Saturday 29 December 2018

Thanks Dad - Hitchin Town FC Vs St Ives Town FC, Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Central, Top Field (19/12/18)

All is far from rosey in Toms household. It’s all smiles on the outside, but behind closed doors him and his now fiancee, are like the waring couple from Father Ted. This festive time of year, is causing no end of “arguments” he tells me, only last night they had one about “brussel sprouts”.

With Tom and his other half Charlotte hosting this year, her parents coming to them on the 25th, there is a considerable amount of pressure on both their shoulders, and the strain is starting to show. Should they or shouldn't they have the Marmite of Christmas lunch on offer, and if they do, who is going to cook them? Tom thinks the single chef approach is the best one, Charlotte reckons that it should be more of a collaborative effort.

What to cook is not his only concern, but also what to get his soon to be Mother and Father in law for under the tree, is causing Tom sleepless nights. The fact Charlotte's Dad has got Tom the same “bottle of bourbon” for the last ten years and Charlotte's Mum got him a gold hairband and a Christmas jumper that not only didn’t fit, but also said “well hung” on it last year, I question if they like him at all, and why is he bothering, but he feels it's necessary to impress this close to their upcoming wedding.

Between some quite excellent Christmas light displays and the groans of the planes taking off and landing at Luton airport, on the way to tonight's ground, we discuss the perils of shopping at Westfield, and that Tom has already had a “burger and chips” so he is in a bit of quandary about what he will eat tonight.

Minutes away from Top Field, home of Hitchin Town FC (HT), Tom produces his maroon Arsenal FC snood, and repeatedly caresses the gold embroidered club badge on it, before putting it on. His eagerness to ensure I see him do it, I’m sure has something to do with that tonight is the night of the second North London derby, in as many weeks.

Underfoot the ground in the car park is rough and uneven. Nearby only half the floodlights that surround the pitch are on, not yet showing off Top Field in all its glory. The yellow and green portacabin Canary Corner club shop, isn't open, and the refreshment huts hatch is closed, however there is some activity beyond. It’s side door is open, and wafting out among the steam from the hotplates is an overpowering smell of “lovely” onions, says a salivating Tom.

Cosy and compact, The Canary Club the HT clubhouse is well occupied. It’s not exactly cold, nothing close to our aborted last outing, where there were shards of ice in the goal mouth, but Tom is still bemoaning that he should have “warm long johns”, especially after investing something like 50 in some fleece lined, Edmund Hillary type gear, that he hasn't bothered to wear.

What looks like a conservatory from the outside, with its large white UPVC windows, inside it's positively sparking, be it the well decorated tree, sitting in front of the club memorabilia covered wall or the long line of silverware on a shelf above the bar, below which faux green holly tinsel hangs.

You can tell how committed someone is to their hobby of choice, be it darts, bowling or fishing, when they have their own kit. The main focus of the room, the snooker table, is surrounded by table tops covered in the black cue cases of those playing. We weave our way through the crowd, Tom heading straight to the bar, me to a table at the back, all while a bit of UB40, drifts out from the sound system.

Tom is not only delighted it's “warm” in the bar, but also that its “nice and cheap”. The dartboard to our left is getting no attention, but it does spur Tom into telling me how much he wants to go and watch darts one day, although I’m not sure his motivation is his love of the game, but the obligatory amount of booze you have to drink to apparently enjoy it.

Meat raffle is back on!!, reads the poster over my left shoulder, Tom reading it out to me, is like music to my ears. Having seen multiple signs already around the ground and above the door of the bar advertising the 50/50, the people of HT are clearly of a similar mindset to me, the only downside of the Meat Raffle, is that you have to go to the local butchers to get a ticket. So sadly I won't be in the hat for a rib of beef or a string of twelve chipolatas, but there will certainly be some gambling of one type or another to enjoy tonight.

“I’ve got a 100% record today, played four games, lost them all” proclaims the loser of the latest game of snooker. Tom also has his own announcement, informing me due to his “late lunch” he will be eating at “half time” and not before. Returning back to his phone, and with the North London Derby very much on both of our minds, he tells me the Arsenal line up is “quite strong”.

Nestled among an old man sipping at a pint of ale and another old gent studying his match day programme, between handfuls of crisps, all while the ever so slightly odd playlist continues, the song that follows a bit of Frankie Valli is off the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, Tom and I discuss one of this time of years biggest questions, tinsel.

Hate it, I reply bluntly, when Tom asks if I’m a fan, he is in the same camp as me, however his other half is very much pro the tacky tree decorations, another source of a recent falling out and I start to wonder why these two have decided to get married in August.

The arrival of the lady selling 50/50 tickets at our table not only allows me to satisfy my itch for another day, but halts Toms attempt to sing along to Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You, that has just started to play. Having noticed the lady in her dark apron wandering around the room, Tom laughs that I like some Pavlovian Dog, “get my money out” before I even “know what it is” for. Checking to see the Spurs line up,  Kane is on the bench, but it’s still a relatively solid starting eleven, Tom tests my nerves, “sold out” he says, forcing me to look up.

“Too easy” he says sniggering. I’m glad to report she was far from sold out and was more than happy to accept my 2. Despite his best efforts, suggesting we instead should stay in the bar and watch the game at the Emirates, our drinks are done, I’ve secured my tickets, it’s time to head back outside.

Although the door is closed, we are reliably informed that the club shop is now open, Tom rubs his hands in anticipation of what is potentially on the other side of the green door. There is no programme for one, I’m to get that from the “shed by the turnstiles” I’m informed, however there is a fine selection of all sorts of football tat, that one would expect, as well as a small confectionery corner, including 50p bags of sweets that make me think of childhood visits to Highbury and has Tom very excited.

Want to share? I ask him, “no” he replies candidly, so we each choose a white paper bag of our own. Tom having already purchased a pin, it's time to find the “shed”.

In much better nick than the dilapidated turnstiles, the “shed”, with a man stooped in its low doorway, much like the lady selling the 50\50 tickets is more than gracious when it comes to taking my money, in exchange of a very glossy, all colour copy of the Canaries, which has some considerable heft.

No digital here, I say to Tom, who doesn't really care, however the white haired man with his brown satchel selling the 50/50 tickets does, and is clearly someone who knows where I’m coming from and gives me a knowing smile.

The constant sound of the nearby road, takes nothing away from Top Field, which is really one of the best non league grounds going. The stark bank of concrete terracing behind one goal, the long sections of narrow wooden steps along the whole length of one side of the pitch, and the single storey corrugated iron roofed main stand with its mismatch of benches and different coloured seats, with the clubs name emblazoned across the front in the club's colours, make it quite unique and unlike any other ground we’ve encountered.

Both teams are out, neither keeper is able to warm up in the goal mouth as they have been roped off, in an attempt to preserve them, after all the recent rain. The St Ives Town (IV) coach is putting his players through some particularly aggressive drills, both teams find themselves at the wrong end of the table, so he does his best to motivate his players for the test ahead, “we can fucking win this”

Whereas the music in the clubhouse was an eclectic mix of old classics and wedding reception staples, in the ground its very music from a bad 90’s school disco. Those in the queue for the refreshment stand, which is doing good business, are able to enjoy a bit of the Shapeshifters, Lolas Theme, while I try and work out where the big HT flag that was hanging behind one goal has gone.

“I love this song” says Tom, as he does every time we hear Freed From Desire, by Gala, a song that when I come to think of it, we hear quite regularly. Singing quietly to himself, “nah, nah, nah” Tom is in somewhat of his own world, which he is snapped out of by the young voice over the PA, who is offering up some advice to those whose visit tonight, might be their “first time at Top Field”.

Return Of The Mac by the old police taser himself, Mark Morrison, serenades the teams as they head back inside. Talking of coppers, we bump into ex bobby and Watford match day YouTuber Paul Muzzy, suitable wrapped up in a large puffer jacket, about to tuck into his dinner. “How's the burger?” asks Tom, moments after shaking Paul's hand. His food clearly untouched, Paul informs him he’s “not had any yet”, Tom obviously keen to get the low down, insists he is to “let him know”, as soon as he has.

Such is the proximity to the changing rooms, which are just the other side of the thin wall at the back of the stand. The violent buzz to let the teams know it's game time, can be heard as clear as anything. In a slight detour from the musical theme, A-ha’s Take On Me, now circulates around the ground, and sitting quietly in the stand, is Matt, one of HT’s media team, his green and yellow scarf tucked into his jacket, nose deep in a book, who before I started talking to him was enjoying his “day off”.

He’s “confident” about HT’s chances of grabbing a win, the home side coming into tonight's game off the back of “three wins in the league” and “hopefully” they will “make it four”. The presence of all their “attacking players” who are in “good form”, makes him think that victory will be theirs, before their “Boxing Day clash” against “local rivals Biggleswade”.

The second jarring jolt of the buzzer, it feels a while after since the first one, fails once more to dislodge either team. Moments from the supposed kick off time, the not inconsiderable crowd, who are mostly gathered in the corner of the ground around the burger bar, wait for the players, and the toss, before making a move.

All eyes are fixed on the tiny tunnel at the centre of the main stand, which is probably little more than one overweight blogger wide, the players nowhere to be seen. The third buzz, more prolonged and therefore even more harsh than the first two, finally stirs the teams. Shortly after the roar of one of them can be heard, and slowly but surely the two sets of players start to arrive.

“If you've just arrived, here are your teams again” says the cool voiced PA, a very young looking red headed man, trapped within a tiny square fish tank. To say the tunnel is cramped is an understatement, the “unit” of a referee as Tom dubbed him during the warm up, barely fits. Standing on the side lines, arms crossed and leaning on the railing, Tom points out one HT sub, “Alfie Cue” as the PA has just confirmed. A player who we saw playing for Leatherhead, against HT in their recent FA Cup contest, who was quite excellent that day, despite being on the losing team, who is now turning out for the home side.

Two substitutes, including Cue, look on baffled, at the sound of the mini meltdown playing out over the speakers, as the young man, manning the PA, struggles with the notion it is him sponsoring the match tonight. “Thanks Dad” he says, struggling for the right words, having just drawn his name from the Secret Santa envelope. “Yellows, Yellows” shout a couple of kids on the concrete steps and Tom is concerned that the “big crowd near the burger bar” is a sign of things to come, “hope they’re not queueing for food”. He can rest easy, they're not, they’re are still waiting on the outcome of the toss, which is still yet to happen.

As a sign of things to come, the toss does eventually take place, but it seems to take an age, and I’m sure we are now well past the 19:45 kick off time. There are more shouts from the kids to our left, “come on Yellows” and from the players on the pitch as they prepare to start, “come on boys”. There are a few black and white scarf wearing IV fans dotted about, although their team are playing in a vivid Netherlands World Cup 2010 shade kit this evening, “Netherlands Vs 90’s Norwich” says Tom in the latest round of ‘Kits That Look Like Other Kits, who have taken up position along from the few chanting HT kinds, on the uncovered steps.

The rest of the crowd, much to Tom’s relief, have shifted away from the burger bar, and now occupy the long swathes of wooden steps.

It’s a quick going from both teams, making up for the tardy start. IV are on the front foot early on, a close offside which draws an “oohhhhh” from the crowd around us, shows their intention and that they have listened to their hostile coach.

We are not the only ones in attendance who are keen to keep abreast of what's going on in N7. Staring at the chair next to him, the man a couple of rows behind us, is watching the North London derby on his phone. “By far the greatest team the world has ever seen” can clearly be heard through its tiny speakers. Being sung by who I assume are the Spurs fans, as no Arsenal supporter surely thinks that is the case about their little South London club.

“Heads” cries Tom, half out of his seat, trying to protect me from the ball flying our way. I flinch, the ball thankfully missing me as it hurtles into the stand, but it was a close call, showering me in mud as it passed me.

I like it when the joy of the person doing the PA is clear through their announcements. There's nothing worse than a monotone bore, I want to hear all the highs and lows of the ninety minutes in their voice, flooding over the airwaves. Tonight from within his small glass fronted box, the ecstasy of being the person who gets to tell us HT have just gone in front, is more than apparent. “Michael Cain” the scorer, who has just put in the rebound following a low long range driven shot, that the keeper could only parry and Cain was Johnny on the spot to slot home.

IV respond quickly following the restart, getting the ball out wide, they whip it into the box, but the extremely shouty HT keeper all in purple is able to claim it.

Although we’ve had a goal and what felt like a positive start by both teams, the game has not really had the chance to get going, in great part down to the referee, who as Tom puts it, is “very blowy”. One IV player is so irate at him giving a foul against them, he is only able to yell a frustrated “no”, which gets a “calm down” from someone around us, sadly missing what I thought was the mandatory Harry Enfield Scouse accent.

A good bit of wing play once again sees IV on the attack, the wide player leaving his marker for dead, allows him the time to get a good cross into the box. Coolly and under reasonable pressure the HT defender wins the ball and plays it out from the back very calmly, “he’s done well there” comments one home fan quite rightly.

“Again” sighs Tom, when the referee gives a foul against IV, who he is growing increasingly unpopular with, when as Tom points out, “it looked like a very good challenge”. I didn't see it, I must be honest. I’ve removed the bag of sweets from my coat pocket and have decided to investigate. Some of these you’re having, I tell Tom. Jelly beans, eggs to name a few are just not my cup of tea, “it's called a mixed bag” tuts Tom.

Constantly looking at his phone, now with the volume down, the fan behind us would have just about been able to hear the muffled shout from one IV fans, “come on you Ives”, but would have missed the Pickford esq looking IV keeper rushing well out of his goal to claim a ball almost on the halfway line. Assuming he hadn't looked up to watch the game he was actually at for a moment, he would have seen Spurs go one nil up. I’m almost certain that the scorer here's surname being Cain, although spelt differently from Spurs and England legend, and I don't use that word lightly, Harry Kane, I’m sure it was a sign from the football Gods.

Tom tries his best to downplay that his team have gone behind, while I repeatedly pump my fist in his face, “might have chips and curry sauce” he tells me.

IV’s propensity to stray offside, is starting to wear thin with their fans, “every time” one fan grumbles, “why can't this geezer see the fucking line”. The early promise of what I thought was going to be a goal fest, has yet to materialise. In fact not much of note has happened in the fifteen minutes since, and Tom is a little scathing of the visiting team, “they're not very good”.

I’m not sure if its intentional, but the man next to us, tapping his foot, with what sounds like a petty cash amount of change in his pocket, is almost creating his own genre of music, that only momentarily stops at the sight of one HT player letting fly a dipping shot from outside the box, that looks like its creeping in, but in the end is saved.

It’s all HT, their fans are clapping them on, however despite their dominance, their keeper is still really angry. A bit like an episode of Soccer Saturday, the man watching the Arsenal Vs Spurs game, Tottenham fans shouldn't “get too excited”, because “Arsenal should have scored two”.
is giving a near running commentary, suggesting that despite their lead,

The home side keep coming forward, “get in the box” demands one fan of the players, as another dangerous ball is sent into the box. IV are getting into promising positions, but are lacking composure, “weyyyyy” go the crowd, when a good opportunity is wasted and sent well over. “Oh you complete donkey” shouts the man behind us, not towards the IV player responsible for the miss, but towards Spurs’s Sissoko, who apparently has just missed a sitter.

“Someone's gotta follow it in” moans the IV throw in taker, who as one person points out is trying to take a leaf out the “Rory Delap” book of chucking far, but as Tom says, he has no right to blame his teammates for not getting on the end of them, as they are “shit”.

Every time IV get the ball, it's passed out wide, nine times out of ten towards their number 11 running the touch line in front of us. “We've got to be a bit sharper” says one IV player, when another attempt to find him goes awry.

A huge shout for a HT pen around the thirty minute mark is turned down, and one HT player is perplexed, glaring at the linesman, he can’t believe that he didn't give it. “Blowy, blowy” groans Tom as the referee stifles play again, with the overuse of his whistle.

“How is that possible?” asks the most vocal of the nearby IV supporters, when instead of side footing the ball into the back of the HT net from the edge of the six yard box following a corner, the player manages to put it wide. The loose ball is tossed back into the box, and this time an IV shot is cleared off the line. They go again, not once, but twice, two goal bound shouts, one a real cracker are blocked and then they have their own shout for a penalty waved away.

“You know when it's not your night” laughs the IV fan to himself, wracked with despair at his team's apparent bad luck.

Tom has grown weary at the sight of the repeatedly bad throw ins, “don't give it to him” he mumbles, as the man who is insisting on taking them, but is not very good at them, is given another chance. “Yes you can throw it far, but it's not powerful enough”, gripes Tom, “Delaps” were “powerful and direct” the IV players just aren't.

A crunching midfield tackle that leaves an IV player down injured gets the kind of sympathetic response, one has become accustomed to watching football, “get up you powder puff”. One IV supporter as you can imagine, is a bit more bit more sensitive, “could have broken his ankle”.

Not quite overtaking the “thanks Dad” comment as my personal highlight of the evening, but giving it a good run for its money, the totally failed attempt at a bicycle kick by one IV player, who lands in an embarrassed heap on the floor, comes a close second.

Anxiously looking over towards the source of tonight's food, Tom is slowly getting closer and closer to the edge of this seat, in preparation of getting his food on. “I’m off”, he blurts out, on his feet with his back half turned to me.
Five minutes to go and HT send a shot just wide, which triggers a few claps and shouts of “come on Hitchin” from the crowd. The half comes to an end with each team guilty of just lumping the ball about and the notion that throw ins are never taken from the right place is reinforced less than five feet away from me.

“No further” says the linesman to an IV player, who then takes a good five or six steps up the touch line without any repercussions.

Watching the referee being asked to make the 50/50 draw on the edge of the pitch, from a small yellow cloth bag, is a sight I've never seen before, and I’m maybe unlikely to see again, but it makes me think it should be a practise all clubs are made to observe. The simple action of asking him to pick, makes it a completely impartial process, and removes my long standing feeling that they are all clearly fixed, as I never win them.

Moments later, after the PA has remembered its “evening” and not “”afternoon”, what I thought was a watertight theory, is blown right out the water. Even with the referee picking the winning numbers, I won't be the recipient of the “62.50” either by the sound of it, will any of the people around me, who all let out a simultaneous “arghhhhhh”.

“Beat the rush” says a happy Tom, returning at the back end of the long procession of people making the half time end swap, with a polystyrene tray loaded with a burger and chips swimming in gravy. “Run out of curry sauce” he explains, forced to shout a bit over the words of, Rhythm Of The Night. Spurs are still winning, and Tom still tries to make out he doesn't care, but he is very quiet, much quieter than normal.

One of those making the change of ends, a young HT fan clutching a hot water bottle, catches Toms attention, her preparedness very impressive. The sound of the buzzer rings out again and IV, a little slow to respond get a shout from the referee to hurry up. The PA informs us of the HT changes at the break, Alfie Cue is on for the second half and as the teams appear, Tom rolls his snood up over his face, food done, thinking I’m sure about the hot water bottle.

Two minutes gone and we are almost treated to the most spectacular of goals, a mazey run from one HT player sees him evade what looks like almost the entire IV team, making it all the way into the box, he shapes up to shoot, only for the ball to be taken off him right at the last, by an IV player who clearly has no desire for the sake of the spectators, to let him continue and therefore letting us witness a bit of a wonder goal.

The referee continues to make no friends, “has he given a foul?” wonders Tom, the man in charges style is so relaxed, that he blows his whistle so late after the event, it's hard to know what's going on, “very odd ref” ads Tom, “the unit” in the middle, is somewhat in his own universe, as he sauntered around the pitch

HT squander the chance to double their lead, “blimey” says a fan as the header from a free kick goes wide. Toms burger having suitable settled, he’s now onto “dessert”, but only once he’s located it, “don't know where the sweets are” he says frisking himself, “found them” he declares in delight when he does. Not as concerned as I was about the possibility of getting a jelly bean, his mantra is “grab a handful, chuck them in”. He, unlike me, enjoys the strange soft crunch of a jelly bean, as he puts it, “its all sugar”.

“Oh my word” gasps an IV fan, not because he found an all too rare cola bottle among all the bananas and what look like toadstools, but because from point blank range, his team have just rattled the crossbar with a header, when in his opinion they really should have just drawn the game level, “thats bad” he says.

Getting probably as large a round of applause as the goal did or maybe even larger, the save the HT keeper just pulled off, is right out the top draw, the first of his heroics tonight, he somehow managed to cross the entire goal, making it just in time to somehow stop the low shot, that some IV players were already celebrating, but now, like the crowd are in shock, that he saved it.

Not, I’m sure, the impact he would have wanted to make since coming on, but Alfie Cue just very, very nearly killed a small child behind the goal, with his sliced shot, veering off target and into the crowd. HT have had it far from all their own way since the restart. IV look a much better side and HT
almost give IV the easiest way back into the game, making a mistake at the back, that almost punishes them.

“Record the series” says Tom on the phone to Charlotte, who is trawling through the TV guide trying her best to find the League Cup highlights. Wishful thinking I suggest, with his team still a goal behind, but he remains positive, preparing for the “next round”, he tells me.

The dark figures that line the back wall of the covered terracing opposite join in the goading of the referee, whose decisions continue to baffle. “Embarrassing” shouts one, Tom just puffs out his cheeks in bemusement, “he’s all over the place”. The volume of the sarcastic “wehhhh’s” is a good indicator of how well respected he is. The IV players are close to meltdown, which is very entertaining for the home fans, who just laugh at the fuming visiting players.

I know he heard me when I told him Spurs have now doubled their lead, both of us unaware of just how a marvellously Dele Alli did it. Instead he points out a man “smoking a pipe” and tells me how much he loved his latest handful of sweets, “Ohhh that's a nice one, peach flavour”.

Twenty five minutes gone and IV’s latest attempt to get back in the game is wild to say the least, a volley from almost the edge of the box, falls just short of clearing the tall naked trees behind the goal. HT then go close themselves, as the game swings from end to end. “Make it count” shouts one fan, as a cross field pass finds a player unmarked on the wing and his first time hooked cross, almost reaches its intended target, but is cleared.

Soon back in possession, after one IV players hashed attempt at a clearance and only a couple of steps into the box, an HT forward is bundled over by the defender trying to make up for his previous indiscretion and for the first time tonight, without any hesitation, the referee points at the spot. I’m not sure there is one IV player on the pitch, whose hands aren’t clamped across their face or to the back of their head in despair.

Before the spot kick is taken, the taker hovering over the ball, the players lined up on the edge of the box, one IV player is booked for dissent. When it is taken, towards the goal that the large HT flag that disappeared now hangs, the HT forward can’t convert. “Yessssss” cries an IV fan in the stand, his team are still in it.

Despite the missed penalty, Tom is of the opinion that IV are still going to “equalise”, he reckons HT are riding their luck just that bit too hard, and IV currently look the most likely of the two to score. However no one is going to be able to even get close to scoring, until the referee gets his act together. “Come on ref, we wanna go home today” says one home fan, as he takes an eternity to book someone.

With a quarter of an hour left, we are treated to our second penalty of the match. “What an idiot” says Tom, not very impressed with the HT defender who fluffed his “header” and then just like the IV player who in an attempt to make up for his previous mistake, gave away a penalty, the HT player has done the same thing. “Owes the keeper a pint for that” says Tom, as the second resounding “yesss” reverberates around Top Field, the man between the sticks for HT has not only pulled off the save, but in doing so has confirmed his position as a local legend.

The amount of shouting from all corners, including the bench is increasing by the second, most of it, if not all of it is aimed at the referee, “this is getting ridiculous ref” shouts one fan after another odd call. One IV coach is close to losing it with his players, “stop giving cheap free kicks away”.

With ten minutes left, HT break out from their own half, outnumbering IV at the back, their fans will them on, “come on Hitchin” the chance to get that all important second is surely now, but they rush it, and the linesman raises his flag for offside. Both benches berate their players, HT’s for going too soon, IV’s for getting caught out on the counterattack.

“Ohh funny bean” grimaces Tom, as his chuck it all in his gob technique has failed him and he has encountered an “iffy sweet”. HT at a push look like maybe they might score again, their most recent effort on goal is on target, but it’s not very powerful and the latest ball to head our way does not deposit mud on me, but the sound of it crashing on the roof of the stand is starting to make me twitchy.

An injury to the HT keeper, thankfully not a serious one, allows each team to convene around their respective dugouts for a pow wow. The keeper is soon back on his feet and fit to play on, and an IV player does his best to inspire his team mates, “keep going, come on”. The HT manager prowling his technical area wants more from this players, “liven up”.

Tom’s eagerness to be ball boy nearly results in an injury, worried it was going to damage his “pretty face” he was grateful that it’s unpredictable spin took it away from him, and not towards the money maker. With not long left at the Emirates, my latest check of the score, results in a very unconvincing “well done” from him, which I don't believe for a minute.

“Off, off, off” demand the HT fans after a brash tackle from a IV player on the far side of the pitch. “Already booked” comments one supporter, another adds that he “has got to go”. Considering this referees performance so far, it's no great surprise that the player only receives a talking to and it didn't even look like a stern one, which does not go down very well, “embarrassing” snarls one fan, so incensed that he takes to his feet. Another goes full Game Of Thrones, repeating “shame, shame”.

In a promising position, one HT supporters urges his team to “make it count” but the free kick is well over, and it turns out the abuse going the referees way, for not sending off the IV player was on pause, “you bottled it ref” heckles the same fan, back on his feet again.

“Did they forget to make a substitution” ponders Tom, when IV in the dying minutes, decide now is as good a time as any to roll the dice and make two changes. The barrage aimed at the referee is still on going, this time its an IV fan, who is so animated, that one HT fan tells him to, “sit down”.

The departing Paul Muzzy, asks if we are “avoiding the North London derby result” which I gleefully tell him we are not. IV then have a succession of uneventful corners, as the added on time board is prepared, a flashing green four shows we’ve a little more left of this game, which neither Tom or a fan behind us, can work out how they came to that number, “four minutes” says Tom confused, the man behind us can only blurt out “four” in a mild state of shock.

HT are now exclusively heading to the corners, not risking giving up the all important three points. When they win a corner, there is no one in the box, and they just end up passing it about amongst themselves. A rare attack, sees a rapid HT forward win the leg race with the IV defence, only for his shot to be saved one on one. “Keep going” says one supporter, but unless its towards the corner, they don’t look like they're are going to be going anywhere else.

There are shouts from a group of kids around the mouth of tunnel of “we want another one” but they better not hold their breath. The announcement of the “Morrisons man of the match” gets a laugh from the announcer, telling us that it was him who picked the keeper to be the recipient of a bottle of fizz. This goes down well with the kids, “wehhhh” they all shout, before belting out the man of the moments very own song, “we love you MJ we do”

In a mild case of shithousery, Queens, Another One Bites the Dust plays, as the players shake hands and HT quickly form a tight huddle on the pitch, for some words from the boss. The kids around the tunnel, who have crept onto the pitch, try to grab a picture with the Man Of The Match, before he poses with the beaming PA announcer and his prize.

With the result at the Emirates confirmed, Tottenham into a semi final with Chelsea, Tom pretends he is actually happy they are “out”, the Caribou Cup seemingly an unwanted distraction for his high fliers.

Leaving the ground, a ground that is worth the trip here alone, regardless of the match, the result or the weather, it's special, the kids are stealing a last few selfies with the HT players and the HT manager suggests to us that we should come to their next match, thanks to our “100% record”, but trust me we have had a similar situation in the past where other teams think we are good luck charms, and it didn’t end well, I’m deeply concerned about something a passing comment Tom just made:

“Long way to come from St Ives” he said, concerned about the away teams long drive back home tonight, having spent the whole evening thinking IV had shclepped up from Devon for this evenings match.

Give me strength.

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Thursday 13 December 2018

You Can't Boo The Bee - Barnet FC Vs Stockport County FC, FA Cup 2nd Round, The Hive (02/12/18)

Tom never sings show tunes, especially from Annie. Tom never insists on an in depth conversation about the scent of the miniature Yankee Candle car air freshener and why it’s called Red Raspberry, when there are no other colour raspberries. It is soon quite apparent that the absence of my normal companion is going to be more telling than I thought, and as it stands, his stand in is being, well frankly a bit annoying.

I’m pretty sure it’s the exhilaration of just having dropped off our daughter at my Mums and the idea of a whole five or six hours without our demanding one year old, which has just dawned on Rachel, my other half, as to why she is acting a bit loopy. In between the never ending stream of comments about raspberries, she mocks me, joking about how nice the “sky” and “clouds” are, in preparation of my usual flowery blog opening, that she will ultimately have to proof read.

Although the weather is changeable, flitting from bright sun to rain, it's not worth the grief, expanding on how calmly the dense white cumulus float by, so I’ll leave it at that. The fender bender on the way to today's ground, somewhat aggravates me, the slowly moving and then redirected traffic frustrating, but that pales into insignificance, compared to what the man who has wrapped his BMW around the central reservation, must be going through.

The drive to The Hive the relatively new home of Barnet FC (BFC), that is not in fact in Barnet, but is in Harrow, is no more than twenty minutes from home. A journey that is littered with an almost supernatural amount of signs from the football gods.

I refuse to accept that the amber and black scarf wearing BFC fans around the corner from my Mums house were a mere coincidence. You can't tell me that once past the electronic billboard and the large orange sign at the entrance to The Hive, that it means nothing that the car we park behind has DAN in the number plate and a small blue Stockport County FC (SC) scarf, BFC’s opponents, is hanging in the back window.

It must be some kind of sign from the football Gods, there is surely some significance in that ten years ago, Rachel and I on one of our very first dates, yes I know, I don't hold out any stops, was at Underhill, to see exactly this same fixture, albeit in the league then and not the FA Cup and that was the Football League, not the National League.

Oh how the fortunes of both clubs have changed in the past ten years.

Underhill was one of the good ones, nestled among semi detached houses, with crumbling concrete terracing, bright orange railings and of course it's famous sloping pitch. A place I spent many an afternoon and evening, whenever Spurs were away, enjoying a match for a £1. Getting off the bus at the Odeon, walking under the railway bridge and down the alleyway next to the pub.

Like I said a lot has changed in the past decade, I’m bigger, hairier and now have two children and both teams positions in the football pyramid has taken a significant nose dive. BFC fairing perhaps a little better. Tom and I were here in 2015 when they gained promotion back to League Two, however that didn't last for long, relegated last season, meaning they are back where they started, non league once more. SC find themselves even lower down the ladder than BFC, their fall from grace, probably a lot more dramatic than that of the home teams.

Climbing out of the car, behind us numerous games of kids football are taking place on the artificial pitches, before us the black and orange build by numbers stadium, named no doubt by some bright marketing executive, because of BFC’s nickname being the bees. I’m all for progress, but it's not a patch on Underhill.

Wearing her blue SC scarf, the very one her parents gave us each, the first time I met them, to be clear we were going to a SC home game that weekend too, they don't just hand out random pieces of club merchandise and although I have a strong affinity for BFC, the signs are just too strong, I’m very much in the County camp today.

There is little character to The Hive, it's all very municipal, feels a lot like a council built sports centre. From the outside the most interesting thing is the man carrying what looks like a stuffed border collie in a Father Christmas hat.

Outside the club shop, I indulge Rachel, just as I do Tom. Both of them sharing the need to procure one piece of football tat per game, we are stopped by a BFC fan, drawn towards Rachel's scarf, who asks her quietly,

“How many will you bring?”

The home fan does not wait around for long, and although Rachel doesn't have the exact figures to hand, it is clear by the abundance of coaches lined up at one end of the ground, what seems like a shops worth of retro SC shirts on show and the slurred chants of the group of three lads who just passed us “Edgeley, Edgeley” it's going to be a lot or as the BFC supporter puts it, “more than us”.

Inside the shop her keyring or as she calls it, her “objet d'art” is secured, as is a pin for Tom. As we wait to pay, it's hard not to eavesdrop on the conversation taking place behind us, I say conversation, more of a monologue, from a man venting about the fact that BFC no longer sell a programme. They have joined the ever growing list of online only, much to the disgust of the person behind us who is getting quite agitated, “I don't want digital”.

Also in the shop wearing a Father Christmas hat, is not the border collie, but perhaps BFC’s most famous fan ‘Village’. White beard and all, he poses for a picture with a young home fan, before firmly shaking my hand and recalling our previous encounter, under the narrow railway arch on Zampa outside The Den.

“Knew there was something wrong with her” he says, not best pleased to hear it will be the away end we will be sitting in today. I shrug my shoulders, that decision was made for me about thirty years ago when Rachel was born. He is also the second person to use the phrase “more than us” when discussing what apparently is going to be quite the gulf between the home and travelling support.

If Tom thought I had a thing for flags, Village has made his obsession for them a lifestyle choice. The national flags plus a few other curiosities, line the long wooden fence outside the shop, where they flap and billow, in a stiff December breeze.

As I’m driving, and it's only one o'clock in the afternoon and I have to be in some kind of reasonable
state to be a parent later on today, its coffee for me and not beer. I’m not talking about anything pretentious, I’m more than happy with some brown water with plenty of milk sugar in, all served up in a white polystyrene cup. I wouldn't in a million years expect to be offered hazelnut syrup, Kenyan roast or for it to come in a seasonally appropriate designed cup.

A Starbucks, what at first glance looked like a gleaming chrome filled bar, is a Starbucks. It’s not until I see the green and white mermaid on one corner of the ground, do I realise that I’m about to get a venti latte, from a Starbucks, attached to a football ground. Like I said, a lot has changed.

Waiting for Rachel outside, not wanting an encounter with one of the door staff, yes a Starbucks at a football ground with bouncers, I have my third encounter with a BFC fan, perhaps their second most well known one, Matthew of the YouTube channel LoudmouthBFC. He in his Deadpool hoodie and shorts, and completes the hat trick of “more than us”, he doesn't use that phrase exactly, as the other two had, but the sentiment is the same.

“We’ll be the away team” he says despondently, “always have been since leaving flipping Underhill” he adds. Today's game at The Hive is not the only coming together between two titans of the game in the north of the capital, there is a little matter of the North London derby happening too, which I’m doing my best to record and not find out the score. I think Matthew is both impressed and baffled by the fact I’m “missing Spurs and Arsenal for this”. “Oh wow” he replies when I confirm I am with a sheepish nod of my head.

What is it with us trains and football grounds at the moment? They seem synonymous with our recent outings, today is no different, standing by the turnstiles of the Stand ‘66, the standalone bank of black and orange seats, it's hard to ignore the constant rumblings of the nearby Northern line trains, I say nearby, they’re practically part of the ground.

Through the turnstile, past a man in a long black coat and top hat, a camera crew and member of the Stockport band the Blossoms, the pub which they are named after, Rachel will without fail point out whenever we are up in her neck of the woods, is a sign that “thanks” the SFC fans for making the “380 mile round trip”, and coming through the double glazed doors of what is actually a bar and not a high street coffee chain, is a sound challenging the tube train for being the loudest thing in the vicinity.

Perhaps on reflection the idea of selling a day on the beach bucket sized double pints on special offer, will maybe go down as an error. Not because people are pissed and out of control, not because anyone is get lairy looking for trouble, but because the limited amount of furniture that is dotted about the ‘66 Bar, might not make it to the end of the day intact.

Currently at the far end of the long hall, which has a large picture of an agonised looking Geoff Hurst on the wall, is a boiling, heaving group of SC fans who are going headlong into chant four or five, and that's just in the short time we’ve been here. Chairs held aloft, the sound of a drum emanates from somewhere within the crowd, its electric.

This way to the match, reads the black lettering on the wall. Having edged past the friendly moshpit of still singing fans, the pile of furniture being nervously guarded by a steward, and doing my best to avoid the man whirling his scarf above his head or to bump into the gent ticking off a few Mancunian stereotypes, in his bucket hat and parka jacket, floating around to the beat of the drum, in his own world, pint in one hand the other in the air, the bright light of the outside takes a moment to adjust to, and things just get, in the words of John Motson, "better and better and better".

Flags, flags, flags and more flags, only one continues the theme of nations from around the world outside, a small Uruguay one, a nod to SC legend Danny Bergara, the rest are very much all in honour of SC. “What a fucking atmosphere”, says one supporter emerging behind me, and he's not wrong. Having eventually got in and minus the pop star, the man in the top hat, spins his blue and white rattle, much to the delight of one BFC steward, “not seen one of them in a while”.

Bunches of blue balloons bob above the heads of the fans, who have already and still with a fair old few still inside, done a good job in packing almost the entire stand. The seats fenced off with red and white tape, become the perfect place to drape one of the many flags. The juxtaposition between the home end, quite, not even half full and the bustling away end, is striking.

The appearance of the BFC mascot, a giant bee is followed by a torrent of boos, “you can't boo the bee” says Rachel disapprovingly. This scalding of her fellow fans though does not last for long and she is soon back on weather watch, the similarities between her and Tom increasing by the hour.

“Oh I'm turning into Tom” she says when it dawns on her too.

Jim Gannon's appearance, SC’s manager, near the mouth of the tunnel, takes the attention off the large wandering insect for a moment, as some people surge towards him for the chance of a photo. The bees attempt to ingratiate himself to the away fans with a round of applause in their direction, backfires. “Who are ya, who are ya” they sing, his large felt face, unresponsive to the barrage.

The departure of the SC team, jogging past the away end, gets almost everyone on their feet, balloons are frantically waved and a chorus of “blue army” serenades them.

Turning as he walks up the touchline, in his National League sky blue coat, Jim Gannon, raises his hands above his head and applauds the fans singing his name, “Jimmy Gannon's blue and white army”. Not far behind him, the two sets of players appear from the orange tunnel, to the backing track, which I thought was a joke, a case of the wrong CD being put in, the last time we were here, but it turns out BFC actually walkout to, Sweet Child of Mine by Guns & Roses.

Thankfully the volume of the SC fans drown out the hair metal classic, with a song of their own to the tune of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, “we’re the County, the mighty County, we always win away”. Everyone to a man is singing, clapping, some like the man behind me, pumps his fist to the rhythm of the song.

The final actions of the bee is to high five each member of the BFC team, before performing a few stretches as the teams line up to shake hands.

Before kick off the ground is tinged with sadness, a moment of reflection for the home fans who had
lost one of their own, who died in the week before the match. Some SC supporters “shhh” the others as the teams gather around the centre circle, ensuring silence, to make sure the moment is well respected. However instead of a minutes silence, it's a minutes applause, which is well observed by both sets of fans.

The tail end of one my all time favourite football chants, accompanies the kick off “at Edgeley Park our greatest pride, is the scarf my father wore”, which is then followed by an earth moving roar, with scarves held above heads, the drum at maximum and numerous shouts of “come on County” flooding forwards.

On a near loop, the drum drives the SC fans as they sing their managers name once more, “Jimmy Gannon's blue and white army” and with no bee to heckle, they take the opportunity to reel off a long song sheet of chants about the state of the BFC attendance, “you're supposed to be at home”, “shit ground no fans”, “what's it like to see a crowd” they ask, before the ultimate insult to any home team, “shall we sing a song for you?”.

Small kids on the back row, stand precariously on the folding seats to ensure a better view above the clapping hands and scarves. “You've got to be having a fucking laugh” shouts one fan, at the sight of a BFC player going down on the edge of the SC box. The visiting player is booked for foul and there the slight hush as the BFC free kick is lined up, taken, and whistles just wide.

There are plenty of sarcastic jeers as it does so, but they are nervous ones too. It was close, and with only four minutes on the LED scoreboard to our left, it's been a slightly shaky start by the Hatters.

The lull in singing and drumming is only for as long as it takes the free kick to be taken and it’s soon back up to speed athe noise when SC fizz a dangerous looking ball across the BFC box.

It's taken a back post header and one of their players executing the perfect knee slide celebration to coax the first bit of noise from the home fans. The SC supporters efforts, “blue army” does not dip for a moment as their team go a goal behind. The orange nought on the scoreboard flicks to a one alongside BFC’s name. “Come on lads”, shout a few fans between songs, “1 - 0 and you still don't sing”.

The SC players seemingly haven't let the goal dent their confidence either and are looking for a quick reply, minutes after the restart they are back on the attack. “Come on County, come on County” sing the SC fans, whose support of their team so far has been faultless. Their next song is to the tune of the Dambuster Theme and is just one of many different chants they will belt out today.

Somewhere else that can suffer from a lack of atmosphere, Wembley Stadium’s arch is visible over the squat terracing opposite, that on inspection contains a couple of handfuls of BFC fans congregated around a drum secured to the brushed steel railings along with a few small flags.

A short stop in play, allows a downed SC player to be treated, he returns to the pitch with the full Terry Butcher head gear and not long after the SC defence is a bit slow to respond to the BFC player on the edge of their box, who is given far too much time to get a shot off.

SC have been far from out of the running in the first quarter of an hour, despite being a goal behind, but there is a feeling they are going to have to really be at their very best to get anything from today and at the moment they are just a bit off the pace. A smatter of grumbling infiltrates the crowd. Not much, just enough to be noticeable, but not enough to interrupt the as of yet never ending singing, “hello, hello we are the County boys”.

“Ahhh” gasps the SC fans as their free kick goes close, just shy of twenty minutes gone at the beginning of a brief purple patch for the visitors. The Hive still devoid of any home noise, one SC fan suggests that his “local library is livelier than this”, another fans replies his “local library” has been “shutdown”.

The SC player just can't control the ball in the BFC box and the opportunity of a shot on goal goes begging, “come on County” shout the SC fans, as they craft their clearest chance of an equaliser. Minutes later and another goal bound shot is deflected and sent looping up and into the BFC keepers arms, who is in action again once more not long after. Clutching onto a curled angled SC shot from the edge of the box.

It's been all SC since they went behind, it's been all the SC fans since the doors opened around 12:30, “olla, olla, olla County” they sing before being caught in a near hypnotic trance of “blue army” 

The disapproving shake of Rachel's head, is not something anyone wants to see I can tell you. The venomous shouts of “cheating bastard” from the fan behind us mean all but the same, but there's something about the look in her eyes, that makes it far worse.

If I had been the BFC player who just committed the most blatant of dives, near the edge of the SC box, who should have been booked, but wasn't, the referee just simply waving at him to get up. I would rather have a large man from the North West call me a “bastard” one hundred times, then be subjected to her mean wobbling head.

It has taken almost half an hour before we hear the BFC fans for the first time, “come on Barnet” they chant, which gets a much louder, “weeeehhh”, then a few lines of “we forgot that you were here”.

Having been unable to make the most of their time in and around the BFC box, it's now the home teams turn to go close. Again with a header, a point black range one at that, which the keeper is able somehow to fist clear. A coming together between two opposing players, the BFC one a pony tailed man mountain and the much shorter, follically challenged SC one, almost results in a flare up. The fans around us are far from pleased with the Khal Drogo lookalikes antics, “you dirty southern bastard”.

The groans and grumbles among the SC fans are increasing, they have had plenty of possession, plenty of chances to get the ball into good positions, but their passing has been poor. The man directly behind me, has boiled down all his dissatisfaction into a single word, “shite”, that he blurts out after every failed move and for the first time the SC fans have fallen quiet’ish which allows me for the first time to actually hear the BFC drum, and not just see the young man hitting it.

The wind has changed direction and is now blowing in our face, the respite in singing means I start to notice the passing tube trains again and Rachel's face is scrunched right up at the, as she puts it, “load of nothingness” currently happening on the pitch. Going into the last ten minutes of the half and the match has all but fizzled out and cruelly the most entertaining thing is a BFC child fan playing ball boy. He takes a tumble retrieving the ball from the stand, and gets a “wehhh” for his troubles, the same one people give in a pub when someone drops a glass, but he is quickly back on his feet, and is applauded as he skips back to his seat.

“Ohhh” gasp the SC supporters, who are jolted into life, when a hopeful looking volley form the edge of the BFC box, slams into a defender. With just over five minutes to play, the slow trickle towards the bar and refreshments starts. A lady passing down the front in a rainbow jacket jogs people into making the decision, stay until the whistle or head off now.

Another BFC chant, the same as before, “come on Barnet” is given short shrift by the still much, much louder SC fans, “come on County”. Rachel unlike Tom, is still in her seat, despite deciding she will be going “full Tom today”. She has “bought something”, “moaned about the weather” and now it's just a case of getting something to eat. “Chips” will be her food of choice, but she won't be moving until the referee says so.

The lady in the rainbow jacket and anyone else who had gone in search of a double pint, would have missed BFC nearly scoring their second. A waist height ball across the box, falls to a lunging BFC forward, who makes contact with it, but his shot flies over, and he ends up in a heap, just short of the goal line, tangled with the neon green wearing SC keeper.

Instead of chastising their players for conceding the chance, they celebrate their keepers heroics, who is currently looking a little worse for ware, to the tune of a bit of Madness, “in the middle of our goal Hinchcliffe.

A slide rule pass into the BFC box looks to be getting SC somewhere, the chop from the forward inside his marker looks to be getting them even closer. The robust but fair BFC challenge stops any inkling of danger, “defending like beasts” says Rachel, puffing out her cheeks.

“Three additional minutes of added time” says the velvet smooth voice of the BFC stadium announcer, and as Rachel puts it, it’s “not much considering” the stoppages there have been. Once more I can hear the dull thumps of the BFC drum, but it is soon muted by ones mans violent exclamation of his dislike of the referee, “you're a fucking wanker” he bellows, confirming to a neighbour if it wasn't clear, “I hate him”.

SC control added on time, much like they have controlled long periods of the game since going behind. A smart exchange on the edge of the BFC box, ultimately breaks down, pretty much summing up their attacking form so far today, just not clicking when it matters.

The players depart, almost to the same level of rapturous acclaim as they had received when they arrived. Lousy pop music, replaces the signing of the travelling SC fans. The stand pretty much empties, including Rachel who in the finest Tom tradition is off in search of food. Those who've stayed behind take the chance to rest and take a seat, except for the man in the long black coat, who's scruffy white hair pokes out from under his top hat. With his back to the pitch, he jabs his finger towards the home fans, with a look on his face like he is delivering a Churchillian speech.

A couple of kids given the freedom of the away end, break out into a little scrap, until what I imagine was a stern shout from a grown up, that puts an end to it, so they just floss instead. The voice over the PA wishes those in attendance a happy Hanukkah and Villages Norwegian BFC fan, who he was talking to the shop, before us, gets a shout out.

I check the score of the North London derby and Spurs are 2 - 1 ahead. If SC could grab a couple of goals in the second half, then it could turn into a pretty splendid day.

It’s boos for the Barnet players as they reemerge to what I think is some Daft Punk and the stand is only half full, Rachel still MIA as the game restarts. The drum is back at it, there are the odd shouts of “come on County”, however with little more than a minute on the clock, not many SC fans witness the early dangerous SC cross that is cleared for a corner.

SC look to have picked up where they left off, BFC also seem determined to throw their weight around in the penalty area at set pieces, the jostling around the home keeper, catches the attention of the referee. The SC fans claim for a penalty, but the ref just has a word with the players involved and waves on the corner taker to get on with it.

“Took you forty eight minutes” laughs a SC supporter at the sound of the BFC drum. As has happened all day so far at the slightest bit of home noise, it is quickly mocked by the away fans, their go to loop of “blue white army” is soon doing the rounds again.

The home fans largest on mass chant, “come on Barnet” follows them going close once again to a second goal. An excellent cross into the box, is matched by the leaping header, which thankfully for the SC fans is bettered by the one handed save of their keeper who keeps them in the game. Around me, a mass exhale from the SC fans, sounds like a giant fart, running through each and every one of their heads is not ‘did I just make a noise with my mouth that sounded like a fart, but, ‘we got away with that one’.

As the clock ticks, the tensions grows, and not because Rachel only returned with a packet of crisps, explaining the queue for the food was too long, but because the longer the game goes on, the less likely SC look like they are going to score and there is a feeling the game is getting away from them.

For the record Tom would have stayed in the queue, even if it was only “hot dogs, burgers or cold baguettes” and “no chips” on offer. Starbucks and baguettes, so overwhelmingly North London. Rachel tries to change the subject, doing her best to deflect my displeasure, I really fancied pinching some of her chips, suggesting that the queue was “full of kids” because people send them to “do their bidding” and I’m to ask Tom if this is the case at other matches.

Both teams are sloppy, but the fact the BFC drum is slowly becoming ever more present, means the party atmosphere of an hour ago is slowly waning, and a few more people are sitting now. SC apply some good pressure on the ball in the BFC box, but it just doesn't pay off. The fans still singing, “SUFC”, still have plenty of energy to give the man in charge some stick, “you're not fit to referee” but the players on the pitch are just not able to replicate the efforts of the fans off it.

The lure of the double pints has become too much for one SC fan who is bundled out by the police just a couple of minutes shy of sixty. Two minutes later and a mistake in the SC defence sees BFC back in possession just outside of their SC box. The home player jinks his way through the SC back line and lets free a fierce rising shot that is just tipped over. The rock steady beat of Madness fills the stand again, “in the middle of our goal Hinchcliffe”.

On the hour mark its all SC but its growing tenser by the minute, the inflection in the fans voices changes from one of support, to one of mild desperation, “come on County”. The worldly voiced stadium announcer, introduces a BFC substitute, which prompts some fans to ask, “who are ya, who are ya?”.

“I thought that was in” cries one SFC his face in his hands turning away from the sight of the poked chance that went inches the wrong side of the post. Going close stokes the fires within the SC fans “I O County, County I O” they sing. “You wouldn't know there were any Barnet fans here” says Rachel nodding towards the BFC supporters, “remember last time they were very polite” she recalls from our visit to Underhill in the home end, “they only clapped”.

The situation though has not changed, because despite the lion's share of possession, BFC look threatening on every attack.

I can literally feel the beat of the SFC drum in my chest, the guys standing on the back seats, hanging on to whatever they can, mostly the fine black netting that lines the roof to prevent the pigeons taking roost, squirm and react to every pass. “Jammy bastard” says Mr Shite, mixing it up a bit. What looks like might be a stroke of luck, in the BFC area, just won't see the ball fall right for the SC forward, and the moment passes.

A quarter of an hour to go and the SC fans are now the quietest they have been all day. There are the odd shouts, “come on boys” but all the intensity of earlier has slipped away, the BFC drum now even more frequent. On the pitch and BFC are sat right back, happy now to counterattack, while SC are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the home defence. BFC’s chances on goal have been few and far between, but when they get them, they just look that little bit more composed.

BFC are not only content with setting up camp in their half, but with still over ten minutes left are more than happy to waste as much time possible, at every opportunity, “cheating bastard” scowls one SC fan, the BFC keeper the main arbiter of the lollygagging.

SC continue to go close, ish, half chances you might say, getting in the right position but then fluffling their lines. Skipping into the box, the player makes enough room for himself to shoot, but there always seems to be a “beast” in orange to block the shot. The bandaged headed defender goes close with a back post header, but its wide, “go again” demands one fan.

“Fucking shite” says Mr Shite, almost returning back to his catchphrase, “he should get that on a t shirt” whispers Rachel. BFC’s keeper is taking the piss, the drummer rattles off a native American style beat as he goes through one of his overly long goal kick routines.

Down the front and the space between the seats and the barrier, marked with yellow hatching has slowly filled with fans, wanting to get that bit closer to the action. The other side of the shiny black railings more police appear in yellow high vis and hats, to bolster their defences.

Into the final ten minutes, and “great ball” says one nearby fan, sees SC momentarily look like they are on to something, but again an all orange “beast” hoofs it clear. SC still have all of the ball, BFC are still happy to not move much further forward than the edge of their box, SC just can't make it count.
The home fans sing, which gets the customary “wheyyyy” and “we forgot that you were here”. Spurs are also losing 4 - 2 now, as Rachel puts it, it's “not a good day for either of us”.

Heads slowly but surely start to lift and the sea of standing fans has been restored, with less than five minutes left to play, there is a resurgence among the SC fans, spurred on perhaps by the home supports attempt at a song, which is quickly blown out of the water, “Jimmy Gannon's blue and white army”.

The SC fans contest everything, “how can we see it, but you can't, tosser” shouts one, as the away fans just don't feel like they are getting the rub of the green. The SC fans continue to will on the player, BFC have erected a big orange wall and the ref, who again in the eyes of the SC fans has made a mistake, gets a deafening song of his very own, “the referees a wankers”.

One last SC push, while their team go in search of an equaliser or in BFC case they try to cling on to their lead, fans of each team or as Rachel points out, “children” gesture and posture, trying to emulate a bygone era, with lots of chest slapping and pointing outside at each other, but considering the vast distance between them, not to mention all the police, it’s embarrassing.

A single piece of a bright orange seat spins through the air slowly, finding a home on top of the net as more and more police pile on to the edge of the pitch, the hatched area down below almost overflowing and the fans are so angered by the BFC time wasting, it's getting a bit toxic.

I can't be sure, but what might be the most blatant case of time wasting by a team there has ever been, forces a SC player to climb over the railings and into the stands to retrieve the ball. A ball when it's in play they are very rarely out of possession of, but the goal just doesn't look like its coming.

In the seconds before the final whistle, the glimmer of a single tin foil FA Cup catches my eye among the BFC fans, much larger than the one in the SC end that looked more like an egg cup. The big cheer that follows shortly after the game is over, almost doesn't sound real, like its happening a lot further away than it is.

"We love you Stockport we do" sing the SC fans, as the forlorn players, the look of missing out on the third round and a glamour tie, against one of the big boys as they say, visible across each and every one.

A scarf is tossed towards them, and I can smell it before I see it, someone has let off a blue smoke bomb, sending wispy blue tendrils up in to the sky. Some players breech the gap in the police line to talk to the fans pressed up against the railings and its then things take a very Iceland 2016 turn, as players and supporters join each other in a thunder clap.

The BFC players huddle at the far end of the pitch, a single flag from their fans is hung over the railings. The acrid smell of the smoke bomb now permeates everything. The SC players sit in what was the BFC six yard box, dwelling on the defeat, before a coach slowly but surely starts to pick them back up to their feet. The vast majority of fans are still yet to move, still singing and clapping, the name of their manager once more not far from their lips. 

It would be slightly remiss of me to ignore what happened on the way our. What I believe was triggered by some goading by BFC fans, turned into a bottle being chucked at the BFC manager and ended with people being pushed, shoved and hit with batons by the police. Accusations that "all cops are bastards" by one fan seemed unfair, admittedly the polices response did seem a little heavy handed, but it takes two to tango, and there were SC fans more than up for ruck.

My day ends with me shuffling back towards the car, half deaf from the banger someone let off, half deaf from Rachel's squeal in response to it and someone half hanging out the passenger window of a passing car singing at me, "Hagrid, give us a wave, Hagrid, Hagrid give us a wave".

"A lesson in going sideways" is Rachel's rather scathing assessment of SC's performance, she is also equally harsh about the BFC celebrations on the final whistle, "its like they put 10p in the fan meter". I am at this point, staring at my phone and the final result from Spurs vs Arsenal, waiting for the traffic to subside, and a deluge of Whatsapp messages from Tom, ogling the mountain of Domino's pizza making their way I would think to the victors dressing room.

Despite the result, and the silliness at the end, today only bolstered my affection for SC and its supporters. The pride and passion they display, out singing the home fans, travelling all this way for a frankly inconvenient two o'clock kick off on a Sunday, which is only for the benefit of the TV producers and nobody else, is stirring stuff. "Do it for the fans" shouted one SFC supporters towards the end, today the players couldn't do it, but that never stopped them backing them.

A sleeping giant, a fan base that deserves more, and as I said last time we saw them, my SFC scarf, alongside my Spurs one, is the only one that hangs in my house.

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Thursday 6 December 2018

Back Row Under The F - Waltham Abbey FC Vs Southend United FC, Essex Senior Cup 4th Round, Capershotts (28/11/18)

“I bet he doesn't bring you Christmas biscuits” replies Rachel when I tell her Tom has offered to drive this evening. To be clear I don’t live very far at all from tonight's venue, which I suspect has something to do with him offering and although he didn't bring me Lebkuchen, he did give me half a Sainsbury chocolate cookie that he said he'd “saved” for me.

Although Spurs are playing in a crucial Champions League tie tonight and instead of preparing myself for a night on the sofa with the heating on, watching it on the TV, I’ve spent the whole day refreshing the Twitter account of Waltham Abbey FC (WA) to see if their pitch will pass the three o'clock inspection.

It did, and that's why I find myself standing at the end of my road, with the rain coming down around me, waiting for Tom.

Still slightly in shock, it's not until I see the blinding headlights of Toms car coming towards me, the rain now even heavier, that I realise this is actually about to happen. Flashing his lights as if to say ‘get in’, I open the door to the immortal question, “shall I put the seat warmers on for you?” and fantasy becomes reality.

My car feels little more than an old tin can, in comparisons to Tom’s, which feels like being on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Moody lighting, soft furnishings and cup holders galore. “Tell me if your bum gets hot, it's on max”, he warns me. His caring side shining through, as he ensures I’m comfortable. He puts his windscreen wipers on their highest setting, the rain now lashing down.

For those of you who have never been in a Mini Countryman, let me tell you you're missing out. The dashboard is dominated by a large special screen, which Tom can control everything from the Sat Nav to the radio with the dial down to his left. Embodying Commander Chekov and with a few turns of his left wrist, he plots our journey and we’re off.

“This is nothing” he says, the rain we are currently encountering, not a scratch on what he had to endure on the drive to mine, and the both of us share the feeling we might not be seeing a game at WA. Which wouldn't be the first time, our last attempt to visit them was scuppered by a waterlogged pitch.

The woman bedraggled on the side of road, wet through and in a mild state of disarray, prompts Tom rhetorical question, “we’re choosing to go out in this?”. At the moment I’m more concerned about the fact that my back is now getting very, very hot and that Toms car is better in every single way than mine. Instead of a useless and surly Sat Nav, his says “please” when dishing out the directions.

Having not been the passenger in a car for nearly two years, It's nice for once to be able to sit back, relax and enjoy what was more accurately no more than a bite of a cookie that Tom “saved” for me, but it's the thought that counts. Not having to concentrate on getting us where we're going is a bonus, watching Tom have to pull a very quickfire three point turn on an Essex trading estate, because although she might be polite, his Sat Nav has sent us the wrong way, gives me a mild sense of pleasure.

To be fair to her, the entrance to Capershotts is not exactly clear, opposite the entrance to a graveyard, it's well let's say secluded. There is a tall, green unlit sign, but that's about it and when we eventually find ourselves in the right place, indicating to turn left off the main road, we find we’re not the only ones.

About three cars back in the queue, ahead of us a man battles with the lock of a yellow gate, the traffic around us slowly starting to build. Commuters on their way home from work, already with frayed around the edges start to lose their cool, “where do you want me to go?” asks Tom, as the beeping of car horns increases.

More and more people start to join the growing line behind us. One who turns out to be the WA tea lady behind us, has a far from happy face on and parking almost slap bang in the middle of the road in front of us, the WA manager Mark Stimpson, has just arrived, jumped out of his Audi, abandoning it in a very precarious position, to help with the gate.

The tension is building, not so much in our car, we just put the radio on and are quite enjoying the drama going on around us, although Tom does point out, “we can't sit here all night”. What was one man, using the torch on his phone, is now three men, using their torches on their phones to guide them, however three quickly becomes two, one man has had enough of the struggle. The traffic is growing by the second, Tom tells me he is “starting to need a wee” and who we think are players trying to get in, are now causing tailbacks in both direction, Tom is sure the “police” will arrive at any moment.

Celebratory car horn honking usually reserved for New Years Eve or major sporting victories, accompanies the opening of the gate, a man manically waves us through and being one of the first into the car park, we realise just how many cars were waiting behind, as a procession of cars snakes in. Including the blue minibus of WA’s opponents, Southend United FC (SU).

The iridescent green colour scheme of WA’s home, is made clear once someone hastily flicks on the floodlights. Underfoot there is an unmistakable squelch every time you take a step and in the background is the near constant roar of a nearby motorway.

“Shit isn't it” replies the ever Jovial Tony Gay, a WA coach, who we have crossed paths with many times over the last four year, when I bring up the weather. He is the kind of bloke you can hear before you see, larger than life probably doesn't quite do him justice, but although he thinks the weather is less than ideal, he is far from downbeat.

Sitting under the small shelter behind one goal, the rain having gone full Forrest Gump, it’s coming down on the horizontal. Watching it swirl around the floodlights, it’s almost hypnotic, Tom wonders “if anyone will come”. With very little as far as cover goes, there is more fence then anything, places to keep out of the rain are few and far between. Tom has already worked out where he wants to spend the game, “back row under the F” he tells me. The ‘F’ being the one in WAFC painted on alternative green and white bands on the back of the main stand along one side of the pitch. It’s pale blue seats, the only place you'll find to sit.

Considering the setting our last outing at Farnborough FC’s opulent Cherrywood Road, Capershotts
is worlds apart. No corporate lounges or mega stands here, it's all scaffolding, roped off no go zones and a portacabin tea bar, proper non league.

For the moment, the pitch is looking in surprisingly good nick, no ominous pools of water, but as ever Tom fears for the sanity of the groundsman, and what will he have to deal with, come full time.
Surrounded by the never ending sound of dripping water, that tap, tap, taps on the metal roof above us. I almost feel guilty from my low wooden bench vantage point, as the already drenched coaches from either team, put out the cones in preparation of the warm ups.

“Who is the lonely dude in the stand, he is very eager” ponders Tom, pointing to the single dark figure, who isn't under the ‘F’, but has already taken up position in the main stand and means at least one other person, will be here tonight. Keenly studying the Met Office app, it's a mixed bag for the next few hours. Currently its showing a black cloud with two rain drops, however its forecast for the rest of the evening is white clouds, with one raindrop. “Is it easing?” wonders Tom, looking up from this phone, with a sense of desperation in his voice.

The wind is picking up, the rain a blur in the floodlights, the bare brown trees behind the dugouts sway from side to side and inside the portacabin tea bar, visible through a single grate covered window, the lady from behind us in the queue to get in is busily working away.

“I just wanna know who that guy is?”, asks Tom again, transfixed on the stranger in the stand. A second person joins him, just as eager to secure their spot, but when he thinks he has, he realises he’ll get wet there, so starts the process again. In fact there is a steady stream of people now coming through the tatty yellow brick turnstiles, where between taking money the man manning them brushes away the standing water. Sadly, none coming in, seem to be holding a programme.

“Oh it's definitely easing” says Tom triumphantly, celebrating the accuracy of his beloved Met Office app. The lights flicker on in the main stand, so at least the two men in it no longer have to sit in darkness. At its far end a man unpacks the PA system from a cardboard box, and with the aid of his zoom lens, Tom is on programme watch for me.

“Come on Southend” shouts an SU fan from the sidelines as the team jogs out in their bright yellow tops. At the same time, after his brief sound test, the PA opens his set with Crazy Horses by The Osmonds as the first song of the night, slowly fading it in. The weather might be crap, but so far the music is excellent.

Another SU fan cheers the name of each player as they walk out, the WA team not long behind them, don't quite get the same fanfare, a couple stop at the edge of the pitch to cross themselves, before continuing. “Nice snood” beams Tom, the all black Nike number with a white tick, being worn by the WA keeper, gets Tom’s seal of approval.

I just couldn't bare not knowing any longer, so breaking free from our cover I head towards the turnstile, “twenty minutes, girls stuck in traffic” is the reply of the man who no longer has a broom in his hand, but seems just a tad fed up of having to answer the same query from large nerdy men like myself, about if there will be a programme or not tonight.

The rain has stopped or has it, I have to double check by looking into the floodlights, slightly starry eyed, I can see that it hasn't quit yet, but it's far improved. Time for tea, and the tea bar is also in keeping with the high non league standard already been set. No airs and graces, just bare walls except for the faded wonky pictures of old WA teams, one of which most of the lineup have the most wonderful sideburns and cut out luminous stars, displaying the prices of what's on offer.

Considering it's actually quite mild, we don't get a hot drink, instead just opting for a bottle of water and Tom a Lucozade, keen to replace all those electrolytes he's lost so far today, from sitting about. Back in the stand behind the goal, along with the pigeons, we continue to be surprised by the amount of people arriving, “so many more people here than I thought there would be” says Tom, taking the words out of my mouth. Perhaps it's the draw of SU, albeit their under 23’s or WA have a pretty die hard following.

We also notice the as I put it Old Trafford style slope around the edge of the pitch, that Tom can't help himself saying is like the one at the Emirates.

Night Boat to Cairo by Madness makes me think of home and how much my daughter loves to dance to it. Congregated around the turnstile a posse of men, is starting to form, like me waiting on tenterhooks for the arrival of the woman who was only “twenty minutes” away, twenty five minutes ago. Tom just can't wrap his head around it, people “waiting for a bit of paper” but I can't be bothered to explain again how it's so much more than that.

It's quite subdued as far as entrances go, as the players appear from the caged tunnel to one side of the stand behind the goal. The voice over the PA noticeably lifts when he starts to read the names of the home side out. One home fan, with a green and white scarf above his head, shouts “we are the Abbey” as the teams cross the pitch. “We can do this” he says confidently, but quietly to himself. His score prediction however is far from positive, “reckon we’ll lose 4 - 1”,  “well you can go home” replies a fellow fan, far from impressed by his prognosis.

In the brief moment between the players preparing for kick off and the whistle, I nab my programme. Post kick off and SU are straight at it, four minutes gone and the boy with the scarf has a premonition, “they're going to score” he says as SU race towards the WA goal, showcasing their fighting pace.

A small group of the most committed of SU fans pass us, one of whom is soon under fire, seemingly not aware of what red tape means, he passes under it, into no mans land and and is soon bombarded with whistles and shouts. A long chat about concrete paths ensues, not the most riveting topic in the world. Who I think is the WA chairman explains the need for a continuous concrete path all around the pitch, to keep in line with FA rules, whose visits he jokes “cost” him “£30,000” every time they come.

Ten minutes gone and SU dissect WA, “do not let them score” implores scarf boy. “You can’t let them do that” comments another WA fan, the ease in which SU got down the wing, cut inside and were able to get a shot off, was far too easy.

After nearly a quarter of one way traffic, surrounded by anxious home fans, and the both of us sure this is game going to be over before it's begun, WA go ahead, albeit slightly fortuitously. It’s a well
hit free kick, however its straight at the SU keeper, who makes a bit of a meal of a simple save and as the WA players celebrate, we are treated to the ringing of a green fire bell just along from us in the stand. WA’s version of the Harlow air raid siren.

“Come on you Abbots” shouts scarf boy padding about restlessly, who is singlehandedly, creating what one might call an atmosphere. Tom on kit watch has taken to SU’s all blue get up, it has a bit of the “France” about it. For me it's all about the green and white hooped socks of WA, green a colour I still think is all too underutilised in football.

Tom tries for the second week in a row to be ball boy, but returns empty handed, the ball having disappeared into a spooky space behind the main stand, and he didn't look up for venturing down there. His slight exertion has got his stomach rumbling, “I’m hungry” he tells me before letting out a sizable “ohhhhh” at the sight of a WA foul on a SU player, it’s a real shin clutcher.

For all the difference in pace, touch and quality, it’s WA who double their lead on around twenty minutes. A pirouette in the SU area, sees the WA player away and in on goal, only to be clattered from behind and the referee has no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Some of the younger WA fans, including scarf boy, dash towards that end of the pitch, phones in hand to capture the moment.

As the fire bell sounds again, the voice over the PA is now even more excited than when he was announcing the first goal and he has every right to be. Although they find themselves on the other end of wave after wave of SU attacks, it is they who find themselves in front. “Clinical” is how Tom puts it, two attempts on goal, two goals.

SU are so fast, scarily fast, in their number 9 and 10 they have two players with it to burn. A scintillating counter attack just before the half an hour mark, results in a deftly hit curling shot that strikes the post. Ten or so minutes later and I’m pretty sure everyone is scratching their head, wondering how they are not at least level pegging. A slide rule pass forward is latched onto by the number 9, who before going down under the attention of a WA defender is able to touch the ball off to number 10 who through on goal, instead of just shooting over eggs the pudding, and one step over too many later the chance has gone.

There are claps from the stand that are either applauding the defending or the apparent mercy being shown indirectly by the SU player for not scoring.

Considering my last paragraphs, it would be wrong for me not to say, that WA have their own moments, they are tenacious and should probably have three goals by now, a whipped ball across the SU box goes untouched, all it needed was someone on the other end for a simple tap in.

“Offside again” tuts East London's Pep, “if they just held their runs’’ he adds. SU have been a bit over eager some might say or even lazy, when it comes to staying on side. As Tom put it if they just held their runs for a fraction they would have been in on goal at least “five times”, and Tom adds, WA “ain't catching them”.

Another late WA challenge, causes more SU shin clutching and this time a yellow card. The WA players insist to the referee, who Tom is convinced is “semi famous”, that their man got the ball, but he’s having none of it. SU’s free kick is on target, it circumnavigates the wall, but is straight into the arms of the WA keeper.

Into the final five and another WA ball into the box, this time results in a huge threeway coming together between the SU keeper, an SU defender and a WA forward, the ball is loose momentarily but is eventually cleared.

SU’s number 10 hops in frustration, it's just not coming together for him, some of this is down to the WA defence who are a little fortunate at times, but are doing enough to keep the rampant visitors at bay so far. The home fans cheer their teams clear determination to go in for the break, still two goals to the good.

In football you have halves that feel like they were only ten minutes long, and you have halves that feel, well the opposite. “Long half” says Tom, surely the whistle will be blown any minute. “Stay switched on” shouts someone from the WA bench, following another SU attack.

The half ends with no great surprise, another SU chance, but again it's thwarted by some more backs to the wall, Gandalf impressed, ‘you will not pass’ defending. Free and away at goal, SU’s number 9 only has to finish. With shades of Ledley King against Arjen Robben at White Lane, in YEAR, the WA defender who looked like he’d been left for dead, finds a second wind, catches up with the striker and from behind, with faultless timing and precision, tackles him and prevents the certain goal.

What a challenge, what a way to finish the half.

You could almost go as far as saying he sounds coquettish, as the best way to describe how the man reading out the score sounds, following the half time whistle. I can't obviously confirm it, but I think he might have been ever so slightly on cloud nine. The cheers of the crowd are followed by a mini stampede towards the tea bar, much to Toms annoyance, “oh no everyone is going” he says at the thought of having to wait a whole two minutes in line for his chips.

For all the praise I heaped on the DJ for his pre kick off song choices. Deciding that I Don't Like Mondays, by the BoomTown Rats is a suitable way to start the break, undoes all his good work. Even Mother Nature is appalled, as its start to spit, just about the time the song gets to the first chorus. The rain having so far held off since the biblical down pouring on arrival. Thankfully the mood skyrockets, with the introduction of a bit more of everyone's cheeky north london Ska outfit Madness and we in attendance are no longer subjected to Geldof.

Our brief chat with Tony Gay, Tom having arrived back in no time at all, who makes the silly mistake of having his chips out on show and Tony is not shy in helping himself, at least until the “soup” he just asked someone to get him, appears, was like being in the presence of an all seeing prophet. His order by the way that got such an extraordinary response, you would've thought he'd asked for a lobster bisque, “a soup?!?!” the man bellowed back, in shock.

“They would have got the biggest rolicking” he tells us, there was a distinct chance of some flying teacups in the SU changing room he thinks, they are “professional”, WA “train once a week”. One of the biggest differences between the two sides in the second half will be “fitness” and he is somewhat understated when he suggests the SU’s number 10 is simply a bit “lively”. I get the distinct impression from Tony that with WA having “six reserve” players in the team, he thinks its a minor miracle they are two goals in front.

Some 70’s hair metal with high pitched vocals welcomes the teams out. “Come on you Abbey” shouts someone from the back of the main stand.

“Too fucking easy” screams one WA player, it’s taken SU all of two minutes to grab a goal back. The PA is far from coquettish now, he’s downright depressed. The visitors number 9 has come out the traps flying, it's his ball into the box from out wide, that is slotted into the back of the net.

Bumping into Peter Miles, A.K.A. Mr Southend, A.K.A groundhopping royalty, really puts into perspective, just how little football we get to each season, today's match being his “one hundred and twenty sixth” he tell us, and that's not in the whole of 2018, but the 2018/19 season.


He also tells us of his attempt to visit every “member state of UEFA” his recent trip to Gibraltar taking his tally to “forty” of “fifty five”.

He also fills us in a bit on SU stars of the future, number 10 having made a few “first team” appearances, but he reckons is not “fancied” by the manager. He also lets us in on the fact that SU were 2 - 0 down at half time in the last round, and went on to with “5-2”.

Thirteen minutes gone and the SU comeback is complete, which they achieve in the most outrageous of fashion, an almost halfway line lob, no less, the scorer falling just short of going the full Cantona, his arms out by his side, but his shirt has no collar to pop.

A minute later and WA go a whisker wide with a header, “ohhhhh” go the crowd, the memory of being two goals to the good a distant memory, now they are only able to cling on to the smallest of moments. SU are showboating, WA make a double substitution, and scarf boy is still confident, despite the turnaround in his team's fortunes, “it's gonna be 3 -2”.

Nineteen minutes gone and SU have flipped the game on its head, “oh dear, I feel a bit sorry for them” mumbles Tom. The man on the PA now is in a near state of despair and just as Tony had predicted, SU that have come out this second half a different team and have blown WA away. From a “shambles” as Peter put it, to half volley scissors kick finishes, I can't understand how they made such hard work out of it before, 3 - 2 up now and they are cursing.

“Come on Abbey take your chances” shouts someone from the main stand. I’m not quite sure what “chances” they are referring too, they've not had a shot on target in the past twenty five minutes. It’s SU crafting all the chances, their unrelenting pressure almost sees them grab a fourth, only for the shot to sail a fraction over.

Not that SU need any assistance up front, but WA are clearly feeling generous and give them a bit of help with a short pass back to the keeper, that is soon pounced upon in a flash. Lucky for the guilty WA defender, his keeper reaches it just a moment before the SU player, but hearts are still in mouths as he makes his hoofed clearance, that strikes the SU player on the arse, sending the ball goalwards and wide.

Just shy of thirty minutes on the clock and WA register their first shot on target and it's a good one, low down to the keepers right, it stings his palms and he’s forced to push the ball back into the box. “Come on Abbey” shouts a fan, “greens we go again” shouts a player, both still holding on to slightest thread of positivity. As WA slowly, but surely, edge themselves back into the game.

Despite WA’s slight resurgence, a cross that almost catches the SU keeper out and a second shot on goal in as many minutes is lacking any venom, but it's something. The football romantic in me is stirred and I ask Tom is there any way WA can get something out of this match, “no” he replies emphatically.

SU are so skillful, the impertinence of youth makes it looks like they don't even care, they are able to do things with a football, that someone like me could only dream of. At moments it looks like the ball is glued to the end of their feet, to they swagger about the pitch doesn't quite emphasise just how self-assured they are, cocksure might just about get there.

With just over ten minutes left, SU grab their fourth, an edge of the box screamer low into the left hand corner of the goal, well out of reach of the WA keeper, the voice over the PA ambivalent now. Instead of dwelling on the score, he informs all “eighty eight” of us here, how many other people have braved the rain. “Thought there was more than that” says Tom, as did I.

Scarf boy screams at the sight of a WA header that goes just over, but if I was him, I would be screaming every time SU get the ball, they look like scoring on every attack, as Tom puts it, you would be very “optimistic” about the future if you were an SU fan.

A late lunging and totally unnecessary SU challenge sparks a bit of a flare up, however the referee who Tom is still trying to work out where he has seen him before, has things under control pretty quickly. “Keep battling” insists a WA player.

I manage, with not long to spare to add a tick to my big book of football cliches, when SU send a ball right down the “corridor of uncertainty” as one home fans put it, in the WA box.

The WA supporters wince at the sight of one of their players taking a hammered free kick right in the midriff and then wince again, when SU get their fifth just after, bizarrely replicating the result in the last round exactly. The voice over the PA is nonchalant, he’s completely over it. ”Ohhhhh” says the lady from the now closed tea bar. “Different level” comments one home fan as his team prepare to restart again, and he makes a good point that some of the WA players would have “done a days graft today”.

SU to go close their sixth into added on time, but they start to loose their discipline, awarding WA two free kick in as many minutes on almost the same spot. “Finish” pleads one WA supporter as the ball falls to a WA player on the penalty spot but his shot is blocked and I’m trying my best not to throttle the man behind me, who has ruined my attempt to record the Spurs game and watch it when I get home, “Tottenham have scored”.

The rain held off for the whole match, little consolation for the home fans I'm sure, with the teams back inside, the ground is plunged into the darkness, and the heavens open. Never have we seen a match, that was a game of two halves in the truest sense of the word. The battle of the two ex teammates, who both played for SU no less, was won by SU's manager tonight, but for a moment, just a brief moment I'm sure Mark Stimpson thought the bragging rights might be his.
A green and white flag flaps at the end of its flag pole as we leave, its at this point we notice the clubhouse the other side of the car park for the first time, bet its nice and dry in there and I've still got Toms ginormous belch, "shouldn't eat dinner in five minutes" ringing in my ears, and I can't help but wonder if Tony Gay got his soup?

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE


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