Sunday 19 January 2020

Well Saved Legolas - Huntingdon Town FC Vs Burton Park Wanderers FC, United Counties Football League Division One, Jubilee Park (27/11/19)

The A1 is odd, very odd indeed. For such a major highway stretching all the way from London to Edinburgh its only two lanes in places, very poorly lit and littered with sex shops. Lone gaily lit petrol stations occasionally appear on the horizon like a mirage, disappearing as quickly as they appeared. The people who decided that slap bang in the middle of nowhere was the ideal spot for a caravan dealership and Christmas tree outlet was a good idea, might struggle if they ever decided to have a pop at the Dragons. They don't sound like the kind of people dripping with business acumen.

As you can maybe tell by the fact I'm not recounting chats about FIFA, that once again I’m alone, so even if I did want to stop off for a whip or the latest copy of Playboy, I don’t have anyone to hold my hand as I did. For the fifth time this season, Tom & I have travelled separately, and he’s arrived well before me, although his journey was far from seamless.

“A farm” he screeches over the speaker on my phone, his Sat Nav has forced him to do a “dodgy u turn” in the dark, where he was “sure there was a ditch” that he and his motor nearly disappeared into.

I’m glad to see as I manoeuvre across the vast gravel covered car park of Jubilee Park, that Tom’s car is all in one piece, with no signs of having ended up on his roof. Some may wonder why I bother commenting on the state of the car park in a football blog, well it’s because over the years we’ve spent so much time in them, some of which have been so horrifying, so outright dangerous, it's a pleasant surprise when I enter one, without the fear of maybe not getting out again in one piece.

Outside the clubhouse a dark haired man in a tracksuit frantically taps away on his phone, eventually bumping into Tom, he informs me the aforementioned man is the home side Huntingdon Town FC’s (HT) manager. The look on my face when he tells me, makes him think it necessary to reiterate the point he’s just made, “yes, he’s the manager”. My expression down to the fact of just how fresh faced he is, Tom informing me he is all of “twenty four years old”, and his frantic phone calls are by the sound of it to wrangle up the late comers.

The woman on a bar stool, with the equally high table beside her hands me my programme as I enter the parquet floored main room of the clubhouse, the bright strip lighting illuminating the almost Viking longhouse length tables, each surrounded by a host of blue padded chairs, but there is not a mead filled horn tanker to be seen.

There is though the most immaculate looking condiments table, the graphic covered PVC tablecloth tells you exactly what is on offer, teas and coffee, with plenty of pictures to match, however they are doing themselves a disservice, as well as their sponsor a local butchers, because there is also about the largest array of Cuppa soups available I’ve ever seen and the loud rattle of the the shutter over the bar, means the chance of some mead might still be on the cards.

“Shit shirts”, says Tom sneering, his appreciation of the decor is not exactly glowing. The framed Spurs shirt, plus a couple of England ones too, that line the walls are not quite his cup of tea. On closer inspection I notice there is a running theme among them, they are all signed by Harry Redknapp's favourite centre forward “my missus could have scored that one” Darren Bent, who it turns out is a local resident, who sponsors the home changing room too.

With some time to kill, Tom in some detail gives me the low down on his recent “Michelin star” meal, where he uses the word “foam” and “deconstructed” a lot. Our staggeringly bourgeoisie conversation though is soon somewhat overshadowed by the home keeper, who is half hanging through the glass door of the clubhouse leading outside where it’s looking rather ghastly, who is doing his best to get the attention of the HT Chairman.

“Doug” calls out the keeper, “turn the floodlights on please” he asks. Doug, who has no time for chatting, gives the request short shrift and points him in the direction of the “training pitches”. By the looks of it this was not the response the goalie wanted, whose attempt to negotiate doesn’t last long, “Half past” Doug snaps, confirming the agreed time the big lights go on, and if he’s not happy he should “talk to” his “manager or find another fucking club”.

Slowly but surely a few people start to trickle through the door, but it's little more than that, the biggest group are Burton Park Wanderers FC (BP) fans. One sports a BP scarf another has the initials of the club on the back of his coat, the small contingent of away supporters heading straight for the bar, more than one of them asking why are the floodlights still not on?

The lack of a clear landmark that floodlights so often can be for many, was an issue for one man, with the ground being “out in the middle of nowhere” the “no lights” meant he was “a bit worried”.

It’s almost biblical when eventually the lights do come on. Showing us what until now was shrouded in complete darkness, giving us our first view of the pitch, letting us quickly assess our surroundings and what kind of cover is on offer. The introduction of the lights for most also means the covered smoking area in now a goer and the tea bar is soon churning out a bit of grub. “Cheese burger?” asks the cook, offering a bit of table service to the crowd outside, but there are no takers.

A single white railing surrounds the pitch, the club's name is written across a white wall behind the far goal and thankfully there is some shelter but not much. Two small IKEA’ esq flatpack stands with red seats are on one corner of the pitch and an almost shed-like looking structure on the half way line. Low roofed and gloomy, and in a slightly odd stroke of architectural design, also contains the two dugouts, which are both basically much smaller versions of the structure behind.

Clearly content that his blue and white golf umbrella will suffice one BP fan, one rouge BP fan breaks away from the pack and heads the opposite way in search of somewhere dry to sit. The click clacking of the players at the start of the long paving stoned lined path from the club badge flanked double doors leading from the changing rooms to the pitch, initiate a minor migration, although a fair bunch stay in the smoking area, and as the players walk out, they can only stir a smattering of claps from the people here.

“It's horrible” says one of the linesman to the HT keeper, as he inspects the nets pre kick off. The rain has not stopped coming down and it isn't even really all that heavy, but stand around in it for the next hour and you'll end up with wet underwear.

The blast of the referee's whistle is sharp and cuts right through the clammer of the players and whatever mild noise the crowd are making. “Skippers please” he shouts as he calls over the captains. The home keeper has already earmarked himself as a talker, he’s incessant and the group under the cover of the smoking area haven't bothered moving yet. Kick off feels overdue, and the man in the middle double checks with each goalie, “keeper” before finally getting us underway.

Having opted for a spot in the shed, which is busy’ish, most people are huddled together at the same end as the home dugout, we are at the opposite end, leaning on the roof of the integrated away bench, the players totally oblivious that we can hear everything through the thin marine ply roof. Not very far away in his technical area, the HT manager sees his team, in his first game at the helm, get off to the worst possible start. Eight minutes gone and they are already behind.

It’s an absolute hammer of a shot, that although it's not far from the HT keeper, is hit with such ferocity that it flies past his outstretched arm, right over the top of him and into the goal. The laughing BP players below us are quickly scalded by their manager, “it’s too early for that shit”. He knows there is still plenty left to play, and they haven't won it yet and the excited players soon fall quiet again.

By the end of the night we will fat with one liners from the group around the home dugout and the away bench, the major culprits in the ‘banter’ deluge flooding towards the pitch. “That's assault ref” shouts one along from us, a BP lunge at a home player is a bit of a shocker, but there is no booking and the player responsible for the foul, judging by his gesticulating, is suggesting it wasn't his fault,
but down to the soggy conditions.

Never one to be outdone, Tom partial to a bit of the old follicular related chit chat then asks me with a totally straight face if I like the “goalies luscious hair?” the far from lofty BP stopper is indeed blessed with a very fetching mane of golden locks. Tom suggests it must “remind” me “of being sixteen” when yes I was too blessed with hair, all bit it dark brown, right down to my arse.

When he’s not talking about hair, and considering his job you think it would be the last thing he would want to do, Tom shares his thoughts on the home team's prospects tonight. “They are going to get fucked” and so engrossing is the match before us, the majority of the home fans are talking about, if not watching on their phones, tonight's Champions League matches, which is never a good sign.

“Dennis Irwin init” sniggers one BP substitute, as their left back goes on the kind of run I wouldn't normally associate with the dependable Irishman and most of the smoking area posse have finally moved, however it's the action of one person on the far side of the ground who has us totally captivated. Dressed in a black coat, milling about in the now driving rain, a man is plodding around with a bucket and Tom asks me if I think he is “fishing”.

Neither team has had a chance since the goal, it's just been a lot of toing and froing in midfield and very little else. A couple of brave souls are adding to the match inflicted torture by standing out in the elements and so fine is the rain, that it’s not until you look at the floodlights, can you see it's still coming down.

“He loves a tackle number 8” surmises Tom, the BP midfielder flying into another of what is turning out to be his signature move and despite insisting with the referee that he “got the ball” he thinks otherwise, and a foul is given against him.

Except for the respective managers blocking our view on occasion, it's a relatively good one we have from the safety of the stand. That's until someone below us starts to drag on their vape, sending a thick cloud of white smoke up and out over the pitch, like a locomotive and it's not until the culprit stands up and emerges, telling us he’s “got to stretch” his “legs” because there isn't “enough room” in there, we realise its the kit man and not a player.

Half an hour gone and the match is dead, deader than a dead thing, that has just been confirmed dead, by Professor Dead, Head of Deadology at the University of Dead. The BP manager turns towards the dugout to take a sip from his resting Lucozade before putting it back and returning to the match. Pretending I’m sure that he is actually thirsty, his team couldn't be more on top if they tried, he just wanted something to do. I think they could have subbed us on and they would still be cruising.

There is still plenty of chatter from the crowd, but none of it is about the match and one BP substitute is not backwards in coming forwards, a mistake from one of his teammates sees him ask “why we sinking to their level?”. Admittedly they have gone off the boil a bit after their quick start, but that's a pretty damning statement or the hosts who find themselves very much at the wrong end of the table at the moment and look every inch relegation fodder.

With zero goalmouth action to captivate us, we do though have a sopping wet pitch and each teams propensity for a full blooded tackle which combined is making for a “very physical” encounter as Tom puts it and when a chance on goal does finally come, by the home side no less, it's such a straightforward save for the BP keeper, he could have thrown his cap on it, as they say.
The response from one person in the crowd to the slightly overly dramatic stop, well in his defense he must be super bored, might go down as one of the best things I’ve ever heard at a football match, “well saved Legolas”.

Despite all the 50/50’s and sliding collision, the referees hardly had much to do either, and his latest awarding of a free kick, has the air of I just fancied something to do about it. The BP manager is perplexed at why he has just awarded it against his team, “what the fuck was that for?” he asks, arms out by his side. Turning back to get a drink, he mumbles to himself, “shit decision”.

You do hear, almost always when watching football on the TV, extra praise being heaped on keepers, when they pull off a stunning save having until then having almost absolutely nothing to do all match. Some such praise then must be heaped on “Legolas”, who has just pulled off the the most sublime fingertip save, tipping a HT free kick over and out for a corner. How he was able to get up and out of his deckchair that quickly is a feat of stunning athleticism.

The banter bus keeps rolling on courtesy of the group to our right, “9 is Adriano” says one as the home forward heads towards goal and sadly I don't think their association is because of his keen eye for goal, but more because he is a touch, and only a touch mind on the portly side.

HT have flirted with possession in the last few minutes, but if I’m honest I’m not sure they really know what to do with. “Come on Town, let's get started” shouts one of their players, his encouragement a tad late, considering it’s almost half time.

“Hit it, hit it, hit it” urges someone on the BP bench to the player with the ball, who backs up my theory of them simply not giving a toss, the one goal they seem to think is more than enough for the win, so why waste the effort. He does what the bench instructs and the wobbling shot moves so much the home keeper can't hold it. “More of that” encourages the bench, and for the second time one of them is scathing about HT, “proper shaky team mate”.

The fact that the blue and white golf brolly is now down, might mean it's safe to venture outside, however I’m very comfy and I’m enjoying earwigging on the BP players and as if like all twenty two on the pitch had just been hit by lighting, the final five minutes of the game, are actually enthralling. Relatively speaking, we have been starved of any real entertainment, after all.

“Came off his shin pad, would have been fucking incredible” says the shocked BP manager turning towards his bench, after a speculative shot at best by one of his players nearly found the top corner of the goal, from all of about thirty five yards. The chances though are not just reserved for the visitors and bearing down on goal one on one, HT look like they might just draw the match level, only for “Legolas” to go and break home hearts again and keep them out. Ricocheting off him, HT are soon back in possession again, but can't make anything of it, which draws a disappointed groan from Tom.
HT are tackling each other and BP are spurning the kind of chances to make any manager pull his hair out, “fucking hell man” says BP’s, when a simple pass for a tap in was all that was required, but they fluff it and when they do finally double their lead, it’s the least they deserve, actually if they had applied themselves just 10% more they would probably be into double figures now. The BP manager doesn't want anyone to be fooled by the one-sided scoreline, “that's masked how shit we've been”.

If this game has not been totally schizophrenic already, the puffed out cheeks of the BP assistant summing up how everyone was feeling after a HT long range shot almost crept under the bar, would have been the cherry on the top.

Other than the odd drive from way out, HT really have had very little going for them. BP are cutting
them apart at will, “their defence is awful” sighs Tom and when they do have the ball, and when one player beats one man, beats another, getting hearts racing, and then opts for a pirouette to beat a third, but is put on his arse, the BP bench let him know what they think of his showboating, “that's what you get for being a cunt”, it just about sums HT fortunes to a tee.

With the end of the half only seconds away, “Adriano” is in on goal, his finish though is far from decisive and another HT sighter that must have been from nearly forty yards, is beaten out by the blond haired one, and walloped clear by a defender.

Every player to man has to quite literally drag themselves off, as what has been far from the best half we've seen so far this season comes to an end and an eerie hush to say the least descends, made even worse by watching Tom bolt for his food. Leaving me all alone.

The only thing I can hear other than my own thoughts is the sound of the home substitutes kicking the ball about, one of them reckons “they should just call the game now” no point carrying on, if they did just sack it off at least he “can have some chips and go to bed”. Disgruntled to say the least, just what you need around a club going through a bit of a crisis.

Talk among the away substitutes is a little bit more up beat, “pitch is lovely actually” says one with a grin, another pointing out rightly that its “not cutting up as bad as I thought”.

BP come out positively marching, no sense that they are happy for proceedings to be cut short. Finishing up his food from the tea bar, Tom thinks, and I’m not sure quite why, but it might be the one that “finally kills” him. His first impression when handed it was hardly positive, “most miserable looking burger” and it's kind of been downhill since then, “tastes like it was cooked two weeks ago”.

Tom tells me he’s “surprised” that anyone came out for the second half, instead opting to stay warm inside. “Come on big forty five” says one HT player, “big” might be understating the issues, it's going to have to be massive and with less than a minute gone of the half, the BP bench are screaming for a player to “hit it”, is of concern. The shot clears the bar and the hedge behind it, an early let off, but HT looking are as porous as ever.
The introduction of a fresh face for the home side might be what they need to shore them up a a bit, but who on first appearance looks a bit “baby faced” as Tom puts it, might just be a youngster getting some much needed minutes, and only seconds after coming on he is clattered to the floor, Tom suggests that “this game is going to break him”.

We started the new half just to the left of where we finished the old one, but it's soon apparent it's nowhere near as comfortable and as Tom points out its “cold out here” so we soon move back. We are settled in our old position just in time to see a reducer challenge of Juan Zuniga proportions. A horrible crunching tackle, that stops the home attack dead and somehow results in no booking. The free kick that follows shows the first real bit of home ingenuity, a pass down the side of the wall and into the box catches BP out. The HT keeper cries for his teammates to “follow it up”, but the final effort is tame.

The unpunished reducer is the first of many robust tackles. The animosity is rising, it’s all getting very blood and thunder. The referee waves BP on after another hatchet job, allowing them to play the advantage after another hatchet job. In on goal, the BP bench grumbles in unison when the promising attack is undone, thanks to a woeful final ball.

Although HT have had more possession in the first quarter of the new half, than they did in the entirety of the first, plus a shot on goal, it seems to have done nothing to improve morale on or off the pitch. BP line up for a long range free kick, but it's a woeful, and in again, outnumbering the home defence at the back, a third surely a certainty, it again comes to nothing due to a complete inability to pass. The final ball is so bad, even the home fans sigh.

The banter boys are back, having done what Tom thought they might and stayed inside, but slinking out for the final thirty minutes. “Ref we heard that” one shouts, after a BP player is called over because of dissent, “thats disgusting” adds another, the group around him chuckle, before another pipes up, “you look scared ref”.

A free header by BP goes the wrong side of the post, after the winger followed the direction to “hit it” from the bench. There are a few quiet ahhh’s, as the ball goes wide and then it's all oohh's and a few more pithy one liners from the home crowd, “that's so shit” after the HT forward concludes his final run with a limp shot. A team mate watching on, runs both hands through his hair in frustration.

I don’t want to be enjoying the sight of the mass brawl as much as I am, but the game is giving us nothing, so I have to seek amusement from somewhere. “Walk away, walk away” barks the home keeper, but no one on either side is having any of it. The referee backs away from the melee to chat with his assistants who have joined him on the pitch, I wonder if either of them spotted the head being thrown in the throng? The fracas ignited by a late BP challenge, one HT supporter asking the downed away player, “how's it feel?”.

“He's not the sharpest” mutters the BP manager about his terrier like number 8, who is the last to break away from the confrontation. The referee and his officials have seemingly missed the head but. “Give them both a yellow and let's get on with it” shouts someone in the crowd and that's exactly what the man in charge does.

With order restored, the game offers up a rare bit of excitement, bearing down on goal the order from the BP bench to “finish it”, which is almost followed to the letter, except they didn't take into account the player changing towards the line, who makes an excellent clearance just in the nick of time.

The main BP protagonist in the ruckus is off, due to the injury from the tackle that sparked the melee, and not picked up in the following punch up, “did he get you properly?” asks his manager “right down the achilles?”. We are also reminded that appearances can be deceiving when we hear for
the first time who we thought was the HT youngster, who I can tell you is actually far from it and having snapped him a couple of times, Tom tells me “he looks much older on the camera” then we first thought.

A compliment, rather than tedious attempts at banter are the latest things to emit from the small crowd. “That was good from you bruv” says one, I know it's hardly glowing, but it's something, after a curling HT effort is saved by the keeper, but he can't hold on to the first attempt. Spilling it back into the box, he’s just about able to gather it up before he’s swamped.

“Even the ball wants to go home” scoffs Tom, a decent exchange on the edge of the BP box, sets up a player, but his side footed attempt is off target, sending the ball wide of the goal and right down the tunnel a good thirty yards behind.

If they really, really put their mind to it, I think HT could score, even draw level, but having had none of the ball, to now having loads of it, their need for about three extra touches too many is driving their manger mad. “Shoot” he exclaims, but with the ball on the edge of the BP box, they instead pass again, and the move breaks down.

“Keep calm Harry” urges a HT fan with the forward baring down on goal, but “Legolas” is out in a flash, closing down the space and saving with his feet and one HT supporter has finally lost his composure, having been almost restrained all match, his team have pushed him over the edge, “just fucking shoot”. Six yards out from goal, the player with the ball at his feet and the goal at his mercy dawdles, allowing a BP player to get back and block. Both the bench and those HT fans here are flabbergasted.

The HT manager has had the crowd in his ear for the whole game and has done well not to react. Again his team advances into the box, again they hesitate, again the chance is missed. It maybe goes some way to explaining why a portion of the crowd back in the smoking area are watching the football on the screen inside “VAR, VAR” repeats one, not even pretending to watch the game playing out behind them.

In an attempt to cajole his team for the final five minutes, the HT bench spell it out for them, “come on boys, you've got nothing to lose”. The shouts of “shoot, shoot” are only getting louder from the home crowd, but just like every time before, all the meandering on the edge of the box, sees them lose the ball at the vital moment. Falling to the feet of the not so juvenile looking player, his attempt is from way out, and wide. One man in the crowd continues to have faith, “it’s still on” he claims, but with the BP keeper now completely unnecessarily falling on the ball at every opportunity to waste time, the referee motioning at him and telling him to “get up”, how long they have to perform this miracle is limited.

To say BP have been forced back to their own goal line would be wrong, to say they're happy not leaving their own half might be more accurate. Yes it’s all HT, but when they are as blunt as they are up front, why would their opponent be worried how much time you spend in and around their box?

The vape smoke is coming from all corners now, covering some sections of the pitch in a cherry flavoured fog. Once more the crowd tells a player to “hit it” but you guessed its off target. Once more a player suggests “we're still in this”, but he can't actually mean it. Time and time again the ball is in the BP box, but nothing will stick for the home side, the supporters scream “shoot” the player oblige, but it's always wayward.

“Fucking hell lino I'm paying you not them” says one man among the smokers, after the assistant waves away a HT penalty claim, the crowd munitioning their imaginary cards, but the man with the red and yellow gives nothing.

The half ends with a fine flowing home move, until they shoot, and it's right at “Legolas”, a torrent of hair based gags aimed at him too, “will you take the hair out of the shower?” asks one man, “he brings a drain unblocker with him” replies another and a sweary outburst from the HT forward in a prime position on the edge of the six yard box isn't found, “shit”.

I'll keep it short and sweet for once, I won't go on for too long. I've three points to make:

1. You have to genuinely question why some people go to football, if you want to slag people off for an hour and a half, get a headset and stay at home and play Fortnite.

2. More clubs should have dugouts you can lean on and therefore listen in to what is being said inside, it's like an Amazon series with a non league budget and I loved it.

3. If Darren Bent is still up to it, and is willing to play for a Cuppa soup, HT should ring him and ring him fast.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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