Monday 8 April 2019

He’s Even Good On One Leg - Cray Valley Paper Mills FC Vs Canterbury City FC, FA Vase Semi-Final 1st Leg, Badgers Sports Ground (17/03/19)

With my son perched on the edge of my fishing chair, his nose practically pressed up against the TV screen, headset on, X-Box controller in hand, he is so involved in his game of Fortnite, he doesn't even notice me leaving. “Cover me” he says to the school friend he is playing with, like a twelve year old Andy McNab. Outside it’s cold, big marshmallow clouds lumber across the sky, it’s a stark contrast to just a few hours earlier when rain battered at my bedroom window and I’m somewhat relieved to see today's home club have already tweeted “pitch is fine”.

I might as well admit my no going out on a Sunday rule is officially defunct, as once again The FA Vase has crowbarred me away from my sofa. I promised I wouldn't mention how amazing Spurs new stadium looks anymore, and I won't, however passing it can mean only one thing, that I’m playing Uber today and I’m on the way to pick up Tom.

My car is a bubble of pure Sundayness. The Archers omnibus is on, and if it did not contravene a few dozen laws in the highway code, I’d be half under a blanket too. However the sinister looking clouds ahead, divert me from the goings on in Ambridge and when I pull up outside of Toms front door, spots of rain have started to gather on my windscreen.

With my grey ticks not having yet turned blue on WhatsApp, I can see Tom has yet to read my message I’ve sent to tell him I’m here, so I’m forced to call, and unless he has just sat on something sharp, his voice has gone up a few octaves since I last saw him. His poor fiancee has been designated PA. “He’s just in the loo” she replies, clearly embarrassed, wishing the world would swallow her whole.

Not long after and bounding towards me with a satisfied grin on his face, he swings open the passenger side door, announcing, “could be a soggy one today”.

I’m sure we can all agree that grounds, stadiums and arenas, that are not named after drink manufacturers or airlines are preferable. Ones named after people, the road they sit or in Spurs case are nearby or animals get a thumbs up from me. Pulling then into the entrance of the Badgers Sports Ground, home of Cray Valley Paper Mills FC (CVP), surely must bring a smile to the face of even the sternest of people.

Just about getting to the car park the other end of the pothole strewn drive in one piece, we find a space to park. Stepping out of the car, there is that certain feeling in the air that rain is imminent.

Talking to the two stewards on the gate, we are soon discussing a topic very close to my heart, but one that has got one of the two, very heated. “I can't fucking go” he explains, while the other heads off to get the remainder of the raffle prizes from the “boot” of his car. Where the exasperated steward can't go is Wembley for the upcoming Euro Qualifier, where England will take on the Czech Republic. “School boy error” he sighs, its his “daughters birthday”, and he has that ageless dilemma of football Vs family to contest with, and I’m guessing for the sake of his father daughter relationship, he has decided to go bowling, and not to see Mr Southgate and the boys, and he’s absolutely gutted.

Beaming with the kind of pride, only someone who gets excited about these sort of things can do, and I admit to be one of those people. One of the stewards tells us they have “new goal nets” green and white striped ones, the club's colours, that are very smart I must admit. “We’re very proud of them”.

Coming from a place of relative experience, I’m pretty sure I’m the only person to have watched the complete back catalogue of Barbecue University. I can tell you one thing, the most crucial requirement to get one started, is fire. When the man who has set his one up at one corner of the ground, under no cover whatsoever, brave, to prepare one of today's food options, and has to ask the CVP Chairman for a lighter. One has to question the credibility of the BBQ’er in question. However having spent more than two minutes in the presence of Frank before. I know for sure he is the right person to ask, as he is quite partial to a cigarette or two.

A bit of a gruff Mike Reid type, but far friendlier, Frank says they are expecting anything from “five hundred to six hundred” today for their FA Vase Semi Final 1st Leg match. Where they are up against the team we saw the last time we ventured out on God's sacred day and away from the Antiques Roadshow and roast chicken, in the Quarter-Final, Cambridge City FC (CFC). In Frank's eyes as long as they can “squeeze them all in” and “as long as no one dies”, “everyone's happy”. A slightly unorthodox philosophy, but one I think we can all get behind, all the same.

Only able to see the backs of their heads, I’m unable to see the reaction of the referee and his assistants, all three of whom are currently getting their highly polished shoes a bit grubby, as they walk across the pitch, and there is a mild sense of tension as they do so. With CVP being lodgers, the landlords Greenwich Borough having played yesterday, there are numerous patches of sand across the surface. A bit of that inside your loafers could be quite tedious.

Ladened with stock from the tiny tea room next to the turnstile, two women waddle past us arms full, straining under the weight of the boxes, and by the looks of it are well prepared to shift a fair few cups of tea. “Might have to put my woolly hat on” says Tom, the weather in constant flux. Pulling his headgear on, the man on the BBQ having now got it going, and referencing the whiteboard in front of him, Tom tells me he’s “not sure” if he “fancies” what is on offer, “curried goat”. “What do you reckon?” he asks.

Snapping what until now had been a rather sleepy corner of South East London into life, a booming voice comes over the PA with your standard “testing one, two”. Then giving the place a jolly right kick up the arse, permanently blowing away any Sunday cobwebs that might still remain, O Fortuna starts to play. “That will wake up the neighbours” laughs Tom. It is the first song of maybe the strangest play list of all time, completely ruining my theory that non league football clubs are only able to play “Dad rock” as Tom calls, ACDC and the like or 90’s dance music. The Hives and then Fatboy Slim follow Carl Orff’s X Factor appropriated classical number.

You can have all the milk, plastic teaspoons and polystyrene cups in the world, but without something to boil the hot water in, you ain't gonna have a cuppa. “No tea yet” says Tom disappointedly, returning empty handed, “waiting for the urn”.

With no hot drink and that “it's starting to rain” says Tom holding out his hand, palm pointed to the sky, I’m starting to think I bet he wished he had never left the toilet. The man carrying a chest full of sweets turns his head, but not being the most adventurous foodie in the word, the calls from the BBQ'er of “rice and jerk” are not exactly improving his frame of mind.

The play list only gets weirder and weirder, maybe weird is a bit unkind, different strokes and all that, let's say eclectic, but Hey Jude is not a rile you up get you pumped kind of song and has no place here. Talking to the Southern Counties East Football League media officer, the division that both teams play in, he reckons today “should be massive” but with each club as he puts it not “well supported ” he thinks each will have about “one hundred” supporters here, the other four or five hundred Frank predicted, will be made up of groundhoppers and such like.

A caravan of kit carrying CT players in their maroon tracksuits, enter the ground and head straight up
the concertinaed red PVC tunnel and into the changing room. Tom returns empty handed for a second time from the tea run, the “urn has arrived” but they are now “waiting for spoons”. What was in all those boxes the two ladies were carrying?

The CT players are soon out on the pitch and by the looks of it some CVP players are still arriving too, “fucking freezing” says one to himself. In a huge huddle at one end of the pitch, the CT team are deep into a chat led by their manager. “There are loads of them” says Tom, “like an American football team”. Their pre match conference coming to an end with a simultaneous clap, from what admittedly does look like about two teams worth of players.

Tom has concluded there is no other option than to head into the glass fronted clubhouse, Miller’s Bar in search of something wet, with his visits to the tea hatch proving fruitless. Inside the large round tables are packed and I stay near the door as Tom weaves his way through the crowd. Drawn into the horde, I abandon my post and catch the attention of the lady selling raffle tickets. I can hardly hear her over the din, which leads to much consternation about what my £1 will get me. I assume as with most places we go to a quid gets you a strip, however here its a single ticket, and there is a look of 'are you sure' from the seller when I tell her I want two lines, “that will be £10”.

With two chances at a flutter today, the raffle ticket seller beckons over her partner, “shes the golden goal seller”, but again due to the noise levels, we nigh on recreate an early Laurel & Hardy skit, where the golden goal seller, approaches, walks away, approaches again and then walks away, again. Eventually resorting to vigorously waving her black bag containing the little yellow envelopes in my general direction, as if to ask, ‘is this what you bloody want?’

A cackling group of CT fans have annexed a wooden picnic table outside the bar, and through a temporary red fence, we can make out the all too rare sight at a non league football match, a queue to get in, and I have to ask, although I’m a bit scared to, why is Tom doing stretches. “I’ve started working out again” he grimaces, “it hurts”.

Interrupting the music a voice not that of a Swedish early 2000’s rock bands lead singer wishes everyone a “good afternoon” before reading out “the teams” the names of which I’m informed by one of the two stewards from earlier, “won't be going up on the whiteboard as usual” because “it's been commandeered by the rice and peas man”.

If that's not the most non league thing ever, I don't know what is.

Not too far away, over the roofs of the semi detached houses that surround us, a new batch of savage looking clouds look to be coming our way, “looks like they are dumping on somewhere” reckons Tom and although neither of say anything else, we both just stand staring off into the middle distance, like characters in a Spielberg film, I’m sure we are both thinking the same thing, that is going to be dumping on us soon.

New arrivals are talking about just how busy it is outside, and how hard it was to park, “the whole road, both sides” completely full. The play list kicks up one of Tom’s favourites, Freed From Desire, and he eats his burger and chips, having sidestepped the Caribbean cuisine, to the backing track of Song Two by Blur or to most people of our age, simply that song from Fifa 98. Tucking into his meal, it’s not bad thing he doesn't see the person with a paper clacker, he is not a fan.

CT are out to warm up, as those clouds that were in the distance, appear above us, Independence Day style, “can somebody turn the rain off” requests one of the emerging players. From the allotments that back onto the ground behind one goal, thick acrid smoke starts to billow over the fence and fills the air with the smell of burning lawn cuttings.

Tea gate is now in full swing, the urn has arrived, as have the spoons, and as one person puts it you “need a warm drink” on a day like today, but that's not what they are getting. “I don't think they're hot enough, people are getting iced tea” says Tom quietly as to not incite the crowd. “Third time lucky” says a lady readying to add the milk to her cup, but her new drink is no better than the last two she has had to return, “it's not even hot”.

If it hadn't been for the worsening rain, that then turns to hail, which sends the crowd clamouring for cover, there may have been a riot. The players in shorts and short sleeves don't seem fazed, and it's gone as quickly as it arrived, the sun soon back out. The music has stopped so I can hear the raffle and golden goal ticket sellers, pouncing on people as they walk in and then the PA pipes up, but not with more inappropriate tunes, but informing the lucky winner that the scratch card has been scratched and the he or she is to claim their prize from the bar. You what!

When the music does restart, the recent lack of it is explained by the fact its O Fortuna again. The first song of a very short play list. Cover is at a premium and people are already starting to occupy the limited amount of it there is in the single covered stand and terrace. The stiffening wind is catching kicks in practise, the bonfire is getting increasingly intrusive and two kids are doing laps of the pitch on scooters. When a man in the crowd is walloped by a wayward attempt from the CVP shooting practise, I thinks its official the Badgers Sports Ground is a bit of a mad house.

“Good afternoon. Happy St Patrick Day. We welcome you in our 100th year”, says the voice over the PA now in overdrive. He explains also that no one as of yet has “claimed” the winnings from the scratch card and if they are not quick about it, the money will stay behind the bar.

The red tunnel has only been half extended, so the rest of the gap between the changing room and the pitch has been filled will temporary crash barriers, that are holding back what is now quite a considerable crowd. It’s gotten very busy, very suddenly.

It’s not exactly a roar that greets the two teams, which might have something to do with Hey Jude being the song that accompanies them. The CVP manager shakes the hand of every member of his starting eleven and at the opposite end of the pitch to where the players are being led out by their captains, who both happen to be the keepers, not something you normally see, the CT fans have sent forth a barrage of dark red balloons. One has a single CT flag on the end of a flimsy white pole and the same flag with the Kent Invicta horse on it we saw at the Quarter-Final has been draped over the railing around the pitch.

In the CVP side is a genuine former international and Premier League player who gets a song in the very quiet build up to kick off, “Super, super Kevin Lisbie”. There are a few shouts of “come on Cray” plus the sound of the balloons being popped as they are intercepted rolling across the pitch. CVP’s keeper gives a rallying cry as the referee lifts his whistle to his lips, “here we go lads from the start”, however it all feels very low key.

“Oh that's a good start” declares Tom, less than one minute into the half and the CVP keeper is down in his own six yard box, clutching his leg in need of treatment. The long stop as he is seen to, is filled with the sound of the boy next to me rustling through his bag of sweets and trying to see if the single balloon on the edge of the six yard box in front of us, will make it the full length of the pitch intact.

Making her way back to the dugout, the CVP physio is asked by someone in the crowd about the state of the keeper, “how's he doing?”. He’s back up on his feet and the game has restarted and as she
points out, “it's not his kicking foot” which is some saving grace, but he doesn't exactly look free moving. An early CT shot from long range is straight at him, so is relatively easy for him to deal with, time will only tell if the injury is going to take it's toll.

“Biggest game of the season and the managers not put a back up on the bench” interjects a nearby photographer, but he is somewhat ignored, I don't think anyone wants to consider the implications of that.

Tom is worried not about the fact the CVP keeper is so loud he could be considered dangerous, but that “it's going to fucking chuck it down”. All the hallmarks are there that we are in for a drenching sometime soon. Three sides of the ground are fit to burst, if and when it does rain, a lot of them are going to get very wet. The end that briefly held the CT fans and their balloons, is now empty. The CVP fans around us, “come on Millers” one shouts, have not swapped ends as would be the norm following the toss of the referee coin, but instead have stayed put where they have the protection of a sheet of corrugated metal above their heads.

“Totally missed it” claims Tom. I thought the ever so lunging CT tackle was OK, but he had other ideas. Slightly controversially, the CT fans are mocking the CVP keeper “Danny, Danny” they say in whiny voices, surrounded by the CVP supporters. When one away starts a chant, its very, very quiet indeed “come on Canterbury” , however everything is quiet in comparison to the noisy sweet eater next to me, that for once its not Tom.

Much like a child though, Tom snigger's at the sight of a CT player having water squirted down his shorts, and another injury results in another long stop, because of this the match has really not got going yet, which is reflected by just how quiet it is. The calm is shattered by a young boy bursting a balloon, that makes me come over all Sir Alex Ferguson.

However popping party decorations, the complete lack of on pitch action and any real kind of atmosphere about the place, is all about to pale into insignificance as the rain returns. Brutal, horizontal, doesn't make a wild bit of difference that we are under cover, whipping us in the face kind of rain, that then turns to sleet. When I woke up this morning I never imagined I would be brushing ice off my coat. Drumming on the roof above us, it sends those without cover straight to the stand. Those with a brolly go the full Steve McClaren, some have a hard job of keeping hold of theirs as the wind increases.

No one looks happy, least of all the CVP fan standing behind his green and white flag, who is getting doused.

It has taken CVP a whole twenty one minutes to register their first shot on goal, which stirs a muted “ohhhhh” from the crowd, but the weather is only getting worse, and it's getting colder too. Minutes later and CT are through on goal, which momentarily increases home fans temperatures, but their keeper is soon there to nip the attack in the bud.

Lashing against me, I’m soon saturated. I want to see for myself how “quick” Kevin Lisbie is, after one person nearby expressed how impressed they were at the speed of the forty year old, “he can run”, but I’ve gone into self preservation mode, hunkered down under my hood.

The CT bench are all on their feet as a player of theirs is clattered into, “oohhhh”gasp the crowd, but the downed player is soon back up and the visitors are awarded a free kick in a promising position. “Not like that” scoffs one CT supporter as the set piece doesn't even clear the first man.

Dare I say the rain is stopping, the sky looks a little brighter and one person says hopefully, “the sun is coming”. I think when the weather is the main topic of conversation at a game where you can set yourself up for a potential day at Wembley, just highlights how dull, “cagey and nervous” as Tom puts it, the first thirty minutes have been. The sun continues to break though, and there is even some bird song, from the wildlife that was forced into hiding by the downpour. Tom does his best to shed the water from his jacket and one person fresh and dry from the clubhouse by the looks of it, gets a few disapproving tuts from his soggy friends, “the rain stops now you join us”.

It might have stopped, but Tom doesn't think we have seen the last of it, “I don't like the look of that” he says, pointing to more wicked looking clouds. He also points out that the CVP keeper now has got “someone else taking his goal kicks”. It may only be a brief respite in the soaking, but it's got the CT fans singing. It has though not improved the game, the German groundhopper standing next to us, who told us before kick off he liked English football so much because of the “intensity”, is probably sorely disappointed so far.

A crunching CT challenge kick starts a mild flare up, but nothing too sizable. A minute later and the ball just won't fall for a CVP player in the box. “Get in” shouts one fan trying to will it over the line, but it is hastily cleared by the CT defence.

CT’s outlet up front as one CVP supporter correctly points out is their “rapid number 9” who they are looking for with a ball over the top, on every occasion and are finding him nearly every time. This though is of little concern to many around us, who seem much more interested in that Millwall have just scored for the second time in their FA Cup match.

“There we go” grumbles Tom, the rain is back as the half draws close to its conclusion. “So fucking depressing” he groans, “shit match” and now he's getting wet again. Despite our cover, the rain continues to come in sideways. “I'm still getting wet” says one person, as most shuffle to the back of the makeshift scaffolding stand. Some even taking the drastic measure of giving up altogether, the draw of a Millwall FA Cup upset and the crap weather, is driving them inside in their droves.

“Go on” encourages a CVP fan, as again the home team get the ball into the area, this time form a corner, but like before the bounce just isn't going their way and no one is able to get on the end of it, CT hammering it clear, before someone can. With only a minute or so left, CT then send a tame shot skidding well wide of the goal.

Thankfully that will not be our lasting memory of the half, as CT produce the first bit of genuine quality either team has mustered in the preceding forty five minutes. A well executed dummy allows a player to let loose a rasping top of the boot shot, but its straight at the CVP keeper. They then have a rising half volley blocked on its way to goal and a push on a CT player in the box, is appealed, but nothing is given and then CVP fly towards the CT goal on a blistering counterattack, that comes to nothing, but at least it’s something.

Finally some action, all condensed right into the last few minutes, but it's not quite enough to save what has been a pretty lacklustre half and as the players make their way inside, some running to get out of the drizzle after the whistle, I have rain dripping off me, from every possible place.

The voice over the PA confirms the score, but nobodies listening, they are trudging, dragging themselves towards the clubhouse away from the misery on and off the pitch. In front of us, a cameraman conference is taking place among a few of those in attendance, each with a little plastic cover over their cameras, keeping them dry, which makes Tom very jealous. He had to nip to the loo to pillage the toilet roll to dry his out.

One of the three talking paps, hits the nail right on the head. One could tolerate the bad weather, “it

would be OK, but it's a rotten game” he says as the rain gets even harder and Tom having returned from his toilet tissue run, says that he was sure he saw someone going home, “that's what separates the men from the boys”.

Considering just how wet it is, I almost feel part fish, I must say I’m rather impressed by the man next to me who has faultlessly rolled his own cigarette, without his Rizla disintegrating in his hands. There looks to be hope on the horizon once again as a slither of blue appears. Those staying in position for the break are standing fast, no one wants to lose their spot, the “pitch looks a mess” comments Tom and there are cheers from the direction of the bar, maybe Miwall have scored again. However if they had, the celebrations are short lived, as the man behind me not long after says “Brighton have equalized”.

We got lulled in before, but the rain is easing again, and the sun is out. For a second time my hands start to thaw. The queue for tea is long, you can only hope that the drinks are hot now, or there will be uproar. Even with the promise of a hot drink, Tom reckons lots of people have had enough, “so many people are leaving”. One person who is very much here, is singing along to Hey Jude, which isnt hard not to, as The Beatles song gets its latest airing. Tom who it turns out is not a McCartney fan is far from impressed. The carcass of one of the balloons now lays solemnly at my feet and from our position I can see the referee in the tunnel, “it must be hard to come back out” says a shivering Tom.

The rattle of the tunnel, the sound of metal scraping on concrete, Paul cuts out and the players appear, walking out on a pitch Tom is “surprised” isn't “worse” and is actually “holding up”.

Perhaps they are all still watching Millwall, but the crowd has definitely thinned. The CT posse have swapped ends, and there is certainly more elbow room in our end now. CVP flash an early shot wide and bird song starts again and although there has been a noticeable increase in the energy levels on the pitch, not that that would have been very hard, Tom is sure it's “going to be nil nil”.

Another shot, this time to CT, it's on target and the keeper spills it, “Come on Cray get hold of it” shouts one supporter. That’s two attempts on goal in the first ten minutes, things are certainly on the up and then CVP go one better and actually score a goal. Something has happened which isn't weather.

Surging from middle field the scorers mazy run brings him all the way to the edge of the box, where one supporter tells him to “hit it” and he does. “How did that go in?” asks Tom, having to raise his voice over the ecstatic sounds of the person doing the PA, who is confirming the time of the goal, I missed out on the golden goal by two minutes and the name of the scorer. Who is followed by his teammates who have rushed towards the crowd for a fan, supporter pile on.

“Bit of a soft one” says one person, the ball hardly thundered in, more rolled. “Placed it, more than hit it” is how someone describes the strike. We saw CT come from behind in the Quarter-Final, they seem like a quite resilient bunch, but I’m sure their confidence must have taken a knock and CVP are soon on the attack again just after the restart. They look much sharper now, into the box the forward goes, and he’s down, but he’s booked for diving. Which initiates our second scuffle of the day. A CVP fan saying correctly, the “ref got it right”.

“Be positive” shouts someone on the CT bench to the players who in the first half had bare arms, but now in an attempt to stop them freezing and dropping off, now have gaudy red undershirts on. Maybe it's a sign from the football Gods, but in the seconds processing the request from the visitors technical area, the sun breaks through the clouds like the fingers of the almighty, reaching down to touch us. The “Jesus sun” is out says Tom, basking in its warm rays.

The scene in front of us, the sky half black half blue and white with the sun beaming, is like a vision from the ceiling of a Renaissance church.

CT toss the ball into the box, that causes a few problems, but is cleared. CVP do the same not long after, “good ball” gasps one supporter, but the header is right at the keeper and then its CT’s turn again. Their number 9 turning and shooting from the edge of the box. We're almost drowning in this sea of opportunities, it's almost overwhelming.

The home fans are really starting to loose it with the ref, in their eyes, nothing is going their way. Such is the power of the “Jesus sun”, “got a bit blinding for a second” exclaims Tom, the CT keeper has asked a player on the bench to go and get his hat. “Just chuck it there” he says over his shoulder, to the player holding it.

“How did he miss that” says Tom and about everyone else in our general vicinity and probably the entire ground. “He had an open goal and hit it at the keeper” he adds, unable to fathom how the player sliding in on the edge of the six yard box did not score for CT. So sure that is was going in the CT fans had started to celebrate, only for it to fall into the arms of the CVP keeper. Their premature jubilation's as you can imagine gets many jeering “weyyyyy” from the CVP supporters.

It really is still very quiet here, it's far noisier in the bar than pitch side. The noise level spikes when CVP bundle the ball over the line from a corner, “he did a hand of God” accuses Tom, which does not go down well with one CT player, “you're a fucking cheat” he says to the culprit who shrugs off his accusation.

“Well played keeper” applaud the CVP fans, the CT stopper in combination with his defence camped out on their goal line, have just stopped three or four goal bound shots valiantly. “Unlucky Ash” says one fan, the player who looked nailed onto score with the first attempt, after some very tricky feet, looks a little despondent.

CVP as they say have taken it up a gear, “well played Cray, well played” one man shouts, after a fizzed low ball into the box, is met by a striker who shoots just over. The resulting goal kick, is the start of a very odd back and forth between one home fan and the CT keeper. “I don't understand why it bothers you so much” says the man in the goal. The supporter for some reason is giving him shit for making a divot each time to place the ball on top of to aid his kick. “Look at the pitch keeper” barks the supporter or is it the groundsman. “You wanna settle down mate” replies the man in goal bemused.

“Rabbit rabbit rabbit” replies the now very animated man in the crowd, who along with a couple of other people are doing their best to get under the skin of the CT number one at every opportunity.

It's not until about the thirtieth minute that the CT fans make their first bit of real noise, other than the awkward celebrating of course, after their forward is forced wide, but still manages to get his shot off it hits the keeper, looping out for a corner.

The sun has gone from the non existent to the ridiculous, some are forced to hold their hands up in front of their face to shield their eyes, and the CT keeper dons his hat for the first time and who doesn't love to see that.

“I'll go through them again” announces the voice over the PA, repeating the winning raffle ticket numbers, which of course don't correspond to any of those in the breast pocket of my shirt. The steam coming off me, I don't think has anything to do with missing out on the England tickets or any of the six other prizes, but is testament to just how bloody hot the sun is now.

The sound of a home free kick hitting the cold exposed meat of the CT players in the wall is a bit of a sickener and gets a suitable “ohhhhh” in response. The back and forth between the CT keeper and the agitated fan is still ongoing, “made it a bit bigger for you that one” he says grinning. Into the last ten minutes and the man next to me is checking the local bus time table, which isn't a great sign.

“They are a rough team” notes Tom as CT rack up another foul, “ref sort it out” shouts a fan, towards the man in charge who hasn't really got a grip on things. CVP swing the free kick into the box, “this is it” says one man in a moment of premonition, but he’s not right this time and the CT keeper plucks the ball out of the sun.

Much like at the end of the first half, the second is awash with chances for both teams. CT are quick to counter, which is started by their man in the goal, after a home corner, it ends up with two players going down in the box, in what just looked like a coming together, the fans call for a penalty, but get nothing.

The voice is back over the PA, going through the winning raffle ticket numbers again, can do one. To add to my misery, the grass verge next to the path behind the goal has turned into a mud bath, and I almost go arse over tit. There is a sudden surge in the numbers looking for somewhere to stand, the bar has emptied, Millwall lost on penalties, and no one can see. The sun is now an absolute killer.

“This is their best spell” says one home fan, CT are well and truly on top. One CVP fan fresh back from the clubhouse has to double check what the score is, “I assume it's still 1 - 0?”. Two quick fire CT corners and the difficulty in seeing them, causes some confusion, “what was that? just a corner? thank God for that”.

More people are talking about Millwall than the game in front of them, one person is asking to be filled in on the goal, which another dutifully describes in detail. The CT fans are singing “Wembley, Wembley” and one CVP supporter says he would have liked to “have seen a second goal” to help settle the nerves.

“The referee has indicated a minimum of four minutes” says the anxious sounding voice over the PA, which of course someone refers to as “Fergie time”. One person is far more positive, “four minutes for us to score another goal” and positivity, no scrap that, a big dose of good luck is what the home team need right now, their goal is being bombarded. “Save keeper” shouts the man next to me, “he’s even good on one leg” he adds. CT are very fond of a long throw, they have one player who is from the Howitzer school of lobbing it and has the ability to reach the box from seemingly anywhere, which is troubling one home fan, “come on Cray, get it away from the goal”.

It’s probably not a bad thing that half the CVP fans can't see what is happening at the other end of the pitch, because it would only fray their already shredded nerves even further. The one legged keeper again pulls off another crucial save. “What we doing?” asks one supporter, “get it up there” demands another, but whatever they try they can't get the ball away from their own goal, and CT are getting closer and closer.

“We're putting ourselves under pressure. Come on Cray”.

If you had walked out of the bar just after the final whistle, not knowing the score, you would be hard pressed to know who was going into the second leg with a goal advantage and who had it all to do. Neither set of players looked anything other than miserable. The CVP manager has a face like thunder and is marching back inside, formulating what looks like will be a dressing down for his team as he does so. One CT player is consoled by another, "I can't believe we didn't score" he says and with the chances they had, they can certainly feel like they have done themselves a disservice today, but as another CT player put it, "it's 1 - 0 at half time".

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