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.


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