Thursday 5 December 2019

In Direct Line Of The Burgers - Guildford City FC Vs Hanworth Villa FC, Combined Counties League Premier, Spectrum Football Ground (30/10/19)

Bumper to bumper traffic and 40 mile per hour speed restrictions make for slow going, but at least I have the unusual, but not to say enjoyable mix of the Queens of the Stone Age, George Michael and Soundgarden to entertain me, as I journey along the M25. With no Tom, the music fills a void, however I miss our banal chatter and friendly bickering. Tonight, as has been the case on a few occasions this season, because of the location of our destination, we are both travelling solo.

Entering the Guildford Spectrum Leisure Complex, the UK’s number one leisure complex by all accounts, the name I accept is quite a mouthful, and not one I think that will be remembered in the annals of time with other more evocative stadiums like Anfield and the Camp Nou, is visible from quite a distance.

Illuminated like something from a Spielberg film set, it's about as far from the usual non league set up then we are used to then you could imagine. The rows and rows of parking bays, many if not most are filled, signs pointing off in all sorts of directions towards one thing or another, an ice rink and bowling alley and not one of them says club shop. Modern, bright, and more concrete then you could shake a stick at, a monolith built in honour of wholesome family entertainment.

“I left the house it was 11.5” is Tom’s opening gambit, me barely out of the car, and he’s already miffed that it’s a bit chilly. He recounted how his on board thermometer tumbled the closer he got, until stopping almost at zero, although the way he is going on about it, you would think it had gone well below, “freezing”.

A long white banner fastened to a high green fence lets us know, in no uncertain terms we are in the right place, the club's name Guildford City FC (GC) written across it, however there are no obvious hints that there is a ground anywhere nearby other than the towering floodlights. The green fence doing a good job of obscuring what is beyond. Something that is vast, much, much larger than your average bottom of the pyramid football ground, and I’m curious to investigate. It’s not until Tom escorts me through a small open gate, that our venue for the night, comes into full view.

Imagine a bowl cut out of the earth by General Zod’s World Engine. Then drop into it, all the necessities for an athletics stadium. The red running track a lone runner is doing laps of as we arrive, hammer and discus cages at either end, the steeplechase hurdle, and blue tarpaulins covers the long pit jumps. There's a large steep grass bank at one end, and an even steeper bank of concrete steps at first floor level down the home straight, and of course a football pitch far out in the middle, and you have yourself the Prospect Football Ground.

There is more than a smattering of the Eastern Bloc about the place, one would not be shocked to see a steroid pumped shot putter appear and start hurling things about. The noise of the nearby main road is a constant and the newly arrived players and staff of Hanworth Villa FC (HV) who have just trekked down the formidable steps like a troupe of Sherpa's arriving at base camp, each ladened with one giant bag or another, mill about on the edge of the pitch, looking less than impressed by the facilities to say the least.

The vast complex that surrounds us, that not only includes the athletics track and football pitch, but also we’re told an ice hockey rink too, where a game is also on tonight, and I think I'm correct in thinking the now home of the former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper Peter Cech, is in direct “competition” with our match, which according to one GT volunteer, will cause a bit of a dent on their gate, “lucky to get fifty” he tells us. Fifty that is unlikely to include any away fans, “not much hope the visitors will bring many, if any,” we are informed they “don't travel well”.

The clubhouse, a pitch side portacabin accessed by a single file path that I’m just about able to get along, without getting stuck, reminds Tom of his exploits on a “building site”. Between his brief stint in the army and time as a hairdresser, what he knows about building sites, I'm not sure, but I take his word for it.

Signs around the rather bare room allude to better times in the club's history, and their stint in the Southern League. A ghetto blaster straight out of 1981 witters away on a small table, the unmistakable drone of TalkSport tumbling from it’s tiny speakers.

A somewhat makeshift looking bar takes up one end of the room, its red and white frontage, with the club crest on is currently unmanned. A shelf with everything available for the anticipated customers, does not give them many options. Next to our table on a blue notice board, four pennants hang wonkily, each one a memento from a previous FA Cup or Vase encounter.

“Two years ago it won best programme” says the man selling the clubs match day offering, from a bag for life. My money along with the few others who have bought one, goes straight in a small red metal lock box, the likes of which once upon a time you kept your Christmas and birthday money. The kind that was about as secure as a chocolate safe and if you lost your key, a swift whack from a hammer would open it.

I’ve yet to see anyone make their way through the single turnstile perched halfway up the side of the large bank of grass, the way down to the pitchside a zig zagging path, that makes you go back on yourself as you descend, like a day at a theme park.

A few of the green plastic seats in the covered section of the first floor stand sandwiched between the huge slab steps have been occupied. Below the teams appear for the warm up, first hit by the blinding orange glow that radiates from the running track, then the cold. Many with hands secured in sleeves, wishing they had not forgotten their gloves.

I’m happy to be accosted by a teen with a book of green raffle tickets in one hand and a plastic money bag clutched in the other. Tom then shares some advice for when and if I decided to visit the loo, “take a torch” but on opening the door when I do go, I’m not sure what he was going on about, it was perfectly well lit.

“A fucking queues forming” says Tom under his breath, standing at the rear of the baying mob waiting for food. The lifting of a blind to allow the fixing of a menu to the inside of the window, is like a red rag to some. The crowd surges slightly, but the shutter remains down. Nearby a committee of three kids write the teams out on a white board. The two dictating take no end of pleasure from winding up the scribe, sniggering loudly, forcing he with the pen to rub out great swathes of what he’s written, because he’s not noticed that starting in goal for the home team is I. P. Freely.

Tom’s transition, by his own admission, from summer to winter wardrobe has been a rather slow one, however this evening has prompted him to quicken the pace, “time to get the long-johns out”. The crowd shuffles a few steps further forward when one lady looks close to opening the hatch. The false sense of hope coming from the throng of bearded anorak wearing men, Tom included, when she doesn't, is palpable.

A traffic light system would be more than appropriate for the single file traffic in front of the clubhouse, however the bottleneck soon clears when a young woman throws open the shutter, “look at them go” mutters Tom. The stampede which he refrains from joining, lunge at the window in search of something to eat. We hang back, Tom sticking to his half time regime, surrounded by those also not eating, but instead occupy their time by defacing their programmes while updating the starting elevens.

“Testing, testing, 1, 2” says a quiet voice over the PA lifting the place out of just somewhere people have gathered to eat outside in the cold, towards somewhere in the realm of an actual football match. To be fair to him, I can't work out if his voice sounds quiet, because he is a softly spoken type or just because where we are is so vast. It wouldn't matter if it was Brian Blessed, it would still sound rather mousy.

“That's all from me, enjoy the game” is how he signs off, having read out the starting lineups. The away team complete their final shooting practice, “you don't save those ones” shouts one player having slammed the ball past the diving keeper, and soon the pitch is clear, the referee and his assistant appear to lead the teams out over the running track and onto the island pitch surrounded by a red sea.

“It’s chappin” says the home captain, his team in a classic get up of red and white stripes, his opposite number, the visiting captain, heads up his team who have effectively been dressed to look like yellow highlighter pens.

The home manager is booming to say the least, “leave everything out there,” he tells his team, standing in front of the Subbuteo looking plastic dugout, resting on wheels to allow it to be wheeled
away and off the track come the end of the night. “We start early, come on” he beseeches before restating his previous point, just in case nobody heard him the first time, “leave nothing out there, I mean it”.

A few late comers are pacing down the hill from the turnstile as the referee completes his final checks and such is the gap between the back of the goals and the edge of the ground, it's got to be at least sixty, seventy metres, two ball boys are standing fast, and they better be on it or we are in for about twenty minutes of added on time, come the end of the match.

Tom’s review of the tea is to the point, “hot”, and even though we bought them about ten minutes ago, it’s still scalding. There is little more I can add on my thoughts of the phenomenon that is the temperature of non league tea, but really someone should set up some kind of study group. He then tells me he “likes” the neon yellow away kit, but my mocking of him for this laughable opinion is interrupted because of our proximity to sustenance. Sitting as Tom puts it “in direct line of the burgers” the smell wafting up from the burger bar directly below us is verging on the overpowering.

The first chance of the match falls to the visitors, all because of a mistake at the back by GT, a goal for the highlighters is only prevented by the home keeper in a Jens Lehmann shade of orange, gathering up the ball moments before the HV forward can take advantage of the error. The home manager continues to be the loudest thing here, a little petered by this teams slow start, “It's fucking embarrassing. We've gotta get back quicker”.

Ten minutes gone and a goal bound GT header is cleared off the line, the man behind us tucking into his sandwich brought from home is only able to muster a muted “ohhhh” on account of his mouth being half full of cheese and branston pickle.

HV then go close with a flashed shot wide and less than a minute later a ball cut into the box is cut out, seconds before reaching its intended target. The home side then get a chance to catch their breath, after a high HV tackle poleaxes one of their midfielders, which in turn ignites a fleeting scuffle. “Fucking referee” shouts the home manager, the man in charge soon has control of things, “It's a physical one” snorts Tom.

Strutting around in midfield, you can see how the GT keeper might just be able to add to his goal tally this season if he stays that far up the pitch, “he clearly wants another goal” says Tom, having scored one in their last match. “What's he doing, on the edge of the centre circle?” ponders my fellow ex keeper, his positioning causing him some concern, “he's not the smallest bloke to run back” he adds, “he’s gonna get lobbed”.

Skipping into the box, and after a spot of good fortune, the GT defence tests their managers patience again, letting the visitors in, but luckily for them the shot is tame and right into the midriff of the keeper. A home shout for a handball is declined by a stern “no” from the referee and then off his line at a rate of knots, the GT keeper makes Tom eat his sizeist comments, out to clear a through ball in a flash.
The visitors are bossing it, the Villains as HV are known aren't letting GT have a touch, and the away side are soon in again after another lapse at the back, a last ditch block stops the close range shot hitting the target.

“Can you smell rosemary?” asks Tom, turning towards me with a rather perplexed look on his face. He’s convinced that the ladies in the kitchen are whipping up a bit of “roast lamb” and his craving for a bit of a midweek carve up, prompts him to tell me to go and get him some “roast potatoes”.

The first cold feet dance of the season sees Tom frantically tapping his feet, doing his best to get some life back into them, “my toes are frozen”. However the thawing technique is soon forgotten when a home breakaway, a slick and well rehearsed overlap pulled off by the full back and the winger is brought to an end by a “Guendouzi” type tackle. Tom laughs out loud at the similarities in the move more commonly seen at Twickenham. Imagine the young Frenchman's recent tackle against Crystal Palace, but with a heavy dose of Boris Johnson at Soccer Aid chucked in too.

“Think that's the weirdest goal I've even seen” suggests Tom, slack jawed. The combination of not one, but two flicked headers in a row following a GT corner, sees them, quite against the run of play take the lead, and before the delighted sounding PA can confirm the time of the goal, I do love a stadium announcer who can clearly be heard to be delighted that the home side have scored, someone, much to Tom’s annoyance, informs everyone that “Liverpool” are “beating Arsenal” in their game at Anfield.

Blessed with an ungodly amount of pace, the HV winger on the far side is soon flying once again, causing the home side all sorts of issues. His latest foray down the touch line is ushered out by one defender, much to the delight of one concerned home fan at the sight of him striding goalwards, “come on”.

It’s fair to say Tom takes pleasure in the simplest of things, a good cup of tea, some well cooked chips, tonight however it's not food that’s got him grinning, but the name of one of the players, Cyril. “Kind of love that” he says, “a name from football yesteryear”.

The away bench does it’s best to rival the noise of the home one, when following a particularly big tackle they go all “braveheart” as Tom describes it. “Well done” cries one man, overflowing with enthusiasm after his player won the ball back.

Into the last five of the half and HV are in again, but put it wide from a narrow angle. Tom has taken to his feet, in an attempt to wake up his extremities, “I’m getting frostbite”. With me still sitting he suggests I’m going to need an “inflatable” if I stay on my arse for the rest of the game, increasing my chances he thinks of getting “piles”.

“He nearly missed that” scoffs Tom, who I can just about hear over the one women cheer squad along to our right, celebrating the home sides second goal. The simple tap in is almost sent the wrong side of the post, but gets in the end to double GT’s lead. “Cheese that” says Tom, it being this close to half time I imagine he’s talking about his burger, but actually its some FIFA 20 lingo. A “cheesy goal” he goes on to explain is lots of R2 to sprint down the wing, a touch of X to pass it to the player in the box, and a dot of O to roll into the empty net, but the scorers connection was a tad scuffed, but he was spared any blushes.

GT’s keeper is elated, the HV keeper is not. “What the fuck?” he asks of his team mate, arms stretched out, not because as Tom points out he has “no number” on his shirt, but because his defence were non existent in the face of the GT attack

Bang on the stroke of halftime, what looked like a comfortable lead for the home side is halved. “Looked innocuous” says the man behind me, a tackle in the GT box has resulted in the referee pointing to the spot and curiously and for no apparent reason, the player brought down to win it, picks himself up and at nearly at full pace runs away from the scene of the crime, back to his own half. Very odd.

“Yes” exclaims the HV manager, “we go again” shouts GT’s, both of them keeping up the battle of the loudest gaffer right to the death.

An injury to a home player holds up halftime and Toms inevitable dash for food. The vigorous massaging looks to have done the job and the downed player is soon back up on his feet. “Bad sportsmanship” tut's Tom, when instead allowing the customary throw back to the keeper after the ball was put out of play, is instead kicked back out for another throw in.

Tom is absolutely chomping at the bit, “is it not half time yet” he wines. Barking his instructions, “hold, hold” the GT keeper makes sure there are no more slip ups, and such is his volume that I can barely hear the half time whistle.

“Our staff will be happy to serve you” says the young man over the PA, with Tom already on his way to put that to the test. It’s quiet as the teams depart, with neither managers having anything to say. As I unfold my 50/50 ticket I’m sure I’ve won, “211, 211” confirms the voice, but on second glance mine says 217, six out, my heart sinks, fuck. Tom thinks it's very funny when I explain just how close I was on his return, seeing it fit to nigh on laugh in my face, but he has his own problems to deal with, so his mocking is short lived.

“This is not going to end well” he prophesizes, the height of his ginormous burger, his huge, double patty burger, that looks close to toppling over that he admits to having been “too scared” to put sauce on.

Like some kind of sick wind up, the PA pipes up again informing us that the “50/50 has not been claimed” maybe this means a redraw, the ticket six away gets the prize instead? “I’ll have it” shouts one local optimistically, but any hope of my first win of the season, that our petrol money might be covered, is soon dashed to the floor, “quick update, it's just been claimed”.

Tom’s quiet, which can only mean he’s enjoying his food. “Sorry I’m dripping juice on you” he tells me, breaking away from his furious chewing. His apology and the constant pinging of his phones notifications as the goals fly in at Anfield is all I can hear, in fact all anyone can hear, until one home player appears buoyant for the new half, “come on Guildford”.

Bemused I think is how you would describe the expression on the face of the GT player, when for no clear reason an HV player next to him crumbled to the floor in search of a free kick. The visitors mind you are not the only ones guilty of a bit of play acting. The blood curdling scream that follows a tackle on a home player, surely means his leg is broken, no both of them, but soon he is back up, like nothing has happened.

The half time oranges have done little to dispel GT’s wobbles at the back, a cross into their box is crudely hacked away and the foul play is increasing too. “Never” screams a home fan when HV are
awarded a free kick on the edge of the box “he fell over him”, however GT have nothing to worry about the set piece is woeful.

“Start playing, start playing” pleads the the GT manager after what has been a pretty uninspired start to the new half. When they are in possession of the ball it inevitably ends up out on the wing. “He can’t catch you” shouts one home fan, when the wide man is off on one of his gallivanting runs, “he’s nowhere near you” they confirm. Only for the defender who looked right off the pace, who is now the new poster boy for perseverance sticks with him, and against all odds recovers well and wins the ball back.

As the clock ticks down the rate of theatrics increases. “Embarrassing” shudders a GT supporter, “get up” shouts another. In an attempt to win another penalty one HV player has just gone over very easily in the GT box, but his efforts go unrewarded.

The halftime break has also done little to defuse the increasing physicality. “Thank you,” says one man sarcastically, when a poor HV tackle ends up with the home side being awarded a free kick in a promising position. “Do not lose the work rate” says the home bench, offering up a few words of encouragement, that ultimately have the opposite effect than intended. This free kick, just like all the others that preceded it, is poor.

GT are growing increasingly sloppy, determined to chuck their lead away, and their manager is losing it. “Don’t let him cross” begs a home fan, but the defender does just that and the HV player sliding in at the back post is only a fraction away from tapping in for the equaliser.

Long time readers will know how fond of shorts I am, how it was only recently I retired mine for the year, so because of this Tom is happy to do a bit of short shaming, when a man comes into view, who is not one of the twenty two players or any of the three officials, sporting the aforementioned no leg garment in November, “putting you to shame”.

A long range HV shot is on target and has to be beaten away by the GT keeper, who has been nowhere near as cavalier with his positioning so far this half. All this pressure on his team, is causing the GT manager to hit new levels of audibility, forcing him to call out Tom’s favourite player, “Cyril concentrate”. What must be even more frustrating for the GT manager is when his team do knuckle down for just a second, they are able to dissect HV with ease. “Clip him” instructs one visiting midfielder after a GT players just skipped past half the team, bearing down on goal he ends up running somewhat down a dead end, the chance to pass has gone and the home fans are livid, getting the most animated they have been all night.

In on goal, one on one, GT have the best chance so far to create themselves a bit of breathing space, but the side footed shot is wide, stirring an “ohhhh” from the crowd, whose half own half time refreshments, has clearly livened them up.

“One, two, three, four” counts the home manager, his over the top delivery, is an attempt to highlight just how many HV fouls have gone unpunished, pointing to each spot of the pitch one of his players have been taken out. One home fan, ensures to make sure the players are not dejected by this rather underhand tactic, “boys keep your heads up, you're still the better side”

What looked like it could have been a nasty one, a challenge on the GT keeper, goes neither punished or results in an injury, the man in goal rolling out of the collision like an old pro. The wind is picking up, and I feel a little exposed on the side of the man made mountain, the temperature is dropping and the game, well, the game is not great.

The closer GT get to securing the three points, the closer they get to chucking it all away. “He’s in acres of space” bemoans a home fan, HV are away down the wing, the player cuts the ball into the box, tees up his team mate, the equalizer looks nailed on, however the shot is wild. “Weyyyyyy” cackles one man, the shot way, way over.

A soft flicked header causes the GT crowd to squirm, but the late effort on goal is right into the hands of the keepers. Tom decides it's time to “get his little mittens out” and the home supporters, no rival to their managers noise of course, have though really come out fighting this second half, “switch on” bellows one. The recurring issue of major lapses in concentration at the back strikes again, HV are in, but can't take the chance, causing one grown man to briefly sound like a toddler, when he screams at one of the offending back four, “you stupid”.

It’s a mistake by HV at the back which presents GT with their next chance, in on goal, the third goal looks only moments away, but for some completely unfathomable reason, the player with the ball squares it, instead of shooting and Tom is dumbfounded, “why?”.

Falling short of stamping his feet and holding his breath, but sounding a lot like my two year old daughter, the boy in the shorts repeats “we've lost it, we've lost it” as HV get closer and closer to the goal, with only the keeper to beat. A block of John Terry esq proportions, flinging his whole body in front of the ball, stops the goal bound shot, the HV players appeal for a hand ball, but nothing is given.

The wind gets stronger and is cutting through me like a knife and the home defence again, do everything they can to throw the three points away, despite the shouts of “urgency, urgency” from one supporter. Some miscommunication at the back ends with the one GT defender and the keeper coming together in an almighty heap, neither of them with the ball, which pops out as if it was a bar of soap in a cartoon, skidding through the box and wide of the goal.

“Clear” shouts a home defender, sounding like the last man alive in the fox hole, when HV send another ball from out wide into the box, and goes close once more. GT are on the ropes, exploiting them on every occasion from wide areas, HV are in the box, only for some last ditch defending forcing the ball wide. The home fans are only able to show their displeasure now by making low guttural noises, “aghhhhhh”.

The resulting corner, despite its best efforts misses everyone, every single HV player in the box is forced to just spectate as it’s whistles by, by the time it's travelled all the way though, its eventually hoofed clear, but the chances keep on coming for HV. “That was close”, gasps a home supporter, the GT keeper at full stretch can one watching as the ball sails past him and the post.

Conspicuous in their absence, the ball boys are nowhere to be seen and when they do pop up, they are far from as energetic as they were in the first half, the time it takes for the ball to get back into play, slowing the last throes of the match to a snail's pace.

Having clearly seen enough, those making their way back up the hill towards the way out, are stopped in their tracks by an almighty to-do, that plays out in one corner of the pitch. “I didn't stamp on him” states the HV player accused by a GT one, of just doing that. Close to all twenty two players are involved at one point, but soon calm returns. Allowing those drifting off early, to continue their climb.

Doing their best to torture their supporters right until the very last whistle, the GT players continue to make things hard for themselves and the home fans patients is wearing thin, “keep. the. ball” orders one, “simple”, and come the final whistle one lets out a very loud and relieved “yessss”.

If you put your hand on your heart, I think you will admit that the idea of watching a football match in an athletics stadium is very, very low down your list of things to do. I admit to being of those people, I'll hold my hand up and admit that a little bit of me cried inside on the realisation that GT played in one, but I can also admit I was pleasantly surprised. The elevated view makes for a very agreeable vantage point. That and the chance of a prize winning programme, and the chance of seeing a goal keeper score, I'd suggest a visit to the Guildford Spectrum Leisure Complex, see it actually rolls right off the tongue, will not be a wasted one.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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