Wednesday 25 April 2018

It's Not Pie Weather - Lewes FC Vs East Grinstead Town FC, Bostik League South, Dripping Pan (14/04/18)

I should really still be in bed, I think I’m better, I’ve convinced myself I'm fighting fit and raring to go. I’ve told myself one hundred times that the man flu has gone, and that I’m totally prepared for the day ahead, but this could not be further from the truth, however this fact is not yet totally apparent to me.

It’s certainly nice out, warm even, you could maybe even go as far as saying hot. It is frankly ridiculous that I’m in my thick woolly jumper, which has been my go to football outfit these last few months, I’ve even put my big coat in the boot, but I doubt I’ll be needing that, unless its to curl up and die under. Tom covering me like some lame horse at Aintree, about to be put out of its misery.

The car is insufferably hot, however high the fans are, however far open the windows are, I can’t get cool. I constantly sip from a two litre bottle of water, Tom on standby waiting for me to ask him to hand it to me, I’m trying to keep hydrated, as I can already feel the beads of sweat forming at the base of my hairline and this pain behind my eyes and nose is building by the second.

Tom on the other hand is revelling in the warmth, admitting he's not “prepared” wishing he had some “shorts” on, and his “sunnies”.

Such is my delirium, I allow him control of the radio, forgetting his penchant for every minicab drivers mainstay, Heart FM. Joining it seems “everyone” else going to “Brighton”, Toms reason for all the traffic, he is enjoying Will Smith singing about Miami “everyday like a mardi gras, everybody party all day” while all I can think about is how much difference is me rolling my sleeves up to my elbows going to make on decelerating my current rising temperature.

The giant granite pillar that signifies you've arrived in Brighton is a welcome sight. It for a moment allows me to forget that I wish I could just turn around and go home, Tom oblivious to my suffering, he’s playing some game on his phone where he's trying to get to the “iron age”, while I try and use the memories of my childhood fishing on the marina and buying records in the Lanes, to stop me drifting into a catatonic state, while at the wheel.

We leave the sun seekers heading for the pebble beaches and mini golf courses, the volume of traffic notably thinning out as we do so and still with some questionable music on, we can at least enjoy the scenery, made all the better by the fine weather as we head towards Lewes.

Now my Mum said Lewes is a “lovely little town”, it's not one that either of us have ever been to,  but my timing of informing Tom of my Mum’s opinion on this part of East Sussex was perhaps a little poor, as at that moment we were in fact passing a very large Victorian prison, however once past that, I think we can both agree with my dear mothers description.

A single white flag with the Lewes FC (LFC) crest on, featuring the nearby turret of Lewes Castle that gives them their nickname The Rooks, is the first thing that gives any real inkling we have arrived at The Dripping Pan. Turning into the car park there is already no chance of finding a spot, even with how ridiculously early we are. The few straggling players of both sides have filled the last few spots, pulling out their kit bags from the boots of their cars and heading on into the ground.

We therefore pass the flag and the dark red board with todays fixture on and follow a high stone wall, along a long thin road, opposite some white washed houses, eventually finding somewhere to park, not too far away.

Other than the few signs already mentioned, and assuming the ground is the other side of the wall, it's certainly doing a very good job at keeping whatever is on the other side, very well hidden.

Tom is on pay and display duty, he goes off in search of the machine, rummaging in his pocket for change as he does. I take the moment alone to have my final two decongestant tablets, a few last hefty glugs of what is now tepid water, open my door and step out into the world.

What am I doing, I feel like I’m literally dragging myself along, do I look as much like an extra from the Walking Dead as I feel like I do? Although it's really no distance at all to the entrance of the the ground, it feels like an eternity, and with the sun beating down on me, I’m close to tapping out.

The home of LFC is really being shown off in the best possible light, as we pass through the turnstiles, ending up at the back, of the thankfully shaded steep bank of terracing. Stretching out before us is the emerald green pitch, and the South Downs visible in the distance, accompanied by the near constant squawk of gulls. For the first time today I don't feel totaly stupid that I got out of bed this morning, but hold onto the nearby railing just to prop myself up a bit.

With the long wall running along to our left, the reason it does such a good job of keeping what's in here a secret so well, is the fact the pitch and the remainder of the stands, the largest of them looking like its been stolen from a League Two team and another uncovered terrace, primed for an early summer sun burn at the opposite end of the ground, are well, well below the level we parked at.

Descending the terrace, itself a bit irregular, Tom saying it looks like a “bus shelter” and I admit there is something very municipal about it, with its curved, translucent roof. However it doesn’t look out of place among the hodgepodge of fittings.

Next to it and perhaps most curiously of them all, where both the LFC players and their opposition East Grinstead Town FC (EGT) are congregated enjoying the fine weather, is what looks like a three storey house.

At the base of it the club bar and The Hatch, already open and ready for business, I’m sure Tom will be nosing about it very soon. On its second floor I’m told are the away dressing rooms, which are accessed by a steep slope at its side, and right at the top behind the frosted windows, three floors up is the home dressing room. I've never seen anything like it.

I need to sit down, I find a low wall to plonk myself on, out of the sun. The chatter of the nearby LFC
players is about where the chairman is taking them after gaining promotion this week. A few are mentioning “Vegas” others “Ibiza”.

“Suns out, shorts on” says one LFC coach to another, “makes a change” he replies. Having spent the last few weekends trying to find a match that had not been called off because of snow or rain, it's quite the change indeed to have thought I could have gotten away with getting my legs out today.

I imagine there will be few punters today pleased to be spending the afternoon in one of the corporate beach huts here, yes that right, one of the may quirks of the Dripping Pan are the pale white huts to one side of the “bus shelter” stand, that will at one point have their small windows at their front flung open, allowing what might just be the finest view of the whole pitch.

“It's not pie weather” says Tom, having returned from The Hatch and learning that their main staple comes with a lid and a filling. He informs me he may well be “favouring the Chuck Wagon” instead, as they not only do they do “burgers” but also, and I think this was the deal breaker “cheesy chips”.

The shade is helping, I squirrel myself away on one of the red fold down seats of the stand that would look more at home at Stevenage then at a non league club. Not far from me are a few examples of the well known LFC matchday posters, satirical takes on film posters and book covers. The music is also helping, very eclectic, very “Dad music” as Tom always calls it, to be fair Deep Purple very much fall into that category, although I’m not sure my Dad was ever listening to Rammstein.

Lou Reed going on in the way he does, brings my mood down a bit, but the Beach Boys and a spot of reggae, brings it right back up again. I figure if I don't move, I don't go in the sun, I stay absolutely still, I should be able to make it through today.

I scare myself a little when a woman with a red and black LFC scarf around her waist approaches me and asks if I “would like a raffle ticket sir?”. Whereas I would normally jump at the chance, I decline, I really need to sort myself out.

Tom fed up of sitting around next to me feeling sorry for myself, is off once more exploring, “might
have a beer today” I hear him say to himself. He returns beerless, but with good news about the now open club shop perched on top of what he is now calling the “Sussex yellow wall” that's the “bus shelter” stand to you and I.

“You’re in for a treat” he tells me, and for the first time I feel close to human. “What a mix of stuff in the shop” he exclaims. He’s a good friend Tom, he knows maybe more than most, simply down to the amount of time we spend together how to lift my spirits, and a good football club shop overflowing with tat, including “golf balls” he explains, is as good a cure as any.

It’s now or never, time to get my shit together.

Although it’s only a short climb up the steep steps of the “Sussex yellow wall” as Tom now is exclusively referring to it, I feel like I've done a trek twice as big when I get to the top, however what I find is more than enough to revitalise me.

Key rings, car flags, posters, pens, a mega mug and thermos mug, are just a small fraction of what is on offer. I thought it was going to be hard to beat the temporary tattoos at AFC Rushden & Diamonds, but the offer of an LFC dart flight, might just pip them to the post, for most obscure thing we’ve seen on sale all season. We are a little bamboozled by the fact you only get one for £3.50, the man in the cramped broom cupboard that affords him little room for him to move, such is the amount of stuff it’s overflowing with, offers us a deal for three, but we just stick with the one.

The lady selling the raffle tickets almost looks a bit shocked when I approach her, telling her this time I will be taking a couple of lines of tickets. She informs me the “prizes” will be in the “shop”, and if I “don't hear the results announced at half time” that she does “pin” them up around the ground. If I do win the “booze”, I can't have that until the “end” because of the “glass”, she says with a considerable roll of the eyes, some halfwit having dropped a bottle of “prosecco” one time, making life difficult for everyone.

It’s most definitely predominantly black and red in the crowd, there's the occasional flash of the yellow and black of the away team, The Wasps, insert summertime wasps related gag here, but it's already a “good turnout” as Tom puts it from the home fans. There is a definite buzz of anticipation here today. Some I imagine here who were unable to make it in the week when it happened at the last home game, to cheer on their newly promoted team.

A few spots on the “Sussex yellow wall” are already gone, one LFC fan in their black and red striped shirt, with a white horn around his neck, hangs his small Union Jack flag to the side of one of the goal.

The track record for good music continues, as Tom wonders when he is getting his beer. If I wasn't driving and didn't feel like death I would join him. With the sun out, good soundtrack, and the prospect of some football in a place that is rapidly growing on us both as a very fine place to enjoy your Saturday afternoon, I can't think of a better place to sink a few pints.

The referee is curiously applauded as he completes his lap of the pitch, Tom thinks the crowd are “taking the piss” and it did seem on reflection a little bit panto, maybe a bit of previous with this particular official.

Our choice of spot behind the goal in the final moments of the warm up is almost disastrous. “They
don't like you” says one person to Tom as he is almost hit three times in a row by wayward shots, although I’m pretty sure they are not aiming for him.

Perhaps it was his brief brush with almost getting hit in the face with a ball, but Tom has made an important decision, he will be getting his food today from the “Chuck Wagon”. He has convinced himself that it's only “Bovril” available at The Hatch. Which is totally contrary to the chalkboards out front that detail a whole smorgasbord of stuff on offer, but when he gets a notion into his head, there is no talking him round.

The light breeze across my face is a continued source of comfort, the same breeze flutters some of the black and red bunting that hangs in various places. I hope I’m not hallucinating when I see the very large husky pitchside, and can only hope that I’m not about to be asked to follow a native American.

It’s the very business like announcement from the club Chairman Stuart Fuller in his suit jacket and waistcoat ensemble, that snaps me out of my reverie, “welcome to the Dripping Pan”. As he reads the starting line ups out, the biggest cheer is for the LFC player about to make his “250th appearance” for the club.

Like any good Chairman should have, the nouse and know how of how to generate money, he has a trip for twenty two people to Vegas to pay for, and what better way to “celebrate the season” than with a club shirt. “Only ten left” he explains over the microphone and with “33% off” today, I don't think he expects them to be there for much longer.

I’m not sure if its the faint cry of the seller, “anyone for the raffle” she asks, but my conversation with Stuart Fuller, now having completed all his announcements, is about my fondness for a raffle and he asks me if I’ve got my “golden goal ticket”, you what?

I say no, trying to keep calm, from behind his shades he’s telling me about one person who recently managed to get both tickets of the two lines they print off and the remarkable odds of that happening, but I can only think of the missed opportunity. I ask Tom who still has an eye firmly fixed on the players taking shots, telling me someone else was nearly “decapitated” if I’ve got time to find the person selling them, he tells me I don't, like a disappointed parent.

Among all the fanfare of the players arriving, the shouts from the fans, the people clapping on top the large flag lined bank along one side of the pitch and the small singing group of EGT supporters in fancy dress, one with a very scraggly white wig, all I can think about is the very finite amount of time I have to find the person selling the golden goal tickets.

Then by chance, through a spike topped fence I see them, two people with buckets. With one arm through the fence I beckon them over, the man with the blue bucket looks concerned but still approaches. As he gets closer he can hopefully tell my intentions are good, I hand him my £2 and he allows me to pick two folded up tickets, with only seconds to spare.

Things are definitely on the up.

Seemingly the joke that will never die rears its head in the opening minutes of the match, the mass red and black migrations from one end of the ground to the other all but over, one LFC fan settling down in the stands near by us shouts “come on Harry Kane”.

Thankfully the game gets off to a blistering start, LFC looking every inch the table toppers, a suitable distraction from the woeful joke. They put together an excellent move of close control and back heels, which results in a close range shot being saved by EGT’s keeper in a very smart graduating fade, all blue kit, “ohhhhh” gasp the crowd, “come on Lewes, come on Lewes” they chant without any more Harry Kane references.

“I've got my finger on the button” says the man loitering next to me, with what looks like the detonator for a bomb from a Die Hard movie. It is in fact the remote control of the scoreboard opposite us, sensing an early goal he is poised.

One late comer to the end LFC are attacking, is suitably scalded not for taking his time to get down to the right end, but for being here in the first place. “You shouldn't be here Martin, you should be at your wife's birthday”. Martins reply is quick and to the point, and I’m not sure something his wife would want to here, “it's not a special birthday”.

“Come on Grinstead, come on Grinstead” shout who are at the moment the noisiest fans here, outnumbered, they are though the ones we can hear. The small group pushed up against the railing at the foot of the terrace are all in fancy dress. One has come as the obligatory banana, surprisingly though there is not one in a Morph suit, but there is one person as Tom describes, who has come as a “scouse”. Not dressed as pot of lamb stew but with a curly black wig and shellsuit on, Harry Enfield style.

They watch on as their team, languishing at the other end of the table to LFC, show they are not here to roll over for the champions elect. With nearly fifteen minutes gone, at least I think that's what it says on the scoreboard, I can't really see because of the sun, the visitors go close after a cross almost catches out the LFC keeper. He’s forced to flap at the highball, not clearing it very far. The ball is picked up just outside the area and the resulting shot is a low hard one, that he can't get hold of either and has to palm out.

When LFC eventually regain possession, pushing forwards, seemingly always with about four upfront, they go close themselves. Firstly when the opportunity for the spectacular arises, EGT’s keepers poor kicked clearance, that won't be his first of the day, balloons high up into the air, it falls to an LFC player who attempts a first time volley towards goal, which is just as bad as the kick away from it, and gets a suitably sarcastic “woooooo” from everyone, as it sails off into the distance.

They go much closer, not long after, with a low stinging shot of their own, almost a carbon copy of the EGT one, which is also too hot to handle and is pushed wide of the post.

Just under half an hour gone, the game having simmered, the breeze a near constant, the warmth of the sun just right, mixed with the squawk of the gulls, it really is turning into a very agreeable day.

The first of any kind of song comes from the EGT six, “oh when the grin go marching in”. They watch on as their team continues to give a good account of themselves. They have their own attempt at a long range lob, buts its a bit tame. The teammates of the player who had the effort, who were in much better positions, flap their arms by their sides in frustration.

There is a mild sense of dissatisfaction from the home fans too, considering their recent promotion and the league positions between the two sides, I think some were maybe expecting a bit more of a cake walk on the pitch. “Come on Lewes it's party time” shouts one fan, towards the players who just seem a little out of sync.

LFC have plenty of the ball, always have plenty of options going forward, but are just missing any kid of snap in the final third. When they look to score, the passing is just a little weak, one such attack results in a blocked final pass, when if the ball had been played that bit quicker surely would have resulted in a goal.

One fan raises a single hand towards the pitch, saying nothing, simply gesturing ‘come on’, showing his displeasure at what he sees before him. A single lonely voice from the terrace shouts “come on Lewes”, but there is little energy coming from the home fans either.

The announcement of an early LFC sub is deafening the speaker pointed right at us, it's like some kind of South Korean weapon of war. “Fucking hell” screams a startled Tom who I can just about hear. The player going off is less than happy, you might even say he is having a bit of a tantrum, “I can’t fucking see” he shouts as he makes his way to sit down in the half buried, almost subterranean dugouts.

LFC’s very vocal keeper has his finest moment late in the half, when organising his defence for an incoming EGT freekick. “Seize the line” is what Tom thinks he cries, “very Gladiator”. Whatever it was he said worked, EGT's set piece comes to nothing.

Much like the crowd, the LFC bench, the same bench where one person was just told off by the referee for petulantly punching the ball away, senses that perhaps the players are a little tense. The pressure of promotion and trying to secure the title, weighing on their shoulders, “relax” shouts one coach towards the players.

“Have to leave soon” says Tom, “queues getting long” he adds, pointing to the Chuck Wagon up on the hill. Soon I'm alone, but that's fine, I can enjoy the euphoria of the giant sinus clearing sneeze I just did all by myself.

The impatience is growing, “oh come on” gripe a few fans, as LFC persist with giving the ball away. The first real home chant of “come on Lewes” doesn't last for long and when EGT go close and LFC look to counterattack, it breaks down once more, and the noises of anticipation, turn into groans.

Again there are attempts at a song, “oh when the Rooks” but like the players on the pitch it just there just feels like somethings missing.

LFC go the closest they have all half to getting the goal, one fan nearby keeps asking them to get, when they hit the post of the EGT goal with what turns out to be the very last kick of the game. The referee blowing his whistle with the ball still making its way back off the woodwork.

Back on the pitch, Stuart Fuller introduces some members of the “legendary” LFC team of the “late
70’s early 80’s”. I get chatting to a very sad Bognor Regis fan, whose team are losing “same old Bognor” he says about his team currently at the bottom of the National League South.

His evaluation of the game is pretty spot on. EGT have had far more “control in midfield” but have “nothing upfront” a tad toothless you might say. This could have something to do with their “star striker” as one person described him to me earlier, having left EGT about six weeks ago to join LFC.

As much as I enjoyed the theme tune from Bullseye accompanying the results of the raffle being read out, I learn that I’m not winner, and neither is the sad Bognor fan.

In what seemed like record time, getting all the way to the Chuck Wagon up the hill at the opposite end of the ground and back again, Tom has returned from his food run a very happy boy. “Now this is a gourmet burger” he says opening the white cardboard box, to reveal a gleaming “brioche bun” like a meaty filled Faberge egg. Only a few bites into it, and he’s already singing its praises, “if you’re ever going to have a burger, have one here, better than that shit at Walton” he says. Last time outs food was a memorable experience for all the wrong reasons.

All finished, and through the noise of some halftime 80’s pop, Tom declares he “could do that again” and that the burger he just demolished rivals the one he had at Rushden & Diamonds which he declared was the “best football burger ever”. Today's choice he also admits was the “healthy” option, because it had “salad in”.

EGT fans have quickly swapped ends, and now occupy a small section at the very back of the uncovered terrace. Rollicking in the sun, except for the one with a bucket with a face on it on his head, they spend most of the break chanting among themselves. When the teams reappear, the now ram packed “Sussex yellow wall”, now justifying in some very small way Tom’s renaming of it, they start to sing, “come on Lewes, come on Lewes”. The away fans reply with the same chant with an obvious change, “come on Grinstead, come on Grinstead” following up with the staple away day song, for any group of fans visiting a ground that’s a little quiet, “we forget that you were here”.

“Come on boys” shouts a person on the LFC bench, and that's just what they do, because two minutes later they are in front.

If ever a goalscorer could look embarrassed, I would say that's just what the LFC scorer looks like. The cross from out wide is misjudged by the keeper who is forced to frantically back peddle, reaching desperately to try and get something on it, he does, but only enough to drop it on to the lap of the jumping number 9 at the back post, who really knows nothing about it, but it's already over the line before he can react.

There is a brief claim for a handball from the EGT players, the keeper in particular looking at the referee imploringly, desperate for him to give it, to let him off the hook, but he doesn't and the LFC players can continue their celebration in the back of the goal.

“Lewes, Lewes, Lewes” sing the fans, this gets a quick retort from the EGT supporters, “we forgot that you were here” before pointing out that it seems they “only sing when” they’re “winning”. Once I’ve eventually managed to open both my golden goal tickets, I realise my through the fence dealings were a waste of time, and I've not won that either.

EGT’s “very casual” manager as Tom calls him, casual in appearance he’s got the whole skinny jeans and deck shoes thing go on, not necessarily in management style, asks his team to “liven up”. Despite conceding the EGT fans still sing, “come on you Wasps, come on you Wasps” but ever since the goal, their teams heads have dropped a little, and LFC are really growing into the game.

The home side are still guilty of plenty of loose passing, but certainly look far more assured then they did in the first half. A goal bound shot of theirs is deflected wide, and the resulting corner is a really good one “ohhhhhh” shriek the bumper crowd behind the goal. Summing up their general performance though, the follow up ball, the one back into the box is dire and the grumbling starts again.

If they can't enjoy the game, the EGT fans are certainly making the most of their half in the sun, still just as lively as they were before conceding. Their team has a shout for a penalty declined, then they almost concede a carbon copy of the first goal, instead this time the keeper can't get a hand to the ball and it strikes the upright, fortunately for him bouncing out instead of in.

The fervour on the home terrace is slowly building “that is why we love you, we love you, we love you” they sing.

Even though I can't taste anything, I accept the “wine gum” Tom offers me. The optimistic shout of “we're gonna score in a minute” from the EGT fans is wishful thinking to say the least, they break well at times, on one occasion they a race up field after a LFC corner, but have no focal point upfront, no presence in front of goal at all.

“Looks a bit like Owen Hargreaves” says Tom about the LFC number 12 who just supplied a most excellent through ball, that looks like we might be on for a second, unfortunately the quality of the finish, doesn't match the assist, and again someone in the crowd looks close to losing their head.

As nice a day it is, their team may well be ahead, but the fans seemingly expect more, lots of grumbling once more. There is a muted attempt at “we are going up” but it’s a bit flat. Tom thinks the players are “worrying too much” about their “holiday”, not focused on the game, maybe it’s a case of thinking today was an “easy game” considering where EGT find themselves at the bottom of the league.

“Need another Lewes” suggests one fan. A slight tinge of apprehension in his voice maybe. EGT look like a team that could certainly get a goal, if they just had someone who looked liked they could score one.

With just over a quarter of an hour left, LFC show their Jekyll and Hyde tendencies. They craft a great chance, which results in a close range shot that is beaten out, “come on Lewes, come on Lewes” sing the fans. Sadly for them the corner that follows, well frankly it's shit.

The wait for another LFC goal is not long, it's certainly not long for the player who comes off the bench and with his “first touch” as the man over the PA says gleefully, he gets the all important second. Arms outstretched by his side, he runs towards the fans to celebrate. One supporter rushes the fence to give him an almighty bear hug. Such is the slightly bizarre salmon like action of the goal scorer, hey whatever works, he got on the other end of the cross, someone on the home bench sees it fit to mimic him.

“We are going up, we are going up” sing the LFC fans, which is followed by the single blast of a horn.

LFC are ramping it up, for the final ten minutes and they have EGT pinned back. An excellent one handed save from the EGT keeper, who even though he has conceded two, might be their man of the match, manages somehow to get a hand to a flicked header and keeps it out.

The sound of the horn is becoming all the more frequent, and so are the songs from the terraces “you are my Lewes, my only Lewes”. LFC are now showboating a little, doing all sorts of unnecessary flicks. Single handedly the EGT keeper is stopping them from getting a third, another snapshot is well saved, and he is getting some praise from the home fans, “he's’ a good keeper, a good shot stopper”.

“About three minutes” replies the referee, when asked how long is left. Just about enough time for Stuart Fuller with the microphone to inform us that there are “659 at the Pan” this afternoon and that the Owen Hargreaves look a like got the “man of the match” award.

Into the dying minutes and players from both sides are simply going through the motions, the crowd are thanked for their “attendance” and break out into one last rendition of “we are going up” just before the final whistle.

The last thing I expected following a home win and their second win in a week, was some abuse aimed at the LFC manager from the crowd, some football fans can be very fickle. “Daddy peanut head” shouts a small child towards him, very sad to see. A stadium ban surely will be the only course of action.

Both sets of fans are applauded by their respective teams, “Lewes, Lewes, Lewes” sing those still filling the terrace as the players approach. Just as loud the EGT supporters give their players one last song, before they make the long walk off, “we love you Grinstead we do” all to the tune of the theme from 'The good, the bad and the ugly".

Where to start with today, how do I explain why today, well why today might just be one of the best ones yet, despite me feeling like death, wanting to cry, wishing I had never left the house, how despite all of that, our afternoon at The Dripping Pan or Pan Siro as it is sometimes called, with its "funny pitch" as Tom called it, that at one point such is the unevenness, the corner flag is above the goal, joins that short list of clubs that have really made a permanent impression on us.

I'm not sure I can put my finger on precisely why it was so enjoyable. Was it the mechano floodlights, the fact the lady selling me the raffle tickets asked if I had won, and when I told her I hadn't she "thanked me for taking part", was it the large willow tree behind the "bus shelter" stand, or the fact they played one of my favourite songs of all time 'It Was a Very Good Year' by Frank Sinatra as we left, was it the fact they had a scoreboard, something so many grounds miss, was it the glorious red and black stripes of the LFC kit or was is the announcement about halfway through the second half for the people who purchased the single dart flight to go and collect the other two, and the apologies from the man in the shop, for the mistake he made.

Actually I think its because its all of those things, and many more, many more. LFC is almost the complete package. There are so many things to admire about it and I'm sure we will be back, just when I'm feeling a bit better.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE 

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Wednesday 18 April 2018

No Brioche Bun As Advertised - Walton Casuals FC Vs Corinthian Casuals FC, Bostik League South, Elmbridge Sports Hub (02/04/18)

Considering the amount of rugby clubs we pass, it would almost be a shock to find a football club among them. I never knew south London was so fond of egg chasing, but you don't seem to be able to move for a London Welsh or Irish and of course Twickenham or HQ to those rugby types amongst you.

Normally bank holidays are reserved exclusively for watching films with Richard Todd in. Looking out of the window at the rain, all tucked up and warm on the sofa, I question why shortly I’ll be heading outside to mess around in it. Our intended game has like so many others have fallen foul of the weather, pitch inspection failed, washout, ducks on pitches and other such things fill my Twitter timeline.

Having anticipated some such weather related disappointment, I had already set about finding an alternative, one with the kind of playing surface that winds up what you might call the purists out there to the enth degree, but to us has been invaluable, meaning we've been able to get to two games over this soggy elongated workless weekend.

Not long over the river, a very high and swollen river, we’re officially in bandit country, south London, in fact that couldn't be further from the truth, it's lovely. We seem to be driving along the high red brick wall of Kew Gardens forever. The monotony of the never ending border to Kew, is broken up by a tea room Tom points out, that a visit to he tells me is like “stepping back 100 years”.

Not that Tom has much time for contemplating time travel, he is on a near constant weather watch, he's already informed me he's got his “poncho”, the poncho he knows how much I “love” he tells me. If walking around with a bloke in a snood wasn't bad enough, there is a chance today I’ll be standing next to a guy who thinks he looks like a rugged Vietnam war type, but looks more like someone at Disney World, not wanting to get wet on the log flume.

According to Tom the very inconsequential rain should have stopped by now, and he is getting agitated, accusing the app on his phone of “lying” to him.

We are so early, so absurdly early, I think I could have had a good fourty minutes extra in bed this morning, Google maps grip on reality, or lack of it, is really starting to piss me off. Thankfully we find solace at the end of a narrow single file lane that the small brown signs with a crossed knife and fork have pointed us towards.

A pub, where even when you are inside, you can hear the fast running river just a few feet from the front door. It’s almost like white water, any minute now I expect to see Meryl Streep flying down it, pursued by Kevin Bacon.

Almost everyone is getting their bank holiday drink on, we refrain, and I end up with a coffee in a tall slender glass with a very nice biscuit balanced on the saucer. I lose count of the amount of soggy dog walkers coming in, in the short time we are there. Toms order of chips is nowhere to be seen, the pubs till system has gone into a Y2K type meltdown, and his order was lost, so he collects his refund and we head back outside, where Tom reminds me again, “it's still raining”.

“Yeah let's go to football on bank holiday Monday” mutters Tom to himself, I think he’s impersonating me, I’m not sure if he knows I can hear him.

The rain has only got heavier since leaving the pub and making the short drive to the ground, plonked on the edge of a vast barren car park. Half of the complex and main stand an athletics club, one of a few things to send a guaranteed shiver down a football fans spine, a running track, the other side of the dual purpose set up, the football pitch.

Still a little bit early, but almost past looking totally crazy, we kill the final ten minutes in the car, Tom quietly shopping for blinds on his phone, his partner having sent him the ones she likes, and he is giving his sartorial opinion.

“Glad I packed my poncho” he says as I open my door, the rain having not got any better, and he wants to make sure I’m aware at just how displeased he is at the fact he is going to have to wander about in it for the next few hours.

Because the home team Walton Casuals FC (WC) share their ground, there is a certain amount of personalising that has to take place on match day. As we arrive at the small metal green shed turnstiles, one man puts out all the vivid orange signage, each adorned with a bright white stags head, from the club's badge.

“Nice and swanky” says Tom, once we’re in. Not even a year old, Elmbridge Sports Hub still smells a bit of new paint, there is not a hair out of place, there is also not an abundance of character. The down side of a brand new ground with a 3G pitch that means you are almost guaranteed a match, except for maybe a meteor strike, means it all just feels very prefab.

It’s the crumbling stands and frayed edges that I think people yearn for more and more, in this age of almost sanitised football.

Tom is interrupted from telling me he likes the “wooden panels” that surrounds the ground on three sides, maybe he can take some inspiration for his own decor in his new house, by the loud “testing, testing” from the grounds PA.

A brief encounter with the WC manager, Anthony Gayle, gives us an insight into what some might imagine is an unthinkable working scenario: having your Dad as your boss!

Anthony's Dad though is as “good as gold”, and considering his dad's wealth of football experience, former Fulham and West Ham player and now Sky Sports News regular Tony Gayle, it would be “crazy” not to “pick his brains”.

He admits the “last two years” have been a “massive learning curve”, he explains that both him and his deputy are “very much coaches” with no managerial experience, but thinks they have “surprised the board” with how well they have done and with such a “young team”.

We are not the only ones bedazzled by the facilities, one coach of the visiting side Corinthian Casuals
FC (CC) is somewhat in awe of the size of the away dressing room, “nice to be able to fit a whole team in”, his jaw almost on the other floor, he reiterates again to the group around him that there is “so much space”. They’re like a holiday party, who've just turned up at the villa they booked, and it's so much nicer than the pictures.

It's a bit windy sitting in the blue fold down chairs of the main stand, Tom doesn't hang about for long, “I’m going to go and have a look for food” he tells me, like some great explorer. His expedition is short lived, he returns a little forlorn, the man in the small burgundy trailer at the foot of the stand is still “chopping onions” so he’ll “go back in a bit”. One thing he was able to glean from the self proclaimed “gourmet burger” stand, that it's also got a “gourmet price tag”.

In the light misty rain, WC’s manager with his notepad in hand is talking to small groups of his players, who in shorts and flip flops I’m sure are wondering why we couldn't have done this inside, giving them instructions for the game ahead.

The expression I’ve heard a few times today is “big game”, it's fifth Vs sixth, so there is no taking any chances.

There are a few bits of pink and brown, CC’s club colours starting to appear among the steadily increasing crowd, but not really enough yet to compete with the garish WC orange, think Holland 1974, that is still dominant.

Toms second attempt at a “food run”, at least results in something to eat this time, but also plenty of moaning.

“No brioche bun, as advertised” are his first words, sitting down one chair space away from me, with a frankly quite pathetic looking anaemic bun full of huge chunks of “raw onion”. Things though only get worse, his chips are “raw”, the fact he was “let off £3” because the “till wouldn't open” is of little to no consolation, the food is frankly well below par.

Tom is not the only one disgruntled with the refreshments, one person, I’m guessing a CC supporter is appalled to put it mildly at the price of a hot drink. “£1.80 cup of tea must be having a fucking laugh, rich bastards round here” he says loudly, marching up the steps of the stand, swinging a Tescos carrier bag.

“Want a raffle ticket” says the elderly man in his WC woolly hat, “draw at half time” he tells me. I also bag myself a programme while I'm at it, but the still falling rain means I’m very, very quick to get into the safety of my bag. The usual rush that normally follows getting my raffle of 50/50 tickets is missing today, maybe I’ve become immune, maybe I need to move onto harder stuff, like the Lottery.

It’s so quiet here, almost spookily so, none of the hustle and bustle of suburban life that normally accompanies a match. No sound of a dual carriageway or landing planes, just peace and quiet and the occasional twittering bird, and its making me feel a bit uneasy. Tom is still staring at his phone, still refreshing his weather app, I ask him what it's telling him, “rain” he barks.

We’ve taken up a new spot at the back of the stand where the seats have armrests and cup holders, not like the “cheap seats” we were in before Tom sneers, as the players appear, WC out well before CC.

With more and more people arriving, I hear more and more just how crucial a win for either team is today, one CC fan going as far as calling it “massive” a game they “can't afford to lose”. One newly arrived away supporter, I’m sure has seen it all before, and is blessed with a bit more perspective than others. In his green flat cap, he hands over a large bag of food to the CC keeper, who duly expects them from the man who is “92 today” according to the person with him, who explains he “always looks after the players”.

The CC keeper returning from putting the hefty bag of swag in the changing room, thanks the man again and wishes him a “happy birthday”.

By the time the fuzzy voice over the PA is reading out the teams, so distorted that I’ve no idea what he is saying, things are looking a little more even in the stands, the pink and brown, almost equalling the orange.

On the pitch the CC team are going through a warm up routine involving a very large rubber band around their ankles. WC’s team are going through a slightly more orthodox one, although Tom is liking the “back four training”. The defence on their own away from the main group are going through their very own drills. Anthony looking on, still looks very “smart” according to Tom, despite the rain. His shirt and what look like a knitted tie still looking pristine, however I'm sure he's soaked through.

As the players start to walk off, he has a word with most if not all of his team individually, nothing too drawn out, just a quick word in their ear. He is also as Tom points out an “arse slapper” which can only make me think of a certain episode of Friends.

The noise that greets CC as they come off you could be excused for thinking they were the home team. Disappearing down the half extended white tunnel there are plenty of cheers and lots of clapping, “come on boys”. There is even a brief song, the first of many from the CC supporters who prove to be a bit of a saving grace by the end of the day, “Casuals, Casuals”.

“We’re pink, we’re brown, we’re coming to your town” sing the CC fans erecting their multitude of flags in the rain without a care in the world that they’re going to get drenched. The halves for the first half having been decided. The stand is packed, it's hard to see an empty seat, but the real die hards are standing behind the goal.

The first chance of the match is to the home side, their player firing a shot right into the midriff of the CC keeper who seems to be “winded” by the attempt according to Tom. Anthony, like the CC fans won't let a little bit of precipitation stop them, still on the sidelines, giving out instructions, and somehow still managing to look dapper.

Even though we are in the stand, the rain still finds us, the wind blowing inwards, I can hear it rattling on the side of my raised hood. The sun is doing its best to break through, but has a lot of clouds to contend with. At least the game is eventful so far, even if the weather is shocking, CC drag a shot wide, that gets another song “makes me happy, makes me feel this way”. The visitors then have a big shout for a penalty turned down. The two home fans behind us are split over was it or wasn’t it?

“Could've given it” says one, “he fell over” replies the other.

What looks like another routine save for the the CC keeper results in a long stoppage. The forceful shot again into his midriff looks relatively everyday, but he is soon writhing around on the floor, his arm waving in the air signalling to the bench there is a problem, while the other hand clutches his ankle.

He looks “wobbly” says Tom as he is helped off, as he gets closer it is clear he is crying. The CC fans make sure to do their bit, softening the blow of the injury the best they can, “there’s only one Danny Bracken”.

His replacement, well is certainly a lot shorter. In fact he doesn't look much like a keeper at all, Tom suspects, that he may even be an “outfield player”. His unfamiliarity to the role is soon apparent, confirming Toms suspicions when with just over twenty minutes gone, as Tom puts it he didn't know whether to “come or go”. Caught in no man's land, the WC player scoops the ball over him Karel Paborsky style, fortunately for the stand in its just wide, but Tom doesn't think he looks “very confident”.

In number 15 CC have a proper burly forward, I don't mean he's in bad shape, but a proper focal point up front. “Big Head” or at least I think that's what his teammates are calling him is proving to be quite the handful at times with his long shaggy curly hair. He's not averse to a shoulder flick of pass with his chest. He controls one ball up to him with the top of his torso so well, it initiates a promising attack.

Tom almost gags at the sight of one robust tackle, a bit of a cruncher. The sight of the two players
clattering into each other only seems to excite the CC fans who break out into song "Corinthians, Casuals, Casuals".

“Stop whinging” shouts a home supporter, after CC make another claim for a penalty.

Despite WC “moving the ball well” as Tom puts it, more concerning is their propensity to “overplay” at times, an admission of their own manager. Clearly under instructions to play out from the back, on a couple of occasions it ends up causing them problems. Dwelling on the ball in the box, CC force the home team back and force them into giving the ball away in a dangerous position, Big Head nearly capitalising, but not quite.

Whereas the new CC keeper has yet to really be “tested” as Tom points out he seems to have certainly settled in to the role. WC’s keeper is very “commanding” as Tom puts, “not like Hugo” a sly dig at Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris after his recent gaff against Chelsea. He will move heaven and earth to win the ball, at one corner wiping out his own teammates, to ensure he claims the cross.

CC’s man in goal eventually has a shot to deal with, he spills the initial effort, but is sprightly enough to gather the loose ball. Perhaps where the number one would have organised the area, the stand in lacking that presence means WC are able to take a short corner into the box unabated, the first time shot fired high and over.

Except for the odd shout from the home fans “come on Casuals” which frankly is just a bit confusing, its very quiet here. The group of CC fans the “pink and brown army” behind the goal though have kept up a near constant rumble since kick off, belting out one song or another. A bit slurry at times, Tom thinks they frankly sound “pissed”. They are fully embracing the spirit of the extra long weekend, there is the faint smell of skunk in the air and Tom is sure, although not 100% certain that one of them has just taken a piss in a pint glass, the short walk to the loo, too much of an inconvenience.

Very much hoping that CC would be playing in their distinct home shirt of chocolate and pink, Tom is somewhat appalled at the “ horrible combo” thinking that such a mix doesn't “deserve to be on a kit” bit harsh.

The “curse of the captains” as Tom calls it strikes again, the physio only just back out after dealing with the keeper and making her way around the pitch, is suddenly called on again, and cuts short her circumnavigation of the pitch to dash across it, to deal with her latest patient.

“Fuck off” shouts one CC fan, towards the appealing WC players at the other end of the pitch. Their own shout for a penalty is turned down, the referee signalling it hit the player on the lines chest and not his arm.

There are a hatful of opportunities to score for each team in the final minutes of the half. Big Head shows his commitment by quite literally putting his big head on the line, blocking a clearance in an attempt to win back the ball. WC are guilty once again of “fucking over playing it” as Tom puts it, but luckily for them when they give the ball away in their own area, it comes to nothing. CC’s debutante keeper is rounded after rushing off his line, but he manages to force the forward wide, and his eventual ball into the box is hoofed clear, much to the delight of the cheering away fans.

The final chances of the half fall to the visitor's, Big Head has a speculative long range shot and then WC are “at it again” sighs Tom, this time they give the ball away just outside their box, allowing the CC attacker to turn and get his shot off, but again, surely having used up all of their nine lives, it's straight at the keeper.

In an unusual twist in how these kind of things are normally conducted, a wooden tombola, the kind of which you last saw at your Schools Summer fair, is carried down to pitchside, and a man without a microphone informs the crowd of the impending draw. The draw may I add being done by a couple of celebrities, the twins from The Shining. In matching pink jackets and red bows in their hair, they pull three lots of tickets from the dark wooden drum, each time the caller yells the numbers, each time I'm unsuccessful.

Barely audible, the caller informs whoever the “lucky winner” is to head to the boardroom to collect their prize.

Toms hope of half time “tea and cakes”, is short lived, he returns with just tea, grumbling at the fact they didn't have sugar, only “sweetener”. With kick off of the second half imminent, the CC fans have already managed to take down and erect their sizable collection of flags, one of which is the state flag of California, at the opposite end of the ground. “Why the fuck they got that?” asks a confused Tom.

CC’s keeper is out well before his teammates, emerging from the end of the extraordinarily long white tunnel with a fellow player, to go through a quick warm up in goal. Once again there are shouts of “come on Casuals” from the stands as both teams surface, and once again I’ve no idea what Casual they are willing to come on.

The wind has most definitely picked up for the second half, we've changed ends with the CC fans, who are soon back at it, “Woke up this morning, got Corinthian Casuals on my mind”. Tom though has a far greater concern than the weather now, the fact that one passing fan has got a “brioche bun”.

Perhaps thanks to the wind, a WC free kick well out wide, ends up hitting the crossbar, and sends a few hearts racing, they are not the only ones. A forceful clearance just after heads straight into the stand, at quite a rate, “not into the posh seats” gasps Tom.

I’m really starting to develop quite a liking for Big Head, who I have now re branded ‘The Bostik League Zlatan’ because of his love of a shoulder flick. He has a much better work rate than the Swede, he has not stopped. He looks like CC’s best chance of a goal, with twenty minutes gone, he puts a shot just wide. The type of which are getting few and far between, each team so conscious not to concede, it’s stifling the game a bit.

Again a downed player stops play and halts the games floundering momentum, “another fucking injury” as Tom crudely points, but when he realises who it is, shows genuine concern, “oh no, Hector is down”.

Surprised by Tom's knowledge of the player being treated, he normally does not know the name of the club we’re going to see until we are parking outside of it, I ask him “Hector who?”. “Hector Bellerin” he replies, oh I see the guy has long hair and looks a bit like the Spanish Gooner, I see what you did there.

Big Head or Zlatan takes the pause to rally his teammates “come on boys”.

It really is a pleasure to be in the presence of a group of fans with a “nice range of songs” as Tom puts it, so many we see, if they sing at all, have a very limited song book. One fan whirls his scarf above his head, while they start a new one “ally o ally o” they even I think have a song in a different language, Portuguese. A reference to their connection to Corinthians in São Paulo, which is also visible on some of their flags, the biggest of which reads "Torcida Seething".

Thirty minutes gone, a home breakaway results in their player being “cynically” chopped down as Tom puts it. The resulting yellow card is jeered by the CC fans, but it's all a bit panto, I’m sure they know it was warranted. The free kick that follows was correctly described as “wired” by Tom. Some might say the attempted shot from about thirty yards out was ‘audacious’, some might say ‘shit’, the flat and low trajectory on the ball never looking like it was going to trouble anyone, as it sailed wide.

WC’s continued insistence to play out from the back, once causes them grief, but surely with no lives left now, they can’t get away with it again. At the other end they have perhaps the most clear cut chance of the half, only for the foot of the CC keeper stopping a certain goal, “that was a save bruv” says one CC supporter.

If anyone is going to score at the moment it looks like WC, however Big Head is still grinding away up front, every hoof to him he wins in the air without fail. It's not him, but a teammate who has their best chance of the half, its one a piece now. Cutting in off the right wing he sends a low curling shot goalwards, that the long slender WC keeper gets down to quickly and pushes wide.

“Come on Casuals, come on Casuals” shout the CC fans.

“What a turn” I shout as the WC player almost pirouettes on the edge of the box, unleashing a vicious shot. “What a save” replies Tom just as loud, the deputy keeper having a day to remember. The somewhat confusing chant of “come on Casuals” rings out again, this time though it's definitely the home fans.

“Boys keep working” demands one WC player, another who stands in front of us to take a throw in, smells amazing. We both turn to each other having inhaled his scent, Tom wondering if he has “got a little splash on?”.

The late deluge of chances only continues. Charging through the defence the WC forward is in pole position to guarantee himself the glory, but puts it wide, how?. They are offered another chance, another quick counter attack, another shot again just wide. For a split second it looked like it had top corner written all over it.

“That was it!” cries Tom, that was the winner it had to be, WC might just end up kicking themselves. Another one on one this time it's not wide, but hits the post, rebounding into the grateful arms of the CC keeper. The CC fans celebrate like they just got the winner, and stop humming the Birdie Song, “People gonna think they scored” says Tom.

CC’s supporters keep their best, loudest and longest rendition of “Casuals on my mind” for right at the end. With one rendition complete, one supporter prepares them to go again, “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8” and off they go, the one fan still whirring his scarf continually above this head.

With what can only be seconds left, CC appeal for a foul about two foot outside of the D, there isn't even enough time to complain, the downed player halfway into his knees when the referee blows for full time. “Ref” shouts one player aghast, who can't believe he didn't give it.

A few WC players fall to their back, the exhaustion of their efforts, clear across their faces. CC's supporters let the man in charge know just what they think of him,"the referees a wanker".

While the WC team are deep in debrief with Anthony at the centre of the tight huddle, the CC players walk the line of outstretched hands from their fans, ready to pile on the admiration for their industry. Most touching is the big hug reserved for the keeper, who I later learn is a forward, which really puts in to perspective what an amazing job he did and explains the feeling among the fans that today was a well earned point rather than two points dropped.

With so much at stake on the pitch, the game except in very fleeting moments and of course Big Head, much like the weather was a bit of a damp squib. What saved the day though, what justified not being indoors watching The Longest Day, getting soggy and for Tom at least getting very oniony breath, were the CC fans.

We have said it time and time again, we don't think there is a right way to support your team or a wrong way, you do what suits you, but if every match we went to had the kind of supporters CC are, loud, colourful and expressive, with flags and songs, well that would just be perfect, because too many clubs we go to the fans are quiet and dare I say a bit to serious, because if you can't get excited and animated about your team, then why even bother going?


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Wednesday 11 April 2018

Tottenham's Mbappé - Haringey Borough FC Vs Mildenhall Town FC, Bostik League North, Coles Park (31/03/18)

It’s not that I dislike driving to all corners of the UK to watch football, the back foot well of my car becoming a squalid dumping ground for coffee cups, and Tom's rubbish that he never takes home with him, but once in a while, it's nice to go to a match a little closer to home.

As it always seems most games we go to are in Essex, admittedly that's hardly far away, however its much closer to Tom’s new East London pad, than to mine in North London, so it is somewhat of a novelty to be going to a game where it will only takes me about fifteen minutes to get there.

A place I might just take a bet from you that I could get there blindfolded. A place that requires me to partly trace some of the well trodden path to my first football love Spurs.

With me not picking Tom up from home, it means relying on his ability to get up, get to the station and catch a train. Going by the message that's just appeared on my phone, he’s managed the first two, but has fallen at the final hurdle, “sorry running late, missed my train”.

The very thoughtful message that follows “go get a coffee”, is making the presumption I’m close to some cafe lined Parisian boulevard, where I can find a table on the pavement, snap my fingers, shout garcon, light a Gauloises and have a quick cappuccino.

I admit he may not know this particular part of North London all that well, but the retail park just off Green Lanes, is not the most cosmopolitan.

Out of pure laziness, I opt for McDonalds. The fact I don't have to get out my car to order, receive and then drink my coffee, is a big plus for me, so I do just that, but not before the car in front is handed what must be at least five or six happy meals, and its really not that big of a car.

The coffee is not awful, it's hot and mildly stimulating. Only a day into the Easter holidays and I’m already a bit frazzled, the combo of my eleven year old son and nine month old daughter has already taken its toll. Although she didn't say it, I’m sure my fiancee’s eyes were screaming ‘stay’ as I bid them a farewell.

Eventually Tom arrives, I’ve not had to wait long. The hood of his coat firmly pulled up and over his head, to keep out the rain, he's almost retreated completely into the back of it like a turtle. The very rain that put the kibosh on our intended game today, instead we’re heading somewhere where the magic of 3G, means come hell or high water, you are always guaranteed a match.

“Not sure I can eat today” says Tom. I query why, and instead of telling me, he opens his mouth, and shows me. There is a large gap on the bottom row, where a tooth should be. An “abcess” he tells me, in fact he has “two”. A visit to the dentist a few days before, resulted in the quick extraction and a dose of antibiotics.

More troubling though, was not the decaying root still in his jaw that requires a visit to hospital to remove or the pain of the infection, but the fact he will only be able to eat “something small” today, he doesn't think with the state his mouth is in, he’ll be able to fit a “massive burger in it”.

It’s almost one continuous road from the station to Coles Park, the home of Haringey Borough FC (HB). Their home on White Hart Lane, is just over a mile from White Hart Lane, that actually isn't even on White Hart Lane, and once the new stadium is built and the naming rights sold off, it's unlikely to be called White Hart Lane anymore.

“Have you tricked me?” asks Tom, as he spots the old brown sign pointing to the aforementioned currently being remodelled home of Spurs.

We catch the tail end of the well known and well frequented car boot sale, that takes place every Saturday morning at Coles Park. A few people are still stashing away their wares in the large beige shipping containers, that almost circle the entire car park.

I’ll be honest, Coles Park is never going to win any awards for aesthetics. Nestling between an allotment, some houses and a builders merchants. The simple yellow and green rectangular stand with the changing rooms at its base and a small, single storey clubhouse adjacent to it, is all there is. It’s not one of those grounds that is ever going to end up in a glossy coffe table book, but as I learnt from a few visits here before, without Tom, in the early days of our search, it’s what is below the surface that makes it stand out.

Tom at the moment could not give a flying fuck about my love affair with what might be my most local of non league clubs, he is far more concerned with the weather. Mentally preparing himself as he gets out of the car, he is satisfied, that it is at least, “dry for now”.

Having not really had any need to come to this part of the borough we grew up in, he headed to Islington for his football fix, I think he is a little disorientated. When he spots in the distance, high up on its hill, I think he takes some comfort, and is able to get his bearings a little, when I answer yes to his question, “is that Ally Pally?”.

Inside the clubhouse, the afternoon kickoff is playing on a small screen. Above the bar hangs a White Hart Lane N17 road sign, and so it should. Below the TV is a small stage, on that sits slightly incongruously and overly ornate what I can only describe as a thrown, behind a table covered in different sized tatty cardboard boxes filled with old programmes for sale.

Perhaps the throne is for the unmistakable figure of Aki HB's chairman, in his blue and yellow club scarf. Always positive and friendly, he seems especially so today.

The team he says are well prepared for the “final push” towards securing a play off place. As he puts it, they have strengthened “at the right time” with the signing of “two new players”. It really has been a “great season” so far for HB he tells us, especially in the cups. They had a super run in the FA Cup and welcomed Leyton Orient here in the FA Trophy, which he describes as the “best day ever”. A shot at the play offs, really would be the icing on the cake.

When Aki moves on, it's certainly a lot less lively in the clubhouse. Only the noise of the commentary coming from the TV and that being made by the boy in the corner
with a mop of curly brown hair and large blue headphones on.

“Judging by the button bashing” says Tom, assessing the situation, he reckons the young man is “gaming” and is desperate to know like me “what's he playing?”.

In shorts and flip flops the occasional player will make the short walk across the gravelly car park to join the HB manager, to stand and watch the match on the TV for a couple of minutes. One woman, returning from a tea run, is super excited, “the sun's coming out” she says to her partner, as its rays flood the room. Tom is just hopeful that it “stays out”.

The other side of the wooden shed housing the blue turnstiles, where George, another familer face at HB, he tells me they don't do a raffle, but reckons “they should” it would be “exciting”, a few Spurs banners are hanging around the pitch, and Tom is less than impressed, “fingers everywhere” he sneers.

Standing pitchside I quite by mistake, instigate a squabble between Aki and HB's manager Tom, who has been here for “ten seasons” and tells me he thinks he is the “third” longest standing manager in the football pyramid currently , after “Wenger, Folkestone Invicta, then me”.

The disagreement is over HB’s club record twenty three game unbeaten run. Tom wonders why everyone is always going on about “(Manchester) City and Grays” when it is they who should be getting all the accolades. Aki tries to explain that it's because theirs is across two seasons, but Tom's not buying it. 

Our conversation soon turns nostalgic, as we talk about the last but one time I was here, the day they won the Essex Senior League, “had tears in my eyes” says Aki, all the memories and emotion of the day, visible all over his face.

However talk is quickly back to the present and getting three points. Aki reckons they will “do well today”. Tom saying they “need a good win” against Mildenhall Town FC (MT). With their “two new strikers” Aki adds, who have been “banging them in” they have bolstered their already considerable firepower, and in his eyes they are now bristling with “four top” forwards.

He just hopes this afternoon unlike “last weekend” that they don't go three goals ahead, and then “collapse”, the game eventually ending up in a 3 -3 draw.

The music over the PA mingles with the noise of the players, and the ever present W3 buses, that thunder along White Hart Lane, just the other side of the fence. Wandering around I lay my eyes on one of the finest examples of a football sticker/ultra stickers I've come across in my three years searching them out.

A simple and stylised design, a few flashes of the clubs colours, yellow and blue and dead centre, the very TV mast at Alexandra Palace that Tom noticed before. It really is a stunner.

“Got to win the next two games” says Liam, our very own HB troll, a friendly troll mind, who has been trying to get us to a game here for a while. The “top three” of the Bostik League North is “nailed down” already he thinks, so six points from their next two games are crucial. As long as HB do that, then it will just be a case of waiting to “see what the fuck happens”.

Better dressed than your average football fan in his magenta shirt and grey wool jacket, with a very fetching and understated green HB badge pinned on his lapel, it is not long before he is singing Aki’s praises. Making the point, and one that had not passed me by, that its “changed a lot” here since our last visit, as he puts it, and I don't think I could put it better myself, “Aki has done a great job”.

There is not a lot of room in the narrow enclosed tunnel protruding from the base of the stand. From the front of the viewing gallery on the first floor someone has hung what by the looks of it is a hand stitched blue flag with yellow lettering that reads "come on boro". Lots of the green seats are full, and in its back left hand corner, a small group of by far the loudest home fans are standing.

“Come on Borough” shouts the loudest of the loud group. I'm pretty sure it's his gruff voice that follows the name of every home player as they are being read out over the PA with a “wey”. A PA that had only just come to life following a crackle, a tap, tap to see if its on, and a mild mannered “welcome to Coles Park”.

As the players walk out, amongst all the noise of the fans and the PA, HB's keeper has a moment of quiet contemplation, pointing both fingers to the sky, he offers up a silent prayer.

For the first time we hear in the distance the cowbell, Liam having told me he had it with him today, and the fans break into their first song of the day. Moments before the game kicks off, a much larger flag, a more professional looking one, less arts and crafts, is hung. A yellow and blue Saint George's cross with “Haringey” written across it.

“Lively start” shouts one HB player to his team mates, and that's just what they get off to, in fact I don't think they stop being lively for the whole ninety minutes.

HB get off to a very “good start” indeed as one grinning fans puts it to a passing Aki. “Come on Boro” shouts the single booming voice from the back of the stand, as the team show very early on, they mean business.

Despite the promising home start, its not them who the very respectable turnout, a mixture of people drawn here because of the 3G with so many cancelled games today and the fact that HB are starting to build a solid fan base in their own right, that watch MT hit the post with an insane effort. A header out by the HB defence following an MT free kick, is stopped by the chest of one player on the edge of the box, who doesn't let the ball fall far, before swinging his boot at it, hitting a looping volley that comes back off the wood work.

MT keeper watching his team go close, shouts “unlucky” to his teammate.

Tom’s need to take prescribed medication, means he is off much earlier than normal, in search of
something to take them with, returning not long after with a bottle of water. Not thinking he was eating today, as he puts it he “caught me of guard” when he produces a perfectly formed cheese burger from this coats large left pocket, wrapped up very neatly in white tissue paper.

Unable to eat normally, he is forced to tip his head to one side, to ensure the food doesn't make contact with his newly acquired cavity. He admits that he may be forced to nibble what he describes as a very “juicy” burger, instead of talking normal mouthfuls.

Seventeen minutes gone, and HB take a deserved lead. "Go on, go on, go on" shouts the HB supporter as the player bares down on goal. He lets rip a high rising shot, the keeper can't get anywhere near. "We are Haringey, we are Haringey" chants the same fan who was just willing his player on.

Not long after going ahead, we see the kind of save, back pedalling and with one hand he turns over a fierce curling shot, Aki was talking about when he described their keeper as a “great” one. One that makes a “massive difference” to the team, one that breeds great “confidence” amongst the “back four”.

The group in the stand, makes sure the man in goal knows how much they appreciate his fine work, “he's the worlds greatest goalie and plays for Haringey”.

Even though its all HB, they go close again, but the player through on goal is deemed offside, it was tight, if offside at all, they are prone to tiny lapses in concentration. One of which nearly lets MT back into the game when they really have no right to be. The forward drags his shot wide of the post, “oh fuck” shouts the MT keeper in his long black trousers.

It's all gone very disco in the stand with a chant to the tune of Earth, Wind & Fire's 'September', but they don't have long to indulge their 70’s reminisence, because fifteen minutes after their first, HB add their second and are already starting to look like they might just run away with it.

‘’We are Haringey, say we are Haringey’’ sing the supporters now, before reverting to their previous disco hit.

On the pitch the team are attacking at will, a ball across the box is almost tapped in for a quickfire third at the back post by the sliding number 9, but he just misses it. ‘’This front four!’’ coo’s an impressed Tom. HB’s attack harmoniously finding each other with ease, they look like scoring with every attack. Tom even goes as far as to compare them to the current forward line of ‘’Liverpool’’, but I remind him of a half decent attacking force from much closer by, who aren't doing too bad, and it's not got Ramsay and Jack Wilshere in it.

Even though he just nearly conceded a third, MT’s keeper is still moaning about HB’s second which he was sure was offside. He remonstrates with the referee who tells him he ‘’explained’’ why it wasn't, and to ‘’leave it’’.

Whereas HB look confident and assured, again going close, only for an air shot in the box and a well placed cut back, that two players shout ‘’leave’’ for and both do just that, has stopped them adding a third. When MT do get the ball, which is oh so seldom, they look timid and inevitably give it away. ‘’Sloppy’’ says Tom, the words from the MT bench are I’m sure a little harsher, but I can't quite make out what the coach is saying to accompany his flailing arms.

For all the things to enjoy like the match, his burger which despite his oral issues Tom finished quickly enough, something is bugging him. ‘’Don't like a shirt with no sponsor on it’’ he finally declares. HB’s mostly yellow with blue trimed kit is lacking he thinks in its Hewlett Packardness.

MT chalk up their only real chance since the shot that required the impressive save. One on one with the keeper, the forward conspires to drag it wide.

‘’Good way to walk the dog’’ says Tom, as we notice the lady with the large brown K9 pass us again. Tom pointing out that she is “doing laps” while watching the game, killing two birds with one stone.

HB’s number 9 has already scored one and at times is running rings around the MT defence, no more so than when right in front of us, marked by two players, he gives a quick drop of the shoulder, turns them inside out, and leaves them for dead. “Nice!” I shout, one of the MT players maybe only an arms length away from us looks up and smiles, fully aware of having just been what I think you might say ‘done’.

The half finishes with one last offering from the HB fan in the back of the stand, a person from the Brian Blessed school of shouting, “come on Haringey”.

There is no obnoxious half time music at Coles Park, just the noise of the substitutes having a kick about. Before the players were even off the pitch, the calm voice returned over the PA giving the
halftime scores from around the league, but after that it's just the sound of a football skidding off the 3G and the occasional tweet of a bird, celebrating the fact that the sun is out. “Oh that's nice”, says Tom. Tilting his face towards it, and closing his eyes.

I’ve not even finished my halftime Polo and the teams are already back out. “Come on Borough”, “come on boys” shout the HB supporters. MT are on the pitch in a loose huddle, being given what you might call a pep talk before the restart. They perform what I can only describe as the hokey cokey. On the signal of the coach in the middle, they all run away from him, before running back towards him, away from him, then back again.

The mild absurdity of this is not lost on the group at the back of the stand, the group who sound like they crammed in at least two pints each at the break, they all let out a sarcastic “wey, wey, wey” on each motion of the warm up.

“Come on, come on” screams the MT keeper, clapping his hands together, looking inevitably a bit like a clown with his big gloves, just before kickoff. He barely has time time however to compose himself, because two minutes later he's conceded a third.

“We are Haringey, we are Haringey” sing the usual suspects, the cowbell is back out again, and they soon change their song, a bit of Seven Nation Army with an N17 twist, “oh Haringey Borough”.

“Have a bit of pride” says one MT player sheepishly before the restart.

The Earth, Wind & Fire number is a definite fan favourite, but let's say it's catchy tune is starting to grate on Tom a little. “Not again” he says as the fans start it up once more. He explains how he'd “just got it out” of his head, and now they've just firmly put it back in.

“Really nice goal” says a nearby HB fan, the home team adding to their goal tally with their fourth, that's two in the opening eight minutes. As Tom puts it HB are “ripping” the visitors “apart”. Back out comes the cowbell and the chant of “we are Haringey”. MT's keeper is livid, the poor guy is close to breaking point.

What's rarer, the fact there is blue in the sky, and the sun is out in full force, it's glorious, or that MT have a chance of a shot at the HB goal? “I didn't touch him” proclaims the HB player who gave away the foul. The free kick though sums up MT’s day, its woeful, way over. The potential of MT getting a goal back got the home fans worried for a second, “4-0 and we’re still not safe” they sing. A very similar mentality of the fans, me included, of the team who play just down the road.

It’s always great to see fans singing. It is less great however, more awkward when a group of supporters haven't quite nailed down the lyrics to one of their own songs. Maybe it’s a work in progress, maybe it's just been hashed out in the queue for the next pint, but the HB fans attempt at a song to the tune of the Happy Days theme song, which has promise, is a bit of a mess as no-one seems quite sure how it goes.

It may have something to do with the fact they just seem to be getting “drunker and drunker” as the games goes on, says Tom.

What a goal, the absolute pick of the bunch, HB’s fifth is one to cherish. From the cross field pass to the left back, his chest control to take it down, to his curling left foot cross of Roberto Carlos'esque curve, to the headed finish, it was sublime. It was the kind of cross that you knew was going to result in a goal, before it was even in the back of the net. Tom thought the crosser had “fucked it” put far too much on it, but holds his hands up as the players dash towards the corner flag to celebrate, the player who whipped it in “saw something” he “didn't” he says.

HB look deadly, every time they venture forward they look like scoring. “Enjoy yourselves” shouts one fan, I’m pretty sure they are doing just that.

“Heads up” shouts a MT player, it might just be a bit late for that.

HB go close to their sixth, only for a “de Gea” style save, the keeper quick off his line, spreading himself, with the chipped shot hitting him in the chest. Steadily slipping into a state of not remembering how you ended up behind the Cineworld in Wood Green with no trousers on, the HB fans have another stab at the Happy Days chant, but are most definitely too far gone.

Penalty to HB says the referee who Tom says looks like Bradley Wiggins because of his sideburns. Up steps number 9 who strokes it in and “completes his hattrick” confirms the voice over the PA, who is now talking into the microphone, and not just sitting on it whilst its still on.

“Like watching Manchester City Vs West Brom” says Tom, HB have totally dismantled MT. The only difference is there might be more atmosphere here then at the Etihad. You can keep your Poznan jumping, the cowbell is much better “we are Haringey, we are Haringey”.

Fifteen minutes left, MT are in the HB half, “have a shot” suggests Tom, “might as well”. They so seldomly get down that way, what's the harm in trying. Normal service is though soon resumed. HB almost score an even better goal than their fifth, one with a touch of the “Bergkamp's” about it, according to Tom. The player making his way into the area, controls the ball with his chest, spins the other way to the ball, and around his marker, but can't quite add the all important finish.

For all the singing and high spirits of the crowd, the opinion of one quite vocal pitchside home fan is slightly contradictory, “people were booing last time I was here”. Not much chance of that today, the small group of HB fans have decided they are now the “Haringey ultras”, who then give their third and last attempt at the Happy Days song, which to be fair to them is their best rendition yet, but also the drunkest.

It’s positively carnival like in the final minutes before full time, now standing below the “Haringey ultras”, they are their loudest,singing about one of their team who “once scored at Anfield” and who now “plays for the Boro”. Some of that local pessimism though comes to light when MT get to the edge of the HB box, “don't throw it away” shouts one fan.

"6 - 0 to the Haringey, 6 - 0 to the Haringey" sing the fans, still standing, just, and to no great surprise are the last to leave the stand after the final whistle.

MT’s keeper dashes his gloves to the ground in front of his own dugout, his threshold for punishment has come and gone. There are two contradicting team huddles on the pitch, MT’s is a quiet and solemn one. HB, is the extreme opposite. “Everyone came alive second half” says the manager, but he is soon to remind them not to rest on their laurels, “we go again Monday”.

There are a few more songs from the crowd before the flags come down and for the first time since kickoff, there is a hush about the place, “we’ve got Ralston Gabriel, He’s better than Eusebio, He always scores for Haringey” they sing for the hattrick man, who refers to himself, to his friends as “Tottenham's Mbappé”.

The mood among the players dips ever so slightly, when the manager reads out the results from the teams around them. They by the looks of it, have not quite gone their way, but they did their part today, so that's all they can do.

There is not much more I think I can say about this place, the warmth and spirit of this little corner of Tottenham is very special. I know its not particularly picturesque, I know the burnt out shell of the self storage place over the road is a bit of an eyesore, but its the soul of the place, plain and simple. Its the soul, the vibe, the energy, call it what you will, of Haringey Borough that will keep me coming back well after our search has finished, because I think a little bit of me already thinks I've found what we're looking for.


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