Thursday 24 October 2019

Engage - Highworth Town FC Vs Swindon Supermarine FC, Southern League Challenge Cup 1st Round, The Elms (02/10/19)

“You live in a stupid area” whines Tom, annoyed that the space my car has just pulled out of, yes I’m driving, the status quo has resumed, is not big enough to accommodate his wide hipped gas guzzler. “Silly small car, silly parking” he mumbles under his breath like a cantankerous white haired muppet on a theatre balcony. It takes him at least three tries, in three different spaces, before he eventually finds one he can get into, much like the Goldilocks of parking: one was too short, one was too narrow, the third being just right.

Just about settled in, just about over his parking debacle, Tom’s choice of topic of conversation is of course the weather. “Is it going to rain?” he asks himself, peering out of the car. “Its that time of year” he says, exactly what he means by that I’m not sure, but it's clearly causing him much consternation what combination of numerous items of clothing he has dragged from his car into mine.

The latest incarnation of FIFA occupies almost the entirety of our drive west, and Tom's upcoming honeymoon in the Maldives, that despite my best efforts, will be happening during the season. Tom going all European on me, having himself a winter break, while we’re all Brexiting at home.

As is the case each year, Tom talks to me through the intricacies of Football Ultimate Team, speaking almost in another language, I try and decipher a few bits I think I understand, but it's all a bit over my head. I’m very much a career mode guy, got to get Southend to the Premier League, as I have done, with the few exceptions of when I did it with Barnet, every year for the last fifteen.

Only two other subjects manage to crowbar their way into proceedings, one is, unusual player celebrations, and Tom’s aversion to anything including mixed cheese. He’s OK with a single cheese, like on a pizza or toast, but mix multiple cheeses in one meal, well let's just say it’s not pretty, “does not react well” he says while having a momentary flashback.

Something that certainly is pretty, is the countryside we are winding our way through, in this particular part of Wiltshire. Yes Wiltshire, when I said West, I didn't mean Chiswick and after all the cheese and FIFA chat, the car has fallen very quiet. A quick glance over at Tom and I understand why. He is astutely studying his phone, I ask him what he is doing, and he tells me “buying and selling”. His FIFA 20 grind extending much further than his living room sofa, as I negotiate the motorway, he’s flogging second division Spanish players, to earn a handful of FIFA coins.

Anyone who is a regular player of computer games, will know grinding is a routine part of 99% of games nowadays, collecting thousands of stone or wood to craft a new cart, but who knew such behaviour was required in FIFA?

Despite the well meaning sign, what it is actually pointing to is not exactly clear on first inspection. A further sign, one displaying the details of tonight's match confirms we are in the right place and I can see The Elms home of Highworth Town FC (HT), floodlights and what I’m guessing is the clubhouse perched overlooking the pitch, however between us and it is a sizeable field with kids playing on it.

It is soon apparent why all the signs direct you to the spacious car park, the other side of the field, and not to the one directly next to the ground, that it shares with the neighbouring swimming baths, because it's tiny and full of parents dropping their children off for their lessons.

I must do at least three or four laps of it, until I’m lucky enough to stumble across a space just about big enough to fit my modestly sized car, the same could not be said if it had been Tom’s, so up yours mate. However some people are not so lucky, as we approach the single turnstile, one man is going around and around and around, all signs of hope having completely drained from his eyes.

At the far end of the pitch, one very eager Swindon Supermarine FC (SSFC) supporter has already fastened their flag to the fence behind the goal, however there is something much more apparent between us and it, that needs mentioning, something the kind of which you won't see everyday, even in non league.

“You looking at that hill?” asks one SSFC player barely able to contain his laughter to another coming in, who looks slightly in shock. The change in gradient from one corner of the pitch to the other is staggering, as Tom puts it, it's like a pool table in the pub that too many people have sat on the corner of. Regardless of what you do, the cue ball always ends up rolling that way.

Other than the slope, there is not much else of mention. It’s a very peaceful setting, the sound of dogs being walked in the park behind occasionally break, the relative silence. It's getting a bit dark for anyone to be playing in the playground visible over the fence, and in another twist, to add to the rarity of the slope, the ground is only three sided, which we later learn is down to the adjoining cricket club, the fence having to come down whenever a game is on and HT have to get “special dispensation to play without it”.

The man in one of the two flat roofed stands with their mixture of black and red seats, sloping down the hill along one side of the pitch, the same side as the large tree that might be responsible for the conkers littering the goal mouth, is absolutely hammering his packed lunch and won't have any left if he carries on at the rate he’s going and I can only hope Tom’s premonition of rain is wrong, because there is a distinct lack of cover.

“Lots of wood here” notices Tom, and he’s not wrong. The Elms most definitely has a bit of a Nordic sauna feel to it, well at least one part of it does. The brand spanking new structure by the entrance stands out quite a bit compared to the rest of the ground. Opposite it, with a plaque on the wall celebrating past glories, Hellenic League Champions 2004-05, is a building much more in keeping with what we’re used to seeing. Single storey, white UPVC windows and swinging doors, the clubhouse.

“Not coming in here with them” says the apparent HT prefect standing guard on the door to a man who has just arrived with his own chips, “disrespectful” he mutters to those clutching their non club sanctioned food.

The sun now gone, having set gloriously over the cricket pitch side of the ground, its now cold, really cold and Tom smirks, “I bet you’re glad you don't have shorts on”. The warm lights of the clubhouse draw us in, the doorman is nowhere to be seen, our entrance is accompanied by the Champions League music buzzing through the speakers of one of the TV on the wall.

It’s been a while since I’ve stepped into one, the summer to me at least making them a bit redundant, much rather sit outside, then be cooped up inside, but edging closer and closer to winter they really come into their own. The shelter from the cold, the promise of a warm drink, the reassuring blinking of the fruit machines lights, absolutely delightful.

“Food is limited” whispers Tom, after his brief stint at the small table covered in milk and sugar, making our teas. “Pot Noodle” he informs me is about as good as it gets, before slinking off to the loo in a bit of a grump. On his return, he doesn't bother to sit down, “time for a Pot Noodle and a pie” he tells me, the menu having doubled in size in the brief time he was in the toilet, and although it's not going to be as plentiful as his usual order, he admits it will “fill a hole”.

Sitting in its own silver tray, which is sitting in half of a yellow polystyrene one, Tom looks far from enamoured with his dinner. “They've got a Cornish pasty” he tells me before taking a bite of his pie, his back drop the kind of advertising covered board you'd usually see Brendon Rogers conduct an interview in front of, and I’m trying to suss out why he is drip feeding me the menu information, it’s so tedious. However with a mouthful of pastry and chicken he’s soon moved on, ruing the fact he “should have bought a thicker coat” and for at least the two hundredth time in almost five years, he tells me that he needs to get himself a “Wenger jacket”.

It’s quite the descent down the slope from the changing rooms behind the clubhouse to pitchside, where the referee waits with a neon yellow ball in hand and it’s now we get our first taste of the booming PA. Which had previously been playing a reasonable selection of music at a very appropriate level, but the volume the starting elevens are being read out at, is of Deaf Leppard’esq proportions.

Tom is far from a fan of midweek cup action, the possibility of extra time and even penalties, winds him up no end, so I know he will be just about the happiest person here when we are all told by the person manning the microphone, that he has been “intelligently informed that the match will not go to penalties” if it is a stalemate at the end of the ninety.

A very angry “get into them” from a SSFC player follows the whistle as we get underway and Tom having had a quick scan of our surroundings, is somewhat surprised that “there are a few people here”, but no one stands with the SSFC flag still hanging alone at the far end of the slope, sorry I mean pitch. Some have “not bothered leaving the bar” he laughs. The terrace outside the bar, is as far as a few are prepared to venture, but as Tom points out they've probably got the “best view here”.

It’s a feisty start to the game, which Tom confirms is normally the way according to an overheard conversation earlier, two home fans discussing how there is always seemingly a “red card in this game”. Both sets of players are very shouty, very vocal, and there is a reasonable amount of chatter and general football noise coming from the end SSFC are attacking, however the other, where the sad flag is, is deserted. Which might have something to do with quite how narrow it is, about a man wide or the chance of being hit by a falling conker being very high.

“Cheeky” scoffs Tom at the sight of a slightly ambitious snap shot by a HT player, that is well, well over and its soon SSFC, the team from the league above time to have a pop, there shot at least hitting the target. An unfortunate slip by a home defender sees them in, but the HT keeper is equal to the attempt, and stops it with his feet. Then HT go close once more, the match swinging from one end to another, a low shot wide of the post and then SSFC sting the palms of the man in goal for the home side with a long range dipping shot, all this action condensed into about four or five minutes.

Now you will understand why I won't pass comment on Tom’s latest observation, as it could be construed to be a little hypocritical if I did, but he is convinced the referee is a “bit fat”. When he gets no reply from me, he answers his own quandary, “he looks a bit tubs” and when I don’t entertain his body shaming, he sharply changes topic. Informing me as he always does around this time of the season, about how he’s “not looking forward to winter this year” and I remind him as I always do of the time he told me how much he looked forward to the day of a snow covered match, and we conclude that he likes the idea of aspects of it, how nice it will look on his Instagram feed, but he has made no practical consideration of how fucking cold it might get.

Both the home and away players cackle at the referee's latest decision, for wholly different reasons. The SSFC player went down very softly, “he dived” interjects Tom, winning the set piece in a threatening advanced position.

A quarter of an hour in, and as Tom puts it SSFC have notably “ramped it up a bit” kicking into a higher gear, they stroke the ball around effortlessly, testing the home keeper again with a thunderous
strike, that he is only able to palm away. “Fucking hell” he says to himself, the ball moving all over the show, almost catching him out.

The introduction of an early SSFC substitute is unfortunate for the player going off, clearly in some discomfort, and is also the cue for another assault for our eardrums. I’ll take some responsibility for the fact that we are standing quite close to a speaker, but the volume the announcement is being broadcast, I’m surprised isn't forcing locals in their droves to write angrily worded letters to the council.

Looking on in woolly hats and gloves the substitutes watch HT work the ball up well to the edge of the box, cutting in from the wing, a home fan senses some promise, “go on” he stammers, but the final ball is nigh on assaulted out of the box by “big blue” as Tom dubs him, a hulking SSFC defender and the danger passes.

The way footballers talk never ceases to intrigue me, their choice of words and blurted one line sentences, make up a whole dialect, reserved only for the ninety minutes of the match and very rarely at any other time. Sometimes it can be easy to decode, easy to get the gist of what they are getting at, but sometimes it can be impenetrable. To this day I still don't know what “pigeon steps” means. The SSFC winger though fluent in footballer knew exactly what the man in the box meant when he said “a little one”, the wide man dinking the ball to him perfectly on the edge of the six yard box, but his flicked header is over.

Judging by their performance so far, with almost twenty five minutes gone, it's clear SSFC have ever more gears to change up into if they wish, they are running at half speed if that, them scoring feels like only a matter of time, their number 9, Tom points out is “the one to watch” his dribbling “amazing”. He is very much at the centre of everything.

“Bit harsh” sniggers Tom, the home bench far from happy at the foul being given against them, “fuck off”. Another HT indiscretion, another free kick awarded, this time there is little complaint, the tackle getting a teeth sucking “ohhhh” from Tom, it wasn't pretty. The resulting set piece sees SSFC go close once more, they are giving the home keeper a right work out. The low stooping header is somehow kept out and minutes later the HT stopper is at it again, his one handed save from another header even gets the plaudits of the SSFC substitutes “save”. Managing to push the ball wide, he looks on as it bobbles along the goal line and out for a corner.

Our conversation with Derek an HT official about the “tricast predictor” and how “half” the money raised goes towards helping to maintain “the pitch”, is interrupted by him becoming very animated, “good save” he cries. It’s now the turn of the SSFC keeper to display some cat like reflexes, a header at the end of a quality cross is kept out and would have been quite an undeserved lead, had they taken it.

Derek also confirmed, something we have known for a while that the League Cup equivalent in this division, is as well respected as it is everywhere else, which is not at all. This season the Southern League couldn't even find a “sponsor” for it he tells me, and tonight's encounter is “more competitive than it normally would be” because “of who the teams are”, otherwise it would be a very damp squib.

It’s only the home players laughing this time, when their reasonable claim for a free kick is waved away and then its the turn of the SSFC number ten to reel off a few expletives when he can’t get the ball out of his feet in the box, “fuck off”. He needn't be too hard on himself, they have another chance to take the lead shortly after, but the stabbed effort is right at the keeper, it’s only a matter of time.

“Get hold of the game ref” barks a man from the SSFC technical area, following a home attack that started after a very heavy challenge. One HT player insists the player responsible, “got the ball”, making his sides case, as the player now in possession flies down the wing, but nothing comes of it

It’s a low key response to the half time whistle to say the least. Tom follows Derek having taken him up on the offer of a much needed cup of tea or coffee in my case. A SSFC official clutching a clipboard passes us having a hotly contested debate with himself, suggesting, to himself may I reiterate, that it’s “only a matter of time before the first red card”.

With Tom having already eaten, and no anticipation of the raffle or 50/50 results to come for entertainment, although it’s more entertaining for Tom of course, who takes much glee from how depressed I get when I don’t win, it's a rather sedate half time for us, however we are both shaken from our reverie brought upon us by the hot drink by the growling SSFC keeper making himself comfortable at our end, “straight in” he barks.

Surprisingly, it's the home side who go close first, the new half only minutes old. “You what, no way” says a SSFC player, dumbfounded that the referee has awarded HT a corner, many of the visiting players each wear a look of unbridled shock across their faces and this phantom corner kick, rears its head the next time the ball goes out. “Corner, corner” appeal a couple of SSFC players, the referee not seeing the funny side, instead pointing to the keeper to signify a goal kick with a very sour look on his face.

Despite the amount of time the ball has spent in the HT box, Tom is certain the game has “0-0 written all over it” and if no one is going to make the effort to at least get in the penalty area, “no one in the box man” laments one SSFC player, a cross into the channel goes unchallenged, he might be right.

“Ohhh that would have been nice” grins Tom, his mood improved by a rising SSFC shot from the edge of the box, that just misses the cross bar, the ball having been latched onto after a poor punch from the HT man in goal.

We might not be getting any closer to a goal, but we are certainly edging ever closer to a red card. “Oh that's a tackle” grimaces Tom, a full blooded HT challenge wins the ball back, but how fairly I’m not sure. SSFC’s number 9 trademark slick passing is just not sticking anymore and the “home players are fighting among themselves” Tom highlights, all making for an unpredictable final thirty minutes.

I’m trying to keep upbeat, but the chance of a goal is diminishing by the second, the fact the the visitors almost score directly from a corner, but don't, makes me wonder what have they got to do to take the lead and a slightly scything SSFC tackle sees the first booking of the game.

“Does it really need to be that loud” gripes Tom, the PA is deafening us both once more, “you’d be really pissed off if you lived over there” he states, pointing way off in the distance. He rightly adds, there are “only a couple of hundred people here” so it really does seem unnecessary.

Just before the quarter of an hour mark SSFC go agonisingly close with a back post volley, Tom is close to freezing and is asking me to go and get him “some woolly gloves”, and much like a London bus, we then don't just get one goal, but two in as many minutes.

“That was a very muted celebration” says Tom, the fact they have actually finally taken the lead only
made certain by the return of the PA, but he’s not much help, “scored by Supermarine and I‘d love to tell you who he was”.

If Tom thought the display that followed the first SSFC goal was underwhelming, he’s not seen anything yet. The reaction to doubling their lead by the SSFC players is “even more muted” than before, says a confused Tom. We know barely anyone gives a toss about this competition, but they could at least pretend to be happy. Tom’s overriding concern now, is not that we are going to see no goals, but that we are going to see “loads”. He also wonders if HT are going to well and truly “fall apart” after quite a spirited performance so far this half, SSFC second might just tip them over into, ‘we just don’t give a shit territory’.

“Engage, engage, engage” repeats the SSFC keeper, a clear Star Trek fan, doing his best to instruct a defender to stop the HT player getting closer and closer to his area. On one bench someone is blasting away on their vape, leaving a massive and slightly guilty looking cloud hanging above them and not for the first time tonight, the HT keeper, despite conceding, does his man of the match credentials no harm with a super save beating out a goal bound header.

SSFC keeper is continues to quote Jean-Luc Picard and Tom is pretty sure HT haven't had a shot on goal yet, with more than twenty minutes on the clock, which might explain the players continued squabbling, one calling another a “fucking dickhead”.

“Ohh he’s back” shudders Tom, the PA is on again, and as Tom adds the “bar sounds lively” the goings on in the clubhouse more than audible and having watched a fair bit of Star Trek as a kid, I was a Next Generation enthusiasts, sod Deep Space 9 I never heard Jean-Luc Picard say “fucking engage”. This time the SSFC keeper taking it up a notch, his defenders sloppy, allowing the HT player far too much time on the ball to send his dipping shot just over.

Heading towards the final quarter of the game, the chances are still coming. A SSFC cross causes all sorts of confusion, the ball eventually hacked clear by a HT defender, but the visitors don't have it all their own way, the crowd “ohhhh” following a save by the SSFC keeper low down to his right, only for SSFC to show just what they are capable off, racing off straight down the other end, outnumbering the HT defence, but can't capitalise

“That dog is pissed” says a concerned Tom, a nearby K9 going bonkers somewhere off in the darkness, that other than the Enterprise obsessed SSFC keeper, it is the loudest thing here. The home crowd are silent, so much so that when someones phone starts playing Tequila by The Cramps, I don't think there is a person here not humming along.

Applause, an actual emotional response, SSFC have just added to their tally, and the bench are feeling ruthless, “lets score again”.

One way to not ingratiate yourself with your teammates, is the overuse of flashy unproductive footwork, especially when you are three goals down. Back and forth, back and forth goes the HT winger, one drag back after another, that gets him nowhere, eventually he loses the ball, his teammates livid and his manager even more so. “Tell him” he shouts. What I imagine that would be is, stop prating about.

Even though they have well and truly taken their foot off the gas, no need to expel any unnecessary energy, SSFC crown their rout with a forth, that gets a “yesss” from the crowd, there is life out there after all, the SSFC scorer slamming it home from the edge of the box.

The final five minutes is just one SSFC attack after another, the visiting players are queueing up to score, Tom thinks for all concerned that referee should just call it quits, “come on blow the whistle I’m cold”.

It's only because we hear the referee tell one HT player there are “two minutes” left, that we have any idea how much more of this we have to endure. As Tom points out, “they don't even bother with the stoppage time board” and when the game comes to an end it's only because all the players starting walking off towards the slope to trudge back up the hill, do we know the game is actually done. A few SSFC fans offer up a few shouts of congratulations, “well done”, but all in all, tonight might just be the dearest four nil win, we are ever likely to see.

We learnt two things tonight, firstly about the interesting relationship between the two clubs which are no more than four miles apart, where as Derek put it over the years there has been "quite the interchange of players" between the sides. Players "fall out with one club" but "don't want to travel too far" so just end up playing for the other, more than a few "go round in circles".

We also learnt something really we already knew, something that we are reminded of each time we see a game like this, in a competition no one gives a toss about, the only saving grace tonight being the match up was between two "local rivals" as the booming PA put it, which gave it a modicum of intrigue, but as Tom put it, there was the distinct feeling from more than one person, that "no one wanted to be here".

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE

'LIKE' us on Facebook


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our YouTube channel

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

Sunday 13 October 2019

Stanley Matthews Would Have Scored - Bracknell Town FC Vs Westfield FC, Isthmian League South Central, Larges Lane (18/09/19)

I have to admit I do feel a tad guilty as I disembark the good ship parenting, my daughter in the middle of a full blown meltdown, I can still hear her as I speed march away from my house, leaving her in the capable hands of my other half, who was let's say not best pleased at my decision to ascend the gang plank, at this particular juncture.

The last vestiges of summer are still clinging on, which of course means I’m opting for shorts, despite my ravaged legs, and I don't mean that in a sexy Victorian way, more an eaten alive kind of way, they're looking a little ropey to say the least. In fact the weather is surprisingly good, you'd be hard pressed to imagine it's almost October, however the melancholy playlist Tom’s opted for, oh yes I forgot to mention he’s driving again, insane, is bumming me right out.

His song choices reflect perfectly the “anxiety” he admits to feeling as we head towards the M25. “It never ends well" he sighs as we head down the ramp and merge with the four lane behemoth. He’s right of course, any previous venture where this particular highway has been required has very rarely gone to plan. Tom pointing out “as long as it's not closed”, we might just be OK.

I do my best to distract myself from the absolutely dire music, by staring at his new kidney bean shaped car freshener Tom now has dangling from his rear view mirror, but thankfully soon our surroundings are more than enough to occupy me and help me forget I’ve just been subjected to three Radiohead songs in a row.

“Oh fancy” chirps Tom, as we pass a very swanky looking university, and you can feel the closer we get to the Royal County, that the property prices start to sky rocket. “Bit rich round here” he adds, “Range Rovers, Astons, that's all I’ve seen so far”. I must admit I’m somewhat relieved I’m not driving, my little tin can would stick out like a sore thumb.

Past Wentworth Golf course, past what look like ancient ruins, that are probably just some affluent garden ornament, ‘I’d like a to scale Acropolis out front please’ was one home owners request, and when we roll into Ascot, well it's a game changer, this really is how the other half live.

“Well nice, here” gasps Tom, money quite literally dripping from the street lights. Right before us the monolith that is the racecourse grows up out of the ground, like something from a sci fi epic. The main stand draped in union jacks, barely contained by the piddly red brick wall that surrounds it. It’s quite a sight and has completely taken my mind of Tom’s morose playlist.

Pointing to a shop window, full of mannequins dressed in race day finery, Tom suggests we could stop to get me a “hat”, knowing full well that my ‘megaton warhead’ as my brother calls it, is completely unsuitable for any off the shelf headgear, prick.

A bowed head, purple jacket wearing steed immortalised in bronze stands proudly on the centre of the roundabout we pass as we leave, where Tom lives it's usually a shopping trolley, so makes for quite the change and he reckons, and not for the first time, he says we should consider a “day at the races” some time soon.

Walking through the gates of Larges Lane home of Bracknell Town FC (BT) it's clear from the off that money is a running theme in these parts. The last moments of some local kids training session plays out on the immaculate 4G pitch, the name of the club and their badge emblazoned into one side of it. The tea bar, however this is far more than just a hole in the wall, is totally in keeping with the uber modern feel of the place, with its black leather benches. On the front of the counter heaving with all manner of goodies, is the clubs honours board, but despite the plethora of things on offer, Tom only opts for a tea and a packet of crisps.

Outside the sun has started to set, but it's still warm, sitting on the back row of the prefab covered stand, with its rather flimsy red fold down chairs. Admittedly flimsy for a lump like me, I’m sure they are fine for normal people, Tom explains his reasons for not nabbing a couple of cookies and the reason he’s got chapped lips, that isn't because of a “weeks worth of kissing”, but because he’s a “bit unwell”.

His supposed ill health is certainly not getting in the way of his appetite, telling me in one breath he feels “worse” then he did when he got to mine, but then shovels a fist full of Walkers in his gob in the next, I’m not convinced.

The sound of the kids kick-about and the odd parental shout of encouragement wafts around the ground as we finish our teas, and having been studying it for some time and with no crisps left to occupy him, Tom pipes up with a slightly odd comment, “lots of rules here”. He then proceeds to reel off a whole list of dos and don'ts, including “no gum, no standing” and now he’s come to mention it, there are a lot of authoritative signs scattered about the place.

There is no mistaking there are a few stand out accents among some of the people here, mostly emanating from the teen boys wandering about in flip flops, the undeniable twang of our cousins from across the pond. On closer investigation, the black containers at one end of the ground, are not re-purposed boutiques like Tom is familiar with in London's trendy Shoreditch, but in fact dormitories for foreign players on scholarships. Such was my interest in them, I didn't realise until it was too late that the window I was staring in, looked right onto someone's bedroom, who hurriedly shut the curtain, leaving me feeling slightly chagrin.

The international academy we’re told is modelled on that of the La Liga giants Valencia that has produced the likes of Isco and David Silva and explains the their badge on the left arm of the kids shirts. Those in attendance from far afield and closer to home, hoping that Larges Lane can be their doorway to greatness.

“That's a cool water bottle” says Tom, pointing at a passing child admittedly “not very practical” but very cool looking flask, made up of three interlocking footballs stacked on top of each other, with no apparent convenient place to hold it.

Tom’s head is on a near constant swivel, there really is no end of things to look at, things that aren't exactly the norm at most if any of the other non league grounds we have ever been to before. Don't fancy a spot to eat in “the diner”, which is how I’ve heard one person refer to the tea bar as, then maybe you fancy a go on the red baize pool table in the bar or maybe you'd like to hit the gym? The one next to the bunk bed filled shipping containers, complete with massive tyres for flipping or those long heavy lengths of rope for wiggling.

“2 -2 fuck off” mumbles one of the passing home players, sticking his head in the side door of the now much frequented “diner” where most are watching Spurs chuck away a two goal lead in the Champions League.

It would seem that despite being in a completely different county, the midge epidemic is rife wherever we go. Tom bursting into seizure like movements, blowing raspberries and waving his hands around in front of himself, “a midge just flew in my face”.

It doesn't matter who you are or what level of football you play at, you have to be pretty darn good to
justify gold boots, my Dad would say the same thing about playing with an alice band in your hair, but that's another story. The Westfield FC (WFC) keeper more than does so, with his excellent footwork, impressing Tom to the point that he suggests he should be an “outfield player” who in their blue and yellow kit, Tom thinks look like “Sweden”.

The floodlights flicker into life, but take a while to bathe us in their stark unforgiving white light and I might have to check Tom’s temperature, because he swears blind he just saw “Rick Flair”.

Despite their banner strung up behind one goal, the Bracknell Ultras are nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they will be joining us post march from their local watering hole or they are preparing their latest anti UEFA tifo and the sudden spike in the noise levels, is not because of the arrival of some scarf face covered pyro fiends, but because someone has just purchased a coke from the very loud vending machine, that lets out a deafening clunk every time it dishes up its contents, and the arrival of the players for their warm up. All of whom seem in very high spirits, which might have something to do with the top of the table clash to come, it is “first vs fourth” after all, someone reminds us.

Plenty of burgers are being dismantled from white greaseproof paper and the gentle chatter of a football crowd mingles with the sound of the players drills. Who turns out to only be Rick Flair look alike passes us again, and Tom lets out a quiet “wooo” and the promise of a decent sized crowd seems a possibility, even with ultras still nowhere yet to be seen. There were “three hundred” here on Saturday, but as ever it being a weeknight, it's always hard to gauge how many will turn out.

For a moment there it didn't look like there was going to be much of a crowd at all, but then with five minutes to kick off, it's a bit like shit, where did all these people come from. Most of whom are sensibly wearing trousers, with the sun now a distant memory, its chilly, but I daren't tell Tom.

The tap tap tapping on the head of a microphone reverberates over the PA, not that anyone is listening, far too many people are still inside watching the Spurs game, some crane their necks from outside the packed room to catch a glimpse of Tottenham's capitulation. Those inside struggle to hear the commentary over the whir of the machine doing some last minute pumping up of footballs taking place in one corner of the room.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen” says a voice, breaking up after every other word, the reading of the team sheets sounding like morse code. The announcer gives up, perhaps all the giggling got too much, returning after the teams have walked out, the WFC manager high fiving every one of the starting eleven and post the well observed silence, for who he explains with crystal clarity was for a recently deceased former player, “a club” legend and “all time record scorer”.

“Come on Bracknell” shouts a man in the crowd, as the referee puts his whistle to his lips and we are underway.

“Pretty important game” says a stocky man to our right, with a thick American accent, to the small gang of WFC fans who have pitched up just to one side of the almost Bakelite looking bright red plastic away dugout. Which doesn’t have a hint of the homemade or the once was a conservatory about them, they look right out of the showroom.

I’m officially cold now and despite not letting on, Tom can tell I'm suffering, “regretting the shorts?”.

The fact that WFC’s kit has not turned out to look like “Sweden” has somewhat disappointed Tom, he is actually quite scathing about both strips on show, “both kits are horrible” he sneers. WFC’s looking like it has been “washed on too high of a heat” and BT’s looking like a homage to Lady Gaga’s “meat dress”, it’s only saving grace the shorts, with their continuing stripe from just under the armpit to the knee.

A booming home shot after five minutes is touched wide by the gold boot wearing WFC keeper, exiting the packed out section of home fans behind him, some standing behind a solitary flag. Then Tom sounds like one of the ‘football was better in my day’ brigade, passing judgement on the technicolour footwear of one player, “amazing how colourful boots have got” he mutters. Coming from a bloke who used to play in the park with gold and white ones, it’s a bit rich.

Tim Howard, Brad Friedel, Peter Schmeichel, Paul Robinson and now you can add the name of the BT keeper to the illustrious list of goalkeepers who have scored. He can also join an even greater but shorter list, having done it from his own half, this was not a bundle it in from a corner jobby. This was some quick thinking, a free kick taken from just outside his area that has caught out everybody here, and while he is being rightly mobbed by his teammates, and the BT fans are going insane behind the goal, the beaten WFC keeper can only take a sip from his water bottle, rub his hands on his towel hanging from the back of the net and look as dumbfounded as everyone else.

First blood to the home team. “We go again” shouts the stunned looking WFC manager, clapping his hands, trying his best to get his dazed looking players to focus.

“Keep playing Westfield” insist one fan, the same fan next to us who will be a constant stream of quotable one liners for the remainder of the evening. “You've had your bit of luck Bracknell” he announces. And Tom is now concerned about his “burger” as the crowd only look to be getting bigger.

BT unsurprisingly look pumped, having taken the lead they are being more than proactive about getting a second. “He’s got dancing feet” says Tom, out on the right the wide man does a quick shoe shuffle and is past his marker and into the box, but between complementing players on their footwork, he is fretting about his dinner, “I should have eaten early, look at all those people”. He then does his best to try and deduce who he thinks has eaten and who hasn't, to try and gauge the state of the queue come half time.

Home pressure sees WFC attempts to play out from the back, almost end up with them going further behind. “Get after them” comes a shout from the home bench, WFC are showing signs of panic and the BT manager wants his team to capitalise.

An injury to a BT player halts play, the ground falls silent except for a lone voice from the other side of the pitch, “come on Bracknell” and a deluge of instructions from the WFC manager, and despite all the home managers insistence his team “get after” their opponents, two minutes later the score is level, the goal occurring in almost equally calamitous circumstances as the first.

“Keeper, keeper, keeper” goads the loudest of the WFC fans, scrub that, the only WFC fan making any noise, to the BT goalie, whose attempt to catch a high looping ball, ends with him clattering into the post, dropping the ball to WFC player on hand to stab it home, 1 - 1.

“Thats unfair” says Tom, a card carrying member of the goalkeepers unions, feeling sorry for the BT keeper who has gone from the high of scoring, to the absolute low of being single handedly responsible for his team losing their lead, in no time at all. Not that there is an ounce of compassion on show, and quite rightly so, from anyone following WFC.

The familiar feeling of something crawling up my leg is back, I dispatch whatever it is with the top of my foot, smooshing it against the back of my calf, steadying myself on the railing around the pitch. The midges are here, in nowhere near the numbers we have seen recently, but their presence is being felt.

End to end, the match swings excitedly between one goal mouth to the other. The WFC orders of “go get it back” the ball that is, have not really been heeded and it's a case of you have the ball, no you have it, that sees possession yo yo like it does. The tackles are flying in and in their first attempt since being pegged back, BT roll a shot just wide of the post, which gets a “ohhhh” from the crowd.

“Plan B, Plan B” shouts the WFC manager, “whats Plan B?” asks Tom, and I really have to stop myself from making any reference to the UK hip hop artist. Whatever it is, it works and soon the visitors have broken the BT back line, but a poor touch kills the move it in its tracks.

Into the garden of the flats behind, goes the latest BT effort, a lashed half home volley is heading
right towards one of the neighbours gnomes. The WFC commentator now in full flow, lets the “unlucky” number 10, know just what he thought of his wild attempt, however his comments are pretty even handed, he offers up his little jibes not only towards the home players, but his own too. “Poor” he grumbles following a loose pass, by one of his number.

“I don't believe that” groans a WFC fan, the BT keeper has just made up for his clanger with a point blank save, he had no right to get to, the same supporter stands with his head in hands, unable to get his grey matter  around how that didn't go in. “It will come Westfield, be patient” he offers up, having a go at being good the cop for a bit.

A pass like a screwball in snooker almost finds the BT forward but its snuffed out and when the BT keeper is called into action again, Tom is blown away by his “massive kick”. Both the WFC bench, “play, play” and the fans, “it will come” are sure that a second goal is only around the corner, and they look to be almost spot on, going close with a skimming low shot that goes the wrong side of the post.

“50/50, pound a ticket?” asks a man in a quiet American accent, a couple of the international academy have been roped into badgering old gits like me for a couple of quid, that I’m of course more than willing to put some money in the plastic pint glass, and the chance of a flutter makes up for the fact it's only an electronic programme on offer today.

Almost on the stroke of halftime a BT shot is blocked by the WFC keepers feet, but Tom’s mind is on other things, “the queues all the way to Ascot” he says.  Turning on a sixpence a home player looks to be away, but is wiped out, the awarding of the foul doesn't go down well with one WFC player, “stop guessing ref”.

The resulting free kick is taken not once, but twice, much to the annoyance of WFC’s most vocal fan, “why because if wasn't on target?” he asks in the most condescending of tones. The second attempt is another try at a Ronaldo’esq knuckle ball that goes wide too, much to the amusement of the same WFC fan, who comes out with a pearler of a line, to conclude the first half, “Stanley Matthews would have scored”.

His explanation to those baffled faces around him, is because both the player who took the free kick twice and Stanley were “both number 7’s”.

The curse of the crackled microphone is back, and despite the broken pauses between words, I can tell the “winning number” is not mine, and my small pink tickets go back into the breast pocket of my shirt, each moistened by a single tear.

Tom returns in record time, licking his fingers as he walks back. “They had a katsu curry that looked great,” he tells me with a kind of light in his eyes, I don't think I’ve ever seen before, but he decided it was probably a bit “messy” the “kind of meal you wanna sit down for” so opted for his usual. The service he informs me “super efficient”, in and out in no time at all, “I was four from the front, then next please”.

BT are out early for a rather vigorous looking warm up, and when the WFC keeper followed by his teammates appear, he’s almost gone hoarse with still a half yet to play, “straight in, straight in” he demands. The referee just outside the centre circle, raises his whistle, “keeper, keeper” he asks each stopper.

The BT fans along with their flag have shifted ends, there are plenty of them, but there is little to no noise coming from them at all and it’s the home side who have the first chance of the new half, cutting in off the right the wide man’s shot is “poor” says Tom, who thinks each teams overriding desire to not concede, means the game is “too tight” to call.

This though, after quite a fast paced first ten minutes, if not a little bit stilted, is soon to change.

“Finish it” gasps a WFC fan, their hulking great number 10 is away, with only the keeper to beat. Poking it delicately past the onrushing goalie, the table toppers take the lead. The bench are off their feet and while the players celebrate going ahead, one WFC coach high fives the outstretched hands of those WFC fans who have retaken their first half position next to the dugout.

Not the usual response to going behind, the BT fans directly behind the goal, the very young BT fans may I add, are taking part in what you might call horse play, what Tom calls “play fighting” that skirts the line between looking like a laugh and a full blown punch up. “Very, very aggressive” tut's Tom, with his Dad hat firmly on, but secretly hoping that Lita might appear and jump off the top rope, “I couldn't see if Rick Flair was involved”.

A quarter of an hour gone and the home pressure is ramping up, “tell them to weather the storm” appeals the WFC manager, the WFC fans are pleading with their team to “push up” as they drop deeper and deeper. When they are able to break out, their counterattacks look more than dangerous, but on this occasion the final pass is lacking, and it comes to nothing. “Unlucky” applauds the manager, glad to see his team out of their own half.

I’m cold, and Tom suggests I should get myself some of those “rip off” trousers, Mel C style, however I don't have time to respond to his suggestion I should go the “full Dad” with my own pair of detachable drawers , because the WFC manager is shouting “pigeon steps, pigeon steps” and I’m trying to work out what the hell he is going on about.

Turning the screw, BT go as close to scoring as they have since taking the lead in the first half, a deflected shot from the edge of the box spanking the cross bar and a man who sounds frankly scary bellows from the opposite side of the pitch, “come on Bracknell” and one WFC player is calling for “calm” and for his team to “get back on it”. They look a little rattled to say the least and the home side can sense it.

It’s the same player who hit the bar, the one “with no neck” as Tom describes him, who is running the show for the home team, “he’s everywhere”. Both number 11’s are giving a very good account of themselves, but the fans behind the goal couldn't seem to care less about the match anymore, as another rumble broke out. Tom tutting to himself as they start to leap on each other, “too much testosterone”.

“Good save” says one WFC supporter, when a free header is tipped over the bar by the very extremities of the BT keepers fingertips. WFC’s chances are few and far between, BT go close with another half volley and then their twisting forward gets the crowd very animated, turning his maker inside out, sending him one way, then another, eventually getting hacked down, which is received with a mighty cheer.

The resulting free kick is just about as impressive as his earlier ones, and gets a rousing response from our nearby motor mouth “three times 7, not one on target”.

It’s all BT, WFC have been reduced to only the odd counterattack, and Tom is amused by the obvious case that going behind has really “pushed” BT on. “Funny how much better they've got” he muses, their manger can he happy at least by the response he has received from his players, they have anything but given up.

“Ohhhh” go the small group of WFC fans in unison at the sight of the rolled ball from the wing to their man in the box, going fractions behind him, missing out on an almost certain third. “Come on
Bracknell, come on” screams the maniacal voice from the crowd opposite. The players respond in kind, one asking his teammates to “raise it”.

When WFC are on the ball, they could maybe be accused of being guilty of overplaying it at times. “Too many touches” bemoans one supporter, their manager concerned about how easily they are giving up possessions asks his team to “think about looking after the ball”.

It’s the turn of the home crowd to let out a sizable “ohhhh” after their team fizz a ball through the box, but no one is able to get on the end of it and frustrations start to set it, BT are getting increasingly physical, giving away free kick after free kick, which is doing their chances of getting back into the game no good at all.

Into the last five minutes and one WFC player gets no end of shit from his team mates, his attempt at a low direct shot at goal from a free kick, instead of crossing into the packed box, does not exactly go down well and then another high class save, plus a bit of iffy finishing, maybe confirms it's just not going to be BT’s night.

“Jesus Christ” shrieks one home supporter. Turning away from the pitch after instead of tapping the ball into the back of the net, the forward in the six yard box hit it directly at the keeper. The blistering attack deserved more, and it’s a another chance missed.

Not calling on the almighty this time, instead just reeling off a couple of expletives, “fucking hell” the same fan watches on as another ball flies through the WFC box, but it can’t find its intended target.

A flare up of monumental proportions somewhat mars the end of what has been a quite excellent spectacle. Both challenging for the ball in the area, the BT keeper wins the duel, claiming the ball and in the coming together, the WFC forward falls to the ground. On his way back down to earth, with the BT player at his feet, there is no denying that there is contact, the accusation from the WFC players is that it was a stamp by the home keeper, which results in the fracas between both sets of players.

The resulting accompanying sound that follows any kind of handbags, emanates from the crowd and frankly I would expect nothing else. While the referee clears up the mess, the BT keeper entertains himself with a succession of skill level ten keepie uppies. The crowd are losing patience “get on with it”, all this mucking about is eating into their time to equalise, the terrifying voice lets out his final blood curdling cry of the night, “come on Bracknell”.

“Referee how long please” asks a WFC player, the game finally back underway and the league leaders are hanging on to their tenuous lead. WFC’s number 11 is away again, flying down the pitch he is quite cynically scythed down by BT’s number 5, who knowingly walks away, quite at peace with what he has just done. Another big tackle this time by a WFC player, ends with the home player down, the WFC one having started his slide to meet him a fair way away is still going, and the referee waves on play, despite calls of “studs showing” from the crowd.

I have to admit, I somewhat agree with the calls from the home fans that its all "getting silly", the referee looks close to losing control. WFC do their best to waste time, holding onto the ball when its a home throw in, taking forever to take goal kicks, this obvious stalling riling up the BT players more and more.

"Well done Westfield, well, well done", comments the now much calmer WFC supporter who did not take a breath for the whole match, come the final whistle. Quiet descends quickly, the crowd soon dissipates, leaving both teams on the pitch to mull over the match. One BT player applauds the fans before crumbling to the floor, clearly exhausted. One WFC supporter talking to one of their players, points to his marker laughing, "he's still looking for you".

Still relatively early in the season, it was quite a treat to watch a top of the table clash, where it was clear both teams were there to give it everything, not to mention seeing a goalkeeper score, something we I'm sure are unlikely to see again any time soon.

Other than the seventy yard lob, two things stood out for me tonight, the WFC keeper ensuring his manager went the full accidental Partridge, ignoring his gaffa, who just shouting "Rossy, Rossy, Rossy" over and over, just like the well known East Anglian radio star.

Second was a point Tom raised, when discussing the BT kit, that from afar certainly had the air of a raw bit of meat about it, and the dilemma that may cause some people, "unless you are super vegan, you can't not play for a club, because you don't like the kit".

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE

'LIKE' us on Facebook


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our YouTube channel

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

Thursday 3 October 2019

Fake Brioche - Biggleswade Town FC Vs St Neots Town FC, FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round Replay, Langford Road (11/09/19)

We are blessed once again by the football gods with a lovely evening, but the spots of rain falling on the windscreen of Toms car could be a sign of things to come, however I’m far too preoccupied with the fact that he is driving again, completing his hattrick, I think I’d be ok if we were driving into the middle of a hurricane.

We don't exactly have far to travel tonight, which might just explain Tom’s eagerness to get behind the wheel again, ensuring he has plenty of credit in the bank when it comes to this season's first slog up to Yorkshire or some such far flung parts of the world and it’s not long before we get our first sight of this evenings ground, hurtling past it on the motorway. “Floodlights” squeals Tom, like a child who just spotted the sea first on a family day trip to the coast, cutting short our conversation about “8K” TV’s.

For a medium sized market town, Biggleswade is somewhat spoilt for choice when it comes to non league teams. Last season we saw two of the three that take their name from it, United and FC, but tonight’s visit to Langford Road will mean we can consider this part of Bedfordshire complete.

My legs are still in bits from our last outing, where the entire midge population of Essex convened for an all you can eat buffet on my lower legs, which are no longer the muscular pins of old, but now pot holed, scab covered horror shows. I look like a victim of the bubonic plague, from the knees down at least, but this has not deterred me from clinging onto my shorts for another week, much to Tom’s amusement.

The car park of the Carlsberg Stadium, Langford Roads alternative name, can join the long list of non league shockers. The kind of which where you fear for the safety of anyone who might be unfortunate enough to walk around it in the dark, such are the depth of the numerous craters or for anyone whose car is not quite robust enough.

“Need my sunglasses” says Tom squinting, the low summer sun just skimming the horizon, flirting with the idea of disappearing, but sticking around for just a little while longer. Behind us a sea of turning windmills fill the sky, and having successfully navigated the car park, we head towards a rather bland configuration of single storey tan brick cloured buildings. On the front of one is the large green and white crest of Biggleswade Town FC (FC) featuring a very proment heron or stork, and although I’m no ornithologist, it’s certainly not a wader or a pair of waders, which BT are known as.

There is no getting away from the sound of the nearby motorway, in fact ‘nearby’ might not go far enough to explain quite how close it is. Running behind one end of the ground, the goalkeeper who happens to be up that end, is at risk of being hit by a discarded fag butt or unwanted apple core.

Doing a good job in drowning out the noise of the passing traffic are the kids arriving as we do, rushing off to one of the adjoining pitches for their football training, all from what I can see arrive present and correct, having not disappeared down one of the car parks treacherous crevasses.

In Mr Draxler, BT have a cigar smoking club secretary who has the air of a Sopranos mob boss about him, who tells everyone he is involved in ‘waste management’ but they all know that's baloney. In his long dark blue coat, ornately patterned trousers and club tie, he is smartness personified and chatting to him briefly, it is soon clear being a fellow “Muswell Hill boy” like us, he is unlikely to instruct anyone to give you a concrete overcoat.

His story, like so many we have heard in the past, is such a common one in the non league world. Coming on board a decade ago to help where he could, in his case as the “physio”, he’s quick to point out that he is “not qualified” in any way, but you “didn't need to be then” all you needed was a “bucket and a sponge”, he has risen to the top of the family, sorry I mean football club, now pretty much running the show.

He tells us he would expect around “three hundred” here tonight, which is not bad going, there were “two hundred and eighty eight” at the original fixture, so he sees no reason why there wouldn't be around the same the second time around.

The clouds above us are straight out of a Constable, the sun spearing through them in broken shards, however my enjoyment of the picturesque Cscene before me is shattered by the agonising sound coming from the PA, that’s like metal dying.

“It’s broken” says the young man sheepishly setting it up, but whatever caused the din, is soon sorted, replaced with a playlist of music one would not really associate with a person in their early teens, the first song verging on inappropriate, the opening bars sounding like a panting woman mid orgasm and what follows all has a definite 70’s disco theme, the kind of music which makes some put on their best lilac colored shirt and strut about the place.

“This music's shit” groans Tom, the choice not really in keeping with his current nu metal flex. With the sun now set, the next song arrives with impeccable timing, “ain't no sunshine when she’s……”, which mixes with the hubbub of both teams now warming up and the latest passing HGV.

From the front row of the modestly sized main stand with its BT themed clock above the tunnel and of course green and white seats, I spot on the far side of pitch, dancing in the provocative way they do, a swarm of midges, shit! This though is of little significance right now, because Tom is mid melt down, the appearance of Lionel Ritchie is the last straw. “This music is fucking depressing” he says staring at the floor, his next point though is not a bad one, however its delivery is a little over dramatic, “It's hardly galvanizing anyone”.

The crackled voice over the PA gives a brief respite from the relentless music, however I can barely make out what they are saying and soon the salvo of wedding reception hits has resumed. Sweet Caroline, normally a song reserved for toasting a victory or a punch up in the crowd at the boxing is up next, the green tunnel under the clock has been extended and it welcomes out both teams.

There is no mistaking Mr Draxler who has taken over proceedings as the stadium announcer, his havana tinged vocals more than audible as he divulges the starting 11’s and I’m pretty sure tells off someone for trying to cadge a free look over a nearby fence. Pitchside the turnout he predicted looks pretty bang on, plenty who have paid to come in, now stand under moon filled sky which has turned all sorts of shades of purple and blue, each one I’m certain letting out a small sigh, Tom’s however is far from small, at the announcement of the possibility of “extra time and penalties”.

Surely contravening various FA codes of conduct, the BT technical area is absolutely chocker, at the centre of it the home manager, with his slick back hair, tied up in what I can only describe as a ninjas top knot. Every maneuver, every pass seems to be being dictated from the sidelines, the BT staff very hands on to say the least and from very early on, the league difference between the two teams is quickly apparent. BT are off flying down the right wing, cutting the ball into the box, only for it to be
blocked by the St Neots Town FC (SNT) keeper.

Less than ten minutes gone and I feel the first midge of the night start to tuck in. Next to me sat on the floor a young lady with no interest in the game, who has clearly been dragged here against her will, plays with her phone, above her, her parents lean against the white fence that surrounds the pitch looking like something from the edge of a race track, which lets out a whimpering creak anytime anyone goes near it.

“I think your whitewash might be on, they've been the by far the better team” says Tom, it's been all BT since the off.

“Noooo” agonises one of the nearby SNT fans, at the sight of their first attack of the night breaking down. Presenting BT with the ball they quickly engage a rapid counterattack, that is brought to a momentary halt by a “good tackle” applauds one SNT supporter, only for the loose ball to fall straight to a home player who is on hand to flash a shot across goal, which is followed by a rousing “ohhhh” from the home crowd. The majority of whom, as Tom points out as is always the case, fill the corner closest to the burger van in one corner of the ground. It must be the extensive selection of pick and mix it has strung out across its counter keeping them close by.

Just over a quarter of an hour gone and BT go close with a thunderbolt of a free kick. “Well look at that” marvels a SNT fan, “wouldn't that have been special” he begrudgingly admits, however a minute later he is not anywhere near as complementary, when his team fall behind.

The powerful shot from the edge of the area almost bursts the net as it flies in. There is no shortage of people to hug in front of the home bench, one of them mid embrace letting out a celebratory, “come on”. Mr Draxler is clearly delighted, he confirms the name of the scorer, “Solomon Samboooooo” and sounds every bit like the cat that's got the cream.

“Jesus look at that” calls out one SNT fan, turning to God as the only person who can maybe  stop the BT player skipping through their defence. Six yards out from goal it's maybe the almighty or just a defender in the right place at the right time who manages to get a foot in, and stops the home side scoring a quick fire second.

“You wanna go on the 50/50?” asks a small voice behind me, I turn to be met by a woman clutching a green bucket and a book of white tickets. “Absolutely” I reply, catching her off guard somewhat with my theatrical reply, she almost has to catch her breath, taking a few steps back, before she responds with a line I must admit I've heard a couple of times before, “that's the most enthusiastic response I’ve ever had”. As I tuck my tickets into the breast pocket of my shoulder, the lady tells me over her shoulder as she beats a hasty retreat, that the results will be “announced at half time”.

It takes SNT almost twenty five minutes to register their first meaningful attack, “promising” says Tom. It’s not the most cultured of moves, a well timed ball over the top, that is met by the sprinting forward, who lets the ball bounce once, before hitting his first time shot well over the bar.

The resulting goal kick also gets the first “you’re shit ahhhhh” from a gaggle of SNT youths behind the goal, which is greeted with a smirk from the home bench, who point out to the laughing BT keeper, “you'd take the lot”.

“Sit down shut up” barks one SNT supporter towards the home bench who are all on their feet appealing for a foul, which the referee waves a away. One section of the home fans then squeal in delight at the dancing feet of one player who is turning his marker inside out, leaving him for dead and continuing as he pleases.

The midges are getting worse and you can easily pick out those being plagued by them, they're the ones who almost look deranged, waving their arms around at what appears to be nothing, when it fact something has just flown up their nose.

Half an hour gone and the game has “gone a bit flat”, says Tom. His attempt to lift the mood falls flatter than flat, inspired by one of the away teams apparent nickname “Sharkie” he starts singing “Sharkie and George crime busters of Biggleswade”.


It’s a long succession of general noises of disgruntlement now emanating from the SNT fans, they get so few attacks, when they do happen, they are just not making them count. Someone, who they are following is not abundantly clear, is much more than merely disgruntled, they by the sound of it are not having a very nice time at all, “God that babies loud” recoils Tom, sounding every inch like a person without children. Admittedly the wailing bairn is all the way on the far side of the pitch, but still sounds like it’s right next to us.

“Great ball” shouts the home bench, the curling cross finding the player in the box, who somehow conspires to put his stooping header wide, much to the benches confusion. Each and every one of them buzzing around the dugout clasping their hands to the back of their heads.

A rare away attack is snuffed out as the the match hurtles towards the break and the referees assistant is in for an ear full from the traveling fans. “Lino make up your own decisions” one shouts, the referee behind play, at first doesn't give the foul, blowing up seemingly after the home bench appeal that he does so. In contradiction of his assistants flailing flag.

On the stroke of halftime SNT are awarded a free kick, which is taken, but it's hardly convincing. “No” mutters Tom, turning towards me, however I can see his attention is soon drawn towards something else, something far more concerning. “It's like a snow storm above us”. I slowly tip my head skywards, and he’s not wrong, if anything he’s underplaying it, its like a fucking blizard of insects swirling just above our heads.

“See you after the break,” says a very chipper Mr Draxler, followed by the rattle of the tunnel. Somehow only a goal behind, one SNT fan is still hopeful “we’re still alive” and Tom having popped off for food just before the whistle, you can take the boy out of Arsenal, but you can't take Arsenal out of the boy, returns with dinner. A burger of course, with “good onions” but he is a little bit dubious about the legitimacy of what from the outside at least looks like quite a fancy bun, “fake brioche”.

Mr Draxler confirms I won't be “heading to the bar” to collect the 50/50 prize when he reads out the winning numbers, which of course are not mine and I’m all about football clubs who share their nickname with 1960’s TV shows, one SNT fan letting out a supportive shout as the teams rejoin us and we prepare for the kick off of the second half, “come on the Saints”.

I am somewhat comforted by the fact that it is no longer just me the midges want a bit off. Tom is now sputtering away next to me, swatting at one that just went in his mouth, trying his best to get it away from his face. I’m not exaggerating it's like something out of the bible, we are infested.

On the pitch, the game feels somewhat critically balanced. BT’s slim lead doesn't exactly feel under
threat, they go close in the first five or six minutes when the ball over the top finds its target but his attempt is blocked and then close again with a free header from a free kick, “too easy” bemoans the visiting keeper, is put wide. However SNT still show the odd glimmer of opportunity. Latching on to a loose pass in the final third by the home team, they are quick to counter. Which is brought to an abrupt stop by a hacking home tackle.

“Be interesting to see what the Premier League would be if it was this lenient” ponders Tom, as we witness our second crunching challenge in short succession. This one almost thigh high on one home player, that gets an impassioned response from the home bench, “could have broken his knee” but only a talking to from the referee.

Cannoning off the head of a pitch side photographer, Tom is more than impressed that even though he was struck forcefully by the ball, “he didn't flinch”, and then pulls a Snickers from his pocket, biting off half of it, before putting the rest back in this pocket to attract fluff.

BT’s scowling manager is angry, his team as Tom puts it is creating plenty of “near chances”, case in point when another free header just before the quarter of an hour mark that instead of going towards the goal, goes straight up in the air, much to the bemusement of the players around him, can’t for the life of them put this game to bed. In his mind I imagine the thought of throwing it away again, doesn't bare thinking about.

“That's fucking naughty ref” barks a home fan, the bench are livid too, “he’s gotta go for that”, but it’s only a yellow much to their dismay, “he’s gotta send himself off?” asks one of the multitude of BT staff swelling the technical area. The absolute hatchet job, bringing to an end the most mesmerizing of runs.

Sadly for the home side the free kick is “shit” as Tom so eruditely puts it, the home bench admittedly are not that much more eliquant, “fuck off”, but thats all soon to be forgotten.

“Sambooooo” bellows Mr Draxler back on the mic, the ball having eventually found its way into the SNT net, via a very circuitous route. A mazey run down the left ends with the high pitched ping of the ball hitting the post. Bouncing back into play, the ball ricochets up into the hand of a defender which is followed by an almighty claim for a “handball” by the players, fans and bench, but before the referee can respond, the goal scorer is on hand to bundle home his second of the night.

Despite being two goals to the good, the home bench is still a little anccy you might say. “Proper tantrum” laughs Tom when they somewhat lose their shit over the ten or so yards the SNT player has been allowed to take the throw in from away from where the ball actually went out and exactly because of being two goals behind, the visitors are starting to lose their leads, getting increasingly sloppy.

In their number 11 BT have a player judging by his performance so far, who relishes in a bit of physicality. “He’s a pitbull” shudders Tom as he steamrollers his marker, leaving him prone clutching their shin. His tenacity, matched with end product, he’s not just betting heels then doesn't know what to do, gets no end of praise from the bench. His eyes full of unbridled rage, with clearly only one thing on his mind as he goes after the ball, kill, kill, kill.

The latest SNT foul gets more unanswered protests from the BT manager and his crew, “fucking get hold of him ref” fumes one, “how many times?” asks a player. Another surge forward cut short by a chopping challenge. The BT manager stopping himself midway though telling the player responsible just what he thinks of him, “oh you……..”.

Into the final quarter, SNT attacks now rarer than hen's teeth, it's taken them over thirty minutes to register their first of the half. “Ohhhhh” gasps Tom, “that could have been good” he adds, a blistering attack ends with a rising shot that’s high and wide. One might be able to say the result, which seemingly is all but assured might just be a case of the home side being more clinical, BT taking their chances, the visitors not. I think it’s simply a case of them being the better side.

Lets manage the game” insists one of the many bodies still occupying the small rectangle in front of the home bench. One SNT player could maybe me accused of being delusional, telling his teammates, “let's go on and win”, which as Tom puts it, is “a bit optimistic”.

Nowhere to be seen in the first half, I didn't notice them at least, maybe they were enjoying the pick and mix. It’s taken me almost forty minutes to clock the two green and white BT flags strung out behind one goal, with another hanging from the back wall of the metal covered terrace. Many of the Green Army as one flag dubs them, wearing green and white scarves, offering up their own hearty support.

“Finish, finish, finish” urges one as the home team race way from the SNT defence, who have all but given up, however the pass at the end of the charge across the box is lacking a bit of finesse and the chance peters out.

Flooding forward the green and white machine is in full flow, the SNT team not far off just standing by and watching as they push on for a fourth. “No way that’s rubbish ref” remonstrates an angry spectator in the main stand. The SNT keeper is down, the goal is gaping, but before the ball can be rolled over the line, the officials blow up for a foul.

Outnumbered attack, after outnumbered attack keep coming. “Stay on side” hollers one person from the crowd, but the team can't and the chance goes begging. Forward they come once more, but this time the shot is way off target, but SNT are soon to be put out of their misery, only “three minutes of added time” are left to play according to Mr Draxler.

It’s without a doubt not Neil Diamond singing his well known classic, that gets its second airing of
the night come the final whistle. The Green Armies flags are soon down and Mr Draxler has one last thing to add, over the sound of the strange cover and the clapping of the crowd as the team's walk off, “we progress to the next round”.

The opponents of which has already been decided, they will face Ware FC, which inspires a little comedy back and forth between two leaving fans “where”, “Ware”, “where”, “here”.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE

'LIKE' us on Facebook


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our YouTube channel

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