Sunday 23 February 2020

Bloody Flags - Cambridge City FC Vs Soham Town Rangers FC, Isthmian League North, Bridge Road (05/02/20)

Necking a handful of Ibuprofen, I bid my daughter farewell, but it's tinged with a modicum of disdain. It is after all because of her and all her snotty little friends at playgroup that I feel like shit. Her kinds propensity for bad hygiene, sneezing and drooling on everything, means it's only a matter of time before I’m struck down with whatever lurgy she has brought home, along with her latest collage of painted pasta shells and glitter.

I’m sans Tom once again, a sentence I seem to be writing more than not this season. Instead I have Trevor Francis for company, the “million pound man” proves to be a worthy replacement, his self-deprecating tales of making his debut for Forest in the European Cup final, where he scored the winner, all said in his slightly monotone West Country way is very endearing and helps the time pass satisfactorily.

We're both early, both because we made the mistake of believing Google Maps tells the truth, so it means we have some time to kill, and I find Tom hunkered down his car, with the heater blaring. There is some time of course for a brief bit of Fifa chat, Tom is back at it after a short hiatus, but more interestingly he tells me after effectively retiring, he is playing Pokemon Go again, yeah I didn't think anyone played it anymore either. Like many millions of people I was too caught up in its initial fanfare, but had stopped long ago. Much to his delight tonight's ground, Bridge Road, is a Pokestop. So while I talk at him, getting very little back in reply, he is catching a whole host of Snorlax and Rattata.

Although Bridge Road is only the temporary home of Cambridge City FC (CFC), uniquely, and certainly not something we have seen before in similar circumstances, they have their very own turnstile, with their very own sign above it, the landlord's entrance a little further along. Beyond it a black roofed gazebo, the kind of which you crack out for a family BBQ, but on account of it being black it would be a family of goths, the semi permanent garden furniture, is in all intents and purposes a pop up shop. A table underneath it is laden with a fine array of branded gear from hats to pins and near by an immaculately turned out lady is selling 50/50 tickets, using a chair from a function room to prop up her kitty.

“Pitch is a bit dog eared” sneers Tom, the playing surface not up to his high standards. On it one team's physio is taking a player through their paces, before by the looks of it is determined if he is fit enough or not to play. Tom then embraces his inner Titmarsh when he notices pitchside some considerable mounds of sand and mud, “mole issue?”, but leaves his final cutting comment for the state of the sorry looking six yard box, “ohhh that is an awful goal mouth”.

The fact that in his eyes the pitch is in a far from ideal condition, is somewhat of a “surprise” to him, “for such a nice place”. Bridge Road is the home of a team who not so long ago plied their trade a bit further up the pyramid and you can tell. It’s got a bit more to it than your average ground at this level, like stands on all sides, more seats than not, and at a push, and maybe with a slightly squinted eye, it could maybe pass off as a League two ground, just.

Football fans commitment to the cause, never ceases to amaze me, and in Chris CFC’s media man, who has traveled all the way from Lincoln to Cambridgeshire tonight, is a gleaming example of this. His side's “results” this season so far “do not reflect the performances” and he ensures me that’s with an impartial hat on “I'm not just saying that”. He expects a “couple of hundred” here tonight, considering its a bit of a local derby, and he becomes the second person to flag the food as being a bit special here, someone already telling me the burger is an 11 out of 10, he tells me the “fish fingers are ace”.

George Ezra is not what first comes to mind when getting in the right headspace for a sporting event, but the players now warming up I’m sure don't have much of a say about such matters, so like me will just have to endure him and one is never quite sure with a ground share what kind of a turnout there will be, however the steady flow of arriving supporters, who have not baulked at the sound of Mr Ezra and run away, means quite a crowd is forming. Life is slowly being breathed into the place and I should never have doubted Chris, because if it keeps up like this, it will be bang on this predicted attendance. Which if I'm honest I never imagined would be the case, I had pictured Tom and I and our fish fingers rattling around this big old place.

The man on the PA is a professional to the hilt, reading what I’m sure are copious notes from his clipboard, he’s plugging all the options available to the arriving fans, a programme of course or the 50/50. The duo in high vis coats by the turnstiles are doing a roaring trade.

It’s from the centre of the older of the two main stands, that sit side by side, the newer of the two with a blue Meccano roof, that the rolling tunnel is extended from, deep wide and long, all surrounded by quite a formidable looking cage, right out of a Copa 90 video about South American football. The Scissor Sisters strike up as the referee patrols it’s mouth, already looking cold, he bounces the match ball to keep himself busy, while the players shelter inside the cavernous depths, who I can just about hear though the red vinyl, over the sound of the New York disco revival.

There is a healthy mix of the black and white of CFC and the green and white of their opponents Soham Town Rangers FC (STR), milling about behind the dugouts waiting for the teams and then the toss. Which side each person is rooting for, is made clear by the colour of the their bobble hat and I must admit I’m starting to fade a little, my malady is starting to take hold, but the infectious voice over the PA rouses me a little, “time now to welcome our two teams” he says, while people continue to arrive. The man with the mic showing the first bit of personality, with his final run through of the CFC starting eleven “and for Cambridge City”.

The burger bar is rammed and the food is flying out, as are the teas, one of which someone has rested on top of one of the fishtank dugouts, the back of the players heads lined up next to one another like a mixture of a low budget Big Brother and a Jermaine Jenas quote. “Enjoy the game” says the voice and once again he lets us know it's not all business with him. Two bits of revelry in two minutes, maybe someone spiked his tea.

“Bloody flags” angrily says one lady, fastening one to the back of the stand behind one goal, she like me having missed what Tom later tells is a goal of the season contender scored by the home side after about a minute. The ball flying in over my right shoulder. The early goal has the home fans now hurriedly hanging their flags encouraged, “should be a good one” they tell me, “no love lost” between the two sides they explain.

It’s probably worth mentioning now, that today's vantage point to watch the match from, is a little bit of a departure from the norm, where we are not trying to get comfortable lent up against the railing around the pitch or are sat in a brittle faded plastic chair in a stand. With a big grand ground like this, come certain luxuries, and twenty feet up in the air, Bridge Road has a TV tower or gantry I guess you might call it, worthy of Match Of The Day.

By the time I’ve climbed the scaffolding and plank stairs, squeezed through the tiny swing gate, to find Tom has drunk my tea, more home flags have gone up, and I've just about caught my breath when a back post header sails inches over the STR bar.

Having had a chance to settle, Tom has been chilling at top of what we’ve dubbed the ‘Tower of Power’ for a while, while I’m still panting, so struggle to reply, Tom shares with me his thoughts on STR’s orange top and socks, paired with white shorts, “I like the Holland kit” and CFC are showing none of the signs of their poor run, in fact it's quite the opposite, they are positively strutting. At the quarter of an hour mark, they almost scored a “replica” of their first says Tom, but this time the curling shot is right at the keeper.

Unfortunately the gloss is somewhat taken off the fine home sides start, because moments later it’s all square, thanks to “big chunky number 20” as Tom has christened him, who trundled up from the back for a STR free kick and with a delicate backwards flick of his head, draws the game level. Much to the delight of the STR fans behind the goal who let out a hearty “wehhhhhhhhh”.

The lack of love loss mentioned by the CFC supporter soon becomes apparent. Not long after the equalizer a frustrated crunching home tackle has the STR players up in arms, “fucking hell ref”, but the man in charge is happy for things to continue, signaling play on with his arms out in front of him, STR almost benefit from his relaxed approach. In on goal, the debut CFC keeper, after the regular stopper was sent off last match, rushes off his goal to scoop up the dangerous ball.

“Big chunky” then almost gives STR the lead, getting his loaf on the end of another free kick, his large head proving to be quite a formidable weapon, all while the robust challenges are coming thick
and fast. “How is that not even a booking?” wonders Tom, the CFC forward scything down an STR defender, a real strikers tackle, only results in a talking to. “Feisty” says Tom, but not like Yoda, which is very disappointing.

Home confidence has notably dipped and another unpunished cruncher leaves the STR number 8 limping. An almighty clearance from one STR defender is in danger of “hitting my car” worries Tom, a booming hoof is sent into the stratosphere and if CFC are going to prosper at all, it will be with the ball at the feet of their number 9. Their sole outlet, prowling on the right wing, fast and unchecked, to make a second Star Wars reference in as many paragraphs, he is their ‘only hope’.

“Ref, I got the ball” is the inevitable line that follows every bad challenge, that and motioning the shape of the ball with your hands, but that's absent on this occasion. There is a scream a terrible straight out of Saw scream from the halted STR player, “Ginola” the terrier like home number 4 responsible, who because of his quite luscious mane Tom thinks resembles the Frenchman, is destined to get himself “sent off”.

STR are awarded a free kick, which sees number 20 up from the back, and the away fans assist the referee with the placement of the CFC wall, and how many feet it should be from the ball, “it's not seven, it's supposed to be ten ref”. The fouls are mounting, and the game is getting a little stop start. The latest set piece is CFC’s, however it just travels through the STR box and out the other side.

Tom, a spectacle wearer himself, is impressed by the home side’s sponsor “Specsavers” which he considers “big” for a “little team” and it’s thanks to his competitively priced lenses, that he is able to see and then laugh at the most laughable of fouls. This one is without malice or pain caused, the STR player simply “flopped” on top of the CFC one, as Tom adds he “lay down on top of him”.

It’s turning into quite the debut for the stand in keeper, who has looked solid so far and because of his defence, has had a fair bit to do. What almost turns into a most spectacular own goal, is prevented only by his quick feet, he’s able to scramble away the header from a teammate after a cross, that went towards the goal and not away from it, almost creeping in under the bar.

Stop start, stop start, the game is really now failing to get going for more than a couple of minutes before another foul, grinds it to a halt. CFC have their strengths in attack, as do STR have there's, winning almost everything lumped into the home box, another header this time bobbles wide and the referee is close to losing all control, after another foul this time a CFC players is hauled down. One fan asks quite rightly, “why don't you get your card out?”. The offence right on the edge of the STR box, looked like a yellow card in anyone's book, but not him and it's only another free kick, which like many of the ones that have preceded tonight, is not very good.

“Handball” shout the home fans, but nothing is given, and then a CFC mistake in midfield hands STR the ball, who are on to it in a flash, but the cross is poor and is greeted with a roar of disappointment.

Minutes from the break and we’ll be lucky to make it without a red card or the need of the air ambulance. “I’m alright, I’m alright” says a shaken CFC player, face down, talking to a teammate after coming off second best in a fifty fifty challenge. The remainder of the half is a cacophony of shouting from players and fans. “Dear, oh dear, oh dear” says one of the small group of cantankerous old chaps below us, their elegance not clear, each one of whom is one of the two men from the theater balcony in the muppets.

“Ginola” though is unable to finish the half without a booking. What’s more surprising, that the referee has actually made one out or it's taken this long I’m not sure. A barrage of verbal follows his yellow, and he’s lucky not to get a second. “I hope you're not being assessed” is about the only thing he says without a swear word.

The half ends, just like it began, with a goal, but not for CFC. Football fans powers of the clairvoyant does scare me on occasions. “Here it comes” says a STR fan behind the goal, as his team prepares for the corner, and comes it does. Missed by the defender at the front post, it makes its way all the way to the back post, where a player in tangerine, who is being grappled somewhat, is still able to execute an impressive flying volley, giving STR the lead.

There is little of the half left, what minutes are played are full of scrappy mistakes and misjudgments, the home crowd and players are baying for blood, after such a strong start, it's all taken a major turn for the worst.

“Useless” barks one home fan “have a word” shouts another, before the furore dies down and the substitutes start their half time warm up. The PA pipes up and the “£54” prize won't be mine today, but unbeknownst to me, clutched in Tom’s right hand, scaling the steps behind me, he has my prize already, in the form of the fish finger sandwich, off all fish finger sandwiches.

“For the first time I think I'm jealous” mumbles Tom, his gourmet looking burger looks and by all accounts tastes as good as we had been foretold, but my dinner, what is effectively two slabs of crumb covered cod in a baguette, is a thing of beauty, and I have no hesitation tucking in, feed a cold and all that. As we both chow down on our ‘Tower of Power’, he regales me with tales of the extensive menu of the burger bar opposite, “they had everything, pizza, chicken nuggets”.

You could hear a pin drop in our lofty hideout, the 50/50 has yet to be “claimed”, neither has the “match day draw” another form of gambling I was not aware of, and along with the £54 I won’t be winning a box of chocolates or a bottle of Baileys either, that the PA rightly points out are both “worth having”.

Burger completed, but not quite satisfied, “should have got a chocolate bar”, Tom tells me his reason for not getting one was on account of him “trying to eat healthily”, all while he mops the juice of his cheese smothered patty and chips from his beard. The home flags have swapped ends and Tom fills me in on a momentary flare up around the burger bar, an over zealous away fan and her enthusiastic “clapping” for the second goal, riling up the the home fans, it all getting a bit “spicy”. One man attempting to silence her, by reminding her, “alright love, you've not won yet”.

With the new half only minutes old, “Ginola” is back at it, asking the referee, “is this your first game?” after he awards CFC a free kick, but there is no booking. The home crowd is growing increasingly disgruntled, I think I even saw one person sharpening their pitchfork. A low STR cross is then easily dealt with and cleared out from the CFC box, a few minutes later and the game grinds to a halt once more, this time it’s an STR foul. CFC floats in the free kick in, it's met by a home player whose header strikes a STR defender and a half hearted appeal for “handball” goes up, but nothing is given.

We like to consider ourselves rather highbrow, lots of culinary chat, culture and architectural observations, but sometimes we drop below our own high standards, to explore topics we wouldn't normally, and today is one of those days, because I’ve just asked Tom, ‘why do footballers always tug on their cocks?’. To be honest Tom is a bit quicker to engage in the conversation than I thought he would be. We can both agree that “you wouldn't in normal life” so why would you on a football pitch, and then he suggests something I'd never even considered, “does it get trapped?”

At the quarter of an hour mark, CFC showing a little bit of that early tenacity with a quick pass, turn and shot in the STR box, but the shot is right at the keeper. CFC’s number 4 might have “Ginola” esq locks, but unfortunately he can't pass like him, Tom describing his attempt at a cross pitch diagonal as “horrible” and the game is descending, getting “dirty” as Tom puts it. No one even bats an eyelid when an STR player lunges at the CFC keeper on the floor, everyone having become so desensitized to the horror. Tom’s reaction to what is in all intent and purposes a tackle from the NFL by one CFC player, makes him unwittingly channel his inner John McEnroe,  “are you serious?” when the referee simply taps his own shoulder, to imply it was fair.

One foul after another, means again the game is never going for more than a few minutes, before the referee blows his whistle. The referee who Tom brands a “funny one” because he is both “lenient” , but does not stop awarding fouls.

CFC are looking the stronger of the two teams, the fans numbers behind the goal have swelled since the change of ends and the winning of a corner sees them pound the metal stand for the first time. The downing of “Ginola” results in a bit of afters on the pitch, but even though it was him who ended up poleaxed, the referee awards the foul the other way, which you can imagine doesn't go down well on or off the pitch, “what are you doing man?” asks one player. The game is getting angrier by the second, a bit filthy even, some home fans look ready to vault the railings and set upon the referee. Other than the whistle all you can hear are the two words “fuck” and “off” and the constant rattle of clattering boots and shinpads.

It takes STR over twenty minutes to fashion their first chance of the half, another header, but the
flicked effort is straightforward for the keeper to claim and such are the levels of aggression, Tom thinks is pertinent to ask me if I’ve ever seen “Mean Machine”. STR’s number six is snarling and their number 20 then does an atomic bomb of a header in midfield to clear his teams lines, all it’s missing is a mushroom cloud.

STR starts to probe as we head towards the final fifteen. Slowly building, they bide their time, however the slide rule pass has just a bit too much on it, but the intention is well received, “different class mate”.

The pace of Ginola's departure, and it’s definitely him being replaced and not the referee as a couple of the home fans joke “off you go ref, well played, off you go”, has Tom a bit perplexed, “why is he walking, does he know they are losing?”. There is zero urgency in his demeanour and the lazy toss of the armband to the new captain, is not exactly encouraging.

CFC almost equalized with a quite marvelous goal, one that inevitably someone would have said, ‘if Barcelona would have scored that…...’. Slick interchanges, quick feet and good movement almost brings about the perfect goal, only for a last minute block.

“That was it” states Tom, after what might just have been CFC’s best chance of the game, let alone the half. A header from point blank range, is somehow put the wrong side of the post. “It's coming” shouts one CFC fan optimistically, but I’m just not sure that is the case. With the home side desperately in search of a goal, they are leaving some major gaps at the back, and it's only a save right out of the top drawer, that stops STR bagging their third. Somehow, and by the looks of it having seen it late, CFC’s keeper was able to get enough of a hand to the powerful shot after a nifty chest tap and turn by the STR forward, to push it wide.

It’s getting to a point where it feels like CFC don’t want a point, if it’s not all three, then who the fuck wants just one. “Just meh” responds Tom, after a spooned shot clears both the goal and stand, after the player responsible was so well set up on the edge of the STR area, only to balloon it over and another big shout for a penalty is ignored, but if I'm honest it was more the fans than the players who claimed for it.

“Come on boys” pleads a CFC supporter, they have been knocking at the door for so long, surely they can convert something. A home corner is whipped in, cleared, possession is won back and the ball is tossed back in a second time, but just about summing up their evening and touching on what Chris had said earlier, results not reflective of performances, somehow STR are able to stop the goal bound header with a frantic goal line clearance, almost certainly confirming another tick in the loss column for the hosts, but with a fixed asterix for, ‘but we deserved much more’.

When CFC are awarded a late free kick, but no one seems to know why, it gives a good example of the caliber of refereeing tonight. “Up, up” urges the crowd, but the towering header on the end of the cross is cleared, initiating an STR counter attack, but a bad touch, bearing down on the CFC goal, allows just enough time for the keeper to get a block in, “unlucky” shouts a visiting fan to the frustrated forward.

CFC have officially gone ‘all up front’ and STR are poised to hit them on the counter. One fan suggests “corners” when they are presented with the ball, but no chance, they want to stick the knife
in they want a third. Their manager though is clearly a keen student of the art of game management, time wasting to you and me, deciding now is the ideal time for a double substitution, “well played lads” praise the supporters behind the goal, neither of the two players seemingly in a rush to get off.

The chance of some last minute drama seems high. A foul on the edge of the STR box, sees no booking, much to the dismay of the travelling fans, "come on referee, that's two bad ones". What must be the final kick of the game is up and over. and gets a sarcastic jeer from the home crowd.

"Referee you're rubbish" screams one STR fan, after a yellow card is awarded to one of their players, sending those being the goal into a mini melt down. "Work hard Soham" insists one, they are not exactly on the ropes, but it's that time in the match when the slightest slip in concentration could end in disaster. The CFC keeper makes one last attempt to rally his team mates, "keep going, keep going" and both the STR players "how much longer?" and the fans, "come on referee" are badgering the man in charge to bring this match to its conclusion.

The cheer from the away fans is a considerable one come the final whistle, "big chunky number 20" pumps his fist towards the applauding supporters, "fucking get in" he cries. The STR players congratulate each other and are greeted with more vigorous clapping as they walk off. The CFC players on the other hand, are deep in consultation huddled on the pitch, long after the ground has emptied.

I could conclude with a few paragraphs about how crap it is CFC don't have their own home, and how they have to sofa surf, but I'm sure that's how I ended things when we saw them before and as far as temporary digs go, Bridge Road is pretty smart. Although I'm sure each and every one of CFC's supporters would rather their own residence, they could do a lot worse then their current abode.

I could go on perhaps about how smashing the CFC keeper looked in footballs most under utilized colour, purple or how from the 'Tower Of Power' the illuminated five a side pitches in the distance were quite a sight, but I won't.

Come to Bridge Road for the football, sure, come for the ground, it really is a nice one, come for the warm welcome, everyone we encountered was delightful, but what should be your motivation is the food. From the succulent burger to a fish finger sandwich, made from a fish with fingers the width of Roberto Carlos' thighs, that's why you need to get there.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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Sunday 16 February 2020

Skittle Master - Long Buckby A.F.C. Vs Lutterworth Athletic FC, United Counties Football League Division One, Station Road (29/01/20)

“There is not much fun in a 15 nil’er” says my other half as I peruse the league table of the team we are heading off to tonight, while I wait for Tom to arrive. The home side Long Buckby FC (LB) are second and have an impressive goal haul so far this season, over + 50. The away side, Lutterworth Athletic FC (LA) who are bottom of the table have a goal difference of - 50. Each team's form couldn't be more polar opposite if they tried. As I rub my hands in anticipation of a bit of a goal fest, Rachel reminds me of the match where we saw a team get pumped 15 - 0 and the referee called it early, which on reflection, was a bit of a relief, it made for very uncomfortable viewing.

The admittedly stunning sunset means I have to endure Tom singing Nants' Ingonyama, after pointing out that it looks “a bit Lion King”. The rest of our journey North is thankfully sans any more Disney singalongs, and by the time we arrive at Station Road, Tom is getting tetchy about quite how far from home we are, its pitch black and the only real sign that we are in the right place, is a charming back lit sign high above the doors of what I’m guessing is the clubhouse.

“Can I ping you in?” asks a man with wispy white hair, unloading music equipment from the back of a van, probably wondering who the hell are these guys. The unfamiliarity of our surroundings has us a tad flummoxed, and neither of us really know if what is effectively a working man's club or British Legion in front of us, is anything to do with where we are supposed to be or not. Passing through the double doors he kindly held open for us, we enter a scene from the lesser known Back to the Future spin off, Marty McFly does the 1970’s.

What very much turns out to be LB’s clubhouse with its low slung ceiling and bar so long it doesn't seem to have an end, the front of which is adorned with a whole host of pennants, is probably, and I don't say this lightly, the finest one we have ever been in.

It has all the required staples that any good clubhouse should have, a dart board, fruit machines, those half sized pool tables and of course a dance floor, but what elevates it to the next level, into a stratosphere we’ve never reached before, are things I’m not sure we'll ever see the likes of again.

Big cushioned benches, a trophy cabinet pulling the screws from the walls, it's so full, that you need sunglasses just to gaze upon, it's so sparkling. Once you've overcome the initial glare, you'll spot maybe the finest trophy you'll ever set your eyes upon. One that is simply the silhouette of the Victoria's team, one that I’m struggling to actually describe, so will simply ask you to reference the attached photo, which I’m sure you will agree once you've looked, is magnificent.

A jukebox fastened to the wall, which at the moment is offering up some quite serious EDM, not quite in keeping with the surroundings. but hey ho. Tom’s time at the bar is reasonably lengthy, his request for a hot chocolate has come up against some resistance, only because the woman serving him is not sure how to use the machine, not on account of her not being accommodating. When he finally returns, its with a mocha and a packet of prawn cocktail crisps and whereas normally I would chide him for his chosen food combo, I’m far too transfixed on the goings on in one corner of the room, I could not give a shit.

Again it's hard to adequately describe exactly what I’m looking at, exactly what the man who someone at the bar has just called the “skittle master” has just pulled a cord above him to illuminate is. Open faced, with padded dark leather sides and brass studs, a hard beige base and a net at the back, its looks more like something out of a museum, than something that should be in a clubs den, and it's not until the “skittle master” has set up the small wooden skittles, does it become clear what is going down. Standing at its very own oche, clutching onto what look like wheels of cheese, the room is soon filled with the clattering noise of dispatched pins, that the “skittle master” as his name would attest, is able to displace from range with ease.

Such a treat could not go untried, and much to my amusement Tom is absolutely shit. I’m told by the quite delightful “skittle master” who is happy to coach us two fools, that I’m a “natural skimmer”. Skimming being one of the two recognised techniques for the game, the other an under arm toss, neither of which Tom is able to get to grips with. What I thought and told Tom looked like cheese, are confirmed to be called just that and the Guardiola of skittles, informs me there is both a “summer” and “winter league”, all while someone in a neighbouring room, rattles off a few fills on an electronic drum machine.

“Can we just stay here?” wonders Tom, the draw of the clubhouse is strong, but having been here since we arrived, and having not got any further than it, and as nice as my Lotus biscuit with my coffee was, I guess we should really venture a little further. The woman at the bar points to what looks like a fire escape at one end of the room, as the direction we should be heading in search of actual football.

The poorly lit, narrow path leading from the clubhouse to the pitch and the time on it, I think constitutes a mission. It’s certainly a case of needing to keep your eyes peeled, the chance of taking a tumble feels quite high, at the other end of the trail, Sherpa optional, past the kids enjoying their training session, despite the far from ideal conditions, is a pitch and its long main stand beside it, and very little else, all shrouded in darkness.

Welcome To Station Road says the sign on the front of the way in, that is not quite a turnstile, just a hole in a white wall, with a kiosk to purchase your ticket. When the lights eventually come on, mist hugs the ground and Tom reckons the whole place has a bit of a “World War Two” vibe about it, on account of the main stand, which as I said much like the clubhouse bar goes on forever, looks a bit like an “Anderson Shelter”.

I do my best to distract Tom with what someone has just told me, that they have been to Station Road “three times” this season, and have seen LB score “four every time”, but he’s far too distraught. His attempt to go and get something to eat wasn't very fruitful, he informs me there is “no food” and when he says there is none, he means none. Not even a pasty, some chips or a sausage roll, he has to make do with his second packet of crisps, disappointingly telling me he'll “get something when we leave” and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him so sad.

There is not really a tunnel to speak of, just a concrete slope between the changing rooms behind the
main stand and the edge of the pitch. The players are forced to loiter around for the stragglers, acclimatizing to the wintry conditions, before the referee leads them out. There is no noise from the modicum of a crowd on the green seats of the stand, just the noise of the players cliched slogans, “come on, heads on”.

Less than a minute gone, and it's soon apparent why LA are struggling this season, “oh my god I can see why they are bottom” mutters Tom, a rather straightforward long range shot is pawed wide by the visiting keeper, who makes a hash of the following corner, spilling what again look liked a rudimentary cross. Tom is slack jawed, “has he got no hands” he ponders, telling me in no uncertain terms, “they are going to get absolutely battered”.

Considering their shaky start and league position, it seemed that this game was only going one way, but a flurry of possession and a rising snap shot by LA, has somewhat settled the nerves, “they’re not that bad'' reconsiders Tom, whose fingerless gloves are out and the underdogs are slowly growing on him. “I quite like their kit” he tells me, “who’s the Portuguese team who play in hoops?” he asks me. The green and white of LA, reminiscent in Tom’s eyes of a bit of Lisbon.

In fact the amount LA have pushed LB back into their own half, is of concern to the home bench, who are demanding they “step it up”.

A slight break in proceedings, because for some reason I’m doing the tea run, sees me pay the tea bar with it’s front door right off a terraced family home, behind the main stand a quick visit. Returning past what is now a reasonably sized crowd, more than one person had the bright idea of bringing a blanket, I asked Tom if I had missed anything, which he emphatically told me, “no”.

LB’s roving cameraman Lee, who is in his shorts, yes shorts, its freezing, with his wild ginger beard and beanie hat, who is not afraid to mount any nearby wall or ledge to get the best shot, tells us with the game almost twenty five minutes old, that is “not going as expected” and in fact in his opinion he thinks LA have “been the better side”.

The home side test the questionable LA keeper again with a shot from inside the box. Attempting to play out from the back LA give the ball away and the player responsible gives a damming precis of his own performance, “I’m having a fucking mare”. An LB substitute instructs the players on the pitch that they have to “hold on to the ball for a bit” and we both shudder, when one has to venture into the thick pocket of brambles pitch side, to retrieve the ball. Continuing with the World War Two theme, the brick wall and thorny weeds, severe enough to halt any invading Nazi.

Still claiming offside, one LA player stands still despite the lack of a flag, the game carrying on around him, allowing LB to sting the keepers palms with a powerful shot, and the same defender still it seems oblivious to the match going on, tells the lino to get his “fucking flag up” and then a stunning LA tackle wins them the ball back, LB on the attack, the slide, the winning of the ball and getting up again all in one motion, it's almost balletic. Tom reckons the game is getting “dirty”, but I'm not sure, and now perched atop a wall Lee encourages his team, after going close, “unlucky Bucks, that's better”.

The celebrations of the man manning the gate to the pitch, which is basically a scaffolding pole on a hinge, the kind you might see on over spill car park, is understated to say the least, “well done Buckby” he says quietly, between puffs of his latest cigarette. “Didn't think that was ever coming” says Lee, popping up between us, having leapt off a nearby wall like a mountain goat, and by the way I’m still alarmed he is in shorts.

He tells us diplomatically that LB has the bad habit of dropping to “the level” of teams they play, who are below them in the table, his explanation of why they are making such hard work of tonight's game.

Called into action again, LA’s keeper still looks iffy and Tom asks Lee if they only have “one sub” the solo player looking “very lonely”. Their bench is a little sparse, but it's just a case of them trying to keep warm, and those ready to come on are jogging along the touch line and Tom can sympathize. His “thermals” are not sufficient, and he asks me in all seriousness, if we should just “go and play skittles”.

“Fucking hell” shout both LB players and fans, an LA defender has just hit his own cross bar from the edge of his six yard box, in an attempt to clear an LB cross into the box. “Heads on boys” says the keeper, having picked himself up, after doing his best to stop the ball across his six yard box, looking behind him and wondering what the hell had just happened.

My suggestion to Tom that we get another cup of tea at half time, is met with mixed emotions. He’s not much of a fan of my tea making skills, my last one he explains was so milky it was “like a bowl of cereal” so I think he’ll be getting them then and on almost the stroke of half time, and deservedly so, LB double their lead.

Rolling his marker with ease on the edge of the LA box, the LB forward lets fly a low powerful shot, which LA’s keeper this time is equal to, getting enough on it to force it upwards, where it strikes the bar and rebounds back into play and following it up the scorer has the simple job of poking into the empty net, the LA keepers final lunge to pull off a miracle fails, and he can only watch as is rolls into the back of the net.

Having picked himself up, you can't question his optimism, “keep working, that came from us slacking off”, but I think that’s hopeful at best. It might only be behind by two, but they feel now well out of it already. The man on the gate stays true to form, “come along Buckby '' and the remaining minutes of the match, all belong to the home team, they go close to a quickfire third, but the lashed shot keeps on rising and clears the bar and it’s never a good sign when a team starts arguing. “Shut up and get on with it” grunts one LA player, another determined to have the last word, brands a teammate “shit”.

LB go close to a third again in the dying moments of the half, “he had more time” says Tom, the home player in the box in acres of space, drags his shot wide, but it's surprisingly LA who have the final effort of the half, drawing the entire crowd into a considerable “ohhhhh” when they fire the ball across the home box, just out of reach of the players inside and the chance goes begging.

When the whistle comes its shrill, the players and crowd are silent, many of whom are straight off for tea. It is so quiet, I can hear the LA keeper discussing LB’s second, “two fucking away players right next to me and I’m like what the fuck.” Half time is subdued, with no burger to eat, Tom is instead engrossed in his phone, only looking up to tell me “oh I'm cold, go and warm the car up”.

With the new half underway and Tom having put his phone away, he asks Lee “do you start every
half slow?”. The home side's sluggish start into the first half, has been replicated at the start of the second. “Wake up guys” shouts a nervous sounding Lee, a loose LB pass is latched onto and LA are in, great persistence on their part nearly gets them a goal, but that little stroke of luck just won't come their way, and the ball is cleared. “Come on Buckby” says the man on the gate, with no change of inflection in his voice as to how he’s said it after each goal, but somehow I still know what he means.

Ten minutes gone and LB hit the bar directly from a free kick, “finish it” shouts one player, but this time the rebound cannot be converted. The crowd are silent and Tom has a good explanation as to why, “because its fucking freezing”. To be fair to LA they have had plenty of possession so far this half, but they have no cutting edge, however soon any notion they might be able to make a contest out of it becomes a distant memory, because LB finally score a third and the game is effectively over, with thirty minutes still left to play.

Breaking from their frigid state, the crowd let out an excitable “yeahhhhh”, at the sight of what was a quite marvelous goal. A slick passing move, pulls LA apart and all ends with a nutmeg through the keepers legs. Despite the quality of the goal, there is no change again in the tone of the gate man's voice, and he gives up his own brand of mild mannered encouragement, “well done Buckby, carry on Buckby”.

To give you an inkling into the state of the game, yes we've had three goals, but really it's not up there with the classics, we are discussing the pros and cons of VR pornography. The referee comes in for a bit of grief, not because he has joined in on our conversation, but because of his failure to give LB a corner which gets some players very animated. “Fucking hell ref” screams one. The back post tap in, after a long ball right across the box is seemingly saved, but not rewarded with a corner, which is greeted with the same level of anger I suspect he would get, if he was demonstrating VR porn on the centre circle.

A quick LA free kick, this time sees their forward roll his marker, but his shot is lacking any fervour, and the LB defender who was so easily circumnavigated, is putting it down to a “fucking arm in the back” and is having a right old moan at the ref.

It’s no longer VR porn, but C&A and the United Colours of Benetton, we are discussing now, the game has got worse. The gate man is full on chain smoking and the match is going at half pace, case in point when a good pass forward by a LB midfielder which was ripe for conversion, is met with all of the enthusiasm, by the intended forward, of someone who has just had seconds after Christmas dinner. He’s hardly busting a gut.

Much like a scene out of Space Jam, one LA player hurdles two LB ones after they collide and I half expected Daffy Duck to appear or R Kelly to start singing. LA are now coasting to say the least, one player pleads “lads this is too easy”. LB are cruising, allowed a criminal amount of time on the ball, it's turned into a training match, but gate man, regardless of what is actually going on, still offers up his own brand of cheer, “come on Buckby”.

Tom is close to polar and with still a quarter of an hour to go, the game is deader than dead. A halfhearted hooked cross by LB, could of easily led to a forth but no one is in the area, no one cares, and I’m either seeing things or I'm so desperate for something to happen, that I concoct it, but I’m sure I’ve just seen someone bend over and vomit, until Tom tells me he was just sorting out his “shin pads”.

“Go warm the car up” instructs Tom and this time I’m close to doing just that. The game is plodding along at best, “end already” mumbles Tom, the half eventually ends with a sarcastic jeer from the home fans. What was probably their easiest chance of the half has just been missed, a glaring miss, a cross from the right and all it needed was the finish, but somehow the player missed it, but we are soon all saved by the whistle and his error is soon forgotten.

Proving he can say other things, the gate man on gate man duties as the players depart, congratulates LB’s manager on the “clean sheet” and a young Statto among us, asks if he is correct in thinking that LB’s fifth tonight is their “98th of the season” which is confirmed by a broad smile on the face of the home gaffa.

In the middle of Northamptonshire, at the end of a long path you will find a rather unremarkable football ground, and a club that play there who are sponsored by a vape company, that according to the “skittle master” produced the “youngest person to ever be on the winning side of a European Cup”. A team flying in the league, who scored in the FA Vase and are scoring goals for fun, managed by someone who became the “manger by default” after the previous one “quit ten days before the season” and I think it’s fair to say he is doing an alright job.

According to the man in charge, it would be a “disaster” if they don't get promoted, even though they have far exceeded their targets this season, and by how effortlessly they saw off LA today, I would imagine going up is a certainty.

All of this, and the obvious “good buzz about the place” Dan the LA manager alluded to makes it a visit well worth making, put on top of that the clubhouse of all clubhouses and really you've no excuses not to get yourself to Station Road, except if you want a burger perhaps.

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Sunday 9 February 2020

Head Says Move, Heart Says Stay - Chesham United FC Vs Taunton Town FC, The Meadow, Southern League Premier South (25/01/20)

Sitting in Tom’s car, pootling along through the Saturday afternoon traffic, Feeder tumbling from the speakers, I can’t quite get my head around why Tom isn't anywhere near as tanned as I thought he would be.

Two weeks in the Maldives and I expected him to come back looking not far off beef jerky, but not quite David Dickinson. Tom very much falls into the sun worshiper category and admittedly he is glowing, he’s taken on a bit of colour, however I frankly thought I was not going to recognise him.

Not long into our journey and I'm starting to slightly regret accepting his offer to drive, by his own admission he is a little “spaced”, having only landed forty eight hours ago, and still feeling the effect of a five hour time difference. I do manage to coax a bit of detail out of him, his trip to “turtle reef” where most of the passengers vomited on the transfer. His evening on the “top deck of a boat on a bean bag” being “given canapes'' and the night of the “three lobsters” and sounding a tad spoilt, admits “I never want to eat lobster again”, as well as lazy sun drenched days “kayaking” and “paddleboarding” a “once in a lifetime” experience.

Clearly his mind is still on holiday time and his driving is let's say a bit distracted. His explanation that he is “spaced and hungry” starts the alarm bells ringing.

Having been doing what we do for five years now, Tom is not wrong when he says “I feel like we’ve been here before” big houses set back from the road at the end of gravel drives, countryside pubs with twee names, it's the Lazy Pig today, do seem to inevitably lead to where we're going most days. Pointing out to him that this part of Buckinghamshire is untraveled by us, he admits “it does all kind of blend into one”.

Unfortunately for my nerves, Tom’s driving does not improve, he has the vibe of someone who has not driven for a while, “so sleepy” he admits “feel stoned” he adds, which means a Redbull is required ASAP. The pit stop at a petrol station does not result in a can of synthetic bull semen, but a packet of crisps and a Lucozade. The go to drink of footballers of the mid 90’s and people in hospital, offers him just as much “pep” apparently.

Nestled beside a gym and a cricket club, before entering the home of ‘The Generals’, sitting in the car park I have the joy of listening to Tom devour a pack of Flaming Hot Monster Munch. Inside the the Meadow, home of Chesham United FC (CU) it’s soon clear we could not have asked for a finer setting for an all too rare Saturday out.

The ground and the idyllic backdrop are not undermined by the overcast sky. The undulating tree covered hillside behind one goal is more than picturesque and is clearly popular with local dog walkers, one such K9, a brilliantly white one, is by the looks of it walking its owner, rather than the other way round. Pitchside there are a whole host of different options for the discerning spectators. A corner bank of concrete terracing, a tumble down covered stand on the far side of the pitch, some much newer looking flatpack stands behind each goal, and the all seater main stand high up one one side, flanked by the clubhouse.

Such is the descent from the main stand to the pitch, the staircase, yes staircase, looks mildly hazardous, and is not something I would want to do in studs. The bright yellow handrails screaming health and safety nightmare, huge potential for a lawsuit and if you make it to the pitch in one piece, you have to pass between two of the finest examples of greenhouses being repurposed as dugouts.

The welcome from Tina CU’s Commercial Director is a warm one, and standing in the bar overlooking the pitch through the large UPVC windows, she fills us in some news that has recently caused a bit of a stir among the CU fans, they are “moving”. Before then there will be some refreshments to the Meadow, but puffing out cheeks as she tells us, highlights non league football's biggest problem, “money” and having enough of it to make the changes it’s so desperately in need of.

Tina tells us that the “board has ambition” to climb up the pyramid and “promotion” is the goal, but as it stands the ground “wouldn't pass grading for the next level”. Emotions among the fans she explains are still a “bit raw today” as is the case with 99% of fans put in a similar situation they of course “wanna stay”.

For today though, there is a much more pressing matter at hand, a visit from fellow promotion rivals Taunton Town FC (TT). CU sit top of the table, something Tina is far from a fan of “hate being at the top” she muses, she'd much rather be “nipping” away from behind. The Meadow has become somewhat of a fortress, “we've not lost all season” explains Tina's partner, who points out “statistically” it's got to happen soon, which gets a withering look from Tina, whose nerves are getting the better of her, “I feel sick”.

Creeping into view the TT coach makes a muted entrance and soon the players have disembarked and are out on the pitch. The music is blaring from the home changing room and the first song over the PA sets the theme for the day, Dad Rock. A genre I can usually fully get behind, but the first two songs, Rod Stewart and Foreigner's ‘Cold As Ice', which Tom loves singing along with, but only because he admits to liking the sample used in the M.O.P. song, is a far from ideal start.

“It's going to be tough” admits one TT fan, suitably wrapped up in his sheepskin coat, TT scarf and flat cap, any bit of visible flesh littered with tattoos, with a voice so rough it makes me feel terribly inadequate. He reckons his team might just edge it “I’d say 2-1 to Taunton” but he is sure to reiterate, “today is going to be a real test”.

Tom’s “tapeworm” he picked up on honeymoon or the two weeks of all inclusive has somewhat boosted his capacity to eat through the roof, means he is off for a burger early. Trying the door of the still locked clubhouse, a blue and claret portacabin, before stopping at the traveling funfair style burger van.

The opening chords of Owner Of A Lonely Heart roar out of the PA and we discuss the lack of middle ground in non league football between classic rock and euro dance, all while Tom’s eats his ever so slightly Brexit sounding lunch, his “good old British burger”. The following announcement over the PA though is a sad one, today's game being played “in honor of John Plank” a recently deceased fan, and to commemorate his passing, some “Sri Lankan food” is on offer, which “when it runs out, it runs out, that's life” says the man on the microphone somewhat poignantly.

Both teams are out warming up, as are a group of kids doing the same. Perched on a chair by the turnstiles, a man sells programmes out of a brown cardboard box, as a steady but modest stream of TT fans arrive, many in their distinct colors. Which are very similar to those of the home side, and that of Tina’s nail varnish. Although this season they are playing in a changed strip, one in homage to the clubs visit to Wembley for the 1968 F.A. Amateur Cup, which caused a “bit of a furor” she tells us. Football at all levels, is overflowing with traditionalists.

Marching towards the now open club shop, we follow in his considerable wake, the TT fan in the flat
cap who having heard some team news, has lost faith in his prediction, “our top goal scorer, the league top goal scorer is out”.

Like every club shop should be, CU’s is packed, a bit messy, not very big and full of all sorts of stuff I want to fill my rucksack with, but will get in trouble at home if I do. Books, programmes, scarves and a whole rail of old shirts occupy the little bit of floor space there is. The man who runs it Tina told us, Dan, is a man of many talents, “trust member, runs the tea bar and programme editor”.

What Tom thinks is a “weird drug deal” going down, huddled together outside the door to the bar, is in fact not anything anywhere near as sinister. It's just the golden goal seller, a duo hustling comers and goers with a promise of happiness, so really it's not that far off a drug deal at all. I try my luck of course, dropping my change into the pint glass and for some reason let one of the two sellers pick my tickets for me, which I wish I had not bothered, twenty two and thirty eight minutes, hardly fill me full of hope.

It would have been rude not to try one of the Sri Lankan nibbles, so I opt for what the man dishing them out tells me is a “pattie'', which is more than delicious, and I really should have gone back for more. The man puffing away nearby on a large cigar seems content, however a few passing people are far from impressed with the smoke recoiling in horror as it hits them, and someone who I’m sure has his own food squared away in his bag for life, with his thermos, is the CU fan in a CU scarf on the terrace, working out the best place to stand.

A spot of Lou Reed is about the first agreeable song, the kids who were warming up now pose for a group photo on the pitch and the voice over the PA who is forthright, far from showy and very much to the point, informs any of “those interested in the cricket” that “South Africa” are “41/2” which is received with a mild smattering of ahhhs and the noise levels fail to get much higher, when he tells all to “welcome on to the pitch the two teams”. I was expecting a bit more of an ambience as the players traverse the stairs, but it's near enough silent, other than Marc Bolan.

Even the players, who you can normally put your money on for a bit of racket pre kick off are relatively quiet, “lets start fucking bright” hollers one TT player, but it's not until the away fans off to our right, standing in front of their large Pride Of Somerset flag fastened to the back of the stand, do we get any semblance of atmosphere, “we love you Taunton we do” and as will be the case for the rest of the day, each song thereafter is started by the man with the most gravelly of voices, “yellows, yellows, yellows”.

The CU fans have a flag too, a single doctored Union Jack hanging over the railing around the pitch, but at the moment only one end is singing. The flood lights flicker on, piercing the murk and the game has barely started before a long stop, because of an injury to a TT player, means kick off was a bit of a false dawn. The home fans as you would expect, unless there is an obvious sign of a horrific injury, didn't think there was much in it, “he hardly touched him”.

A nearby man in a CU scarf and Leeds United hat, shuffles about, unable to commit to one spot, and ten minutes gone the home fans metaphorically stretch their legs, with a low and slow “Chesham, Chesham”, however four or so minutes later, and after a opening period of almost exactly nothing happening, the home side take the lead.

What I later hear described as a “non league bicycle kick” is the best way to illustrate the CU goal, a hooked effort over the shoulder of the player with his back to goal, not ever leaving the ground, and without any of the risk of falling badly and breaking your collarbone. As the TT players trudge back to their half, one CU supporter gloats “wehhhhh enjoy the journey?” and the fans behind the goal break in to “deh, deh, deh, deh, Chesham”.

Tom’s tapeworm pipes up not even fifteen minutes in, “I’m hungry”, but even the parasite in his lower intestine has to take a back seat, when a CU player goes down whaling clutching his leg and I fear the worst. Except Tom seems totally unaffected by it and quickly puts my mind at ease, ”he hardly touched him” he says. His opinion backed up by a nearby home fan, who doesn’t agree with the awarding of the foul, “what game you fucking watching?”.

The TT fans have fallen quite, even flat cap. The goal having knocked the wind out of their sails. A handball decision given against CU, stirs one of the group of older men directly next to us, into taking a few steps forward, another bloke in a flat cap but with quite a different overall look to that of the TT supporter, a lot less punk, a lot more Radio Times, he cups his gloved hands to his mouth and shouts, “rubbish referee”.

Despite the early goal and all the promise of a top of the table skirmish, twenty five minutes have elapsed and quite literally nothing has happened. A wicked curling TT free kick and a “well claimed” TT corner as one man announced, are just about all the highlights I can muster, that and a booming clearance by one CU player so big, it clears the main stand and heads into the car park.

It's a tipped over shot come cross, that almost catches out the back peddling CU keeper that inspires the first TT song in a while, “yellow, yellow, yellow” and it’s from the resulting corner, that something of note happens, a goal.

In, out, in, out and in again. The final time the ball is lobbed back in the eighteen yard box, it finds a player who is able to swivel, walloping the ball over the CU keepers right shoulder. The fact CU had so many chances to clear their lines as they say, but failed to, will be of much consternation to their manager and fans, but TT’s will take encouragement from their dogged determination to keep plugging away, and it worked. Running along behind the goal, the scorer, quickly followed by his teammates, high fives the outstretched hands of the fans, who don’t beat around the bush cracking out a song, “we love you Taunton we do''.

The CU manager, that if you weren't really concentrating, could be mistaken for a man just pottering about outside his new extension, asks his team for “energy, energy, energy”. I’m not sure that is what the game has been lacking by any means, however being pegged back can I’m sure be a little sapping, but this doesn't seem to be the case either, and its “energy” he gets, as his team almost take the lead again straight after the restart.

“He’s on” gasps a home fan, the wide player is away and into the box. He finds a team mate, however the finish is scuffed, but the intent excites the the CU supporters.

The home fans are frankly bemused at why exactly the referee has just given a foul against them, and if the free kick that followed had resulted in a goal, the header across the box is held, we might have had a riot on our hands. TT are poised to counter attack at the drop of a hat and it's only a great recovering tackle by one CU player, who is then on the end of plenty of plaudits, that prevents them racing into the CU box.

Perhaps it's the standard of the football or because no one wants to make themselves a target for one of the large birds of prey circling above, but the CU fans have been a little slow in getting started. To be fair to them Tina did say this was usually the case, normally because of the skinfull from the night
before. Their reaction to a glaring miss from a free header, bang on the penalty spot, gets a suitable “ohhhhh” but there have been no real songs as of yet, they don't seem to have in their number a flat cap, a leader, a middle England capo to get things going.

TT’s supporters' heart beats rise suddenly on the realisation that they are in, the celebration of the goal they have just scored though are cut short at the sight of the flag having been raised. Tom beside me is playing out the same internal struggle he puts himself through every match day, “I don't know what to have”. He wrestles with the notion of, “can I eat two burgers in the space of an hour?”.

An explanation perhaps for the lack of any real consistent noise, other than cider from last night, is there is no one committed congregation of people. Neither gatherings behind the goal are very big, there are small groups dotted about, the majority of people are either in the stand, where it's more blanket and a thermos, then raucous singing or they are gravitating to the steps outside the bar, steeling themselves up to head off for another pint.

Serenaded with a chorus of “wanker, wanker” the referee comes in for more stick, this time a booking for a CU player, but no one knows why he has ended up in the book. The same fans are then left a little embarrassed, after doing such a good job in controlling the ball, their number 9 goes down very easily, “bit Saha that” laughs Tom. One home fan though expressing what we all really think, when our team wins a free kick in similar circumstances, “I'll take it either way”.

The slightly fortunate set piece is accompanied with not quite a rumbling home chant, and for the second time right on the edge of the six yard box, unmarked, a player misses a free header.

Tom’s conclusion to his predicament was ‘yes’ I will eat again, but he’s not sure if it will be a burger, and he’s disappeared along the crumbling concrete steps in search of something to satisfy whatever is growing inside of him and I have to admit he is lucky. The final five minutes of the half are just short of a farce, all starting with a hand of god attempt by one TT player, that's not punished, much to the annoyance of one home fan, “you've got to book him, prick”.

Another ball heads towards the car park, one TT player is rolling around all over the place and like something from a comedy of errors, both teams play musical statues, all thinking that the ball has gone out, but it hasn't. Everyone to a man is dead still, until it dawns on them that the referee hasn't blown up, and it's still in play.

A late bit of CU possession comes to nothing, it's scrappy and the passing of the added time, comes under scrutiny from the old man in the gloves, “that was a quick two minutes”.

The Dad Rock returns, as does Tom with some chips. “Regretting my choice” he says ruefully, no reflection on the chips, they are great chips, but he tells me “I should have got another burger”. On the pitch the kids are back, taking part in a penalty shoot out, some of which are top class, which the crowd behind appreciate. Applauding accordingly as the latest one crashes into the top right hand corner.

Tom reports that the TT fans “have a drum” but for some reason “they're not hitting it” and the celebration of some of the child's penalties are getting out of hand. The flags have swapped ends, and I hope the drum has too, could do with a bit of that in the second half. One TT fan struggles to find somewhere suitable to hang one of them, on account of how big it is, so has to make do with just hanging a much smaller one instead. A youngster wheels away in delight after scoring what I assume is the winning penalty, and the appearance of the teams, is hardly greeted with rapturous applause.

Like the Oracle Tina clearly is, the home fans in their new end, hangovers subsided, are straight at it, whacking the metal stand around them and hammering out the chants. TT’s flat cap wearing Capo now has some competition, the home team's quick start, a deflected shot wide after only five minutes, means for the first time today the home supporters are the louder.

Buzzing around in front of us, the non league staple of kids bombing about, makes the Dad in me come to the fore. If one of them goes down on this rough ground, there will literally be tears and probably a trip to A&E, and I’m not bloody driving them, oh wait, these are not my kids, phew. Tom then comes out with a line, said by someone who has no children, “kids just love to run”.

Both sets of fans have well and truly turned up now, feeding off each other perhaps. The TT ones have their now familiar go to's, “yellow, yellow” and “Taunton, Taunton”. The home ones sing one to the Adams Family theme tune, which I’m pretty sure I'd never heard used until New Years Day, and now it seems to be all the rage.

TT are struggling up front, thanks in no small part to the dominance on the home number 6, who is gobbling up every long ball up to the forwards. An issue flat cap had pointed out to us in the break, the latest victory for the home defender, sees the TT number 9 concede it might just not be his day, patting his counterpart on the back.

The home fans now follow every TT goal kick with “you shit bastard” and the TT supporters want their player in midfield to “shooooooot” with the CU keeper way, way off his line, but he doesn't. Both sets of supporters are revelling in the back and forth, and much unlike in the first half, except for the goals of course, stuff is happening, there are no longer these empty periods of nothingness.

A swift home move, ends with a player in the box five foot out missing a chance to put CU ahead, but he puts his attempt wide. The reaction, from the entire ground the same, how did he miss? Everyone, home and away letting out a “oh” in unison. CU are turning the screw, having noticeably ramped it up, now flexing their top of the table muscles, which is making for a far more entertaining half.

The referee shows his laissez faire approach when nothing is given for a blatant shove, but this is all soon forgotten when a minute after a surging home run ends with a dipping long range shot just over the bar. “Come on boys, lets go again” insists the TT manager, his team are starting to fall off the pace.

CU’s increase in intensity is starting to affect the TT back line. A CU dinked cross over the box is
headed clear, but much like with TT’s goal, it's not cleared far enough, allowing for a snap shot from the edge of the six yard box. However the TT keeper is equal to it and is down in a flash, extending an arm, and somehow getting a hand to it.

Away for all of two weeks, Tom has well and truly forgotten himself, coming out with lines like “I forgot how cold this country is”. CU continue to probe, they are as Tom puts it “looking the far better side”. One defender tells them not to “force it” it will come, and on sixty four minuets, the opportunity to take the lead, is handed to them on a plate.

“Off, off, off” bay the fans behind the TT goal, the visiting defender having effectively by the looks of it attempted a slam dunk. Never I don't think have I heard an entire ground call for something, it was as plain as day, and there was no doubt in the referees mind at all, his assertive point towards the spot, confirming the penalty. The Adam Family song resurfaces as the referee chats with the offending TT player and the cheers that goes up, after he is awarded a red, were probably bigger than the ones for when they scored.

“Cheerio, cheerio” sing the home fans, in that slightly smug way football fans do, when they feel ‘ooh we’ve got to win now’. TT’s keeper is lived, and soon the Meadow is silent, like a rugby ground when a player is about to kick a peanlty, this means that the sound of the ball striking the foot of the post, letting out a distinctive ping as it does, is almost deafening.

The TT fans can all but laugh, but it doesn't mask their obvious relief. The CU supporters, much like the players, all have their heads in their hands, many letting out a frustrated “arghhhhh”.

What I’m sure will be even rarer now they are down to ten, a TT attack almost sees them take a shock lead, a great ball across the defence from the wide, almost completely undoes them, only for the stretching keeper to hook it clear.

“Four people!” exclaims Tom loudly, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a four way tackle before” this phenomenon I must admit I’ve never seen before either. The football equivalent of a mosh pit takes place not far from the edge of the centre circle, where two players from each side collide in one hell of tangle. The PA surfaces for what feels like the first time in a while, thanking all “five hundred and fifty one” of those here, and praising them for their “support”. Edging towards the final ten, the TT keeper is getting into ‘how long can I get away taking a goal kick’ mode, you can see the cogs whirring away, and the referee insists he “sped it up”.

CU’s number 7 is dangerous, carries the ball into the box with ease, though his final balls are lacking a bit of cutting edge, CU are just not making that extra man count. Skipping past one defender, then another into the box again, this time shot is spilled, but a last ditch TT tackle stops the tap in, and not for the first time today, like the boughs of a great old ship, the whole place groans.
As you would expect when the traffic is all going one way, the home fans are buoyant “since I was young” and when the CU big number 9 beats the keeper to the ball, the forwards touch taking him well and truly out of it, after rushing out of goal to meet him, it look like we might have our winner, but the bobbling shot towards the empty goal is cleared. “Doesn't feel like it's going to happen for them” says Tom.

“Come on Taunton, keep running” urges flat cap, who has been shy of a song for a while. “Push them up harder” shouts a CU fan, Tom now more convinced than ever, the games “got 1-1 written all over it”, despite what is now effectively a siege on the TT box, I’m just waiting for the trebuchet to be rolled out, but Tom reckons for all the “huffing and puffing”, “nothings going to happen”. The sound of a powerful CU shot crashing into the stand behind is a little sobering, it was close to decapitating someone. The home fans now literally and metaphorically on the edge of their seats. Flat cap has now occupied the role of commissar, “concentration boys, dig in”.

The final minutes, much like those of the first half are protracted and it just feels like a succession of
free kicks, one after another, for one reason or another. A high foot here, a hand ball there, all with the added drams of a mist that has rolled in off the hill, “it's a bit foggy” says Tom.

“Referee get on with the fucking game” snarls one TT fan, the match having slowed to a tedious pace. Another handball, awards CU a free kick on the edge of the D, the fans behind build the tension “Chesham, Chesham” as the player prepares himself, but as is normally the case: the amount of time it takes to talk about it + amount of time trying to look like Ronaldo = shit free kick and in the end its well over.

“Three points” laughs a TT fan, after the successful CU conversion.

I have to be honest it’s “you fat bastard or nothing for me, the CU fans insist on saying “you shit bastard” but like I have already said, football is about traditions. Tom doesn't think you can say it if the keeper in question is “not fat” but what does he know?

The PA heaps on the anxiety, by telling us there will be a “minimum of five added minutes” and then flat cap belts out one of his last songs of the day, “ally, ally o”. Only seconds into the added on time and Tom already feels like things are dragging, “is this game going on forever?, and someone on the TT bench does their best Mutiny on the Bounty impression, addressing the referee, “give us something referee, give us something man”.

A rising thundering CU shot, moving at a rate of knots is well held by the TT keeper, and Tom says its “do or die” time. CU almost nick it, right at the death, only for a header, deep, deep into injury time to be cleared off the line and before anyone can react, the referee has his whistle to his lips and each team will have to be satisfied with a point a piece.

There is much that can be taken from today, firstly how has it taken us this long to make it to The Meadow, it's only thirty minutes from my house and it ticks all the boxes, this afternoon made even better by the TT fans, and flat cap, making for a quite superb day.

The Meadow might not be here for much longer, so for that reason alone it's worth paying it a visit, as nice as CU's new ground will be, modern, tidy, not falling down, it won't come close to what is on offer the other side of the big gates and the sign on it that reads Welcome To The Meadow, home of The Generals. Tom and I know more than most, what it's like to see your team move home, some a bit further than others yes, but move all the same.

Tina made a fine point, it's about their "legacy, their future" which I completely understand, football being the business it is today, at all levels, you have to be so conscious in making sure you can survive. However another point she made is the most telling, the one that will ring true with most if not all fans, who have had to already or are in the process of contemplating packing up, and saying goodbye to somewhere associated with so much history, "head says move, heart says stay".

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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