Monday 23 September 2019

He Can't Head The Ball For Toffee - White Ensign FC Vs Takeley FC, FA Cup Preliminary Round Replay, Burroughs Park (04/09/19)

I moved house yesterday, which meant despite getting up at the crack of dawn I was still struggling with an array of flat pack furniture come 22:00 and didn't even have the comfort of knowing I had my own bed to fall into. It doesn't arrive for another two days, so I flop onto the sofa, certain of the fact that I will be waking up in the morning with a crick in my neck and a bad back.

I’m too tired to even think about shooting Spurs’s new home a look, so plough on east, relieved that Tom is driving again, because I’d be a menace to other road users if I was. Such is my state of near exhaustion, I don't even have the energy to fully revel in this momentous event. Tom driving to two games in a row, will surely mean today will become some kind of national holiday, joining the other obscure ones you see on calenders, but quite can’t put your finger on exactly why it's there.

“False alarm” says Tom, ever so slightly out of breath, our journey to deepest darkest Essex getting off to a worrisome start, after he thought he had forgotten to double lock his front door, and we ended up doing a lap of the block at breakneck speed, the car not quite at a standstill before he swung open his door to find out it was a lot of rushing around about nothing.

He had looked so jolly and proud just ten minutes before, leaving his house and making a point to show off his new camera bag, his monopod strapped to its side looking like a katana and now he looks all flustered and red, muttering to himself because he can't decide if it's “hot or cold” which of course is playing havoc with his outfit choice. He is certain of one thing though, “its blustery”, which means I end up humming “let's go fly a kite” to myself for the next hour.

As like last time out the entertainment on offer is severely lacking, Tom admitting he has recently “got back into metal” meaning I'm subjected not to “metal” as he put it, more what one might call ‘nu metal’ more decks than thrash guitar, which I point out to him, so he revises his previous statement “ok, my metal”.

You can’t get much more Essex than Southend, with its beleaguered looking palm trees poking up out of the middle of a roundabout and as sure as I am that Tom wouldn't mind a go at Adventure Island, we are merely passing through, curious about where the woman with the dog in a pram we pass might be going, which in turn prompts Tom to tell me about someone he met recently who had a “pet squirrel”.

The music takes a noticeable up turn with a spot of Black Sabbath, as does the weather. Having looked on the turn as we barreled our way towards the coast, “it's warm here” points out Tom as we get closer to our destination or “the Essex riviera” as he puts it.

I can’t be sure, on the account of it being almost five years ago, but I’m pretty sure the last time we weaved our way down this narrow lane, that time on the Bowers & Pitsea team coach, it wasn't tarmaced, just a dusty track heading further and further away from civilization and closer and closer to the middle of nowhere.

I apologise if I have got that wrong, it may have just been the case of it being a baking hot May Bank Holiday and the thundering coach kicking up so much dust, it felt like we were on the set of a spaghetti westen. As was then, and as is tonight, what eventually appeared past the allotments and back gardens, is a very smart ground indeed, everything from the gates onwards, very charming indeed.

The handwritten notice on the way in, is more than most clubs get who groundshare, the sign fastened to one wall that reads “Welcome to White Ensign Football Club” (WE) suggests that tonights ‘home team’ are a bit more than just lodgers.

Very little has changed in the almost five years since our last visit, which is no bad thing, trust me. As someone called it on Twitter in the past week, Burroughs Park is a “hidden gem”. Except for the sheer amount of people in attendance, no Clapton Ultras marching all over the place, filling the covered terrace behind the two rabbit hutch looking dugouts, I think it’s exactly the same.

One could really not ask for better conditions, the sky is clear except for the odd wispy clouds, the sun is still just about hanging in there, slowly sinking behind some trees.

“Breakfast for dinner” states Tom, his bacon butty firmly secured in his right hand, the only thing stopping him from devouring it, is the Mars bar he’s purchased, that is proving problematic to put in his pocket. “We might be stopping at McDonalds” he murmurs, the breakfast bap all gone, the away team not even here yet and he’s eaten, which must be some kind of record, the minimalist menu means by the time we’re done tonight, and there is the chance of extra time and a shoot out, no amount of Mars bars are going to see him home without a pit stop.

“Biggest game in our history” I overhear a WE coach say to a supporter. WE in the FA Cup for the first time ever, each hurdle cleared a new line in the annals of the club's history, but you need an opposition, who are nowhere to be seen, and can now officially be considered late.

There are a couple of Takeley FC (TFC) players here milling about, like the one who has just appeared from the changing room, cleared his throat with a phlegmy cough, then proceeded to pull a cigarette from the box in his pocket and light it up.

The sight of the match day programme in the tiny turnstile is a welcome one, however the look the man manning it in his Portugal baseball cap, is a kin to one you might give a two headed creature that has just crawled from the sea and attempted to kidnap your first born, so I take it’s a no to them having a raffle or a half-time draw.

Vincent Kompany might suck at it, Edgar Davids was no better, but WE player manager Brett is making a much better hash of it then them two, currently “top goal scorer” he tells me, his starting place because of that a certain, “can’t drop me” he adds laughing.

“Not much chance of a badge here” Tom surmises, after telling him of my 50/50 woes. WE soon appear for their warm up and inject a bit of life into the place, that was feeling very, very sedate there
for a moment. “That’s the one” gasps one of the players, the rest all looking on in shock after one's attempt at a shot, which would have looked more at home on a rugby pitch, cleared the high net behind the goal, heading straight towards the car park.

TFC are still nowhere to be seen and the introduction of some music or “beats” as Brett puts it, coming from the tiny speakers at the foot of the wirey Meccano esq floodlights improves our surroundings even further. Whitney Houston the first on the very Best of the 80’s playlist.

“Might have to get some chicken nuggets” grumbles Tom, as nice as his bacon roll was, it was in his words “insufficient” and “barely grazed the sides”. He distracts himself by doing a headcount, “oh nine, oh ten”, the man on the gate is hardly overrun, and Tom even goes as far as to mime his own “clicker”.

See what I have to put up with, if only served some chips.

With less than thirty minutes to kick off, the sight of one TFC coach putting out the cones is a welcome one, “not much urgency” comments Tom. It's not like the away team are rushing by any means to get on the pitch, maybe there is an element of them thinking this is a bit of formality, with
them being from the league above. WE very much the underdogs, but with it being a replay, it only shows they can more than hold their own.

Verging on the explicit, one older lady is clearly enjoying the music. She glides, nah, sashays her way along towards the gloomy all seater main stand, impressing Tom with her moves, “Grandma having a dance”.

Showing about as much enthusiasm as an unenthusiastic thing, TFC finally finally appear. To suggest they are sauntering, might imply there is any haste whatsoever, as they walk out for their warm up. “Ohh here they come” says Tom, with an air of ‘nice for you to show up’.

It doesn't take long to realise that the request from the away team, for a postponed kickoff has been denied. “Residential problems” explains one coach, the clubs strict licensing means the floodlights have to be off by a certain time and any delay could see extra time or a potential shoot out, being illuminated by everyone's mobile phones.

“They told you how bad it is” asks a man to one of the referees assistants knowingly, who is currently dowsing himself in insect repellent from a can. “In my mouth” recounts another person, discussing the apparent midge problem that plagues Burroughs Park, which is news to me, but by the way the guy is napalming himself, it must be close to infestation levels.

TFC are still on the pitch with five minutes to go before the supposed kick off time, the referee with ball in hand and his two assistants with flags at the ready are limbering up outside the changing rooms. WE are going through their last few pre match rituals, judging by the noise coming through the slight crack in the window.

“Groundsmans getting a bit panicky” jokes someone, as the news of a five minute delay to kick off spreads like wildfire. The man with a clipboard and a TFC polo shirt though, doesn't feel the delay that has been agreed is sufficient enough, but he is comforted by the fact “there aren't any midges”.

How wrong that statement will prove to be.

The pause in the wedding reception playlist allows for the low key announcer to make himself heard for the first time. He’s far from showy and although I wouldn't go as far as saying he is amateurish, there are few pauses, dead air you might say. A muffled conversation happening off mic, that can just about be heard.

It’s a rather frantic opening first five minutes, with plenty of early away pressure, the home keeper spilling a relatively straight forward shot, that is scrambled clear, showing maybe a few signs of nerves. “Relax” shouts a WE player in his red and blue kit, in front of what has turned out to be a half decent turnout. I’ll have to check with Tom quite how many it is, the main stand is well occupied, and something has already bitten me. I use one foot to try and stop whatever it is feasting on my calf, but to no avail.

A big TFC tackle sees nothing more than a talking to from the ref for the offending player, “be mindful”, presenting WE with a chance to alleviate the onslaught, but the lumped set pieces is lacking in any guile and comes to nothing. All it does is give TFC the ball and allows them to put the home side back under the cosh.

“I think they’re going to get battered” says Tom under his breath, not holding out much hope for the hosts.

A few people are milling about on the terrace that last time we were here was the setting for an anti Thatcher tifo, smoke bombs and a whole forest of flags. The midges are going to town on my legs and with almost ten minutes gone WE produce their first real bit of quality, a well timed pass forward finds the lead attacker, but he just can't get the ball out of his feet, which brings about the first “ohhhh” from the home crowd, one of which to our left seems a tad more invested than most. Any foray forward by TFC normally results in a chorus of “no, no, no, no” until the attack has danger has passed.

“Ohhhh” go the home crowd once more, a long range shot across the TFC goal signifies WE’s entry into the game, having weathered the early storm and the attempts by TFC to deploy a few dirty tricks. A well timed fart noise just as one WE player was taking a free kick works a treat, putting him right off and gets a solid “fuck off” in reply.

Another free kick, that from what I could hear was not accompanied by the sound of flatulence, is this time delivered with eagle eyed precision. Very, very nearly finding the head of a WE player, only to be reached just before by a TRF defender whose leap was just that little bit more salmon like. All of this action being witnessed through a dense fug of midges now hovering around us, the odd one dive bombing towards my nose or eyes and a strange almost luminescent green glow emanating from the floodlights.

“Unless you're city or Barcelona don't do it” snaps Tom, WE are almost caught out at the back, attempting the in vogue playing the ball out via their defence, but as is so often the case, almost balls it up and nearly concede. Tom then continues the Cataluna theme, with more talk about the WE strip. “Their kit confuses me” he confesses, the mash up between two of Europe's super clubs, “the backs PSG, the front Barca” has him a bit perturbed.

“Like statues” barks an angry WE player, the movement in front of him or lack of it at a throw in is somewhat lacking and someone else glued to the spot, is the quiet voiced lady living every second of the match, “go on, go on, go on” she repeats to herself as a WE attack gets closer and closer to the TFC box.

After somewhat of a lull in proceedings, the inevitable aftermath after such a rampant start, the pace picks back up, and we once again have ourselves an end to end encounter. WE have a penalty shout waved away, then one TFC player looks like he might just score the most sublime goal, his long winding run towards the home area unstoppable, he unleashes a shot from a tight angle, that skims the crossbar on its way over.

Such was its proximity to crashing up into the roof of the net, one teammate starts to celebrate, cutting it short when he realises it's only a corner. “Goal” says a traveling away fan confidently, following the drilled in set piece, only for the WE keeper to manage somehow to get something on the point blank header and touch it over. “Good save, that” says Tom with his goalkeepers union hat firmly on.

This time the latest crunching TFC tackle sees the player in the book. “How many times ref?” asks a particularly vocal home fan from the main stand, “every time” points out another having noticed quite the pattern starting to develop. “The one who was having a fag” as Tom points out, somewhat of a repeat offender.

“That could have been good” exhales Tom, understating quite what a spectacular goal one TFC player almost scored, only for an overly exuberant attempt at a finish, just when a spot of coolness was required, scuppering it. No more than ten yards out, having been found with a wracking pass from the left, which was dropped right onto his right boot, his first time volley is hit so hard, “he’s absolutely taken the leather off it” says one man, it flies well, well over the bar.

I honestly think some kind of press release may be required for future matches at Burroughs Park, because to our left the second person of the night and I’m sure she is not alone, is liberally applying repellent  to her legs and all Tom can do is snigger as I swat away wave after wave of attacks on my bare flesh.

TFC go close again, this time hitting the post directly from a corner, the ball just about scrambled away in time before the rebound can be pounced on. WE have shown a few glimpses of promise, but TFC don't look like they have even got out of third gear and at any moment could kick on and brush the home side away.

Thundering a clearance against a charging WE player, the TFC keeper just about gets away with his kick and then the home stopper is almost caught out himself. An underhit passback reaching him moments before the chasing TFC player, which is greeted with a few revelling laughs and “that was close” through puffed out cheeks.

The most perfect crescent moon now hangs over the pitch and shouts for the home team from the stand are getting more frequent. “Goal” predicts a nearby TFC fan again, but their skills of the clairvoyant are a little off. The curling shot from the edge of the box is reached by the most acrobatic of dives, the shot destined for the top corner tipped over by the very edges of the WE keepers fingertips.

“Gotta beat the first man” laments one TFC supporter, the resulting corner is straight out of the Tottenham Hotspur playbook, not even getting as far as the six yard box. The same person then suggests one of his team “have a go”. Latching on to the loose ball outside the box, he lets loose a shot, only for it to be about as good as the corner, which is greeted with plenty of laughter and a worried “that's a car” as it headed for the car park.

Well out of his goal, and with the ball at the feet of a TFC player in midfield, the WE keeper is neither here nor there and the increasingly demanding TFC fans want the player in possession to take advantage and “finish” with a sixty yard lob and although he considered it, you could see the hesitation written across his face, he thinks better of it and does not attempt the Beckham impression.

A late TFC runner almost gets them the lead that on reflection they probably deserve. “Back door” warns the home crowd, but it's too late and the TFC player is in on goal. He takes a touch to steady himself, then unleashes a rising shot towards the by far the busier of the two keepers, who reaches out with his other hand, going across his boy, instead of using the one closer to the ball, sending is squirreling up into the air. Dropping kindly to an away player in the box, he looks certain to break the stalemate, only for it to be cleared.

Conducting his team loudly from the back, the home keepers counterpart is booming, the referee is in Toms words “very precise” I would say anal in his desire for each throw in to be taken in exactly the right place and the sharp blast of his whistle, followed by a series of claps, brings the energetic first half to an end.

“The bars open, please indulge” says the voice over the PA and Tom suggests I should try and “get
some bottoms” anything to cover up my ravaged legs. With the players all departed and many taking the advice of the announcer, the life somewhat drains out of the ground, except for the bats flitting in and out of the main stand, and the odd nose from the subs warming up.

Like the flick of a switch, as the players return, so does the soul. “Come on boys” demands one WE player, and they are going to need all they can muster, because following the whistle, TFC are right out the traps. There is the distinct feeling that they have no desire for this to go on any longer than it has to, however Tom feels quite the opposite, “it's got extra time written all over it. The neighbors will be moaning”.

A change of seasons is in the air, the breeze chilly at times, many are retiring their shorts for another six months and Tom is considering his winter fashion options, “I think it's time for a winter jacket. Think I might go the full Arsene Wenger”.

Fifty one minutes on the clock and the deadlock has been broken, but I must admit I didn't expect it to be by WE. Many of those shrouded by the gloom of the main stand are on their feet, and by the sounds of it the scorer of the toe poked effort following a sumptuous back heel, has his very own fan club, one small section of them going bonkers.

The quiet muttering lady is close to the edge, the insistence of “don't switch off” by one WE player is almost completely ignored, as moments after the restart they very nearly give away a penalty. “Touch and go” says Tom, who reckons that TFC are unlucky not to have it awarded and he thinks with still over thirty minutes left to play WE are really going to have to “dig in”.

“Oh you are joking” says one woman, breaking away from the conversation she is having on her phone, TFC have equalized, WEare  in front for all of about four minutes. “Not sure what happened there” ponders Tom, “odd goal”. An odd goal indeed, witch a heavy touch of good fortune for TFC, a header blocked, the rebound falling to the denied player, who was able to score at the second time of asking.

Like pulling a plug out of a bath, the buzz that had emanated following the WE goal, drains away and Tom is fearful for the home side, “it's like they've angered a monster”.

TFC’s party is almost as short lived as WE’s lead, a blinding solo run, a Bale Vs Maicon kind of deal, push the ball into space and put on the afterburners, almost results in a goal, only for a covering defender to be on hand to tidy up, which results in a hefty groan from those who thought we were going to see something a bit special.

“Brett” shouts a WE player towards his centre forward playing manger, who gives a quick look up, finds him the box, only for him to put his header just over, leaving the gaffa with his head in hands.

The chances for both sides are coming thick and fast, WE’s opener has kicked open the floodgates, one TFC player tries his luck at a Beckham from just over the halfway line but its tame and then WE are beaten by a “big save” as Tom puts it. The kind of save that gets a round of applause from both sets of fans. “Save keeper” says a WE supporter. Praise tinged with a heavy dose of annoyance.

Almost every home fan sitting is as close to the edge of their seats as they can be, without falling off. The home side go close again with a looping header and then there is a collective sucking of the teeth as TFC surge forward, but nothing comes of it.

“He’s fine, he’s being a tart” says one WE supporter sympathetically, when an almighty collision between the TFC keeper and a WE player sees him laid out on his back. Looked like a fair challenge to me and by the time the physio has made it to him, he’s back on his feet and is waving them away.

The back of the stand commentator is getting increasingly loud, “well played Dave” he bellows and Tom is completely transfixed by the TFC keepers outfit, “horrible kit” he sneers. The all yellow and purple socks combo I admit would not be my first choice.

Swinging back and forth, back and forth the match feels poised for some last minute heartbreak. “Shut him down, shut him down” mumbles the nearby fan in response to the latest TFC attack. Whenever TFC have the ball the mood turns, the feeling of an impending goal infectious, only picking up again when the home side take up possession.

“Oh go on” she shouts, a fine WE through ball looks inch perfect, but again the skilled keeper is there to snuff it out.

The home bench is deserted, and not because the midges have descended upon them, but because every single person on it is warming up. A flying home counter attack is cut down by another TFC hatchet job much to the displeasure of the home crowd, “every time”.

Moments after asking me how long is left, Tom psyching himself up for extra time, the promise of chicken nuggets getting further away, with about a quarter of an hour left, WE lash home their second of the night and take the lead.

The players rush to catch up with the scorer, who ends up almost right in front of us. After being mobbed by his teammates, his reason for ending up where he did becomes clear, it was seemingly no accident, pointing to the sidelines to a member of the crowd. “Keep your heads” counters  a supporter, Tom thinks they have “scored too soon”, if they are going to pull off the upset, they were going to have to score much later on, “fifteen minutes is a long time to hang on”.

A bizarre decision by the WE keeper has home hearts in mouths, a decision to punch, and not a very good one at that, puts them under some unwanted pressure, but they get away with it.

“Come on Ensign” shouts one of the expressive WE supporters. A brave stooping header by one of their midfielders sees him win the ball from a position he could have easily lost a few molars and then off he charges with the ball. Unleashing at the end of his run a squirming shot that squeaks just wide and gets a resounding “ahhhhh” from the crowd.

The introduction by TFC in the last ten minutes of the half of the “blond man mountain” as Tom describes him, unbeknownst to everyone quite yet, is an absolute game changer. The big chunk, who Tom rightly points out “they’ve put up front” will end up having more of an impact on this match then I’m sure anyone could have imagined. Except his manager of course, who will put it down to his own tactical genius.

Another bat swoops above our heads, feasting on the veritable buffet hovering around us. “Come on Ensign until the end” pleads one player and then a move from a TFC winger gets the crowd a little anxious. “Sold him” giggles one away fan, a drop of the shoulder and a burst of pace sees him easily away from his marker, the lady next to us can hardly bear it, but after all the preamble, his final ball is severely lacking.

The departering WE manager gets one of the biggest rounds of applause of the night, “well played Brett” shouts someone as he begrudgingly drags himself off.

Still hanging in there, WE have only got to survive a few more minutes. A big home block just inside the box brings about the most vociferous cries from the crowd so far “come on Ensign”. TFC are quite literally throwing everything they can at the WE back line, their keeper is tossed into the mix at the awarding of a free kick, and it's fortunate for WE “he can't head the ball for toffee” as one person puts it, because on reaching the cross, he makes an absolute meal of it.

“Times up, a minute over” states someone close by, all the added on time they are sure has now been and gone, the WE players are now only seconds away from being history makers. TFC almost hand them a much needed third, not only can he not head a ball, but he’s not exactly got twinkly toes either. The TFC keepers attempt at a Cruyff turn almost goes tits up, and the next pass back to him gets plenty of sarcastic “wooooo” in anticipation of a clanger.

Deep, deep into added time, TFC draw level, every single player, coach and substitute erupting into near fits, a mix of relief and joy, the “man mountain” having hooked the ball over the line from close range. The latest “come on Ensign” is deflated to say the least and there is barely enough time to think come the restart. The blast of the whistle to get things back underway is shortly followd by one to signal we will be heading towards extra time, much to one persons displeasure “fuck off”.

“That was a blatant handball” snarls one of the home bench, which is seconded by one seething home fan passing us, “one hundred percent a hand ball”. “Come on Ensign you can do it” pleads one lady from the main stand and on the pitch a spat has broken out between the two sides, which is quickly squashed.

A hush descends across the ground following one last attempt to unite the team from the crowd and soon it gets even quieter, near silence, people are overcome with shock, because minutes into the first half of extra time, the “man mountain” has done it again, 3 -2 to TFC.

Heads are low, the optimism around the place has bottomed out, WE are on the ropes, one fan tries to rally, “heads up” but it falls on deaf ears. In fact various home players look like they have lost their heads altogether, diving into challenges, committing needless fouls.

A save of the highest order then stops WE drawing level. From point blank range old purple socks in the TFC goal makes himself big, starfishing Schmeichel style, taking a full blooded shot in the midriff he denies WE their third.

“Go on, go on” stutters the lady nearby on to her final nerve. WE’s number 11 shows some classy footwork, laying up a teammate, only for his shot to be woeful at best, one man can't bare to look and turns away in disgust. WE are giving their all, TFC are on the cusp of just being outright dirty. Both benches almost going toe to toe, when one home player is cut down. The awarding of the foul gets a jeering “weyyy” from the home crowd, who have seen too many similar tackles go unpunished so far tonight.

TFC have the chance to wrap it up, one on one with the keeper, but it goes begging and the player fires over. On the far side of the pitch, one home coach is making his way towards the changing rooms. By the purpose in his stride he doesn't look like it’s because he thinks he left the tap on, its an angry gait. Occasionally looking back over his shoulder, Tom wonders if he has been “sent off”.

“Referee! Handball! You bottled that son” screams one home fan, who along with almost everyone else rooting for the home side thinks they should have been awarded a penalty. A headed clearance from a TFC defender striking the hand of a teammate, but the man in charge is having none of it.

The first half of extra time comes to an end with WE doing plenty of huffing and puffing, but just not having the cutting edge to draw things level and one man is being told off by his wife for calling the TFC keeper a “nonce”.

There are plenty of motivational quotes being fired off by the crowd in the break, “heads up now” and such like. The turn around is blistering, Tom pointing out its surely because of the “lights”.

It’s now or never as Tom would say, a quarter of an hour to play and by the looks of it every WE player is fully aware of quite what it means, because they come out all guns blazing. Their main threat is the howitzer of a throw one player possess. An overhead kick is inches wide and gets a loud “argh” from fans and players alike. “Come on Ensign to the end” utters someone offering up yet another quote from a self help book. Another long throw results in a header that brushes the paintwork as it goes the wrong side of the post.

The tension is mounting and the referee is close to losing control, shouting from the main stand is reaching near noise abatement proportions. The latest launched throw in causes problems, but WE just can't capitalize on the panic its causing among the TFC ranks. A fierce shot looks to have been touched wide, but no corner is awarded, they are just not getting the rub of the green.

TFC’s only answer to the onslaught is to foul, racking up one WE free kick after another. The homeside pack the box every time, but just can't make anything stick. On one occasion the ball traveling all the way through the box completely unscathed. The whole place is on tenterhooks, as time slowly ebbs away.

“Get in the mixer” roars a home fan, as the long throw specialist winds up for another chuck. They go close again, another header wide and one person who now seems resigned to the fact in just might not be their night, sums it up perfectly, “they’ve had their chances”.

At every opportunity he can the TFC keeper falls on the ball, quite unnecessarily, each time eating up those vital extra couple of seconds. One optimist shouts, “ there's still time” but there isn't.

The majority of the crowd stick about come the final whistle, TFC's celebrations are hardly raucous, more along the line of 'thank fuck for that'. WE ran them close all the way to the end, it just came down to one side taking their chances.

Both squads gather in their respective halves for a debrief, to talk over a few pointers from the past two hours. When they finally trudge off, the home crowd let the players know, that despite the result what a cracking job they did.

Burroughs Park until today was always just the place we first encountered the Clapton Ultras, but making our way home, we now have some new memories forged in a place that really is a "hidden gem". Burroughs Park will now be the place that the spirit of the FA Cup was once again confirmed to be alive and well. Where the underdog almost triumphed and the unrelenting passion that most if not all the players from both teams showed undeniable.

I'm not a huge fan of the overly exposed former Manchester united and French international fullback, but his tag line, his much used catchphrase repeated by one departing TFC player, seemed apt, "I love this game".

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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Sunday 15 September 2019

El Clasicoast - Worthing FC Vs Bognor Regis Town FC, Isthmian League Premier, Woodside Road (26/08/19)

I can’t bring myself to take the customary glance over my right shoulder to catch a glimpse of the de facto White Hart Lane, after yesterday's shit show against Newcastle. Knowing full well it will be glimmering like a brand new penny, looking quite resplendent with a cloudless backdrop, all lit up by the late August sun, I’m still just that little bit annoyed.

Tottenham's quite dismal run out against Steve Bruce's men, very nearly ruined what was until then a quite excellent Sunday. Ben Stokes heroics at the crease, followed by a BBQ at my Mum’s. I set my Sky box to record, catching the game a few hours after the final whistle hoping with a beer in hand it would be the crowning glory, but it was quite the opposite.

It really doesn't feel all that long ago since we were staggering away from Wembley stadium, exhausted from the FA Vase final, talking about a football free summer, with plenty to occupy us until it all started again, not least of all Tom’s wedding.

It is because of the aforementioned nuptials, which was quite honestly a magnificent affair, that we are getting our season underway a little later than some. Some are already into double figures, and it’s not even September yet.

Such are the heights the temperature is forecast to hit today, mid 30’s if the weather man is to be believed, I’ve taken a leaf out of the book of the late great Barry White and have furnished myself with a towel to mop my brow throughout the day, although I’m not sure Mr White ever used a gingham tea towel, but it should work all the same.

Your carriage awaits I tell Tom, parked up outside his house. He then utters three words he so rarely uses it throws me, “aren't I driving?”. I could count on one hand how many times in almost five years he has sat behind the wheel, and I am touched that this season he wants to share the responsibility, take up a bit of the slack, but it doesn't take long for his real motive to be clear. It’s not a case of wanting to give Parker a rest, oh no, “I’ve got air con” he explains.

I must be honest the thought of driving for two hours, and the chance of this being extended by the threat of Bank Holiday Monday traffic, as everyone and their mother bolts towards the coast, filled me somewhat full of dread. My “tin can” as Tom has christened my motor, can get somewhat unbearable in the heat.

“No your carriage awaits” Tom repeats, snapping me from what I was sure must have been a daydream and when I open the car to his hulking Mini to the roaring sound of the air conditioner set to “max” it’s a welcome one. Retracting my seat as far back as it will go and familiarising myself with my very own temperature control and where my USB charging point is, I’m all set.

Most of our time on the road is consumed with recounting Tom’s wedding. Getting the lowdown on what my co best man got up to with one of the brides best friends, and what exactly his father in law was going on about, finishing his speech with a joke about a Polish World War Two fighter pilot, that included a myriad of iffy accents and a machine gun impression, “tat, tat, tat, tat, tat”.

Having not spent that much time as a passenger of Tom’s, I never realised quite what a middle lane hogger he is. He’s like a Top Gear joke and he doesn't even know it. More worryingly though, and not quite realising that when I relinquished my driving duties today, I also gave up control of the radio, I’m not sure how long I can cope with two hours of KISS FM’s own nostalgic station KISSTORY.

Although he’s only been married a couple of weeks, he’s already showing signs of change. He’s come to the conclusion that at the ripe old age of thirty five, drinking like he’s eighteen, no longer agrees with him, and it’s time to reign in it, however the downside is, and with the pre wedding Tom turning in his grave, for the last thirty minutes he’s been raving about the “Downton Abbey” esq spa retreat he went to recently.

Passing through the stone plinths that signify you are entering Brighton, Tom like me is “dreading getting out the car” once we arrive at our destination. It might be positively polar inside his car right now, but I’m sure I saw some bitumen bubbling by the side of the road, and I’m not sure my tea towel is up to the task, come full exposure.

“Do you ever get sweaty hands driving?” he asks over the sound of some late 90’s UK garage, hovering his hand over the vent next to him. Not quite sure how to reply to his query, it would be a no, in fear of where the conversation might lead us, I instead study a Hogwarts like edifice on a hill in the distance, but his second heat related statement is one I’m more than happy to engage with, “I wouldn't want to be playing today”.

It’s become somewhat of a tradition to get our season underway on the coast, and once over the tidal wave of heat that hits us both as we climb out of the car, with the faint sound of seagulls in the distance, on a particularly pleasant leafy suburban street in this part of East Sussex, it feels good to be back.

Nothing says ‘welcome to my football club’, like a wrought iron gate with the clubs initials across it. In today's case it’s the yellow WFC of Worthing FC (WFC). Beyond it and the chatty steward wearing a scarf, a fucking scarf, a man on a ride along mower is combing the pitch and the food cabin is ready. Peeking out through the open hatch an army of women prepare for what I hear could be quite a bumper crowd, the condiments already neatly lined up on tables in the mouth of a nearby goal.

I was relieved when I eventually worked out that the ground under me is like that in a child's playground, black and rubbery, with a bit of give, and it’s not a case of me starting to faint. The heat is oppressive and I’ve only gone and left my bloody towel in my car. Setting up in a black marque, effectively a human oven, is a local band going through their final sound check. Wailing away on a Yamaha keyboard set to Hammond Organ they are soon in full flow, belting out Southern Man by Neil Young, that’s drifting in the open door of the club bar at the base of the main stand, that feels distinctly like an Ed’s Diner, where it’s cool and they have large ice filled drinks.

“Best wee ever” states a satisfied Tom, joining me at our table and not one of the booths, that only
add to the American diner vibe. The walls are covered in blown up pictures denoting various highlights in the club's history, and by the way in you're greeted by the wide smile of a man who has been hoisted onto the shoulders of his team mates, holding aloft a sizable bit of silverware.

At the bar a family take turns to guess, for £1 a go, what they think will be the attendance today, with the chance to win whatever ends up in the plastic pint glass and I make it clear in no uncertain terms to the lady with the clipboard martialing it, that I would like a go too.

Not only did Tom relieve himself of a litre or so of water he consumed on the drive, but also took the opportunity to scout out the pin availability, and returns with tales of “drama at the club shop” which sounds like one of Agatha Christie's lesser known novels. A Bognor Regis Town FC (BRT) fan is attempting to “negotiate the price of a pin”, having baulked at the £5 price tag. By all accounts the woman in the club shop stood fast, and fell just short of waterboarding the lone BRT supporter, in her attempt to extract from him the name of the website he said he could get them “cheaper”.

The band are playing some quite excellent music, Tom should really take some notes and we are soon joined at our table by the lady and her clipboard, the plastic pint glass full of cash, as well as my new found confidence that unlike last season, I might win something this year. So I toss my pound coin into the glass with a touch of nonchalance, and make my guess.

Behind us a woman squeals excitedly having been given a bag of wool “Ohhhh I've not got any of those colours” she says, only in non league and as Tom puts it the man on the table next to us is “making a right mess of that”, as he deconstructs his footlong hot dog, sauce everywhere, sausage free of bun, consuming it in three hearty bites.

Further gambling opportunities present themselves in the shape of an old gent in a fold up chair situated by the turnstiles. “Can’t guarantee they're winners,” he explains, ripping the tickets expertly along the perforation and handing them to me. In fact the 50/50 tickets are just the start of the Bermuda triangle of matchday essentials. My programme is soon secured from what is essentially a nearby shed and Tom bags his pin, a perfect enamel version of the club's crest, with three shimmering mackerel on it. despite the slightly higher than average price, “£5 bit pricey”.

I’m glad to report he didn't try and haggle, the lady in the big sun hat, who would also sell you a WFC body warmer for £40, doesn't look like the kind of person you want to quibble with about 50p.
It’s the Doors now filling the air waves, the original version over the PA and not a cover by the very accomplished band who are taking a break away from their self imposed sweat box. The only outstanding part of our well established routine is of course Tom filling his stomach and with the rumoured bumper crowd, he’s getting it now, instead of battling the crowds at half time.

“Oh I have missed them” he murmurs, clutching his onion ladened cheese burger, barely contained within its white paper napkin. It was quite hypnotic watching it being constructed. Cooked on the large grill by a big man with a spatula tending to about thirty patties, he passed it down the line down where a well oiled team of three apply all the necessaries, Henry Ford would be proud.

Having ensured he fitted in his dark green suit, the “wedding diet” is now officially over as Tom puts it, but such is his eagerness to taste grilled beef, cheese and onions after his self imposed football food hiatus, he’s a little hasty taking a bite, and proceeds to burn his mouth, “hot, hot, hot, hot”.

Fanned out in his hand above his head, a man wearing a money belt sells the club fanzine the Rebel Yell. As well as being known as the Mackerel Men, WFC are also known as the Rebels, but not I imagine because of some affinity with Billy Idol. Gone in maybe no more than four bites Tom’s burger is demolished and he comments once again on the “good music”.

With lunch completed, we then make the quite unorthodox move of leaving the ground, before we’ve even seen a ball kicked.

Wafting in the breeze, across the roofs of the neighbouring terraced housing, comes a sound more commonly associated with football much higher up the pyramid and very rarely in this country. It’s clear what it is the first time we hear it, no cupping of the ear is required, and it only gets louder the closer we get, the both of us exchanging a knowing glance at the prospect of what is to come.

Our encounter with the fan march by the WFC supporters group the Away Boys, is somewhat hampered by the arrival of the 12:30 from Brighton. The barrier of the level crossing prevents them from getting any further. The various criss crossing trains do little to stifle their singing, the flimsy red and white gate starts to bounce in rhythm with the latest song, “ole, ole, ole, ole”. Their various flags dancing above their bopping heads, in anticipation of it rising.

When it eventually does, what turns out to be quite a sizable group which had not been first apparent because of the succession of passing trains, occupy the width of the pavement. Led by a long white banner that reads “Fanatics”, the Saturday afternoon traffic is slowed by those who have spilled onto the road. One transit van forced to crawl behind the chanting supporters, and as they get ever closer, for a second looking like they were going to consume us, before making a sharp left turn, the drummer within their ranks, someone who we have crossed paths with before, who is quite proficient, keeps the pace. One of their number, a man in a violet jacket, who has a touch of the Kasabians about him, holds a single red flare above his head, the smoke billowing over his shoulder which mingles with the group behind him.

I think it’s fair to say all the stops have been pulled out for derby day, not to say the WFC home support is not regularly both emphatic and sizable, today's opponent being their most local of rivals, means it’s naturally increased.

From one side of the car lined road to another, the supporters are cloaked in a thick red fog. The flare having been extinguished at the foot of a tree, someone at the front of the column has ignited a billowing red smoke bomb, as the march gets ever closer to Woodside Road, the songs getting louder and louder as they go, “we’re the red army” and at one point the crowd broke out into an energetic chorus of “bouncy, bouncy, bouncy”

It doesn't take long for the newly arrived WFC fans, fresh from their procession to adorn the ground with all manner of flags and banners. In keeping with the strict colour scheme, red and white, a thick crimson band encircles the entirety of the 4G pitch, they fill every available space behind one goal. Adjacent to where the BRT fans have set up shop, hanging from a chain link fence, the stance of the home fans is spelt out, “I’d rather be a Rebel than a Rock”.

With thirty five minutes to kick off, the WFC supporters look on, laughing sarcastically at any perceived mistake made by the BRT players warming up in front of them, between their latest song or bout of pogoing in the small covered terrace they have colonised.

“Welcome to Woodside Road” says the buoyant voice of the PA, who then proceeds to read out the starting elevens once all formal platitudes have been concluded. It’s no big surprise the reception for the away players is a far from a hospitable one, a healthy chorus of boos ring out from all corners after each name, and it’s also no great surprise that the reception for the home players names, is the polar opposite.

The look on the face of one BRT player says that his day might be over before it has even begun. “I've rolled my ankle” he says to the physio and coach with an agonised expression, who with their help, his arms on their shoulders, limps off.

“We hate Worthing, we hate Worthing” is all the BRT supporters can muster from their much larger covered terrace, a couple of their own flags have gone up, but nothing close to the home fans display, in response to the Away Boys rendition of Bob Marley's Three Little Birds, a little bit of Amsterdam in East Sussex. The hands of those singing are not idle mind, many knot the necks of numerous red balloons, in readiness of their pre kick off performance.

It’s quite a wall of sound that greets the teams as they appear from the tunnel at the foot of the main stand, where almost all of its red seats are occupied. A mixture of local ish boys Norman Cook’s Right Here Right now, and the constant drumming, sets the scene for a raucous afternoon ahead.
Cascading, the red balloons, plus a single inflatable sheep rain down from the WFC fans onto the pitch as the PA’s enthusiasm takes a noticeable spike, “let's get behind the boys, come on you reds”.

From our position at the very back of the main stand, we have a perfect view of the pitch, both sets of fans and the downs in the distance. The racket from the WFC supporters is more than considerable not only from behind the goal, but all over the ground. However they have a cuckoo among them, in the form of BRT’s very own commentator. With his laptop perched on his knee, him and his co commentator huddled around his iPhone handsfree set, he turns a few heads with his own boisterous shout, “come on you Rocks”.

“A frantic start” is how he describes the opening exchanges, both teams with early chances, BRT’s being the best, a low powerful shot, that’s just reached by the WFC keeper. The odd balloon still bobbles along the pitch, but as of yet have not looked like they're to cause a Sunderland Vs Liverpool situation. BRT beat the offside trap, the forward rushes towards goal, but the man between the sticks claims the through ball in the nick of time.

With both sets of fans more than playing their part, it's a lively start to the El Clasicoast
Normally the kind of topic reserved for the sixty first minute of a dire 0 - 0, the conversation going on

around us among some home and away old boys, is one I’m franky shocked to hear ten minutes into a spirited derby day encounter. “If we lose three a year it’s a miracle,” says one man in a BRT tie, at the sight of a hoofed clearance clearing the fence and into a nearby garden.

It’s been a fairly tentative start by the home side, but with ten gone, they have more than grown into it and almost take the lead via the head of a BRT defenders head.

Not long after the visitors are away again on one of their blistering counterattacks. Outnumbering WFC at the back, the wide player looks to find his team mate in the box with a whipped cross, only for an interception by the WFC number 5 or as the BRT commentator puts it, ladened with praise, “what a block by marvelous Marvin”.

The fact that the main stand is chocka, has given many few other options then to brave the unrelenting sun. Most if not all are required to shield their eyes with their hands to have any chance
of making out what's going on.

Manically waving his flag, the home fans and players claim for a penalty, the referee takes heed of his assistants signal and blows his whistle, but points to the extremity of the box instead of the spot. “He shoots” shouts the BRT commentator, expelling far more energy in saying so, then ended up in the eventual set peace, the attempt at goal gathered with ease.

Approaching twenty minutes gone and we've been spoilt for half chances, but as of yet neither team has grabbed one with both hands. BRT are very much set up for the counter, two in short succession almost put them ahead, but on both occasions the final touch or lack of it, kills the chance dead in the water.

“Like a boxer on the ropes” explains the BRT commentator to his listeners, as his side come under their first period of sustained pressure. A free kick is not lumped into the box as anticipated, but is instead slid down the side of the wall with great accuracy, where it is met by a WFC forward whose first time shot is beaten away. Chipped back in, the ball falls to a WFC player who sends another effort goalward from a narrow angle, hitting the post.

An injury to a BRT player gives both sides the chance to head to the dugouts for a much needed water. The break in play sees what until then had been a relentless atmosphere dip ever so slightly, the general hubbub of matchday still simmers away, with the odd sporadic shout from the sidelines replacing the din of before.

“Ohhhhhhh” gasps the home crowd, their team first to register a chance after the restart. A crossed ball finds an unmarked player, but his attempt at a volley is miss timed, and another chance goes begging, not that Tom is paying much attention to the frequent goalmouth action. He as ever finds his entertainment in the minutia, in the strangest of insignificant details. “He’s massive for a left back” he gawps, at admittedly the very tall defender, “he’s like a basketball player”.

Someone is going to have to take one of these chances soon or they are going to end up sorely regretting it. A back post header from BRT that looked destined to be the opener, is somehow clawed out by the WFC keeper and the resulting corner sees them find enough space for another attempt but the shot is scuffed and off target.

Perhaps he was distracted by the intermittent blasts of his supporters air horn or the repetitive shouts of “we’re the green army”, but having been found with pinpoint precision, the ball along the front of the WFC defence, teasingly out of reach for them all, the BRT forward just can’t get the ball out of his feet, and the gilt edged chance can’t be converted. With fans and players alike frustrated at his momentary lack of dexterity, he gets some small reprieve, via the raised flag of the referee's assistant, so it wouldn't have counted any way. Which of course he knew, hence why he didn't really try.

“Off, off, off” demand the travelling fans, a late home tackle was a tad late, but not red worthy. The guilty player takes his talking to and yellow card quietly.

What is the average English fans aversion to a drum? I really don’t get it. Clearly not fans of the home supporters choice of percussion, the away end suggests they “stick that fucking drum up” their “arse”, and this is coming from the people with an air horn, which I could quite happily see disappear up someone's anus, long before the drum ever did. Regardless the air horns cameo is short lived, maybe it did end up in someones bum, because after thirty five minutes, I don’t remember it rearing its head again. It’s owner never really having any justifiable reason to use it.

A clanger, a howler, a real case of butter fingers, call it what you will the BRT keeper has had a shocker. The tamest of shoulder high shots, somehow slithers through his Lurpak smothered digits, over his shoulder and into the back of the net. First blood to the home side.

Sinking to the ground, face buried into the artificial surface, it’s only because of the help from a teammate that the BRT keeper gets back up, otherwise I think he would have happily stayed right there. Arms outstretched like he’s running towards a loved one, the scorer, WFC’s number 5 makes the short dash towards the fans ready to receive him and the rest of the team following up. Both players and fans leaping on top of him, to congratulate him.

The response from the away fans is stirring but oh so brief,  “champions of Sussex we know what we are” however their attempt to rally, soon turns to cries of announce, one shirtless fan punches the air and then crashes his fist off the hoarding. Seconds after the restart they are presented with a sure chance to reclaim parity, but fluff their lines once more.

In on goal the home fans collectively hold their breath, until the shot has cleared the crossbar. “Weyyyyyy” they jeer, a nearby houses kitchen window only saved by the high mesh net, there to do exactly that, in times of such wayward marksmanship.

It’s the latest chant doing the rounds, the one that I automatically associate with Liverpool, but that has been appropriated by countless sets of supporters all over the world I’m sure, that now spills out of the home end. Another “weyyyyy” goes up at the sight of the latest wild long range BRT shot, but instead of focusing on the pitch, Tom is gawking once again, this time at a mother dishing out the treats to her two small kids.

Admittedly I have to concur with his astute observations, yes Cadburys Fingers during a heatwave was a rookie mistake, “I bet those chocolate fingers are a bit soft”, but there is a half decent football match going on. His smug level is through the roof when both children end up looking like they have each applied full face chocolate make up, their hands and about everywhere from their forehead down is now brown.

The half comes to an end with not quite a flourish of chances, more a smattering and in keeping with the narrative so far, nothing comes of them. WFC are first up, the attempt at a flicked finish on the edge of the six yard box, does not quite have the power required to threaten and then BRT, who have probably had the lion's share of possession since the goal, find themselves in the box again, but the shot is limp and they very nearly go in at the break further behind, however WFC can’t make the most of BRT’s mix up in defence.

“Great take, great control” says the BRT commentator through gritted teeth. The cross field pass to the WFC number 7 on the far side of the pitch is plucked from the sky with aplomb. Continuing his run, he winds around the BRT defense like a slalom skier, with only the keeper to beat, his shot is just lacking and he puts it wide.

It’s a rather low key change of ends, the migration of the two sets of supporters, and the potential for aggro, goes off without incident. On the pitch, the person responsible for pulling my 50/50 ticket out the hat, is a man who has just completed “sixty eight marathons in seven days” running all the way from “Istanbul to Worthing”. Before securing me my first win of the season, he does the draw for a “signed ball”, which is won by “Ed Norton”.

“Start as you mean to go on” says Tom, laughing at his own joke. I of course and no thanks to the bearded bionic man below, will not be taking the “£85” prize home with me today.

The home fans more than fill their new spot for the new half, their selection of flags and banners has gone up in no time and the drum is front and centre to welcome the players. With just as much gusto as before, the PA lets out his war cry “come on you reds” and the Away Boys are in fine voice as the game resumes, “what do we think of Bognor? Shit”.

It wasn't exactly an auspicious ending to the first half for the Rocks and their start to the second is just about as convincing. Giving the ball way, WFC are quick to counter, the last ditch defending sees
the forward bundled over inches outside the box, it was all that could really be done to prevent going further behind. The free kick is over, but BRT look rattled, the home team are getting into their stride and the fans can sense it, and only get louder from here on “I'd rather be a Rebel than a Rock”.

“This is poor” says the BRT commentator close to a melt down, almost out of his seat he watches WFC swing in a deep cross that only needs the faintest of touches, but his team get a reprieve, as no one is there to meet it. BRT are under the cosh, they’re being forced right back, the home team pepper the box with cross after cross and this onslaught only riles the WFC fans up further, “can you hear the Bognor sing, we can’t hear a fucking thing”.

WFC go close again to doubling their lead, “If that was in, game over” laments the man in front of me, shouting ever louder into his hands free kit, this time a player on the line is on hand to clear.

It’s not a bout of butter fingers this time, but another BRT error that ultimately sees them fall further behind. What some might call a ‘hospital pass’ across the back line is latched onto. The player with the ball travels further and further into the area, his teammates call for him to pass, but he just keeps on going. At one point it looks like the chance has gone, only for him to roll it home past the hapless BRT keeper, sending the home end into raptures.
“We want 6” demands someone in the main stand, they want to see them from down the coast well and truly put to the sword. The scorer races away with his index finger pushed againt his lips shushing the BRT fans and The Away Boys encourage each other to “go fucking mental” and the scenes under the low slung flat roof terrace are akin to a mosh pit.

Tom is concerning himself with the big stuff once again, wondering why the match is being played with a “yellow ball” as well as the welfare of the man in charge, “the ref needs some sun cream, he’s getting pinker and pinker”.

On twenty three minutes the game is all but over, the BRT commentator has his head in his hands, the home end might have just peaked, “Worthing” they roar, WFC have just added to their tally, now three goals to the good. BRT look like a very different team to the one who started so brightly and are close to getting humiliated if they are not careful. Three could easily become five.

Such is the level of the traveling teams second half performance, not to take anything from the home side, they have looked like they have had a real fire in their bellies since the restart, it takes BRT almost twenty five minutes to fashion their first chance of the half. A low snap shot is kept out well by the WFC keeper who has had next to nothing to do.

A second effort in less than a minute behind, but is not the start of some great BRT resurgence, more perhaps just the case of WFC taking their foot of the gas. The fans behind the goal mind do anything of the kind, “la, la, la, la Worthing” they sing, before reiterating the fact, in case anyone had forgotten, “we hate Bognor”.

Sitting behind the BRT commentator has opened a small window into a world I know very little about. One somewhat takes for granted the silver tongued wordsmiths, who guide us, with varying results though whatever televised match you may be watching. As with life, there are various styles, the fact filled monologues of Motson, the boundless energy of seemingly any Latin American, but one thing they all share is a certain high standard, consummate professionalism, one thing you don't expect are outbursts and personal opinions.

I am therefore a little shocked when following a mistake by the BRT keeper, his attempt to control a pass back sees the ball roll under his foot and in an attempt to reach it, there is a coming together and a fleeting melee breaks out, to see the BRT commentator who until then had been animated but PG rated, leap to his feet, and fire off a tirade in the direction of the WFC player tangling with his, “fucking wanker”.

The almost Paul Robinson faux pax is not the end of the BRT keepers somewhat erratic behaviour, “he’s getting a bit flappy” comments Tom, his latest attempt to punch the ball clear is far from decisive. “He saved a shot, he saved a shot” sing the home end driven on by the tireless work of the drummer, poking fun at one player who is already having a it of a bad day and really could do without it.

In their number 5, “marvelous Marvin” as he was earlier dubbed, WFC have a player who is apparently blessed with an unlimited supply of stamina, an eye for goal which he has already proved and the ability to be in the right place at the right time, all the time. Popping up all over the place, winning back the ball or latching onto loose passes, he is becoming quite a considerable thorn in the BRT side.

When the BRT fans who have been a bit dormant are stirred, making an appeal for a penalty which is waved away, this sudden up turn in noise is quickly pounced upon, “your support is fucking shit”. The announcement of the attendance, something I wouldn't normally acknowledge, but today I keenly listen out for, considering there's a prize a stake, is “1,684” meaning I won’t be bagging that prize either.

My cogitating about what the person who has just fired up their nearby BBQ might be having is only fleeting. “Marvelous Marvin” is back at it, this time in the BRT box, but he just can't sort his feet out, and the ball is poked clear for a corner. The ease in which he got into a shooting position, is summed up perfectly by the now far less sweary commentator, “like a knife through hot butter”.

Despite the conditions, I’m close to melting in the shade with a cold drink, the home fans have been relentless, “oh when the reds go marching in”. More pressure on the BRT back line brings about another chance, a hurried pass is swept up in a flash, and the player with the ball can see the headlines before he’s even scored. Shaping up to shoot, he’s already imagining all the pats on the back and offers to buy him a drink, but his shot is way off target, forcing him to raise an apologetic hand to a teammate in a far better position.

Into the final ten and BRT heads are almost on their chests, the jeers from the home fans as they rack up only their third chance of the half, is almost cruel. Well ahead and the result all but confirmed, “marvelous Marvin” has played his last part, his substitution much to Tom’s dismay, “fives off” he gasps, “oh Marvin”.

Not only is he gutted at the departure of one of the stand out players of the day, but he’s also growing more and more concerned about the state of the referee who he points out is now the “same colour as the Worthing shirt. Get him some after sun”.

With the five minutes of the half remaining, Tom then turns to me all Jose Mourinho, just like he would to his team on the bench, five minutes away from a victory, but falling short of shaking my hand, he looked me dead in the eye, “no way back for Bognor”.

His team might be languishing, but this has far from affected the BRT commentators enthusiasm, “back into the danger zone” he yelps, when the visitors have one of their all too rare forays into the WFC box, however the looping half volley at Tom puts it is “crap” and just about “sums their day up”.

Every pass to the BRT keeper is greeted with derision, he certainly looks like he might have another mistake in him, Tom convinced he’s wearing “two left boots”. That might be the case, but it's one of them that keeps WFC from making it four. The forward points to where he wants the ball, and gets it. He shoots first time, only for the BRT keeper to keep him out, blocking with his feet.

Three Little Birds is blasted out again and such is one man's determination to get his head on a clearance, he completely forgets he’s on the stairs of the main stand, and not terrafirma and almost crashes down them in his attempt to nut the ball back onto the pitch. He neither fell or missed the opportunity to receive a warm “weyyy” from the crowd and looks chuffed.

“Fucking hope not” replies a steward when he’s asked if he thinks there is going to be a “pitch invasion”. The home end is close to erupting, they are the loudest they have been all day by far, “whooooooo, ohhhhhhhh”. The same steward pointing out the home end is “bit different to last week” after their somewhat sobering defeat.

Both sets of players approach their respective supporters come the final whistle, the difference in mood is striking. The BRT players applaud the effort of those that have traveled, however either side of the hoardings be it on the pitch or the terrace, is pretty lifeless.

The WFC players on the other hand are full of swagger, full of all the bravado that comes with a resounding derby day victory. The Away Boys are now like that upbeat Spotify playlist you made yourself to get through the commute to work or to get you up for the gym. Song after song, “red army, red army” and my personal favourite an adaptation of a Celtic chant, but with an obvious change, “come on you boys in red”. Very much without the ads, there are no interruptions, just banging tunes one after another. The drummer at one point so vigorous in his pounding, the white fluffy tip of his drumstick flies off onto the pitch and has to be recovered.

We’ve said it before, we’re never going to tell anyone there is a right way or a wrong way to support your club, you do what suits you, however the way the Away Boys went about it today, the energy, the man in the violet jacket in the throngs of the terrace using two beer bottles as effectively maracas, is the kind of support that I want to be around, the kind that stands the hairs on the back of my neck. The drum, despite what the BRT fans might think, all the flags, is captivating.

In their recent past at least WFC are a club whose history is forged around tragedy, a car crash that left a former player confined to a wheelchair. Investing his compensation money into the club, not on a whim or as a vanity project, but as a long term project to not only save his local team from extinction, but also to give the local community something to be proud of, something to unify behind. A connection that perhaps had previously been lacking.

Talking to Pete Stone the club's Executive Chairman about the clubs ethos he explained their mantra, their core value “ambition without ego”, which was was more than apparent from the moment we arrived.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE

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