Monday 25 March 2019

They Don’t Fancy It - Barton Rovers FC Vs Corby Town FC, Evo-Stik Southern League Central, Sharpenhoe Road (06/03/19)

Dreary weather and whispers on Twitter of a pitch inspection don't exactly have me leaping off my sofa when the time comes around to heading off to meet Tom. The ‘fake news’ regarding the weather affecting the playing surface at tonight's ground is soon squashed by the relevant parties, however the weather looks only to be deteriorating as I pull up alongside Tom at the end of my road. Much like the twats on the Apprentice do, he is holding his phone horizontally to his mouth, talking into the end of it, and when I eventually get his attention, he waves his hand at me with his thumb and little finger extended, making the international sign of, I’m on the telephone.

Heading north today and not to Kent, there will be no chance to eulogise about our favourite bridge, lovely sky or spectacular sunset, at this rate. It’s grey, drab and frankly a bit depressing. More stag chat and learning that according to Tom that “Bristol” has the “most strip clubs per square metre in Europe”, is interrupted by the pitter patter of rain falling on the roof.

It's inevitable arrival sends Tom into weather watch mode, spending his time either scanning the horizon, assessing if its a nimbus or a cumulus or studying the weather app on his phone. Double checking to see if the tiny water droplets have turned a darker or lighter shade of grey and what is the likelihood of more rainfall. Being with him can sometimes be like being in a shit sequel to the film Twister, without any of the effortless coolness of Bill Paxton that he brought to the first one. He was in Aliens after all.

“Kind of blue” says Tom hesitantly, not in reference to my favourite Miles Davis album, but doing his best to make the best out of a bad situation. The slimmest chink of non grey sky gets him excited, but it's fleeting, because in the next breath I have to turn my windscreen wipers to maximum and peering through the rain soaked window he all of a sudden says “oh a river” as if a torrent only Meryl Streep could traverse, is flowing down the road next to us.

If we’re not in Kent, as of late we are seemingly somewhere in the vicinity of the UK's premier hat making town, after Stockport of course, “oh we’re near Luton again” realises Tom. As changeable as an awards show presenters frock, the clouds soon part revealing what Tom calls a “Jesus sun”, breaking through the gloom with its many laser beam rays, touching everything in their reach, it’s a vision from Renaissance painting.

“Its easing”, “its stopping”, “it's nice over there”, might be the most amateurish weather forecast in the history of meteorology. “It’s blue over there” is hardly something Tomasz Schafernaker would say.

Overdue its service, I’m not sure my car is up to the challenge of the speed bumps leading to Sharpenhoe Road home of Barton Rovers FC (BR). Each one throws you first backwards, then violently forward, regardless of the speed I am going. Past the bowling club and scout hut, we can just about make out the floodlights off to our right.

“Cup of tea and a wee” announces Tom, getting his priorities in order moments before our arrival. Stepping out of the car and straight into a sizable puddle, the rain has stopped, but it’s left it’s trademark everywhere and the clouds are shifting at quite the rate. The St Georges cross atop the white flag pole on the way in, has been buffeted up by the stiff north westerly.

All he’s missing is an armoured car and he could have his very own series of Storm Chasers, Tom pointing off into the distance tells me, “they are some ominous black clouds”. Out on the pitch a man with a fork is doing what men with forks on pitches do, only stopping to answer the queries of a passerby, “its OK out there, not the best”

In dribs and drabs, and not exactly looking pleased to be here, BR’s opponents and current third in the league side Corby Town FC (CT), head straight to their changing room but it’s only transitory and they are soon filing back past me, on their way to the pub, yes a pub and not a “clubhouse” as Tom is insisting on calling it. It’s a pub and I won't hear another word contrary on the matter.

It has a name, The Ball & Jack, how many clubhouses do you know with names, and their very own swinging sign outside? End of discussion.

“It’s firm” jokes Darren, BR’s Chairman, with the man with the fork, who now has a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, Darren telling me is in the best non league tradition, that the man with a fork and a fag is the “vice chairman”. As the sun slowly sinks behind a large tree topped hill in the distance, I ask Darren how many spectators they would expect tonight, the fact that local side Hitchin Town are also playing “kills us” he tells me. That in combination with the poor weather, although Darren like Tom is a keen meteorologist, reckons as far as any more “rain” is concerned, the recent deluge on the way here, is “supposed to be it for now”.

I thought I could sense a bit of apprehension in his voice as we discussed what the referee might have to say about conditions while the “vice chairman” sans fag continues to tend to the pitch, but he is rather bullish actually, “if he's starting it, he's finishing it, I don't care if they finish in a bog”.

Sounding a bit like a reporter for the Racing Post, Richard a BR committee member describes the pitch as “heavy” but playable, as he welcomes us into the clubs lounge adjacent to the pub at the back of the main stand, the sign on the door making it very clear its only for season tickets holders and board members, so I’m not sure why we have been invited in. With white linen billowing from the ceiling, leather sofas and walls chocker with club memorabilia, most notably a whole wall dedicated to the clubs YEAR visit to Wembley for the 1978 FA Vase Final, it’s like a cross between a museum and a strip club.

“Not many clubs have a view like that” says Richard pointing out through the large french windows, above which reads “home of the Rovers”, their home perfectly framed by them like a picture. A row of black leather seats and stools are neatly lined up behind them to give the ideal view of the pitch but also beyond, Richard pointing out beyond to the scenery that surrounds us.

Giving us the tour Richard highlights there is “plenty of history around here” not only are the walls covered, but various cabinets dotted about are heaving with silverware and a commemorative boater
from local Football League side Luton Town. The arrival as Richard says of one of the “shabby referees team” sees the complementary biscuits on the small bar at the opposite end of the room to the FA Vase shrine, take a battering.

As the BR manager gets into the important business of deciding his team, he’s joined by Darren whose acting as scribe at a high window side table, over his shoulder the floodlights come to life and we are joined by the BR President who regales us with a few stories, anecdotes and opinions on the state of modern football. How “money” is the root of all evil, not only do none of the mega millions of the top flight “filter down” to their level, but also the leagues competitiveness has been “ruined by three or four clubs” with money to burn and how a player who left them recently to line his pockets was as “reliable as a Woolworth's watch”.

Our tea done, Tom’s own snaffled biscuits consumed, I must point out he was far more reserved than the gorging referees assistant, we venture outside where the wind is absolutely ripping through and Tom is forced into an early costume change, “I’ll have to get my snood out”. He then asks, keen to get out the cold, “wanna go in the pub?”. I rejoice, thinking he has come round to my way of thinking, but he’s just pulling my leg and his tedious grin forms on his face. Anyway, I have a few things to sort out, before we do anything else.

In the distance I can hear the muffled sound of a busy main road and by the now open turnstiles a man is selling programmes out of a cardboard box, sat on top of what looks like a very low coffee table. Half bathed in a red light cast by the heater inside the turnstile, he is so softly spoken I have to strain to hear what he says.

He hands me a programme from the box and two blue 50/50 tickets from a bucket. “Winners?” asks
Tom, I doubt it.

The newly illuminated floodlights are so dazzlingly bright, if Tom had brought them I would probably would pinched his sunnies to shield my eyes. A combination of the far from ideal weather, and the blinding lights, we turn about face, leaving the programme seller to offer up his wares to those arriving, and head off to the pub.

“It's not a pub!” snaps Tom, “I can stick a sign on the side of my house, does that make it a pub?” he asks. I try not to show that he’s actually just made a very good point, so pretend I didn't hear him, but suitably pick up the pace a bit to create some distance between me and my tormentor.

It certainly feels like a pub, it has the faint whiff of a pub, it has a bar, which has optics like a pub, its has an amazing patterned carpet like a pub and a big screen showing the build up to the preparations of tonight's Champions League matches like a pub. It’s a pub. A busy one at that. A mixture of BR fans and their opposite numbers in very smart looking black and white striped scarves, fill the large tables.

The BR crest hangs above the bar and Tom is about to be in for a bit of a shock, “is that all the food you've got?” he asks the barman, pointing to what is essentially a Gregg's condensed into a bar top glass fronted heated cabinet, full of a selection of beige pastry morsels. I find a seat and leave Tom absolutely crestfallen, “yes” answers the bar man, that is all the food they serve.

“This is it”, says Tom. I don't think I have the adequate vocabulary to describe just how mortified he is, “this” being two pale sausage rolls placed side by side on a white polystyrene tray. “Sausage rolls and a Pepsi for dinner” he laments, and before he has even taken a bite, he leans in to tell me, “I'm not gonna lie I'm a bit heartbroken”. Much like with me and my programme and raffle requirements, Tom has his own list, a short one mind, of match day essentials, “You can't go to football and not have a burger”.

He is absolutely miserable, and tucks into his underwhelming meal very quietly, barely looking up as he makes his way through sausage roll number one and then number two. Only occasionally stopping to take a sip from his Pepsi, they didn't even have “Coke” which only adds to his melancholy, and if only to compound his bad night in the pub, the bar man couldn't “can't find pins” either. Not even the rousing Champions League music can shake him from his sorrow reverie, I could be in for a long night.

It's not quite a torrent of people coming through the turnstiles, let's call it a steady stream, but it looks like there will be a reasonable crowd tonight, despite Darren's concerns. BR’s coach from the edge of the pitch, brings the home teams warm up to an end, “starting eleven in we come”. Leaving only the substitutes to continue to shooting practise as the wind starts to howl. The corner flags are starting to lean and the St Georges cross is now whipping about from side to side.

The CT and BR managers exchange hand shakes and a few pleasantries at the mouth of the tunnel, before going their separate ways. I imagine they would have chatted for longer, if it wasn't for the fact that the very first song of the night to be played over the PA, is bloody George Ezra.

“Good evening and welcome to Sharpenhoe Road ” says the mild mannered voice over the PA, before proceeding to read the teams out. A huge gust of wind nearly blows Tom off his feet, not being weighed down by his usual half a pound of ground beef, he’s a little light on his feet. Having been reluctantly dislodged from their cosy changing rooms by the high pitched ring of the referees bell, the players wait for his signal to walk out onto the pitch.

Before the home team get things underway, there are a few last pitchside drills to complete and the generic female voiced R&B music to be faded out, and with a single kick of a ball, they unwittingly begin a series of events, that contribute to what might be the most end to end match we have ever seen. One that rewards those who braved the gale force winds and who didn't go to Hitchin ten fold.

“Come on Corby” shouts one of the small group of CT fans in the rural bus stop looking terrace next to us. “Looked like it would have been easier to score’’ says a baffled Tom, the start of the action is near enough instantaneous. BR racking up two chances and the game is barely two minutes old. I thought it was in, but according to Tom the ball “hit the backboard” and not “the back of the net”. They are awarded a corner, so one CT player must have got something on it, but they all look as confused as us.

The corner brings about the second chance, from close range the CT keeper doesn't know if he’s coming or going, flapping about, he can only watch as the BR player swipes at the bouncing ball on the edge of the six yard box, somehow sending his shot over, instead of in to the gaping net. Almost every teammate in the box clamps their hands to the top of their head, one player knocked to the ground in the initial melee, looks at the guilty player with wide eyes. All the way from his area the BR keeper is astounded that they haven't scored

“Dodgy keeper” mumbles Tom to himself, CT’s is back at it again, this time a long range shot that looked straightforward enough to save, is fumbled wide like a giant neon yellow hot potato, too painful to hold.

From the resulting corner, how many is that already?, the CT keeper makes a meal of his punch, his attempt to clear it, ends up hitting the post. “Fucking hell” gasps one of the nearby CT supporters, however he gets away with it, just, thanks to a team mate who boots it clear. In what might be the most peaceful attempt to stir a team we’ve ever seen, and by God do CT need it, they are a MESS, a young man behind the goal they are attacking, which they haven't been anywhere close to yet, lightly taps out deh, deh, deh, deh on the hoardings. With no song or chant to accompany the rhythm, he does it for a second time and for the sake of his team, he might want to up the energy level a bit, they need something to wake them up.

It takes BR a whole thirteen minutes to score the goal they have looked like scoring since about ten seconds in. It is no great surprise it comes from a mistake at the back, the CT defence has not been at the races at all. A poor header, which I think was aimed at the keeper is latched on to, and the whole back line have their arms up in the air Full Monty style, all heads turned to the linesman, while the BR forward slots it past the hapless keeper.

Although I can only see the back of the head of the CT manager and his assistant in their long Southern League blue coats, I can sense their glaring, their intense and piercing glares. As CT prepare to restart one BR defender can smell blood, “they don’t fancy it” he shouts, falling just short of maniacally rubbing his hands together, like a baddie from a Charles Dickens novel.

“Has my hearing gone or is there a strong Scottish contingent?” asks a slightly befuddled Tom and no, his mind isn't playing tricks on him, there is a definite Gaelic flavour about the place. One of the CT centre backs certainly is, someone in the crowd gives themselves away when they ask very loudly following a foul on a home player in front of the main stand, “got to be a yellow card?”.

Last, but certainly not least is the CT manager, who until now had been reasonably placid on the side lines, glaring yes, but quiet, contemplative. This all changes mind, when about a minute after going one behind, his team almost gift BR another. After a string of shonky attempts to clear the ball, a BR player bounces a header off the top of the cross bar.

“Get a fucking grip on them” he screams, “you’re taking the fucking piss” he adds, gesticulating heavily with his hands, saying he is livid is not quite enough to illustrate his mood, his voice reaching a pitch, that is going to start to attract the local K9 community. While he terrifies his players, a Scottish telling off, so much more abrasive, than your average English one, Tom is quietly chuckling to himself, “I love how Scottish people say piss”.

Considering where each team find themselves in the table, CT are pushing for promotion, BR are very much in middle of the pack, Tom asks if we are “watching the right team?”. CT are a shambles and things almost look like they are about to go from bad to worse, when a BR player is hauled to the ground on the edge of the CT box. He looked like the last man to me, but the referee does not agree with Tom, “that's got to be a straight red” and he gives nothing. The BR keeper waves his arms in protest.

CT register their first shot after about fifteen minutes, buts its off target and the BR keeper just watches it skid wide. “Come on Corby” shouts one of the group to our left, already with a hint of desperation in his voice, having already bypassed positive. The young man behind the goal lightly
beats out a rhythm again, but once again there is no song.

“Every time” says Tom astonished, BR swing in another corner and nearly score, CT’s players minds totally switch off at set pieces and their manager can't believe what he’s seeing. Where as it was all one way traffic in the first quarter, at least CT have worked out how to string a few passes together going forward and at last hit the target with their latest attempt, even if they still look like strangers at the back. Two shots in two minutes, they really are pushing the boat out, but the curling attempt from outside the box is straight at the keeper, but at least it means for a moment the ball is not anywhere near their area.

“It will settle down” says Tom somewhat disbelievingly, but it doesn't look that will be anytime soon. A CT free kick in a dangerous position and then even more threateningly CT make it into the box, getting themselves into a fine shooting position, but instead of “leathering” it as Tom puts it, the player on the ball dilly-dally's and loses it, the chances are now coming thick and fast for both teams.

The latest shout of “come on Corby” sounds a tad more upbeat.

CT’s number 11 in his very short shorts, and socks around his ankles has Tom reaching for his rule book, “isn't it illegal not to wear shin pads?” he wonders. My understanding of shin pads has changed a lot since I started going to football regularly. At school mine went up to my knee, and  were akin to something from a suit of armour, when in the real world, actual footballers play with ones that are about the same size as a cheque book.

“Go and get me a Snickers” asks Tom, the sausage rolls really were not sufficient and he is regretting not getting anything more substantial. No chance I’m going anywhere, CT are fully awake and angry, like some ancient mythical beast, they are only here with one purpose, reeking havoc. “Fuck” shouts of one their supporters, whose comments are infrequent but always to the point. Just shy of thirty minutes another CT shot hits the target, and the BR keeper is now having a bit of a wobble, unable to hold it first time he spills it, getting hold of it on the second attempt.

“Squeeze the fucking game right in” instructs the CT manager, I’m loathed to make any stereotypical Braveheart comparisons because of where the man is from, that would be a bit cheap, but everything he says in his shrieking Scottish accent, sounds all the better for it.

The one child band is still offering up his gentle taps of the hoarding, I feel compelled to go and join him to give him a hand, but he seems OK. On the far side of the pitch in the small car park, just along from my motor, is a sight that will join the long pantheon of things you will only ever see at non league football, “someones sitting in their car” and watching the match, points out Tom, headlamps on and everything.

Tom is fading, “Not sure I'll make the 90” he tells me. Maybe I should go and get him that Snickers before he takes a turn for the worse. He is clearly losing circulation to his extremities, and has started doing the slightly embarrassing exercises he does to get a bit of life into them, the sort that make me want to move away from him, however he soon stops when the Lothario in him kicks in, because he has just noticed the all female spin class taking place in the open doored portacabin next to the main stand.

The CT players are growing increasingly angry at each other as the misplaced pass tally increases. However they are still racking up the shots on goal, just after thirty minutes and they send another just wide, so it's a bit like swings and roundabouts. “Come on Corby” says one visiting fan laughing, “why are you laughing?”asks a fellow fan quizzically, “I’m trying to be positive”.

You hear players being called all sorts at football, sometimes it’s witty, sometimes it’s far from it, but when a CT supporter calls a BR one a “toffee’’ following what he thinks is a soft foul in the BR box, I don't know if its some kind of a private joke, a reference to Everton or what, but non league football can be very confusing sometimes.

“Let's relax” suggests one BR player to his teammates, and I’m all for that, I need a few moments to get a grip, this game is nuts. Just over ten to go and the chances are still coming, BR hook the ball clear after a close rage CT shot is blocked and then the home side go up the other end, and for the first time don’t look nailed onto scoring from a corner.

As the half comes to a close BR mount a late resurgence, after CT’s most promising period of the match and how they have not just doubled their lead, is anybodies guess. Great work down the far side of the pitch, sees the ball crossed in with venom, finding the intended player in the box, but the shot is lacking any composure and is lashed over. “Fuck off” sneers a CT player, who can’t comprehend the amount of chances they are conceding.

The pitch is holding up and the rain has so far held off, but the game is reaching a level of shoutyness, that might be an all time record for us. “Unlucky” bellows the BR keeper after a teammates tame long range shot. The CT supporters are also getting in on the act, their frustrations are growing as their team continues to show a complete inability to make the simplest of passes, “what are you doing, bloody rubbish”.

“That was the weirdest celebration” says Tom, and he’s not talking about the elongated “yesssss” that one CT fan has just expelled like a deflating balloon, but that of the CT scorer, the game now level, who ran off to after crashing the ball in, but when he wasn't joined by any of this teammates, awkwardly cut short his post goal routine.

With the goal coming moments before the break, Tom suggests I think rightly it’s “going to be a very different second half” but he is somewhat jumping the gun, as this half still has a bit more to offer up, before it is done. “Give me a bit of quality, you've given me nothing” demands the CT manager of one of his players.

“Ohhhhhh” go the CT fans, following their players shot from the narrowest of angles, after some good jinking feet in the box, that allows the player the space to get off a fierce driven drive, which the BR keeper can only palm away and out for a corner. A corner that completes the turnaround, from one goal down, CT now find themselves two goals up. “Two one, two one” sings the young man behind the goal.

I don't think we’ve ever seen a game quite like this, completely unrelenting. The CT fans are sure they should have been awarded a penalty but the referee in their opinion “bottled it”. BR’s keeper continues the first half tradition being observed by both men in goal, of having a bit of mare. This time another shit punch, that is limp and barely clears the area. It allows a CT player a free shot at goal, which he thunders into the arse of an unsuspecting BR defender and then CT are awarded a free kick after a handball, or as one of their fans put it, “it looks like he was playing bloody netball”. All of this in the matter of about three minutes. My head is spinning, but here is one last twist before I can compose myself.

“Stop the cross” commands the CT bench, with a BR player flying down the wing, on this occasion the ball is cut out, however considering corners have been their Kryptonite tonight, the fact the cross was stopped short of reaching the box, might end up being more of a hindrance, then a help.

“Every fucking time” says the CT keeper, BR now level, the near post header evading him completely. To say CT have a real issue from set pieces, would be an understatement. “Any chance we can start defending Corby?” asks a CT supporter, however it’s the BR players asking the referee to “blow the whistle”, never has the idea of an orange slice and a sit down seemed more appealing, but he doesn't quite yet, there’s still enough time for one more six yard box scrabble, this time in the BR area.

The whistle finally sounding as the ball is eventually lumped clear, but not before a fair few miss kicks and last ditch blocks. A welcome relief to the panic stricken home players, who for a moment looked like they were going to concede right at the death.

There is a dramatic and sudden drop in the intensity, in the seconds after the whistle. All I can hear is the voice of one player, I can't work out from which team, who is talking to the referee about one of the penalty appeals, admitting it would have been a “soft one” but it was one all the same. I bask in the much needed calm and quiet. Tom is off in search of more food and I take a seat in need of a breather.

Such is my exhaustion, I’m somewhat ambivalent about the fact my 50/50 ticket is not the “lucky” one, as the somewhat garbled voice over the PA announces the winning number. It’s actually quite nice to just hear something relatively normal, after all the fury of the first half. There is something quite comforting, almost grounding, in the familiar feeling of losing. It’s brought me somewhat back down to earth, jolting me free of my funk, with a gentle thud. I could really do with one of the soft empty executive seats behind the French doors in the main stand, now vacant as people I imagine tuck into the biscuits, but make do with my stone step.

“What's your 50/50?” asks Tom, “no one's claiming it” he tells me, after his brief stint in the pub. “Thought it might be you” he tells me, not having yet giving me the chance to reply, he finally takes a breath and I tell him it’s not me. “Ohh” he says.

CT are out early, and there is much discussion amongst the players about the half ahead. Tom has tucked into his crisps and Mars bar, which will hopefully see him through to full time. Our nearby CT posse have moved on to behind the goal their team is now attacking and the referee rings the bell to signify to the teams in the changing room that it's time to restart, however they are already waiting for him on the pitch.

“I bet that hurt” grimaces Tom, a CT sub just cracked his head on the roof of the substantial dug out. “Run it off” says a far from sympathetic coach. It’s the same substitute whose footwear has caught Toms attention. “Funny boots” he says, “Jesus boots” he dubs them, on the account of them, in his eyes looking a bit like a leather sandal. See what I have to put up with, when he can't have a quarter

CT very nearly take the lead for the first time, the ball sits up perfectly for the player in the box, however he smashes it well over. It's perhaps no great surprise it's a rather frantic, verging on headless chicken start to the new half. Clearly the words of the respective managers fell on deaf ears, unless this is how they want their teams to play. Poor communication in the BR ranks between the keeper and a defender offers CT another shot at goal, which is on target, but blocked.

“Box them in, don't let them out” shouts one CT player, his team now fully up to speed, and looking to exonerate their shocking start.

Only needing one touch to take the ball inside the defender, the BR number 7 doesn't need another, before he curls the ball past the CT keeper, putting the home side in the lead once more. You could maybe say that CT could feel a little hard done by, but as one player says again it's just “too easy” for BR at times and even the scalding shout of one CT fan towards the players, telling them to “stop arguing amongst yourselves” isn't enough to stop the squabbling.

The two words “too easy” are somewhat becoming a CT catchphrase. Every time they concede a chance its seems to be the go to for the CT players, but they seem reluctant to do anything about making it any less easy. Hemmed back into their own box, it's only because of a reckless finish from one home player, that CT don't find themselves further behind. As Tom highlights, they are a “bit sulky”.

As fine rain starts to fall, the pitch beings to make quite an unpleasant squelching noise under foot. Twenty minutes into the half and CT are making changes, Tom uses the break in play to inform me, God only knows why it's taken him nearly half an hour, although we’ve not exactly been short of things to discuss, that while in the bar, he saw a very elderly man, as drunk as a skunk, who was in the process of being ejected from the building. Imagine Paul Whitehouses mumbling character from the Fast Show, Rowley Birkin QC.

If it hadn't been for the monumental push by the CT player on the BR defender, it would have a been a good goal, but alas, shoving a man in the back to get to the ball is not allowed, and what the CT fans and players think is there second equaliser of the night is ruled off. The same supporters who despite the rain, now stand uncovered behind the goal and are still offering up the occasional “come on Corby”. The forecast as Tom tells me was “on point” the rains arrival right on queue, let's just hope it doesn't get any heavier or Darren might just get a “bog”.

Although the tempo has started to wane ever so slightly, the chances are still coming, just not quite at the break neck speed as before. CT nearly capitalise on a Steven Gerrard’esq slip at the back, but the fallen player recovers quickly and does well to block the eventual shot.

Following what looked like nothing more than a full blooded coming together between two opposing players, the referee deems it a foul and CT are awarded a free kick. Bobbling out to the edge of the box, one player takes a languid swing at it, his shot taking a deflection, winning his team a corner. Falling to the edge of the box once again, this time the strike from almost the same place as the previous one is much more assured and it's only the nick of a BR defenders head that stops it hitting the target. Another corner and another chance, a glancing header that is just wide. CT can't say they haven't had their chances, they've just not been anywhere near as clinical as the home side

For what I think is for the first time tonight, the CT manger has taken a seat in the dugout, I’m sure letting out a considerable huff as he does, resigned maybe to the fact his team won’t be leaving with any points. “Come on Corby you're better than this” says one player “we need to lift it” says another and the attempt to rally the troops has a brief effect, as the team floods forward in attack, however BR are poised and ready to capitalise on them over committing more and more men up front. In their number 9 they have a player who is bullish and hard to get off the ball, who holds it up expertly, waiting for the right time to release one of the jet healed wingers that flank him on either side.

Doing his best to keep up with them the referee who Toms says runs “like Aaron Lennon” i.e a “duck” which is fitting as the pitch gets wetter and wetter. One CT player going as far as to say the “pitch is not playable”.

“Oh he’s on” gasps Tom. The BR forward line have well and truly caught out the ragged CT defence and number 7 turns provider with a simple pass to his unmarked teammate in the six yard box. The CT keeper stranded and not sure which way to turn, leaps at the feet of the eventual scorer. For a brief second it looked like he might have done enough to put him off, but the BR player is able to poke home BR’s forth, before clattered into..

What exactly the celebrating BR player is referring to I’m not sure, however he is pretty animated, “have some of that you cheating cunts”.

Into the final ten minutes of the half and CT's heads are well and truly down, “fucking shit, sums us up” says one player, at the sight of another loose pass. With all the time and space in the world the BR front three have the freedom of the pitch and are close to running riot and amazingly the headlights of the silver Audi are still going, Tom is sure they are “fading”. I’d be worried about running my battery down, and being stuck here all night.

“Bit of a shock” says the man standing pitchside alongside Richard. “Keep working” he shouts as a CT shot from the edge of the box is blocked, “come on blues” he adds when its hacked clear. Maybe tempting fate, and just after the BR keeper fumbled a CT free kick, I congratulate him on a nice result, which he promptly shoots down with a scolding, “shhhhhhh’’. He tells me he “saw them at Welwyn” and was “sure they would beat us”.

It’s a shame the old scoreboard in the far corner isn't working, 4 - 2 would look pretty impressive across its front, although I’m not able to romanticise about that for too long, because although Richard is quite modest in stature, he makes up for with his booming voice, “clear it, don't piss about with it”.

CT are still having the odd foray forwards, BR have far from taken their foot of the gas and are on the hunt for a fifth, however there is no need to hare about too much. The latest CT attack has Richard concerned, “come on close him down”, it's not over until it's over, however long is left to play and regardless of the score. As a Spurs fan I can sympathise with that. One nearby CT supporter mind, doesn't think Richard has anything to be concerned about, “don't worry we won't do anything”.

An absolute howler from the CT keeper almost gifts BR their fifth, but he manages to save some face after his woeful kick, making it to the goal line in time to scoop the ball clear. “It’s in” says Richard excitedly as the ball rolls towards the empty net, letting out a disappointed sigh when it doesn't make it, but he won't be downhearted for long.

“Lets get six” shouts one BR fan, not satisfied with just five. “You deserve six” says a leaving CT supporter. Number 7 chalks up another assist and number 9 does what he does best, shielding the ball, but is allowed far top much time to turn and shoot, slotting it in the bottom left hand corner, well out of reach of the full stretch keeper. Richard and his fellow fan again violate my hearing, with a simultaneous “yeahhhhhh”.

“This will make the rest of the league sit up” says a bristling Richard. With the CT exodus in full
flow, they are not shy in loudly airing their grievances, “never seen Corby play so bad” says one, “sack the lot of them” suggests another. They are though gracious enough to congratulate the BR supporters on their teams fine performance.

"Referee how much longer we got?" asks a BR player. They may well have a three goal lead, but there is no way this game hasn't taken its toll on all those concerned, even the winning side want it over.

Angrily marching off the pitch, quietly talking to himself, one CT player following the final whistle is enraged. I'm sure the now jubilant voice over the PA confirming the score didn't help. "Thanks a lot Corby, coming all this way" says one CT supporter who has stuck around until the end. The BR players are not as quick to walk off, held back by their manager I should think for a considerable pat on the back, except for one, who has vaulted the railing around the pitch and is peering through the windows of the main stand to get a glimpse of the Manchester United score, who he broadcasts to everyone have against all odds beaten PSG.

Not too dissimilar from his own teams display, overcoming the bookies favourite. Just a few differences like the TV cameras, pay packets, stadium, but intrinsically the same.

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Monday 18 March 2019

Don't Be Deep Spud - Rochester United FC Vs Greenways FC, Southern Counties East Football League Division One, Rochester United FC Sports Ground (27/02/19)

What a glorious morning, the sun is streaming between the gaps in my blinds, outside I can see its still and the sky is the most sumptuous shade of blue, sadly though my wake up call is not the gentle chirp of the alarm on my phone, a kiss on the forehead and a stroke of my hair from a loved one, but the screaming of my one year old daughter. “Dad, Dad, Dad”. She repeats like a much smaller and far more aggressive Alan Partridge.

I try to convince myself that getting up this early, I know for some people it's very normal to get up at 06:30 and for some of you I’m sure you get up even earlier, but for me it’s just a bit of a wrench, so get off my back, here's a medal, that it means I can get lots done and be a productive member of society, but by the time it comes round to heading to Tom’s to pick him up, I’m close to being done for the day.

I know, I know stop going on about it, but I just can't help it, Spurs new ground is looking so good.

For the second time in a week we are off to the ‘The Garden of England’, via the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, which like the last time we crossed it, looks just as, if not more impressive in the late afternoon sun.

Kent is turning into the new Essex, our go to football county as of late. I’m not sure it’s because its all shiny and new to us, but it is certainly very charming. Village greens and quaint looking pubs make it hard to concentrate, a wrong turn and a slight detour, is not such a problem when you get to see a rather impressive windmill, our second in the last few weeks and a sunset so magnificent, that it has a bit of the end sequence of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade about it. Tom is sure it should be setting over “Egypt” and not one of the home counties.

My next project after Tom and I have hung up our flag, will be to document the state of non league footballs car parks and driveways. Turning off the main road, past a sign with the image of a distinctive Spartan helmet on, we encounter one of the worst we've ever seen. I know money is in short supply for so many clubs in the pyramid, but when a pothole is in danger of consuming a VW Polo or could quite easily have a Sarlacc living in it, it's time to address the issue, “it’s like the moon” says Tom, gripping onto the dashboard.

“Have you had a coffee” he then asks, I haven't, but he’s not convinced, saying my driving is a bit “eratic”. I’m weaving all over the place, because I don't want to be eaten by the same thing that killed Boba Fett.

The condiments are out, but not a lot else is happening at the home of Spartans, Rochester United FC (RFC). Gerard Butler isn’t strutting about bare chested, in fact not many people are strutting about at all. Tom is encouraged by the laminated sign on a notice board that reads "club badges for sale", however the bar isn't open yet. A woman is chopping onions while she watches Egg Heads on a small TV on the wall while the clubs owner is trying to figure out how to charge the electronic subs board.

We find a spot to sit in the empty bar, not on one of the stools that are covered in recycled Premier League shirts though. I can't admire them and try and work out how I can get one in my bag, if I’m sitting on one. I hope it wasn't our distinct lack of general knowledge that forced the lady to close the door to the kitchen, but I get the feeling that she didn't want to fill the small bar with the smell of frying onions. Moments after shutting up shop, the distinctive sound of sizzling begins, causing a large grin to start to form on Tom's face.

Over Tom’s shoulder I notice that half the floodlights that surround the pitch have come on, Tom who is surprisingly good at TV quizzes. I thought his talents lay elsewhere, such as being handsome, but he is giving the experts opponents a run for their money. “Ghana” he answers, Beth one of the contestants thinks its “Egypt”. Tom was right, “told you" he says smugly, "stupid Beth”.

Through the gaps in the metal grates that cover each window, there is still very little going on outside, we can hear some music coming from one changing room, which is a promising sign of life, but it looks like we'll be quizzing for a little while longer.

“You need a bit of ventilation in here” says a man as he opens the kitchen door, forced into taking a step backwards by the cloud of steam rolling out, filling the room with its overpowering smell, probably much to the annoyance of the women inside. Michael Portillo appears on the TV next, “can't stand this man” sneers Tom, and I have to agree, it's time to be anywhere else but here.

Before we head outside to stare at a brick wall, rather that than hearing the ex Tory minister talk about railways, and I come from a family of railway lovers, but there is just something about him, maybe it's the trousers, the RFC owner rattles up the shutter covering the bar, and then promptly closes it again. Having heard the distinctive noise, Tom scampers back from the loo, hoping to bag a pin, but faces an impassable barrier in his way, “oh he’s closed it”.

Nicki Minaj is blaring around the ground, the hatch to kitchen is now open, and displayed on one of the pinned open doors is a menu so extensive, it's the kind that would cause Gordon Ramsay on Kitchen Nightmares to have a mild stroke. “Want a Rocket?” asks Tom, at the very bottom a selection of lollies are on offer. It’s just tea for now, but I can see his mind whirling away trying to work out what he is going to have. I bet it starts with burger and ends with chips.

Distracted momentarily as I talk to the RFC owner Bernard about if they do a raffle or 50/50, the answer being “no”, because it can be problematic “getting someone to do it” I stupidly take a sip of the cup of tea that Tom had just loving made for me.

As all non league lovers know, non league tea is brewed at a temperature, far greater than that of the tea you make at home, far hotter even than the filling of a McDonald's apple pie or the steam that comes out of a newly toasted piece of pitta bread. Not wanting to show my discomfort, I turn away slightly, pretending I’m looking over towards the the home players milling about on the dark side of the pitch, but I’m struggling not to cry, fuck it was hot.

“I've never seen so many tracksuits” murmurs Tom, as the RFC players pass us heading inside, there’s not a pair of jeans among them. Wanting to find somewhere to rest my scalded mouth. I make my excuses and tell Bernard, each word more painful than the last, that I’m off to find a seat, “there's plenty of them” he chuckles.

The Roy Smith Stand, the only bit of cover on offer, other than a small bus shelter looking thing, is long, dark and has a strong whiff of meccano about it. There are more obstructions to your view than the East Stand at Highbury, but like Bernard said there are plenty of the grey fold down seats to choose from, so I plonk myself down on one and try to convalesce.

In fact there is very little to the Rochester United FC Sports Ground other than the main stand and the clubhouse, if you want a fleet of minibuses to look at, then this is the place, there are loads of them, but as far as character, that's in limited supply. There is a constant buzz from the nearby road, the other side of some bare trees. One end of the ground looks to be totally out of bounds, and a single white railing is all that keeps Tom from streaking on the pitch. With an hour still to kick off Tom reckons, “this is the attendance”, pointing to the three other people currently here.

“This is Little Pump” says Tom, and he’s not talking about the petrol station visible off in the distance. What follows is horrific, three and a half minutes of utter crap, I can happily consider myself not a “Little Pump” fan, but in being so disgusted, I feel very old, just about as old as Tom seems to think the referee is, who has just walked out for his warm up, and Tom looks shocked, “is he

More ageist comments follow, and I’m very disappointed in my footballing companion, “he ain't going to make ninety minutes”, he says while the referee and assistants give the nets at one end of the pitch a thorough check, giving them a good old yank.

To ensure Tom does not abuse any other senior citizens, I follow him back to the bar which is now open, so he can get his pin, and I’m happy to report he keeps any further unsavoury opinions to himself. With both teams now out for their warm up, there is a major clash in music between that playing around the ground and that still playing in the empty home and away changing rooms.

Still warming up in darkness, it's a while into the teams drills that the full complement of lights come on, as they warm up they emit a strange blue hue, before turning a dazzling white. “Just seen a new one, away player with cut down shorts”, points out Tom, bringing to my attention a Greenways FC (GFC) player whose thighs are clearly so copious, he has been forced to trim his shorts to accommodate them.

Despite the sizable distance in parts between the railing and the pitch, from the thin concrete path I can still make out the instructions of the RFC coach putting the team through their paces. “Liven up” he shouts, and that is an understatement, RFC find themselves languishing at the bottom of the table and they need to stop the rot. “Massive game for us” adds one player, and he's not wrong.

In a quiet corner of the ground, away from the road and the players, minding my own business, appreciating the RFC crest embroidered on the red corner flag, I realise I’m not alone. I didn't notice at first the man in the red porta cabin behind me, manning the turnstile which is just an open gate with a sign offering a free tea with a programme on a magnet board propped up against it. He’s not exactly busy and doesn't look to have noticed me either, he is far too engrossed in whatever he is reading.

The boots of the home keeper have caught Toms attention, “he’s got Puma Kings on” he tells me and I detect a bit of, ‘I always wanted a pair of them’ in his voice, but ask any way if he did. “As if” he snorts and then I remember the white Nike’s he used to wear, so spend the next five minutes ribbing him about it. Football boot roast over, I point out something that has caught my eye, the increased crowd, which has at least trebled since the last count to “fourteen” says Tom unimpressed.

There are far more than “fourteen”. A mini rush of latecomers, means the man reading his book has been forced to put it to one side for a moment, he'll have to wait until later to see what the stable boy and the lady of the house got up to. Those new arrivals are congregated around the edge of the tunnel made from festival crash barriers or within touching distance of a cup of tea.

There are a few claps and quiet “come on Greenways” from the crowd as the players walk out, but it's what you might call a muted entrance. They don't have far to go before the referee stops them, Tom no doubt brewing up a comment about the referee not being able walk far because of his age, but he keeps it to himself, before stopping and initiating the handshake.

More late arrivals file thought the gate, the man behind the caged window is never going to finish his chapter. A group of youths perched on bikes take advantage of the very liberally spaced fence at one end of the ground and watch on for free.

“Come on boys, here we go” shouts one RFC player, as the visitors get things underway.

We take up position midway between the dugouts, which like so many we have seen as of late that are comically spaced apart. I’m starting to think there must be some method to the madness, considering how often we see it, but I can't work out what it is.

Early home pressure sees them win a free kick. Its lumped into the box, in an attempt to reach the ball the GFC keeper goes all flappy and an RFC player jumping for the ball ends up going over the top of the GFC defender in the box. “Fucking hell” cries the home manger, when a foul is awarded against them and not in favour of them

Every so often we see a player, who doesn't look like he could possibly be one, but ends up being the best one on the pitch. Their physical appearance masking a wealth of talent that out strips all the other twenty one players combined. “Got ourselves another fat Messi” whispers Tom when the small round, shaven headed GFC number 10, traps the ball on his chest effortlessly and turns towards the RFC goal on a sixpence. Don't let his size deceive you, this man can play.

“Ohhhhhhhhh” grimaces Tom, after one player as he puts it “booted the ball into the back of the ref”. He may be old, although he’s certainly not ninety, he acts like nothing happened and carries on. It will not come as a shock to you I’m sure that GFC play in green. It is no great secret that I am very fond of a green kit, and Tom reckons because of this there is a ulterior motive as to why we are watching this particular fixture. Doing the voice he does, when he impersonates me, it’s very nasally and sounds nothing like me, “we now only see teams with green kits”. What a cock.

It’s what you might call a physical start to the game, the GFC bench asks for the players to “settle, settle” and after all the late comers there is now a reasonable amount of spectators almost exclusively on the far side. “Not bad” says Tom when I show him his earlier prediction was a bit off. “Did you include the thirty scallies outside” he asks about my head count.

Toms dishing out all the comparisons tonight, “bit Neuer” he says about the all yellow RFC keeper, “kicks like him” he adds, after he finds a teammate with an accurate sidekick. “Good start, keep busy” shouts one RFC player and it certainly has been a decent opening ten minutes for the home side, just like the GFC manager said to us, their current league position “doesn't dictate how they are playing”. “Neuer” is back at it again with a very precise kick, but Tom is not interested in that anymore, he’s fixated on one RFC player called “Spud”.

The topic of kits comes up again, when Tom comments that some of the RFC players are “playing in long sleeves” and you don't “normally see that in non league”. It is me now though who is distracted, the only other people on our side of the pitch, are a group of three grey haired men, who are getting in on the referee bashing, they think he’s even older than Tom does, “he’s about a hundred”.

Not even fifteen minutes gone, and the home manger sounds like he has almost lost his voice already. “Pack it” he shouts when RFC are awarded another free kick. “Now fattie is running” he smirks, when the GFC number 10 is forced into a bit of tracking back.

GFC are playing the much better football, with “fat Messi” pulling all the strings. “Don't be deep Spud” is the instruction from the RFC bench as GFC prepare to take a free kick, a free kick that prompts a query from the RFC bench about a clear kit clash between GFC’s keeper and their outfield players, “how do you know he's not our player?”.

“Fuck off Greenways” shouts someone outside the ground the other side of the trees. The tackles are flying in and Tom is thinking about half time, “I’m hungry”. The tempo after the lively first twenty has dropped, as has the intensity level of the shouting from the home bench. The two protagonists one crouched, one leaning against the nearby floodlight are now in contemplative mode.

“That was lucky” says Tom after a RFC miss kick, almost turns into the most sublime through ball, but it's snuffed out. Another hearty tackle, this time from GFC draws another free kick. Again it is swung into the visitors box, unorthodoxly thighed across the box, which for a moment causes a bit of alarm, but it is eventually scrambled clear. “Bit hit and hope” says Tom, assessing the home team's approach. GFC are always looking for a quick counter, but the final ball is not quite clicking. Their latest attempt to find the forward is wayward, much to his annoyance, “fuck off Josh” he snarls. The manager though sees the promise in what they are trying to do, “the spaces are there”.

“It's got nil nil all over it” says Tom leaning over. He is spiralling into one of his bad moods. I wonder if the people dotted about the stand with their obscured view feel the same? RFC are certainly giving it a go, they don't seem to affected by their poor league standing. Two chances in quick succession give some kind of inkling all is not lost, first a curling shot, which is straight at the keeper, then an attempt at a swivel and shot that is blocked on the edge of the GFC box.

Tom finds pleasure in the oddest things, the fact one players name is “Regan” has got him very excited. I’m not sure how he can really concentrate on anything other than the RFC manager who is back to shouting again. Every time they lose the ball, there are instant appeals of “ref” coming from all quarters, it’s almost some kind of Pavlovian response. I’m not sure they know they are doing it.

Something we can both agree on was that the latest attack from RFC was the best football they have played so far, which resulted in a Olivier Giroud Vs Crystal Palace scorpion kick attempt at a finish that went just over. “Like watching Arsenal” beams Tom as we almost witness the most remarkable

GFC have not ventured forward in a while, a lot of that is down to just how dogged RFC are being, they have a stroke of luck after two very balletic pirouettes by one player almost kick starts an attack, but a GFC tackle puts an end to it. They appeal, as they do for everything, and this time are awarded the foul, its a number game. “Not sure about that” wonders Tom, “he lost it”.

It’s not just “fat Messi” with all the talent among the GFC ranks, their number 9 has some half decent moves too. He’s soon away and a blocking RFC tackle, wins them a corner. The RFC keepers attempt at a punch is woeful. A coming together between home and away players, sees the ball eventually squirm free, but it’s soon back in the box, sending the home team into a bit of a blind panic.

Probing Tom about what he is going to eat, it’s getting close to that time, it brings about a mini meltdown, “oh I’m so hungry, don't talk about food” he says, but before I can apologise, he blurts out, “the full works”.

There are a flurry of chances in the final minutes of the half. An RFC ball across the box, is just out of reach of the player stretching to meet it, and the opportunity goes begging. GFC counter, as they have been very prone to do all evening, RFC do like flooding forward and leaving big gaps at the back. Their ball into the box is a good one, it finds the intended player unmarked for a free header, but in making the ball he also collides with the keeper and a foul is given.

I’m not sure why they have paid to get into tonight, maybe lollies are hard to come by in these parts but as Tom quite rightly points out, the trio of old men to our right have been “been talking about cars all half”, it's like a geriatric version of Top Gear.

“How the fuck are you offside there?” bellows the loudest of the RFC double act, “Fucks sake” says the other. The ball is in the back of the net for the home side, and I could just about be convinced that they deserve to take the lead, but the lino has raised his flag. “We've not been good enough” barks one GFC player following the home warning shot.

Although I’m very keen on green kits, GFC’s is very nice, but it's not a blinder. RFC’s on the other hand, a strangely glossy red and black number, which has a bit of the Aussie Rules about it, might just be edging it for me in the battle of the kits.

Commitment is about putting your body on the line and stopping at nothing to help your team. This is nowhere more evident than in the latest example of RFC grit, a flying horizontal mid air block, that stops the latest GFC attempt at getting the ball out wide. “Fucking love that” shouts Tom, thoroughly impressed, before he lets very a heinous belch, a hollow slightly sickly one, an “empty stomach burp” he calls it

GFC have the final chance of the half, a well worked free kick, ends with the ball being headed back across the box, only for it to be cut out. When the whistle goes, it all feels rather subdued again, the players slink off and Tom is not far behind them. The music is soon back on and a car passing behind me beeps its horn in support. I’m assuming its for the home team and not me personally.

Car chat is back, actually let me put that another way, car chat has never gone anywhere, I can just hear it more, now there are no screaming managers in the vicinity. One of them says “hatchback” so many times, I’m absolutely delighted to see Tom returning. His chips have a distinctly European flavour, he opted for mayo, and all round he’s very happy with his dinner, “very nice actually”, although in the end he thought better of getting himself a lolly.

“High tempo” demands the RFC keeper, clapping his big white Mickey Mouse gloves together, as the team's prepare to restart and that’s just what we get. Only a minute after the whistle and the home team have already hit the target. At the other end GFC have what looks like a goal bound shot blocked on the edge of the box and the following corner causes all sorts of problems. Not that it really had any reason too, but the RFC keeper, not for the first time, makes a complete hash of claiming the cross, at one point he has both feet off the ground with his hands and legs straight out in front of him, trying to Hadouken the ball clear, but ends up on the floor. Luckily for him a teammate is on hand to wallop it up field.

“Go, go, go” shouts the RFC manger, like a copper in a movie who's just kicked down a door, as one player flies down the right wing, but it comes to nothing. Two minutes after what looked for a moment to be promising RFC attack, GFC score, and things go rapidly downhill for the Spartans.

“That's their first shot on goal” bemoans one RFC player as the players ready themselves for the restart, It's all high fives and shouts of “get in” from the celebrating GFC players. “How do we react?” asks the RFC manager in his very, very shouty way. The answer is not well, not well at all.

GFC now look more and more threatening each time they are on the ball, they have also upped their full blooded tackle quota. Tom takes a sharp intake of breath though his half open mouth, as the latest GFC challenge goes flying in, which flirted on the line between fair and foul. RFC are starting to look leggy, GFC look like they could keep going at this pace for a long while yet. There is plenty of huffing and puffing from the home side, but blood and thunder will only get you so far. The visitors have the ball in the net again, but it's ruled out for offside, however the referee brings it back for an earlier foul, much to the dismay of the home bench.

RFC are on the edge of falling apart.

“Fucking unreal” shouts someone on the GFC bench, as everyone in the grounds jaw simultaneously hits the deck. I knew “fat Messi” had something about him, I did not expect that to be the ability to curl in a thirty yard free kick into the top left hand corner of the goal. A very, very special goal indeed.

How much longer the RFC manager is going to be able to keep it up, at the rate his team are self imploding, we’ll just have to wait and see. “Get us settled” he shouts, testing the upper reaches of his vocal range, bending his voice box to near breaking point. There is the ever so brief glimmer of hope, when they go close after conceding the two quickfire goals, but the player in the box just can't meet the cross, but I’m not sure it would have mattered any way, because minutes after conceding the second, they find themselves further behind.

“Oh dear” mutters Tom, we both start to slow edge away from the RFC dugout in fear of being burnt when the manager eventually explodes. Their keeper has had another shocker, however this one leads directly to a goal. A poor kick send the all straight to a GFC player, who is able to roll it into the empty net.

“Heads up Rochester” says one player, whose own chin is about a millimeter off his chest. “If we do the right things, we can get back into this” might go down as the single most optimistic thing I've ever heard at a football match. If I’m brutally honest that's wishful thinking to a near fanatical degree, but all the power to him for trying to lift the team.

With RFC’s energy dwindling, “fat Messi” is allowed ever more room, and his range of passing means it's not long before GFC are in again and adding to their tally. Setting their number 9 away down the far side of the pitch, it's as one person on the RFC bench put it, “to oeasy” for him to skip in to the box, cut it back to a teammate, who once he has controlled it, is able to shoot. It’s a shot that turns into a pass to a teammate on the edge of the six yard box, who turns and hammers it high into the net.

“Oh dear” says Tom again.

Four goals in less than ten minutes, may well be a record for us. After what was a relatively uneventful first half, where Tom felt goals were going to be very hard to come by, in less time that it takes him to apply his beard oil, GFC have well and truly blown RFC away, well and truly. In a skeleton clinging to a fence Terminator Two kind of way.

“Show some fucking bollocks, don't lay down and die” insists the RFC manager, sadly I think that time has passed, it's surely all about damage limitations now, considering how the last ten minutes have panned out. However the latest tirade from their gaffa seems to have stirred a few of the RFC players, who look to have taken his words on board, and launch a mini revival.

GFC though are more than happy to sit back and soak up whatever RFC can throw at them, not that the GFC substitute would know anything about what’s happening on the pitch, because he is taking a piss in a bush. The GFC manager occasionally has to remind his team to “settle” but I think he’s saying it to have something to do and it’s stopping him from blurting out something like ‘we’ve well and truly turned this lot over’. Set up to sit back, yes, but always poised to attack on the counter at the slightest notice.

Clearly Bernard's struggles with the scoreboard were terminal. While the GFC electronic one bathes us in a mixture of green and red light, the home teams one is manual, as Tom puts it, its like one “from an F1 pit wall”. With a goal to his name, and plenty of highlight reel moments, “fat Messi” has played all he is going to play tonight. “Oh no, he came off” points out a disappointed Tom. The break in play allows one RFC player to tell his teammates to “liven up” and the GFC captain who is a tough man to please, tells his teammates, “I want more from ya”.

Such is one RFC players commitment, he has come of worse for wear in one challenge and is bleeding. The referee is doing his best to get him of the pitch to be treated, the quick rinse of his lips not sufficient. “There's nothing there” emphasises the wounded player, but the referee still makes him go off, and he ends up missing the awarded free kick. “Bit harsh” says Tom.

Into the final quarter and as the GFC bench put it, it’s “great running” from their number 9 that wins them another corner. He looks very dangerous every time he is on the ball, however I think I would look pretty good if I was allowed as much time to do whatever I wanted, RFC are just going through the motions and barely. “How long you got left lino?” asks the GFC bench. “Fourteen” he replies, by
my calculations that's enough time to score five or six.

So I can bring the five people who read my blogs, such high quality content such as this, it does mean I am required to take notes, which I do on my phone. This can mean on occasion that my attention is diverted away from the match, meaning whenever the ball is in my general proximity, catching sight of it out the corner of my eye, it can cause me to uncontrollably and embarrassingly flinch. As you can imagine this brings much joy to Tom, however tonight he tells me he would “dive on me” to protect me, if the ball got to close.

These moments of tenderness between us are so rare, and very dear to me, but he goes and ruins it, by adding the caveat that it would “depend on how hard” the ball was travelling.

There is a distinct feeling that things are close to boiling over, “what's he doing, waiting for someone to get hurt?” asks the GFC bench, who once again asks for the team to “settle”, but the RFC tackles are getting later and later, and there is certainly potential for handbags.

Eight minutes from the end and the route is complete. Get in there” shouts someone from the GFC bench, one player lets out the trademark “wooooo” of the WWE hall of famer, Ric Flair. If one ludicrous free kick wasn't enough tonight, we’ve been treated to a second. A lob this time, instead of a sweaty struck rocket. “He nicked his goal” says Tom, sounding very annoyed for the player whose goal it should of been, only for another to pop up and it pinch the glory, by tapping it in, completely unnecessarily.

 “I think that calls for dessert” says Tom, pulling a Mars Bar from his pocket. What better way to celebrate our fifth and final goal of the night, with an assault on his already fragile teeth. The only noise from the RFC bench now is some of their customary grief to the referee, but I don't know why they're bothering.

With full time quickly approaching, GFC look like they might heap on some more misery, literally skipping down the right wing, the ball is crossed into the RFC box, but the forward is unable to tap it in for a sixth. “I don't care what the score is, we work to the last minute”, is the latest mantrafrom the RFC bench, who are going to need more than inspirational quotes pinched from Instagram to stay up this season.

“How've you got that wrong?” asks the GFC managers assistant, after what looked like a superb tackle to me, on a almost showboating RFC player. The manager complements his teams “great fucking work rate” as they have far from let their foot of the gas.

Exciting to the end, “two” replies the referee after being asked “how long” is left. “Woody” a GFC player fires a long range lob, only inches over. “Unlucky” says his manager, the Toy Story star named player looking over with a grin on his face. It was so close. Like I said, exciting to the end, on and off the pitch. The GFC assistant manager is doing kick ups in the technical areas, to shouts of “sign him up” from the players and in the final moments of the match, the RFC keeper has a major rush of blood to the head and comes over all Schumacher, absolutely clattering one GFC player to the floor.

“Refffff” remonstrates the GFC manger, but it's almost a surprise that the beleaguered man in charge, actually book him. The game comes to an end moments after GFC has stinged the palms of the RFC keeper one last time via another free kick.

Emerging from the GFC dugout we see the man responsible for all the shouts of "get in" and he must repeat it five or six times in the next thirty seconds. Both with faces like thunder, the RFC management duo still have the good grace to approach the GFC bench and shakes hands with them, which considering the shellacking they just took, it was probably the last thing they wanted to do.

 GFC by the admission of their manager were in a shocking vein of form earlier in the season, "twelve without a win", but tonights performance is a shining example that a turnaround is possible, is it too late for RFC though, only time will tell. They certainly don't lack fight, they didn't in the first half at least, embodying some of that Spartan spirit, the head of one they all wear on their chest in the clubs badge. However heads dropped and were never really up again after the first goal, its going to be a tough job to pick them up and go again.

If they could just draft in a couple of Leonidas mates, things might be OK. Might be.


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Monday 11 March 2019

He Was Born Ready - Canterbury City FC Vs Biggleswade FC, FA Vase Quarter-Final, Salters Lane (24/02/19)

I started my day by biting my bottom lip so violently, while I finished off my muesli, that I thought I was due my second hospital visit of 2019, how was your morning?

Considering it is a Sunday, as I get in my car I’m breaking my number one rule of making sure this day is all about doing fuck all. I’m not religious by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve taken the whole ‘day of rest’ thing very literally and my seventh day normally consists of disappointing over hyped football matches on the TV and at a push, a trip to the supermarket for some fresh pineapple slices.

However, as football in daylight has been in pretty short supply this season, because of Tom’s rota at work. I’m prepared in this instance to ignore my beliefs and head east to collect Tom. I know I say it every single time, but Spurs new stadium is looking particularly resplendent. Glistening in the unseasonably delightful sun, like something out of Metropolis, it looks magnificent. The sky is a hazy shade of pale blue, the daffodils are out and there is not a cloud in sight.

Talking of Tottenham, and Tom has a bit of the Tim Sherwood about him, in his shiny black gilet. He then goes all Iceman, replacing his everyday glasses with a pair of Ray Bans. The armless outfit he has chosen, as ridiculous as it is, may come in handy at some point today. It may be clear and sunny, more sunny than its been in months, but there is still a noticeable chill in the air, and we all know how much Tom likes a good old moan, when the mercury starts to fall.

We're really not going very far today, we wouldn't want to stray too far from home, considering Tom’s strict Sunday roast eating time. It's a mere hop over the Thames Estuary via the Queen Elizabeth Bridge into Kent and we have barely enough time to discuss quite how much we both like a boot fair, after seeing a sea of cars in a field to one side of the motorway and of course a little bit of obligatory stag chat.

There is little to no activity other than a man in a high viz jacket and what looks like the bar staff having one last fag, sitting on the steps of the clubhouse sunning themselves, when I make the tight left turn into the car park of Salters Lane. Home to Bostik League side Faversham Town, it is not they who we are here to see today, but their lodgers Canterbury City FC (CC).

This though is about to change quite dramatically, because barely out of the car and having decided I will wear my coat, after much deliberation, the large pockets are handy, but I might regret it, I am already starting to ever so slightly overheat, “three coaches” Tom counts, have just arrived. Backed up in the narrow lane leading to the ground, their arrival sends the single steward into overdrive, one has to abort its attempt to come in the way we did and is directed through another gate, “fuck driving a coach” says Tom puffing out his cheeks.

Once inside the passengers quickly disembark and the green and white clad fans of CC’s FA Vase Quarter-Final opponents, Biggleswade FC (BFC), introduce themselves to this sleepy corner of Kent.

Although they have not had to travel that much further than us, some are clearly delighted to be off the coach, one doing a very fine Ric Flair impression as he steps down onto terra firma. Shouts of “green army” and “Wembley” go up, and their air horn gets its first outing of the day. Green and white flags are soon being worn over the shoulders of some, and one fans tells us he reckons there is about “one hundred and fifty” of them. Rowdy, boisterous maybe. Going by the amount of them holding a bottle or can as they climb down off their respective coach, many have been enjoying the staple of every good away day, a beer or two and why not, after today whoever gets through, are only two games from Wembley Stadium.

“It looks like a dodgy old truck stop” says one of the BFC fans, not exactly impressed by what they see. They bypass the bar and instead ask the mildly dazed man in the high viz, for directions to the nearest pub.

It is Baddiel and Skinner singing what I think is their France 98 re-release of Three Lions that is playing around the ground, which is a mish mash of the old and the new. One side you have the long tiled roofed main stand, with a mixture of terracing and seats, which has a considerable amount of coffee table book character about it, however opposite you have what turns out to be the changing rooms, which look a bit like a Soviet era apartment block.

“People are taking their seats already” points out Tom, those not heading to the local watering hole, including the air horn wrangler who not long through the turnstile gives it a blast, which in turn provokes more shouts of “green army”, are not taking any chances and are securing their spot early doors.

Those coming in arrive instantly pitch side, with not much room to swing a cat, someone has still managed to erect a small table with a mixture of club merchandise, programmes, actual paper ones which is nice, after my recent drought, and on their very own table, which looks like its been pinched from the clubhouse are the prizes for the raffle. No feat of physical exersion required today, just two strips of brightly coloured paper tickets and the pipe dream of getting my hands on a six pack of Spitfire, some Lindt chocolates or a bumper box of Fox biscuits.

The grill and tea bar, which has a PSV pennant hanging on its wall, at one end of the main stand, protected by a flimsy black net from stray balls, is already very busy. Where we normally arrive and the lights are not even on yet, Salters Lane is already a hive of activity. Tom’s quick scan of the menu, leaves him happy, “onion rings” he highlights.

Taking full advantage of the fine weather, the BFC players are relaxing in the sun, teas in hand around the home dugout. Talking to Martyn CC’s General Secretary, he makes an interesting point, that they have played the “team top of their league” in every round so far. If they are going to make it to Wembley, it looks like they are going to do it the toughest way possible.

Despite the the growing crowd, the ground is still relatively quite, the sound system is struggling a bit and the music has a considerable echo. Two competing flags have been hoisted behind the same goal, a CC one is fastened to a nearby fence, the green and white BFC one that reads “We Are FC” is draped over the railing around the pitch.

Although we are being treated to a few contemporary hits over the speakers, by the sounds of it there is a chance that the BFC players won’t be able to listen to any in their changing room. The club physio frantically tries to find the teams coach driver, because as she explains one of the players has “left” their “speaker on the coach”. On investigation it turns out the driver has joined the hoards heading for the pub, which leaves a few people with quizzical looks on their faces.

“No pressure on us” says the CC manger coolly, BFC are the high fliers in their league, you could maybe even go as far as calling the home side underdogs, but it wouldn't be by much. It’s now the referee and his assistants turn to enjoy a bit of the good weather, they are pretending to inspect the pitch, but they clearly just like everyone else want to soak up as much vitamin D as possible.

There may well be no “pressure” on CC today, but as Martyn tells me they are somewhat under strength, due to two very unfortunate injuries to “two big players” both “centre backs”. Neither of whom will be available for selection today because of a bit of a knock or a strain, but a “fractured cheek and eye socket” for one and “bleeding on the brain” after a “bang to the head” for the other.

Having his head turned like a certain man in a much overused meme, Tom is very impressed by the look of one person's burger, wrapped in red and white cheque paper. I’m not sure what caught his eye
more, the oozing cheese or the fact it had “lettuce” in it.

Tom commandeers the tiny press table to enjoy his food, I plonk myself down next to him on one of the cool stone steps of the terrace but not before I let a man by eating chips from a paper cone. Along from us and the BFC invasion in full swing, the front row of the small seated section is almost exclusively occupied by an older clientele, who by the looks of it have shunned the chance of some onion rings and have dived headlong into their pack lunches.

The single turnstile is constantly tickling, the “green army” are back form the pub, suitably lubricated, and are causing a bit of a backlog outside and somewhat of a non league phenomenon, a queue to get in. The referee and his assistants have had a costume change and are warming up in very FIFA 19 looking yellow tops. It’s busy, and only getting busier. More BFC flags are going up all around the ground, which is bathed half in shade, half in sun.

Each with their own white flag in hand, featuring the CC club badge, a man in a CC club tie organises the troop of flag bearers into two straight ish lines either side of the entrance to the pitch between the dugouts, in preparation of the players arrival. My flag fetish is taking a bit of a battering as I notice even more have gone up in the time I watched Tom hoover up his burger. What is probably the best one on show, joins the other CC example on the same fence behind the goal. A deep shade of maroon, it has the the Kent Invicta horse at it's middle, with CC one side of it and FC the other, which is clearly a bit of a DIY job.

There is a real sense of nervous energy amongst the crowd, people look like they are not quite sure what to do with themselves. A blast of the air horn and a shout of “come on Biggleswade” pierces the tension for a moment, but it’s only fleeting. Kick off is imminent and the numbers coming in don’t look like letting up anytime soon.

Emerging from a pair of red doors at the top of a gentle slope, at one end of the eastern block monstrosity the players click clack their way along the paved path to a chorus of cheers, offerings of encouragement and blasts of the now almost constant air horn. The flag fliers do a grand job, not overdoing it, not over exaggerated, we’ve just scored a goal at the Emirates silliness here, they get the motion of their flags just right.

There are high fives and huddles and then the BFC captain with his shock of ginger hair, almost takes out one linesman's eye with a wayward toss of the coin, catching it just in time before the fourth official, yes a fourth official in a non league game, all of whom are also wearing “Britney mics”, as Tom always calls them, has to be wheeled on as a replacement.

In the moments before kick off, one could be mistaken for thinking BFC were the home side, it is their fans making all the noise, it is their fans nearly all in club's colours that have filled nearly every seat and every space in the main stand. It is what looks like members of their youth team, in matching green jackets who are pounding the hoardings behind the goal opposite us, where another flag has been raised on its back wall.

The game less than five minutes old and BFC show off some of that slick passing we were treated to, when we saw them recently in a league fixture. It results in the first shot of the match and it's an early warning sign for the home team. The saved attempt only riles up the already excitable BFC fans further, “come on Biggleswade” they chant.

Always intrigued by songs to unusual tunes and I love a bit of ingenuity among football fans, such as the Pink Floyd inspired number at Hadley recently, however I’m not sure how I feel about the latest BFC number to the tune of the Internet sensation, brain rotter of almost every parent in existence, Baby Shark. I just wish I could work out what the lyrics were.

Two minutes after hitting the target, BFC go one better and take the lead. A ball out wide which is their go to, is lashed into the six yard box and bundled in, sending the place into pandemonium.

Heading straight for the mosh pit of green and white that's surged towards the barrier, the players meet them for a full blown bundle. Such is the exuberance of the celebrations or maybe because of the shoddy workmanship of the person who constructed the barrier, there is a sharp intake of breath as it collapses under the weight of the crowd, sending the fans crashing to the ground.

“That could halt the game” says Tom with more than a hint of concern in his voice. Thankfully all is well, and people are quickly picking up those who fell, and the barrier is hoisted back into position. Far too happy, some who went down, look to almost bounce straight back up. The whole place is a blur of green and white, the singing now even louder “Biggleswade, Biggleswade”.

I have the niggling feeling, that it might be a long day for CC.

The BFC fans are in full voice, everywhere I look. Most songs start from the lot behind the goal, and soon filter out among those scattered wherever there is space. A booming rendition of “green army” comes after the latest attempt to distract the CC keeper as he takes a goal kick, “you're shit-aaaaaaaaa”.

CC look mildly overwhelmed. Admittedly the speed in which BFC are moving the ball about, in combination with the early goal, would be enough to make any in team, in the words of Danny Dyer, “head wobble”. Perhaps they're preoccupied by the frequent blasts of the airhorn, the reminder from the BFC fans that its “one nil to the mighty greens” or maybe it's that song to the tune of Baby Shark which has reared its slightly odd head again.

With the sun absolutely beaming, I’m so glad I ditched my coat back in the car, but I wish I had a big green foam hand like one BFC fan, who uses it to shield her eyes. I’m currently watching the match with one eye closed, half turned away from the pitch, doing my best to keep up with what is going on.

Around us excited screams emanate every time BFC go forward. When one player is only a fraction away from connecting with a header, it gets a sizable “ohhhh” from the travelling fans who are living every moment vicariously through their eleven players.

The problem with Tom eating pre kick off, his reasoning for doing so today being the expected large crowd, and he did want to spend the second half queueing for food, which was a sensible strategy, but it means twenty minutes into the half and he’s hungry again. “Mmmmmm Frazzles” he says with an air of the Cookie Monetary about him. I’m not sure if the nearby ladies bacon flavoured corn snacks are safe.

“Biggleswade up the tempo” demands one of their players, the frantic pace of the first quarter of an hour or so has dropped off, suiting the much larger home side, who have certainly started to grow into the match after their shaky start, but who are still unable to get to grips with the sheer speed in which BFC play their football.

One thing that has definitely not slowed, is the rate one BFC fan is whirling his scarf above his head,
he is in danger of turning into Air Wolf and the regularity in which the songs from the BFC supporters, “green army” keep coming.

Not only has the referee got a “Britney mic” he is a referee who has had a second outfit change. Gone are the bright yellow tops from the warm up, he’s now in a more traditional black number, he also has strapped to his hip something you only normally see in the top flight, and not at this level, “ohh he’s got spray” says Tom.

There is only a Gazza at Wembley Vs Germany amount of distance between the flying long haired CC player at the back post, from reaching the diagonal ball into the box, away from the home side levelling.

Where as CC are compact and narrow, BFC are fluid and free flowing, they love spraying the ball out wide. In a near repeat of their goal, this time the ball in from the right is cut out just in time, however they go close from the resulting corner, which is quickly taken, one player in the box rises to head it, but it's a straightforward catch for the keeper. The attempt inspires more shouts of “green army” and a sizable “ohhhhh” as the neon pink CC keeper, clutches the ball to his chest.

A CC injury in the BFC box brings about a momentary stop to the game. “Ohh he’s spraying his arse” says Tom in his best Kenneth Williams voice, as the CC player clearly in some discomfort is treated. I’m happy to report that the player whose bum received the clod spray is soon back up and the game is back underway.

As the minutes tick by, CC start to carve out a small foothold in the match. If I was the BFC manger I might think my team had missed a trick, having looked close to overrunning CC in the opening minutes, they maybe could be at fault for not being more ruthless. However CC have hung on and their physical prowess is starting to show. Barrelling his way through midfield, the Captain Jack haired CC player, passes one BFC midfielder, then another and he's into the box. Will he be able to cap his lung busting run with a goal? The answer is a definitive no. The culmination of the counterattack is frankly a disappointment, a pea roller of a strike. “That was a weak shot” laughs Tom, with the ball still in motion, bobbling along the floor.

Angry shouts of “off, off, off” are somewhat contrary to Tom’s opinion that there was nothing wrong with the admittedly strong, but ultimately fair CC challenge, “looked like a good tackle”. The referee reaches for his pocket very quickly, which is never a good sign, but only produces a yellow, which get a textbook panto gasp from the BFC fans. Not sure what all the fuss was about, Tom thought it worth reiterating for whoever might be listening, that he didn't see anything wrong in it, “I thought it was a good tackle”.

Frazzles in one hand, the other held above her head to keep the sun out of her eyes, Frazzle lady is currently the most vocal home fan here. She has no qualms in telling the team what's on her mind, “stop giving it away” she heckles. She does though not come close to the intensity of one of the home players, who looks like his head is close to popping when he screams at his team mates to “squeeze” their opponents.

Millimetres over the bar, a BFC snapshot goes very close to doubling their lead. The fact that it ends up careering into the crowd behind the goal, does little to knock their spirits, the BFC fans are unflappable, and just crack out another song. Someone who could do with a smidgen of their energy, is Tom, who despite all the action is yawning. Tired I ask him, surmising he might have been at a East London gin party last night, but he simply explains that it’s because its “Sunday”.

I really want to get on board with the Baby Shark chant, like I said I’m a big one for exotic song choices, rather than your standard tunes you hear everywhere, but this might just be one step too far, there is just something very unnerving about it. Curling another shot just over, BFC once again showcase the calibre of football they are capable of. Neat and precise it carves CC open, the fans react to just how close it was, “ahhhhhhh”.

Only minutes left of normal time and the CC fans have finally something to get excited about, very excited. “Get in there” shouts one of them, after what looked like a speculative shot from the edge of the box, a swing of the boot after a bit of head tennis, goes up and down so quickly it well and truly catches out the back peddling BFC keeper. Lying on his front, propped up on his elbows, he can only glare, the ball now in the back of the net, the CC players charging off to celebrate.

The announcement of the scorers name over the PA is so garbled, it doesn't bode well for the half time raffle. Like every set of fans after conceding should do, instead of letting their heads drop, they sing even louder, almost in an attempt to say 'yeah we're not bothered', “green army, green army”. Such is the lack of any kind of singing coming from the home fans, BFC’s dish out the ultimate insult, “shall we sing a song for you?”.

Just as it had started, the half ends in pretty much the same fashion, frantic. A tale of two goalmouth scrambles one at each end of the pitch and a thunderbolt of a CC free kick. It's CC up first in the six yard box, but the ball just won't fall for them and it's cleared. Their free kick follows shortly afters, “the big mans taking it” says Tom, one of CC’s many “big men”, has cracked it so hard, Tom quite rightly points out that it, “sounded like it hurt” when it thudded into the wall.

“Come on City” shouts Frazzle lady, as BFC nearly crash home their second, seconds before the half time whistle. Beside herself, she will want a stiff drink to go with whatever tuck shop snack she has left.

It is so quiet once the players have departed, considering how noisy it just was only moments ago, it's verging on the eerie. Taking into account the sun, the blue sky, and it being a Sunday afternoon, if it wasn't for the poodle in the CC scarf and the intermittent sound of the PA, who as Tom points out “I think there is something wrong with his mic” as he currently sounds like a rap song being played on the morning drive time slot, one might forget they were at a semi final of a major cup competition at all.

Although we don’t technically change ends, more sides. Moving away from from the light and Frazzle lady and into the dark, where there is still condensation on the barrier around the pitch. There is of course a change of ends, the kind of which any frequenter of non league football would have become accustomed to, performed by the two sets of fans, flags and all. The “green army” get their first taste of the sun, and have a new and hopefully more solid bit of hoarding to wallop for the second half.

The return of the teams, brings more shouts from the frenetic BFC fans, “green army”. I can’t hear
Frazzle woman, now we’ve moved, but I’m sure she is contributing to the first bit of genuine noise from the home fans today, as someone thumps out a beat on the same bit of fence that collapsed before. Those around him I’m sure tentative about getting their non league lean on, “City, City, City”.

Buoyed by the late equaliser and whatever was said behind the changing room door, CC have come out meaning business and before I think either of us have got comfortable and used to the vast change in temperature, the BFC defence has been breached, as one away fan put it, “he’s in” and in the blink of an eye, CC are now ahead. The scorer pumping his fist races for the corner flag, leaping into the air, twisting as he does. He lands facing his onrushing team mates, all but the keeper, who is now sporting a black baseball cap, because of the ever present sun.

Erupting from the bench, the CC coach's and substitutes rush to the edge of the pitch. For the first time the BFC end is quite, and a few more lines of “come on City, come on City” ring outs. One BFC supporter attempts to get until now the always active fans going again, “green army” but he gets no reply.

As we witnessed when we first saw BFC play, just a couple of weeks ago, they are a resilient bunch, with a tenacity that means they are not prone to giving up and they are soon threatening the CC goal with a rasping shot on the half volley that the CC keeper can only beat away. Their fans share similar traits, and are soon back singing. They also possess a fair level of ingenuity too, one has sussed out the best way to circumnavigate the FA’s rules of no booze pitch side, the chalkboard sign at the entrance to the clubhouse not a sufficient deterrent, he has made a cloak out of his programme, to shield his pint from prying eyes.

Nearly every member of the CC bench is on their feet, anxiously watching on as BFC do everything they can do, deservedly in my opinion, to get back into the game.

“Oh shit” gasps a BFC fan, the player in green at the back post so close to connecting with the lofted free kick. “Better organsiation” barks the CC bench to the defence. CC by my reckoning have had two shots and two goals. BFC have had far more attacking intent since the start and have their tails up.

Behind the goal, the sun now obscuring their view, as it was ours in the first half, the main reason for our move, despite sun worshipping Tom’s protests, one BFC fan demands his fellow supporters “lift it”, when he doesn't get the response he desires, he takes it to the next level, “fucking louder” and they dutifully respond, more out of fear I imagine, than anything else.

BFC’s captain, the sonic haired number 7, is on a one man mission to get his team level. He has not stopped, he is close to running himself into the ground. He has the stamina of Dirk Kuyt in FIFA. Looking up after another of his selfless runs he sees no one up in support and is eventually dispossessed. “Where are we?” he screams, breathing deeply, looking for his teammates to show just a fraction of the endeavour that he is. He is truly leading from the front.

Despite the efforts of their very own Capo, the BFC fans have fallen quiet once more, the cries of “green army” are few and far between now. They have every reason to be positive mind, there is still a big chunk of the game left to play, and although CC are showing are bit more than just being simply physical, their team still look the far more the better side.

On one of their few forays forward, coming up on twenty five minutes on the clock, the CC attack culminates with their fans piping up with shouts of “off, off, off”. They are convinced the BFC defender is due a red card after a foul on the edge of his box, but the referee explains he was not the last man. The resulting free kick is in a prime position for a shot on goal, which has been somewhat of a rarity for the home team, is as one home fan put it “rubbish”. High, well, well, high, it's over the stand and heading into the car park, my car's windscreen more in danger, than the goal ever was.

With the game edging slowly towards its conclusion, CC show just how proficient in the dark arts they are, they would call it ‘game management’, but they're not fooling anyone. A quiet word from the CC keeper after one ball boys eagerness in giving the ball to BFC, allowed them to quickly take their throw in, which almost caught the home defence out, he asks for them to be instructed to “slow it down”.

Off goes the special ball boy envoy, to relay to his fellow ball retainers the instructions from the manager. I have to admit I didn't notice what was afoot, until Tom brought it to my attention, that the envoy is not just telling the other boys in blue shirts, some of whom on the sunny side of the pitch are reclining and basking in the sun to simply “slow it down” but are being told to leave the pitch all together.

A bullet header from a CC player is blocked as it sails towards the BFC goal. Not resting on their laurels, the visitors display the raw pace their side possess with an instant and rapid counter attack, but nothing comes of it. It is though not lost on the CC bench that they are still more than able to hurt them, and they ask for “more pressure” on the ball, to try and stem the all green menace.

Once again we are spoilt with not just one, but two non league dogs today. You would think the quota had been reached with the poodle in a scarf, but he or she has a rival, a much, much smaller rival, in a green and white jacket.

Staring at the linesman, half hunched over, not wanting to stand up, as that would mean he would have to acknowledge reality, the BFC captain, begs him with his eyes to lift his flag. In doing so it would exonerate the fact that he made the distance Gazza was away from the ball look vast, in comparison to just how close he was to the ball over the top, his run timed to perfection, he probably felt the ball bush the end of his toe, but he just couldn't control it.

“It’s so cold” shudders Tom, the shades have come off and I can see him looking longingly at those still in the sun, some who I think wish they had a bit of factor ten with them. “Fucking make some noise” screams the increasingly irate BFC capo, but he gets nothing. Time is slowly but surely slipping away from the visitors, and I imagine there is an overwhelming sensation of ‘we don't deserve to go out like this’ among the BFC supporters. Their team have been the far more attack minded and I’m not sure CC have not shot on target since their second goal.

If BFC want to score, they are going to have to be a bit more composed. They more than have the ability, but the stress is starting to show. Ten minutes left to go and a ball from the right, takes a deflection, teeing up two players on the edge of the box. They both shape up to hit it, but look to get in each others way, when one finally gets something on it, its wild and over.

BFC’s latest attack, prompts the CC managers to ask for “more talking” from his team.

Away fans shouts have turned from upbeat to pleading, “come on Biggleswade” says one, without any of the gusto of before. It’s only a remarkable BFC tackle that stops them going further behind. “Fucking superb” comments someone on the BFC bench after what just might have been a game changing moment.

“Keep the pressure up” insists one BFC fan, and they do just that, its attack after attack. Down in the six yard box, sonic hair is clattered to the ground, in an attempt to get on the end of a bobbled pass into the CC area, which again he just can’t reach. Flat on his back, he is attended to. The CC bench tells the fourth official that “seven goes down all the time” and he is to make the referee “aware”, however he looks in real pain and I don't think he was trying anything iffy and after limping off, he doesn't return. The BFC captain and arguably their best players day is done.

Into the final five and CC get a rare chance on goal but its headed wide. Their keeper still in his cap, will probably blame the sun for his horrific attempt to gather the ball, that sends home fans blood pressure through the roof. Fumbling it, he flaps at it, knocking it only as far as the edge of the box, where a BFC player attempts to lob him, but its wide. This does little to help the feeling of panic, that I’m sure is flowing through both the home and away fans.

The BFC supporters can sense one last chance, so their noise level peaks one last time. Both benches ask the fourth official “how long?” is left. CC are well and truly pinned back, being roared on by their supporters back to their best. It’s getting a bit last ditch, a flying salmon like clearance is the only thing between the BFC player heading in the raking diagonal ball into the box and CC holding onto their slim lead.

With his head rarely out of his hands, the CC manager seems momentarily lifted by the board showing four minutes of added time, he tells his players, as if they didn't know, they are a “big four”. Long four might have been a better way to describe them, CC are camped in their own half, two quickfire BFC corners only bring more anxiety. “Keep going” shouts one BFC fan as their cup exit gets ever nearer. The home fans now applaud every stray BFC pass and every time the ball goes out of play, as loudly as they did the two goals.

“Two left” says the fourth official in his thick north east accent. The CC bench hand over a slip for a substitute, more ‘game management’. “Take your time” says someone in the crowd to the intended departing player, no need to rush. The CC manager attempts to get the referees attention, but the fourth official stops him in his tracks. The new player is still in the dugout, not even changed, “he’s not ready” he explains and as the substitute hurriedly puts his jersey on, someone from within the shade of the dugouts replies, “he was born ready”.

Classy is what you might call the actions of the CC manger come the final whistle, his players and the fans of course explode into scenes of jumping, frolicking and punching the air and in the case of the remaining substitutes sprinting onto the pitch. “Is he having a heart attack?” says one player half joking, CC’s manager looks for a moment like he can't catch his breath, surrounded by members of his staff, he struggles to get free of them to take a breath.

Maybe it was the occasion catching up with him, being all cool and collected for so long, can't last forever, he looks choked up. However before he joins the players on the pitch, most of whom who have lept in to the crowd, he takes the time to shake the hands of the BFC manger in his long black
coat and players still rooted to the spot in or around the dugout, the realisation of the result slowly dawning on them, near enough turning each and every one to stone.

Loosing is shit, loosing in a quarterfinal is shit, but you can loose badly and you can loose well in my opinion, BFC can hold their heads up high today. Their fans did the club proud, one was on the pitch at full time holding the We Are FC flag proudly above his head and the players even more so. Staying behind they clapped each and every player, some with tears in their eyes, off the field. I'm not sure they could have given anything else. As they say, they left it all out there.

Winning is great, wining in a quarter final is even better. It's CC who march on to the semi finals, now just two games away from an afternoon under the arch. They battled, they scrapped, they scored a stunner, they did what was necessary on the day to secure the win, however it wasn't pretty and I'm sure they couldn't give a damn.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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