Wednesday 29 November 2017

Moneyfields Not Moany-Fields - Cambridge City FC Vs Moneyfields FC, Evo-Stik Southern League East, Westwood Road (25/11/17)

I’m not sure if my postman doing his round is unhinged or I’m just the big southern softie my Mancunian fiancee always says I am, but I just sat in my car in a jumper and jacket, my breath visible like Aslan’s in the 1988 BBC adaptation of The Lion and the Witch and the Wardrobe, while the ice melted on my windscreen and he's bowling about in shorts no less without a care in the world.

I barely notice Tom getting in the car, I’m too transfixed by the two local characters at the station who are far too engrossing. One stands in a shabby grey pimps jacket, while another squats attempting I think to roll a cigarette, who then falls on his arse. They stand out somewhat among the well dressed locals on their way to do a bit of Christmas shopping. The one who took a tumble takes a while to pick himself up, and thanks to Tom's keen eye, appears to be wearing a thong, which is quite obviously protruding from the top of his loose fitting jeans.

Our mini road trip to Cambridgeshire is under a bright and crisp sky. The heaters are on full and Tom every so often undoes all their hard work, cracking his window to allow the plumes of smoke from his vape device to escape. Today there is none of the nonsensical chatter as normal, Tom instead is antisocially tapping away on his phone. Knowing he is neither a fan of George Michael, who currently resides in my CD player or of Classic FM the channel my radio is tuned into, I therefore sit in silence.

His girlfriend the Sparrow, is not happy, he eventually tells me having sensed my displeasure, she's “moaning” apparently. Not in an Alf Garnett, bloody missus, bloody women, get back in the kitchen kind of way, but totally justifiably, and it’s all his fault.

Before you get ahead of yourselves, I know some of you have mucky minds, so when I say he kept her up all night, it's nothing smutty, we haven't gone all Loaded Magazine all of a sudden, it was because of Tom's propensity for talking in his sleep. “Fuck I’m 40” he shouted around three or four o'clock this morning, waking up the light sleeping partner, he having no memory of it at all, she was unable to get back to sleep.

Despite all the signs for Cambridge and the fact we are off to see Cambridge City FC (CC) my unreliable Sat Navs magenta course does not follow them, instead it has us continuing up the M11. The signs for “Everton” and then “St Ives” have Tom a little confused, both have him scratching his head. He has a slight moment of panic when he notices it's “fuck raining” however the field of windmills, the thatched roof houses that are just like his “Mums” and the llamas have him suitably placated.

A school, what looks like a relatively upmarket school is where my genius of a Sat Nav has taken us. Tom’s more reliable one on his phone, sends us off somewhere completely different, but it's so obnoxious, it’s curt loud instructions just rude, I have to ask him to turn it down.

Another leisure centre, another house share. CC are currently the lodgers at Westwood Road, the home of St Ives Town FC, the landlords crest abundant on the potholed drive up to the ground, the four bull covered badge everywhere. Vastly outnumbering CC’s single long narrow sign on a fence as you make your way in, the only inkling that CC play here too.

The hour and a half in the car with the heaters on five and the radiant sun has fooled us both into thinking it’s habitable outside, but it's not. The man on the gate of Westwood Road has the right idea, a black woolly hat with Lilywhites across its front. Not only is he well prepared with the appropriate headgear, but the fact he is showing off the clubs nickname, a nickname they share with a certain North London club, I may or may not be a fan off, I feel an instant affinity with CC already.

We are early, crazy early, silly early. The man in the hat is confused at why we are as early as we are, so early that the bar isn't even open yet, and he says we'll “freeze” if we sit around waiting for it to do so.

“Stop reading my mind” says one club official to another who interrupts him suggesting we go to the nearby leisure centre cafe for half an hour or so, but not before Rick a CC director emphasises that today's game, against table toppers Moneyfields FC (MF) who are four points ahead of second placed CC, might just be the “biggest game of the season”, “it's games like these in the middle of the season, that make the difference at the end” he adds.

Walking into the Zest cafe, Tom suggests that what we see before us is a snapshot of my life now I have two children. Parents sitting with either soggy haired kids after swimming or waiting for a birthday party at the ten pin bowling lanes and he asks if I “fancy a game” as a way to kill some time.

A cup of tea will suffice, we won't be here for long, and my knees don't allow for me to execute my preferred bowling technique anymore. Tom returns with a bit more than just a cuppa in a polystyrene cup, but “tea for two”, served in white china, with a tea pot and an almighty slab of flapjack, which is “homemade” he tells me and “cheap” too.

Surrounded by the faint smell of “flaming Monster Munch” that Tom has detected, and the sound of rowdy children and struggling adults, we enjoy our drinks. With his last sip Tom lets out a knowing sigh, it's time to head back outside, “this is the warmest we'll be all day”.

Thankfully the bar is now open, but any thoughts of Tom being able to satisfy his already grumbling stomach, “getting hungry” he tells me, is going to have to wait a little longer, they’re not serving yet.

It’s distinctly black and white in the bar, from the material draped from the ceiling, to the chequered table cloth with striped tombola on top, but it’s all distinctly St Ives, it’s very much their bar. By coincidence their colour scheme is the same as CC’s, but it's not their players that fill the many picture frames, or newspaper clippings celebrating their achievements covering the walls. CC are reduced to a small notice board, with a scarf pinned to it and the clubs crest above.

“It’s even cold in here” says one of the newly arrived MF squad, sauntering through the empty bar in their very “snazzy outfits” that catch Tom’s eye. Suitably refreshed, with no instant desire for a pint, we head back outside, having seen all there is to see in the monochrome clubhouse.

Conveniently the programme seller and the 50/50 seller are standing side by side, both with their blue money belts over their shoulders, and the chance to quash any chance of no programme disappointment today, as well as having a flutter, are quickly sorted out.

The reason we are here today, is thanks to the suggestion of @dwb790 on Twitter or Dave in the real world, who we bump into, in what was until recently a completely empty ground, that is finally getting a bit of a match day clamour.

Dave confirms we are not in Cambridge, St Ives is about seventeen miles away, but we are still in “Cambridgeshire”, CC at least staying in their county, if not their city. It’s a “sorry state of affairs” the situation CC find themselves in regards to their home. The clubs header on their Twitter account is testament to what was supposed to be their brand spanking new ground, the detailed artist impression looking very swanky indeed, but in reality they have been sofa surfing for five years now, after a “judicial review” was raised, following an objection lodged against their planning application.

It’s not the happiest chapter in CC’s one hundred and nine year history, having been relegated last season. Rubbing salt in the wounds, they went down due to “goal difference” of all things, and Dave’s friend John explains, it was made ten times worse by the fact that “local rivals up the road St Neots” survived instead of them.

Dave and John aren't native to this part of the world, work having brought both of them to Cambridge, they met seventeen years or so ago, their kids both going to the same school. Their budding bromance started when John a “Brentford fan” invited Dave to a match, and they've been coming ever since. Dave, like so many people doesn't really “like league football” anymore, all the “yellow lines telling you where to go” is not for him.

MF appear in their less than understated neon green hats, ready for the warm up. By the turnstiles a small crowd has formed around the programme seller, “programmes” he now shouts like a barrow boy, next to him the 50/50 seller is giving someone a “guaranteed” winning ticket, gutted, and is also
selling some CC Christmas cards, with a choice of “two designs”.

The crowd is making a reasonable din, as people welcome new arrivals though the single turnstile, before catching up with each other. One man asks how anothers “allotment” is, and before he can update him on his sweet peas and marrows, the older man who doesn't look the type, but who knows, I saw Christopher Biggins getting wasted with Bobby George on TV the other day, asks if he is “growing that marijuana?”.

Tom has gone full SAS, hat on, snood pulled up, only his nose and glasses visible. As he puts it, it's “nice when you're in the sun, but it's just fucking freezing when you're not”.

It’s certainly a warm and cheery welcome from the man with the mic on the sidelines “welcome back ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” he says with a certain panache. He is quick to plug the 50/50 and programmes, as well as the “festive cards” on sale, he also alludes to a second form of gambling, that until now I was not aware of.

“Raffle with prizes” is the reply from the man in the Lilywhites hat to my enquiry about the other way for me to waste a couple of pounds. He describes the person I need to find, who he tells me “doesn't miss many games” in fact I’m sure I’ve seen him, with his ticket book in hand.

As the teams arrive, and the starting elevens are read out, firstly MF, every name is followed with a shrill “boo” from a small boy, when the home team is read out and we all find out who's starting “for the Lilywhites” they get a much better reception.

“Come on you Lilywhites” shouts one of the fans standing in front of the two CC flags which have gone up, hanging from the bars over the windows of the clubhouse. The ground is a mishmash of three small seated stands opposite the main bulk of people who are either on the few graduating steps outside the bar or with little chance of rain are leaning on the barrier around the pitch.

It’s not an ideal start to the game for the home side, catching out almost everyone in the ground, with only three minutes gone, they find themselves behind. “City” shouts someone nearby disapprovingly, “awful defending” shouts another. One of the CC staff on the bench shouts at the defence, telling them that they need to “tighten up”.

Standing next to the man with the mic, whose early jolly and positive demeanor has slipped a bit, I’m subjected to a sometime mumbling, and sometime explosively loud tirade of nervous football related pessimism, I almost feel inclined to give the bloke a hug.

“Here we go again” he says as MF pin CC back, each attack he is sure is going to result in another goal. When it doesn't, and the defence by luck or by chance stop them scoring he bellows things like “wake up” and “come on now”.

It’s all the away team, CC’s players and fans seem a little shell shocked by the early goal. You could almost hear a pin drop in here, it’s very subdued. When CT do get the ball, they give it away just as quickly, much to the displeasure of the man next to me, who singlehandedly breaks the silence, “come on get hold of it”.

His ability to go from 0 to 100 is frightening. “It’s a corner” he roars at an MF player who disagrees with the referee's decision. A little quieter, but just as ferocious, the boo’er tells the MF player to stop his “whining”.

The first of many crunching teeth sucking tackles today, happens around twenty minutes in, “make sure it's the right colour” demands a a CC supporter, as the MF player responsible for the wincing lunge is marched off and only given a yellow. Appalled and incensed the same fan can't believe it, so enraged he can barely get his words out to make a cohesive sentence, “nice to know what you can do for a yellow” he eventually gets out garbled and flustered.

As the sun drops lower, the CC keeper has to hold up his hand to shield his eyes from it’s rays, so does the temperature and things just go from bad to worse for the home team and my neighbour. “For crying out loud” he cries, when for the countless time his team give the ball away again, putting themselves under undue pressure.

An almighty clearance in the general direction of Tom, gets him thinking. Turning to me, a little pale, he was sure “that was going in my face”, he posses me a question. With one of the few downsides of non league football being the heightened chance of catching a ball straight in the boat race. His brush with injury makes him wonder what would I do, if he was hit and it “broke” his nose.

I consider his scenario, but not for long, and give him my answer. I would “plug it” I tell him, with something at hand, a tissue or a cold chip and assure him that there are plenty of “medical staff at hand” who would be able to help. We're not leaving just because you've got a nosebleed and now look a bit like Owen Wilson.

His face is a picture of disgust, but I think I can also see that he acknowledges the fact that I did say I would help him in his hour of need. Lucky for me, he has the attention span of Homer Simpson, and is soon distracted by a man passing him “ohhh sausage rolls” he murmurs, and he’s already forgotten how upset with me he is. He is also upset, neigh dismayed in the manner in which said passing man was “churning up” a large tray of ketchup and mayo, making his own on the hoof marie rose sauce, to dip his snack in.

Twenty five minutes gone and CC are given a lifeline, thanks to a mix up in defence with the MF keeper, whose rotund physique is getting some attention. One fan suggesting they felt an “earthquake” when he dived, is not very nice. In the middle of the melee, a CC player it seems is dragged down, their shout for a penalty declined. Play continues and the ball is whipped across the box, but no CC player can capitalise, and its cleared.

“Gonna be one of those games” says the CC manager, turning away from the pitch towards the bench behind him.

CC show their first bit of class and composure, just shy of thirty minutes in. A great run on the wing on the opposite side, sees the player break free and unopposed he makes it to the byline. The requests of his teammates to cut back into the box are seen and he does just that. The ball in is a good one, one of his well placed team mates meets it, but his shot is a little under powered and straight into the hands of the MF keeper.

“Come on city” shouts one of the group near the flags, as the first quality home attack, is followed by the first bit of real noise the crowd has made so far today.

Someone's mood has changed, funny what a goal can do, “equalising goal for the Lilywhites” says the man with the mic. All his bon viveur has come flooding back, following CC’s close range header. Which some nearby soothsayer moments before it went in, muttered “surely that's it” as the ball was chipped into the box.

“Game on” says the woman next to Tom, pinching his catchphrase.

The home goal has put a rocket up players and fans alike, there is finally a buzz about Westwood Road now. The players visibly fired up almost take the lead in excellent fashion, starting their move following an MF corner. Swarming forward, CC’s counter attack culminates in a well hit shot that is saved, but not held, sending it spinning up in the air allowing for a second bite at the cherry. This time the attacker tries with a header, but it's just over.

It’s like a different ground now “come on City”, there is so much more coming from the fans, “keep that tempo” demands the CC bench.

Tom is now, just like so many others are doing, the cold feet dance. Shifting back and forth from one foot to another, he tries to get some life back in their feet, telling me he'll be “digging out his long johns” for our next game and asks me if today “can we eat inside?”, wanting just a bit of respite from Jack Frost.

On the pitch it's getting what a character from an East End B movie might call a bit ‘lively’ or ‘tasty’ and very shouty. Players shouting at players, players shouting at the linesman, both teams shouting at the same linesman and the fans chucking their two pence in towards both sets of players and the linesman and everyone is shouting at the referee.

“Should be 2 - 1 up” says a young steward to the mic man, who agrees, adding quite rightly that CC have “grown into the game”. The steward joins the deafening chorus, when an MF player knees a CC player in the back, as they both jumped for the ball, “he poleaxed him”. A third fan joins the conversation, thankfully for the moment just talking in a normal indoor voice and not shouting, and it's hard to disagree with his assessment of the game “we’re the only team in it”.

With the tunnel extended, a baying mob, minus the pitchforks pack the small space either side of it, letting the MF players know just what they think of them “filthy bastards” shouts one. The referee and his assistants are not immune either, and all get an earful too, before disappearing underneath the protection of the white vinyl.

The players and officials now safe, the tunnel retracted, Tom is off, “I'm getting in the food queue”.

I was unable to find the “match day draw” ticket seller, so pretend I'm not bothered when the draw is made as I'm not in it, what do I care that someone else has just won a box of Roses or a voucher for a local dog grooming salon or whatever it may be. Raffle over, the voice over the PA tells us the “50/50 is next”.

As the winning tickets number is read out, Tom is signalling at me from the queue at the refreshments hatch, firstly the score of Spurs Vs West Brom, the baggies currently leading by one goal, then with his thumb he goes from thumbs up, to thumbs down, thumbs up, thumbs down, until I confirm it's a thumbs down.

The “good chips” Tom returns with are a real treat, and I don't think “good” realy does them justice, how about great or outstanding, these are some Heston Blumenthal triple cooked shit. The “brioche bun” of his cheese burger is a nice touch too, however the “no onions” are a bit of a let down.

CC are out first, one fan suggesting that MF being a bit tardy is because they are “practising their boxing”. We hear from the man with the mic one last time when he confirms the 50/50 has been “claimed”, and I stare off into what is turning out to be the most stunning blue and pink sky, wondering if I’m destined to forever be a loser.

“Ohhhh” crow the CC fans early into the new half, having just watched their team fire the ball down the corridor of uncertainty, but no player is there to meet it to have surely put them ahead.

MF have set their stall out pretty firmly, Tom is convinced only five or ten minutes since the restart that they are “happy with a point” and are taking every opportunity to “slow the game down”. This what you might call negative approach, the keeper really making the most of every kick, insuring that he kicks the upright of his goal at every opportunity to clear his studs, is resulting in mucho, mucho grumbling from the home fans and a smatter of sarcastic applause when he eventually takes it.

With a quarter of an hour gone, MF have their first genuine attempt at goal since the CC equaliser. Their own counter attack, results in a squared ball into the box for a tap in, but it’s cleared at the last. Not long after the CC keeper almost gifts MF a goal, his “fluffed” punch as Tom puts it, presents the visitors with the ball just outside the box, but the resulting diving header is put wide.

The two quick fire chances prompt one travelling fan to shout “come on the moneys” for the first time, or certainly the first time I've heard it today. Again Westwood Road has fallen a little quiet, no singing or chanting of any kind just the odd sporadic shout, “Come on city”.

Twenty five minutes in and Tom is disappointed considering the half started “so brightly” and it's a bit “dull” now. “Lots of back and forth, but not a lot happening” he adds. One thing I can certainly tell you that is happening is the near constant blowing of the referees whistle, and the awarding of free kicks in the home team's favour, one such set piece is fired just wide, the “knuckleball” attempt as Tom describes it, by the player he is convinced is modelling himself on CR7 from his hair cut to his boots to his technique, is just off target.

The sheer amount of fouls being given away by MF, makes Tom start to wonder if in fact they are “being treated unfairly or are they just dirty”.

I’m pretty sure I know what side of the fence the home fans are sitting, “whingey bastard” shouts one, as a WF player argues with the referee about another decision given against them. One fan, and not Tom this time, might have named the blog without even realising it, when they remind the WF players that they are called “moneyfields, not moany-fields" Tom does chip in following the recently pun, but it's a little bit short of what I have come to expect from him, “dirtyfields.”

“Come on city” shouts a single fan, hitting the fence as he does. For a brief moment a song breaks out among the home supporters, but it's fleeting. People are soon wincing and laughing in equal measure when with about ten minutes left an MF player blocks a point blank shot with his anus. Combined with the plummeting temperature, Tom now doing the cold dance almost continually, many are sympathetic with the player writhing about and no one can begrudge the referee blowing up, so the downed player can get some help. I won't tell you what Tom said about the use of magic spray, you can work that one out.

It’s MF keepers chance to almost hand the opposition a goal, when he dawdles on a back pass, and he’s quickly put under pressure and is hurried into kicking it out of play. “Money we keep fucking going” shouts one of their players, a CC player responds in kind, “come on city fight”.

Five minutes of extra time, “come on City get at em” yells a fan, at almost the precise time MF win the ball back and play it into the corner. I can't quite believe my eyes, and have to ask Tom to confirm what I just saw, “yep” he says aghast at what he calls “anti football”.

“Have a safe journey home” says the man on the mic, points all shared, league positions and deficits unaffected. The result having the feeling of a Sky Sports Super Sunday, battle of the top two, that didn't quite live up to it's potential. A decent game, but I think it could have been a real humdinger, if only the visitors foot had been a little less on the break and a bit more on the gas.

MF are straight up the tunnel, CC remain on the pitch, for a debrief with the manager. We say our goodbyes, just as we had done our hellos, to the man in the Lilywhite hat, who agrees that WF were certainly “robust” and as Tom puts it they came with “a plan”, but he also gives them credit where credits due, “they're hard to beat, we played some football”, and “that's why they are top of the league”.

Getting into the car and Tom is already talking about "calling in sick", for our next outing in a couple of days time. For all his woolly hats, gloves with textured smart phone finger pads and the famous snood, he is almost frozen to the core.

It's going to be extremely hard not to adopt CC as my own, considering their quite wonderful nickname, the very thing I've shouted at kick off  I think just about every Spurs game I've ever been to, just as hard as it was to go the whole day without making one Floyd 'Money' Mayweather, Harry Enfield 'loads of money' or opening titles of the USA Apprentice 'money, money, money' reference, which the name of CC's opponents was just screaming for. A weaker man would have gladly stepped up to the plate and knocked it out the park, but I resisted.

It's always sad when a team can't play at home, let alone their own city, I can only hope that CC are
able to return to where they belong soon, its the least that their supporters deserve. There was only one thing sadder today, one thing that almost brought a tear to my eye, which was when I told Tom I was going to my Mums for Sheppard's pie after dropping him off, and him telling me he'd put his feet in it, to "warm them up".

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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Thursday 23 November 2017

Clap That Rivals His Shout - Hertford Town FC Vs Witham Town FC, Bostik League North, Hertingfordbury Park (14/11/17)

I think it's reasonable to say our journey to Hertfordshire tonight felt anything but safe. One person trying to merge badly with fast moving traffic and the speeding white 4x4 that nearly demolished a motorcycle all contributed to a hectic forty five minute car ride, however an indepth debate about the new Call Of Duty and learning that Tom once piloted a helicopter, meant I got to tonight's ground, without having a complete and utter mental breakdown.

If I thought though that once off the motorway we were in for an easy ride, I was wrong. Three jam packed lanes of people desperately trying to get home, and prepared to do anything to get there that little bit sooner, are now replaced by pitchblack snaking tree lined lanes, without a street light in sight, having to resort to full beam to ensure we don't end up in a hedge.

“We do go to some funny old places” says Tom, as I do a three point turn in the makeshift gravel car park of the local girl guides hut, having blindly followed the Sat Nav once again. Reverting to the more reliable Google maps, it has us quickly on the right track and not too far in the distance we can see the bright glow of some floodlights, and a small square stand.

One last treacherous avenue successfully traversed, over a bridge and we encounter our second makeshift car park of the evening. With more trees than parking bays it's not instantly apparent where we can leave the old blog mobile, but we find a place. Somewhere that quite unintentionally means Tom almost falls in a ditch as he gets out. “There's a stream there” he says, having just avoided getting his feet wet.

The stuff you use to line the bottom of your plant pots with, crocks is what I think you call them, are not conventional flooring for a car park, but none the less, this fresh obstacle does not faze us, we negotiate them without a scratch, and make it to the turnstiles in one piece.

Tonight we came prepared, our last outing was a cold one, so Tom has broken out his large fluffy hooded winter jacket, as well as some gloves a hat and yes, the snood, but it’s a wasted effort, it's far from wintry. I think you could go as far as to call it mild, I probably could have gotten away with leaving my coat in the car.

Hertingfordbury Park home of Hertford Town FC (HT) since before World War Two we’re informed by the club chairman in his mint green jumper who gives us a quick history lesson, has the instant feeling of being a good’un. I can't quite put my finger on why, maybe it's the old stand, with its wooden seats that look like they might have been there since before World War One or maybe it's becasue of the “Welcome to Hertford Town FC” sign along its side in gold lettering. I know for certain Tom likes it, he made his opinion clear within seconds of walking in. “Pukka pies” he squeals, their tell tale orange logo hard to miss on the front of the long Stag (the clubs crest) covered Fan-Fayre Bar, with its HTFC number plate.

That indescribable feeling is only heightened when we enter the low roofed instantly cosy clubhouse, where everything that can possibly be blue, in keeping with the clubs nickname, The Blues, is. The stag theme also continues with the bronze head of one mounted on one wall, the county flag on another, which features yes you guessed it, Bambi's dad, and emblazoned above the bar in scrawled calligraphy the club's name. The only thing that doesn't quite fit, it's neither blue or has a stag on it, is a Belgian flag, promoting a low countries beer.

Tom is on the tea run, and returns a very happy boy indeed. Not only is the tea at a sensible temperature, breaking ranks with most non league cuppas that you can't drink for an hour, but having had a chance to survey his options for dinner a little closer, he is very impressed, “best food selection we've ever had” he tells me with a sparkle in his eyes.

HT might not conform to the scalding hot tea stereotype but what they do conform to is the non league rule that everyone does everything, so when the chairman comes out from behind the bar, having pulled a couple of pints it's no great surprise. On his way for a cigarette, rolling tobacco and Rizla in hand, we get a feel from him for how he thinks this evening will go.

“Lackluster performance on Saturday” he tell us, obviously not sure then what tonight will bring. When we ask what kind of an attendance he would expect, he explains it all “depends if people wanna watch England”,  the three lions taking on Neymar and the gang at Wembley tonight, so he reckons they'll get only around “180”, he tells us with a slightly screwed up face, as he crunches the numbers in his head.

A person who was always going to be here, regardless of who England were playing, is not a HT supporter, but one of their opposition, Witham Town FC (WT). Sitting at the other end of our long table, intently checking his phone, in his bright yellow WT shirt, blue hat and scarf is the well known Witham Town super fan, James.

Known to some as one of the stars of the Channel 4 dating show The Undateables, to those in the non league world he's known as maybe one of, if not the most diehard non league football fan going, he's like a one man Clapton Scaffold or Dulwich Rabble. With his trusty selfie stick and flag filled rucksack at his feet, he's more than happy to share his thoughts on WT’s chances.

It will be a “tricky game” he thinks, “but we will do well”. He reckons his team will keep a clean sheet too, and leave with a “2-0” win. James though is not around for long, finishing the last sips of his Diet Coke, he is a man in demand, and has an interview for Witham Town FC TV to do.

There is no shortage of people willing to chat and say hello. Stuart in his black flat cap, makes it clear that being a HT fan is far from easy, “never know with us, we know how to lose” he tells us laughing, having half lifted his hat off his head, as if to allow some of the strain of it all to escape his brain. They have conceded “six” twice this season but then “beat Canvey Island” who are top of the league, it was like the “Alamo” someone else chips in. Stuart asks if we watched “Sweden last night?, comparing their goalless draw against  Italy in their World Cup playoff, where the Scandinavians did more defending than attacking, but got the result, to their recent win over the league leaders.

It's been made perfectly clear in our five or ten minutes in the bar, that it's never plain sailing in these parts.

With his hat firmly back on his head, Stuart leaves us, prompting Tom to lean over the table and under his breath tell me he “really” likes “it here” it's “got everything”. Now of course it being Tom some of that has to do with the “great burger van”, but also the “nice clubhouse”, and the “old English football feel” the whole place has “about it”. Very rarely is Tom so forthcoming with his thoughts, he normally leaves it to me to do all the rose tinted gushing, but he’s definitely feeling it tonight and we’ve only had a cup of tea.

Programme secured, not making that mistake again! I ensured I had one in my bag early doors, to avoid the Churchillian black dog of depression hanging over me like at Erith Town.

Only half of Hertingfordbury Park is currently bathed in light, not all the floodlights have yet been turned on, so there is still a slight gloom around the ground. The squat main stand sits almost completely in darkness, with just a chink of light coming from its base, and the doorway the teams will be appearing from later.

The Stable End, the covered terrace behind one goal is relatively bare, except for a neatly painted and
frightfully menacing looking blue and yellow stag on its back wall. It has bags of attitude in its beady black eyes, like it’s going to corner you for your beer money and get you with its antlers. This perhaps explains the smiling stone Buddha below it, there to calm it.

And then there was light, as the full complement of wiry floodlights are switched on, showing Hertingfordbury Park off in all its glory. Cones have been put out on the pitch, but there is a distinct lack of players. A couple of WT’s arrive, and get a hearty clap from James, who has already set up his flags along side one of the dug outs. HT’s own fans have put up theirs, but their collection is somewhat dwarfed by the man with Ultra on the back of his shirt.

However his applause is a little in vain, the players realising they are in the wrong place turnabout and head to where Tom is, the “bog” or training field, behind the pitch, where a few players are taking pot shots at him, as he photographs them warming up.

I’m surprised with the overpowering smell of onions coming from the food bar, that Tom is able to concentrate, like football fan catnip, I’m sure they're what are drawing in the steady stream of fans. The near constant clicking of the turnstile, with its door that curiously has a letter box, is a good sign people have not sided with Gareth Southgate this evening, one steward has already had to put the ‘car park full’ sign out.

Perhaps the fact that someone seems to be testing the PA system explains the distinct lack of music so far, not that that's a bad thing, and when some does finally come on it's not blaring out, just a faint bit of MGMT wafting out of the speakers.

The departing WT players, having finished their warm up with a few minutes on the main pitch are greeted by a fan at the mouth of the tunnel, hands full of food and a drink, he is unable to offer them his hand as they pass, telling each one to “come on” so offers his elbow instead, which some awkwardly touch/shake before heading back inside, wondering what the hell have I just done.

Both teams arrive as they should, from the foot of the main stand, shouting and encouraging each other. Although I didn't see it myself, Tom thought it worth mentioning the starry eyed boy, looking on as the players walked out. Turning to his father beside him, asking if he thought he would ever play for the “Hertford Town first team”. His Dad’s reply is one that will melt anybody's heart, “you don't even know the offside rule” he sneered, oh. Tom saying the hope of one day turning out for his local team, died visibly in the little man's eyes.

With the toss of the coin and the deciding of ends, James’s flag hoisting has been a tad pointless, “took him about an hour to do that” says a person sitting behind me in the now perfectly emulated steep bank of seats in the main stand. He passes me at double speed with an armful of crumpled polyester on his way to set up at the other end of the pitch.

“Hertford come on” shouts a player moments before kick off, which is repeated by someone in the stand. They all though pale into insignificance when James gets going, his voice positively booming as he stretches the acoustics to their limits, the very acoustics Tom saw him testing pre kick off, walking around the pitch clapping, “good here”, he says to himself, his assessment concluded.

“Come on you yellows” screams the “multi talented” WT supporter. Tom impressed by the fact that he can not only sing “come on you town” but he can also finish tying up one of his six flags at the same time

Breaking somewhat with tradition, a small group of HT fans are not behind the goal they are attacking this first half, but the one they are defending. Holed up in the Stable End, some are even sitting with their backs against the wall. The complete opposite to James who is on to his next song “la, la, la, la Whitham” arms outstretched above his head. He seems to have a never ending song book, the next one is an old favourite of many a football fan, but with an unfamiliar ending, “que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be, we're going to Tilbury”.

Always on trend, and never one to stray too far from the path, Tom is already thinking about what he's having at half time, in a very roundabout way. Attempting to disguise his own selfishness, he pretends he cares what I might be having, because I mentioned I was a bit hungry on the way here “you hungry yet?” he asks. He apparently “skipped breakfast”, as he got up to late because he was “up till three playing COD”.

“Come on you yellows” sings James as WT win a corner, that results in our first bit of action of the night, an almighty scramble, ending with an attempted back heel goal from less than a foot out, that hits the post. Watching his team go close, means James only gets louder, his voice like a “fog horn” says Tom, singing about just how far he's prepared to go to watch his beloved WT, “over land and sea and Chelmsford”.

If the game wasn't proving to be as entertaining as it is, you could quite easily watch James all night, his energy is infectious, Tom will be “surprised” if he’s “got a voice left” by the end of the match and can’t believe that he's not “got a drum”, a must surely for any self respecting Ultra.

His powerful voice tests the acoustics, much like his team are testing HT's defence who Tom already thinks are going to be “ripped apart” by WT, with their “quick passing” and rapid front three who Tom reckons are all “below 6ft” its pace over power in the visiting ranks, no “lump” up front as Tom puts it.

Another goalmouth scramble, the well placed face of a HT player on the line stops the goal, and then there is an almighty shout for a “handball” the WT players chasing the referee as play continues, James is convinced “handball referee” and so is Tom “looked like a handball to me”.

As the occasional train trundles along behind the main stand, HT’s goal is living a charmed life, from long range WT hit the woodwork once more, the attempt just a fraction high from being a real stunner, “Witham, Witham, Witham” sings the one man yellow wall.

The slight delay in play because of an injury is almost welcomed, the first twenty minutes have been frantic, “too frantic” says Tom who needs to catch his breath. When a ball appears over the stand behind us, from the car park, halting play for a second time, it’s appearance thoroughly annoys the HT keeper to say the least “fuck off” he shouts. “Think he was happy with that kick” laughs Tom, as the man in goal is forced to retake his well placed boot up field.

HT get their own go at a goal mouth scramble, somewhere in the middle of which they have their own penalty shout turned down. “1-1” says an eagle eyed Tom, both teams now equal in the penalties
that weren't given race, he agrees with the home bench though that it should have been given. The referee however disagrees, and the ball ends up being bicycle kicked over the bar.

On twenty minutes the home teams resolve is broken, as WT take the lead in quite excellent fashion, with an expertly worked goal. A chest trap, a pass, a flick on, a swivel, 1 - 0. The quality of their creation is not lost on the celebrating players, the scorer is mobbed, having placed his low fizzing shot from the edge of the box into the bottom corner, well out of reach of the out stretched keeper. 

“Yes, Yes, Yes” shouts Daniel Bryan in the non league beanie, pumping his fist and going red in the face. His scarf tossed in the air, as he takes things up a gear. First suggesting we all have a “disco” but before anyone has a chance to join him, he just cracks on by himself, “la, la, la, la bouncy, bouncy” pogoing on the spot.

I’m not sure what it is, but the last few games we’ve been to, have been a a bit bad tempered in parts. Perhaps it's just down to what's at stake or perhaps some other contributing factor, the moons cycle or lay lines, whatever it is, tonight's no different. Tom goes as far as suggesting it's a bit “gladiatorial” and thinks we should “chuck a sword” on the pitch and “see what happens”. It's not only elbows flying in, but some rash and unnecessary tackles too, Tom has the feeling that “someone is getting sent off”.

The home fans are growing increasingly despondent not only at their own teams loose passing and sloppy play at times, but with the man in charge. Boos ring out from the small and most vocal group of HT supporters standing behind a single flag on the sidelines, when they think they're through on goal, and don’t agree when it’s given offside.

WT are rampant and have another shout for a penalty declined. Their willingness to pile forward does occasionally leave them a little vulnerable, and on a couple of occasions they are required to haul down the HT attackers to prevent the breakaway. One such fouls subsequent free kick which is hoisted into the box sparks another appeal for a spot kick, which again is waved away and I’m losing count of how many that is now.

Both benches are going nuts, screaming at the top of their lungs, HT’s at the referee for not giving the penalty for a clear shove and WT’s are threatening to pull off one of their own players for some reason, “it's fucking embarrassing” they shout, but what is causing them to feel so disconcerted is not clear.

“Referee get a fucking grip” asks one nearby HT fan, when a strange debacle stops play. It's not an extra ball this time, but a cock up with a HT substitution. “Try that again” says a confused Tom, as the home bench lift the electronic board for a second time, this time is seems with the right number and the injured player can limp off. “Why did they just try to make a sub with no player ready” wonders Tom.

“Free header” screeches the HT keeper, as the defender still recovering from his acrobatic goal line clearance just moments before is picking himself up out of the goal, having just prevented a quite certain second WT goal.

After most if not all moments of niggling handbags between players, James’s response to their silly behaviour is perfect, “ohhhhh” he says going a little Vic & Bob. However on reflection his mid nineties comedy duo impression doesn't quite match the severity of one bust up, that leaves one WT player sprawled out on the pitch clutching his face.

“What the fuck did he do?” asks Tom when the HT number 10 is shown a red card, having picked up his second yellow of the night. Despite being given his marching orders, he is not exactly prompt in leaving. “What did I do, what did I do?” he asks, over and over without reply almost frothing at the mouth, so incensed that he has been sent off. “Referee you're a fucking joke” shouts a far from impressed home fan, the man in black is now officially tonight's bogeyman.

The departing player, makes the long slow walk back to the changing rooms, receiving a few half hearted claps as he does so.

On the half time whistle, a half may I add that absolutely flew by, we get one last cry from James “come on Whitham” while he takes his flags down in preparation for the second half and the angry HT fans on the sidelines continue only to get angrier and their grumbling is as loud as it’s been. The voice over the PA is disappointed to say the least, “Hertford Town 0 - Witham Town 1” he says in a very glum tone, before updating us on the "latest from Wembley”.

Marching in the direction of the food Tom is wringing his hands in anticipation, “think I might have the full works”.

There is a fair old buzz around the sizzling grills of the Fan-Fayre Bar, from the not inconsiderable turnout. An impromptu kick about has broken out next to us, the ball and players occasionally crashing up against the metal fence that separates the concrete pitch and the alfresco pitch view dining options available.

Tom returns barely able to carry his “proper feast” the yellow polystyrene container overflowing with wait for it what might be the “food of the year so far”. Braintree's “monster burger” is still the frontrunner, but HT are giving them a run for their money, and all for £6.50 including two drinks, you “get your money's worth” too. Spare a thought though for the two almost untouched trays of chips, smothered in ketchup, that have been abandoned on our table, for no obvious reason, they didn't deserve that.

“You go, I can't” says Tom, his mouth overflowing just as the yellow polystyrene container was. The players are out, but he can't join me pitch side, he's still “got a burger” to finish, a burger that might just have the beating of my companion, when he admits for the “first time” that he’s started to feel “full”.

“Bang that drum bloody loud” says a HT fan to another, making his way to the Stable End and it's the first sign of the local philharmonic orchestra, who were absent in the first half, but who are now taking up position for the second. James has also moved, and has got his flags up in record time once again, “yellows, yellows, yellows”.

WT come flying out of the traps, all that pace and slick passing from the first half is back on show, but as pleasing on the eye as they can be, it's hard not to focus on what's occurring to our right, “what's going on in there?” asks Tom as all manner of musical instruments start to play, a drum, a horn a Kazoo? “Hertford, Hertford, Hertford” they sing, not only is there an orchestra in there, but a choir too. “Where were they in the first half?” queries Tom.

When the harmonica starts up, “got it all in there” says a baffled Tom, it feels like the icing on the cake. Not an instrument instantly associated with football, but oh does it work.

All the early promise of a noisy second half, is a little premature, they are sporadic at best and it's much quieter now with James at the other end of the pitch. For the time being it's just the hum of generators of the food bar behind us, the odd shout of “come on you blues” and the guys next to us checking the Ireland Vs Denmark score.

I can assure you that it's not cold, the temperature has dropped a fraction since we arrived, but nothing to concern yourself with. Not enough to make you try and remember all those hours of watching Ray Mears and what to do when you're stuck in the arctic. Tom on the other hand has cracked, and out comes the snood, that gets its first outing of 2017/18. I reiterate with him the fact it's hardly necessary, however he tells me he's putting it on because his camera strap is “chaffing his neck”, but I don't buy it.

The booking of a WT player sees the HT fans go all Sunday school, “hallelujah, hallelujah”. Not long after when a WT player goes down a little easily in their eyes, they go all Hunt For Red October, “dive, dive, dive”.

I already have two children, and at the moment have no plans for a third, but being out with Tom sometimes, especially when he asks me things like “get me a snake from the tuck shop” I feel like I have one girl, one boy and a bearded vape smoking man child.

“Not had one of these in years” he says, returning with a long red jelly snake that is apparently “rock
hard” so he tells me he is going to have to “sit on it for a bit”. The fact we are standing might make that a little bit tough, however he got me a raspberry Maoam, so I won’t say anything, I’ll let him work that one out for himself.

HT’s second half showing on the pitch, has well and truly woken up the fans, they may well be down to ten men, but you wouldn't know it. When they threaten to pull one back, with about a quarter of an hour gone, the supporters make themselves heard “Hertford, Hertford, Hertford”.

However HT mustn't be too overconfident, despite the fact you wouldn't know they are a man less, because WT almost go straight up the other end and score themselves “ohhhhh” gasp the fans around us, one of whom is wearing his “lucky shirt”, a shirt made by Kappa, a brand that Tom admits to being a big fan of because of the “boobies”.

“Big save” says Tom, as WT’s all green keeper keeps them in front with a low one handed stop. “Looks like they've got the extra man” adds Tom about HT, as the fans continue to be inspired by their teams determined showing, “Hertford Town, Hertford Town, Hertford Town, ARE WE” they sing, lead by the drum.

A mixture of not being the most subtle bloke in the world and Tom's apparent super power, earwigging, means we get the lowdown on the HT red card, from the very player who was sent off, all showered now in his club tracksuit standing just along from us. His defence after admitting quite openly he'd been a little bit Mario Fellaini let's say, is that he didn't deserve the card, because the “ref didn't see it”.

I’m not sure whats crueler the hummed chorus of a tune more commonly associated with the circus, that evokes visions of men in tiny cars with the doors falling off, which does rear its head at football on occasions when a player drops a clanger or chants of the “keeper is a blue” when on sixty eight minutes the man in the WT goal takes a swing at a bobbling passback, only to completely slice it, sending it spinning off behind him, allowing the HT forward who gambled on a mistake, to score from close range.

“Do another one keeper” shouts one of the fans behind the goal, another is pretending they’re nice “thanks keeper” but you know they are just rubbing it in. The band strikes up once more, “come on Hertford, Hertford”, all while the WT keeper who Tom says was doing the age old goalkeepers trick of looking at the "divots" as he calls them, attempting to impart some blame on the playing surface, is consoled by a team mate.

Tom is also very, very smug. His suggestion that the “blues, blues, blues” the fans now singing along to the violent blasts of a horn, needed to “score in the next 10 minutes” to have a chance of getting something from this game has come to fruition, with about thirty seconds to spare.

For the first time James has fallen quiet, his unshakable support dented slightly by the goal, but it's not for long though, “come on your yellows” he chants. The home fans now however start to match him, getting only louder and more raucous, “Hertford town FC, HTFC” they sing and every time the WT keeper has to take a kick he gets a jeering “ooohhhhhhhhhh” in anticipation of another gaff.

An unexpected Manchester United reference follows the departure of one WT player being substituted, “see you Zlatan” shouts someone. Perhaps because of his ponytail and beard or his love of kicking people. WT need to make changes, they've been a different side since the break, a bit “anti climatic” says a disappointed Tom, after such an assured first half performance.

It’s all the home team now, on and off the pitch. The fans in the Stable End are really starting to show off, first when they start playing the Funeral March, then the Imperial March. The soloist on the harmonica then plays a tune I know but can't name, it has a bit of a Dixy feel to it, however the next song I know well, 'Take Me Home, Country Roads' which they play note perfect.

The commentators curse almost strikes for a second game running when not long after talking up HT and how well they are doing, WT nearly score, but they can't take advantage of the gaping net. “How wide you want the goal?” asks a fan, as the sitter is skied over, while another supporter nearby admits that WT nearly going ahead, nearly caused him to “shit himself".

“Good save” says Tom, as the HT keeper who has not had a lot to do at all this half, pulls off another vital save. At the other end of the pitch, almost single handedly HT’s number 11 has grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and is really taking it to WT. He is the catalyst for most of what HT are doing at the business end. It is then no great surprise when he is involved in a great attacking move, only for the the final player, as Tom put it “tried too much” and his attempt to take it past one last defender is foiled.

The fans are still going, “come on Hertford, come on Hertford”, the harmonica is still going, all while their team doggedly try to snatch a winner. The WT bench demand their players “keep digging” and they are almost, almost undone with the final pass of the night, a through ball is pursued by the player in blue, but is reached by the man all in green just a fraction before.

“Final score Hertford Town 1, Witham Town 1” announces the mono tone voice over the PA on the final whistle.

“1 - 0 and you fucked it up” sing the HT fans who are in no rush to leave, unlike WT’s players who are up the tunnel in a flash, in the distance their most vocal of fans is taking down his flags for the last time. The WT keeper is thanked again as he makes his way off with his towel over his head. The HT players applaud the crowd who are still not budging, “we love you Hertford we do, we love you Hertford we do”.

There is still no sign of movement from fans or players, the supporters are still under the cover of the terrace, the harmonicas playing one last song. The players and staff are in a huddle on the pitch, I would think and rightly so discussing the positives they can take from the game. A shout of “well fought blues” sums up their second half perfectly.

Standing pitch side, just about to leave, we are joined as we were in the bar before the game, by some now familiar faces, all with an acceptable amount of pride plastered across them. "Good for forty five minutes" says one, "good" is an understatement, how about stoic? If HT had maybe just had a touch more composure when it mattered, they could have easily walked away with all three points.

What can I say other than get yourself down to Hertingfordbury Park. I can't guarantee you'll see a grown man playing with a wheel barrow, a visiting fan with a "clap that rivals his shout" as Tom put it or that you might be treated to the most thrilling of 1 - 1 draws you're ever likely to see. But what I can guarantee you though is a warm welcome, a good cuppa, good chips, a tuck shop, noisy fans and if it is your thing a charming stand the likes of which are becoming few and far between.

HT are another fine example of a club who join the ever growing list of reasons why we love doing what we do so much. If you do happen to go to a night match though and you're not driving, bring a torch, because the road is terrifying.


For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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Thursday 16 November 2017

Cockneys All Together - Erith Town FC Vs Windsor FC, FA Vase 2nd Round, Oakwood (12/11/17)

The man walking along my road in the ushanka-hat is a good indicator of quite how much the temperature has dropped these last few days. Not that I really need the sight of a Soviet in Finchley to confirm that it's cold, I can currently see my own breath in my car and the steering wheel is so chilled, it's almost painful to hold.

It's now a well worn path to Tom's, down the god forsaken Holloway Road, and I’m just about at the end of my tether with all the Sunday drivers when I pull up outside his house, drop him a text to tell him I’m here and stare at his red door waiting for him to appear, as his reply of “1 minute” turns into two, three, four and then five.

Tom went out last night, which can sometimes be a little bit ominous, but he hasn't canceled on me yet, which is always a good sign he's not had a big one. His groan when I ask him how he is is minimal, so I can assume he had a relatively sober outing. Probing a little further, he didn't get home particularly late, around 1 o’clock, however that's when the real party started, as he and the Sparrow tucked into some homemade cocktails consisting of “passion fruit juice”, “gin” and “cherry brandy” and although I’m sure he's brushed his teeth and had a shower, I did notice a fruity aroma when he first got in.

Heading to South East London today, although cold, it's at least bright and each with a coat packed it should be fine. Not long after passing the remnants of a gas works we are soon greeted by two signs at the entrance to today's ground, along with one for the local slimming club, both claiming it’s the ‘home’ of two different clubs. 

Oakwood is actually the home of Bostik League North team VCD Athletic FC. The other team, and the one we are here to see today, the other team who call Oakwood ‘home’ for this season at least, are what you might call lodgers, Erith Town FC (ET).

From our experience and I’m sure that of many other people, when you intend on watching a lodger play in this not too unfamiliar non league ground share set up, there is a very high chance you might be watching them on the Sunday, if the landlords were at home on the Saturday. Hence while you’re all at home, wrapped up warm with the Sunday papers on the go, a roast in the oven, half dosing with the Formula 1 on the TV waiting for Countryfile or the Antiques Roadshow, we’re climbing out of the car, being blasted by a harsh cutting wind, with Tom muttering “it’s cold in Erith”.

It’s certainly cold, Tom wishing he'd brought his "snood", assuring me it would be making an "appearance on Tuesday" when we go to our next match. Looking down over the Oakwood from our exposed spot above it, with a reasonable slope falling away before us down to the pitch, feeling a little weather beaten already and the wind only getting stronger, we’re not actually in Erith at all, but Crayford.

An unfortunate side effect of having to sleep in someone's spare room, sofa surfing around other grounds in the general vicinity of your patch, is not being able to play where your name suggests you are from. This is not the first time we've seen ET and it's not the first we've seen them bunked up in the second bedroom of someone else's house.

The tall thin man in his long black ET jacket, with a poppy tightly fastened to it, welcomes us at the green and white turnstiles that crown the top of the hill. ET’s opposition today Windsor FC (WFC) are from the “same level” as ET he tells us, so he reckons they've “got a chance”, however a few “injuries” could be the deciding factor.

I can see the main stand, the dugouts that are sensibly spaced apart and the covered sections for spectators that flank either side of them, but neither of us can work out where the changing rooms are. When we ask our poppy wearing friend, he points far into the distance, at the end of a winding, garden fence lined tunnel, at the “pavilion”. Imagine a white plantation house with a veranda, very “deep south” says Tom, imagining the mint juleps he could get through on there, and it’s so far set back, it may hold the record for the longest walk to the pitch going, that doesn't involve an escalator or lift.

Neither of us can agree more when our welcomer suggests we take shelter in the bar, the wind howling around our ears in conditions no sensible person would stay out in for long.

The twinkling lights of the fruit machine, the low hum of a nearby hoover being run over the carpet as someone does one last tidy before the crowds start to arrive, the bright sunshine flooding in the large bay windows, that gives the impression that it's actually nice outside, the faint smell of Toms cheese and onion crisps, my blue velvet chair or the non league hot cup of sweet tea he's just handed me, means it's near nirvana in the bar compared to the wilds the other side of the narrow door.

I’m distracted from studying the VCD Athletic wine list on our table, which isn't cheap may I add, no Calais booze cruise plonk here, which sits next to a small vase with some flowers in, by the near criminal replay of the penalty given against Northern Ireland in their recent World Cup playoff with Switzerland, that Tom hasn't seen, and like most people baulks at the absurdity of it.

Tom’s head is turned by the woman with the heaving tray of sandwiches, and then by the arrival of WFC filing past the windows, one member of their staff at the rear, is carrying a Subbuteo box. We both clock it, turn to each other to share a baffled glance, before Tom ponders if it's for “tactics?”

The arrival of WFC’s players, sees the arrival of some of their fans, some who are wearing knitted green, white and red striped scarfs that Tom thinks are “very Christmassy”. It also means we get a glimpse of WFC’s astonishing strip, which I told Tom about on the way here, and he sees for the first time when one of the fans takes off her large winter coat. He almost has to stop himself gawping, “there’s the kit” he says under his breath pointing.

I’m a definite sucker for a football shirt, anything from the weird to the wonderful. The garish patterns of the early 90’s to the classic simplicity of the 50’s and 60’s, only moments before I was raving to Tom about the Croatian national kit, and it’s glorious red and white cheques, but WFC’s might just be in a category all of its own.

Imagine a green Union Jack with red stripes and you’ve a good idea of what it's all about, but without actually seeing it for yourself, it’s tough to grasp quite how striking it is with your mind's eye alone. Tom can’t quite see it, “too much” he says, with a touch of Anna Wintour, he thinks its looks more like a “rugby kit” than a football one. I on the other hand can see the method in the madness the greatness in it’s totally over the top design. I’m not sure it's one I’m in love with, but it certainly has its place in the annals of football kit porn.

Somehow Tom has finished his drink already and is ready to brave the outside, my tea is still barely drinkable. He explains that the fact he burnt his tongue with his first sip, means he was able to drink the rest before it had completely cooled down, because the damage had already been done.

Oakwood is not only a football ground, but a hodgepodge of tennis courts and a bowling green with a very unexpected sign on it which Tom thinks is worth pointing out, warning people off the playing surface due to the presence of “poison”. A mixture of trees and a sea of roof tops border the ground itself. Behind one goal, nets preventing any broken windows in the nearby houses, billow in the wind like large black sails and music plays to no-one other than Tom and I.

“Bit grey over there” says Tom pointing at the ever changing sky. In the next breath the sun is doing its best to emerge, but soon it disappears behind some low white clouds and we’re not sure what kind of a day we’re going to get. “Want that sun to come back out, horrible now” pleads Tom. 

Returning from a bit of a wander about he does know that he “needs to get a woolly hat”, he cheerily confirms the presence of a “burger bar” and informs me that the 50/50 is not ready, “yet”.

I’m no fashionista, I’ll leave that to Tom and I only cement his position when I make the foolish mistake of thinking he had on his winter coat, and I couldn't understand how he was so cold. “No” he snaps, the one he has on is his “spring and autumn” coat and his winter one has yet to be taken out of storage. Anyway he tells me, he won't be cold in the future, because he's getting “hand warmers” soon.

A reasonable crowd has amassed around the picnic tables at the top of the slope, as ET are the first out to warm up. WFC are nowhere to be seen, Tom is concerned by the lack of the required paraphernalia on their half of the pitch “got to have cones” he says and wonders if they “do know it's a 3 o’clock kick off”. We ask a man in a green WFC coat who appears from the mouth of the tunnel, who tells us they are in “no hurry”.

The cherry brandy is catching up on Tom, “I’m hungry, need a fry up” he grumbles. With his concoctions from the previous night still swilling around inside him, I can only hope the appearance of ex Fulham, Millwall, Stevenage and Leicester player Barry Hayles at the ripe old age of 45, who saunters out with his WFC team mates, will be enough to cheer him up, but he is only interested in the player who remembered his “snood” and not the presence of a once Premier League striker.

Earlier we had a brief introduction to the ET manager Adam or “Woody” who bares no resemblance to the Toy Story cowboy with his Wildling beard and red and black woolly hat, and we cross paths again with him on the edge of the pitch, and ask him his thoughts on the match. 

“Cup game, anything goes” he tells us frankly, “can't do anything else to prepare” the team he adds. He of course recognises the “experience” WFC have up front in Barry Hayles, and hopes he'll “bring the crowds with him” too. Before we are able to reply, he wanders off, not rudely or dismissively, but in a way that leaves you wanting more, hands firmly stuffed in the pockets of this long black coat, “likes doing that” says Tom.

If ET progress today, it will be the furthest they've gone in their history in the FA Vase in the battle of two teams who are relative babies in the football world, WFC being formed in 2011 and ET in comparison positively geriatric, they were formed in 1959. I overhear Woody expressing again his concerns that WFC have Hayles up front, but the reply from the ET fan is spot on, he's “only one player”.

Talking to Mark, ET’s owner, also in a long club jacket, talking from underneath its hood, he only took over the club in “June”, however he already seems like a man with a solid plan. As he puts it, and we would agree it's a “decent little set up” at VCD, he wishes it was “our home ground”, but the prices to lodge there are a little steep, and he intends to move them back to their old stomping grounds as of next season.

He is learning all too fast about the rigours of running a club, along with “the Mrs” and his 14 year old son, the club photographer. The “football side is great” he explains, but it’s tiring, “midweek games are a killer” he tells us. His story is an all too familiar one in non league football, that of a disenchanted supporter of a ‘bigger’ team if you like, in his case Charlton, who he supported “home and away” who has dropped down the pyramid because of the way his club, that he speaks about with such passion and dismay at the same time is being “completely fucked up” as he puts it.

Now, I’m going to get a little serious for a moment, we normally like to keep things light hearted, but I’m just going to have to take things down a notch or two. They've sold out of programmes. If you're anything like me, someone who has a programme from every single match they’ve ever been to, in over twenty years, other than having numerous full storage boxes of them, and nowhere to put them, you will realise this is a big deal, that will have an adverse effect on the rest of my day. That and no sign of anyone selling the 50/50, I feel like curling up in a ball, life is not worth living.

ET’s captain leans down, touches the grass then crosses himself as he walks onto the pitch. With his other hand he holds that of a small boy in a green jacket, whose tightly grasping a pennant to commemorate todays match. He leaves it to the mascot to exchange it with the ET captain, who he then exchanges handshakes with. 

Tom tries to rally me, he can sense my programme less despondency, “bet you love the WFC goalkeepers kit” he says, pointing to the pink, black and brown Union Jack design. In fact both keepers are sporting my favourite colour for a goalkeeper. ET’s is more traditional, a nice shade of Palermo pink, but without the pink boots, like the man in goal for the visitors has on.

Both sets of outfield players kits have their plus points and are worth a mention. WFC we've covered, I've officially put it in the ‘never going to see anything quite like it again’ unless we happened to go to CD Guijuelo and see their kit that looks like Iberico Ham. The home team in their black and red striped number, falls into the ‘little black dress’ category, a classic, handsome in it's simplicity.

Tom gives his final verdict on WFC’s get up, after much deliberation, “don't like it” he tells me, just as Oakwood falls silent, both teams arms linked, standing on opposite sides of the centre circle, heads bowed, as the referee blows his whistle to signal the start of a two minute silence to mark Remembrance Sunday, which is well observed. The players shirts rustle in the breeze, as a good portion of the crowd in the main stand opposite leave their green and white seats to stand.

I bizarrely quite enjoy that split second after a silence when the noise of people and players refills the ground, like someone has flipped a switch.

The “Christmas flags” of WFC are quickly up behind one goal, which are just as colorful as their kit and with the game underway, Woody is soon in full voice, along with a fellow member of his staff who has wandered on to the pitch barking out his orders, and has to be ushered back by the man running the line.

What's the old expression, ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’, this could quite easily be applied to Barry Hayles whose current scoring record I’m not au fait with, but he’s rolling back the years in this part of South East London today, dropping his shoulder and spinning away from his marker with consummate ease, much to the annoyance of the ET bench, “don't let him roll you” someone screams.

It’s been trying all day, and finally the sun wins it’s battle with the clouds to our right over the rooftops of the nearby houses, like something from a biblical suburban scene. It’s so dazzling and bright it's near blinding, and for a short while small bits of our face thaw out, but alas not for long, we are treated to its warmth only momentarily before it's gone again.

The first quarter of the game offers up very little as far as entertainment is concerned, Tom is again mulling over the WFC kit, and wonders if the presence of the Union Jack and that they come from Windsor means they are the “Queens team”. 

Not so much saved by the bell, but by the feet of the ET keeper who is a flash of pink as he races off his line to save the first meaningful chance of the game, and entertains Tom long enough that we don't need to talk about WFC potentially being our monarchs very own non league football team. He’s soon back to thinking about food regardless, as the gin rears its ugly head, “I’m starving, not sure I can wait until half time”.

The save rouses from the main stand a single female fan, who shouts “come on Erith”

The fact Woody is now sitting on a drinks cooler, only makes me think of Marcelo Bielsa sitting on his coffee. He might not manage at the same level as the Argentinian but he shares his choice of pitch side perch with one of the best, and the fact that other members of the team are sitting on brown plastic chairs from a secondary school, makes me think it’s time to get a bigger bench.

There is still a complete and utter lack of on field action of any note. A very brief and garbled chant is started by the WFC fans but it soon dissipates and Tom is now using him getting closer to a burger and chips as a new measurement of timekeeping “15 minutes to food”.

It’s fair to say neither side have really failed to fashion anything of merit other than the well saved WFC chance earlier on. Hayles shows off some of his top flight class surging forwards in midfield, he rides a couple of challenges before passing the ball out wide. It's crossed into the box and the player at the far post has a go at an almost spectacular volley, but it goes over.

“Hope they do chips” wonders Tom, that craving for greasy food, the only remedy to a night on homemade cocktails is starting to consume him.

With ten to go, ET’s winger does a great job with some nifty footwork to get into the box on the far side of the pitch, but as Tom puts it, he does “too much” one step over too many and loses the ball in a fabulous position on the WFC by line, this is not lost on his manager “cross the fucking ball” he shouts, leaping up from his ice filled stool. Again any sign of ET doing well in defence or attack is followed by the single female voice in the stand “come on Erith”.

The home crowd finally have something to shout about and clap about, it's not just the solo lady in the stand, applauding and cheering the most excellent of volleys from the edge of the box, that is equalled only by the fingertip save by the man in the pink boots, who gets an acrobatic hand to the ball, forcing a corner.

It won't be for the first time today, when a melee of sorts halts play, involving most of the players from each team. Almost on half time, ET have a half chance, but the forward is stretching and is off balance and can’t prod the ball home, much to the relief of WFC’s keeper who lets his defence know that was a “let off”.

Looking longingly at the tea bar on the hill, the referee having just put his whistle to his lips, blowing for half time, Tom hopes they haven't “run out of burgers”.

Among the earmuffs and and woolly hats and the people studying the lineups on the whiteboard and suitably wrapped up himself, is the man who broke it to me that they had sold out of programmes, the very same man who recommended we eat faggots in Stourbridge, Andy @APCAFC. He quickly reaffirms that we really know very little about football when I tell him Tom thinks the game has “0 - 0” written all over it, and he informs me that means “extra time” with it being the FA Vase. I might have to find a way of getting Tom the “duvet” he said he wished he had, I don't think he's going to take that news very well.

The game has already restarted when Tom appears with food, but not what he wanted, they had indeed “run out of burgers”. He also shares with me that the woman serving him was individually defrosting the buns in the microwave, hence why he might have taken a little longer than normal.

Sausage sandwich still in hand, Tom and I watch in the far distance, under the most stunning of sunsets, a mixture of oranges, purples and pinks, with just over five minutes of the second half gone, as WFC take the lead.

“Pick yourself up” shouts a ET player to his team mates.

Four minutes later, ET have done exactly that, and pull it level in double speed. A storming late run from the edge of the box, and a runner whose not picked up and heads in making it 1 - 1. Sausage sandwich now gone, Tom is able to utter his once prolific catchphrase, which hasn't had an outing in awhile “game on”. Mark pumps his fist to the bench, “come on Erith keep going” he shouts as he is quickly becoming the home teams one man cheer squad. All while still the sky is like something from a Monet painting.

“All happening now” says Tom, as the first quarter of the second half, makes up for all three of them in the first. ET shoot just over “come on Erith” shouts the lady once again, she's now growing louder and louder and the chances for her team become more frequent. 

One player insists to the others that they “go again”, they are now much more fluid going forward, and go close thanks to their long throw, Rory Delap merchant number 2 who rocks back and forth on heels, sometimes going as far as to arch backwards over the barrier before flinging the ball into the box. “Too easy” screeches the WFC keeper.
With the sun fully gone, the mercury has plummeted, “could do without extra time” says Andy to Tom, who are soon talking football food, Andy telling Tom the best pie is to be found at “Kidderminster” and he's to “put” them on his “list”.

Those who talk about football professionally, the types who sit high in the rafters of our nation's grandest stadiums, normally accompanied by an ex pro, call it the ‘commentators curse’. Those of us in the normal world who are not paid to look after a bumbling Hoddle or hang out with a sudo relaxed Mcmanaman, would probably call it ‘tempting fate’.

So ET might have us to blame when seconds before they find themselves behind again, with twenty minutes left on the clock. I had just said how dominant they had been since equalizing, and post goal Tom quite rightly points out WFC’s second was “against the run of play”. Not that the players in red, green and white give a damn, they're too busy celebrating with their cheering fans.

While WFC return from their player/fan bundle, the lady in the stand gives her encouragement “come on Erith”, Mark even more animated than before tells the players they've “gotta wake up”.

From where we’re standing it's not quite clear if the WFC keeper has just made a game changing save at the foot of the post or in fact the ball hit the frame of the goal, but the referee gives a corner, so the plaudits have to go to the man between the sticks, who if the referee was correct, somehow managed to get a hand to the ball destined for the back of the net.

Again the match descends into an almighty scuffle, this time seemingly involving even more players than before. There has been an underlying tension all afternoon, which boils over into quite an unsavoury spat, that as Tom puts it “sours” what has been a greatly improved match since the restart. One WFC fan wants the man in charge to get a grip of things, “come on ref I wanna go home”, when the same fan doesn't feel the correct punishments were dished out to the ET players involved in the initial incident that sparked off the quarrel, he implies some kind of cockle eating, pearly king, apples and pears conspiracy “cockneys all together”.

Not sure if it's the excitement of the punch up or the pressure of a knock out cup game, but the Sunday malaise that had shrouded large sections of the crowd, has now all but disappeared going into the final five minutes, as Oakwood is the loudest it's been all afternoon, as Tom puts it, the “game has woken right up”. 

The home fans and players think they have pulled it off, a deserved reward for their second half efforts. They taste ecstasy for a brief moment only for it to be ripped away by the raising of the linesman's flag, what they think is the equalising goal, is ruled offside. “Sit down shut up, sit down shut up” sing the unsympathetic WFC fans.

In extra time tensions between each team are tested once more, when a WFC player is shoved off the ball and on first impressions seems to hit his head on the fence around the pitch. Thankfully he is ok, but this it not clear until the physio confirms it, but this is delayed because shes currently picking herself up off the floor, after taking an almighty tumble sprinting up the touch, letting out a high pitched yelp before she hits the deck, with the crowd in the stand in near hysterics.

We’re now at that point in the match, where players are asking the referee how long is left to play. Some look appalled at quite how long they have to hold on for, while others find out just how little left they have to grab that vital goal. The ET keeper is once again a flash of pink as he dashes forward for a corner. “Come on Erith”, she screams one last time, “come on Windsor” replies one of the travelling fans.

“Erith it ain't over” shouts a player, moments before the referee blows the final whistle, and unfortunately for the home team, this years FA Vase run is exactly that.

It’s quite the juxtaposition between both teams on the pitch. ET are strewn about, some sitting, some standing as they have a full and honest inquest, Woody is pulling no punches, “you let yourselves down”. The WFC team are in a tight huddle, their manager singing their praises, before they break to celebrate once more with the travelling few. One of whom while taking down one of their “Christmas flags” is singing to himself “Windsors on a cup run, Windsors on a cup run”.

Mark cuts a lonely figure, when we find him to say goodbye sitting in the dark alone outside the tea bar, slumped in a wood patio chair. The ups and downs of a football club owner clearly written across his face. However, he is gracious in defeat inviting us back, and even offering a us pint when we do.

I'm not sure what was the best bit about today? Getting into the car and putting the heaters on full blast, the windows steaming up like a scene from Titanic or Tom's tender concern for Barry Hayles throughout the whole match. He certainly showed some of the reasons as to why hes played at the pinnacle of the pyramid, but also took a bit of a kicking at times, something Tom thought totally unacceptable for a man of his age. Every time he went down, clutching a shin, an ankle or calf, Tom without fail would say, "leave him alone!!".

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE


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