Thursday 30 May 2019

Too Early For Ribbons? - Baldock Town FC Vs Biggleswade FC, Dudley Latham Memorial Cup Final, Forde Park (24/04/19)

Late nights are for the young, not big fat Dads with two kids and I can’t even blame copious amounts of booze, a pub crawl, finished off with a kebab sitting at a bus stop, for why I feel so crap. A shocker of a trip back from my annual Easter trip to the North West Easter to see the in laws, took about three hours longer than it should have, combined with an agitated one year old, I really just want to curl up under a blanket and block out the world for the next forty eight hours.

Tom has his own problems, “I can't work out what jacket to wear, so I've got two”. Climbing into my car, he’s not exactly enamoured with the state of it, the remnants of the long drive home the previous night, means that everything from the dashboard to the foot well is littered with crap, “Costa, Costa” he says, trying his best not to tread on the numerous dark red paper cups underfoot.

Although I’ve brushed my teeth and gargled at least a pint of Listerine, there is no escaping what I had for lunch making itself known. “What have you eaten?” grimaces Tom, turning towards me with the most tortured look on his face, “dude” he exclaims as the smell of the chicken Kiev I had only gets stronger. “So garlicky” he scowls, as my meal repeats on me, and I do my best to direct the fumes away from him, but it’s not working.

The sobering sight of an almighty crash on the opposite side of the motorway, puts an end to Tom's bellyaching, both of us relieved we are not sitting in the mile after mile of tailbacks that it's caused, but also both with all our fingers crossed that no one has fared too badly.

I thought we were done with all the wedding chat, but Tom treats me to a “wedding exclusive” which I’m unable to share with you, but I can assure you, you're not missing out on much. Turning off the motorway, we are confronted with a strange concrete structure, that looks like a cross between a rook from a chess set and something from East Berlin.

Passing through the red gate of Forde Park, the initials of the home team Langford FC are spelt out across it in red iron work, as we complete our hattrick of recent cup finals, at another neutral venue. Tom's costume dilemma is only worsened by the ever changing sky, “gonna get wet” he prophesises, the lack of “cover” and the “big grey clouds” means he is sure we are in for a soaking.

To say Forde Park is minimalist, might be an overstatement, shipping containers and conifers are about the only thing of real note. There is a flat roofed clubhouse that looks remarkably like my primary school, a small stand with its name plastered across its back, with it’s faded red seats that are now more like a light shade of pink. There is also a considerable gap around the entirety of the pitch between the side lines and the railing. The dugouts, all brick with black pitch roofs, look like they should have an Air Raid Warden manning them.

If we are treated to a deluge of any kind, there are scant amount of places to scurry to prevent a certain soaking.

The building site fencing that leads all the way from the back of the clubhouse to the edge of the pitch, forming the tunnel that must be at least fifty metres long, just about sums up the make do and mend vibe here. Talking to Pinky, the Baldock Town FC (BT) fairy Godmother and all round non league legend, what she does and the effort she makes for the club and her “boys” as she affectionately describes them, is award worthy, she does not need to tell me she's “nervous, it's painted all over her face.

“Big cup final” she says fidgeting with something in her hands, dressed almost exclusively in pink from head to toe. BT take on Biggleswade FC (BFC) tonight, the team we saw BT play in the most extraordinary match just a few months ago, which ended with a 3 - 2 win for BT. A win that was the only momentary blip in BFC’s march towards the league title, which they won only a couple of days ago.

Pinky through for all her devotion and commitment is coming to the end of her time with BT, after six seasons. Having only started off playing a bit part at the club, in her tenure she has become the beating heart of it. “Only three games to go” she explains, tonight's match, one more in the the league and another cup final, could see her swan song potentially showered in silverware.

“You're our lucky charm” she says to me, a moniker that has been bestowed upon us before by other  teams, which has never ended well, I almost wish she hadn't said it. “So nervous” she tells me again, I wish I could call on a St. Bernard with it’s barrel of brandy, and offer her a stiff drink to settle her nerves.

The BT players are all wearing their Sunday best, one is getting grief for not having a tie on, and is told if the manager notices he is in for a “fine”. Ones outfit choice has Toms chin near enough on the floor, “look” he says pointing at one wearing the full Ronnie Corbett, a pair of tartan trousers. Wandering out onto the pitch, the sun now making an appearance, the BT players look like a wedding party milling about on the lawn at a reception, only one of them is moaning about the grass being too “long”.

Another familiar face, this time a BFC supporter we saw last loitering around a fruit machine when we saw the two sides go head to head, he echos a few of the same sentiments he shared with us that night, that BT will try to “bully” BFC, which was spot on and that there is “no love loss” between the two teams. Both clubs managers might have just been having a cordial chat, but come game time that's all forgotten.

To be fair to BFC, we are probably the last people they would want to see here, “third time lucky” jokes the fan, who won't be the last person to say that to us tonight, as we currently have a 0 - 2 record seeing BFC this season. One of them being their FA Vase Quarter Final, so we might want to keep out heads down.

It has not gone unnoticed by either of us, that the topic of “hangovers” has come up a fair few times since we have arrived, among the BFC supporters and players. Clinching the league title four days previously, I get the feeling the celebrations have only just come to an end, which could maybe work in BT’s advantage.

“That's it, when they're done, they're done” says a man in a grey suit clutching a handful of yellow programmes, that he hands to the old man in a flat cap, sitting inside the small shed, that passes as a turnstile here. There is plenty of the green and white of BFC already on show, they may well be a relatively new club, only formed in 2016, however they have garnered themselves quite a following already, which they proved when they near enough took over Salters Lane for their match in the FA Vase.

The main car park is already full, so the overflow is called into action. Lined up behind one of the goals, one car is just a fraction away from an insurance claim, when a stray ball from the warm up, almost crashes into its windscreen. When a man arrives with a box full of green and white flags, and a lady with an armful of scarves, I think it's safe to say we are in for another partisan crowd. There may well be BT fans here, but they are not quite as apparent the BFC ones, “Green army”.

“I beat you” says the man who has just hoisted his BFC flag on the end of what looks like the longest
fishing pole I’ve ever seen, to a lady holding one of the green ones being handed out, that looks like a toothpick in comparison.

Appearing for his warm up, the referee not for the last time, is the focus of people's attention, but at least on this occasion what they are saying is not preceded or followed with a four letter word. It's all very jovial for now, as he starts his jog, somewhat amused, as is anyone else whose clapped eyes on the kit he’s been provided with. “I’ve gone back to the 90’s” he says laughing to one of his assistants. His green and black shirt certainly has an air of the Uriah Rennie about it.

The mega flagpole is getting some mixed reviews, “you sad bastard” says one man coming out of the bar, the BFC physio is somewhat dumbstruck “what the fuck?”, another person takes the approach my twelve year old son would, when I do something embarrassing and he hits me with a heavy dose of sarcasm “you look really cool”. One man asks what everyone's thinking “is that your fishing rod?”, and the last of many I overhear, is maybe the most damming of all “you need to get out more”. 

Saying all this mind, the owner doesn't seem to give a toss, water off a duck's back you might say, he’s too busy bragging about the size of it to anyone in ear shot, “mines bigger than yours”.

Cars are now having to circumnavigate the entire pitch to find a place to park, “I think you're lost mate” suggests Tom as one disappears out of view for a moment behind the stand as it drives by, near enough pitch side.

“You recovered from Saturday yet?” asks one BFC fan to another, both looking a little bleary eyed. Most of those BFC supporters if they are still suffering a little bit, have taken the hair of the dog approach, as the beer is already free flowing.

When Tom gets his first glimpse of the oversized flag pole, he’s a bit scathing, “it's a bit silly, a bit unnecessary”, OK fun police. A point he does make is that it could do with a “bigger flag” the one flapping about, and I’m not exaggerating thirty five feet up in the air, looks a bit like a green and white hanky, he could do with upscaling. All eyes are off the flag briefly when a ball, and it was only a matter of time, strikes a parked car and gets an agonised “ohhh”, but soon people are back gawping at the man and his pole, which if I'm, honest, I think he is quite enjoying.

There are lots of shouts for the BFC players as they disappear towards the gloom of the unlit tunnel following their warm up, “come on you greens”. However the same cannot be said for the BT players who walk off almost unnoticed. Those still arriving, the car park heaving, no doubt can hear the song that has broken out in the BFC changing room.

Only a few feet onto the pitch, past a couple of waving green flags, the teams are brought to a halt by the referee, who is keen to get the handshakes over with. With cars still passing along the far side of the pitch, windows down, trying to catch a glance of the players huddling. When the ends have been decided, the customary migration takes place, the journey of the BFC flag is not exactly without drama, as he finds itself somewhat entangled with one of the floodlights and one passing BT supporter tells us he, “hopes you can bring us some more luck today”.

The pressure!

For the last time today the ref is a figure of fun, instead of ridicule, when he takes a tumble in the opening minutes, “I want a pint of what he's on” says one person nudging the man next to him. One puts it down not down to the booze, as the hangover talk continues all around us, but down to the state of the playing surface, “that's what happens when you play on Langford pitch”.

Across the next ninety minutes the referee will be at the end some of the most intense vitriol I’ve ever witnessed in all my time watching football.

With not one of them sporting any club colours, the let's say boisterous group to our right, only make their camp known, when one gives up a “come on Baldock”. With the game fully underway, the cars are still pulling up, and I notice our first non league dog in a long time, decked out in a green and white jacket.

After the five goal thriller back in February, it was unlikely we were not going to be treated to a bit of goalmouth action, however I'm surprised it's taken all of thirteen minutes. A header across the box from a BT free kick, sets up the man at the back post perfectly, but his flicked header goes wide, and just like when we saw them last time, BT a big team, look very dangerous from set plays.

The missed BT header somewhat opens the floodgates, as the chances are soon coming thick and fast. “Proper got over it” says one BFC fan, following a half volley from the edge of the box that is sent thundering goalwards, but is blocked by one of the hulking BT defenders. Then moments later BFC send a curling shot well over, that gets a decent round of applause, but it’s more for the effort than the quality of the strike.

After quite a glorious sunset, the sun has now dipped out of sight behind the long row of trees opposite, the sky is clear, and it's ended up turning into a nice evening, the chance of Tom getting wet seems minimal and the flagpole is still turning heads, “is that a fishing rod?”.

“Ref!” barks one of the group to our left, a slaloming BT run has just been brought to an unceremonious end, via the chopping right boot of a BFC midfielder. Looking like a certain free kick, the referee waves play on. “Ref!” snarls the same man, less than a minute later, again a BT player is brought to the ground, this time though the foul is awarded. In decent range for a shot at goal, the BT player tries a Ronaldo esq knuckle ball, and its wide and frankly not very good.

With the season creeping towards its end, it's getting to a point where we start to reflect on the games and teams we’ve watched over the past months. In BFC they are without a doubt one of the best technical sides we’ve seen, who play a truly excellent brand of football. Breaking on BT they switch the play from one side of the pitch, then back again with ease. The flowing move culminates in a shot from the edge of the box, that is just off target.

Twenty minutes gone and a BT foul ignites the first signs of friction, but the referee is on hand to quickly nip it in the bud, before it gets out of hand. BFC float the resulting free kick into the box, where a back post runner tries to steer it across goal and over the keeper, but its wide. “Ohhh” go the flag waving BFC fans to our right, us seemingly acting as some kind of human Donald Trump wet dream between to the two sets of fans.

If it had come off, it would have been a blinder, a goal of the season contender not because it was thrashed in from forty yards, but because of the movement and technique that led up to it. Neat quick one touch exchanges, a turn on a sixpence and an attempt at a back heel assist, very nearly comes off, but the point at the end of the attack, just can't finish it off.

Not that it really matters, because within sixty seconds BFC find themselves ahead. A close range volley high into the net, after a deft dink takes the scrambling BT keeper out of the game. The goal is greeted with the wafting of flags and the giggling of a toddler by one person in the group to our right, the BT fans to our left are quiet and glaring.

“Well read” comments one BT supporter loudly, when his team intercept a lazy BFC cross field pass and are straight on the attack, just after the restart. The long range shot at the culmination of the climax of the move is on target and requires two attempts by the keeper to gather it. BT are a resilient bunch and won’t let going behind rattle them for too long.

It’s all well and good taking your kids to the football, I’ve tried a couple of times, with mixed results. One of the major downsides of it, is maybe not a reason that you would first think of, the fact they have bladders the size of a thimble. “Dad I need the toilet” says one young man, whose Dad is not best pleased with his timing, “If we miss a goal, I won't be happy”.

BT go close again, unsurprisingly from a free kick. The goal bound header is deflected wide, and the big bearded BT coach standing steadfast pitch side, arms crossed, kicking nigh on every ball, flinches in direct response to it going just the wrong side of the post. That was inches away from an equaliser and he knew it.

We’ve encountered our fair share of oddities over the last four years. I always reference the dog in a pram at times like these, which is still yet to be beat, however the sight of a grown man howling, after repeating “Wolves, Wolves, Wolves” is a new strong contender for the top spot of the bizarre list. Wolverhampton have taken the lead against Arsenal, much to Tom’s annoyance, his phone pinging seconds later with a notification to confirm the scoreline.

Even though BFC are ahead, BT are looking the more dominant. Approaching the thirty minute mark and they send a ball careering across the box, but its cut out with a bit of a last ditch thrust. Not that the group of four men behind us would know anything about it, they are huddled around one of their phones watching the Wolves Vs Arsenal match.

Next to the BFC dugout a group of BFC fans are occupying themselves with a few songs, firstly one about someone "having no hair” but they “don't care” and then with a very straight to the point one about how they “hate Baldock”. With the game having slowed quite considerably after such a manic start, they have more time on their hands for the odd shanty.

“Cheers young man” says one BT player, straight out of an episode of Downton, when he hands over
the ball, having retrieved it from a bush. Thanks to the running commentary behind us, we get an excitable update when Wolves go further ahead, which is followed by much scoffing. However things soon take a turn on the pitch, that turns the atmosphere of it rather toxic.

“Ref he's gotta go for that” says one of the BT fans, who is probably about the only one who is not frothing at the mouth or whose eyes aren't about to pop out of their head, having just watched one of their players reduced to a crumpled heap on the floor, after the most shocking of high, late and lunging “animal of a tackle” as one person puts it, by the BFC number 9, a proper strikers challenge. Right out the Alan Shearer book of trying to win the ball back.

After much rutting and shoving on the pitch, the BFC player is shown a straight red, and like most players who get dismissed, has a look on his face of injustice, but he hasn't got a leg to stand on.

As you can imagine the language from those around us gets a little fruity, “dirty cunt” shouts one as the BFC player makes his way off slowly, “lift your head up and get the fuck off” growls another. About the only thing said that could be repeated pre watershed, is another hark back to a bygone age, one man giving a very chipper, “cheerio”. If the red card wasn't punishment enough, the final indignation is that there is no one on hand to open the gate for the BFC player, so he is forced to fumble it open himself.

A long break ensues, while the BT player is attended to by the big beard from the BT technical area, and it allows the referee and his team to pick the bones out of the brawl which followed the horror tackle. Two players are singled out and marched off for a talking to, the BFC player getting himself a yellow, which one BT sub called a “bottle job”, and just when the BT’s players and fans probably thought their luck had turned, BFC down to ten, their number 10 is shown a red for his part in the melee and both teams have now been reduced to 10, which yes you guessed it, is not well received, “ref that's fucking stupid”.

With both teams as one person points out having “lost a forward”, I’m not sure what that does to our chances of seeing many more goals. With the game back underway, rumour start flying about that the departing BFC player was “attacked” in the tunnel, “hit from behind twice” apparently, which if it's true, is certainly a “a discharge” as one BFC fan brands it.

Feeling every bit the buffer between the two sets of rival fans, Tom whispers in my ear, “just a little bit” when I suggest its all got a little bit tense.

One young BT fan is feeling upbeat, back from his toilet run, his Dad maybe missing all the chaos of the sending off, but not a goal, announces “we are gonna win this”, which gets a less than positive reply, “we've more chance winning the raffle”. You what, there's a raffle, how hard is it just to put a little bloody poster up, advertising the fact a hamper of local cheese or a shit bottle of wine is up for grabs at half time.

“Good half ref” says one BT fan, playing the sarcasm card. It’s lets say a muted reception for both teams as they head off. Plenty of players and staff want the ear of the man in change, who does well to fend them off, as he heads back to the sanctuary of his dressing room. Considering the attendance, it's very quiet in the break, Tom’s off and the flag at the end of the big pole is looking a little sad, dare I saw droopy. A few of the green plastic ones aren't faring much better, they've been abandoned by their owners in search of a drink I suspect and Toms night just goes from bad to worse, Arsenal are now losing by three.

“No chips, no raffle, no water, warm Coke” is about as close as you can get to a personal nightmare for us two, and these are Tom’s first words on returning from the clubhouse. He does have a burger for himself, but because I didn't specify a secondary drink option, I’m going without.

Lifting it to his mouth, Tom takes a knowing sigh before telling me, “right I hope this doesn't kill me” and then proceeds to take a bite of his burger. Mouth still half full, the tone of his voice takes a rapid upturn, “ohhh it's quite nice” he says, and then does something he has never, ever done before, offers me some, “I kind of want you to try it”.

The ground is rife with talk of punch ups, rumours are flying around about the brother of the fouled BT player, who according to one person it's his “birthday” today, going after the BFC number nine up the tunnel.

BT are out well early, but the BFC starting eleven are nowhere to be seen, just their substitutes, and as it gets ever closer to kick off, one person suggests BT “might not bother”. The delay in their appearance has sent the conspiracy theorists in the crowd into overdrive, someone saying he reckons BFC might just “call it quits” even Tom is swept up in it, “you think they're coming out?”and although I think it's very unlikely they would just quit, the fact the referee is not out yet either is a bit odd.

“What would happen, would Baldock win?” hypothesises Tom.

Kick off is well past schedule when BFC finally make an appearance, one person sounding like a friend does when you turn up late for a night out, “oh here you go”, when they start trickling out. Around us the BT mob have been replaced by a BFC one and it's like the recording of a Derek & Clive LP. I’m a fan of the word cunt when used on choice occasions, I understand it's not a word for everyone, but I've never heard as many times as I do, in the next forty five minutes, in the entirety of my whole life.

There are a few shouts from the BT fans and from a couple of the players too, “come on Baldock”. When the game does eventually get underway, it's a false start and has to be taken again.

A new arrival to the nearby BFC ranks, is doing a thing I can't abide, far worse than swearing, pyro or a bad tackle, he’s, and I’m struggling to type this, defacing his programme, writing the substitutions in it. Quick, pass me the carbolic soap, I feel filthy just saying it.

It's a feisty start to the new half to say the least, “refs going to lose control of this game soon” says Tom, the match feels precariously balanced on a knife's edge, like it’s going to boil over at any moment and I almost wince at the prospect of the next tackle . BFC have the first chance of the half, a header from a corner bounces down into the turf and over and in their number 7, with his shock of Sonic the Hedgehog ginger hair, they have a player who is at the centre of almost all their attacks, “one to watch” says Tom. He was impressed both times we saw him before and he is again tonight.

It’s all BFC, “he’s never going to give that” tuts one fan, rustling their green plastic fan, the end of a “nice” BFC move as Tom calls it, sees a player go down in the box, but its waved away. BT can’t get out of their own half, and its wave after wave of green attacks. Another “ohhhhh” rings out when a bouncing volley from outside the area, skips just wide of the post, with the BT keeper left grasping at air.

The reasonably stiff breeze and my overly long hair, I’m in desperate need of getting it cut, has Tom smirking to himself, he takes much pleasure when in his professional opinion he tells me through a grinning mouth, that my barnet looks like “Donald Trumps”.

If BT are going to get back into this match, it feels like the only way will be via a set piece. Again they go close when a back post header, is hooked off the line. When they do attempt to shoot from open play, nine times out of ten its high and wide, one such shot clearing the goal and hitting one of the cars behind it, “have a shot next time” chuckles an unimpressed BFC fan.

Showcasing again the standard of football they are capable of, BFC almost score the most obscure goal, so well crafted. It all starts with a scooped pass over the BT back line, ginger Sonic races through, latching on to it, he shoots with his first touch. On this occasion the BT keeper is equal to it and going the full starfish, he blocks it from going in, and gets the plaudits from both sets of fans, “good save keeper”.

Another flare up, a heated exchange between players, at their feet BFC’s number 7 is prone, and I’m struggling to work out what exactly happened to result in the best player on the pitch, going down clutching his head. Tom uses the distraction of the injury, to slyly take a bite of a Snickers he had secreted in his pocket, I think he thinks I didn't notice, but I did.

From behind the goal to our left, and as one BFC fan quite rightly points out, when some BT fans make what I think can be considered some unexpected noise, wonders “where they've been?”

“Hit it” demands one BFC supporter, the BT keeper well out of his goal when the ball falls to the feet of a BFC player in midfield. You can see him contemplating the lob, but in the end doesn't try a David Beckham circa 1996. BFC have really hit their stride now, they are positively purring, the fans clap their slick passing, the woman standing behind her newly erected BFC flag over the wall around the pitch, one of the most appreciative.

Sticking to type it’s a BT corner which for a moment looks like it might be their way back in once again, but this time as one confused BFC fan says, the player in the box heads the ball “the wrong way”, instead of goalwards, its back towards the corner flag.

The tension has somewhat depleted, Tom holds up a single finger, he thinks we’ve seen all the goals were going to get, “1-0”. He takes further bites of his Snickers, “got to keep my fuel up” is how he justifies his selfish snacking, remember my mouth is parched, no thanks to him. A lady hands out further flags, a couple more go over the wall around the pitch, but more and more people are discussing the goings on at Molineux now, than the game in front of them.

The game may have tailed off somewhat, but we still have the tireless BFC number 7 to entertain us, “he doesn't stop” comments Tom, almost out of breath just at the thought of the miles the BFC wide man must clock up in a match, and doesn't look any worse for it. There are more shouts for a BFC player to “shoot” this time it's from the bench, but again the players hesitates, and again a sigh ripples from the crowd.

“He’s class” coos a BFC fan, their number 7 is back at it again, bundled over on the edge of the BT box after a “great run” as one supporter puts it, he is somehow not rewarded with a free kick. “Come on referee” decries one supporter.

Twenty to go and BT have their first shot in what feels like an age, and it inspires a chant from their newly formed glee club behind the goal, “let’s go Baldock, let's go”. The big flag pole is doing laps now, but its not without incident, “tree, tree” warns one person to its barer, but it's too late and for the second time tonight he finds himself entangled.

 “Get him off cunt” shouts one of the pitchfork waving mob of BFC fans, after another brutal challenge, which leaves one BFC player in a heap. Bombarded, the referee is given all sorts of advice from the sidelines, “don't bottle it ref”, “its knee high”. After a brief explanation to the offending player, he reaches for his top pocket and presents BT with their second red card of the match. Reducing them to nine, the dismissed player makes the slow walk off, as the BFC player still down is treated with almost an entire can of cold spray, and the leaving BFC player is serenaded, “cheerio, cheerio, cheerio”.

BT are losing their heads, the sending off still fresh in everyone's minds and they commit another foul that gets fans and players alike all riled up. “Knob” says one BFC supporter behind us towards the BT perpetrator, from underneath his sizable beard, club hat and scarf.

If it was any other team, you might call it showboating, but having seen BFC the amount of times we have now, I think you would just say it’s the way they play. A back heel, a pirouette, and just as he was about to shoot, the BFC player is clattered to the ground. “Knee high, red” screams one BFC fan, those three words quickly becoming the catchphrase of the occasion, dished out following any kind of contact. In the eyes of the whole ground a stonewall penalty, in the referees a corner. Outrage ensures.

BT prepare themselves for one last push, shouts of “gamble” from the bench, push them ever further up the pitch, but they now look even more prone to get picked off by one of BFC’s pacy counter attacks. With less than ten to go, its a case of all up front, a soft punch in a crowded penalty area by the all blue BFC keeper, presents the ball to a BT player on the edge of the box, who takes a powerful swipe, sending his shot through a sea of bodies. The man next to me a BFC fan predicts a “goal”. Ending up in the arms of the keeper, who falls to the ground clutching it, there are loud shouts of “handball” from the BT fans, but the referee squashes any suggestion of a penalty.

BFC counter and it looks like number 7 is going to get himself on the score sheet, one on one with the keeper, one BT supporter instructs the keeper to “come out now” which he does, and in combination with a less than convincing shot, he saves with his feet and keeps BT in the game for just a little bit longer.

“Drill it” demands a BT fan, as the ball falls to a player in red on the edge of the box once more, he does just that through a packed area, and again there are shouts for a pen and again its waved away. “All or nothing now” says Tom, BT’s last hurrah has come so close to an equaliser, but they are wide open at the back and it feels like just a matter of time before one of these BFC attacks culminates in their second goal.

“Gotta be four at least” thinks one person, considering all the stoppages, there might be even more added on. The green and white flag at the end of its uber pole now hangs over the pitch and around the mouth of the tunnel all the necessaries are being prepared for the presentation of the cup.

Maybe tempting fate, one BFC fans thinks we might have broken our “duck” as full time approaches. It’s almost a case of him counting his chickens when BT go close for the last time and then BFC do what they have been threatening to do for the last twenty minutes or so, outnumbering BT at the back, they bag their second. The first shot from out wide is parried into the six yard box, BFC’s number 7 almost gets on the end of it, but it won't fall to him, instead it falls to a teammate who slots it home.

“Too early for ribbons” says one of the men in suits crowded around the table covered in the maroon boxes containing the winners medals and the short silver cup. The game still going on behind him he rummages around in a paper bag for the appropriate coloured accessory to adorn the prize.

In the moments after the final whistle, many of the things you would expect following the conclusion of a cup final play out. The BFC players punch the air, the BT ones fall to the ground. A firecracker of some sort goes off in the distance and some of those on the move already, not waiting around for the presentations, honk their horns in celebration as they leave.

Not content with the single green ribbons added to the cup, one BFC fan adds her own finishing touches, and by the time shes down, green streamers are cascading down from each handle. BT are the first of the two teams to break their post match huddle to collect their runners up medals and then of course its the turn of the victors, to lift into the nights sky their second bit of silverware in less than a week, breaking into a few short lived lines of "championes, championes".

Handed a few bottles of fizz, not a drop is wasted on the pitch, instead its directed straight into their
managers face, from close range, leaving him struggling to catch his breath, staggering backwards with his eyes closed, absolutely drenched.

With BFC promoted, its probably not a bad thing these two sides don't play each other for a while, or they might need a fleet of those tiny helicopters from Mash. Blood and thunder to the enth degree, on and off the pitch. A game that just about had everything, goals, cards, Tom said he saw one of the dismissed players watching the remainder of the match angrily from his pitch side car, not sure you could ask for more.

If I didn't fancy being a referee before, I definitely don't after today. In a moment of non sweary clarity, one BT fan rightly said it was a "difficult game" for the referee and I think when all is said and done, he had a good game. I couldn't put up with all that grief and come back for more, so all the power to him.

Oh and the flag pole had a name, not mega pole or uber pole, but something far more poetic, far more bohemian, Spirit Of The Air.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE

'LIKE' us on Facebook


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our YouTube channel

Follow us on Instagram - @beautifulgame15 - @beautifulgame15_ultra_stickers #beautifulgame15

Thursday 23 May 2019

Did I Miss A Memo? - Leyton Orient WFC Vs Ashford Town (Middlesex) LFC, Isthmian Women's Cup Final, Parkside (17/04/19)

A walk in the park, a spot of lunch in the sun and a siesta was how I spent my day and you are quite right, it does sound idyllic and it was.

Sunning myself in a pub garden enjoying a cracking little chicken and avocado salad, forty winks in a freshly made bed, the linen crisp and cool, I’ve come over all continental and I can think of worse ways to spend a Wednesday, but instead of rolling out onto the terrace, to a freshly made Caipirinha, slipping on my espadrilles and plonking myself next to the pool. I’ve instead got to climb inside my hot, cramped little car and endure the North Circular at rush hour again, for the second week running.

What an error it was ever leaving the house.

There is one small saving grace, the Easter holidays mean the traffic is nowhere near as bad as seven days ago, so that's something and I’m not a complete sweaty gibbering wreck by the time I arrive to meet Tom in the car park of Parkside for our second final in a row.

“Massive pitch” says one of the Ashford Town (Middlesex) LFC (ATL) players, getting their first glimpse of the playing surface. Talking to the Aveley Chairman, his uber modern facility now the go to place for cup finals these days, doesn't “think there will be many” spectators “tonight”, maybe “fifty” he says optimistically.

The lack of an expected turnout, is maybe summed up by the fact that the turnstiles are not even open, it's just a propped open gate with a young boy manning a trestle table. Selling programmes out of a cardboard box and giving change to those wandering in, from the draw of a cash register.

Tom’s priority of course is his stomach, “I hope there's food” he says apprehensively. Considering I had quite a big lunch, and I’m not really one for football eating anyway, I couldn't care less, I’m much more intrigued by the Leyton Orient WFC (LO) coach who every time he passes through the door to the changing rooms, removes his boots. At first I think he might just be being polite, well drilled from his childhood. His house one of those that you are instructed to remove all footwear on arrival, but then again Parkside is artificial, so it's not like he’s going to be traipsing mud in and out, so then I wonder if it's some kind of a tradition?

Sitting on a blue plinth in front of the few concrete steps that lead down to the pitch, tonight's prize is on show, the Isthmian Women's Cup tantalisingly glistening in the late spring sunshine. LO are first out to warm up, trotting on by the silverware, in their pristine scarlet jackets, staying well way, some not even daring to look at it. It’s all very Raiders of the Lost Ark, “don’t look Marion!”
ATL and maybe to their detriment are a little less standoffish than the LO players, a lot more inquisitive as they come out on mass. Depending on which side of the superstition fence you sit on, the actions of one of their players will either send shivers down your spine or not faze you one bit, when jogging by she appears to touch it. If you are one of those who sees significance in such things, you'll be thinking she’s made a fatal error, those of you who don't entertain such hoodoo, will think nothing of it. Only time will tell.

“You made the journey” says the ATL coach appreciatively to some of those already occupying some of the blue seats in the main stand. “You’ve got our loyal support” responds one, “four hours” claims another of the party, who says it with the air of someone who's been stuck in a car for far to long.

Beaming, one young girl does as she's told, when she's positioned in front of the cup for a photo, by her dad. “Smile Isabella” he says, and she does just that. Next up is a young LO fan, in a red and white hat and scarf, who stretches it out in front of him in preparation of a quick snap, Brisbane Road Leyton Orient, it reads in woven red lettering.

Not only do both kids delight in having the chance to get so close to the cup, but it also highlights what a bad parent I am. I only ever get my kids to pose with the most ridiculous and in some cases most awful of things, purely for my own amusement. Like a portrait of Saddam Hussein.

“Did I miss a memo?” asks the referee standing in the mouth of the extended tunnel, flanked by his two assistants. Before him the players of both sides are warming up, “they're still out” he says somewhat baffled to one of his equally bemused flag bearing colleagues.

The tunnel is rapidly concertinaed and a messenger promptly sent to both camps to get a move on.

Replaced by the yellow match ball, balanced on top of the very sophisticated Isthmian League roll of gaffer tape, the cup is now well out of reach of anyone tempted to touch and the referee is not quite losing his patience, but is certainly agitated, all while his assistants are put through their paces of how to operate the electronic scoreboard, blinking red and green LEDs are lighting up the tunnel making it look like a school disco.

The applause for the teams eventual arrival is a tad muted, but picks up as the players cross the pitch only a short way, before lining up in preparation for the appointed dignitary's. “Come on the O’s” shouts one LO fan in the stand, one player all in red responds by gesturing to the back of her shirt with two thumbs over her shoulders.

Aveleys Chairman leads the line, being guided by each captain respectively, accompanied by a second man all suited and booted. The ATL players, when it’s LO’s captains turn to do the introductions, link arms, each in the most gaudy and yet stunning orange and white striped kit, reminiscent of some Blackpool Rock.

Two close knit huddles are formed by both teams in their respective halves of the pitch, that seem to go on for ever. When they break, each team does so with their own war cry. Harsh is maybe too kind a word to describe the sound of the referee's whistle as he calls forth the “captains”, who both perform their required duties moments before kick off. The blast of his whistle that sees LO get things underway is followed by another subdued shout from the main stand, “come on you O’s”.

Early signs are it might be a long night for ATL, because within the first five minutes LO go close to scoring not once, but twice. A scramble following a corner is poked just wide, and then a minute or so later the ball almost bounces over the ATL keeper, following a corner from the opposite side. Not that you would know the game had got off to such a frantic start from the deathly silence in the main stand, where even though he can probably touch the pitch from his seat, and maybe it’s to gaze at the full moon above, but one man in watching the game via binoculars.

Considering the vast gap between the the two sides on the pyramid, one perhaps might think that tonight could maybe be considered somewhat of a formality. ATL having been on quite the meteoric run to get to the final, where they find themselves up against one of the big guns, however after their shaky start, ATL start to show off some what has got them here and Tom quite rightly whispers in my ear, after we both suggested quiet one sided score lines in our post kick off predictions, that we might have “underestimated” them.

A smart drag back from one ATL player leaves two LO defenders heading one way, and ATL’s number 16 going the other, turning her back on them, showing off her number contained within a shield, Newcastle United 1997-99 style. She makes a short pass to teammate whose audacious curling long range shot, leaves the trouser wearing LO keeper grasping at air, as the ball pings off the crossbar and back into play, where the blue haired number 7, she who touched the cup, is unable to turn in the rebound.

The football Gods making themselves heard after her indiscretion or was she just unlucky?

Tom is far from impressed having just noticed the LO’s keepers outfit, that I too used to wear trousers when performing every overweight school boys duty of playing in goal, “big softie” he says laughing, as I describe my padded Decathlon trousers, the full Massimo Taibi, that I picked up on a family holiday in France.

Chances are coming thick and fast now for the team who looked almost dead and buried with less than ten minutes gone. Stinging the palms of the keeper the ATL number 16 watches her near post shot pushed wide and from the resulting corner, the LO keeper is back at it again, “what a save” declares one person in the stand, instinctively shooting out a hand to tip the goal bound header over the bar.

For the second corner the LO keeper is unable to replicate her recent heroics, missing the ball completely, but ATL are unable to capitalise. The Tangerines looking the far more dangerous of the two teams, after their early wobble, their growth in confidence has been tremendous. Just after the quarter of an hour mark and one LO player makes it to the edge of the ATL box, but her shot is tame to say the least, but more interestingly it's probably their first meaningful attack, after their rampaging start.

Napping in the day time and eating too much for lunch were not the only mistakes I made today, listening the advice of my other half about if I needed my coat or not can be added to the list. Standing next to Tom in his fingerless gloves, hood up in his big jacket, I look like somewhat of a tit shivering away in my blue cotton shirt. It's so cold.

Noticing my chattering lips, Tom sticks in the knife, “I’ve got gloves” he says offering me his skin tight, fingertip, smartphone user gloves, pure murderer, but worse of all is the offer of his “Arsenal snood”. I’d rather die.

Playing in the bar behind the large glass windows behind us, Spurs are taking on Manchester City in the Champions League quarter final. Peering through the window Tom gives me an update on the score, “seven minutes 1 - 1” he tells me and I’m sure he must be joking.

The matches momentum shifts once more, LO sending two attempts on goal fractions wide in less than a minute. An arrow straight shot misses the top right hand corner by a whisker and then a flashed header goes the same way. The flurry of action stirs the crowd a little, “ohhhhh”, before a LO supporters lets out a muted cry, “come on Orient”.

“Shoot, shoot, shoot” shouts the LO keeper as her teammate pops up between two ATL defenders, having timed her textbook bending run to perfection, but her slotted shot must have been saved by one of the outstretched feet of the ATL keeper performing the splits in front of her as she bore down on goal, and she hadn't missed as I first thought, because the referee has pointed to the corner.

LO think they have taken the lead, direct from a corner no less, but the celebrations are cut short when the referee awards ATL a foul. For all their recent forays forward, Tom still reckons LO are vulnerable “at the back”. As he puts it, they have certainly looked “shaky” on occasions.

As if like a slumbering giant, LO have been awoken, they're angry and looking for blood. The traffic is only going one way now, headlong towards the ATL goal, as they get ever closer to their opener. ATL are not quite completely overrun, not yet anyway but are coping relatively well and are still plugging away as best they can whenever they get the ball, their sprightly number 7 sending a looping shot just over from close range.

Surprisingly it’s Tom and not I paying more attention to the goings on at the Etihad. “2 - 2 now” he informs me, “at least you've got two away goals” and as I descend closer and closer towards hypothermia, the topic of the gloves he gave me rears its head again, “I can't believe you don't wear them” he says, genuinely upset and then asks if the reason I don't is because I’m “embarrassed”. Me being the guy in the turn up Jacamo jeans and Primark trainers, fashion is not my strong point. If it fits is my motto, I just don't know where they bloody are.

Despite LO looking like they might score with every attack, the majority of the crowd are transfixed on what's going on two hundred miles away in the North West, “that could be eighteen all” says one person. One man very much focused on the game, is pacing around the main stand, sounding like an overbearing Dad at sports day, very loud and very vocal, his comments aggressive and totally unnecessary. “That's to no one” he barks after a loose ATL pass.

Tom is quite fond of a tactical observation, most of the time it’s nonsense, repeating stuff he’s heard on Match Of The Day, but today with his Pep hat is firmly on, he’s actually making sense and as if he knew it was coming, just as he’s pointing out the “huge gap between” the LO “defence and midfield” and how susceptible to a “ball over the top” they would be, ATL almost score exploiting the very same void Tom had just waved his metaphorical big book of Pep at.

3 - 2 to Man City, fuck, and not long after finding that out, ATL’s rear guard action is finally overcome, and the keeper, who doesn't deal with what looked like a straight forward shot, it almost seemed to go right through her hands, I’m sure is using some equally colourful language, as the scorer wheels away to collect a double high five from a team mate, and one of the few people not talking about Spurs, let’s out a “come on you O’s”

Not for the first time today, the LO celebrations come to an end prematurely, this time not because of a blast of the referee's whistle, but because of an injury to an the ATL player, one chasing back, who pulled up, falling to the ground clutching her knee. The hand signals to the bench mean that help is required, “oh the stretchers out” says a concerned Tom, as a hush descends over the ground.

A hush out of respect to the player, until it's clear she is OK, but also because more and more people now are glaring through the glass watching the game being shown inside.

The ATL players mill around their bench, the LO ones form a huddle, all doing their best to keep warm. With the help of staff from both teams, and one of the stewards, the ATL player is carried off, her left knee elevated and a mild ripple of applause breaks out, in recognition of her by the looks of it, being in one piece

“I can smell food” says a relieved Tom, the half almost at end, but not before ATL’s number 7 puts on the afterburners and leaves the LO defence for dead, testing the LO keeper once more, they are getting in to all the right places, but just can’t make it count.

LO very, very nearly double their lead in the dying moments, hitting the post, one ATL fan shouting “get it out of the box” as the ball bobbles and ricochets around it, just begging to be tapped in and then for what must be surely the last time, momentum swings up the other end, with ATL showcasing some of their blistering pace once more, but the ball into the box is blocked and then in a case of good fortune are almost handed an equalizer on a plate thanks to a poor kick from the LO keeper, but old blue hair is unable to hit the target with her first time shot.

On the whistle, the players make their way inside and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of people clambering to get into the bar quicker, as the stand empties and Tom is off, following his nose in search of dinner, “I'm hungry, I'm hungry”.

The wind has picked up, it's almost frosty and I’m frozen. The smarmy little jumper GIF my other half just sent me, is an absolute piss take, and as much as I want to watch the game inside, I feel committed to the cause to stay put like some stubborn old hairy faced donkey.

“Welcome to football food” says Tom, handing me an ambulance sick bowl full of the most anaemic looking chips, smothered in vinegar and cheep ketchup, that I soon realise are close to raw. No wonder he spends most of his time in my car farting, eating shit like this. I’ve joined him today only in the hope that they might have warmed me up a bit, but I wish I hadn't bothered.

Tom is at least happy with his purchase, “good burgers here” he announces, before uttering a sentence that makes less sense than a chocolate fireguard, “you waffed them off”, I think in reference to the speed in which I ate my chips, but honestly, I’ve no idea what he''s going on about.

Each team gets a muffled shout from the crowd, the number of which has taken a bit of hit, the draw of the Champions League too strong. ATL performing the same huddle and war cry routine as they did before the start of the match, and angry sports day Dad seems to be having a barney with someone or is it just the voices in his head.

LO are looking all the bit the higher ranked team from the off, an early warning shot of a half volley goes over and brings an “ohhhhh” and a “come on Orient” from the crowd, but it's hard to make out what those with one eye on the TV and one on the pitch are saying, through the two inch thick slab of glass they're standing behind. However the early promise of more goals soon dissipates, as a Hound of the Baskervilles mist starts to descend and the first quarter of an hour passes by with little action of note at a bit of a half pace.

It is the most deft of long range chips from around twenty five yards that sails over the ATL keeper that finally doubles LO’s lead, and ultimately puts the game out of reach of a tiring ATL. A filthy finish right out of the top drawer after a mix up in the ATL defence, and to be honest it’s the least that they deserve. “Blimey oh riley” gasps one man in the crowd, either an LO fan blown away by the goal or a ATL one dismayed at them somewhat shooting themselves in the foot.

The second goal somewhat opens up the floodgates, as the chance for LO start coming at a rate of knots. Jinking solo runs, a driven rising shot pushed round the post and a “wonder save” as Tom put it from the ATL keeper, who looking already beaten, somehow claws the ball out from behind her. The LO players never for too long, don't have their hands clasped to the top of their heads, in a case of ‘what is it going to take for us to score again?”.

Angry sports day Dad is hitting some new levels of vitriol, “laziest fucking player” he mumbles to himself before screaming at the pitch, “you can get that”. Tom in his full winter get up in April even agrees that it’s “cold now”, doing his cold feet dance, but I don't sense any amount of sympathy towards my plight, in my summer holiday get up, my night ruined by some duff information.

Into the final quarter of an hour and the game has well and truly fizzled out, a case of job done by LO and ATL have nothing left. LO well and truly took it up a gear at the start of the second half and have very rarely faltered, a halftime rocket perhaps from the manger shaking them from their first half complacency, with the ATL resolve starting to fade. “They look unfit” says my burger eating, vape smoking, gin swilling partner, about the ATL players. Glass houses dude.

ATL have the odd surge forward, but are not in the LO half anywhere near as much as they are in their own. All but the odd eye is on the City Tottenham match, its 4 - 3 to Spurs now, what a remarkable match and ATL now look to be completely depleted, LO almost toying with them.

Just inside the mouth of the retracted tunnel the medals are being laid on on a tablecloth covered table and the trophy with not some prestigious names etched on its base, will have to have LO’s added to it now. Sports day Dad, needs a talking to, what a performance and the injured ATL player, still in her kit is sitting in the stand and such is her injury has to be carried off to the loo, unable to make it under her own steam, “a stewards work is never done”.

It's doesn't take long for all the necessary apparatus to be put in place, in anticipation of the presentation. Without the aid of a microphone, one of the suited types with a booming voice, comperes. First calling up the referees and then the players of the match, to collect their awards. ATL or as the MC puts it, "our gallant losers" are deep into a huddle, and have to be beckoned over, nudged a few times, before breaking out of it to collect their medals, the injured player, sitting in the stand is not forced to hobble along to get hers, so instead its taken to her.

ATL link arms for the final time, as victors approach the table to collect the spoils. The noise level has certainly risen a few decibels, the shouts now much more enthusiastic, then they had been before, "well done Orient".

LO's captain is handed the trophy and from behind a placard that reads "we've won the cup" presents it to her excited teammates, "woooooooooooo" they go before she hoicks it up in the air, and is soon doused with the fizz that had been handed out.

Why it's taken us four years to watch a women's match, I'm not sure, but I feel a little ashamed its taken us that long. I think we were both at least once tonight guilty of using the phrase, "I didn't know what to expect" which on reflection is moronic. It's football, that happens to being played by women, not clowns, seagulls or a troop of chimps, so we were always going to get a game of football, regardless of the gender of the people playing it. Why we, why anyone would think it would be anything other than that, I guess is the issue that needs addressing.

On reflection I think ATL can consider themselves unlucky, they had the chances, but couldn't make them count and LO will probably looking back on it, agree they made a harder job of it then they should have.

Sports day Dad was odd, I certainly heard a few unsavoury comments, and don't know why we were both as astonished as we were to hear the players use the the term "man on", silly aren't we. I think we should all take a leaf out of the book of the people at Copa 90, it's not men's football and women's football, its football, that's all, football.


For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE

'LIKE' us on Facebook


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our YouTube channel

Follow us on Instagram - @beautifulgame15 - @beautifulgame15_ultra_stickers #beautifulgame15

Thursday 16 May 2019

You Went To The Old Ground? - A.F.C. Hornchurch Vs Enfield Town FC, Isthmian League Cup Final 2019, Parkside (10/04/19)

The sun is glorious and warm, it feels like Springs slow turn into Summer has finally begun, and I have to roll down my window to allow some cool air to fill my car. However it's not cool air that hits my face, it’s exhaust fumes, as I’m not zipping along country roads in my convertible with a pair of aviators on, I’m inching along the North Circular, in my air con devoid two door, surrounded by other irate looking drivers, as what at first felt like a momentary impeding of getting home after work, or to a football match in my case, has turned into full gridlock and if it didn't mean dying of the heat, I’d keep my window closed, but that’s not an option so it’s black lung for me then.

My apparently constant mocking radio, it normally is only able to pick up London Greek Radio and nothing else, today at it’s whim is tuning into a new station, that is playing 'Keep On Movin’ by Soul II Soul, that’s just taking the piss. I quickly compile a message to Tom between lurching forward three feet, I’m going to be late, I tell him. He’s already arrived, he’s surprised to hear that there are such issues on the road. It having taken him all of seventeen minutes to get from his house to tonight's venue.

I do my best to keep cool, Kate Bush comes on and goes some way to transporting me to a higher plane of tranquil oddness, but she can only drag me so far away from this nightmare.

The bright blue facade of Parkside, home to Aveley FC and tonight's venue for the Isthmian League Cup Final, looks at one with the cloudless sky behind it, it’s hard to tell where it finishes and Mother Nature begins, the silver letters that spell out the name of the hosts club, look positively interstellar.

On finding Tom, we are at polar opposites of the coolness spectrum, I’m a flustered sweaty mess, it's just taken me three times as long as it should have to get here and he is dripping with serenity. His large winter coat is buttoned shut and his hoods up. Wait hang on, does he know something I don't, he seems a little overdressed, its bloody boiling outside, and he looks ready for a polar exploration.

On closer inspection I realise first appearances can be deceptive and he is far from composed, in fact he is even less so than I am, “I warn you I’m very fleghmy” he tells me in a slightly pinched nose voice.

A brief encounter with the self described “non league Mysterons” Jake and Chris, in their matching beige jackets, which I think have a bit of the Muldoon from Jurassic Park or some such colonel big game hunter about them, sets the tone for the rest of the evening, where we bump into a veritable who's, who of Isthmian League world. It's like the non league equivalent of the Met Gala.

The sun is still bright, but in the considerable shadow cast by the large curved roof main stand at Parkside, it's getting chilly and Tom’s costume choice doesn't seem all that daft now. A good cure for the cold could be, if you're that way inclined, a cup of Bovril. Chris of the mic carrying two piece explains he is a recent “convert” to the gravy in a cup concoction, but I would rather get hypothermia.

“Nicest stadium we've played in a long time” says one of the first Enfield Town FC fans (ET) I see squeezing through the turnstiles at one corner of the pitch. The vibe has been perfectly set by the DJ, who is playing a selection of 60’s surf rock classics. The Mamas and the Papas California Dreamin seems a little incongruous just off the A13, and the lyrics don't quite sit right with the current conditions, “all the leaves are brown and the sky is grey”, that was more like last week.

It doesn't take long for the ground to start filling up, the odd shout of support starts to ring out around the place, “come on blues” and one of those recent arrivals I’m sure is Brick Top from the Guy Ritchie East End laugh a minute, Snatch, doing his best to look incognito in a Leyton Orient sweatshirt, tucking into a bacon roll and chips. Looking far from understated, in fact looking quite marvellous is a woman in a bright neon pink ET scarf, and if it wouldn't be considered completely uncouth, I’d go and unwrap it from around her neck and put it on myself, it’s stunning.

The plinth with a bright yellow ball perched on top just over the touch line, between two slightly looking limp flags sporting the name of the competitions sponsors, are waiting for the referee and the players fidgeting behind him. The black vinyl tunnel having been wheeled into position as we edge closer and closer to kick off.

Some may call it cutting it fine, some may say they were fashionably late or wanting to make a grand entrance, but the arrival of the bulk of the always noisy ET fans, is perfectly timed with the teams walking out, the referee plucking the match ball from what I can tell you was its gaffa taped pedestal. The cry of “Hornchurch” from the fans of ET’s opponents AFC Hornchurch (AFC), are soon drowned out by the air horn and drum of the ET Ultras. “ETFC, ETFC, ETFC” they quickly start to chant, as a flag is secured to the railing around the pitch.

Much to the nuisance of the ET fan who has already put up his flag, the toss of the coin requires a swapping of ends, but the ET supporters don't let that get in the way of a good sing song, and like a troop of polyester scarf wearing Troubadours, do so while on the move.

The AFC supporters also late arrivals, both sets of fans I’m assuming getting caught up in the same rush hour nonsense, are soon in place, however my attention is sharply focused on the ET mob who have broken into a chant to the tune of a well known children's song, somewhat of an internet sensation and scourge of the planets parents, Baby Shark. This is not the first time we’ve heard this abomination used as the base of a song, and in my opinion it needs to stop and be stamped out now, I’ll happily help, before this terrible virus consumes us all.

“Come on reds” shouts an AFC player angrily clapping his hands, “come on whites” says an ET player, who is an almost mirror image of his counterpart the other side of the centre circle to him, as the referee lifts his whistle to his lips and we are underway.

Once both set of fans have settled, it allows for the battle of the big flags to commence. Each group struggles to find the room behind their goal to fully erect their mega flags, that are about the size of the BFG’s hanky, you could probably hide your average semi detached house under the respective challengers. AFC’s is a gargantuan St Georges cross, ET’s is also our nation's banner, but with a twist, in the blue and white of their club colours, rather than the red and white which so perfectly matches AFC’s.

Ends decorated and tiny metal terraces occupied, the songs are free flowing, “come on Town” from those fans to our right, those to our left are stuck in a constant loop of “red army”. On the pitch the action is equally as frenetic. Five minutes gone and AFC have already flashed a shot wide, and ET have sent a half volley looping just over, that interrupts the ET supporters latest song, “since I was young” to exhale an ample “ohhhhh”.

“It’s fucking freezing” bemoans
Tom, his recent bout of man flu, means he is particularly susceptible to the elements tonight. The ET fans are battling the dropping mercury with song after song. First poking fun at the lack of noise coming from the opposite end, “can you hear the Hornchurch sing?” and then at the amount of them that have travelled here, “did you come in a Smart car?”
Keeping up the 60’s music theme that has bizarrely permeated tonight's fixture, they break into a rendition of the 1963 Beatles hit, 'Twist & Shout'. Holding his son over the railings, one very energetic young ET fan punches the air giving up one of the loudest shouts of the night, “come on the Town” and then it gets all very early round of the Europa League away day in the confines of the tiny terrace. Scarves are whirling above their heads, “ola, ola, ola, ola” they chant. Just waiting for the pyro show or a lambs head. It is too cold though for tops to be off I’m happy to report.

“Get it away” grimaces one ET fan, when just short of the quarter of an hour mark, an almighty scramble in the ET box almost sees AFC take the lead. It’s a case of their keeper, who I’m not exaggerating is Hulk like, which is only emphasised by his all green outfit, misses the ball, which
initiates a succession of ricochets before it's finally swiped clear.

From where we are, it looks like most of the seats in front of the main stand are full, but they are somewhat shrouded in darkness, so it's hard to be certain. The ET fans very much out in the open can probably be heard for miles, “sha, la, la, la, la oh Enfield Town”.

Tom is not well, “it's all coming out of me” he sniffles, gesturing to his nose with a gushing motion. He looks like my daughter when she has a cold, I would have bought some wet wipes if I had known. Alternating between banging the back of the stand, and their rattly snare drum, I must admit the stand makes for a better instrument than their actual one, which sounds like it's seen better days, the ET fans are relentless.

“Go on” encourages one ET supporter, when his team get a cross into the AFC box, far too easily, the flicked header on the other end of it, strikes a defender as its headed goal wards. A minute later and another ET attempt is blocked, this time a shot as it screams towards the target. The back line of the terrace is bouncing, “wooooo, woooooo” they sing, before having another dig at their counterparts, “shall we sing a song for you?”

Quick to bring the AFC fans up on what they perceive as a lack of effort you might say, the ET supporters don't miss a beat, when the AFC followers pipe up with a “ohhhhh” of their own after a smart save from the Hulk keeps out a driven shot, “we forgot that you were here” is soon ringing out. In the end the forward who took the pot shot was offside, but as Tom put it, it was a “nice save” all the same. 

“No end product” tuts Tom as another curling ET cross into the box is not converted, the latest is cleared via the thigh of one AFC player. Tom thinks that AFC are edging it, I’m not sure, I think it’s ET. Off the pitch it's all the fans from North London “come on Towners”. To be fair to those from Essex, they may well be as loud as ET, but I just can't bloody hear them.

ET are getting the ball into the box at will, however the ET fans air horn has taken a funny turn, going all high pitched, like when you try to shout and your voice goes all squeaky, which gets a few laughs. Straddling the fence, a young boy in a yellow jacket is giving it as good as any of the much older fans behind, “Towners, Towner” he shouts, sounding a bit like the falsetto air horn. He almost goes the full dog whistle when an ET corner is cleared off the line.

“Right side give us a song” sings the much fuller of the two terraces behind the goal, separated by a large bulge to accommodate it, the terrace the other side is filled with the overflow, who sharply reply.

A less than fierce shot by AFC is on target, but their attacks are few and far between. The ET fans are in full flow, “lo, lo, lo, lo, lo” sings one fan, who gets a near instant reply, “lo, lo, lo, lo, lo”. ET have their own attempt not long after, a lay up on the edge of the box, that sails just over. What then follows is a head on collision between the old and the new, the AFC fans are humming the Dambusters theme, the ET are rattling off the Baby Shark song again. Somewhere in the world, one of the football Gods is shedding a tear.

There's time wasting to try and gain an advantage and there's your own team getting angry with you because you're taking an age to take a goal kick. “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh” go the ET fans behind AFC’s keeper all in purple, which I imagine only adds to the anxiety, the defender in front of him not helping by losing his shit, the indecisiveness clear all over his face. He eventually takes it, it’s rushed, and hardly pinpoint.

The last time we went to the final of this competition two years ago, we’d had something like eight goals by now, but with nearly thirty minutes gone, we don't look like we are going to be getting one any time soon. It’s still light, even though it's well past 20:00 and a tiny silvery slither of the moon hangs in the sky above us.

It's the ET fans turn to get stuck in a loop, “ETFC, ETFC, ETFC” they finally break out of it to yes you guessed it, to mock the AFC fans once more, “can you hear the Hornchurch sing?”.

If the AFC keeper looked a little shaky before, he looks like an outright basket case now. A poor kick out, leads directly to an ET chance, it's only because of “great tackle” as Tom emphatically puts it, from a recovering AFC defender, that stops a nailed on goal. The keeper playing catch up, the ET number 10 is almost on the line for a tap in, when somehow the defender reaches the ball and pokes it clear.

“It's coming” says Tom with an air of the clairvoyant about him, he is sure a goal is imminent. ET have a penalty appeal waved away, “how you miss that lino” barks one of their fans, so its not coming that way. Into the final quarter and AFC have their first meaningful attack in what feels like eons, the final shot blocked by a diving defender, so its not coming that way either.

From predicting goals, to ordering me to “go and get” him some food, just shows you how Toms little gin soaked mind works. I put his flitting interests not down to mothers ruin this time, but his recent illness. “Take me half an hour to walk round there” he explains, doing his best poorly little soldier impression, but I'm not buying any of it.

Another ET claim for a penalty, the ball seemingly bouncing up onto the hand of an AFC defender, but it’s waved away once more. Again the ET fans question the officials integrity, “you don't know what you're doing”.

“You went to the old ground?” ask a man to some late comers, who have taken the whole fashionably late thing to the next level. Aveley used to play a few miles up the road at the excellent Mill Field, but moved to their uber modern new home two years ago. The man standing to my left, who looks like he doesn't know to laugh or cry, went to their old digs by mistake, “it's a building site” he says agonisingly.

It's all ET into the final ten minutes, I’m not sure AFC get much further than the edge of their penalty area until the half time whistle. However the lack of “end product”, comes up time and time again. A howitzer of a long throw looks like it might bring about a chance, the player standing almost on my toes, he arches his back in preparation. “Yes, yes, yes” chant the Daniel Bryan leaning ET fans, as he hurls it into the box, it's flicked on, but nothing comes of it.

When I ask Tom to get me a tea, he says he will, but only “if there's a lid” he makes it clear he will not be “walking all that way” without one, and off he goes, sad puppy dog eyes turned up to the max.

“Go on” rallies one supporter, as the ET onslaught continues. This time a chipped ball is tantalisingly close to the outstretched boot of the ET forward, but he can't make contact, and the AFC keeper is on hand to gratefully catch it. The chance riles up the ET fans for one last push before the break, “we're the blue and white army”. The AFC fans reply, but its faint and even though it’s not, feels really far away, “come on Hornchurch”.

God, if you believe in him/her/it/that, can work in mysterious ways I am told. “It's a miracle” exclaim the ET fans, when an AFC player supposedly close to death, raises to his feet, when he realises it won't be him winning the free kick and it's been award to ET instead. The ball is lumped in, cleared, and then lumped in for a second time, this time an ET player is able to get on the end of it, but he sends his shot over.

The sunset in the distance is really something else as the quiet voice over the PA informs us all that the referee has “indicated two minutes of added on time”, which are uneventful to say the least. When the whistle goes the ET players get a rapid fire “ETFC, ETFC, ETFC” as they plod off.

Scanning the ground, it looks like most people have sensibly departed for the cavernous bar inside the main stand, it is officially Baltic now and Parkside is very quiet, I only have the noise of the nearby main road for company. The flags are down and then up again in next to no time, the huge ET one that was half on the floor before now takes centre stage for the new half.

Tom’s ability to carry a lot, and cover great distance never fails to impress me. Like some kind of burger ferrying Bactrian camel, he has just traversed three quarters of the pitch carrying an open container with his burger and chips in, plus two cups of tea, one balanced on top of the other. “The queue is crazy” he tells me, puffing out his cheeks, “you can see the back of it” he shows me pointing off into the distance. However he didn't have to wait for long, the “army” of people cooking, are making short shrift of the orders coming their way.

“Quite nice actually” he says with his mouth full, managing unlike last week not to drop his dinner.

AFC are out, “let's fucking have it” shouts one of their players, jumping up and down on the spot. ET
join them not long after, they have their own way to get warm, a routine we've seen plenty of times before, where they all in unison run away from a man standing in and Tom does wonder quite rightly, “who invented those things?”.

The red and white flags of AFC are soon up too, their fans filling only one of the two small terraces. Each person inside almost to the man is holding a beer, and they are soon making their own fair bit of noise too as the new half gets underway, “mighty, mighty Hornchurch”.

It’s quite a sprightly start by both teams in the opening fifteen minutes, each having a few half chances but nothing clear cut. The AFC fans have turned their attention to the flowing locks of the ET keeper, which are contained by what looks like a white Alice band, “does your mother cut your hair”. The slightest bit of noise from the supporters from Essex, gets a near INSTANT response from the ET fans, “we forgot that you were here”.

Chris of the “non league Mysterons” thinks AFC are going to go on and win, they “look fitter” according to him. I still think ET are maybe shading it, but to be honest it's pretty even Stevens. The AFC supporters inform anyone who's listening, that if it comes to it, they're more than happy to “drink on” their “own”.

Its like ET just don't want to score, “how did he miss that” gasps Tom, less than four foot out the ET player has blasted over the bar. AFC give it a go soon after, a “great ball” as one person puts it, finding the wide man out on the left, whose cross is whipped in, but Hulk is there to claim it. 

Just shy of twenty minutes on the clock, moments after AFC looked like they might take the lead themselves, we have a breakthrough, a much needed goal, but not at the end AFC are attacking, where its looked like one was coming, but down the other end, 1 - 0 North London.

The air horn has found its voice again ,the drum is going flat out and almost every scarf available is being whirled above the heads of the bounding crowd, regardless of how bloody cold it is. Unlike the AFC players, who look somewhat dejected by conceding, the fans don't seem as affected, “la, la, la Hornchurch”.

I’m sure he had his reasons, but why the referee just decided to rule out AFC’s much deserved equaliser, I’ll never know. “What was wrong with that?” snarls one AFC fan, the header that flew under the crossbar at a rate of knots, too quick for even the Hulk to stop, at the end of a slick move, was for whatever reason deemed by the man in charge unable to stand. Much as you can imagine to the displeasure of one half of the crowd, “the referee’s a wanker”.

Things go from bad to worse for AFC, who despite going behind and the players looking a tad crestfallen after doing so, have been the far better team since the goal. “Fucking hell” screams one AFC supporter, when it's his teams go to miss an absolute sitter. The ball perfectly placed down the corridor of uncertainty is put on a plate for a tap in, but the player can't sort his feet out quick enough and the chance goes begging. Falling to the ground, half in the goal, half out of it, the player responsible can't believe it, burying his face in his hands.

“Come on Hornchurch, come on Hornchurch” chants a loan voice, as the ET end erupts, their team having now doubled their lead. Nigh on every player rushes to congratulate the scorer up against the railing around the pitch, and some of the fans sprint to join them. “We want three, we want three” sing the ET supporters after the initial bedlam has died down, all the noise is coming from their end now.

Two goals down and AFC still look capable of scoring, but so do ET. Every time they get close to the AFC box, it feels like a third is only moments away. AFC put a side footed shot just wide, and then ET have a half volley tipped over. The AFC fans sound certain they're “gonna score in a minute” I think that might be wishful thinking. Tom is sure there will be more goals, he’s just not sure at what end.

“Come on Towners, come on Towners” chants the ET end, getting a song going now in the AFC one
takes a little bit more persuasion, one person tries, but there aren't many takers. When they go close with a hooked shot they find their voice, “oohhhhh” and then it all gets Latin-tinged among them, when they starting humming on mass The Champs 1958 hit 'Tequila'.

The contrast between the two sets of fans is quite striking, the ET end is like a bikini and featherless carnival, flags and scarves are in constant motion, not one person it standing still, it's pulsating. What's going on, on the pitch, seems of little concern to them. AFC go close after a “well worked” free kick, as Tom put it, the header inches wide, but it has little effect on the dancing fans.

It’s not exactly a memorable end to the game, scrappy you might say, lots of hoofing, ET just happy to play out the final moments, AFC's resolve has finally broken. The ET fans find their caring side and serenade the AFC keeper with a sincere song, “It's not your fault”.

ET rack up a few more chances before the final whistle, but much like the previous eighty five minutes, fail to convert. “He hit that”snorts one person, when a sledgehammer of a free kick nearly snaps the ET wall in half. Billy Bricknell ET’s number 9, who has scored two hat tricks in the two previous finals is egged on by one ET fan, “go on Billy”, but his low shot hits the post.

“They deserve a goal” says one person sympathetically, after AFC’s final attack. Although never in doubt, from what I know of the AFC fans they are not what you would call a fair weather bunch, they declare their unrequited love for their team one last time, “I'm Hornchurch till I die”. The ET end is now counting the seconds until the final whistle, some of those among the jumping crowd look fit to burst with excitement, the games end can’t come soon enough.

Once again there is a vast difference in the mood of the two sets of fans come the final whistle, however the songs they both sing share a similar and heartfelt sentiment, "we love you Hornchurch we do" sing the AFC supporters, as the solemn players approach applauding them for their support. The ET's choice of song is just as genuine, "we're proud of you, we're proud" they sing as reams of toilet paper are sent skywards in celebration and the players before reaching them, embrace loved ones waiting for them on the side of the pitch.

One AFC fan is not quite in line with everyone else, bellowing from the main stand in his red scarf, he has a few choice words for the referee, "fucking nonce".

The table is out, the trophy now with its ribbons on sits atop a blue plinth, and we are all forced to watch the saddest thing in sport, the "loosing finalists", as the PA introduces them to collect their medals.

Filling every available bit of space in the main stand, the ET hoard has migrated from behind the goal to watch their team lift the cup. One holds a small flag out about his head, as they rattle though their whole song book in double time , "Towners, Towners,", "championes, championes", "ETFC, ETFC, ETFC" as each of the players pick up their winners medal and then hover behind a placard before the final presentation.

It won't go down as a classic, the game was hardly electric. Both sets of fans certainly made it worth coming and the battle of the macron kits was an interesting one. Although I am predisposed to despise all that is red in football, the AFC kit with its two tone bars of crimson, pipped ET's classic white number with blue trim to the finishing post. Tom and I's highlight of the evening probably the one liner from one AFC fan, "ET phone home" which made Tom smile, "quite funny" he said grinning.

Speaking to two ET fans at half time, its not exactly been a scintillating season for them, "boring football" they told me, the "philosophy" of the manager all "wrong". They reckoned he'd been given an "ultimatum", win tonight or get the chop. Redundancy postponed for another week at least, its amazing the power a bit of silverware has in football.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE

'LIKE' us on Facebook


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our YouTube channel

Follow us on Instagram - @beautifulgame15 - @beautifulgame15_ultra_stickers #beautifulgame15