Thursday 25 July 2019

Dedication's What You Need - 2018/19 End Of Season Review

The mercury is pushing 40c, I'm damp from an afternoon in the paddling pool with my kids, surrounded by the remnants of lunch, sitting in the nasturtium filled garden of my Mum. With the 2019/20 season just over a week away, I’m only now getting around to pen this end of season review.

When Tom told me he’d got a new job I was at first happy for him, the chance to work at a barbers he has long admired, it was a step in the right direction as far as his career was concerned. When he broke it to me that it would mean he would no longer be able to go to games on Saturdays and Tuesdays, I came over all Dad's Army, and thought we were doomed for sure.

How wrong I was.

Thirty nine games later, a record for us, we racked up more miles then ever, visited a whole swathe of new grounds, and plundered both Kent and Yorkshire for all their non league booty, having stripped Essex bare previously, like a couple of vulture capitalists. Tom's change in circumstances, somewhat of a blessing in disguise, as it allowed us to explore those clubs that like many of our European footballing cousins, play on the Lords day, instead of the traditional Saturday.

Our season though got off to a sombre start, a delay in proceedings because of the death of Tom’s Mum, the reality of life slapping him squarely between the eyes, and as much as we enjoy prating about together, there were just far more important things to deal with.

As has been the case the last few seasons, we got things underway on the south coast, in the FA Cup. It had been a very odd summer, for numerous reasons. England getting to the World Cup semi final, everyone thinking that Russia is alright, until a couple of day trippers, went and brought reality crashing down around us, the near constant and unrelenting heat, where the UK for about two months straight was hotter than the Balearic Islands and bereavement. The loss of Tom’s Mum was a huge shock, and meant especially this last month, that football has been far, far from our agenda.

Picking Tom up from home this morning, a beautiful, not a cloud in the sky kind of a morning, it had crossed my mind that it might be a bit soon, it was Tom’s suggestion we went to a game today, but I wondered if maybe we were jumping the gun, as far as getting back on the road was concerned.

With his sunglasses perched on top of his head, snug jean shorts showing his unnaturally hairy legs, he certainly looked like someone who was. BLOG: What Times The Ferry Due? - Newhaven FC Vs Little Common FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Newhaven FC Vs Little Common FC

Although it's nearly October, the sun is still packing a bit of a punch. My somewhat scorched right arm, that took a bit of a battering over the summer, that is currently hanging out the window of my car, is getting a bit of a late summer top up. The sky though looks anything but summery, all stirred up by the arrival of the latest named storm to hit our shores.

I catch a quick glimpse of the new Spurs stadium development over my shoulder, as I make my way to pick up Tom for a second time this week. Tottenham's new ground, who knows what it will eventually be called, is sparkling and shimmering in the late afternoon sun. Far off in the distance, Canary Wharf and all its towering neighbours are cast in silhouette, shrouded in an ethereal haze.

Tom unlike me is not bare legged today. I am struggling with the notion that I won't be able to wear shorts for much longer, so am still persisting with them, even though it's getting to that time of year where all around the country, in houses the length and breadth of the land, people are wondering, shall we put the heating on? BLOG: He’s Going To Be Trouble - Whitstable Town FC Vs Haywards Heath Town FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Whitstable Town FC Vs Haywards Heath Town FC

The sky is a delightful shade of pale blue and there's not a cloud to be seen, but I’m really in no state of mind to appreciate it. I’ve spent well over half my time awake today behind the wheel of my car. I drove me and my family back from Manchester this morning, after a few days with the fiancee’s rents, taking in the rolling Derbyshire dales and an afternoon tea to die for, however that all feels like a distant memory now. Our drive back was held up by roadworks and we spent the last thirty miles trying to drown out my daughter with classic FM because she had had enough and was losing her shit.

There is a significantly sized Tom shaped hole in the passenger seat to my left. Only adding to my condition is the rush hour traffic I encounter at every turn. My attempt to avoid a local choke point, just leads me straight into another one. I hurriedly call Tom, between creeping forward another few feet to tell him I’m going to be late, and he might be better off making his own way to tonight's ground himself. He doesn't disguise his displeasure very well, I think he has become quite accustomed to being chauffeured about.

Despite Tom only living twenty four minutes away according to the message he sent me, I manage somehow to get to Parkside, home of Aveley FC and temporary abode of Grays Athletic FC (GA), who we are here to see tonight before him. I’m surprised not to see him already parked up and waiting for me. I’d also forgotten since the last time we were here, New Years Eve 2017, quite how brutal the black and yellow striped speedbumps are in the car park. The kind of which regardless of how slow you are going, they almost send you airborne and one is scared they may end up snapping your car in half. BLOG: How Many More Blue? - Grays Athletic FC Vs Bowers & Pitsea FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Grays Athletic FC Vs Bowers & Pitsea FC
It shouldn't make me as uncomfortable as it is, but the sight of Tom loitering about outside the front door of my block of flats, is really a bit unnerving, and it reminds me I must get in touch with the landlord about upping security. For the first time this season he has come to me, parking his behemoth of a car somewhere on my street, as we are heading north today. Not east to Essex or south to Kent or Sussex, but north or as he always calls it, the “proper North” and by that he means further than Potters Bar.

Most of our time in the car heading two and a half hours straight up, is consumed with more FIFA chat. Tom explaining the gratification he gets from winning online due to making people “rage quit”, all while he sips from a ceramic Marvel universe travel mug, containing the cup of tea I made for him. I know, I know, I’m awesome.

The nuances of FIFA 19 are not all that we talk about, we are not totally one dimensional. I can honestly say though I never thought I would hear Tom utter the sentence, “she has good piping skills”, when the topic of the Great British Bake Off crops up, and we both discuss the genius that was the Christmas scene Kim-Joy managed to do in miniature with icing, on the side of a biscuit. BLOG: The Home Of Football - Sheffield FC Vs Prescot Cables FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Sheffield FC Vs Prescot Cables FC

There are some football fans, whose team reside south of the river Thames, who swear blind that “it is wonderful”. I can tell you from first hand experience, that it is far from wonderful, when trying to get there from North London at rush hour. Almost exactly two hours it took us to travel the seventeen miles from Toms to tonight's ground. Bloody Ken, no Boris, no Sadiq, oh whoever it is.

Almost certain we had completely exhausted the conversational topic of FIFA 19, amazingly there is still more to discuss about Tom’s current game of choice. I’m still unsure if I’m going to get this year's edition, as my twelve year old son keeps profoundly telling me, its just the same game Dad, with a different number on the front. 

Our extended time in the car though, does allow Tom to fill me in on the Gentleman's Club, he saw situated right next to Whipsnade Zoo, on a recent family outing, and by sheer coincidence I’m sure, starts asking if I know about any non league football clubs in the Whipsnade area. BLOG: Oh The Tea Lady's Arrived - Beckenham Town FC Vs Erith Town FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Beckenham Town FC Vs Erith Town FC

I would never really have considered myself an ambitious person until today. I’ve always adopted the Dude's from the Big Lebowski attitude to life, take it as it comes, one day at a time, just without the accompanying high lactose cocktails. That was until I convinced myself we could drive at rush hour, one hundred and forty six miles to Gloucestershire, in two hours.

If I’m honest I had slightly fudged my research to accommodate Toms ‘no further than two hours away midweek rule because he has work the next day’. Two hours fifteen is how long it would take at about two in the morning, leaving at 15:30 and the Google Map directions have turned various shades of red and orange, its way of indicating traffic, pushing the total travel time closer to three hours.

It doesn't take long for Tom to cotton on that I may have somewhat tried to pull the wool over his eyes and as you can imagine he is not best pleased. He’s not a shouter or a get red faced and sweaty, he’s a quiet, not a sulker, but an uncomfortable quieter. I try my best to strike up conversation, “juicy peach” he snaps, when I enquire about what vape flavour he is enjoying today, and he only briefly softens when we start talking about FIFA 19 again, yes I know there is still more to talk about, but ultimately, he is pissed off. BLOG: Somebody's Got To Clap Them Off - Slimbridge A.F.C. Vs Merthyr Town FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Slimbridge A.F.C. Vs Merthyr Town FC

“You know I love the North” says Tom, surprisingly chipper, considering the early start and the fact we are only about twenty minutes into a three and a half hour drive. It might have something to do with the cup of tea I made him, I say I, my other half did, so I can't really take the credit, or for the cheese sandwiches that are now sitting on the back seat, burning a hole in the clingfilm they’re wrapped in.

He lazily tokes on his vape, it’s “juicy peach again” he tells me, looking out of the window, again I emphasise in a exceptionally good mood. Tom is not a morning person, and although I’m not adverse to an early wake up call, much better at them then him anyway, I’m struggling not so much with the time my alarm went off, but with the fact that he’s taken his shoes off.

Not blessed with as a new a car as Tom, it means I’m not blessed with the state of the art radio like he is. He brags about being able to tune into “any channel”, where I’m reduced to endlessly cycling between, classic FM and Radio One Extra, occasionally picking up whatever areas local station we happen to be passing through. BLOG: Where Sky & Lincolnshire & Water Meet - North Ferriby United A.F.C. Vs Stafford Rangers FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - North Ferriby United A.F.C. Vs Stafford Rangers FC

It's amazing what a bit of traffic can do to your mental health. I say a bit, its pretty constant as we make the not very far journey from North London to Surrey. One woman creeps along next to us filing her nails, the other side of us and thankfully not driving a woman has fallen asleep in a less than flattering pose and Tom amuses himself by gawking at her very public misfortune.

“Not for sharing” snaps Tom, as I attempt to help myself to a couple of his M & M’s from their yellow bag. A mainstay of any of our trips, I was excited when I saw the garish packet at the top of his rucksack, but Tom is clearly not in a generous mood.

Prenups and probate occupy us for a big chunk of the drive, and you'll be glad to hear there is no more FIFA chat, instead we discuss the imminent release of Red Dead Redemption Two and the fact I was so engrossed in the new Call Of Duty, I probably could have pulled a sickie and stayed at home tonight, had it not been for the magnitude of tonight's match. BLOG: Today Grandad - Leatherhead FC Vs Hitchin Town FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Leatherhead FC Vs Hitchin Town FC

I wouldn't go as far as calling myself a football traditionalist, a football romantic yes, but I’m not adverse to changes or modifications to most elements of the game, as long as they are not just gimmicks, the MLS halfway line penalty shoot out for example and most crucially, that they benefit all involved, the clubs, players and fans. 

One thing I am definitely in favour of, and as much as I love a 15:00 kick off on a Saturday, is football on a Friday. Once the exotic folly enjoyed by our European neighbours, it seems more and more that it is being adopted in the UK, and I love it.

You'll be glad to hear that the car is now a FIFA free zone, I won’t bore you with too much with what has replaced it, the amazing Red Dead Redemption Two and the best way to shoot a squirrel to ensure the pelt is perfect or the ideal way to kill a man at thirty paces with a tomahawk, but I was a little peeved to say the least, when describing my character's appearance to Tom that he said he sounded like “Jeremy Clarkson”. BLOG: Can You Smell The Bovril? - Witham Town FC Vs Heybridge Swifts FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Witham Town FC Vs Heybridge Swifts FC

It's not the cheeriest of drives to pick up Tom this morning, Nimrod by Elgar is shortly followed by a single bugler playing the Last Post. The scenes from The Cenotaph that occupied me at home, now fill my car, the solemn voice of Jonathan Dimbleby echos from the speakers. What sun there is, is warm, but the slightest crack in my window lets the ice cold wind come rushing in. 

A quote from a Wilfred Owen poem, the enamel poppy my brother gave me pinned to my shirt, which he sells without fail every year, picking them up from our local Royal British Legion and thoughts of my grandfather too traumatised by World War Two to even acknowledge the 11th hour of the 11th month, on the 11th day, run through my mind.

I do my best to try and steal a glimpse of the newly erected cockerel on top of the new Spurs stadium, but the sun is just too bright. The mood though is soon lifted by the arrival of Tom and his gilet based one liners, “I hope that cloud fucks off, I’ve got no sleeves”. BLOG: Thats Put The Mockers On Us - Cray Wanderers FC Vs Hastings United FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Cray Wanderers FC Vs Hastings United FC

“Provisions, just in case” says Rachel, handing me half the contents of a Greggs in a blue and white carrier bag, as well as a packet of German Christmas biscuits, Lebkuchen. I decline the Mexican baguette, chicken with jalapenos and the doughnuts, tightly packed in their cellophane wrapper, opting for a bottle of water, the cinnamon biscuits, thinking surely lighting can't strike twice.

There is no time for flowery words about sunsets, skyscrapers or clouds, there is not even time to try and catch a glimpse of how White Hart Lane is coming on, by the time I arrive at Tom’s, my eyes are ready to pop out of my skull, there is a pain in my forehead akin to a train trying to smash out of it, so much so I have to get out the car and dive head first into Tom’s bathroom cabinet, resurfacing having necked two Nurofen.

The stress of the rush hour traffic, has done a right number on me. Stop, start, stop start, and a near coming together between me and a blue convertible Mercedes, means I am in a bad mood to say the least. BLOG: Nanny Can I Have A Scarf? - Farnborough FC Vs Gosport Borough FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Farnborough FC Vs Gosport Borough FC

“I bet he doesn't bring you Christmas biscuits” replies Rachel when I tell her Tom has offered to drive this evening. To be clear I don’t live very far at all from tonight's venue, which I suspect has something to do with him offering and although he didn't bring me Lebkuchen, he did give me half a Sainsburys chocolate cookie that he said he'd “saved” for me.

Although Spurs are playing in a crucial Champions League tie tonight and instead of preparing myself for a night on the sofa with the heating on, watching it on the TV, I’ve spent the whole day refreshing the Twitter account of Waltham Abbey FC (WA) to see if their pitch will pass the three o'clock inspection. 

It did, and that's why I find myself standing at the end of my road, with the rain coming down around me, waiting for Tom. BLOG: Back Row Under The F - Waltham Abbey FC Vs Southend United FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Waltham Abbey FC Vs Southend United FC

Tom never sings show tunes, especially from Annie. Tom never insists on an in depth conversation about the scent of the miniature Yankee Candle car air freshener and why it’s called Red Raspberry, when there are no other colour raspberries. It is soon quite apparent that the absence of my normal companion is going to be more telling than I thought, and as it stands, his stand in is being, well frankly a bit annoying.

I’m pretty sure it’s the exhilaration of just having dropped off our daughter at my Mums and the idea of a whole five or six hours without our demanding one year old, which has just dawned on Rachel, my other half, as to why she is acting a bit loopy. In between the never ending stream of comments about raspberries, she mocks me, joking about how nice the “sky” and “clouds” are, in preparation of my usual flowery blog opening, that she will ultimately have to proof read.

Although the weather is changeable, flitting from bright sun to rain, it's not worth the grief, expanding on how calmly the dense white cumulus float by, so I’ll leave it at that. The fender bender on the way to today's ground, somewhat aggravates me, the slowly moving and then redirected traffic frustrating, but that pales into insignificance, compared to what the man who has wrapped his BMW around the central reservation, must be going through. BLOG: You Can't Boo The Bee - Barnet FC Vs Stockport County FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Barnet FC Vs Stockport County FC

All is far from rosey in Toms household. It’s all smiles on the outside, but behind closed doors him and his now fiancee, are like the waring couple from Father Ted. This festive time of year, is causing no end of “arguments” he tells me, only last night they had one about “brussel sprouts”.

With Tom and his other half Charlotte hosting this year, her parents coming to them on the 25th, there is a considerable amount of pressure on both their shoulders, and the strain is starting to show. Should they or shouldn't they have the Marmite of Christmas lunch on offer, and if they do, who is going to cook them? Tom thinks the single chef approach is the best one, Charlotte reckons that it should be more of a collaborative effort. 

What to cook is not his only concern, but also what to get his soon to be Mother and Father in law for under the tree, is causing Tom sleepless nights. The fact Charlotte's Dad has got Tom the same “bottle of bourbon” for the last ten years and Charlotte's Mum got him a gold hairband and a Christmas jumper that not only didn’t fit, but also said “well hung” on it last year, I question if they like him at all, and why is he bothering, but he feels it's necessary to impress this close to their upcoming wedding. BLOG: Thanks Dad - Hitchin Town FC Vs St Ives Town FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Hitchin Town FC Vs St Ives Town FC

It is hard to describe adequately quite how lethargic I feel. The mere notion of having to move further than plugging in one of the PS4 controllers, is not worth thinking about. Four solid days of eating, sitting and endless bad films, don't bother with the latest incarnation of Jurassic Park its shocking, as well as numerous late nights filled with double XP on Call Of Duty, plus all the toing and froing between family members houses, for another mince pie, I’m struggling to get myself in the right gear for the night ahead.

I leave my son, daughter and other half on the sofa, the three of them still in their pyjamas, ready to watch Beetlejuice, trying to remember what day it is, as I stagger to the car in that post Christmas, it's almost the new year, but not quite, haze. I just about work out it’s a Friday, and it's no secret we are huge fans of football on a Friday, but it doesn't feel like a Friday. Frankly I’m not sure what it feels like. It certainly feels like a day I don't want to eat anymore turkey on, let's just call it Christmas Day + Three.

I’m happy to report that Tom's Christmas was a success, long time readers will recall from our last outing that Tom and his fiancee were almost overcome with the stress of having to host on the 25th. He informed me that the beef was not over cooked, in fact it was a bit “BLUE” as he put it, and they did cook sprouts, that went down very well. BLOG: You're In For A Treat - Potton United FC Vs Biggleswade United FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Potton United FC Vs Biggleswade United FC

Having consumed my own body weight in Parma ham less than twelve hours ago and for about two hours straight having been plied with prawn cocktail, sausage rolls, coleslaw and eight types of cheese, I’m feeling sluggish to say the least. The temptation as the alarm on my phone starts to wail is to turn it off, roll over and pull the duvet over my head.

Although I can't roll over, because I’m in a bed that apparently was made for Tom Thumb, and if I do move too suddenly there's a chance of going through the plasterboard. I am not at home, I’m over one hundred and seventy miles from home, I’m in the spare room of my other half's Rachel's parents house. Where any minute now her mum will be knocking on the door with a coffee and I'm pretty sure I can hear my daughter stirring in the adjacent room, so there is no chance of getting back to sleep now.

Not a drinker anymore by any means, I am at least unlike a few people today, i.e. Tom who was at a very fashionable New Years Eve party back in London last night, who probably hasn’t even been to bed yet, and is still drinking the latest must have brand of artisan gin, not feeling the effects of alcohol and have a hangover to contend with, I peel myself out of bed, down my coffee and prepare for the day. BLOG: Stockport Must Be Empty - Altrincham FC Vs Stockport County FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Altrincham FC Vs Stockport County FC

No one likes getting up early, not really and let alone on a Sunday. Which for me is about Jus-Rol croissants on the sofa and finishing Match Of The Day, because I fell asleep watching it, the previous night and I’m dying to know what Martin Keown thinks about Bournemouth's display. 

In much of Europe football on Sunday is quite normal, who didn't spend their youth watching Atlanta Vs Sampdoria before their roast. Only because of the power of the TV schedulers has it become more common here and in the non league world, football on the holy day, still feels like a bit of novelty.

Waiting for me at the end of my road in his car, I pull up in front of Tom, he takes the few steps from his car to mine, a few words are exchanged and his shoes are soon off, and he’s draped his large winter jacket over his knees like someone with a tweed blanket on a carriage ride and is grasping for the chair recliner handle down to his left.

It being the first time we have seen each other since the New Year, we have plenty to talk about as we join the M1, following the heading of straight up, which will not change for about the next two and half hours. Tom’s NYE sounded, interesting. Much gin was consumed, not normal everyday gin, but high end, distilled in the upturned hat of a stormtroopers helmet kind of gin and his evening almost came to a very abrupt end, when someone suggested a “fiery sambuca” party game. BLOG: Come On Janice - Sheffield United FC Vs Barnet FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Sheffield United FC Vs Barnet FC

As I punch RH1 3QB into my Sat Nav, I come over in a cold sweat, the palms of my hands turn clammy, and I think surely lightning can’t strike twice. The sky is ominous, I try not to take it as a bad sign, I cross the car park outside my block of flats at double time because its just started to rain. By the time I reach Tom at our usual rendezvous, the end of my road, he’s cowering under the open boot of his car, performing some kind of costume change. He waves an umbrella in my general direction, asking me if I think he should bring it.

Tom’s busy day meant he “missed lunch” which results in no end of belly aching, about two and a half hours of it to be precise. He rummages around in his bag only to find some out of date Polo’s, which despite being a good six months past their use by date, he necks a handful of, to stave off the hunger pains. Such is his starvation, at one point I’m sure I catch him peering in the windows of passing cars, trying to get a glimpse of what our fellow users of the M25 are eating.

“I’m feeling weak” he murmurs, having now not eaten for a whole four hours. When he asks me if there is a chance my daughter may have dropped anything down the side of her car seat that he could have, I think he is only half joking. BLOG: Even With Three - Merstham FC Vs Bishop's Stortford FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Merstham FC Vs Bishop's Stortford FC

Lying on the sofa last night, I do my best to concentrate on Christian Bale's gravelly voiced portrayal of Bat Man, but my head is all over the place. At any other time, Tom Hardy's muscle bound, mask wearing performance as Bane, would have me captivated, but I’ve just read the Weston Super Mare AFC’s latest tweet: INSPECTION: There will be a pitch inspection tomorrow morning at 9:30.

This is not good, Storm Erik who has been battering the bath mat on the clothes line outside my bedroom window for the last twenty four hours, has really thrown a spanner in the works, and It just about caps off my current run of bad of luck. Frozen pitches, snow, illness and a stint in hospital last week, means that all too rare treat for us, football in daylight and on a Saturday, is going to be scuppered by some daft named weather system.

Like a distress flare, I fire off my own tweet, asking for help and Twitter dutifully responds. There is by all accounts no shortage of football clubs in the general vicinity of the seaside town, but surely if Weston Super Mares pitch is in need of an inspection, those nearby must be destined for the same fate. BLOG: Bad Day At The Office - Clevedon Town AFC Vs Chipping Sodbury Town FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Clevedon Town AFC Vs Chipping Sodbury Town FC

Stag chat takes up almost all our of our time in the car this evening, as we retrace our steps, following the same route we did less then three weeks before, that turned out to be a wasted journey, thanks to a frozen pitch, that was the start of a short hiatus for us, that involved snow and a general anaesthetic.

Tom’s wedding of course also comes up, as it inevitably does, whenever we are together. He fills me in on more of the details of his big day, such as will it be Carcass with a ‘K’ or Carcass with a ‘C’ playing, that pie and mash in potentially 30c heat in August, is just what people want to eat, and that the dress code will be “British summer time”. Yeah me neither.

Talk of what he wants to do, just how many units of alcohol he wants to consume per hour and other topics of an 18 certificate, not suitable for this publication only stops at the sight of a dead partridge that got Tom very excited, “that’s fresh” he says half out of his seat to get a better look, his seat belt the only thing stopping him from leaping out the window to scoop it up, pluck it and prepare it for dinner. BLOG: Better Luck This Time - Baldock Town FC Vs Biggleswade FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Baldock Town FC Vs Biggleswade FC

As much as I love and adore my two children, half term brings about a severe case of overexposure, testing my tolerance levels to near breaking point. There are only so many times in a day you can answer “what should I draw?” or how many times you can tell a nineteen month old to get off the windowsill, because she thinks she is one of her grandmothers cats, before you seriously consider driving to Dundee in your bare feet.

My eldests new found obsession with the confectionery named DJ Marshmello, means the soundtrack to seven days straight of family time is awful. Visits to the park where my daughter hands out bark to strangers and trying to make trips to Starbucks sound like an outing, because Daddy needs a venti shot of caffeine, can only go so far to placate them both. I need a break.

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to wax lyrical about the evening sky, such has been the state of the weather as of late. A stunning late winter sunset bathes my car in glorious sunlight and the sparse scattering of wispy clouds in the pale blue sky have been turned the most mouthwatering shades of copper and orange. BLOG: Tennis Ball Time - Hadley FC Vs Wembley FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Hadley FC Vs Wembley FC

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

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

However, as football in daylight has been in pretty short supply this season, because of Tom’s rota at work. I’m prepared in this instance to ignore my beliefs and head east to collect Tom. I know I say it every single time, but Spurs new stadium is looking particularly resplendent. Glistening in the unseasonably delightful sun, like something out of Metropolis, it looks magnificent. The sky is a hazy shade of pale blue, the daffodils are out and there is not a cloud in sight. BLOG: He Was Born Ready - Canterbury City FC Vs Biggleswade FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Canterbury City FC Vs Biggleswade FC

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

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

I know, I know stop going on about it, but I just can't help it, Spurs new ground is looking so good. BLOG: Don't Be Deep Spud - Rochester United FC Vs Greenways FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Rochester United FC Vs Greenways FC

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

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

It's inevitable arrival sends Tom into weather watch mode, spending his time either scanning the horizon, assessing if its a nimbus or a cumulus or studying the weather app on his phone. Double checking to see if the tiny water droplets have turned a darker or lighter shade of grey and what is the likelihood of more rainfall. Being with him can sometimes be like being in a shit sequel to the film Twister, without any of the effortless coolness of Bill Paxton that he brought to the first one. He was in Aliens after all. BLOG: They Don’t Fancy It - Barton Rovers FC Vs Corby Town FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Barton Rovers FC Vs Corby Town FC

Battered by side winds that make the car move under us, almost brought to a stand still on the motorway by biblical rain, that turned day into night, reducing visibility to zero, as cars went from seventy to thirty and we were surrounded by our fellow travellers blinking hazard lights and tennis ball sized hailstones, OK maybe not tennis ball sized, satsuma, OK not satsuma, hazelnut, oh OK, marrow fat pea sized, it did make me think what else had the day in store for us.

Only halfway into our four hour drive, which by the end of it will be the furthest we’ve ever been under our own steam and in combination with the early start I seriously consider Tom’s suggestion of calling it quits and stopping at the National Space Centre and spending the day there instead. However today's game has a little bit more of an added interest, because we are off to see a player that we are sponsoring this season, that until about two months ago, we didn't even know we were doing so.

To make my second Fast Show, Paul Whitehouse reference in as many blogs, isn't non league football “great”. BLOG: Second Half Singers - Bridlington Town A.F.C. Vs Yorkshire Amateur A.F.C. & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Bridlington Town A.F.C. Vs Yorkshire Amateur A.F.C.

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

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

My car is a bubble of pure Sundayness. The Archers omnibus is on, and if it did not contravene a few dozen laws in the highway code, I’d be half under a blanket too. However the sinister looking clouds ahead, divert me from the goings on in Ambridge and when I pull up outside of Toms front door, spots of rain have started to gather on my windscreen. BLOG: He’s Even Good On One Leg - Cray Valley Paper Mills FC Vs Canterbury City FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Cray Valley Paper Mills FC Vs Canterbury City FC

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

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

Having been with my other half for over twelve years now, you would think I would have a good idea of the kind of person she is. Funny, generous, a little pessimistic, with a good streak of Northern level headedness. I am then a little shocked by her tirade when I tell her I’m playing passenger and Tom Mr Uber for the evening. BLOG: This Is Entertainment - Banbury United FC Vs Ardley United FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Banbury United FC Vs Ardley United FC

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

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

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

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

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

Having made the eternal error of having a big lunch and now feeling sluggish, my body only working at half speed, I thankfully don’t have far to go. Just a hop skip and a jump around the north circular, past what is now Spurs new home, so that’s the last you'll hear from me about it, I promise, as they will be christening it tonight with their first competitive match. BLOG: Just The Six Goals Then - Clapton CFC Vs NW London FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Clapton CFC Vs NW London FC

I have to admit I’m not exactly overflowing with the joys of spring, my previous nights sleep was somewhat fractious to say the least, a one year old with a leaking face, is not my idea of an ideal roommate. 

The weather these last few days has been not far off completely shit, stepping out of my Mum’s it’s at least dry and the sky is a hazy mix of blue and grey, she’s been lumbered with my two dependents while I make my way to pick up Tom. I say stepping out, it’s more like dragging myself out. At some point there is a very good chance I might need some toothpicks to prop my eyes open Hanna-Barbera style.

I’m still somewhat struggling with the notion of daylight after 16:30, but I’m sure I’ll get over it. Listening to a programme on Radio 4 about the reintroduction of Wolves back to Western Europe, and that Holland is now a country where you can find them, I feel altruistic by passing this information on to you via this blog, and would completely understand that right now you may well be overflowing with a feeling of gratitude. To quote a WWE Superstar voiced Polynesian God, “you're welcome”. BLOG: We Ain't Got A Goalkeeper - Punjab United FC Vs Cray Valley Paper Mills FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Punjab United FC Vs Cray Valley Paper Mills FC

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. BLOG: You Went To The Old Ground? - A.F.C. Hornchurch Vs Enfield Town FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Isthmian League Cup Final 2019

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. BLOG: Did I Miss A Memo? - Leyton Orient WFC Vs Ashford Town (Middlesex) LFC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Isthmian Women's Cup Final 2019

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. BLOG: Too Early For Ribbons? - Baldock Town FC Vs Biggleswade FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Dudley Latham Memorial Cup Final 2019

Non World War Two military history nerds like myself, may not have heard of the LRDG, the Long Range Desert Group, one of the precursors of the SAS. A mixture of tough chaps from Eton, leading tough blokes from the East End, they would venture deep behind enemy lines for hundreds if not thousands of miles, with only what they could pack on the back of their jeeps to aid them, to sabotage German air field and disrupt supply routes.

If you've got this far, thank you for bearing with me, because this sightly odd intro to the blog is relevant I promise, because Tom is standing in the open doorway of the passenger side of my car, with more stuff, equipment and provisions, then those men seventy five odd years ago, would have taken with them to wage war!

“Car snacks”, jackets and his “long rage chilly”. Such is the length of our journey today, about three hours, he has found it necessary to upgrade his usual water bottle, drafting in one the size of a naval guns shell. At least among all his junk, he has finally brought some half decent CD’s, no sign of the the bloody Red Hot Chili Peppers this time. BLOG: Jazzy - Bristol Manor Farm FC Vs Paulton Rovers FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Bristol Manor Farm FC Vs Paulton Rovers FC

Tom and I are different in so many ways, some obvious, some not so much. “I forgot my belt” he tells me, suggesting that he might unintentionally look like one of those guys who fashionably wear their trousers so low that their arse is hanging out, and me at the opposite end of the spectrum has done my belt up so tight, I feel like a link of sausages.

As is always the case with an evening fixture, my day has already been relatively chocka with looking after my daughter, a personal highlight of today was changing her on the boot of my car, with no baby changing facilities at hand, and it means I’m already a little pooped by the time we set off. The close conditions doesn't help, but some intensive Game Of Thrones chat, helps the time go by, until Tom’s child sized bladder and constant need to snack, somewhat consumes us.

Have you got any food in here I'm starving?” he asks while rifling through the glove compartment, “! Should have brought Jaffa cakes” he says to himself, when he’s unable to find anything. BLOG: Steelfest - Corby Town FC Vs Bedford Town FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Corby Town FC Vs Bedford Town FC

A snapshot of my life with Tom, via our exchange this morning on WhatsApp:

[08:49] Tom: Where are we going?
[08:49] Tom: Want to check the weather
[08:50] Tom: Have a wardrobe crisis

“Two secs” he says to me an hour or so later after his enquiry about our destination. I can barely see him underneath the abundance of stuff he is carrying in his arms. If anything he is now over prepared, somewhat overcompensating for last times lack of snacks and wet weather gear and has nigh on brought a hamper, including his ginormous water bottle, and needs a second trip back to his car to retrieve even more. BLOG: I've lost my Shazam - Brackley Town FC Vs Spennymoor Town FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Brackley Town FC Vs Spennymoor Town FC

Within seconds of stepping out of bed, I’ve already trod on an upturned plug, which we all know is only second to an eight point Lego brick as the most painful thing a person can tread on, but inches away from my sleeping daughter, I have to bite down hard on my bottom lip, to stop me waking her with my agonised screams.

I’m awash with all kinds of deja vu, picking Tom up from the same place, him giving me the same wave, with the same dopey look on his face, that he was wearing only twenty four hours earlier. “Hello again” he says in his own special monotone way, “we’ve got to stop meeting like this”.

Retracing our steps from yesterday almost completely, the overpowering feeling of I’ve done this before continues. Tom has “forgotten the CD’s” which is probably no bad thing, considering his recent offerings and admitting to being “more of a greatest hits man”, which is very accidental Partridge. BLOG: Let's All Have A Disco - Bromsgrove Sporting FC Vs Corby Town FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Evo-Stik Southern League Central Play-Off Final 2019

Let me ask you this: Who knew that the Lighthouse Family were still a thing? Now be honest, don't nod like you really knew that twenty three years later that the lift music producing double act were still belting out the same one track they were singing when I was still at school. 

For those of you thinking surely not, they were crap then, how has their whimsical upbeat music achieved such longevity, I would agree, however I just saw them on the sofa of one of the many sofa based Sunday morning programs that fill the morning slot as I left the house.

Considering the frequency of which we have gone to football on a Sunday this season, it has almost become the norm, instead of just something that our European neighbours did. Having forgotten my briefcase sized folder of CD’s on our last few outings, the tables have officially turned when Tom produces a mere handful from his bag, and I present to him my entire music collection condensed into one black polyester holdall I got off Amazon. BLOG: We Only Got Promoted - Chorley FC Vs Spennymoor Town FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - National League North Promotion Final 2019

Sitting anxiously at the end of my road early on a Sunday morning, the world around me having not really stirred, has become somewhat of the norm over the last few weeks, except for the anxiously bit. The mild feeling of terror is not because we are about to embark on a long journey to some far flung part of the country, we’re only going fifteen minutes up the road, but because of the magnitude of today's game, and because somehow we have been able to wangle a level of access I don't think either of us could have ever dreamt of.

It’s probably no bad thing we are only in the car for a short while, it's eerily quiet, the nerves already getting the best of us, the silence only occasionally broken by the sound of Tom’s vape or one of us saying out loud, “what are we doing?”.

Snaking around the back of a well known Swedish furniture outlet, both of us considering jacking in what we are supposed to be doing, stopping for budget hot dogs instead, the task ahead of us too daunting. The reality of what we are about to undertake, has just been made all that more real by our first glimpse of today's venues most prominent feature, its white iconic arch poking up into the gloom, on what is turning out to be not one of North West London's better days. BLOG: Do I Have To Pay For These? - Chertsey Town FC Vs Cray Valley Paper Mills FC & VIDEO: Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - FA Vase Final 2019

At this time of the year, it is so important to thank all those Twitter accounts, YouTubers and organisations who have regularly helped us this season, in some cases giving us a platform in print or online to reach an audience we could only dream of: @NonLeagueNews @wagnerc23 @winkveron @richbeedie @knockernorton1 @ViewFootballMag @thetoughtackler @ShootTheDefence @SeasidersReview @NLBantz @ManorFarmFC @BridTownAFC @Sajedaa_F9T @The94thMin @new_Marske_fc @NonLgeProgs @soccerswap @LWIMTH @NonLeagueCrowd @TheBootifulGame @SCEFLeague @IsthmianLeague @ldnfootyguide, Matt Broadley, Jay Adams & all the clubs, officials, teams & players who without their help, what we do would be impossible.

Also a big thank you to anyone, who has shared, re-tweeted, commented or liked any of our blogs, pictures or videos. Your kind feedback about the work we do is so greatly appreciated.

Looking back over the last thirty nine games and with almost five years under our belt, I'm not sure if it is a season that will be bettered. One where we have been granted more access than ever before, were asked to feature in a BBC documentary, us two bearded fools on the Beeb, who would ever have thought it, and not on Crimewatch. Thank you Sam and to have been given the chance by the amazing Cray Valley Paper Mills FC to capture their big day at Wembley. To stand on it's hallowed turf and touch the bronze bust of Sir Alf Ramsey, as well as meeting Kevin Davies and being recognised by a BT commentator, it still sends a shiver down my spine thinking about it.

Countless memories of amazing people, some of the welcomes we have received, the lengths some clubs have gone to, beggars belief. More than any ground, burger or 50/50 near miss, it's the people that we meet, their passion and devotion that sticks with us, and keeps us going. The chance to document in our own very small way the love they have for their particular part of the football universe, is a pleasure to say the least.

With Tom getting married in just a couple of weeks, and my parenting responsibilities increasing, my twelve year old son has recently moved in with us, I'm not sure we will be able to hit the heady heights of thirty nine games again, but we will try!

For a full photographic review of 2018/19, click HERE

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  1. Fantastic post.

    Really enjoyed reading it and it held my attention all the way through! Keep it up.

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