Tuesday 30 April 2019

Just The Six Goals Then - Clapton CFC Vs NW London FC, Middlesex County League Division 1, Wadham Lodge Stadium (03/04/19)

Excuse me for getting so excited about such a seemingly minor thing, but the fact my radio is picking up more than two stations is a miracle. I fully expect a visit from the Vatican in the coming weeks, to designate my VW Polo as a place of religious significance.The only downside mind, of it not just picking up Radio 4 and London Greek Radio anymore, is that what it is receiving is a mixture of Irish folk music, the kind of tunes you hear in a Taverna on holiday, and bloody Lewis Capaldi.

It’s like some kind of sick and twisted joke, giving me the impression that I had my pick of the commercial radio stations in the land at my fingertips, but then delivering absolute garbage.

Having made the eternal error of having a big lunch and now feeling sluggish, my body only working at half speed, I thankfully don’t have far to go. Just a hop skip and a jump around the north circular, past what is now Spurs new home, so that’s the last you'll hear from me about it, I promise, as they will be christening it tonight with their first competitive match.

Not far from home at all for me and even closer for Tom, he could probably walk if he fancies it, today's ground really shouldn't be proving to be as difficult to find, as it is. Cursing loudly at my Sat Nav, the absence of Tom means I’m really able go to town on her, as the course she has set just came to an end halfway down the narrow road of a sunburnt East London street, I really don't know quite what to do, and when I notice one of those daft, overly large cars in my rear view mirror, I panic, do I throw myself to the floor and cry or speed off home and tell Tom I got a flat tire.

When the aggressive beeping from the car behind me is not forthcoming, I am blocking the road after all, on closer inspection, I realise that the person driving with the face like a woodland creature, is your friend and mine, Mr Tommy Sparkles. I’d never realised until now, with them side by side just how huge his car is, and being the man about the town type that he is, he seems to have an answer to our joint dilemma. Taking the lead, he heads off, car number one in this two car convoy

I have to admit it very much feels like we are going around in circles, I do my best to keep up with his six litres behemoth, navigating around lumbering London buses and maniacs on scooters. When one clips my wing mirror, I’m ready to give up, but the determination in Tom’s eyes, reflecting in his rear view mirror, drives me on.

Finally arriving through the gates of the Wadham Lodge Stadium, the sights and sounds of those either about to start playing some five a side football or those who are panting and glistening with sweat having just finished on one of the enclosed pitches fills the air, and it dawns on me, quite how long it has been since we were last here, quite how much water has gone under the bridge. A few deaths, babies and impending marriages and in the case of the team who call it their semi permanent home, a complete rebirth.

As is normally the case with Tom, it's not hello, how are the kids, what you been up to, that are the first words to pass his lips, but an up to date weather forecast for our current location for the next few hours. “Double black” he says, in reference to the graphic on his met office app.

There's early, really early, us early and then are we sure we have turned up on the right day, because it's absolutely dead, early. The sound of the five a side games in full swing help mask the awkwardness between Tom and I, as I know he is hexing me under his breath that I’ve put all my trust in Google Maps again and we’ve got here long before we needed to

Like a shining ray of hope through the gloom of Tom’s bad mood, and the grey clouds which are getting more imposing, a man in a grey woolly hat and a red and white scarf, not only saves Tom and I from a tiff, but gives us a much needed insight into a club, who on one hand are very very familiar to us both. Their fans, ethos and level of support is something we’ve been fascinated by since early on in our adventure, but on the other hand, might just be the youngest football team we’ve ever encountered, having only been formed in 2018, Clapton CFC (CFC).

Formed by the fans of Clapton FC, who were playing here the last time we visited, who after an ongoing battle with the clubs owner, a battle too complex to explain in full, but in short the guy is a dick, decided enough was enough, and have set up on their own club in the image of how their beloved Clapton FC should be run, but at the moment that couldn't be further from the truth.

“Could be two hundred or five hundred” says the man with the CFC badge, a simple round design made up of the club colours of red and white, front and centre on the front of his hat. CFC “normally” he explains “play at the Stray Dog”, Clapton's famous old home being the Old Spotted Dog, he turns to point to the “other side of the five a sides” but that pitch doesn't have floodlights, and for their first ever league night match, a change of venue was required, which means they are playing on the slightly soggy surface before us, not that he seems all too bothered about that.

“We play better on grass” he tells us, “as fans we like a sliding tackle” he adds excitingly. He like many of us, appreciates a bit of blood and thunder on occasion, something that 4G doesn't quite cater for.

The weather is only getting worse, the clouds are getting more threatening by the minute and Tom informs me that its “snowing in Canary Wharf”. Rifling through his bag, he looks up at me with eyes full of dread, “it's gonna be cold isn't it, I'll put my gloves on”. All is not lost though, he is somewhat lifted by the sight of the man setting up his stall, who I am reliably informed is quite a well thought of local food vendor, “looking forward to my hot dog” says Tom, with a glint of happiness restored, his gloves now securely on.

It’s still taking some getting used to it not being dark after 18:30, and a new arrival is straight on the pitch, “it’s soft”. Tom’s assessment of it is that it's “dogged” but as he points out so was the pitch at the Old Spotted Dog, a certain ankle breaker of a surface if you had ever seen one, so there are even more similarities between old and the new.

Like as if someone had flicked a switch on, the ground around us has quickly gone from being graveyard quiet, only Tom and I and the bloke preparing his onions to a bustling hive of activity. All the paraphernalia required to transform the ground into their home, for tonight at least, is being erected and prepared. A multitude of banners are strung out across the three sided cage of a tunnel, it's like something from a hillbilly backyard MMA competition, that stretches from the changing rooms to the edge of the pitch. The best of the bunch has to be the Walter Tull one, if that is a name you’ve never heard before, please please please, endeavour to learn his story. Looking magnificent in his candy cane striped shirt, the former Clapton FC & Spurs player, is almost marshaling proceedings as the ground is frantically transformed.

The clubs very own scoreboard, something that most teams far higher up the pyramid don't even have, which is red and white of course, is humped into place. A white gazebo is being unfolded, and a man down on his haunches battles with the now falling sleet, to amend the chalkboard to tonight's fixture. A second chalkboard, a much smaller one, has also been put in place, this one needs no such attention, the message on it loud and clear, “no dickheads”.

One of the newly arrived players of CFC opponents, NW London FC (NWL) is being scolded by his manager for not having any studs, and if he thinks he is going to have any joy on that pitch without any, then he is very much mistaken. Kneeling in the half closed red door of the changing rooms, our welcome from earlier still in his hat and scarf is scribbling down the starting eleven on a scrap of paper, an unlit rollie hanging from his mouth, copying it off the smallest whiteboard I’ve ever seen.

“Stealing your gazebo, if that's OK?” asks Tom and not waiting to find out if it is, we scurry for cover, the rain slapping against its opaque roof and someone is talking about “hailstones” being reported at Spurs game just up the road. I do my best not to trip over the sticker covered drum at my feet, and with my health and safety glasses on, the pile of red and white flags lying on the floor, look like a potential tripping hazard to me, for any of those coming and going, arms full with boxes. “It's hard work doing this mid week” says one of those flying all over the place, I’m sure having just arrived from a full day at work, “sorry boss, I can’t work late tonight, I’ve got a football club to run”.

Humming the tune to the Weather Girls 1982 hit, 'It’s Raining Men', seems apt, one CFC player is doing just that as he tentatively steps outside for the warm up. The underneath of the gazebo, where an Italian man with a rather impressive beard is sorting out the petty cash for a club shop, where the standard of merchandise, that is so much more than mouse mats and key fobs, but the kind of thing you might see it on the shelves of a Shoreditch boutique.

NWL are out what feels like very late, maybe a few more of them had forgotten they were playing on
grass tonight. The CFC goalkeeping coach, taking the home stopper through his passes in front of a stand littered with ultra stickers, which includes of course a St Pauli one, is in booming “good hands".

The floodlights are on, the rain has gone and the weather for now is the best it has been since we arrived. When the goalkeeping coach is not yelling at the number one, it's actually quite serene here, with the gentle sound of bird song and only the odd yell from the five a sides. For a brief moment, just when I thought that things were on the up, the heavens open, but they close again just as quickly as they had opened and I’m sure it’s not actually that cold, but Tom’s still got his gloves on like a bit or a prima donna.

Although the club ‘shop’ is ace, the bar, well the bar could do with some work, a shed with a table outside selling cans is hardly Harry's, but it's got Tyskie, so I doubt anyone is that bothered.

What might be the quickest outfit change in the history of football, NWL are in their dressing room for just a matter of seconds, before they are back out again, to the odd shout from some of their fans, “come on North West”. Their time in the tunnel though is short lived, and forced back perhaps by the rain rearing its soggy head again, they retreat to the safety of the inside.

Once both teams emerge, the rain still falling, the home fans offer up a few shouts of their own, “come on you Tons” and while the referee leads them through their handshake the first song of the night breaks out, “we love, we love, and that is why we follow, we follow”.

Drums occupy not just one, but both ends behind each goal. One group of fans are singing in what I think is Italian, as they wave large red and white check flags from the front of the covered terrace. The hoardings at both ends are taking a kicking, the bulk of the supporters are awaiting the coin toss, before making their move. Those singing in Italian, look to have very much set out their stall early, having not stopped since the players walked out, they stand fast behind their antifa flags and set scene for what is to come for the rest of the match.

With the ends decided, the teams both gather in a huddle as the migration commences, and like some kind of Ultra T-1000, all the pieces combine to form a multi drum, multi flag, multi banner monster, that despite one of the most insane games we will see all season, hold my attention for the entirety of the night.

Kick off, a late kick off at that and NWL are awarded an early free kick, but their attempt is well over, but who cares. Now united the person leading what I think is the Italian portion of the fans, is still going and already sounds a little hoarse, how could anyone care less about the football with what's going on off the pitch and its not taken long for the songs to start about the reason the Clapton fans have had to start this breakaway club in the first place, “nobody's gonna take this away from me”.

It’s sounds like a full percussion section is under the corrugated iron roof of the terrace, more and more banners are stretched out over the railing around the pitch, one late comer has just sauntered by us coolly, with a red brolly in one and a red and white flag in the other, draped over his left shoulder and quite rightly he is looking very pleased with himself. He arrives in the throng just about in time to see CFC take the lead, in or around the tenth minute ish, but don’t hold me to that. We started late and if I'm honest I'm struggling to keep up with the game.

A close range finishing ignites ecstatic scenes from the fans behind the goal, the flag bearers go into overdrive, and for the first time they show their might as a united force, with a few lines of “oh east London is wonderful”. It might be far fetched to suggest this, but the ill fitting metal sheeting that makes up the stand, makes the perfect noise when whacked, I honestly think that might have been considered when deciding to play here.

The only other thing I can hear other than the fans, only intermittently mind, is the sizzle of the nearby hot dog stand, which I know for sure has caught Tom’s attention, the steam from the hot plate visibly rising up through the single white light behind the grill. “Hot dogs look good” says Tom, having caught a glimpse of someones passing, however his attention is soon back on the game, when a cry of “ohhhh” rings out from the home fans, having just watched NWL go close to equalising.

“I bet the neighbours love this” laughs Tom as anyone wanting a quiet night in, in this particular corner of E17 will be in for a shock, “ola, ola, ola orza Clapton”. Chances are coming thick and fast, and not even a quarter of an hour in, I’m suffering from a severe case of football exhaustion. First CFC send an effort well, well over and then NWL go much closer, a swerving long range fizzer of a shot is only just touched over by the CFC keeper in a very agreeable shade of yellow.

Straddling the hoardings now, the CFC fan in the tan coat and baseball cap, pounds the shaft of his flag against the railings, as he conducts the latest song, “when the working day is done, ohhhh Tons
just wanna have fun”. More home chances as they flood forward, an attempt at a dink over the NWL keeper almost comes off, sending him back peddling he watches it just go over, the sight of which just sends the flags behind him into fits of even more frenzied motion.

A break in play, because of an injury to a CFC player is welcomed, it lets me catch my breath and allows the fans to belt out another song, and they sound brilliant, “looo, looooo, looooo Clapton”. Plenty of cans from the shed bar are being downed and one thing that I’ve always admired about the the Ultras, is their eclectic use of contemporary music to work a song too. I remember they used to do one to a Spice Girls number and even the Tetris theme I think, today's re imagining is to the theme of Cheers, “down the dog is where I’ll always be. Maybe tomorrow we'll own that fucking ground”.

Twenty minutes or so gone, and the quagmire that is the NWL six yard box, stops CFC doubling their lead. Out to meet the forward, the NWL keeper misses the ball, the CFC attacker skipping past him shoots but is thwarted by the heavy ground, It’s like a clip from a Danny Baker video and it's cleared. “Dodgy keeper, dodgy keeper” chant the home fans, but don't harangue him for long, they're a fair bunch, and are soon on to the next song, “whooooooooo, whoooooooo CCFC”

The home side are not having it all their own way and it’s only an absolute beast of a challenge deep into their box that stops a certain goal, which goes down well with the home supporters, “whoooooooo, whoooooo CCFC”.

I'm not sure why I bothered asking Tom if he is getting a hot dog, I know full well he will be, and his reply only confirms what I already knew. “Yeahhhhh” he says emphatically, like a Ninja Turtle. The question is "which one” he points out having put down his nun chucks, “there are many hot dogs” he adds, turning from Michelangelo to Yoda in less than ten pounds.

Still front and centre, the man in the tan coat wheels his arm towards the crowd, rarely looking at the match, whipping them up into near mania as he starts the the next song, “I just can't get enough”. He is backed by quite the drummer, and sometimes it feels such is his eagerness to never let them fall quiet, he is ready for the next chant going, before the the one they are currently singing is yet to finish, “sha la la la”.

Just short of the half hour mark and CFC take a further lead, just after NWL had sent a dipping half volley over the bar, its chances galore. Tucking it under the keeper, the scorer heads straight for the crowd and is embraced by a Ganesh amount of arms and is soon joined by nigh on the whole team. The fans pound the hoardings once again and the drummer is now showing off, with all sorts of flourishes, “la, la, la, Clapton”.

If it wasn't for the faint shout of the celebrating players, if you were not paying attention, guilty, you could be forgiven for not realising that NWL almost straight from restart have gone and scored. You wouldn't know it from the Ultras, they didn't even flinch, but just as it looked like CFC were going to run away with it, NWL have I guess you could say, made things interesting.

Echoing the words of the CFC fan we meet on arrival, the home side like to throw their weight around a bit, “they're a physical team” says Tom, as they give away a free kick on the edge of their box. The strike from the set piece is hardly venomous, but for whatever reasons is too hot to handle for the man in goal, and he can only parry it out into his six yard box, where a NWL player is on hand to tap home the equaliser. From two behind to all square in the matter of five minutes.

For the first time the home fans fall silent, but are quickly stirred by a shout of one supporter, “come on you Tons”. The home keeper is consoled by a team mate, and the fans are soon singing once more, “you are my Clapton, oh, ah, my only Clapton”.

Much of Tom’s time at matches is not spent appreciating the football or drinking in the fans, but assessing and cross checking the state of the queue for the refreshments. “There's a queue for the hot dogs now” he gripes and such is his concern for the demand for the dogs, he is “worried they are going to run out”.

When NWL rifle one into the top corner, it looks like the unimaginable has happened and they have taken the lead, only for the flag of the assistant on the far side to be raised, but none of the celebrating visiting players have seen it yet, and the home fans take much glee in pointing it out. One person even breaks into the Entry Of The Gladiators, aimed more at the officials I think than the NWL players, a personal favourite of mine the large gamut of the football jibes. One supporter though, is less than impressed with his teams lets say porous defence, “pull your fucking finger out Clapton”.

Even the fans in the queue for the Walthamstow Dogs, are paying more attention to the game then Tom, who is looking over longingly at the increasing line, “no way he was offside” barks one, when the latest CFC attacks is brought back, but they don't have to wait long until they are all dancing once again. NWL’s parity is fleeting, as the home side go in front once again.

The toe poked effort is well saved by the NWL keeper, which is met with a sizable groan, he can though only palm it back into the box, where a CFC player is able to get his leg gymnast high in the air and volley home. Absolute madness, the crowd explodes, Mr tan coat punches the air, and one passing person, points out, “you picked a lively one”.

I’m not sure how much more of this I can take, “there is no defence” bemoans one home fan. CFC’s
new lead has lasted all of a couple of minutes. “Recently we have been tight in defence” adds the angry supporter, but not tonight, tonight it's looked non existent.

“He pushed him” shouts the near spitting CFC fan, half over the hoarding, hitting it with the palm of his hand, trying to get the referees attention, but it falls on deaf ears, and he waves away the claim for a penalty. The man in charges unwillingness to award the spot kick is received with accusations that he is a “lizard”.

There are few more pleasurable things in football then a well performed song or chant, yes a bicycle kick is nice, a pin point cross field pass is pleasing to the eye, but a call and response chant, where one fan leads, and everyone else sits silent until it’s their time to respond, is the kind of thing to make this bearded mans knees go funny, “come on you red and white”.

CFC could consider themselves lucky if they manage to make it to the break level pegging, their defence is well and truly on the ropes in the last few minutes of the half, and they are close to conceding on multiple occasions, they are being pummelled, goal bound shots are coming from every angle, the feet of the CFC keeper as well as various parts of his body as well as those of his defender are all that are keeping NWL out. This all going on while the CFC fans flex their sociopolitical muscles, “say it loud and say it clear, refugees are welcome here”.

Another long delay because of an injury to a CFC player, this time lets the referee catch his breath, I’ve just about pulled myself together. “The ref needs a break” laughs Tom, “he so unfit its ridiculous” he is certainly carrying a little bit of extra timber around the middle.

Summing up the half perfectly, and after being bombarded by NWL's attempts on their goal, CFC should really take the lead in the dying moments, but instead of squaring the ball to his team mate calling for it, unmarked in the box, the player in possession chooses to shoot instead, straight at the keeper.

“Just the six goals then” says the CFC fan we spoke to on arrival, who really has a knack of popping up at the right time saying the right thing. Those passing as the crowd behind the goal starts to thin, are not exactly singing the praises of the referee, “he’s on the halfway line, can't wait to get out this pub league” says one. Not everyone has started the move to the other half quite as yet, many are still drinking, chatting, as it turns into a bit of a social. One who is making his way to get some food, Tom now in the queue as an even larger plume of steam spirals off the grill, is sporting the stunning CFC away kit, modelled on the flags of the International Brigades.

Always fond of a tidy, the bin bags are out and one CFC supporter is ensuring that the stand is left just how they found it, “rubbish, rubbish”. Womble impression complete the stream of passing fans gets steadier, “definitely a good game” says one, not maybe the opinion of either manger, each teams back lines look holier than a holey thing.

Tom is still patiently waiting for his food, it feels like he left ages ago. A couple of the CFC substitutes warming up are in very high spirits, one letting out a scream my two year old daughter would be proud of.

By the look on his face, the wait was worth it, Tom is back and he is positively drooling.

The change of ends is all but complete as the players emerge for the second half, “sort it lino” bellows one fan to the startled looking official. Its a genuine roar that greets the players, “come on you Tons”. The fans who had set their stall out early doors behind one goal, have not moved on, instead deciding to stay put, their flags and banners still in place, and they continue to be in good voice, “come on red and white”.

“Mega hot dog” are Tom’s first words after a gargantuan bite of his “classic hot dog”. It’s “so big” he mumbles, his forearms straining under the weight of what is basically a loaf of bread with a Pringles tube of processed pork on top of it. If the sheer scale of it was not enough to keep Tom happy, the fact there were “unlimited condiments” on offer, as well as a “side of pickles” well I’m sorry to be crude, but he is like a pig in shit.

It's all NWL early in the new half, its looks like they have missed a good opportunity when the player in the box takes a swing and a miss at the ball, but it still trickles through the six yard box causing some to hold their breath. Lesser in numbers now, but still singing the smaller group of CFC are sharing their opinion on the top flight of the English game, “fuck the Premier League”.

Clutching what looks like a concession stands worth of tissues, Tom is a mess, “I’m gonna need a wash” he tells me, his face smothered with mustard, the curse of the bearded man eating playing out right in front of me, he does his best to wipe himself down, but he looks a bit of a state.

It's CFC's turn to send the ball right though the box and not make anything of it. Just like the first half, it’s hard to really concentrate on the match, with the amount of songs and activity off the pitch, “love CFC , fucking hate McBean” sing the supporters, the Clapton owner back in the firing line. Flags are now flying at both ends, I’m caught not knowing where to look. “Better drummer that end” reckons Tom, pointing to the lone Italian singers, four maybe five making up their number, maybe close to one hundred fill the opposite stand, who though are not as percussionally gifted, are singing with everything they've got, “ally o, ally o”.

Noticing the large sticker covered drum is still under the gazebo, one has to ask how many do they bloody have? Tom in neighbourhood watch mode, is not sure the locals are going to be as appreciative of the atmosphere as we are, rumours have it that the Wadham Lodge Stadium will be their permanent home as of next season, and as they belt out a song to the tune of the Shanks & Bigfoot's hit, 'Sweet Like Chocolate', Tom thinks “the neighbours are going to fucking hate them”.

A red and white flag is gently swaying in front of the pop up shop, and the drum has now joined the one already behind the goal, taking the toll to three, some football grounds won’t even let one in, let alone three and as much as I’m enjoying the evening, at the moment all I can smell is mustard, Tom reeks of it and I’m glad he’s driving himself home tonight.

Back to the football for a moment and NWL have a free kick, but it's not hit with much purpose, dribbling through to the man in goal, the game having slowed quite significantly in comparison to the rampant first forty five. The home fans shift their musical inspiration away from garage to something a bit more Country, and Take Me Home, Country Roads, they sing about their spiritual home to the tune of the John Denver classic, “take me home, to the Spotted Dog, where I belong”.

Tom is sure that “we’re not going to have any goals this half” and that both teams have shot their bolt. “Maggy , Maggy, dead, dead, dead” is the latest song from the crowd, any Tory voting locals, already miffed about the noise, are going to be right onto the local council after that one. As far as I know the small section of fans at the other end are not singing about a dead prime minister, but are still singing all the same.

Chances so far this half have been few and far between, CFC float a free kick in, but the man at the back post can't sort his feet out. They should have at least got a corner, but its not given, sending the beardy one from the shop apoplectic, almost on the pitch, he screams over the hoarding, “murder, murder”.

I’ve no idea how long has been played, my hands are absolutely frozen and for the first time NWL have taken the lead, rounding the keeper for their fourth of the night. “Their defence is shocking” mumbles Tom, he thinks the floodgates are about to open, and CFC are going to get “ripped apart”.

“Come on you Tons” pleads someone from the crowd, the first song after the NWL goal is the first one that sounds like heads have dropped, just a bit, among the normally unwavering and fanatical supporters. Their song sounding ever so slightly muted compared to before, “come on you red and white”.

CFC flash a shot wide, and the fans are doing their best to will it in with a deluge of chanting, “singing at the Stray Dog” but they are unable to affect the laws of physics. Another chance, a header, but it's right into the grateful arms of the NWL keeper. Who falls to the ground clutching the ball, in no rush at all to get the game back under way.

I’m not sure what is more remarkable that we have only now seen our first yellow of the match, a robust CFC challenge earns the home player the distinction of being the first in the book or that much
to Toms admiration, that one of the “linesman is wearing a jacket”.

I don't think the smaller group of fans have stopped once, but I’ll be honest they do seem rather sozzled now. NWL are looking very slick, every attack looks like it might culminate in a goal. The game is brought to a stop, when the ball is hoofed clear, disappearing behind the toilet block, and the whole ground glares in its general direction, until from somewhere the ball is found and the game can continue.

Tom didn't think we were going to see any more goals this half, well that's already been proven wrong and I'm sure there is at least one more left in this roller coaster of a match. Two CFC players end up getting in each others way on the edge of the six yard box, one leaves it for the other, but he left it for him too, and the chance goes begging and then almost straight up the other end NWL with their shimmering gold numbers on their backs and a badge that looks remarkably similar to that of the Colombian national side, miss a back post header and the chance to score their fifth, that would have surely put this game to bed.

It was only a matter of time before a NWL player retaliated after one of the many heavy CFC challenges. One could maybe call it a melee, a fracas, a brief flash point, before it soon dissipates. I'm not sure if it's relevant to the foul, maybe the CFC fans know something about one of their team that I don't, one of them is not a man to be messed with, but when they start humming the tune to the Godfather, it is mildly sinister. One person taking it even further, going the full Michael Corleone, "just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in".

How NWL have not just scored their fifth, I'll never know. The smaller group of home fans, now standing atop the railing around the pitch, it's getting an absolute battering, their flags going at hyperspeed, have a front row seat as their keeper pulls off a solid save and then not one, but two blocks on the follow up. "Away, away, away" pleads one nearby supporter nervously.

That's it I'm done, here are my keys, bring my car around, I've seen all I need to see. There is not a hair on my considerable body that hasn't shot to attention as the ground fell silent and a single gruff voice leads the rest of the fans, in the most impassioned chant of the night. Reverberating off the backs of the neighbouring flats, it is so loud. The dramatic pauses between the call and then the response is perfectly timed, "because we all love the Clapton............................" and the acoustics make for a “good echo” as Tom puts it, which only adds to the theatre.

The person playing the big sticker covered drum, that he's resting on the top of the hoardings, is only marginally bigger than it. The referee is coming in for more stick, "your tired ref" and another delay, this time not because of a lost ball or an injury, but because Tom thinks "they've run out" of them. The larger of the groups descends into general chit chat, it sounds almost like a busy pub, the small group are still going just as devotedly as they were from the first minute.

"What's go on?" wonders Tom, there is no obvious reason why the game is not going ahead, Tom was only half joking about them not having any balls left, but now I'm thinking there might have been something in it, until all of a sudden the trouser wearing NWL keeper has one in his hands, and we are back under way.

"Relief" says one CFC supporter puffing out his cheeks, CFC have done it, I've no idea whatsoever how long is left, but they've only gone and equalised, the scorer of the goal, sprinting head down towards the bench. One player quickly recovers the ball and makes his way to the centre circle, looking like a man possessed the scorer is ushered back on to the pitch, everyone, me included surely feels this is a game that is there to be won.

As you can imagine, CFC's fourth was quite well received, the sound of about a thousand kettle drums washed over the ground and then back again. The CFC supporters are all about leaving the place as they found it, but the way some are hitting whatever they can get their hands on, there might not be a ground left to tidy up if they carry on this way.

The calls for the scoreboard to be changed are not heard, until the man in charge is given a nudge, and replaces the three with a four.

If this game couldn't get any more intense, it very nearly does, when CFC by only a hairs breadth, miss out on their fifth, in the most dramatic of circumstances. Flying out of goal the NWL keeper doesn't make the intended contact with the big CFC ball over the top, his goal empty, he has set the home team up with an opening for a very dramatic conclusion indeed. Falling kindly to a CFC player he doesn't even take a touch before taking a swing like a golfer with his wedge, he sends the ball goalwards and it looks like he has hit the perfect shot.

Almost like skittles, the CFC fans behind the goal seem to fall away, as the ball sails just the wrong side of the post. When a second chance is presented to them to win it, it's another case of  the player with the ball not passing to an unmarked team mate, shooting instead, straight at the keeper

"Fucking advantage ref", snarls one seething CFC, the railing in front of him stopping him from toppling on to the pitch. A CFC breakaway has just been brought to a sudden stop by a NWL player
who is now very much in the crowds sights, "fuck off top knot". The smaller group of fans are still going of course, driven by a hearty mixture of beer and plutonium, but have started to slow just a fraction and when the referee brings what I'm sure will go down as our best game of the season to an end, it feels a little bit out of the blue.

It's a ripple of polite applause that follows the final whistle and then a song not for their own players, but those of the opposition, "well played North West". The NWL team leaving the pitch applaud the CFC fans for their acknowledgement, one bends down to pluck some grass from the pitch, before kissing it and crossing himself. We could all do with some guidance from a higher power after that madness.

The CFC players first approach the smaller of the two groups of fans, one CFC supporter in a mild state of shock, tells another, "if that lob went I wouldn't be going to work tomorrow". As the CFC players get closer, the noise level raises, beating out what sounds like a war dance on whatever they can, they await the players, "Tons, Tons, Tons, Tons, Tons".

Having first seen it in Germany, I still think it's something more teams should adopt here, the CFC players walk the line of outstretched hands, where both fans and team can show their mutual admiration for each other, in victory or defeat, it's important to reinforce how one is nothing without the other.

"That was fucking emotional wasn't it" says one person exasperated, still coming round to what we have all just witnessed. The small group of supporters have of course not stopped yet, why would they have and as the players finally make their way in, they are serenaded one last time, "come on you Tons".

I'll keep it short, I've gone on long enough. I learnt today that Tom is not a fan of the sha, la, la, chant. CFC fans are most definitely pro remain, "you can stick your fucking Brexit up your arse", however that's not a huge surprise. We certainly did get our "value for money" as one person put it to us, but most importantly I learnt that something many people hold dear, is not a myth, it is the fans who hold all the power in football, CFC are a living example of that. Don't like the cards you've been dealt. Start your own fucking game.

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Tuesday 23 April 2019

Beef Slice - Northwich Victoria FC Vs Chertsey Town FC, FA Vase Semi-Final 1st Leg, Wincham Park (24/03/19)

Tiptoeing around my flat, I do my best not to wake the baby, who is sound asleep, as most people should be at this time on a Sunday, but once again our continued search for football enlightenment is pissing all over the one sacricant I have left in my life, the one rule, naah mantra I have stuck by all these years through thick and thin, good times and bad, deaths, births and drug addiction of not doing anything on a Sunday for the umpteenth  time this season. It's now not really even worth mentioning it anymore, it’s been that long since I actually fucking stood by it.

One could not ask for much more when stepping out their front door than birdsong and blue sky. My neighbour coming the opposite direction, looks like they have had a good night, but the birdsong may well be having an adverse affect on their delicate head, so I do my best to not let the door slam, in precaution of not wanting to trigger some sort of post bender breakdown.

“Bit early for these shenanigans” says Tom grumpily, as he drapes his coat over his knees and gets himself comfy. Long term readers will know Tom is far from a morning person and he will not hold back in telling me on many an occasion for the next few hours at least, that he is not best pleased he’s had to get up as early as he has. Waving a Tesco bag at me, but not using his words, it's not until he reveals it’s contents, a selection of CD’s, finally fulfilling his promise of supplying the music for our journeys, do I understand its significance, but on inspection it's quite literally a mixed bag.

I can't complain about System Of A Down's 2001 seminal album Toxicity, which on a side note Tom used to insist on calling Toxi-City, but the rest are a bit of a strange mix. “Two gambles that backfired” he admits, when my response to The Best of REM and The Best of The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, is not exactly favourable. I can though take some solace in the presence of a bit of Dr Dre, as I have quite the soft spot for the former NWA member, and all in all, it's nice not to have to rely on my unpredictable radio.

Describing it with all the turmoil and anguish of someone who has just lost a close relative or found out they have a terrible incurable illness, the way Tom recounts the saga around the delivery of his previous nights takeaway, is the definition of a first world problem.

Stopping for a much needed toilet break and a coffee refill, I’m treated to my second dose of birdsong in the loo of a BP garage. “Closest thing to cocaine” is Tom’s frank description of an espresso, so I think I’ll just stick to a latte if that's the case. Dropping crumbs all over my newly valeted car, I think he takes some kind of sick pleasure from seeing just how much it winds me up, the detritus from his ham and cheese toastie falling from his mouth, across his beardy chin and all over my upholstery.

God only knows how we got on to the topic, but between CD’s, Tom’s three word review of 50 Shades Of Grey, leaves me somewhat gobsmacked, “feathers and slapping”.

The snaking peloton of Sunday morning cyclists, I will refrain from sharing Tom’s opinion on the lycra clad short wearing ones, as they are far too harrowing, somewhat hamper our approach to today's game, but when we finally get there, on first impressions, I think we are both wondering why did we bother.

What  I can only describe as a scene of absolute carnage, an apocalyptic wasteland of chewed up earth and tree stumps for as far as the eye can see, fills our view. The Sat Navs pink line tells me we are heading in the right direction, but I’m not sure. It looks more like where an atomic bomb has just been tested, than where a football ground could possibly be.

Never in my life have I been more grateful to see the yellow high vis jacket of a steward, like a extremely reflective beacon of hope, he waves us towards the car park. Despite my car being ever so slightly soiled, my nostalgia receptors in tatters after a Chop Suey song, almost having to stop Tom from jumping out his window to throttle a cyclist and with the images of him being all Christian Grey seared permanently into my mind, I think todays four hour drive to Cheshire, can go down as successful one.

Arriving all in one piece, the ultimate goal has been achieved, physically that is. Psychologically I'm not sure.

“It’s a windy one” says Tom, struggling with his coat as it seamlessly turns from an old ladies blanket on the seafront into an actual jacket. Within seconds of stepping out the car we hear our first shout for the home team, “come on you Trickies” the first of many that we will hear by the end of the day and although Northwich Victoria FC (VIC) are only lodgers, the amount of green and white we’ve already seen in the few minutes we’ve been here, it very much feels like home.

Inside what I would call a proper football ground, Wincham Park is so much more than just a railing around a pitch, it’s awash with concrete terracing, an impressive all seater main stand and large open ended sheds behind each goal, it's the kind of ground you can't quite believe is the home of a non league club and not a league two team. A stiff wind cuts from left to right, just about leaving the FA Vase placard out on the pitch in preparation of kick off unmolested, for now at least, and a white haired man in green wellies, doing the last finishing touches to the lines, looks like he is off in this own little world.

Retreating to the bar, Tom says its for a drink, I think it's so his hair isn't ruined, the obligatory parquet dance floor every half decent clubhouse should have is empty, but the stage overlooking it is not. A long table with a highly engraved silver cup with white and green ribbons on each handle at its centre, is flanked by a selection of VIC shirts from their recent past. The kind of display to send a football kit nerd like myself all weak at the knees and laid out in front of them are a selection of scarves, one from a 2006 FA Cup 3rd Round visit to the Stadium Of Light.

Sitting on the edge of the low stage, with his pint by his side, a man in a green and white hat and green and white shirt, waves his large green and white check flag above his head. Recently purchased form the table heaving under the weight of VIC related merch as well as the programme I just nabbed myself a copy of. He sways his flag to the tune of a little bit of Muswell Hill in the North West, Victoria by The Kinks.

Outside the away teams coach has arrived, piling off after the long drive from Surrey, the supporters of Chertsey Town F.C. (CT) much like the home fans are in good voice, “blue army, blue army” and thirsty, quickly descending upon the bar. “Going to be rocking in here” says Tom, having to raise his voice over the noise of the fans. Before we depart and somewhat hampered by the raising decibel levels, I secure myself two tiny manila envelopes, both of borrower proportions, containing a golden goal ticket in each.

What looks like a quarry off in the distance would perhaps explain the two pickaxes on the badge of the home team who VIC ground share with, and it's a shame that their music with claims to be “the best non league museum in the world” is closed, which is a shame as I’ve heard it's well worth a visit.

In the short time we’d been inside, I’m sure even more flags have gone up, hanging either from the wall that runs along one side of the ground or over the red railings that surround the pitch. They flutter in the bracing breeze, which is tempered somewhat by the emergence of the sun from behind some clouds. The weather today about as good as one could ask for, it's in vast contrast to last weeks, when the game was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch. The seven day delay in the tie, means both sides know it will be Cray Valley Paper Mills they will be coming up against, should they make it to the final.

The noise levels ratchet up another level when the VIC players appear for their warm up, “come on boys” shouts a lone voice from the opposite end of the ground, however their stay on the pitch is short lived, and in accordance with the sign at the mouth of the tunnel requesting them not to train on it, they are soon out of sight, disappearing through a small gate.

Steadily filling up, more and more of the red seats in the main stand find themselves occupied. I look on enviously at the women pulling a flask of what turns out to be soup from a tote bag over her shoulder. Tom and I have been saying for years we should bring our own food, if only to save Tom’s narrowing arteries. One man on the pitch battles Mother Nature in vein, trying to balance the match ball on the plinth behind the placard, eventually giving up, after coming to terms with the fact he was always going to come off second best.

Joining us outside, the man from the stage is seemingly doing laps of the pitch, his flag unfurled, he is not required to make any effort, simply holding it upwards, the wind does it all for him and it looks
great. The high spirits continues to build, while a man with a fork attentively prods at the pitch.

The PA crackles into life and the main stand is only getting fuller. The flag bearer from the bar, has now been joined by three more, standing in formation behind one goal. Unable to resist the draw of the small hut called Queenie’s, Tom returns from his investigation grinning, “it's a chip shop”.

Both teams enjoy a brief spell on the pitch, despite the sign but are soon chivvied, “Chertsey Town in” shouts their coach from the sidelines. As the players walk off a fan leaning over the barrier high fives a few of the departing players and for the first time the home teams drum strikes up, only adding to the din, but not to be outdone, the CT fans offer up their own song in reply, “blue army, blue army”.

When its VIC’s time to leave, they are greeted by a person who has the air of an injured team member about them, unable to play today. He dishes out more than just highfives, but the odd embrace for those who have now completed their drills and are off for a last few rousing words from the manager and instructions on setpieces.

The VIC drum is a thudding constant, but so is the singing of the CT fans, “we love you Chertsey we do”, whom there is by no means a lot of, they are outnumbered more than three to one, but they are making a cracking effort so far. The noise from each set of the fans only adds to the ever growing atmosphere, combined with a heavy measure of tension and excitement, it’s making for a electric build up. The Jam’s A Town Called Malice only riles up the crowd even further, it’s energetic beat getting many toes tapping. One VIC fan on the terrace, with his back to the pitch, his flag in one hand, conducts the crowd in their latest chant.

With the game even yet to kick off, there is a chance of some people peaking a bit too soon.

Two teams, a whole gaggle of mascots, each in a green and white VIC jersey, plus the officials and a few coaches too for good measure, all just managed to materialise from the squat square tunnel at the middle of the main stand, like some kind of Saturday night primetime elusion, to a welcome that will go down as one of the most highly charged we’ve ever witnessed.

From the VIC fans behind the goal to my left a shimmering display of silver foil strips flutter down towards the pitch, having been hoisted up into the air, at the first sight of the team. “We love you Northwich we do” they sing as the players approach the podium, the ball somehow staying in place, a nifty Blu Tack job perhaps. The CT fans are singing about Wembley, a bit premature perhaps, but going by their bouncing, scarf twirling shenanigans, they are no shrinking violets, I very much doubt they give a shit about what anyone thinks.

When the referee signals a change of ends, the two sets of fans start a hasty migration, doing their best to be in place for the kick off, which is brought to an untimely end by a red cage, with a small door on each side. A bit of a relic from days of pens and spiked topped railings. As the hoards come to a stop, with only a slow trickle of people able to pass from one side to another, those waiting their turn sing and chant towards their opposite numbers, slapping their hands on the bulging fence. A scene more commonly seen in the Copa Libertadores not the FA Vase.

With the game underway the bottleneck means there is somewhat of a conspicuous void behind each goal. The early claim by VIC for a “handball” in the CT box, might have had a bit more weight had the fans been there to give it their backing, but considering the lack of movement from the packed Perspex home dugout, no one could have thought there was much in it, and the games continues.

When the VIC fans do finally arrive, their songs are plentiful, “you are my Northwich, my only Northwich” loud and impassioned, taking the noise levels through the roof. The drummer is among the crowd, and leads them in a hummed rendition of the Dam Busters theme. One late VIC arrival, passes us towards the terrace still dressed head to toe in motorbike leathers. That's commitment.

“Ohhhh” sigh the home crowd, ten minutes on the clock and their all purple keeper has made a bit of a hash of a punch, it was woeful, and is lucky not to be punished for it, but a teammate is on hand to clear it. With the crowd as animated as it is, the section behind the goal a swirling pulsating mass, it's hard to concentrate on the match. The flags are in full motion, the songs keep coming, “oh when the Vic go marching in”, the drummer, who Tom has labelled as “good”, is so much more than that, he’s exceptional. When VIC surge forwards on the attack just before the quarter hour mark, whipping in a fierce cross, the terrace rises to their tip toes in anticipation, falling back down when the ball is hacked clear by a CT player, head to toe in dazzling yellow.

As we learnt at the other Semi-Final first leg, they are nervy affairs. With no clear cut chances for either side, its a case of no one yet wanting to take a risk, everyone is keeping their cards very close to their chest. The atmosphere though is not suffering from such nerves. When VIC are in on goal, the crowd once again rise, “go on” shouts one man, one on one, with just the keeper to beat, the final shot is tame and never threatened.

Sliding into the CT keeper, lunging for the loose ball, the VIC player has a foul given against him, much to the displeasure of the home fans, who think CT’s stopper is making a bit of a meal of it, flat on his back like a neon orange beetle, he squirms, but I don't think it’s any great long lasting discomfort, after what in all fairness looked like a minor clash.

A child with bubbles adds a lightened feel to proceedings, when VIC are awarded their own free kick, it buoys the supporters. A loan booming voice is the epicentre of most of the songs, “green army, green army”. The flags towards the front of the crowd sway from side to side, nearly poking the eyes out of the nearby stewards each time they do. The set peace comes to nothing and edging towards a half an hour gone, there is plenty of effort, but very little action.

“Fucking hell” says one man on the exhale, puffing out his cheeks, another calls on a higher power that can’t be found on our mortal realm, “Jesus wept”. VIC were very nearly the ‘authors of their own pain’ as Blofeld would say, a swipe at the ball by one defender at a CT corner, almost sends the ball into his own net, only for Barney the keeper, to be in the right place at the right time to catch it.

VIC shoot just wide, and the mishap at the back has been all but forgotten, “who are we, green army” they sing as if almost hypnotisied. Led by the same gruff voice as has been the case since the start. The drummer tries to use all of his musicality not for good, but evil, beating out a rhythm trying to put off the CT keeper when a player makes a short pass back to him, and he is forced to make a hurried clearance.

In an almost carbon copy of the game at the Badgers Sports Ground, it's been a “cagey” as Tom puts it, first thirty minutes. The fans at both ends excellent, admittedly I can't really hear much of what the CT ones are singing, over the songs of the VIC ones, but they are certainly animated, it's just like someone has turned down their volume a bit.

It's either a blatant display of petulance or some time wasting is already afoot, but when the CT player refuses like a spoilt toddler to give up the ball for a VIC throw in, his behaviour raises a few laughs. When he is given little more than a shove from a VIC player, a bit of a ‘come on get a grip’, his response is let's say theatrical, which is greeted with even more amusement and his complaint of “I just got pushed” falls on deaf ears. The referee probably couldn't hear him over all the sniggering.

The CT keeper continues to stand fast in the face of the drummers attempt at intimidation, he does his best with a flurry to put him off, but he fails. “Norwich edging it, but it’s minimal” is Tom’s first half synopsis, which he lays on me before pointing out today we are watching “another team in green” we have had quite the spate of them as of late, which has nothing to do with my love of a green kit, contrary to what he thinks, before making his first food related comment of the afternoon, his service station toastie clearly having set him up well, “time for food”.

It won’t go down as a classic by any means, they certainly won't be talking about it for years to come,
but its a goal all the same, a goal to CT. If the first attempt from the bobbled cross from the right had gone in, instead of hitting the frame of the goal, having looped delicately over the VIC keeper, that would be a goal worth recounting. However Johnny on the spot, CT’s number 8 is on hand to poke home the rebound, the ball barely in the net and he’s running off behind the goal, past a slightly sad and drooping VIC flag that didn't make the journey with their supporters, along the line of CT fans pushed up against the railing going apoplectic.

Punching the air the supporters quickly break into song, “we are Chertsey Town”, however the home crowd is quick to respond, “come on Northwich” and the the PA makes me jump out of my considerable skin, when he confirms the scorer and the “golden goal time forty minutes, golden goal time forty minutes”.

Again the CT fans sing of Wembley and for the first time I think today, I can say the ground is quiet, except for those from Surrey who are pogoing, “boing, boing, boing” they sing as they leap up and down, and it's their turn to belt out a few songs “we’re the Town, the mighty, mighty Town”. On the stroke of half time, CT almost double their lead, but the shot is lashed over. The distinctive voice among the VIC crowd offers up one of his shouts, “you greens” but gets nothing back in reply.

It’s a much calmer change of ends as the team's head inside. The CT fans are still going, “Chertsey Town, Chertsey Town” but the VIC supporters have had the wind knocked out of them a bit. Fork man is back out and I notice at one extremity of the main stand, a familiar face hiding under the hood of a large black coat, someone I’m not thrilled to admit I know who she is, a cast member of the televised train wreck that is Geordie Shore.

“Food is always better up north” states Tom. We’ll make a Northerner of you yet, I tell him, “If you put gravy with everything you will” he replies emphatically. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, I’m convinced that despite all his belly aching about the time in the car or the early starts, Tom’s sole motivation to agree to these road trips is not to spend time with me or in the hope of finding football Valhalla but so he can eat something with piping hot, brown viscous sauce over something wrapped in pastry.

Waxing lyrical about his “beef slice” which he tells me is and I quote is “fucking banging”, I could safely say Tom is in his good place, eating well and relatively warm. When I point out Charlotte Crosby is here, the member of the get drunk and piss yourself MTV show is here, what he is eating pales into insignificance, Tom is somewhat of a fan of hers.

Perhaps it’s down to a beef slice or some chips from Queenies, but the VIC fans have rediscovered their voice at the start of the second half, now at the opposite end of Wincham Park to us, the terrace looks fit to burst, “oh when the greens go marching in”. Still energised by their late goal, the CT fans are hammering at the hoardings, “Chertsey, Chertsey”.

VIC have come out invigorated by the words of their manager, “ohhhh” go the crowd as some early pressure, sees them put a shot just over the bar, “come on the greens”. CT win a free kick on the edge of the home box. The VIC supporters latest chant “who are we, green army” is momentarily interrupted as they let out another sizable “ohhhhh” this one out of nerves and not enthusiasm, as the ball takes a nick off top of the wall, which could have sent it anywhere, only for it to fall into the hands of a grateful Barney.

I’m sure it's only because I know she is here, and it has nothing to do with the fact Tom can't keep his eyes off her, but the screams of Miss Crosby is all I can hear now. Neither of us can really understand why she is here, perhaps she has a passion for non league football, maybe a friend of hers is playing or her dopey looking boyfriend dragged her along or she dragged him, we'll never know, but she has somehow managed to acquire a direct line into my brain with her high pitched screams.

It's got very cold all of a sudden, but this is doing little to deter the CT fans, “everywhere we go….”. VIC are resulting to long range pot shots, their fans ohhhing once more as they let fly with an effort from outside the box. In full blown party mode, the CT supporters are oblivious to whats happening on the pitch, instead they are informing anyone who is listening, that they’re “gonna bounce in a minute” and after some dramatic pausing, they do just that, “Chertsey, Chertsey boing, boing”.

The song no set of fans wants to hear, especially one who pride themselves on making a good atmosphere, as I imagine the VIC ones do, “we forgot that you were here”, must be a bitter pill to swallow. The drummer among the VIC supporters tries to pick them up, but they have fallen a little flat again, it's now those from our neck of the woods who are making all the racket.

For some the first fifteen minutes have failed to hold their attention, two young kids behind us have started an impromptu kick about. Turning on the referee can sometimes be a sign of a fans frustrations, “you don't know what you're doing” they chant, when the man in charge in their eyes fails to award them a free kick, after a blatant foul and the wind has started to play its part in the match too, “ohh caught that” laughs Tom, after a CT goal kick is wafted right out of play.

Approaching an hour of the game gone and it's a toss up between the drummer or the kids dragbacks for what is the most entertaining. The match is really not much of a spectacle, both teams still apprehensive. VIC send in a decent enough cross, but it's easily caught by the CT keeper and not long after and in on goal, “go on” encourages one person, it’s only a last ditch tackle from a CT player that stops what looked like a certain equalizer. “What a fucking tackle that was” says Tom, who for a fraction of a second was more excited than he had been about either his beef slice or the presence of the reality TV star, but it's fleeting.

With things on the pitch on the up for the home side, the drum is slowly but surely getting the supporters back into their stride. Having set themselves such a high benchmark so early on, they are only now getting back to their best “Northwich” they all roar after a solid beat from the man on the percussion. More Dambusters follows them hitting the crossbar via a deflected cross.

The wind is no longer affecting the game, just my hands and is giving a solid assist to the flags which still look resplendent. Tom baulks at my obsession with banners and flags, but I think they give so much personality to a football ground, be them a homemade jobby or something a bit more upmarket. All of course green and white, the one that reads "N.V.F.C The Club That Wouldn't Die" is my personal favourite, a reference to troubled past. For the record though messages on bedsheets calling for managers to be sacked or for owners to sell up, are not acceptable.

“Haven't you got your gloves?” asks Tom, the gloves he bought me, which I’m not sure I know where they are, so I tell him I left them at home.

I’ll be honest I didn't think it was going to be much of a contest when it came to the two sets of fans, and what they would be bringing to the figurative party, but I have to take my hat off to the CT mob, whose boisterous demeanour means they are more than holding their own. Spelling out the name of the team, one letter at a time, the loudest of them starts them off and the rest respond. Once they're finished, they end it like any respectable group of supporters would, with more pogoing.

It is the CT fans turn to “ohhh” as a shot of theirs goes just wide of the target. Getting close to the final fifteen, I can't remember many attempts by them this second half, is it a case of sitting back, happy with what they've got?

Personally I think it should get at least one outing at every football match in the country, regardless of where in the pyramid or face a points deduction or being forced to play games behind closed doors, but the hummed rendition of the Entrance of the Gladiators, really should be aired more often. The wind popping up with a cameo midway through a VIC pass, inspires one CT fan to break into song.

In the battle of the colour chants, it's probably about level pegging, “who are we, green army” and “come on you yellows”. As good as their support has been so far, the CT fans might want to do themselves a favour and look at a map, the relevance of the song “I'd rather be a Scouser than a Manc” is a little misguided, and their latest chant, again highlights the CT own brand of cockiness, “you're only here for the Chertsey” and following curling shot, after a smart turn, it's all getting a bit Will Grigg's, “your defence is terrified”

Being the full length of a football pitch away, the laws of physics mean I see the VIC fans erupt into celebration, a split second before I hear them, it's all flailing arms and gesticulations, before their sonic boom reaches our ears. “He lashed it in” gasps Tom, from quite an acute angle the scorer whose name is being confirmed by a far happier sounding stadium announcer, it's like night and day, he’s hammered it up and over the keeper into the roof of the net. “I don't know how he got it in the goal” ponders Tom, but he did, and it’s much deserved.

The CT fans boo the jubilant PA, but there really is no point. They try to recover with a few lines of “Chertsey Town, Chertsey Town” but it's half arsed and it's now their turn to be dejected. “Northwich” the home fans cry at the end of the drummers beat, the CT supporters attempt a swift counter “we forgot that you were here”, but they know in their heart of hearts, they can’t be heard. The home fans have gone stratospheric, “green army, green army”, scarves are going at a dangerous rate inches above people's heads, someone could lose an eye.

Having failed completely to remember to check my golden goal tickets after CT scored, I fumble at the breast pocket of my shirt, extract the two tiny envelopes, tear them open, to of course discover, I didn't win.

Home tails are up now, into the final ten minutes, the home fans are now as loud as they have been all day, they almost suck in a bullet header from a corner, but it sails just wide. The CT supporters have fallen silent, reduced now to just slinging the odd insult towards the pitch, the VIC drum now never dormant

A close attempt from one CT player isn’t enough to pick the fans up. Tom “needs a wee” but won’t go, he doesn't want to miss anything, and I’m trying to press gang him into asking the cackling Geordie for a picture, but he isn't having any of it. The rate in which people have stopped for a selfie with her, is almost as continuous as the drum.

The VIC technical area all rise to their feet, including the man on a separate chair stolen from a school assembly, because the bench just isn't big enough for the whole home entourage. They wait in lieu as the winger crosses into the box, but he puts to much on it, and one CT fans tells the VIC staff to “sit back down”. Tom capitulates and scurries off to the loo and misses a CT ball into the box, but their front man looks leggy and can't reach it.

A late shout for a VIC penalty is waived away and a hush descends over the crowd when CT are awarded a corner. Crossed in, it breaks to the edge of the box, where one player skies it over, relief.

“Fucking hell” anguishes one steward, when it's announced he and every other VIC fan will have to endure “three minutes of added time”. Some home supporters have either seen enough, can’t take the anymore of the emotional roller coaster or are the type to leave games early, on account of not wanting to get stuck in traffic, rolls eyes, are rightly shamed for doing so by the CT fans, “we can see you sneaking out”.

Deep into injury time and the referee gets another earful, the home crowd don't feel like they are getting the decisions. When they are awarded a free kick, a chance perhaps to take a lead into the second leg, the home bench are on their feet once more. “Get in” says the now increasingly vocal steward, as one player rises in the box to head the ball. “For fucks sake” he says, as the player puts his attempt off target.

Both teams approach their respective fans come the final whistle, VIC don't quite make it as far as CT, who walk the line of the travelling faithful to shake their hands and thank them for their support. The VIC supporters, with scarves stretched out about their heads continue to sing, "we're the club, we're the club, we're the club that wouldn't die.

On a stage befitting such an occasion, its only a shame the match didn't live up to it. Discussing it in the car Tom and I hold polar opposite opinions. I'm all about a gun hoe approach to the first leg, bag yourself five making the second leg a mere formality, he is of a more cautious mindset. Playing the long game, making sure you are still in it when the second leg comes around.

I cant quite impress on you how impressed we were by Wincham Park, add in the fans, the beef slice and the celebrity spotting, plus meeting a young man who at the age of three has already been to twenty three grounds, who is Dad explained as long as he's "eating he's happy" or he can get a bit "antsy" sounds like someone I know, it felt like a proper match day a real event, which makes four hours in the car with a farting, crumb dropper, feel like a walk in the park

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Monday 15 April 2019

This Is Entertainment - Banbury United FC Vs Ardley United FC, Oxfordshire FA Senior Cup Semi-Final, Yarnton Road (20/03/19)

Although I know in my heart of hearts this is never going to become a regular thing, Tom seemingly does not possess the stamina to drive further than the shop at the end of his road and back or at a push to the local IKEA for the latest edition to his bourgeois house, I will enjoy the bearded reincarnation of driving my Miss Daisy for as long as I possibly can.

Tom is at the wheel tonight, its a fucking miracle.

Having been with my other half for over twelve years now, you would think I would have a good idea of the kind of person she is. Funny, generous, a little pessimistic, with a good streak of Northern level headedness. I am then a little shocked by her tirade when I tell her I’m playing passenger and Tom Mr Uber for the evening.

“Fart on his seats”, “leave mud in his footwell”, she scowls. My jaw hits the floor as the normally mild mannered and quite shy mother to my daughter, reels off a list of things she thinks I should be doing in retaliation to what can sometimes be Toms less than perfect etiquette when he is a guest in my motor.

Cup holders that work, my own seat warming dial, a Sat Nav with a modicum of intelligence, a boot that opens from the inside so Tom doesn't even have to get out of the car, popping it open as I approach so I can seamlessly put my bag in, a radio that receives more than one station, how could I be anything other than on my best behaviour when the in car experience is so agreeable.

With Tom driving, recounting a dream or should I say “nightmare” as he does, that he had last night, about a “sparking camcorder”, it's my turn to do that gawking out of the window thing he does, where he has clearly tuned me out, and instead is watching the world go by outside while he sucks on his vape. An old lady in driving gloves, trying to work out if the three large consecutive mounds on the side of the M40 are actually the remnants of the old Wembley Stadium or if someone was pulling my leg are just a selection of the things I see.

I only tune back in when he starts to get all excited about something, but soon tune back out when I realise it's because he is going on about “Bicester Village” Toms new home from home, some kind of retail centre, which by the way he’s going on about it, as though it is practically a place of worship. If he had his way, we would have gone “early” today, so he could have “done some shopping”.

When he starts to talk about his other favourite subject than discounted Levis, the weather, I keep one ear open, as I turn my head away from him and return to my safe space, “I hope it doesn't rain”. However his choice of radio stations is like a shot of late 90’s, early 00’s nostalgia straight to my heart, Pulp Fiction style and it's hard not to do anything but reminisce about sitting in his room getting stoned or thinking back about the various awful club nights we used to go to in Camden.

Emerging from the end of deep chalk lined cannon, the Oxfordshire countryside sprawling out in front of us, all sitting under a hazy blue sky, for the time being at least it looks like Tom will be getting his rain free evening.

“Oh cherries” he announces, as we pass a sign offering up some of the counties “fresh” bounty in a nearby layby, but on inspection, having turned off the motorway, we are greeted with no cherries, just an iffy looking public toilet. “How disappointing” says Tom and I hypothesise that the sign may be some kind of local trap to snare travellers such as ourselves, for nefarious means.

“Welcome to the city of Oxford” reads the next sign of note and I’m glad to report that this ones far more accurate than the last and by the looks of it doesn't look like an ambush. The myriad of dead things on the side of the road we encounter since passing the city limits, I’m sure are not in their tourism bumph. “Get sad when I see a dead badger” mourns Tom. “When you see a fox, meh” he adds, no love for what are affectionately known as ‘bin dogs’ in my house, its all for Bodger.

Tom is momentarily distracted from the road, when he is forced to stop me for the umpteenth time with fiddling with the vast array of knobs, buttons and switches that litter his centre console. “Whats that do, whats that do” I ask, giving it a push or a twist before he has had a chance to reply, hoping that the next one I touch will make an oil slick come out the back or the number plates switch to Swiss diplomatic ones.

I can't think of a journey in recent memory, where having seen a sign pointing to a place that shares its name with somewhere famous, but isn't actually that famous place, that hasn't got Tom all bizarrely giddy. “Woodstock” is today's location and I have to wait for a few minutes for him to get over the fact he won't be seeing the sight of the legendary 1969 concert. Talking of music though, my time in the left hand seat, means I’m sure I have just seen Sinead O'Connor in a Dacia Sandero as well a large metal elephant grazing on a roundabout.

The wildlife theme continues as we eventually turn into tonight's venue and are greeted by a large lamb and fish jumping towards each other over a dilapidated brick wall, that feature on the badge of the club that are hosting the game, that is emblazoned across a large board on the way in.

I do realise I must have mentioned now about four different signs and notices since starting this blog, and I’m pretty sure this is going to be my last comment about one, but what kind of a football ground is this that you have to tell people there will be “no horse riding, no golf”.

Tom’s car goes beep, beep, beep, beep as it reverses into our car parking space. In a car park currently full of lots of other cars, with people sitting in them, each with a similar look on their faces of, what do I do now. “I need a wee” is what Tom needs, but perhaps explaining the number of full cars of expectant looking people, just sitting around and twiddling their thumbs, the ground is securely locked up.

“Well someone is getting fired” says Tom pompously, “perhaps someone didn't get the memo its a 7:30 kick off”. Admittedly we are normally silly early everywhere we go, but there is usually some hint of life when we arrive, the faintest sign of activity, but Yarnton Road feels like a town abandoned after all the gold ran dry and when Tom realises he won't be having a wee anytime soon, he has a jaffa cake instead.

Unless they have seen something we haven't, the people in the car two along from us have started piling out, pulling an endless amount of kit bags out of the tardis sized boot. One of the party in a red and yellow Banbury United FC (BU) hat, hands amongst other things a foot pump to a man with an extensive amount of face tattoos.

More and more people arrive, get out, and quickly return to their cars with the same look on their faces of, there is no way in, a passing pedestrian gets everyone's hopes up, but when they keep on walking, everyone just slinks back into their chairs, “nope they don't have the keys” tut's Tom.

When the BU staff, now with some players in tow breach the outer defences, like a scene from Helm's Deep, sadly the waiting is still not over and the inner keep is another hurdle to overcome, the door to the changing rooms is still locked. “Shall we go into the city centre and have a pint?” suggests one fed up player, “what a professional semi final setup this is” grumbles another.

With the near constant buzz of low flying single engine aircraft above us, the BU players take to the pitch for a wander, “did anyone bring their wellies?” asks one stepping on to the playing surface, which I think in racing circles they would call, good to soft. One player who is not quite up for getting his trainers muddy, is tucking into some food from a Tupperware box, and then all heads turn at the sound of some jingling keys, but it's a false alarm.

As of yet there is no sign of BU opponents Ardley United FC (AU), and everyone frankly is looking a little bit like a lemon just standing around. Tom suggests we should just go back to the warmth of the car, where there are more jaffa cakes and music from our youth. I’m starting to think non of us got the right memo and we are all in the wrong place completely.

Breakthrough, the final barrier has been overcome, the man who did the honours had the eyes of at least twenty people glaring at him, lucky for him this set of keys worked and the players can take the long walk up the single file corridor to the home changing room. After all their griping about wanting to get inside, many of them are soon back outside, but on the realisation that they've already surveyed the pitch, and there is nothing else to do here, no clubhouse to loiter about in, they are soon all back inside again. Why are we out here?” asks one “it’s so cold”, he adds before turning about face and disappearing through the brown door.

Very, very, very slowly Yarnton Road wakes up , but no one is apparently in any kind of a rush. I would have thought with it being a cup semi final, admittedly a county cup semi final, which we have
learnt this season that no one cares about at all, that there might have been a bit more excitement, a tad more fanfare. I’m not suggesting anything too fancy or extravagant, so we put the lack of energy down to being here so early and just hope that things improve.

Judging by the faces of the newly arrived AU players, that’s not going to be anytime soon, the first of them through the gate has a expression of near horror across his face, when he sees the state of the pitch. Recent poor weather has not exactly been kind to it. Another AU arrival, another look of dismay, however this person doesn't just stand staring and grimacing, he is straight on to it giving it a good prod.

When I overhear one person explaining that BU are going to be playing in their “away kit”  tonight because AU have not been able to “turn around” theirs after a match at the weekend, it only cements the feeling Tom and I have had since stepping into the place, that know one wants to be here, the whole occasion an inconvenience rather than the opportunity to get themselves to a final.

There is one person who by the looks of it at least is embracing the moment, a the man in a bright red shirt, BU club tie and scarf draped over the shoulders of his suit jacket, one of the passing planes would struggle to miss him. The referees look the part, but they always do, a prerequisite for being an official, is an ill fitting suit and mirror ball shiny shoes.

When Tom hears the latch click on the other side of the snack bars green hatch, his mood improves, “ohh Harvey's is opening”, but it then nosedives again just as quickly after a quick scan of the menu on the inside of one of the doors written in chalk, seems to intimate they are serving, “just drinks”.

The AU players are greeted by a young girl offering up high fives as they make their way out for their warm up, the sun now setting its turned the sky a mixture of pinks and grey, and still no-one looks like they want to be here. To suggest Tom might be grasping at straws when he points out that the floodlights are “very bright” after coming on, could be history's greatest understatement.

I think we pride ourselves in trying to find beauty in the smallest of things, weaselling out nuggets of interest when they might not be first apparent, however tonight is testing us unlike we have ever been tested before.

Some spectators have arrived, but I wonder if they actually want to be here or have been forced at gunpoint. One is a young BU fan in full club kit, including shorts, which is brave, who much like the young lady with the AU players, welcomes the BU players out, who despite the very clear sign on the edge of the pitch saying not to, are doing just that.

If Tom is going to get some food, it looks like the only place or I should say person he is going to get it from is the very lonely looking man in the bright orange burger van otherwise known as Wazoo, home of the chrome plated megaphone of destiny, apparently. No I’ve no idea either and the man inside, doesn't look even 50% as jolly as the cartoon character with its tongue protruding which is plastered all over the outside.

The moon is full and bright, the nearby allotments are dark and verging on the spooky, Tom is yet to trouble the man in the Wazoo truck, although I’m sure he will soon, and he might be grateful for the human interaction, he’s not exactly busy. He’s just looking out over the teams warming up, “play like you're in the match” demands the BU coach of his players.

There is still much grumbling about the pitch from all corners and showing a level of sophistication that I’m not sure we have ever seen before, BU look to have their very own outside broadcast unit. A table covered in more switches and dials than Toms car, is being set up in preparation of what looks like a live commentary from pitch side.

“They're out late, fucking hell” baulks Tom, the referee and his assistants jogging out to warm up as everyone else is heading back inside for their final instructions, clicking and clacking up the concrete path. When those officiating give off the air of not wanting to be here either, and they are probably getting paid, it's a worry. Clearly having had to wrench themselves from their changing room.

As hard as it was to get in tonight, it would seem that it's even harder to get out. The word among the fans is no one is able to get to the clubhouse, that’s if there even is one and no one knows where the loos are, it all seems like a bit of a mystery. Tom really wants “a burger” but again he is so fixated on Harvey's and the fact it's “only drinks on the menu” and that tonight might be one of the very rare occurrences where he might not eat, he's not even explored any other possibilities. I’m not sure he’s even noticed Wazoo's. Its bright orange and staring him in the face, but he can't see the wood for the trees, such is his tunnel vision. However I’m far more concerned with if we will be able to leave come the final whistle.

Is the advertised game, just an elaborate version of the fresh cherries sign?

There is quite a sudden upturn in the attendance, everyone leaving until the last minute to squeeze through the turnstiles, many of whom are far from impressed with the poorly photocopied programme, I say programme, it's a piece of A4 paper folded in half. It’s hardly going to take pride of place in the special box under my bed, but at least they have one all the same. Most of those arriving seem to be in the BU camp, but there are a few hellos for the AU substitutes loitering about, so there will be some backing for the away team tonight, but they will find themselves outnumbered.

Much like when the players came out for their warm up, both teams have their own junior well wishers, when they appear for kick off. AU’s stands by the door to their changing room dishing out the high fives again, joining the front of line once the last player has appeared. The young BU fan stands the other side of the low barrier that makes up the walk out and is greeted with some solid handshakes.

For all the people here it's quite a reaction to the players being led out. One BU player jumps about four foot in the air and there is the odd shout from each set of supporters from the mass behind the goal and to each side of the non existent tunnel, but the players are much the louder, saying those kind of shouty motivational two word things that footballers say.

With the ends decided, the game under way, a small contingent of BU fans have taken up position behind the goal they are attacking, a single flag is being strung out as a looping cross is sent over from the left hand side and looks to be creeping inside the post. A BU player is on hand to poke it in, should he be required if it doesn't get there on their own, but when the ball reaches him he is only able to nudge it wide. With not even ninety seconds gone, it’s a bit of an early warning sign for AU, who are from the division below BU, who in their red and yellow kit, Tom has decided look like “McDonalds”.

In the AU number 8, I think we might have another fat Messi on our hands, a chap whose physique is testing the seams of his tightly fitting jersey, but who has all the skill of the mercurial Argentinian, but Tom is not convinced. Not having shown of any great flare early on, he does though have a bit of a shot on him, when he lines up to strike a free kick, he thunders into the guts of one of the BU players in the wall, and it sounded like it hurt.

A second flag has gone up behind the AU goal, the moon is looking majestic, but one man nearby is less than dazzled by the early showings on the pitch, “It's like watching Sunday league football”. Tom gets close to touching the ball as it bounces out into the crowd, but a much older man is far more spritely and intercepts. Next to him a person has smuggled in a blue carrier bag full of beer, “I’m not sharing” he says, but he’s not talking about the tinnies, but what looks like spaghetti bolognese in a Tupperware bowl.

I suggest to Tom that it might be the closest he is going to get to any food, but having done some investigating he confirms “apparently they do burgers from the funny van”.

The first ten minutes or so boil down to a bit of scrappy midfield battle between the two teams, where the most interesting thing I can comment on is that AU have a large black moustache on the front of their shirt. When the diminutive AU number 11 is hacked down on the edge of the BU box, “ref” shouts the bench, “ref” shout the AU players, and they are presented with another free kick in a dangerous positions. 

However this one won't be taken by fat Messi, but the number 11 who was fouled, who with his curly hair, I think has a bit of the Griezmanns about him, but again, Tom is not convinced.

Dispensing his provisions, the man with the bolognese who is now feeding all those around him, applauds the super save the BU keeper has just pulled off. Offering a bit more finesse, rather than just whacking it, the number 11 curls his shot around the base of the wall, the man in goal can't have seen it until late, but still manages to get down and across to it, to keep it out. “Save goalie” mumbles one of the well feed group next to us, with a mouth half full of quiche lorraine.

The decent sized crowd are well spread out, and the players and the benches are still the only thing I can hear. “Rugby tackle that” says the AU manager when their number 11 is hauled to the ground, his size and pace is about the only thing causing the “three or four bigguns” that Tom has pointed out in the BU team, any kind of issue. Tom has also noticed just how “pissed off” one BU centre back is getting. I don't know the BU team at all, but I imagine from previous experience, a few young guns would have been chucked into the mix, to give them a run out, and their experience is showing. “He’s got youth around him” says Tom about the towering number 5 in the BU back line, and “no one knows what they are doing”.

With just over a quarter of an hour played the BU fans behind the goal “ohhhh” when a scuffed shot dribbles right across the edge of the AU six yard box, but can’t be put away. The BU captain, their number 9, very Alan Shearer, is unable to capitalise. Chances so far have been at a premium, it's just more of the same in midfield, ping pong, you have, no you have it and so on and so on. With the ball now not sure it wants to be involved, it can't be found after a hoofed clearance, because it’s likely sprouted legs and ran away, one person has to remind one bench that it's the “round thing” someone needs to find so we can continue.

I can’t imagine the men huddled around the table illuminated by a small lamp with all the radio equipment on have had an abundance of things to tell their listeners about. I’m sure they sounded very excited when they went close following a flicked header at a corner, such has been the dearth of goalmouth action. If they were to ask Tom what he thought about the The Puritans, a winking Protestant complete with black hat looks out from their badge, he would tell them “they press well” but they might not be too happy with the fact he keeps referring to them as “McDonalds”.

If AU are going to get anything from this, they may well want to target the BU number 11, who Tom very poetically put looks “as ropey as fuck” his latest gaffe, a miss kick, almost gets his team into trouble and it's not his first error of the opening twenty five minutes or so.

The levels of sloppiness from each team are reaching stupendous epic proportions, “we can't keep losing it” barks someone on the AU bench. If the football Gods are going to bless us with a goal, which until now has looked unlikely, it may well come via a BU corner. Their taker is able to put a fierce bit of whip on it and the noticeable size difference between the two sides, BU the much, much
bigger team, are easily out muscling AU at set pieces and they just can't cope.

On the half an hour mark, the AU number 9 shows all the desire of the aforementioned Toon legend, winning the ball back on the edge of the BU box, with some great tenacity, but then sums this game up, with the most woeful of shots. A couple of minutes later and an almighty coming together between two players brings the game to halt. It sounded horrible and the BU player involved is flat out on his back. However when he sits bolt upright, imitating the Undertaker, the physio his very own Paul Bearer, he is apparently fine.

BU’s latest effort, that prompted me to note, shit shot, well wide, low and shit, also prompts Tom to exclaim “this is going to extra time, we’re going to be here forever”. I don't think we have watched a more turgid thirty five minutes of football all season.

A BU flick on from a long throw, almost causes a bit of hysteria, but is scrambled clear. The mixture of first team and youth in the BU startling line up, who are still not quite all pulling in the same direction, not gelling as they say, is hampering them in all areas. Beside us the bolognese squad are clearly prepared for the long haul, “are we here for two days?” one asks, as more and more food is produced. Tom has had enough, jealous of all the munching going on next to us, so strops off, falling just short of flicking his hair. “Right I better go find some food then” he says a bit like Eeyore.

The half comes to an end with me admiring the AU number 6’s stunning ponytail, as well as a “superb” save as one AU fan puts it, that their keeper has just pulled off one on one. “Good half lads” says the same supporter as the players walk off. You would think the team who have a whiff of the Coventry City about them all in sky blue would be the happier of the teams, but I can't imagine anyone could be happy after that half's performance.

Tom is back in what might be record time, but is in somewhat of a state of disarray, “it's all in bags, it's all in bags” he keeps repeating over and over. ‘It’ being his burger and chips that are each in their own white paper bag, which he rightly points out is “very good for the environment”, not a bit of polystyrene in sight, but at the princely sum of “6” it’s a little rich for his blood, as he reminds me almost every time I see him, “ I have a wedding to pay for”. For all that money he got some overly “salty chips” and what might go down on record as the flattest burger in history, fused together in a meaty bready puck, that in Tom’s opinion was “cooked a while ago”.

Between mouthfuls of burger, he tells me of an interaction he witnessed between the young AU mascot and a BU who she asked “please let us win tonight”. His reply was blunt, to the point and
brutally honest, “we won’t need to, we’re shit at the moment”

As Tom eats it gives me the chance to appreciate what is a sizable crowd, not bad for a midweek game, but I’m still unable to shake the overriding feeling, that most people from the players to the fans, would rather be somewhere else entirely.

Antoine Griezmann kicks off the new half, oh no sorry, my mistake, its the AU number 11. There is now only one flag up behind the goal BU are now attacking, the other one went home. Fat Messi has failed to come good, after what promised so much at the start of the first half, and someone on the AU bench really likes saying “good boys”, and it sounds a bit creepy.

There has been a marked improvement in the quality on the pitch since the restart, AU all of a sudden are looking very slick. Good pressure sees them win back possession, that they can't quite make it count, but the fans appreciate it. Mixing it up a bit, they almost find their man with a ball over the top, and again the supporters show their approval “ohhhhhh”, one of them pointing out about BU, “they like to push up” and it's screaming to be taken advantage of.

BU on the other hand are still a bit one dimensional, a bit “hit and hope” as Tom calls it, constantly “looking for the second ball of the big man” up front he adds with his Pep hat firmly on. Hands down the loudest person here now is the AU mascot, “come on Ardley” her small voice carrying all around the ground and she has every right to be upbeat, a great attack on the counter by her team, has just resulted in one player stinging the palms of the BU keeper, their “first shot from open play” says Tom.

They look a totally different side and the match is all the better for it.

Fifteen minutes gone and I’m praying for a goal, praying more than I’ve ever prayed for one in my life. “Well done” says one AU defender to another, after nicking the ball away from the BU player setting himself to connect with the in swinging cross. BU’s number 11 has departed, so they straightway look more assured at the back and Tom with his Pep hat still on, can't work out the mindset of either team, “how do you expect to score if you don't have a shot?” he asks me exacerbated.

Both teams look so reluctant to have a crack, “It's like they are trying to score the perfect goal” they are going the full Arsenal, trying to “walk it in”. If he was in the technical area his approach would be no nonsense, clear instructions to his players, from the Paul Ince book of management, “I'd be telling my team get to within thirty yards have a dig”.

AU’s mascot continues to be the loudest person here “Come on Ardley” and again her team are giving her every reason to shout, number 11 skips through the defence and draws another foul, winning them another free kick. It’s on target, straight at the keeper, but it's on target, maybe only their third one of the match, twenty minutes into the second half, but it’s something.

“First shot, first goal” mutters the AU fan next to us, BU have scored. Twenty five minutes gone and with their first effort of the half, a low long range finish after a driving run, the number 20 has finally got us what we have both been longing for. Leaping into the arms of a much larger teammate, they celebrate by exchanging a hug.

“Cone on Ardley. We've been the better team this half” shouts the AU keeper who is spot on. However the goal has them rattled, all that composure and neat passing of the first half an hour has slipped away and now they are rushing, wasting throw ins in good positions and are growing increasingly frustrated with the referee. “Who's running this game” asks one AU supporter angrily. 

The sound of the passing planes has been replaced with the squeak of the buses brakes coming to a stop at the bus stop just behind us. BU are dominant now, on the stroke of thirty minutes good feet gets one player into the box, side stepping his marker, with only the keeper to beat, he slots it wide. A groan rings out from the crowd, he looked nailed onto score. The BU forward can't believe it, clamping his hands to the top of his head in dismay. The AU players are trying to rally, and the BU keeper demands his teammate “switch on”” for the final quarter.

“Come on we gotta go to work in the morning” shouts a man in the crowd, after a long and unexplainable delay in proceedings.

If AU could just muster a little bit of magic, they might be able to get the equaliser they richly deserve based on their second half display. A corner is lobbed in, punched clear and they get a second bite at the cherry, but it comes to nothing. “Come on blue until the end” cries one AU player.

Chaotic probably doesn't aptly sum up the final five minutes of the match. BU almost bags a second, pouncing on a miss kick in the box, however the AU keeper is able to smother the ball and one hoofed clearance is so massive it’s only thanks to one of the trees that surrounded the ground on one side, that the ball is not lost forever. “This is entertainment” laughs one man to himself.

Into the final minute and BU flash another shot wide and then in a strange case of masochism, a BU fan is willing the opposition to equalise, “come on I bet they score” he says to himself, when AU are awarded a corner. The same BU fan who doesn't know why the AU keeper won't “go up for it”.

Our second big collision of the night, is a bang of heads, that neither brings about a WWE superstar impression or sees anyone hurt. The young BU fan, who is still in shorts and must be freezing, is watching on as his team start to panic. “Ohh here we go” says one BU supporter with an air of the inevitable demise about him, when AU are awarded another corner, now into added on time.

Again the keeper doesn't go up for it, and again one of the BU “bigguns” gets his noggin on the ball and hammers it clear. Back in possession, AU cross and for a brief second the equaliser they have been grafting for looks to have materialised, “it's in” gaps one supporter, as the AU bullet header sails towards the goal, only for the AU players effort to be stopped on the line by his own teammate. The AU keeper still in his area, drops to his haunches. That was it, last chance, no final for them.

Shorts boy breaks into muted song in what must almost be the last seconds of the match, "we're on our way". Most of the AU players drop to the floor at the sound of the final whistle, and despite both teams grouping together for their own debriefs, the fans hold back and the AU players are first off and are quite rightly given a rousing reception by their fans, "well played boys", "you should hold your heads high".

Still in place by the side of the pitch, the BU supporters applaud their players, who are somewhat humble in victory, having made hard work of a team from the division below, but all the credit to AU for keeping in the match all the way to the end.

It is about here that I should be wrapping things up, putting a bow on the end of my perfectly crafted piece, but there is a slight twist in the end of the tail, controversy at Yarton Road. Pitchforks were sharpened, torches lit and the wanted man is the referee, because unbeknown to me, the unexplained delay in the second half, was down to confusion about names on the team sheet, AU wanted to bring someone on, the officials said he wasn't on the submitted paper work and therefore was not allowed
to play

Calls for a "replay" and rumours that the AU manager went after the referee following him into his changing room, quickly do the rounds. None of this is of the slightest bit of interest to the BU players doing a bit for radio on the far side of the pitch, unaware of the drama unfolding.

I guess with any good story the twist comes at the end, and one has to endure the tedium of the previous two hundred pages before being treated to a bit of a surprise. Sadly though, the twist in our story tonight was just not enough, maybe if the referee had been clamped in irons then we could call it an OK evening, but I'm afraid this one goes down as a bit of a bust.

From the sad looking ladies in the snack bar, the players, most of the fans, except for the kids, they were having a blast, no one seemed all that into it, maybe these competitions have had their day. Eclipsed by things like the Vase, Trophy or FA Cup, they have fallen so far down the pecking order, that they are just an annoyance, something that causes fixture congestion's. Which is a shame, because I'm sure its a competition rich with its own history, local history relevant to the people and the teams involved.

Maybe I could suggest a shake up, a change to spice it up a bit, breathe a bit of va va voom back into it. Its a bit wild, but go with me.

You know the sign outside about no horse riding, ignore it, chuck it in the bin. Introduce a horse on the pitch, halfway through the first half, and people would come in their droves.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE


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