Monday 25 September 2017

See You In Cinderford - Potters Bar Town FC Vs Hampton & Richmond Borough FC, FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round Replay, Pakex Stadium (19/09/17)

“Very green” says Tom, who's forgotten what a tree looks like, since moving to the sprawling concrete rain soaked, Blade Runner back lot set that is Dalston. He is though quite right, I think I could go as far as describing our short hop to the other side of the M25 (miraculously not to Essex, and instead to Hertfordshire) as very lush indeed.

As with lots of these satellite towns that surround London, where the 07:32 to Kings Cross looks like a meme about the Japanese railway, it feels far enough from the hustle and bustle, and you pass enough fields, that yo think you're going on a bit of an outing, picnic optional, but if the draw of the smog, bright lights, poorly parked Ubers and the smell of fried chicken and skunk, is too strong, you could be on Oxford street in forty minutes.

Potters Bar most recently has become a little more than just that place up the road, to now that place where my sister and my brother in law now live. In fact I’m retracing the route to her house almost exactly, ending up on her very road, in the search of tonight's game.

“I wondered why you were speeding up” queries Tom as we pass the low slung sign pointing to our destination. A short time later, and after almost surpassing in awfulness my Austin Powers three point turn disaster from our trip to Braintree, saving it only at the very last, we’re now making our way down the narrow road towards the ground.

The modestly sized car park is somewhat bulging under the weight of the many cars that fill its spaces. A few cones reserve a couple of them for more important people than us, and we’re bang out of luck as the two cars in front of us take the last two spots available for the likes of you and me.

A mild dilemma, where do we go now? Opposite the residential parking is clearly sign posted with angry yellow signs, threatening all sorts if you park there without all the relevant passes. The adjacent schools entrance with its jagged yellow road markings outside its gate make it clear they’re not to be parked on, so Tom suggests my sisters, who is only two hundred meters down the road, but she is not someone who takes kindly to unexpected visitors, so that is somewhat out of the question.

Such are the demand for spaces, when we finally find somewhere on the ever narrowing street leading to the ground, a car pulls up right behind me, almost touching my bumper, making sure it can squeeze into the very last space. Now his turn to be out of luck, a forlorn looking man rolls down his window, and asks if I know of where else there is to park, all I can do is shrug.

“Dinky” is how Tom describes the Pakex Stadium home of Potters Bar Town FC (PB). Dinky being a nice way of describing somewhere as small, but still perfectly formed, the opposite of words like pokey or cramped. The latter conjures up images of where Harry Potter had to live during his formative years on Privet Drive. If you are not a fan of JK Rowling’s wizard, I’m not either but recently did the Warner Bros. Studio Tour for my thirty two year old brothers birthday, this is not a good thing, anyway I digress.

Through a wooden gate, following the signs, at the end of a short alleyway, a squat rectangular turnstile greets you. Although it technically has two entrances, one seems to have become the place to store old patio furniture and the rest of the contents of your average shed, so instead has been reduced to one.

The gleaming white foot operated turnstiles are more than comfortable, a fixture from the old Wembley I understand, are far from an Edwardian squeeze like so many others, for lumpus maximus here, allowing me to make a more than graceful entrance. On the other side, under the autumn sky, on what might be the years last nice evening, temptations are close at hand. Sitting, due to his apparent injury in a high viz waistcoat and battleship grey cast on his leg, I’m immediately asked if I want to by some tickets for the “raffle”.

Tom having sidestepped him, impervious to his powers, was sure to tell him that I’ve “never won”, and I’m handing over £2 for two strips of white tickets, without the foggiest idea of what the prize even is.

Sitting on one of the few benches dotted around outside the clubhouse, pint of coke secured, its apparent there is a considerable amount of regeneration going on. Someone having had already commented to Tom about the “big investment” in the sparkling new red brick clubhouse and adjoining changing rooms, which admittedly look to be an improvement on the marooned portacabins on stilts near by, which are the same colour as the scarves many of the home fans are sporting, that look like they've been condemned.

With the sun dipping ever further behind the trees, trees which make up a large proportion of the scenery here, that and a large block of flats that run the whole length of one side of the pitch, it’s getting chilly. My promise that Dagenham was going to be the last appearance of my shorts for 2017 was a lie, and I’d like to take the opportunity to apologise to you about that, but I wish I’d kept my own promise, because my legs are cold and I’d put on my jumper, if Rachel hadn't shrunk it in the dryer.

As well as trees and flats, there are a few other fixtures that give it the necessary feel of a non league ground. Behind one goal is a small covered terrace, with no apparent counterpart opposite. Beyond the compact flat roofed brick dugouts, is a larger flat roofed brick stand with a single bench in it. What you might call the ‘main stand’, the Bert Wright stand with it's curved roofed is all seater, with a patchwork of different coloured seats. It’s within this that the PA/DJ/Chemical Brother, is fiddling with the many knobs, button and levels of the sound system, that is producing some curious results.

I can't say I’m all that bothered about Ocean Colour Scene as a band, I can take them or leave them, shifting more towards ‘leave them’ if I’m totally honest. So I must admit I prefer it when the PA/DJ/Chemical Brother has managed to turn down their song to a more acceptable level, than the ear bursting volume it was at previously, as he continues to fiddle about.

It’s not an infrequent sight within non league, to meet a person so bursting with energy, that if you were that way inclined, you would say you can almost see all the passion and positivity physically coming out of them.

Adam is no different, bounding over to our table, hand stretched out to greet us, in his club fleece. He tells us his role at the club is “fixture secretary” but admits quickly “it's not all about titles” at PB, stiffening his back as he tells us, doing a bit of a lord snooty impression, implying that at other clubs it's quite the opposite, and frankly it’s probably more accurate to call him the “general dogs body”. As is the case with all non league clubs it's all about “pitching in” when and where he's needed, everyone here, as with so many other clubs, are “volunteers”.

At PB it’s a family affair he explains, his Dad’s the chairman, and his Mum among other things does the food in the boardroom.

Newly promoted to the Bostik League North, he agrees they are “doing well” but they are still a “small club” with “no money”. Therefore the visit of a National League South side in Hampton & Richmond Borough FC (HB) is “massive”. Not only is it a good test for the team, who Adam says “jelled well” in preseason, but I’m sure a few extra people than normal thought the gate, and not to
forget the winnings if they do go through tonight, are all very welcome indeed.

By the sounds of it, if the constant clink of the raffle man's bucket, and the already busy bar, are anything to go by, they are doing ok so far tonight, but no drinking outside. Don't want to upset anyone at the Football Association. Remember tonight is an FA Cup game, so all the FA’s draconian rules are in play.

PB were very close to progressing at the first attempt, going ahead on seventy four minutes in the original tie. Only for HB to equalize via the spot on the eighty sixth, and saving themselves some blushes.

It's the home team first out to warm up, not on the pitch, the red chalkboard making it clear that's out of bounds "KEEP OFF THE PITCH TA!". Instead they head for the field behind the main stand, where the DJ has at least got the volume correct, but has managed to turn down the lyrics, treating us to an instrumental version of ‘What's the frequency Kenneth’ by REM.

With around twenty minutes to kick off there is as of yet no sign of any great number of HB fans who I know travel well, perhaps they are the fashionable late types.

We are finally treated to some music with words “sit down next to me” sings James, and I notice a few HB supporters, but still none of the noisy rabble we saw when we paid them a visit at the Beveree Stadium.

“Have a good one” says a man quietly, as he sips from his polystyrene cup, to the PB players heading inside. Their coach from the sidelines having instructed them “in we go”. From behind the door of the home dressing room, The Next Episode by Dr. Dre, words and all is playing.

In contrast to his sometimes raucous music, when the announcer comes over the airwaves, he’s incredibly quiet and softly spoken, “warm welcome to the Pakex Stadium” he says. When he reads out the HB team there is not an ounce of emotion in his voice, when it’s the turn of the “Scholars” as PB are known, so called because the club was formed by a local P.E Master for former scholars, there is a notable change of tone in his voice, a slight spike in excitement. However it’s all relative, he goes from almost deadpan and whispering, to not so deadpan and talking a little louder.

Beside me, a great debate is in full flow, the ‘where do we sit/stand’ debate. “That’s always packed” says one of the group, pointing to the stand behind the dugouts. In the end they stay put, the elder of the three, producing a foldout chair and plonking himself in it.

“Come on Hampton”, sing the HB fans who have somewhat appeared from the ether, occupying the stand behind the goal, their red and blue flags quickly going up. At the opposite end, PB’s equivalent respond “Bar army”. Their chant getting a sarcastic “wehhhhh” from the visiting fans.

The back and forth doesn't stop there, “where were you on Sunday?” asks one particularly hoarse sounding PB fan, “I was there watching us being shit” replies a HB supporter, and as if knowing fair well there is no coming back from their next chant, it really is a bit of a conversation killer, the stand belt out a couple of “who to be beaver’s”, which as expected, gets no reply.

Oh yeah, while all this has been going on, a football match broke out, HB notching up the first shot on goal of the game after only a couple of minutes.

After being stumped for a moment by the militarized buck toothed animal chant, the PB five start up again, their ringleader giving each chant a hell of a lot of whelly, “Bar army, Bar army” it almost sounds painful. One HB fan is concerned “watch that voice” he suggests.

With two divisions between them, it’s no great surprise that all the early pressure is coming from HB, who are somewhat piling it on their opponents. Encouraged by this, although admittedly they need little excuse to sing from my experience, the HB fans are at it again, “come on Hampton”. One although he doesn't fully commit to it, lets slip a couple of low key “Wembley, Wembley’s”, but it's not with a huge amount of conviction.

“That will do” says a HB supporter, after PB finally get close to an attempt on goal after a quarter of an hour. A shot that isn't even on target and is well wide. “Bar, Bar” shouts the gravelly one, who is once again warned about his strained delivery, “I’d really watch that voice”.

The HB fans are not short of a one liner or two, “he fell over the length of the grass” shouts one when a PB player goes down rather easily looking for a free kick. Others though are less concerned with making witty quips, and more concerned about their side having PB by the scruff of the neck for twenty minutes, it has been relentless one way traffic, but they’re just not being decisive enough, “lets see some control” one demands.

For all the warnings and concern for the PB fan’s voice, ironically it’s a HB supporters voice, that's first to crack. Midway through a chant, it goes, he abandons the chant, sounding like a teen whose voice has just broken. Turning a few heads, he explains to the inquisitive faces in front of him, “I told you twenty minutes, my voice will go” he says like someone with a terminal case of laryngitis.

“There's a mans cock behind you pissing” says Tom, I must be clear he doesn't mean a mans cock independent from the body urinating all by it's self, close enough to be able to hear it leaving and falling on the floor, but a fully grown man with cock and all, who can’t be bothered to make the short walk to the loo and instead is not very discreetly standing behind the small terrace, relieving himself.  “We know what you're doing” sing the rest of the group, I think everyone knows what he’s doing, he’s hardly hidden.

With his voice faring much better that the HB fans, the PB supporter cries out for the first time in a while, “Bar army”. “You still here?” asks one of the HB supporters, who with half an hour gone, are in the process of taking down their flags, as talk turns to half time drinks. “To the bar” says someone a little over eagerly, the match still very much going on. One person explains how Chelsea have an app that means you can pre order your drinks, and pick them up at half time. I think PB intended to have that scheme rolled out, around the summer of 2127.

“Keeper, that was your get out of jail free card”, says a HB fan, following a near fatal error by the
man in goal for PB. His attempted kick is blocked, I’m not sure if he was trying a bit of a fake out with the opposition, but it didn't work, and his bluff was called. The hurried clearance comes off the encroaching player, falling kindly at his feat. With the keeper in no man's land, the forward swings his foot, Nwankwo Kanu style from the goal line. His wedged chip almost lobs the stranded keeper, missing only by a fraction, and ending up in the side netting.

From the look on his face, he didn't need reminding he's a lucky man, he's almost ashen, head down, as he collects the ball to take the goal kick.“Come on you scholars” shouts what I’m sure is a relieved fan.

With five minutes to go in the half, PB make an attempt on goal. Again it can only really be called an attempt, because its off target, another wayward shot. Tom questions if they have even had a shot “on target” and that would have to be a resounding no. They've only had two shots, and both were well wide of the mark.

As profligate as HB have been with possession, one of their fans asking of his team to try and pass to "someone wearing our shirt", they have certainly given PB enough of the ball. However they are just as excellent at picking the PB players pockets and winning the ball back, as they are at giving it away. Almost toying with the home team's players, who must think ‘yes we've got the ball now, go, go, go’, only to have it taken away again, quickly falling once more under the HB cosh.

“I think I cursed number 11” says a guilty sounding Tom, who since singing the praises of the diminutive, silky attacker, he’s been a little bit out of the match. Going from the most dangerous thing since a nuclear powered bowie knife, to a toothpick, all thanks to the big grey cloud of Toms expectations hanging over him.

Somehow the half is going to finish all square, unless either team score in the “two minutes” of additional time the softly spoken announcer has just informed us there will be. There is one last rallying cry from both sets of fans, “Beavers, Beavers, Bears” and “Bar army” from the person who I can report still has his voice.

It’s fair to say the cool calm voice of the announcer could probably tell you about a less than positive test result at the doctors, his smooth delivery making it all sound ok. When he explains that if the game goes to “extra time” there will be “hot chocolate” available from the “gourmet kitchen” well, that just makes the idea of standing around for another thirty minutes in the cold, seem just dandy.

I couldn't ask for a better person either, to break it to me that I have been unsuccessful in tonight's raffle. My tickets are not even the right color, they are not “yellow” or “green” but white, that’s 0 - 5 for the season now, however I don't feel too downbeat, because the way it was broken to me was so charming.

“You Potters Bar?” asks a twelve year old. I tell him I am, concerned about the repercussions if I tell him otherwise, sorry Spurs. Him and his friends satisfied with my reply, turn their attention to the PB players warming up. “1 - 0 to the Potters” replies the player when quizzed what he thinks the score will be, “only 1 - 0” says the appalled and slightly overly optimistic child.

A bit fed up of all the ‘banter’ coming their way, one line “are you a WIFI, because I feel a good connection”, the bizarrest of the stream of nonsense heading their way. I suspect the shot that is well high and wide, that sends the kids scattering to find the ball was totally intentional, “that will keep them busy”.

While I’m bearing witness to these strange interactions, Tom has disappeared with my £20 note, for a hot drink and a snack. Before leaving he double checked if I wanted something, he didn't want me getting “jealous” of his.

Tom obviously went at the right time, one nearby fan won't contemplate going now, down to the fact as he puts it, the queue is “horrendous”. I also think his mind might have been made up by the soft clicking of the players studs, returning for the second half.

“Burnt fingers” yelps Tom not only clutching two hot drinks, but also managing to balance a ketchup smothered hotdog in his mitts too, remember he's already had dinner. I nearly fainted as we got out the car and he told me he'd "eaten", before leaving the house. Having missed lunch due to Destiny Two, and only having had a "cup of tea and a penguin", not that long ago he had a large burrito, but as he puts it “I couldn't help myself”.

His balancing act almost goes south, “I’m losing my onions” he says, forcing me to help him, his snack teetering on the edge of oblivion. Giving him a free hand, this only allows him to rummage deep in the pockets of his jacket, to produce two Tunnock's Caramel Wafers.

Both teams are back out, both HB flags are back up, both sets of fans are back singing. Now standing with the “Bar army” their first song of the half, is a new one “his name's too long, hes got no song”.

It is though the visiting supporters who are singing the loudest, only three minutes into the new half when they finally break PB’s resolve, and score.

Despite being a goal behind, the kids from half time continue to lead the PB fans who now occupy the covered terrace, “come on you scholars” they sing, the adults replying with manly broken voices, one of whom who has opted for the Tom Baker Dr Who style home scarf, that is near to touching the floor.

Unfortunately for the ever optimistic home fans, clearly firm believers in the magic of the FA Cup, who start signing “we’re gonna win 3 - 2” when their side concede what from the outside looks like a great goal. A clever run and a powerful low driven shot from the edge of the box, into the bottom corner, but if you scratch the surface, some home fans around us tutting. They think the keeper really should have done better, and it would've been nice if a defender or three had tried to stop him, however that number 11 is pretty elusive, and deserved his goal. The gulf between the two teams is more apparent than ever.

With eighteen minutes of the second half gone, the game feels all but over.

Not that this means the home fans are going to stop chanting, one of the younger ones always starting it, the older ones joining in and taking his lead. It might be worth explaining however to the young man singing “is this the library?, that it’s not one you generally sing about your own ground.

If only the team, were giving as much as the fans. Overhearing the PB coaches, one seems to think the performance and “mistakes” are down to tiredness. They have been without the ball for long periods, chasing the game, number 11 constant torment.

Standing next to the HB bench, and momentarily blinded by the dazzling subs board, it’s hard not to be somewhat transfixed by the tall, lean, silver haired Martin Tyler pacing about, offering his own well mannered opinions and instructions to the players. In his obligatory sky blue Vanarama National League coat, jogging bottoms, tucked into socks, and well worn but comfy looking Adidas boots, Tom admits he thought he would have been more of a “Puma king man”.

One of the many joys of non league football, is the proximity to the pitch that it allows you, and being able to enjoy the conversations between players and officials. Tonight we are treated to two exemplary examples of this.

Firstly from a HB player, following a less than legal PB tackle right in front of the HB bench, that does not result in a booking. “Don't feel sorry for them” says one HB player to the referee, who reckons the man in charge is going easy on the underdogs.

The second example, is from the opposite side of the coin, this time a PB player, after his team are not awarded a foul and freekick, “they don't need anymore help”.

With ten minutes to go a small group of PB fans have seen enough, they leave through a small crack in the hedge behind us, like four kids in fur coats disappearing into a large wardrobe. A HB coach who also spots this unorthodox exit, saying it must play havoc with the attendance figures, the official one saying “12” people are here, when in fact it’s more like “200”.

On the other hand, the HB supporters are still in good voice, they won't be going anytime soon, “red and blue army, ally, ally o” they sing. They also suggest to the now quiet home fans that they "have more songs” than them, admittedly they have been a little less forthcoming with a tune from their small repertoire, since the second goal.

Although Tom calls HB’s third goal of the night the “final nail in the coffin”, and one PB player seemingly agrees with him, “it’s 3 - 0, it’s done” he says to a teammate. The game has been somewhat out of sight since the forty eighth minute. HB have been making chances at will, their number 9, holding up the ball well, with plenty of keen runners willing to have a go. Number 11 who so often is in acres of space, is constantly demanding the ball, swapping wings, visibly annoyed more than once when the ball isn't passed to him.

Three goals to the good, and with three minutes of added time to play, one HB player still demands of his team mates that they “keep going to the end”, which he delivers with a hearty motivational hand clap.

“Where the fuck is Cinderford?” sing the HB fans, who are not quite sure where the next round of the FA Cup is taking them. The players in what I must admit is a very dashing pale blue and white vertical stripped strip, which almost looks like a jockeys slicks, approach the traveling supporters  to applaud them.. In single file the players shake hands and hi five the lined up fans, some telling them “see you in Cinderford”, wherever that may be.

Tonight offered so much, so many things that alone would have made the trip worth it: the kind voice of the announcer, letting me down easily with news of my raffle failure, the decent turnout, two sets of singing fans, the member of the HB coaching staff at the food bar at full time, desperate to get his hands on a burger, because "they smelt so good from the bench", an HB fan shouting "Aguerooooo" when one of their players took a last minute shot at the end of the game, or was it when Martin Tyler pumped his fist just before the final whistle to a man on the side lines, asking him if he remembers the "conversation we had in the car park" which sounded ever so slightly Mafioso.

In fact it was none of these, but a passing comment I heard someone make about PB, being a "work
in progress". A throwaway comment perhaps, but to me the sign of another reason to love non league football. Yes PB is not a massive club, with an abundance of bells and whistles, but it seems the money they do have, is being spent in the right way, on the kind of things that will help the club have longevity, for years to come.

Thanks to the stewardship and devotion of one family and a committed group of volunteers the "dinky" Pakex stadium is a friendly, welcoming and comfortable place to enjoy watching a match, with a decent hot dog by all accounts. Now who could ask for any more than that? 

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE ↓



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Sunday 17 September 2017

Falling In Love With U's - Dagenham & Redbridge FC Vs Sutton United FC, National League, Victoria Road (12/09/17)

I’m normally quite ambivalent about listening to the recounted tales of someone else's holiday, however sitting in the car, staring at the back of a Ford Focus, for the twentieth consecutive minute, our impromptu international break officially over (Tom went to Italy, I went fishing in Surrey). I nod along half listening as Tom insists on telling me about cannoli, gelato, insane Italian drivers and how people speak into their phone like on the Apprentice, instead of holding it to their ear, because I can no longer find anything interesting about the boot of the car in front.

Anticipating a fair bit of traffic, and still driven by my fear of missing the start of a game, it happened once before in 1997 and I have no intention of letting it happen again. We left with what I thought was plenty of time to spare, but time is now well and truly ticking, and as much as I enjoyed hearing about Tom biting into what turned out to be a big cheese filled doughnut from his hotel's breakfast buffet, I would much rather just get to Dagenham on time.

My mood is inexplicably lifted when my compatriot, who admittedly I’m not in the best of moods with, following his mocking laughs, when we discover we have a joint love of arancini, a risotto filled Italian taste sensation. I tell him my favourite filling is bolognaise, his response is to smugly chuckle to himself, telling me I wouldn’t find that in Italy, they call it “ragu”. However, I’m able to forgive this blatant display of food snobbery, you've changed by the way mate, you used to eat sirloin steak with ketchup, when he produces a gift for me.

Not much bigger than a fifty pence piece, garish pink, and in the shape of a t shirt, on closer inspection he has only gone and got me a miniature plastic replica Palermo shirt key ring, which has my name on it! “I know you love a pink shirt” he remarks, my heart thawing instantly, after the aforementioned bolognaise comment. It’s not what someone gets you, but the thought behind it: pink, Italian, football tat, ticks all the right boxes, it’s also as he calls it, “custom” which makes it even better.

A yellow sign sheds a bit of light on the crippling traffic “broken down vehicle”, so at least we know what we are dealing with, and eventually we catch a glimpse of the flashing lights of the emergency services in the distance, so know we’re getting close to the scene of the hold up.

Not wanting to wish ill on anyone, but considering we’ve spent nigh on an hour sitting, scooting along in second gear, only to see it’s an abandoned people carrier straddling two lanes, being attended to by a single policeman, I really wanted to see an overturned oil tanker to justify my lost time.

Other than a bizarre road side pyramid of sorts, that Tom says he "recognises", perhaps from his Close Encounters’esq visions, I imagine he has a mash potato version of his own at home, the rest of the journey passes without anything else of note worth mentioning, however we have lost quite a bit of time, my OCD is close to boiling point, only finding a parking space opposite the bright orange steward at the top of Victoria Road puts a hold on a full meltdown.

It’s a short walk from the car to the overly high welcome sign, so high up you get a crick in your neck craning to read what it says “Welcome to Dagenham & Redbridge FC”. With about twenty minutes to kick off, which to most people is totally acceptable, but to me is a nightmare, I squirm at the sight of those people arriving to their seats as the teams are walking out, I’ve already been sitting down for twenty five minutes, where have you been, I’m a mess. I should probably take inspiration from one of the visiting fans of Sutton United FC (SU) who is serenely walking around with a small baby in a sling, while I’m close to a panic attack, because I haven't got a programme yet.

Time to get my priorities straight, it’s time to pull myself together!

“50/50?” asks the man with a small Tupperware box, “pound a go” he informs me, making sure to reiterate its the “50/50” and not the “golden goal” and without even being in the ground, without even having secured a ticket for tonight's match, the most important part of the evening is sorted. Next stop the club shop.

The strip light lit red prefab building is pretty standard, minimal, but has the pin Tom requires. On our way to the turnstile, we notice the Programme Shop, outside a jumble sale of programmes and other goodies are laid out on the floor, I think I spot a framed West Ham shirt, but we don't have time to investigate, or the pennant and scarf adorned room next to it.

We’re in! The red walls of Victoria Road, home of Dagenham & Redbridge FC (DR) have been breached, the players are just finishing their warm up, we've about fifteen minutes to kick off, what were you worried about, I can hear you all asking yourselves.

Although the queue at the gaily coloured Julie’s Fast Food Bar is not very long at all, and what's on offer is “cheap” as Tom puts it, having cast his eye over the extensive menu plastered across its facade he decides to decline getting anything at this time, and waits while I have a muffled conversation with a man in what I can only describe as a phone box, exchanging £2 for a programme, through a small letter box sized hole.

“Covered my ass” says a somewhat perturbed Tom, as we turn a small corner, the ground opening up before us, and we realise that my understanding of the terrace that was recommended by someone on Twitter as the best place to stand, is probably the most underdeveloped part of the ground, and is sans roof. With Toms keen weather eye pointed to the heavens and the dark rolling clouds, he every so often puts out his hand, palm upwards, waiting for a raindrop, he is not happy. “Breezy” he mutters passive aggressively.

Standing on the small windswept terrace behind the goal, our backs quite literally against the wall, as the final wayward shots of the substitutes crash against the wall just inches above our heads, all while Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones plays over the PA, a gentlemen in a flat cap and distinctive East London accent, strikes up a conversation, that takes some interesting turns, and is in fact more of a bizarre monologue, with lots of me nodding, than a conversation at all.

“You see the result of the mighty Hammers?” he asks/says in my general direction. I smile, not wanting to divulge my true allegiance. I make a bit of a quip how they just squeezed past Huddersfield the previous evening, thanks to a deflection, he doesn't look very amused, so I stop. It doesn't seem to matter anyway, he’s soon moved on to DR’s last match, “played us off the park, and we won” he explains.

Please don't think me unfriendly, I’m happy to shoot the breeze as much as the next guy, but it’s hard to chat, when my knowledge of the subject matter is a little lacking, so I continue to politely nod along, wishing a little bit that I could join the procession of burger carriers making their way in front of us towards the long pitchside terrace to our right, which has a roof.

When the next topic is about telephone scammers, his language turning a little colorful to say the least, calling one person he recently received an unsolicited phone call from “scum” among a lot of other four letter words, and implying they must think he is a “prat” if he is going to ring a “premium number”, I’m praying for rain, so we can do a runner.

At the base of the largest stand, which has Daggers spelt out in white seats, the rest are red, a huge St George's cross with Sutton United FC on it has been strung out across the seats. Nearby the away fans are holed up in one corner, below them the red vinyl tunnel is extended, and the teams wait to walk out.

Always intrigued by the music played at football grounds, having always thought that most clubs fall either into the ‘dad music’ or ‘naff new pop music’ category, DR go and blow this out the water, with their choice of Richard Strauss - Also Sprach Zarathustra, most well known as the opening theme to Stanley Kubrick's 2001 Space Odyssey. The dramatic opening bars are briefly interrupted by the announcer asking all to “welcome the teams onto the pitch” and I’m momentarily distracted from the theatrical choice of music, by the large limping dog shaped mascot in DR colours, following up the team at the rear.

When the lineups are read out, SU first, then the home side, it’s made clear its not any old side, just like M&S’s sandwiches are not any old sandwiches, but John Still’s “manager of the month's” side.

With kick off imminent the voice over the PA makes a request of the home fans, “let's make some noise for the boys”. It is though the visiting fans who are the loudest at the moment, “United, United” they sing. There is the odd shout of “come on you Daggers” from a few around us, but they are again outdone by the traveling SU supporters, “we love United we do, we love United we do”.

SU get the first shot of the game, their fans encouraged by the that decree SU are the “team for me”.

Having not got anything to eat, Tom’s ravenous hunger has only increased, no thanks to the passing of “ohhh pie and chips”, which he has not failed to point out on every occasion he's seen some, despite all this, he is not let's say thrilled by the sight of the bacon filled half a baguette that has just been handed to the person next to him. It’s not lacking in filling, its positively overflowing, however it’s a little grey, a tad underdone. He turns his head to me, looks me dead in the eyes, and slowly shakes his head.

Singing is about all there is to do for either set of supporters as far as entertainment is concerned, the game so far is hardly gripping, the away team's fans are easily ahead off the pitch, “Sutton till I die” they sing. On it, it’s a relative stalemate, scrappy, no real quality from either side. When one SU player attempts to flick the ball on to a teammate with his shoulder, but it just ends up being a hand ball, Tom is quick to inform me with a huge amount of pride that the player responsible is, “ex Arsenal youth”, got to cling onto whatever you can I guess, you Gooners.

The sky has only continued to worsen, and with some sick kind of gratification, Tom leans over and whispers in my ear, “here it comes”, the rain is well and truly here. This is not grin and bare it British rain, this won't ruin my BBQ, kind of rain, but the kind that goes from barely any at all, to all of it at once.

Big long terrace here we come.

There are a few hardy exceptions, those not joining the mass exodus for cover, instead rummage around in their backpacks for a waterproof, or erect a large golfing umbrella, they will not be shifted.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, but walking along the back row of the well populated terrace, with its
low slung angled roof, reducing our view to a long narrow strip, that apparently the only place to stand is within a stone's throw of the small hatch surviving food and drinks, with its condiment crammed table just in front.

Even with the slightly restricted view I’m able to see the red dot matrix scoreboard that had been above our heads. It currently reads H - 0, A - 0, not sure why they missed out the other three letters. The metal roof contains the murmuring and conversations of the home fans, the mixture of that, the rain and the occasional crash of a ball on the corrugated roof makes for quite a din.

On twenty two minutes the red ‘0’ after the ‘H’ has been replaced with a ‘1’, as the home team go ahead with a sweetly taken goal, that sneaks in at the near post. Shouting over the first bit of real noise from the home fans, Tom bashes out his first football cliche of the match, “should of done better” the keeper that is, who was beaten, all those in the know say he shouldn't have been beaten, but to be fair to him it was a fiercely struck shot.

Closer to the SU fans now, they are even louder and are quick to reply to the now lively DR fans “U's, U's, U's"

The excitement of the goal celebration subsiding, Tom informs me once again, “oh I’m hungry”. He then lets me in on the fact that he doesn't know if he can “wait twenty minutes to half time”, my theory about the proximity to the food is proven correct. “All I can smell is gravy” he tells me.

A deep curling SU free kick almost makes its way to the back of the DR net, both home and visiting fans “ohhhh” but for different reason. It’s also the first time I hear the “shit, shit, shit, shit” man, whose repetitive string of expletives flows out of him every time the ball gets anywhere near his team's box.

SU go close again, this time a header just flashes wide. “United, United, United” sing the very seldomly quiet SU fans. Most of their noise it seems coming from the group standing on the final few rows of the stand. “South London wankers” is what one snarling DR fan brands them. Mr “shit, shit, shit” once more expresses his displeasure at SU nearly scoring.

“Come on Daggers, let's get that second goal” pleads one fan, a sentiment most supporters, whatever team you follow can empathise with. That feeling that unless you are at least five goals ahead, you have no confidence at all that you might go on and actually win the game.

Both teams are what you might call probing at each other's defences. That pawing jab boxers do, it's just so far lacking that mighty right hand, that does all the damage. All this while the rain continues to lash down. Tom reckons for a moment it’s stopped, or at least eased, but a quick glance at the floodlights, and it’s clear it’s still falling.

SU almost land a decisive blow, but the chance is well blocked. One DR fan down front in a baseball cap, offers some advice to his team, the same bit of advice he has offered since we started standing a few rows behind him, “in his face” he barks.

Thankfully for us all, there is no time to dwell on the fact that there are “no chips”, because seconds after Tom has dropped that bombshell, returning from the food bar, and now regretting he only got a quarter pounder and not a half pounder, ordering smaller because he wanted chips, but now he doesn't have any, SU have drawn things level on forty five minutes.

It’s very kind of the announcer to inform us that it is in fact the scorer's 100th goal for SU. I’m pretty sure 95% of the people here couldn't give a damn. As far as goals go to clinch your century, it’s far from spectacular, but they all count. “Dundo’s, gonna get ya” chant the SU fans. A chant that always sounds like it has a veiled threat attached, that the one hundred goal man not only scores a few, but might have something else in mind for you too.

“United, United, United” sing the SU fans once more, following their ever so slightly menacing song about the fan favourite.

The end concludes surrounded by a shed full of angry East Londoners, their anger directed solely at the referee. “What kind of drugs you on ref?” asks one fan, then adding that he “would like some” if the man in change is able to tick him a little something. Another suggests to the man in black that he must get some thrill out of blowing his whistle, and therefore that's why he does it “every 30 seconds”.

None of this can mask the real anger that their team on the stroke of half time, conceded a scrappy goal, that just about sums the first half.

The teams depart, and the break in the game gives Tom a chance to reiterate that he still “wants chips”, his sizable burger having only felt like a “small starter”. Much like the DR fan's learning that is was Craig Dundas 100th goal, I couldn't give a shit. I’ve just learnt that I won't be taking home the “£145” prize fund from the 50/50.

“Halifax top of the league” announces one fan, looking up from his phone, the bright glare of which illuminates his face rather sinisterly. Instead of looking like someone from the Blair Which Project, he could do with lending it to the man next to me who is visibly doing himself harm, straining to read his programme in the gloom and murk of the terrace.

“Tea and Kit Kat time” discloses Tom. I thought after all that ragu, it would be only espresso and biscotti from now on? Anyway I’m much more interested in the man walking along the front of the stand, with a small leather bag over his shoulder, shouting “programmes” with one held above his head, wonder if he sells peanuts too?

For a moment I think the rain might have finally relented, until a glance at the floodlights once again, and I can see it’s very much there. Tom not a fan of anything resembling the cold says it feels like “fucking winter”. It’s not quite that bad, but it might be time to retire the shorts for 2017 at least, I have very damp shins.

I never would have taken Tom for an Elvis fan, but as the players return, while 'Can’t Help Falling in Love' by The King plays, he goes a bit gooey and soft, looking off into the middle distance, like someone in a Spielberg film, and tells me it's one of his “favourite” songs.

“Please welcome the teams back onto the pitch” asks the announcer, a few home fans oblige with shouts of “come on you Daggers”

No amount of half time snacks, or gloating at rivals doing badly during the break, means the referee is any less in the cross-hairs of the home fans. They just don't feel like anything is going their way, “you don't know what you're doing” they chant, before going as far to suggest he’s a, “cheat, cheat, cheat” and other than the celebrating the goal, it’s about the noisiest they've been tonight.

With the rain now at its absolute worst, “match abandoned” shouts one fan, half joking and half hoping, Tom suggesting its coming in “sideways”. Yes the wind is blowing into us now and we are getting a few spots on us, but if we look to our left the hardy souls still on the open terrace, are really putting us to shame.

The first quarter of the new half, has pretty much picked up where the first half left off, uneventful and scrappy. SU are the first to get a chance of any real meaning, a curling shot, a “skimmer” as Toms calls it, that skids across the grass, and into the arms of the keeper. Not long after DR shoot just
over, and the game has officially got going.

You might think that going close would have lifted the spirits of the DR the fans, but it does nothing of the sort, they are still more focused on giving the referee as much stick as possible, and my grumble-o-meter is going through the roof. There is thankfully a moment of brevity among all the darkness, when the name of an oncoming DR substitute causes a few laughs. Chike Kandi has only one foot on the pitch, when the less than original cry of “it's chico time” goes up. However, the next attempt, “we've got candy” to the tune of the 1965 hit 'I Want Candy' by The Strangeloves, is at least worth a wry smile.

SU go close, but the player at the far post is unable to get the final touch to poke it in. This gets a  song from the fans, “we’re the Sutton boys”. When one player makes a great effort to take the game to DR, gliding through the midfield, surging forwards, Tom once again has that glint in his eye, “Arsenal academy”.

“HOW?” mouths Tom with his head in his hands, much like the player who's mazey, slinky, jinky almost balletic run down the left wing, his quick feet getting him into the box, all while he evades what seems like the whole SU team, does not result in a goal. His shot is blocked, the rebound falling to a teammate, who shoots wide with the goal gaping.

The fans instead of chastising the player who missed, applaud the player responsible for the awesome run, “come on you Daggers”.

Finally the game between these two teams at the top of the league, is living up to a bit of its potential. First the wonderful solo effort, then SU almost give DR the lead, when they nearly scored an own goal. Another deep free kick almost catches out the SU keeper, he just tips it over, not sure if it was an audacious shot or just a wind assisted cross, but the keeper was almost embarrassed. The resulting corner, is headed over by the SU defense, the second is met by a DR attacker whose own header goes fractions wide.

Finally the moaning isn’t the loudest the home fans have been “come on your reds”. I nearly have to eat my words, when Mr “in his face” thinks the SU keeper in his Barney the dinosaur shade of purple kit is time wasting, “fucking horrible team Sutton” he shouts.

The “horrible” teams fans reply to their now vocal rivals, “United, United, United”, things are hotting up a bit.

It’s really the final quarter of the match that is the best of the whole ninety. SU almost take the lead, but the player can't convert the big looping ball into the box. DR get another deep free kick, almost in the same place as where the effort earlier just saved, was taken from. “Shooooot” demand the fans, he does, “ain't gonna do it twice” says Tom as the ball sails well over.

Into the final ten minutes there is that feeling among the home fans, that their team are going to screw this up, “Oh here we go” says someone whose clearly seen it all before, SU’s attack this time comes to nothing. Two SU corners follow not long after, causing more consternation in Mr “shit, shit, shit” who is now in overdrive.

The outrage towards the man in charge hits its peak when nigh on the whole terrace is directing him to where an SU throw in should be taken from. To be fair the SU player is taking the, ‘edging along the touchline’ thing all footballers do, a bit far. About fifty pairs of hands, fingers pointed, wave manically around us, accompanied by shouts of “back” until the player in question is finally re-positioned.

It's all SU, “United, United, United” sing their fans, most of them on their feet, a goal for them seems imminent, one DR fan makes a solemn statement, with the ball a constant around his teams box, and very rarely in SU's half, “should be down the other end”.

The board goes up showing the three minutes of extra time, from the response of some of those around us, you would have thought it said three hundred. The idea of their team having to hold on to for a whole one hundred and eighty seconds, without conceding, seems impossible. And they are almost proven right when an SU player rounds the keeper, but fires over from a tight angle.

A fan's sixth sense is very rarely wrong, that ability to know exactly when your team are about to blow it, is a skill every supporter learns not long after deciding, ‘this is my team’, also if Mr “shit, shit, shit” said it enough times, he was going to be correct at least once.

“Shit, shit, shit” he repeats for the umpteenth time, about one minute into the three added on. The cross into the box, finds the SU forward between two defenders, and with a glance of his forehead, SU take the lead. “Oh shit” he says as the visiting players in white, not yellow for some reason, don't quite get that clash, as DR play in red, run off to celebrate. Their fans erupt to our right, the home fans taking it as their cue to leave in their droves, rain or no rain.

“We are top of the league, we are top of the league” sing the SU supporters, someone has had a quick look at their mobile, and it would seem that thanks to other results tonight, SU have jumped from fifth to first.

All the commotion of the shed has gone, we stand almost completely alone, except for one soggy steward who wants us gone, as we watch the SU players applaud the singing fans, some whirling their scarves above their heads, “Sutton, Sutton, Sutton”.

As the final players leave the pitch, the one hundred goal man gets one last song “Dundo’s, gonna get ya”, before they round things off with a their own rendition of The Kings classic, “falling in love with U's, U's, U's”.

Outside I do my best to walk at double time, wanting to avoid any further moistening of my lower legs. A group of SU fans continue to celebrate their teams ascension to the top of the league, with a bit of a sing song on a dreary Victoria Road, as they start the long journey back to South London.

Back in the car, preparing for Uber duties as Tom plays a game on his phone I'm still wondering, why were SU playing in white, it just doesn't make sense. Why are chips such a problem at non league football, this is a problem we have encountered before, and Tom wants answers, and if Dundo did get "ya" what exactly would he do to you?

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE ↓



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