soaked to the skin, but still cheery. Geoff is pragmatic, only once he has apologised for Mother Nature, “sorry about the weather” he says, but “at least you got to see a good game”. Before we skedaddled, I get talking to the father of the substitute keeper, who is seventeen, and is one of his two sons playing tonight. I ask him if he knows what struck the keeper down with such ferocity, he confirmed it was “cramp”, adding that the players were royally taking the piss out of him, and his theatrics.

The car once again becomes a sanctuary, a safe place out of the wind and rain, such is Tom's dampness, he goes as far as to ask me if I've "got any towels?" About halfway home, it hits me, I come out in a cold sweet, I'm ashamed, I'm a father, what kind of example am I setting, I'm not a good person, as 'The Simpsons would say', "I'm histories greatest monster", I never went back and paid for the tea!

Barking FC, IOU £2.00.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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Monday 6 February 2017

Sometimes We Have Three - Harlow Town FC Vs Metropolitan Police FC, Ryman Premier League, Harlow Arena (24/01/17)

‘Welcome To Essex’ reads the road side sign illuminated by the car's headlights, as we wind our way along a dark, tree lined road. As we weave through the pitch black, which Tom had previously described as “countryside”, although it’s not really, we're only just outside the M25, not that I’m going to correct him, we're not talking, we've had our first in car argument.

I think I’m quite within my rights to be a little miffed, his chief responsibility is to get us there, but when we miss our exit, because he has started to play Candy Crush, well I’m not best pleased. The deathly silence, is soon broken though, “logs”, he announces, reading a small sign on the verge. Thankfully conversation is soon flowing again, predominantly about the thought process of the jogger we pass, in the middle of nowhere.

Talking of nowhere, that’s exactly where Tom thinks we are “driving to”. At one point, he thinks it’s funny to suggest a scenario, for us to imagine: what would happen if he had “put the wrong place” in the Sat Nav?. Considering our Sleepy Hollow surroundings, it doesn't bare thinking about.

Shouting “there”, as we whizz pass our turning, is not adequate notice, when we’re going at about 40 miles an hour, forcing me into a three point turn, admittedly my favourite, of all the maneuvers, in a nearby road. Retracing our steps, all is soon forgiven, a brown sign about halfway up a lamp post, points us in the right direction “Harlow Town FC”, it squashes any notion of being lost in no man’s land, and for the first time, the warm, comforting, glow of the floodlights are visible.

The entrance to the Harlow Arena, once we've parked, is not that dissimilar to a leisure centre, although, I’ve never been to a swimming pool with a bouncer. Tall and of WWE proportions, with a clipboard in hand and a pencil thin red tie, he ticks us off his list, like the doorman at the Camden Palace, and lets us in.

Midway through a sandwich, Tim, Harlow Town FC’s (HT) stadium General Manager, he has to do that hurried chewing thing, we all do, when you have a gob full, but need to talk. He swiftly joins the list of non league men with incredible handshakes, it’s like a Boa Constrictor. Walking down the tunnel towards the pitch, the entrance of, also having very visible security, Tim gives us the lowdown, pointing to the covered terrace opposite, as to where the “main support” will be during the game.

What he says next, he does so casually, it catches me out at first, my face I’m sure looking a little puzzled, “if we score, you'll hear the famous air raid siren”. You what? I think to myself, is he having us on? Not wanting to seem rude, I don’t question it, perhaps he hears it in his own head, we both nod along, thanking him, and let him get back to his pre match munch.

Before we “look at the shop”, Tom loves a club shop, he’s gotta get his pin, I take a moment to try and figure out the significance of a sign on a pitch side gate, “BERNABEU”. They don't seem like a club, with unrealistic notions of grandeur, and although I’m sure their 3G turf is just as hallowed to its fans, as those in Madrid, they are surely not comparing the Harlow Arena to the eleven time Champions League winner's home, or are they, it is quite nice here.

In one corner of the ground, just beyond the turnstiles, the small club shop, is one of the finer examples we have seen. A healthy selection of mouse mats, coasters and mugs, surround the decapitated polystyrene head wearing woolly hats, and the armless torso, displaying the clubs red and white, ‘Where’s Wally’, hooped shirt. Interestingly leant up against one wall, a selection of drums, and large flags in the clubs colours, catch my eye.

“Should win” says an HT fan in the shop, when I ask him, how he thinks they will get on tonight, he follows up his prediction with a shrug, and one of my top five cliche's of all time, “ but football's a funny old game”. I have him to thank, not only for raising a grin on my face, but also from sparing me from looking like a complete tit, post my entrance into the clubs “golden goal” competition.

Having handed over my £2, my penchant for a non league flutter is well known, 50/50’s and other such club money raisers, have been a bit thin on the ground lately, so it’s nice to be able chuck a bit of cash about, like billy big bollocks. Under the instructions from the lady behind the counter, I choose two white balls, that look suspiciously like dried old haricot beans from the back of the cupboard, each with a number on.

This is where the aforementioned fan does his good deed, noticing me start to walk away, he tells me that they, “go in there when you're done with it” pointing to another tin, next to the one I had just drawn my numbers from. Ahhhhhhh, the bean lottery is just the way to get your number, the number on the ball, corresponding to a minute in the game. You're not expected to walk around with two tiny spheres about your person, you tell the woman running the shop your number, or numbers in my case, that you've picked, give her your name, and Bob's your uncle.

‘1’, I tell her. The noise she makes on hearing this, priceless, a kind of ‘I’m disappointed for you’ exhale of air, and I know exactly what she means, without any need of an exchange of words, not a good start. My second number, ‘17’, is not greeted by the same disgruntled sound, so I might be in with at least half a chance.

No bone crushing handshake, but a warm welcome nonetheless, and talk of football players known as “The Machine”, when we meet the host of the ‘Ryman Round Up Show’. He records his weekly show in the HT board room, high at the back of the main stand, overlooking its mostly red seats, bar a few exceptions, a few white ones that spell out HTFC.

Again I don't want to be rude, but first people are talking about air raid sirens, now it’s mechanical players. The android in question, Alex Reid, will be chalking up his “150th” goal for the club today, if he scores tonight, we’re informed. His nickname by the sounds of it, is warranted, after he “scored 46 goals in his second season, part of which he had a broken ankle”.

“Welcome to the Harlow Arena” says the voice over the tannoy, as the players arrive from the red extendable tunnel, at the foot of the stand, passing a small boy, with his hand outstretched for a high five, all while a bit of the Dave Clark Five, warms the cold night air “Glad All Over”, they sing. “Come on Met” shouts a Metropolitan Police FC (MT) player, to his teammates, all who are sporting the most dazzling day glow yellow kit.

The inkling of an animated support, after seeing the drums and flags in the shop, is confirmed, before we've even made it round the pitch to take up position behind the dugouts, which I must add had red velvet seats in them, very grand. A small group in one corner of the terrace, are already at it “Harlow Town, Harlow Town”, they chant, using the metal back of the stand, to add a bit of rhythm. A more conventional form of percussion, can soon be heard, as they move onto another song, now to the beat of the drum slung over one mans shoulder. I can’t quite make out the words, but it’s definitely to the tune of The Champs, ‘Tequila’, only I think they've replaced the 1958 songs single word, with a player's name.

“Goal number 150, The Machine” howls the stadium announcer after four minutes, a simple close range tap in, gets the player his milestone, and the first goal of the game. Now I’m sure many of you are thinking, ‘you must be gutted, that’s one of your golden goal picks down the drain’, but I must be honest, that is far from my thinking right now. Because right now, right at this exact moment in time, as the players finish their celebrations and start to jog back to their own half, an ear splitting sound starts to emanate from the terrace, slowly at first, but steadily building, into a deafening wail.

Tim wasn't pulling our leg, he wasn't drunk, mad or both, they really have a bloody air raid siren, which instantly surpasses any kind of fan atmosphere aid, if there is such a thing, we have ever seen. I am forced to suppress the emotions it’s stirring in me, of the 1940’s twelve year old, I was in a previous life: Doodlebugs, V2’s, Anderson Shelters, spirit of the blitz, Mum sleeping with GI’s for chewing gum and tights. Tom hands me my cup of tea, which I put it down on the ice covered railing around the pitch, we gawp at each other, Tom as ever, able to sum up the moment perfectly, “I didn't expect that”.

Following the mind blowing experience, that was the siren, Tom and I still in a mild state of shock, there is a quick reminder to the sparse MT following, of the score from the home supporters, “your 1 - 0 down”, which in turn is succeeded by some police based ‘banter’, which must plague MT, wherever they go, “you're nicked”, shouts someone. What crime the player is accused of, I’m not sure, perhaps it’s ‘crimes against defending’, it was fairly easy for HT to move the ball around them to score, or maybe ‘crimes against football shirts’ MT’s shade of yellow is somewhat garish.

“I've got something you're gonna hate”, says Tom, looking at me, as his hands rummage around in his rucksack, “spare socks”. I’m sure regular readers will know, I’m a stoic, old school, stiff upper lip, Bovril guzzling, rugged kind of guy, and not a snood wearing, East London type like Tom. So the sight of him hopping from foot to foot, putting on a pair of fluffy socks, to keep his toesie woesies warm, well I can feel the bile start to rise, in the back of my throat. He should just let his toes go black, then snap them off without flinching, like all the other proper men, pah.

Having made it around the pitch, Tom now with his cashmere socks on, the nearby drum, reverberates off the metal roof, “hello, hello, we are the Harlow Boys”. To suggest those around us are ‘boys’ might be a bit far fetched, but we have both noticed, that it’s certainly a “younger” crowd as Tom put it, compared to most games we go to. There are of course a smattering of oldies, and white beards, and surprisingly it's them guilty of the police themed ribbing, which rears its head again, this time after a robust MT challenge, “that was criminal”.

Tom’s thoughts of half time food, are a little premature even for him, however after seeing someone pre kick off tucking into a burger, he described as a “monster”, I doubt he has been able to the think of little else. His attention, is soon brought back into focus, after a fizzing shot from the edge of the box, just misses the top corner, “bit lethal that number 11” he comments, before falling silent, and back to deciding, burger sauce or no burger sauce?

Not content with singing among themselves, banging their drum, and letting the banshee out of her box, after a goal is scored, the group also make demands of other members of the crowd, like a maniacal Disney villain. They insist at one point that an elderly man on the opposite side of the pitch, waves at them, he quickly does what he’s told, raising his oversized red and white scarf above his head, and waving it back at them, but looks happy enough to do so, so no harm done.

MT’s bench is a scene of much head shaking and quiet contemplation, as their team struggle to have any effect on the game. The so far dominant home performance, has got the home fans geed up and full of song, “we are Harlow, super Harlow, we are Harlow, from the farm, next to Poundland, next to Poundand, next to Poundland, over there” they sing, all pointing in unison, to what I can only imagine is an actual Poundland, (other budget retailers are available) that I imagine is along the road, behind the goal.

Just before half time, HT create three solid chances, non of which are converted, but in doing so they  reassert their dominance, and turn the MT manager, an even more ashen colour. “Really great stuff” says one fan, after their first chance. Tom’s fan crush, number 11 goes close, only a last ditch save, one on one, sends the ball over the bar, instead of into the back of the neck, and a whipped ball across the box, after a surging run down the right, needed only the faintest of touches, to turn it goal wards.

The half comes to an end, with a resounding rendition of a chant, sung to the tune of ‘The Adam’s Family’ theme. On the half time whistle, there are a few left shivering on the terrace, most people, Tom included, have made a beeline to the marquee, for something to eat and the warmth of the bar.

“Sometimes we have three” Ian tells me, in his HT woolly hat, “Ian’s here today”, adds Ian, pointing to another Ian, custodian of the battleship grey siren, on its own little stand, as he makes the short walk from one end of the of the terrace, to the other. I can’t even start to compute, what three of them, would be like. The raw power, so overwhelming, I fear it might make me faint, like a Victorian lady, Tom having to revive me with a dose of smelling salts.

Ian in the hat, is the partner of Donna, the match day secretary, who was also well prepared for the wintry weather, in her smart and very fetching long bright red HT coat, she was kind enough, to get us a team sheet before kickoff.

Tom returns a happy man, clutching a floury bap, that he says is much better than his most recent burger, at Canvey Island. Tonight's, is warm for starters, and has the added bonus of “onions”. The half time music is soon off, and in the brief moment of silence, all I can hear is the nearby road purring, but peace and quiet is a rare commodity round here, and the sudden loud bang of the drum, makes me jump, blowing away any half time cobwebs, preparing me of the second half.

HT comfortably pick up, from where they left off at halftime, scoring early, this time from a corner. The stadium announcer once again, has just about enough time to tell us it’s “The Machine’s” 151st goal, before we witness the thunderous power of the siren up close, which Ian with the hat had described as their “trademark” during our half time chat. It’s certainly loud, that goes without saying, but it’s Ian with the sirens technique, the slow start, that really makes it awesome, it quickly builds, putting you a little on edge, until it drops.

One fan, from the school of tough rugged blokes, like me, our motto, ‘why do players wear long sleeves?’, shares his ethos with an MT player, only for it to somewhat backfire. “Real men don't wear gloves”, he shouts, only for a player from his own team, to wave his gloved hands, back at him. I’m pretty sure, if you were that way inclined, you could insert a meme right about here, titled, AWKWARD!.

There are a couple of mainstays in our blogs, things you can be sure we will comment on, be it if we’re in Dortmund or Dagenham. Tom and his search for the ultimate football snack is one, the weather is another. Not wanting to disappoint, tonight is no different, it's cold, it's bloody cold. Much like when he gets his snood out, my derision of him, only masks, my own inadequacies, and I wish I had brought a spare pair of socks, my feet are numb, I’m about as rugged as a silk scarf.

MT score, but it’s quickly disallowed, sparking another deluge of police themed jeering, “book him Danno”, “arrest him”. At least shortly after, when a HT player, wins back possession, the choice of “robbed there”, at least kind of works.

“That's our song”, says a protective Tom, after the latest rendition of, “we're red, we’re white, we're fucking dynamite”, like Arsenal have some ownership on it, and the world of football songs is not plagued with plagiarism, it’s a dog eat dog world, my man.

With about quarter of an hour left, sloppy HT play, allows MT a toe hold in the game, as they halve the home team's lead. “Shall we sing a song for you” ask the home fans generously, to the MT supporters who are conspicuous in their silence, and for the first time, HT don’t look completely in charge, it would really be scandalous if they ended up allowing MT back in the game. Not that the majority of home fans near us are bothered, except one who lets out a booming, and slightly annoyed sounding “come on Harlow”. The rest though have given up on the drum, and someone is now playing The Champs on their phone, another supporter suggesting, “let’s all have a disco”.

“We’re 3 - 1 up, we’re 3 - 1 up” sing the fans, after the best goal of the night, a curling, outside of the box beauty, well out of the reach of the diving MT keeper, that instantly extinguishes, any thoughts of an MT resurgence. Once again, the name of the scorer is read out, and although Tom and I now know, exactly what to expect next, we are no less excited by the third rendition of the sirens song.

We leave the terrace, and slowly make our way around the pitch in the dying minutes of the game. We are not the only ones troubled by the weather, “we’re fucking freezing” says someone in the main stand, one person goes as far as to ask the referee “how longs left?, I’m frozen”. A few people are making their way home, but not in any great number, a person behind us wondering if they have been “spooked, by the fog coming in?”. Something not lost on Tom, having only moments before asked, “is it me, or is the pitch smoking?”.

HT really should have finished with four on the board, a chance right in front of the goal, only a few feet out, is put wide, Tom thinks it must be down to the players “cold feet”, why don't you lend him your socks? They are presented with another chance, soon after, but once again, when it would seem easier to score, they miss, Tom this time, suggesting it must've hit a “divot”, not sure you can use that excuse, on a 3G pitch.

On full time, my hand is once again subjected to an onslaught from Tim's Titan hands, on our way to the car. We comment on what a good turnout it was tonight, which he quickly tells us is “not a big crowd” for them, even on a weeknight. We also tell him how much we enjoyed the character of the terrace, which he says are not near their normal number, however, “they make enough noise for the ones not here”.

Back in the car, thawing out in front of the heater, the relative silence, is almost unnerving, after the audio assault of the last couple of hours. We both come to the conclusion, when all things are considered, that it’s worth the admission price alone, to be deafened by the siren.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

For our video from the match, click HERE

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