Saturday 19 January 2019

Come On Janice - Sheffield United FC Vs Barnet FC, FA Cup 3rd Round, Bramall Lane (06/01/19)

No one likes getting up early, not really and let alone on a Sunday. Which for me is about Jus-Rol croissants on the sofa and finishing Match Of The Day, because I fell asleep watching it, the previous night and I’m dying to know what Martin Keown thinks about Bournemouth's display.

In much of Europe football on Sunday is quite normal, who didn't spend their youth watching Atlanta Vs Sampdoria before their roast. Only because of the power of the TV schedulers has it become more common here and in the non league world, football on the holy day, still feels like a bit of novelty.

Waiting for me at the end of my road in his car, I pull up in front of Tom, he takes the few steps from his car to mine, a few words are exchanged and his shoes are soon off, and he’s draped his large winter jacket over his knees like someone with a tweed blanket on a carriage ride and is grasping for the chair recliner handle down to his left.

It being the first time we have seen each other since the New Year, we have plenty to talk about as we join the M1, following the heading of straight up, which will not change for about the next two and half hours. Tom’s NYE sounded, interesting. Much gin was consumed, not normal everyday gin, but high end, distilled in the upturned hat of a stormtroopers helmet kind of gin and his evening almost came to a very abrupt end, when someone suggested a “fiery sambuca” party game.

The topic of cheese consumes most our time between junction five and the Watford Gap, where for so many like Tom the true North begins, we stop briefly to grab a coffee, served by a man with a very curious voice. Tom and his other half have only just finished what by all accounts was a deli counter worth of fromage. A breakdown in communication, meant they both hit the the dairy aisle pretty hard and ended up with quite the selection. Tom’s favourite, Port Salut, with it’s strange orange wrapper, he admits isn't really proper cheese, but a glorified “mini Babybel”.

Crying Fabregas and of course the whole Greggs vegan sausage roll thing cropped up too, as did the fact that Tom’s impending wedding is causing no end of friction in casa del Sparks. Soon though the talking stops as we are both overcome with an unrelenting feeling of deja vu when we spot the twisted spire of Chesterfield’s Church of St Mary and All Saints under a very changeable sky.

Regular readers will remember this is not the first time for us in these neck of the woods this season, in fact Yorkshire is quickly becoming our second favourite football county, after Essex of course. Although technically the last time we were driving through Chesterfield it was to see a team named after one of the counties most famous cities, but who actually play in Derbyshire. With North Ferriby already under our belt, plus a more few planned visits for later this season, it is all getting quite familiar.

Today though I can confirm we will 100% be in Yorkshire, seeing a team named after the city they play in, which is the same, only with a slight difference, as the other team we saw here last time, but who actually play in the city they're named after.

If anything the sun has warmed and the sky has brightened the further up we’ve gone. Tom even found it necessary to de-snood he was so hot, thanking his lucky stars he didn't bring his “long johns”. Sitting in the car park of a Morrisons on the outskirts of Sheffield, waiting for Tom who has darted to the loo, having spent the last twenty minutes squirming, and convulsing, his giant cream covered mocha having gone right through him, I have to roll down my window as I’m close to getting a sweat on.

Springing out the front doors of the supermarket like a new man, I scoop him up and we are soon back underway.

The closer we get to today's ground, the less confidence I have in my Sat Nav, as the houses get closer and closer together, the streets get narrower, and quieter and there is no way surely there is a 32,000 seater stadium around here. A hulking Barnet FC (BFC) fan, today's away team, striding up the street, he is of Hafþór Björnsson proportions, with his orange and black scarf around his neck, gives me hope and then all of a sudden a break in a seemingly never ending row of red brick terraced houses, it's there, looking totally out of place and right at home, all at once, Bramall lane.

Just the other side of a low slung wall, the steel struts of one stand rise up into the clear blue sky. The closer we get, the more red and white of Sheffield United FC (SU) comes into view. Many of those fans in scarves and shirts are loitering outside the local chippy, while a couple set up a trestle table on the corner of one road, covered in the kind of unofficial merchandise one can expect towards the tip of the football pyramid.

Top flight football team, built up residential area and easy parking are not three things that normally appear in the same sentence, well today they do. Not wanting to go on about it too much, but it was so easy to find a spot to leave the car, on a side street less than a five minute walk from where we wanted to be. I’m thinking the fact it’s a Sunday, a 14:00 kick off and not the most glamorous of ties, all have their part to play. Passing the people selling the Minions covered SU scarves, skirting along a much higher red brick wall, we are soon standing outside the Tony Currie stand.

Two large statues are the first thing that catch my eye, them and the huge round sparking club crest reflecting the bright suns rays. Tom of course sees none of this, he has his football romance blinkers on, all he can see is the “super store”. He is able to suppress his need to shop for long enough, to allow me to satisfy my own itch, “programme two pounds”.

Madonna warbles over the speakers, the security guard in his crisp white shirt welcomes us, as we step into what is just a bit different from the club shops we are used to, a lady with a box full of pins and a couple of old scarfs behind the bar. Tom is quickly taken by the mint green SU keepers shirt, before disappearing, and leaving me surrounded by foam fingers.

“You can buy everything here” says Tom, beaming, showing off his pin, pointing at the, “golf tees” and “tote bags”. I as many of you may well know, am I big fan of what I call ‘football tat’, a chipped mug, an old shirt a poorly made mouse mat, however everything in here is as Tom put a bit too “swanky” for me, a bit too well presented, clean and new, so I leave empty handed.

Not being our usual overly early selves, I would have expected with not long to kick off, to maybe have seen a bit more life in the streets around the ground. Everything is here that screams major football venue, but the roads are lifeless. Where I’m sure normally there would be great throngs of people, there are only dribs and drabs. One burger van is preparing for the day, but I can't imagine on this showing so far, they will be doing much business. The dot matrix sign announcing the fixture, in the shadow of a towering stand with forged in steel written across its side, seems a waste of time. Many of the skinny red doors with the turnstile beyond, are closed, and why the local police force thought coppers on horseback were necessary, I'll never know.

The sound of bagpipes was not one I expected to hear today, however a lone pipesman has taken up position behind a red bucket, collecting for charity. It may well be the case that Bramall Lane will hardly be packed today, however the sight of a BFC family, sporting not one, but two homemade tinfoil cups, one an absolute giant, justified the time spent in the car alone.

It’s depressing how the interior of large all seater stadiums are all almost identical, bare concrete, small TV’s showing Sky Sports News, the odd flourish of colour in an attempt to brighten up the place. It is not until you take the few steps up to the opening to your block, that if you’re like me, you
get that sensation, the very same one I got when I first saw the hallowed pitch at White Hart Lane, a sensation that is very difficult to put into words.

With each step you see that little bit more, it's all about the slow reveal and then all of a sudden it's there in front of you. The emerald green pitch, the dugouts, all the little details that make it the ground it is, like SUFC spelt out in white seats in the stand opposite us. A multitude of red and white flags top the stands to our left and right, like candles on a birthday cake and front and centre the red clock that sits proudly with gold roman numerals and the date the club was founded, 1889.

“Sit anywhere you want” says the beardy steward at the top of the steps, “if you wanna stand, go at the back”. With the middle of the upper tier of the away end already well occupied, we ascend the frighteningly steep steps, crampons are advised, and plonk ourselves down in one of the seats on the the edge of the crowd. Mulling over the words of an old work colleague and friend, also called Daniel, who we bumped into outside, who was looking I think it's fair to say a little bit worse for wear, he reckons there will be “800” BFC supporters who have made the trip up the M1 today. He also shares with us a brief moment of nostalgia, of away days of yesteryear, “to think 14 years ago we took 6,000 to Old Trafford”.

Almost just a mere spec on the touchline below, a man with a mic and clipboard, tells us that SU are “delighted to welcome Barnet” which is received with a considerable amount of cheers from the travelling fans and shouts of “come on Barnet”.

Tom is “envious”of those home fans who are able to bask in the early afternoon sun. We are now and will be for the remainder of the day, shrouded in shade, which in combination with the sheer nature of the stand, makes it feels a little bit like we are clinging on to the side of the Eiger.

As every good stadium announcer should be, the font of knowledge informs us, that it's the “first ever meeting between the two sides” in the FA Cup, however despite this, there is still a curious connection between the two clubs, the stand the announcer is standing in front of, is named after the SU “legend” who is the uncle of the current Barnet first team manager.

Each BFC player gets a fervent cheer when his name is read out, before the stadium music is cranked back up to a level that makes it difficult to think and one BFC fan with an orange scarf tucked in his belt, despite having his choice of seats to sit in, decided to nigh on sit on my lap.

“Not a lot of choice” says Tom, having returned from his hunt for food. Unfortunately it seems the higher up the pyramid you go, the fewer options or variety of things to eat you get, it's all a bit bland, all a bit mass produced, it’s all a bit boil in a bag and try and shift two thousand units. Little chance of getting a Burger Monsters Belly Buster here, little chance of a whiteboard ladened with eight different types of burger on it. Instead it's simply either or, “pie or hotdog”. Tom says his pie is “cold” and I reckon the best bit about it is probably the cardboard tray it came in, with forged in steel on the side. The lack of “no chips” means Tom has already decided that we are are “gonna have to stop on the way home”.

“United, united, united we stand” sing who we are reliably informed is Judas Priest, by the man with the mic who makes another one of his short cameos between songs, who has a voice that I’m sure was honed by years of local radio. “He’s absolutely brilliant live” he tells us, he being “Sir Roderick Stewart”, who will be playing at Bramall lane in the summer. “You wanna go see Rodders?” asks Tom.

Presented to the BFC supporters by a large sword carrying pirate, the BFC mascot applauds the travelling fans, who respond in kind, as well as more shouts of “come on Barnet”, all while a few black and orange balloons start to gently bob about. Behind him the BFC players depart, waving to the fans as they do, their warm up complete and a low rumbling rendition of “bee army” serenades them as they disappear down the tunnel.

“Let's have a countdown to kick off” suggests the voice over the PA, the big screen to our left goes dark, and the sound of an ever quickening heartbeat starts to play. Moody stirring music accompanies the montage that follows, doing its bit to get the home fans in the mood. The BFC supporters continue to sing, the three of four next to us, we've moved to the very back of the stand, are banging the wall behind them, while singing, “bee army, bee army”. A song which quickly joins that of the Hampton & Richmond Borough fans,“come on you beavers” and Tonbridge Angels, “come on you angels” as the nicest and least threatening in all of football.

All but drowned out by the rousing music, they don't let this put them off, they sing regardless, “we love you Barnet we do”. Getting ever closer to kick off the sprinklers come on, giving the pitch one last soak, the red FA Cup hoardings are carried out onto the pitch and I notice down to our right, perhaps BFC’s most well known fan, Village. Still sporting his Father Christmas hat. Sitting near just a couple of his extensive collection of flags, it looks like a cuddly toy fox sitting on the chair next to him.

The temporary goals for the warm up are carried in. The music blaring still doesn't deter the BFC fans, “Wembley, Wembley, we're the famous Barnet FC and we're going to Wembley”. One supporter is whirling his scarf above his head, and among the now sizable crowd, which I’m sure is very close to exceeding Daniels suggestion of “800” I see a border collie stuffed toy, also in a Father Christmas hat, being hoisted above one mans head.

It is certainly not a Kasabian song that I’ve been looking forward to hearing, but it is one of theirs that plays as the teams walk out. Both sides applaud the welcome that they get, the BFC fans belt out “come on Barnet, come on Barnet” as a flurry of balloons cascade forward. Each team huddles, while the tail end of the SU supporting bands tune finishes. For me it’s The Greasy Chip Butty song I'm here for, the SU club anthem. The first lines of which are played over the PA, before it cuts out and the fans carry on acapella, and although it's not being sung by many, “Like a packet of woodbines, like a good pinch of snuff, like a night out In Sheffield” it’s one of those nuances that for me makes football so fascinating and emotional.

It's a rampant first ten minutes on and off the pitch for the National League side and its fans. More scarves than before are stretched out above the heads of the fans, their singing is constant, a baritone “bees, bees” that you can feel in your chest and with only two minutes gone BFC have already had a shot, admittedly its wide, but it shows their intentions. They are not here simply to make up the numbers.

“If you love Barnet stand up” is the latest song, but everyone in already on their feet, despite the instructions of the beardy steward. The lack of noise coming from the sparse home crowd, also hasn't gone unnoticed, “your support is fucking shit”.

For a split second the hundreds of BFC fans thought their Christmases and Birthdays had all come at once following a glanced header on about four minutes, that ghosted past the SU keeper and into the back of the net and for a brief moment they thought they had gone in front. The scorer realises it, but it feels a long time before the fans do who are still jumping and pounding the back of the stand. The BFC number 27 can’t bring himself to look over his shoulder at the linesman who has raised his flag.

What's telling in the moments after the goal is disallowed, is that the BFC fans are not overcome with
grief, they are not depressed or feel hard done by, but quite the opposite, their songs grow louder “oh North London is wonderful”, with now even more of them are on their feet, then before.

Over the din of the crowd Tom tells me Bramall Lane reminds him of “Charlton”, because it's “red, white and empty”. Two quickfire shouts for BFC penalties confirm the start of this match as absolutely chaotic. The first follows an excellent ball over the top, that sees one of the rapid BFC front three off and away, but what is sublime recovering tackle and not a foul, denies him a shot. The second just inside the area looks a little less clear cut, but is also waved away.

An away day beyond the Watford gap for any team from down south, would not be complete without the chant of “you dirty northern bastard” on at least one occasion. The irony being that the southern fans, always pronounce bastard, like a northerner. An SU foul in midfield brings about the songs first outing.

BFC go close once more with a shot over the bar. Their fans are still going great guns, “Underhill, Underhill, we’re the famous Barnet FC and we come from Underhill”. On the pitch though they are not having it all their own way anymore. SU are slowly getting a grip on the game and are probing at what until now has been a resilient BFC defence, which is thoroughly appreciated by one fan, “fuck them up, get into them”.

The BFC fans ask, “can you hear the Sheffield sing?” and then what I think is the most damning, they offer up their services to the apparently shy home crowd, “shall we sing a song for you?”. Again trying to talk over the clamour, Tom points to a glistening, sumptuous looking pie on the big screen, one of the near constant rotation of adverts, “my pie didn't look like that”.

Another burst into the SU box from one of the BFC three pronged attack, however this time the last ditch tackle is not so well timed, and the referee has no hesitation pointing to the spot. Allowing themselves a moment to celebrate the awarding of the penalty, one man rubs his hands together with glee, but its not to long before they are calling for the dismissal of the SU defender, “off, off, off” they chant, punching the air, but it's only a yellow, “booooooo”.

Although he is the full length of a football pitch away, the BFC fans want to do everything they can to give their man the best possible chance, so quiet is requested, “shhhhhh”. For the first time today the BFC supporters fall silent, some people clearly don't know what to do with themselves, however the hush doesn't last for long. BFC’s number 10 has just slotted the ball into the side netting, not far from the left hand of the SU keeper who guessed the right way, and the celebrations for the offside goal, are made to look like how someone might react if they found a pound down the back of the sofa.

The scarves being whirled above people's heads are being done so at such a rate they are a blur. The crowd boils, jumping, hugging, sheer pandemonium. The scorer falls to his knees, his hands pointed to the heavens, his moment of reflection is short lived as he is soon mobbed by his teammates, one quite literally knee sliding into him.

Some fans thoughts have already turned to “Wembley, Wembley”, however they are almost brought crashing down to earth only two or three minutes after going in front, when a clumsy BFC challenge on the edge of their box, is only inches away from undoing all their fine work. “Looked like a pen to me” says Tom. The referee blows up, all those around us faces are contorted with anguish, but the minuscule dot of foam from the referees spray can, signals the foul was just the other side of the white line and it’s a free kick.

A free kick that comes to nothing, and each and every BFC supporter can breath again, “1 - 0 to the Barnet boys”. The visitors have a plan and by god are they going to stick with it, spraying balls out wide, their number 10, who is pulling all the strings, has so far has been faultless, and either side of him they have a couple of devastatingly quick forwards. The diagonal ball from the defence out to the wings has worked for them more than once, but this time the wide player takes just one too many touches and is dispossessed in the box.

“Who cares about horse riding in Italy?” asks Tom, the advert for an equestrian holiday one of the many on loop. Tom thinks they are used as some kind of distraction, something to stop the score appearing on screen. Like a scene straight from Yankee Stadium, a man appears below us, holding aloft a programme, trying to sell them to the crowd, who are far too busy singing, “you are my Barnet”. Most chants seem to be emanating from the gruff voiced BFC Capo down to our left, every shout sounding like it's doing permanent damage to his vocal chords

“Unlucky” says one fan, a good exchange on the edge of the SU box results in a shot but it's over. Again someone asks “stand up if you love Barnet” again those who are not already, which now is hardly anyone, do so. It's quite the stark contrast as the odd chair bangs shut, looking at the stand opposite us, which does not have a single person in it.

A single handful of homemade confetti is hurled into the air, then flutters down slowly around the person whose pocket, and the people either side of him, that it just came out of. With more in reserve, he does it again. A lone female voice like clockwork lets out a “come on Barnet” and the man next to her replies without fail, “come on Janice”.

“Can we play you every week?” ask the BFC fans, when a long range SU shot goes well over. Although the game has slowed dramatically on the pitch, no one could have kept up that tempo for a whole forty five minutes, the BFC fans are still motoring, “glory glory Barnet FC”.

The home fans booo their teams lack of endeavour, in possession they want to see the ball go forward, but instead its rolled back to their keeper. When they do get it forward they don't exactly have their shooting boots on. A back post attempt at a shot is horrible, and ends up going behind the player who swiped his foot at the ball, which as you can imagine gets unrelenting volume of sneering, “weyyyyy”.

Still confident that they are “going to Wembley” the BFC fans on the performance so far have every right to think so. They have restricted SU to simply passing the ball around in front of their two solid all blue banks of four. When they do launch the ball forward its lacking any of the accuracy required, much to the delight of the BFC supporters, “same old Barnet, taking the piss”.

Into the final five and the BFC defence is putting out fires everywhere. To say they are hanging on might be a little unkind, but they are certainly under the cosh. Attack after attack is squashed, while the fans again sing about the fact “no one likes us”. “Two minutes of added time” says the man with the clipboard, SU surge forward again, but there is always a player in blue to snuff out the danger.

The blast of the referee's whistle brings a few sighs of relief, but also the resounding feeling from the BFC fans of, we are halfway there. By no way is it a fluke they find themselves in front, they have been the better side in every department and their fans know it, “come on Barnet, come on Barnet”.

“Why would you go out and play football in the rain?” ponders Tom, the sprinklers are back on, but a few players are still warm up on the pitch. Some iffy dance music shatters the pleasant murmur of people chatting, and the man with the mic tells us “Sheffield United women are drawing with Spurs”. He then proceeds to read out the results to some kind of fan match day gambling that wasn't available to the away supporters, which gets the expected unsympathetic comment from Tom, “you didn't win!”.

The music takes a couple of funny turns before the players reappear, first a bizarre cover of The Human Leagues, Don't You Want Me, then on the big screen appears who Tom refers to as the “northern Katy Perry”. A young lady neither of us are familiar with and the quality of her video, is somewhat up for debate, “why is she standing in front of those Amazon pickup lockers” says Tom, “cheap video I suppose”.

“Who are ya, who are ya” chant the BFC fans when SU return to more Kasabian, and are put through some sprints on the touchline. BFC appear to the familiar chant of “come on Barnet”. The man with the clipboard hopes we “enjoy the second half” before the The Greasy Chip Butty song starts to play, cutting out like it did before, leaving the fans to finish it off.

Considering what I imagine was quite the rollicking the SU team got at half time, they were second
best to everything in the first half, it’s no great surprise they are straight on the front foot at the beginning of the new half. Whispering, Tom leans over, he thinks it's just a matter of time before the hosts score, and ruin the party, “I think they're gonna win 2 - 1”.

The BFC fans are a little slow back to their seats, many of the late arrivals are holding something to eat, that they've ordered from the extensive menu, “pie or hotdog”. Those in place for the restart are soon back to singing, just as they had been nigh on the whole first half, “come on Barnet, come on Barnet”.

If the FA Cup could be won simply by how amazing your players hair is, then SU would already have the trophy in the bag, their number 20 has the most amazing flowing locks, that bounce about while he runs. The locals are getting increasingly frustrated with their team and the BFC fans can sense it, and are more than happy to rub it in, “your grounds too big for you”, “you're supposed to be at home”.

A goal for the home side though feels like a matter of when, not if, another last gasp tackle by a BFC defender stops a certain goal scoring chance, and Toms premonition seems like coming true, sooner rather than later. However BFC are far from out of it, ten minutes of the new half gone and they very nearly double their lead. Another rapid counterattack, a ball across the six yard box, that is only prevented from being tapped in, by the outstretched boot of a sliding SU defender.

The corner is well delivered and the attempt at a clearing header almost creeps under the bar, only the fingertips of the keeper, keeps it out, setting up BFC for a second set piece which leaves every BFC player and fan thinking ‘how?'. Maybe no more than two foot from the goal line, a BFC player at the far post, the ball dropping kindly for him, can't sort his feet out. Instead of poking the ball in the empty net, he seems to stand on it instead, allowing an SU player precious seconds to hoof it clear.

He can't believe it, he clasps his hands to the back of his head. The BFC fans can't believe they have not doubled their lead, which they would have more than deserved. Some fans bend over double exacerbated, some hold their hands up to their face, some just look sick at the sight of the missed opportunity.

Deep and low the BFC fans chant, in the truest sense of the word, the clubs nickname, “bees, bees”. I’m starting to lose count of the number of SU attacks the BFC back line have extinguished, and there's not even fifteen minutes on the clock. “Tighter” shouts one fan, demanding even more of his team. However among all the near chances for SU, BFC are still creating their own, “shoot” shout the people around us, “unlucky” says one as the effort goes over.

A high pitched squeal of “come on Barnet” from one person makes Tom ask, “is that a child?” when in fact I think it was just a very excited adult. Boo’s ring out from the BFC supporters, one of their players is down, and the SU ones clearly have no intention of putting the ball out of play, “you dirty northern bastards”. One man instead of singing it, chooses to wolf whistles it, with four fingers in his mouth.

Eventually the balls goes out and the player can be attended to. The home fans jeer at the sight of him making his way to the touch line, the BFC supporters applaud him, before having a jab at the muted crowd, “we forgot that you were here”.

The always hummed Entry of the Gladiators that accompanies any kind of a mistake at a football match, rears its head when SU are almost caught out by over playing it at the back. “Bee army” sing the BFC fans, before all letting out a sizable “ohhhh” when a SU shot skims the bar as it flies over. The chance causes a commotion among the home supporters, the BFC fans are quick to put them back in their place, “sit down”.

Ready to come on is “the famous Billy Sharp” as Tom points out. The local hero who I assume his manager wanted to rest for the visit of a lowly non league side, is being chucked on to try and save the day and in front of us apparently one of the Three Tenors has arrived, the delivery of the songs and chants like something right out the Last Night of The Proms.

A BFC shot from the edge of the box, through a sea of legs, very almost catches out the SU keeper, who sees it at the very last moment and manages to push it wide. Not long after and SU start one of their now far more familiar challenges towards the BFC goal, only for a well timed trip or professional foul in midfield cutting it short.

“I know we should be winning by more” says a man half shouting into his phone behind me and he’s not wrong. SU’s latest shot is tame and gets an apathetic “weeyyyy”, but BFC are having less and less of it their own way. With fifteen minutes to go, the home side are finally showing some of that calibre that makes them a Championships side, stroking the ball around with an air of confidence.

Such is the desire of the BFC players to slow the game down, it is they shouting loudest when an SU player is injured, for the ball to be kicked into touch. They would be more than happy for the referee to halt play, to allow some respite. One man hums the funeral march as the downed SU player is attended to, when he gets to his feet he cries, “Lazarus has risen, hallelujah”. Plácido Domingo takes it things step further letting loose a couple of his own very dramatic, “hallelujah, hallelujah”.

SU have well and truly forced BFC way back into their own half, the fans try to relieve the tension they must all be experiencing, with a few more digs at the home fans, “are you Wednesday in disguise” and “you've come to see the Barnet”, but it's going to be a very nervy final quarter of an hour. “Get it out” cries one fan, an SU cross into the box, is knocked down by the keepers attempt to catch it, but the SU player it falls to can't control the ball. The BFC backline having once again smothered a SU attack right at the last.

When BFC do get the ball, their counter attacks are lacking some of that zip from earlier in the match, to be fair to them they have not stopped running, so undoubtedly there must be a few tired legs out there. Still in possession after what looked like a promising attack had fizzled out, the ball is eventually delivered into the SU box but the flicked header hits a defender.

Each “come on you bees” from now on, is less and less assured and more and more panicked.

“Justice” shouts one supporter, when the ball strikes the referee and bounces back into BFC's possession, having just awarded SU a free kick for a very dubious looking foul. SU are getting closer and closer, a header goes just wide, “ohhhhh” gasp the home fans, however the chants of the BFC supporters, “we love you Barnet we do”, remain just as loud.

With just over five minutes plus added on time left to play, BFC are so close to a full blown cupset, but have to stay switched on. The last thing they want to do is be the orchestrator's of their own downfall. A blind back header from one defender nearly puts them under all sort of unnecessary pressure, but they get away with it this time and then, as they have all afternoon fly up the other end and have a decent looking shot blocked.

Into the final five and BFC have been forced back almost onto their own goal line, their fans continue to distract themselves with a endless amount of different songs, “que sera sera” as well as an en masse version of, “oh when the bees go steaming in”, one fan standing on the small back wall, clings onto the roof of the stand half stooped, giving everything he has into every single word. Still with time to play one supporter has seen enough and can't take any more, “blow your whistle ref”.

“We can see you sneaking out” sing the BFC fans as the clock ticks down, some home supporters have taken all they can bear and more and more orange and black scarves are now popping up above the crowds heads, taught between outstretched arms. “Squeaky bum time” says Tom as he always does in times like these. One SU player shaping up to head the ball in the box, is struck by it, more than making any kind of meaningful contact with it, and the chance goes begging.

BFC are well and truly camped out around their own eighteen yard box, nerves around us are starting to fray. When an SU attack breaks down the sarcastic jeers are tinged with a heavy dose of relief.

SU have just hit the bar, a close range header has just been tipped onto the woodwork, and the next few seconds almost happen in slow motion, as the ball bobbles along it, before dropping back into play. Only for time to return to normal, when it's headed out for a corner.

"Five minuets of added time" announces he with the mic, which is not received well by the BFC fans, booooooooo". One last invitation to "stand up for the Barnet boys" goes up, but its a wasted effort, there is not a person in sight not upright, fidgeting and counting down the seconds. Into what must have been the final moments of the match I'm able to tick off  'grown up in a silly wig' in my I Spy Book of the FA Cup, when I catch a glimpse of someone in an orange one. There is time for one last declaration of their devotion for their team, "we love you Barnet we do" before all hell breaks loose.

Among the leaping and embracing fans, the scarves now going around at close to light speed, and with people close to falling over, having to be steadied by their neighbours. I find myself concentrating on one man, his emotions close to getting the better of him. Standing still, his hands covering his face. All while one of the most concentrated outpourings of joy, I've ever seen at a football match goes on around him.

The response of the players is not all that dissimilar, the keeper after his last minute heroics is the main focus of his teammates attention. An outbreak of knee sliding sees more than one BFC player approach the away end sliding across the turf. The BFC manager in his orange tie shakes the hands of his victorious players, who punch the air, soaking up the moment, the fans telling them, just how they feel, "we love you Barnet we do".

Another knee slide from the BFC captain, because why not, brings the celebrations to an end. The players walk off to one last song, "que sera sera, whatever will be, will be, we're going to Wembley", almost everyone to a man is still in place, rooted to the spot, paralysed by sheer excitement.

The high spirits don't stop on the concourse as we make the slow descent down to street level, the singing continues, one man is strolling around with a large flag over his shoulders and the fans gather in an impromptu street party, the coaches ready to whisk them off, but surely there is enough time for one last sing song,"twist a little closer, let me know that your mine".

"We deserved it" said one man on the way out, reporting back to someone on the other end of this phone, who perhaps couldn't make it today and how true that was. BFC put on one of the finest performances of a non league side against a league side there is ever likely to be. I'm not sure if its going to join the highlight reel trotted out each season, around this time of year, but it should. "its the magic of the FA Cup" said the man with the mic at one point today, and oh he was right. Don't listen to anyone who says the FA Cup is dead, yes it may be being pulled from pillar to post, games on a Friday, games on a Sunday, odd kick off times, but at its core the true essence of what is my favourite cup competition, and what should be yours too, is alive and well. Nowhere was that clearer to see than across the face of every fan and player today.

Sitting in the car, Tom searching online for the closest McDonald's, I cant work out why the BFC sing "no one likes us", I live in Barnet and its really nice and as Tom put it, "who doesn't like them, they are so polite".


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Saturday 12 January 2019

Stockport Must Be Empty - Altrincham FC Vs Stockport County FC, National League North, J. Davidson Stadium (01/01/19)

Having consumed my own body weight in Parma ham less than twelve hours ago and for about two hours straight having been plied with prawn cocktail, sausage rolls, coleslaw and eight types of cheese, I’m feeling sluggish to say the least. The temptation as the alarm on my phone starts to wail is to turn it off, roll over and pull the duvet over my head.

Although I can't roll over, because I’m in a bed that apparently was made for Tom Thumb, and if I do move too suddenly there's a chance of going through the plasterboard. I am not at home, I’m over one hundred and seventy miles from home, I’m in the spare room of my other half's Rachel's parents house. Where any minute now her mum will be knocking on the door with a coffee and I'm pretty sure I can hear my daughter stirring in the adjacent room, so there is no chance of getting back to sleep now.

Not a drinker anymore by any means, I am at least unlike a few people today, i.e. Tom who was at a very fashionable New Years Eve party back in London last night, who probably hasn’t even been to bed yet, and is still drinking the latest must have brand of artisan gin, not feeling the effects of alcohol and have a hangover to contend with, I peel myself out of bed, down my coffee and prepare for the day.

A day that is bright, clear and a bit chilly. The usual discussion between me and Rachel whenever we go to a match about if she should bring an extra jumper or scarf etc holds us up momentarily, however we are soon on the road, the very quiet and clear roads, making the short drive to our first game of 2019.

“Follow the football” announces Rachel, and the brown sign with a white ball is soon guiding us, not only to this afternoon's destination, but also the local ice rick. Although it's a three o'clock kick off, the red brick terraced houses that surround the J. Davidson Stadium, home of Altrincham FC (ALT), look bereft of life. Many of them still have their twinkling Christmas lights up, but they all still look half asleep, so I ensure not to slam the door of my car too hard, as we find a place to park only a stone's throw from the ground.

Those who have ventured out and are not at home nursing the aftermath of last night's revelry or are finishing off the potato salad in front of a special New Year’s Day edition of Bake Off, are wandering around in almost silence. The sky is as clear as anything, the pavement is littered with orange cones, and the grey and red facade of the J. Davidson Stadium, looks a bit like the outside of a major DIY chain store.

Like well wrapped up, woolly hat wearing lemmings, we join the steady stream of Stockport County FC (SC) fans, ALT’s opponents, and follow the large black arrows on the laminated signs, stuck to the concrete wall, that read “away fans”. Poorly printed posters, smothered in sellotape and each in their own tatty red frame confirm the fixture, and kick off time.

As a larger man, few things in football bring a sweat to my brow quicker, than the sight of a turnstile. Most of which were designed for the smaller more malnourished people of the 1900’s, they don't deal well with my hulking frame and each time I encounter one, I have the same recurring nightmare I’m going to get stuck in it and end up as some hideous meme.

Passing those finishing up their nondescript looking lunch, wrapped in white paper, I take a deep breath, and head in. Handing over my money to the lady behind the mesh, I edge on through, making it out the other side in one piece.

Segregation is something that still feels very alien at non league football. Seeing a ground partitioned at this level just doesn't seem right, there will be no halftime change of ends no access to the club shop or any cover if the weather decides to turn. The SC fans have long steep crumbling banks of uncovered terracing, with its rolled top red railings to call home for the day.

The lack of protection from the elements is the least of Rachel's concern right now. She is staring slack jawed, poking me in my side and bringing to my attention the four “portaloos”.

Not adverse to standing, as long as I can get my appropriate lean on, and I can attest to the ones today of being at the perfect height not only to relieve the strain on ones back, but also to allow a comfortable flick through the programme that Rachel's just bought from one of the two men in red and white scarfs on the way in. One young SC fan though, whose stature means leaning will not be an option, is less than impressed by the lack of seats.

“Do we have to stand up during the whole match?” he asks his Dad, “yes” he replies, “why?”.

What I first thought was a prime place to stand, just to the side of the goal, and a few steps up from the front, soon turns out to be the complete opposite on the arrival of the SC keeper and his coach, who start to go through his warm up right in front of us. Each hefty kick causes everyone in the vicinity to have an involuntary tic. The only comfort is the thud of the ball hitting the keepers gloves. “Good save” comments one person, as he gets his finger tips to a shot and tips it around the temporary posts.

I do my best to occupy myself, trying not to concentrate solely on the ball hurtling towards us. I take in my surroundings, that all lie in the shadow of the most monumental mobile phone mast. As far as the ground is concerned it's just the right side of shabby. Flags hang from the back of the covered terrace opposite us and the majority of red seats in the reasonably sized main stand to our left are yet to be filled.

The black and white cat bombing about, its bell going crazy, does its best to get away from the danger, but the ever increasing amount of people means unlike the cat, we don't have many other options of where to go, so must endure the fear of getting walloped in the face for just a little bit longer.

“Shock coffee” is how Rachel describes the drinks she’s just returned with from the red shipping container food kiosk. It’s 90% brown, caffeinated liquid, 5% sugar, 5% milk. She tells me such is her picnic egg malaise, she almost put “salt” in mine, but is pretty sure it was sugar as she intended. Such is the curved top of the railings, there is nowhere to rest them, so we are forced to clutch on to them, turning them into impromptu hand warmers, until they become cool enough to drink. The instant hit is “well nice” as Rachel puts it, and we both shudder in unison, like a cut scene from Trainspotting.

I think its Post Malone who is single handedly trying to break the already shaky sounding speakers dotted around. The presence of the tattooed faced one is much to Rachel's displeasure, “keep it in the changing rooms and out of the stadiums” she grumbles. Having heard my stories of non league football obsession with 80’s dance music, she is disappointed to say the least to hear this modern guff.

A considerable ripple of applause washes over the terrace as the SC players emerge from the centre of the main stand to warm up, the players respond with that overly exaggerated above the head clapping, that only footballers do.

There is an epidemic spreading across football, that is only getting worse, and that is people nearly dying because of stray balls from players warming up, nearly killing innocents. “Heads” scram those that the ball passes over and into the crowd, mercifully the football Gods have shown some mercy today, and the woman who is hit, is still alive and is only slightly embarrassed.

The SC players let out an excitable squeal in the middle of one of their warm up, a single SC flag has been hoisted on the very front row of red railings, as more and more people arrive. “It's well busy” says Rachel as what was a completely empty terrace when we arrived, we are now rubbing shoulders with those trying to carve out their own little bit of space.

Rachel points out the two sides only met five days ago on Boxing Day, SC coming out victors 2 - 0. Which is a promising sign on our ten year anniversary since we first saw SC play at Underhill, as the last two times they drew and lost, we might actually see them win.

The low slung winter sun, is causing problems for a few, anyone who wants to talk to the person to their side, has to raise one hand to shield their eyes from its dazzling rays. Taking a moment away from his drills, the SC keeper reaches out his giant glove covered hands towards some kids, who are looking for a fist pump. As more and more people arrive, many have that slightly gormless look of ‘where can I go?’, stopping briefly to asses the situation, turning their head like a meerkat on lookout, before moving on in search of some space.

I realise in our rush to leave today, I forgot something, when a man pitches up in front of us, and start to tuck into his home made sandwiches. Rachel's mum makes a mean sandwich, ever had an omelette in a sandwich? No I hadn't before about nine years ago, and now I can’t get enough of them. Such is the growing size of the crowd, the stewards have just opened up a second part of the ground, a covered terrace, just past the beer “gazebo” as one person has dubbed it, which is doing a roaring trade, and like the very safe and controlled breaching of a dam the SC fans file through the newly opened red gate. One of those being ‘Mr Shite’ who sat behind us at SC’s recent game at The Hive, and spent 90% of it saying everything was “shite”.

The group of friends in front of us, fall into the Tom camp of how to celebrate New Year, they weren't by the sound of it watching Suggs and eating blue cheese. The mere sight of beer is turning their stomachs, almost each and everyone of them is sipping from a Lucozade bottle, trying their best to recover. “Can't be doing with staring into the sun” says one, turning his back to it peeking over the roofs of some nearby houses.

SC's manager Jim Gannon’s brief appearance on the far touchline, kick starts his song, that ripples through the crowd. The chance of being smacked by a ball, for us at least, has shifted twenty yards up the pitch to our left. The SC players are going through their final shooting practise. Lucky for those directly around the goal, the players are generally on target. Each shot that goes in gets a “weyy” the odd ones that don’t, which I’m happy to report is not many, get a “boo”. The only deviation from the almost panto like routine, is one that comes back off the woodwork, that gets a  “ohhh”.

Whenever a chant or song from the SC fans does break out, it's always from the far end, and has normally petered out by the time it gets to us, “SCFC is the team for me” almost makes it to us, but
not quiet, sore heads, mean things are slow to get going. One of the worse for wear from the group in front of us has had enough of all the waiting around, with a quarter of an hour until kick off, “can we start this football match, I'm bored already”.

What was a bleak swathe of concrete is a now a sea of heads. We’ve finished our coffees, “good job” says Rachel following her final sip, her concoction has done just as she had intended. A new arrival behind us on his phone is trying to find a friend, “I’m in” he says, having to slightly raise his voice over the noise of the crowd, they are doing their best to find each other, “there is a lot here”, he replies, before giving out directions and hoping that he can be found.

“Stockport must be empty, everybody is here” jokes a man nearby, as more and more people squeeze past each other to find a spot. The spine tingling “scarf around my neck” song bubbles up from the crowd for a moment and although I’ve no Tom today, I’ve still got a person billowing vape smoke in my face and there is still plenty of food chat going on. “I'll wait until half time” says the tall thin redhead “queue is too long”, who when he is offered a pint, declines emphatically, “I’ll be sick”.

The teams depart, one young SC fan leans over the hoardings to beat out a rhythm as they do. The rest of the ground is certainly busy, but it's nowhere near as heaving, as in the away end as more people continue to arrive. “Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen” says the perky voiced announcer. Faintly in the distance I think I can hear an SC drum and even fainter still I can just make out the singing of the home fans, “bring out the Alty”.

Europes, The Final Countdown, is the song of choice in these parts to get the crowd going in preparation of kick off, a mild improvement on Post Malone, but only just. Those fans in the newly opened stand have to shield their eyes against the sun as Fanfare For The Common Man, welcomes the teams out, not from the decoy yellow and green striped tunnel to the side of the main stand, but from its centre, all while one SC fan is being mercilessly mocked his choice of “suave” jacket.

Each team surround one half of the centre circle, while the voice over the PA, whose tone has noticeably changed, explains there will be a moment of reflection, a “roll of honour” a chance to “celebrate” those “connected to the club” who have died over the last twelve months, “and so we remember”.

With the whole place on their feet, the applause is punctuated with the odd shout of “blue army” from the SC fans and the end is signified by a blast of the referees whistle, which evokes even louder cries from the crowd of, “come on County”.

In what must be close to some kind of a world record, in the brief time between the players finishing the applause and the intended kick off time, the PA rattles off both teams starting elevens at breakneck speed. Completing them faultlessly may I add, as the ALT player lifts his foot to kick off and still with just enough time to ensure we all “enjoy the game”.

The whistle draws more shouts of “come on County” and the first of many chants about SC’s home, “Edgeley, Edgeley”.

Over all the heads I just about see the early ALT chance at the far post, the forward is unable to hook the shot over his shoulder, the sun almost making the goal we are behind invisible. The first home chant of the game, “we all follow the Alty” gets a sarcastic response from the SC fans, the choice of the home fans second, gets a few quizzical glances, “no one likes us, but we don't care”.

Just over five minutes gone and SC go close with a long range effort, but not as close as the “ohhhhhhh” maybe suggests according to one fan, “miles away”. The supporters in front of us have stopped grumbling about their hangovers and have moved on to the state of the pitch or “shit turf”. SC go again, the latest chant of “come on County” is interrupted by firework display esq oohs and ahhs. The latest attempt on goal, an always rising off target shot that well clears the bar, is put down to by the resident groundsman, because the ball was “bobbling”.

Late arrivals swivel their heads back and forth, scanning the terrace for somewhere to stand, but it's rammed. Rammed but quiet, one person puts it down to “everyone” being “hungover”, as another adds “fuck making any noise yet”.
“Robust” says Rachel, when one ALT player disposes an SC one with a firm shoulder barge in midfield, which inspires a song from the home fans. “Come on Alty, come on Alty”. The sun once more causes issues as the ball all but disappeared when it crossed into the SC box, forcing the woman behind me to leap forward, grasp my shoulder and ask, “what's happening”.

I tell her not a lot, in fact very little has happened in the opening fifteen minutes at all.

“I, O County” sing the visiting fans in response to their teams shot at goal, that takes a nick off a defender for a corner. The resulting set piece almost brings about the opener, only for the SC player, who those around us are calling “Danny Zuko”, header to be cleared off the line. “First goal is massive” states one fan whose turned to the person next to him, “whoever scores it, wins it”.

I think it's fair to say the tall thin redhead, who is still yet to eat, has so far dished out the most eclectic mix of insults towards the home players, I’ve ever heard. “Shitty ass” he shouts, straining every sinew of his body. SC go close again, a low edge of the box shot is saved, and again the crowd sound like they are at their local 5th of November display, “ohhhh”.

A home injury stops play, and allows each set of players to take on some water. The back wall of the mini stand rattles as the SC fans pound itmCHECK belting out their latest rendition of SCARF songs. The home fans respond with a low and slow, “Altrincham, Altrincham” which gets a few camp, slightly Carry On, “oh”,

As was sadly proven the last time we saw SC, they don't always “win away”, despite what the fans sing, and if they give the ball away at the back like they just did, much to the anger of one fan, “thats fucking shit” they certainly won't be winning today. They are not punished this time and the home side go again with a foray forward, but the ball into the box is cleared.

For a fraction of a second it looks like the SC number 10 has been forced too wide by the on rushing ALT keeper, to be able to take a shot. He dives at the feet of the SC player and for a second looks like he has done enough to claim the ball, but he hasn't. The goal now gaping, and from a tight angle, three ALT defenders reduced to spectators as the scorer of the SC goal on thirty minutes, rolls it in. He wheels away from goal, his arms out by his side Vincenzo Montella style, soon to be mobbed by his teammates.

One man down in front has removed his scarf from round his neck and is whirling it above his head, one beside has his stretched his out above his head all to the tune of “win away, win away” which for the first time today looks like it might be the case. One man who has vaulted the railings and is running up and down the touchline, certainly thinks so.

The announcement of the the golden goal is like a hard kick in the dick, I would of course been well up for that, however us in the away end, were not given the option. Not long after the restart and ALT let fly a low but ultimately very saveble shot, which is gathered up, to a chorus of relieved sighs. One fan demands that SC “go and get a second”, others are caught up in the spreading song of “we’re on our way”, that quickly and briefly consumes the terrace.

SC are on top, they have ALT pressed back in their own half. They are getting in the right positions, but as one fan points out, after he stops laughing, “at least get one on target” after one SC players attempt at a shot from the edge of the box that is neither a slice or a miss kick, but a mess, a real head scratcher. “What was that?” asks one supporter as the ball spins up into the air, and well away from goal.

It is only the slight deflection from an ALT defender that sends the latest SC shot on goal, narrowly wide of the post. “I-O County” goes up a few decibels while the team prepare to take their 75th corner of the half, but like so many of the ones previously, they don't make anything of it.

“He don’t play for us anymore” points out one SC fan, after a player gives the ball away, which in tennis they would call, an unforced error. In fact in the final five minutes there are a few grumbles around us, as the SC players intensity takes a dip. “Oh come on County wake up” shouts one person, what looked like an attack with so much promise, ends up being slow and lethargic.

A dilemma of historic proposition and one I am all too familiar with, is playing out in front of me. The tall thin redhead, is “starving” but is struggling with the distance he is required to travel to resolve his issue, “I can't be arsed, its miles away”.

When SC win corner number 76, and remember other than the header by “Danny Zuko” they have been almost inconsequential, one person is content, “that'll do”.

“Oh, oh, oh” go the SC fans, like a person juggling a jacket potato, as the ball bounces, pings and ricochets off almost every player in the packed ALT box, but not one player in SC blue is able to get a solid touch on it or bring it under control, when one finally does and is able to set himself, his shot
is over.

A rare ALT attack results in a shot on the SC goal, but it's easy for the keeper to mop up. Food dilemma man saw it, he’s still not moved, he still going on about how “starving he is” but still can’t be “arsed” to do anything about it.

Surely not, I saw him pass us, but I thought he had gone on the side terrace, but is Mr Shite from Barnet behind us? It sounded like him, “ that's shite” says a man in a strong Mancunian accent, when a SC free kick routine doesn't go as planned.

Except for food dilemma man, the thing on most people's mind is getting “a second before half time” and they are presented with many more chances to do so, before the half is done, however most go the way of the recent free kick and are “shite”.

A fine run down the wing, and a shimmy later, the wide player is running up the byline into the ALT box. They win themselves another corner, but make a meal of it. The SC players and fans want a foul on the edge of the ALT box, but the referee waves play on and only thanks to a well timed tackle in midfield are the home team not able to exploit the missing players at the back.

Another corner, another busted flush. With the sun slowly setting and the temperature dropping, people have started to do the cold feet dance, “my feet are fucking frozen” claims one man, as he shifts from foot to foot to the tempo of another round of “I-O County”. Someone who should certainly be cold, due to his inactivity, is the SC keeper, who one person points out, has “not had a save to make”.

“The referee has indicated a minimum of two minutes added time” announces the voice of the PA, as SC prepare for yes you guessed it, another corner. This one at least made it into the box, “ohhhhh” gasp the fans, when the ball is cleared, quickly recycled and lumped back in, only to be cleared once more.

Beaming from ear to ear, the food dilemma man, is dilemma free. “You got two?” asks his friend, “you that hungry?”. Clutching two white paper bags he has returned triumphant, “they've got chicken balti pies” he explains. Also the “queue is massive” so there was little chance of him making a second trip.

The ALT players seem a lot more eager to get back inside then the SC ones, they positively sprint down the tunnel, while the SC players take their time. Rachel cracks out a can of Sprite from her bag, but she has a far from happy look on her face as she does. “I’m frozen” she tells me, as Berlin mark two rears its head. Thankfully I have a scarf for her in my bag she let me borrow, but my attempts to hide the significant coffee stain on it from her, does not go as planned. So now she's cold and angry.

SC are the first of the two teams to reappear, the pop music is still blaring and when ALT run out a far-off home chant wafts our way, the ALT fans attesting once more that their team is, “by far the greatest”. Two pie man is now one pie man, the speed in which he inhaled it, he would really give Tom a run for his money, in some kind of non league eating contest.

The fans around us are singing about how their team make them “happy” when an early chance flies over the bar. One pie man is now no pie man, both gone in not time at all. Orange streaks criss cross the dusk sky and the songs are coming thick and fast, “we’re on our way”, “scarf around my neck” as the home players grow progressively more frustrated and are starting to get a bit overly physical.

A slow opening fifteen is capped with SC winning a free kick and working it well to get the ball into the box. A short pass down the channel is chipped towards the penalty spot, only to be cleared before reaching the intended SC player. The second half has also seen the bustling side stand really come to life, “here's to you Jimmy Gannon” they sing. One of the men in front of us puts it down to the after effects of last nights partying, “they're all still gurning”.

Although it's not spectacular from SC, as one fan puts it the performance is “professional”, the same fan adds that it might to result in a few people “moaning” it’s hardly thrilling stuff, but they look comfortable and are managing the game well.

From a boiling mass of supporters toward the back of the side stand, where most of the away noise is now coming from, comes a long string of goading songs, that fail to get a rise from the home fans, “what's is like to see a crowd?” they bark, “shall we sing a song for you?”. Perhaps the most patronising of all is the suggestion that they are only “here for the County”.

Just shy of twenty minutes gone and a home corner, stirs up no end of panic as the ball knocks about the SC box. “Get it out” urges one person, before the keeper is able to fall on the ball, snuffing out the danger to a cacophony of cheers, at the start of a period of home team dominance. The tide ever so slightly starting to shift on and off the pitch, the home fans grown louder and louder as their team starts to assert its self.

“Not a foul you soft cunt” snarls one SC fan when the home side are awarded a free kick. “Walking right through us” says another, the foul a necessary evil after a meandering run which went unabated and desperate measures had to be taken.

An SC substitution is deemed “defensive” by one fan, the SC manager is shutting up shop as they say. The home teams robust approach and lack of reprisals from the referee is really starting to wear thin, “book him you bastard”, another suggests the foul play is simply “because you're losing”. A wooden rattle somewhere in the crowd to my right ticks over and a rousing song of “we love you Stockport we do” rings out.

Rachel has returned from the toilet, with tales of “no lights”, “loo roll on a coat hanger” and having to use her “torch”, oh and the fact the whole toilet block “moved”. The ALT players are really walking a fine line, “off, off, off” shout the SC fans after another borderline tackle. “You shithouse” screams the now pie filled tall thin redhead. A tidal wave of abuse floods towards the referee who after his chat with the player, where no card was brandished, he is bombarded with booos.

“You've got to beat the first man!” crIes a supporter, as another SC corner, their 77th, doesn't get very far. ALT have a surge up the other end but its comes to nothing and it's now Jim Gannons, name the fans are singing. The referee continues to be the main focus of the supporters “ref you fucking shithouse’’ as another foul on a SC player goes unpunished.

The man in charge must be secretly relieved when the ALT keeper in unable to deal with a simple back pass, taking an almighty swing and a miss at the ball, not going the full Paul Robinson, but close, “You fat bastard” shouts one person at him. The keeper who is giving the player who rolled him the ball the dirtiest of looks, when he has no right to, is far from fat.

Two more SC corners, number 78 and 79, fail to produce. SC suffering as Rachel points out from a very "Tottenham" problem, of not being unable to get the ball into the box, the same person as before bemoaning, “you've gotta beat the first man”.

With less than ten minutes to go a trickle of stewards appear, taking up position for the final whistle, which is like a red rag to a bull to one SC fan, “we’re on the pitch, if County score”. A quick exchange on the edge of the ALT area sees one SC player away and into the box, with his back to
goal he turns sharply and lets loose a rising shot that is tipped over, winning SC their “eleventh corner” according to the man behind me, but I’m sure its more like their 79th.

Whatever number corner it is, nothing comes of  it, ALT are awarded a foul, an infringement on the man in goal apparently, one fans asks, “what did he do, tickle the keeper you soft bastard?”.

Into the final five and a huge shout for a home pen is declined. A blocked home shot means the SC fans are growing increasingly nervous. A stunning home ball, a flat pinged switch of play out to the wing to a player in acres of space means he can with ease get the ball into the box, but it's cleared. All that “professionalism” from earlier in the half has somewhat melted away and its all getting a big frantic. The home fans can sense it and are at their loudest of the day of so far, “come on you reds, come on you reds”.

I’m not sure what a “mard arse” is, however it is the man in front of me’s go to when addressing the referee. His request that he “book” the player who has just fouled an SC one, falls on deaf ears and I might have to ask Rachel to translate. I sense out of not really wanting to watch, so uses talking to me as a distraction, but one man turns his back on the game and is telling me how this season is SC’s “best chance” to “to go up”, he puts it down to the fact that unlike in previous seasons, “not one team is dominating”.

The announcement of the attendance, “3,383” gets a significant cheer, a big chunk of that must be the SC fans, and it sparks songs of “you're only here for the County”.

It’s all ALT, SC are fighting a rearguard action, “I can't watch this” says one person, the sight of maybe conceding a very late equaliser too grizzly to bear. “Four” blurts one fan at the announcement that the “referee has indicated four minutes of added time” everyone to a man is bemused at how he came to that number, one fan puts it down to that the referee must be “wearing a red shirt”.

A late home corner tests the SC fans nerves, but is just about as threatening as theirs have been. “Blue army” is the latest song, and a relieved “weyyy” goes up, when ALT curl a shot over. ALT win a corner, its curled and SC look to break but loose the ball, not long after they win the ball back high up the pitch and break again, this time winning a corner, but guess what.

The final whistle goes with SC in the ALT box. Many home players fall double, resting their hands on their knees, while the fans around me punch the air.

A child on his fathers shoulders, a man in a rainbow wig and the tall thin redhead, are just a couple of the hoard of SC fans singing "win away", the ALT keeper still on his haunches in his six yard box contemplating the defeat, who has not moved an inch. The SC players applaud what has been a fabulous performance by them considering the conditions, so many hangovers, the captain takes things a little further, he high fives and shakes hands with those who are pressed up against the rail around the edge of the pitch, pumping his fist in celebration as he walks away.

Slowly shuffling forward the crowd make the short walk out. One asks a steward if funnelling so many people through such a small space is not a "safety issue". Another takes it up a notch, suggesting he might be "crushed to death" and then has a premonition of what tomorrows newspaper headlines might be, "stewards gave no assistance".

On Rachel and I's ten year anniversary of first seeing SC, its a joy to see them win, we've not exactly been blessed with super games the last few occasions we've watched them. I still struggle for an explanation as to why SC have grown on me quite like they have, why I check for their score almost as quickly as I do Spurs.

I always thought I would die a one team man, but I think that's changing.


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Saturday 5 January 2019

You're In For A Treat - Potton United FC Vs Biggleswade United FC, Spartan South Midlands Football League Premier Division, The Hollow (28/12/18)

It is hard to describe adequately quite how lethargic I feel. The mere notion of having to move further than plugging in one of PS4 controllers, is not worth thinking about. Four solid days of eating, sitting and endless bad films, don't bother with the latest incarnation of Jurassic Park its shocking, as well as numerous late nights filled with double XP on Call Of Duty, plus all the toing and froing between family members houses, for another mince pie, I’m struggling to get myself in the right gear for the night ahead.

I leave my son, daughter and other half on the sofa, the three of them still in their pyjamas, ready to watch Beetlejuice, trying to remember what day it is, as I stagger to the car in that post Christmas, it's almost the new year, but not quite, haze. I just about work out it’s a Friday, and it's no secret we are huge fans of football on a Friday, but it doesn't feel like a Friday. Frankly I’m not sure what it feels like. It certainly feels like a day I don't want to eat anymore turkey on, let's just call it Christmas Day + Three.

I’m happy to report that Tom's Christmas was a success, long time readers will recall from our last outing that Tom and his fiancee were almost overcome with the stress of having to host on the 25th. He informed me that the beef was not over cooked, in fact it was a bit “BLUE” as he put it, and they did cook sprouts, that went down very well.

Tom also informed me that he did not receive the same bottle of whisky from his soon to be father in law, that he had the previous ten years. Instead he decided to mix it up a bit and got him some gin. His soon to be mother in law, the Queen piss taker, bought him a pink sparkling credit card holder, keeping up the long standing tradition, of showering him with shit gifts.

One day I will learn not to take everything that Google Maps says, as gospel. I should have taken into account that a lot of people are still off work and the kids are not in school, and that it was going to be unlikely to take us the two hours it suggested, to travel only fifty three miles. However such is my Toblerone induced funk, I didn't put two and two together, and as we motor by some kind of post apocalyptic retail universe and row after row of prefab houses, that Tom thinks looked like the “Truman show”, we arrive so early, we’re not even sure the club will be open, so go in search of a drink on the local high street.

Glistening with Christmas lights, quiet and quaint Potton’s main drag is positively picturesque. I’m assured by the man at the bar of the George & Dragon pub, that went a little bit American Werewolf in London when we walked in, falling just short of the music stopping, but there were certainly a few turned heads, that I'm not to worry about the parking restrictions on the lamppost outside, “ you won't see a parking warden round here, at this time of night”.

Perched on a couple of stools in one corner of the room, underneath the dart board and at the foot of the Christmas tree, Tom and I enjoy a drink. We use our time constructively, tallying up the scores of a season long prediction challenge, Tom is ahead by three. Any notion that the locals might at any minute drive us out with their pool cues, are put to the sword, following a hello and handshake from the landlord.

“It's cosy” says Tom, his pint of Coke not sufficient in elevating his high temperature brought on by his long johns and other such attire to help combat the cold. However with our drinks all but done, I’m sure he will still be moaning, when we get outside, for a whole other bunch of reasons. If it's not too hot, it's too cold, it's like hanging out with Goldilocks.

Seasons Greetings, reads the large illumination on the side of one building, as we make our way towards tonight's ground, without a parking ticket, and although Tom is going on about the cold, he is still whinging. “Hot” he says, panting away next to me like a Labrador. Via the front drive of one Potton residents home, where an impromptu three point turn is required, and Tom ensures I don't hit any of the “flowers”, we eventually arrive at The Hollow.

When one imagines a pothole, one thinks of a slight dent in the road, a mild inconvenience at best. It therefore would not be accurate to describe those in the car park at the home of Potton United FC (PU) as simply a pothole. Crater, sinkhole, something that Indiana Jones might explore, may be a bit closer to the mark. The noise the bottom of my car makes at one point as I clear the speed bump on the way in, is so sickening I almost cry.

Bathed in darkness The Hollow is not giving much of a clue as to what it has in store. With little to no signs of life, it is therefore a bit surprising to hear Journey blasting out from somewhere, and although I can safely say they are not my favourite band, they are doing a good job of drawing us towards the red brick single storey building behind one goal. The position of which Tom thinks is a bit “dangerous”, which might explain the black metal bars that cover every window.

The beaming smile of Bev, PU’s Secretary is enough alone to justify putting down the chocolate orange, and leaving the house.

She had a “good Christmas” she tells us, a lot of that to do with the fact there was “no football” at PU on boxing day, which she goes on to explain is no bad thing. Although she “loves football on Boxing Day”, the logistics of it, is one she can do without, “you spend all Christmas Day, worrying about the food for the next day”. So she was actually quite relieved following the league reshuffle over the summer, that the one they were joining, unlike the one they left, didn't have games on Boxing day, and she was able to get her “fix” somewhere else.

A nearby table filled with groundhoppers, taking advantage as we are, of the Friday night football, each scan their programmes attentively. One going through PU’s previous results, comments how the encounter between PU and tonight's visitors, Biggleswade United FC (BU), earlier in the season, was “0-0”, which is received with a few snorts of derision, not very promising for the game ahead.

The sight of the programme shifts me from my seat, and the fact that the lady at the Potton Pantry, isn't “ready for me yet”, means Tom joins me on my quest to find the turnstile, which is actually just a gap in the fence with a shed next to it, and not any old shed, but the Beaver Shed. My enquiry if there is a raffle, is met with perhaps one of the most non league replies ever. The people who normally do it, “only got back from France at four” and are “knackered”.

With half the lights having come on since being inside, as well as the music, the current track a bit of an odd one, it sounds like some one is practising their scratching, we get our first look at the minimal, but well formed ground, with its large flat roof all seater stand along one side of the pitch and a much, much smaller, mini terrace to the side of one goal. Behind the opposite goal, is a high metal fence, so substantial, it's the kind of thing Donald Trump has wet dreams about.

I don't think there is a single person who walks through the doors of the clubhouse, who are not greeted with some kind of hand shake, hello or some such welcome or another. Returning to a now much fuller bar, our original seat gone, we squeeze on the end of table where a mother and son are in the middle of a game of cards, while the home players all in blue tracksuits, huddled around the dart board.

The departure of the PU players, some I overhear are off to inspect the pitch, allows the BU players Bev weaves her way through the crowd, clutching what looks like the team sheet and the much louder BU players laugh at the attempts of some players to hit the board. When the Artful Dodger type in his grey flat cap announces “let's go”, those around the dartboard and the reserved blue tablecloth covered table, stand, the sound of their scraping chairs piercing, they follow him off to the changing room. Reducing the decibel level by about half.
all in red, to have a turn at chucking some arrows.

“We shall struggle” explains Bev’s Dad, Nigel. One of the main reasons being the unavailability of one of their “centre halfs” whose absence he tells us is “out of their countol”. The seemingly constant revolving door at so many non league clubs, also means a “few players have left” but he still remains reasonably positive, “it's about on the day”.

For a club at this level, you can't help but be impressed by the set up. The main stand is one I’m sure many clubs would give their right arm to have. The reason PU have it, and not the “wooden one” that used to stand there Nigel tells us, is down to a stroke of misfortune, that in the end had a silver lining. “The old one burnt down, after someone slept in it and left a fag” so “courtesy of an insurance grant” they now have a stand Nigel is clearly very proud of.

Tom is so ready for the Potton Pantry, but is the Potton Pantry ready for him. Guided by the well placed laminated signs, he returns with a sizable looking burger, what he describes as “promising chips” and tales of witchcraft.

Having memorised the menu, after his first failed attempt and having rattled it off at me, after I said I fancied something, I opted for soup, which he dutifully brought me in a Styrofoam cup. The option of soup is not an unfamiliar one, the fact that Tom remembered all the flavours they have on offer is not normal, but it’s not black magic, however the way my minestrone soup was prepared, is straight out of Salem.

Convinced I wouldn't believe him, if he simply told me, “you're in for a treat”. Tom then produces his phone from his pocket and proceeds to show me a lady in a blue tabard, using a blender to make it, “apparently it's the best way to make a Cup a Soup”.

The soup is good, the game of cards to our right has turned into a game of solitaire and a fellow user of the excellent Groundhopper App, David, joins us at our table, who quickly makes me feel very inadequate when he tells us today is the “seven hundred and fifty fifth” game he has logged on the app. Unlike some people for whom simply being near a match counts, he has some very strict criteria, “I won't do park football or Sunday league”.
Not normally one for loafing around in clubhouses, much to Toms annoyance, the one at PU has well and truly got its claws into me, and it's a real wrench when with kick off closing in, Tom suggests it's time to leave. I’m comfy and warm and although there are bars over the windows, I’ve got a reasonable view of the pitch, so seriously consider just staying put.

As per the instructions on the sign at the entrance to the pitch, the players are warming up not on the pitch, but behind the dugouts. The music continues to come a bit out of left field, the latest offering I’m sure has the repeated lyric of, “suck me off, suck me off”. The pitch still only half lit, and the clubhouse is now officially chock a block and in a nice change from someone saying Tom looks like Jurgen Klopp, today its Guillem Balague.

Oh and I forgot to mention the music has taken another interesting turn, when the theme tune to Ghostbusters starts to play.

Sometimes words are not required, a scrunched up face, says it all. That of one home fan discussing their fortunes tonight, gives the game away completely, not very hopeful at all. “Let's get ourselves in” is the stern shout from the PU manager, that momentarily drowns out The Weather Girls, as he beckons in the players who are now ignoring the sign and are taking a few pot shots on goal, one of which very nearly kills someone. It’s only for the collective shout of “heads” that a death is prevented.

Passing a children's slide and the other playground equipment, the players emerge from the side of the clubhouse, down the caged open roofed tunnel all to the sound of E-40’s, Things'll Never Change. The brief appearance of Bev, sees her get a song from the boisterous crowd that have gathered along the mini terrace in front of a St George's cross with P U F C in each corner, “we love you Bev Strong, Bev Strong”.

Not since Germany have we seen a fan with a megaphone, and I must admit I didn't think the next time I would see one would be at a non league ground in Bedfordshire, however I have just been proven wrong, by one fan in the mini stand, who has not used it to start a song or chant but simply to shout, “fuck off Biggleswade”.

There is more shouting, but it's not from the mini stand or the packed main stand, but the BU manager, who in his thick Spanish accent, from underneath his tight blue woolly hat, is responding to the early home pressure, in the most poetic of ways, “you need to win the war”.

Sounding like he's repeating the name of an electro indie band, “Danny react, Danny react”, the home bench joins in, however his request of more from his team falls on deaf ears, because with around thirteen minutes on the clock, bearing in mind there is no clock and no PA to confirm it, so don't hold me to it, the visitors have just taken the lead. The scorer running past the megaphone wielding home fans, with a single finger pushed against his pursed lips, and they are far from impressed.

Although I’m sure PU would disagree, the goal has been a blessing in disguise, after a very slow opening ten minutes, the game has really come to life and we are almost treated to an own goal of Lee Dixon type quality, but the ball drifts just wide, instead of over the hapless BU keeper.

Surprisingly its BU who have been on the back foot since the goal, far from being boosted by goal, it seems to have had the opposite effect and their keeper begins a long string of mistakes, that sends BU hearts racing. “Fucking hell” shouts one player after a shocking kick out from the back, nearly causes them all sorts of bother and when not long after he fumbles a simple cross under minimal pressure, a clear chink in the BU armour is detected by everyone in blue.

There are plenty of people here, there is plenty of low level chatter and a few laughs, especially after the BU keepers fumble, but it's still very quiet here. The home bench is by far the loudest, on twenty minutes they encourage one player in the box to “hit it”, which he does, turning swiftly and getting his shot off, but it comes to nothing. The away manager has simply been reduced to making angry noises, as his team continue to stutter despite their lead.

Toms childhood ambition of being a ball boy has taken a couple of dents in the last couple of weeks. Firstly at Hitchin when he was so scared the ball was going to hit his face he ducked out of the way of it and tonight when his attempt at a side footed pass back on to the pitch, goes no where near its intended target and he almost falls over.

Talking of Hitchin and our post Christmas outing to Top Field, rummaging in my deep pocket I discover the fragile paper bag containing my pick and mix, that are now are little harder, having spent the last week ten days in the boot of my car. “They've kept well” says Tom, who reminds me of his “take a pinch, chuck it in” philosophy, but seems hesitant in giving it a go.

So close! PU go the closest they have to drawing level, after a floated cross is met in the box, but the
flicked header is just wide. The move was made possible by one midfielders smart turn, shimmy and serge forward in midfield, cementing the fact that the home side have been the better team since the going behind.
The reason perhaps for Tom not having an appetite for “dessert” as he would call it, might be because
of the burger, but that’s doubtful, it’s more likely to be down to the fact there is an unmistakable stench in the air, which may have something to do with what Tom thinks is a nearby “sewage works” and having been on both sides of the pitch, he is now referring to where we are now, as the “smelly side”.

When PU are awarded a free kick, their manager is not backwards in coming forwards, “keeper spills everything, get on top of him” he bellows. Sadly his team can't get the ball over the first man, “what the fuck was that?’’ tut's a supporter.

Except for picking the ball out of his own net, the home keeper all in neon orange has had very little to do, his counterpart in trousers, I wore trousers when I played in goal at school, like an overweight Massimo Taibi, has been far busier and by the simple fact he has chosen trousers, when its not cold, means the home stopper wins the battle of the number 1’s.

On a rare attack, a BU forward breaks free of the home back line and is bearing down on goal, but as one of the fans behind the goal puts it, “you’re shit” when somehow, his shot balloons up and wide of the goal, and he ends up as a heap on the ground, his face overcome with embarrassment.

Unfortunately the not inconsiderable sized group in the mini stand, their megaphone having a hiatus, are more concerned with slagging people off, then getting behind their team. On the very brief occasion they sing, banging on the back of the stand to get it going, their very limited chant book containing their own version of “he's one of our own”, is all too infrequent and they soon just revert to type, “you're fucking shit”.

The linesman frantically shaking his flag on the far side of the pitch to get the attention of the referee, seems to disagree with the suggestion from the home bench that their player, “didn't touch him”. The cross body check gets a yellow and not content with just using the megaphone, as a megaphone, the home fans are now using it to pipe in their own backing track, “ola, ola, ola, ola”.

My back is starting to ache, the combination of all the roast potatoes and the thin blue railing which is far too low to actually lean on, one man is at a full right angle up against it, means I’m starting to get that feeling in my lower back, that you get when you've been standing for too long at a concert. Tom points out a “bench” opposite us, but before I can get too excited, he also points out that it is currently occupied by a “little kid”.

Tom is convinced that BU are going to “demolish” PU in the “second half”, but with still nearly a quarter of the half to play, I’m not quite sure why he is making such grand predictions quite yet. Maybe it had something to do with the sight of the latest PU attempt to equalise, a header that ended up going closer to the corner half than the goal.

The game might not be the most riveting we’ve seen so far this season, but at least we have the linesman and his crab like shuffle to entertain us, unfortunately because of my big mouth, he gets all self conscious and as Tom put it, “he's changed now he heard you”.

Despite the shout from increasingly lived home manager, “we're making our own problems boys”, it's the BU keeper who he should be directing that at. He is single handedly gifting the home side some golden opportunities to score, but they just can't make the most of them. With just over five left to play a lofty cross almost catches him out, manically back peddling he just gets enough on it to tip it over and things don't get any better from the resulting corner, when his woeful attempt at a punch, almost ends in tears.

What was at first a chink in their armour, is now a gaping hole, and the PU manager doesn't understand why his team are not punishing them, “we've got to challenge the keeper”.

Someone quite clearly got a new toy for Christmas, because the megaphone does sound effects too, and one has to applaud the timing of the use of the police siren as the BU physio rushes on the pitch, its immaculate. The shouts of “let him die” aimed at the same downed player the physio is attending to, seem a little harsh and both teams use the break in play to take on some water.

“Polite boy” says Tom, impressed by a BU players choice of language when remonstrating with the linesman for not getting a throw in. Much quieter and with a bit more blaspheming the mumbling commentator next to us, is getting fed up at the sight of his teams wayward passing, “oh my Lord”. Taking things up another level and their manager is close to boiling point, so much bad passing, lazy in possession and criminal indecisiveness, half time could not come soon enough for him.

Muffled boo’s drift out from the mini stand on the half time whistle. They had spent the final few minutes of the half singing their loudest song so far, which I couldn't for the life of me work out what they were saying. They then asked if anyone could “hear the Biggles sing?” before going full circle, and telling the departing BU players to “fuck off”.

With the lack of music and Tom having already eaten, there is not a lot to talk about, it's a very somber half time indeed. The passing chat with Luke and his kids, who we’ve bumped into on our travels before is a definite bonus, however never in my life have I wanted some 80’s music distorted by some ageing speakers, like I do right now.

I can't work out what is better, the false restart, the referee not happy with someone, so he asks for the kick off to be retaken, or the fact some life has returned to The Hollow, when the home manager demands his players, “liven up” and they do just that.

“Keeper well done, unreal from you” shouts one BU fan, at the sight of the once wobbly looking keeper, who now looks far more composed, stopping a barrage of PU shots. Firstly one on one with the “rapid” as one person has dubbed the PU number 7, who was well away from the defence, but couldn't find the finish and then beating out a fierce low driven shot.

He then undoes all this good work, with a very shonky goal kick, perhaps it had something to do with the crowd behind him in the mini stand, who have not moved for the second half and are singing, “oh Kevin de Bruyne”.

What a first ten minutes we have been treated to, the tempo is through the roof, there have been chances galore and the stress levels on each bench are reaching maximum, which all makes for very
excellent viewing. Convinced his team should have been awarded a penalty after a push in the box after a flowing move, it's not until he is informed the attacker was “offside” does the BU manager stop his tirade of angry noises.

PU go close following a header at the back post and the ball drops into the middle of the six yard box, which the PU player does well to control and take down well, but he just doesn't have enough room to turn and shoot.

The “ola, ola, ola” is back in the mini stand, but it's not for long, and as the four BU fans next to us put it, “it's all gone quiet over there”, PU have conceded. The BU manager punches the air in delight, as all the promise and optimism of the opening twenty minuets of the new half melts away

“You're not a sub are you?” asks one of the four BU fans, hanging through the tiny side window of the away dugout, giving some of his beer to someone inside. Only such behaviour would be possible because the BU manager has his back to them, resting down on his haunches watching the match.

A fine mist has rolled in, which for once has nothing to do with the copious amount of smoke Toms vape seems to emit and the not so dodgy keeper is again showing off what else he has in his locker along with all the iffy punches, when from point blank range he tips over a wicked shot and one of the beer sharers is in a near state of shock, “what a save”.

From the resulting corner PU squander a chance to score for the umpteenth time, as hushed “how's” ring out when the ball travels all the way through the BU box and not one PU player can get on the end of it.

The police siren is back, the “fuck off Biggleswade” brigade are back, the first half BU keeper who has been a changed man since his half time orange is back, with his biggest faux pas of the match so far. Spilling a low tame shot, that almost, almost creeps inside of the post, much to the pleasure of the mini stand, “you’re shit”.

Twenty minutes have played, and although the home side are two behind, it's all them on and off the pitch. The mega phone is in overdrive, “blue army” they sing, between their unorthodox and very loud match commentary and comments about away players facial hair, “number five has bum fluff”.

Again PU fizz a ball through the BU box, again no one is there to tap it in, again the home fans take a detour way from their usual rhetoric, with a genuine attempt at rallying their players, banging the back wall of the stand, “Potton, Potton” as well as a few lines of “blue army” and only a couple of minutes later, after all their teams huff and puff but with nothing to show for it they are rewarded with a goal.

The backwards header that flies past the keeper is the least that PU deserve and there is no time spent celebrating, the players rush back towards the centre circle limiting themselves to the odd high five. The mini stand have gone all gooey, battering the stand, they show off their much nicer side, “oh Potton we love you”.

“He's in” gasps a BU fan as the PU number seven, races towards their goal but his shot is wild and over. The home fans are singing about one of their players who “sleeps in his kit” and ensuring he tests his managers nerves completely, the BU keeper is charging out of his area, kung fu kicking the ball clear and in an awkward turn of events a BU supporter then celebrates a goal, that isn't a goal, and I’m sure feels like a bit of prat.

We’ve got it all going on here, in the words of Danny Dyer, it's got very “lively”.

It’s normally Tom I rely on with moments of Pep, for my tactical analysis, but he’s still recovering for his Christmas excesses, so instead I’m required to earwig on one BU fan who is dishing out all the knowledge. His assessment of the PU tactics is crude, but acute, “proper Sunday league set up, lump it up front to two big fuckers”. A second BU fan, who is a far less unrefined, but no less on point, hits the nail on the head. “It's been all Potton since the second goal” as another home shot swerves towards the BU goal.

Thinking he is the person who can make the difference, one BU sub sidles up to the manager having just finished his warm up and whispers in his ear, “I’m ready”. More pressingly though the man with the microphone is getting a bit out of control, his latest shout of “yiddo”, he’s either a lost Spurs fan or it was something a bit more sinister, has pressed one BU fan to demand that someone one “take the megaphone off him, that's ridiculous”.

Still very much in the game, chucking everything they can at the visitors, with just under ten left to play, it's verging on the heartbreaking when a daisy cutter of a shot from outside the box quite literally pings off the foot of the BU post instead of rolling into the back of the net.

The mist has thickened, the temperature has dropped and the shouts from previously buoyant away fans, have grown increasingly nervy, “come on Biggleswade”. I’ve lost count of the amount of chances PU have had and BU have conceded, as another ball skips through the away teams six yard box, if the PU don't take advantage of one of them soon, they are going to regret it.

Few things are better in football then arguments between dugouts. I don't condone Mourinho eye gouging or abusing elderly people like Pardew, but a heated exchange of words is never anything other then amusing.

“Google me mate” suggests one of the BU bench, in reply to a comment from the SU technical area. “Shit banter” accuses the home manager of the grey flat cap wearer from the clubhouse. However the decisive blow and the victory goes to the away side, who is a single short sentence, stop the exchange dead, “just like your hairline”.

The nearby BU fans chip in with a few of their own few jabs, “what's the score?”, they ask, then
going as far as to say the the home manger is going to “cry in a minute” but it’s completely unnecessary, he’s out for the count.

Less than five minutes to go and it's dawned on the mini stand, it might not be their night, “you’re nothing special, we lose every week”. In a sign of sheer desperation, after one fans suggests they, “pretend we’ve scored a goal”, they do just that. Thankfully for their own dignity they stop to claim a penalty, but its waved away.

Anything other than a late flurry of more penalty shouts and chances would have been a disappointment, at the end of a rather thrilling half. The home keeper clears a back pass, that spins off the defender and almost in the goal. BU are awarded a free kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the PU box, only for them to hit it straight at the wall.

The home bench waves the team up field and it nearly pays off. A through ball almost finds the number 7 again, but this time the BU keeper is able to gather, clattering into one of his team mates as he does and two late corners, nearly, nearly conjure an equaliser. The first sees the cross go inches above an unmarked PU players head and the second results in a sea of bodies on the floor and shouts for a penalty and the waving arms of the referee is the signal he is not going to give it.

A much larger cheer than I was expecting rings around The Hollow on the final whistle. The shadowy figures in the main stand must have been BU fans, sitting on their hands until now. The group in the mini stand are not shy in sharing their opinions with the BU players walking off, but why would they care, its water of a ducks back, its them going home with the three points.

Best bit of the night? The magic trick BU pulled off by swapping keepers, without anyone noticing, Tom nearly falling over, the way one group of fans turned the "ya, ya, ya" of the BU manager into a song about Yaya Toure or Bev's Dad trying to make sure he finally got a bit of recognition, "she gets all the credit, I do all the work".


For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE


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