Sunday 22 November 2020

Classic 0 - 0 - Leverstock Green FC Vs Biggleswade United FC, Spartan South Midlands Football League Premier Division, Pancake Lane (20/10/20)

It’s all doom and gloom in the car today, there is no nostalgia riddled soundtrack like the last time out, the notification of an impending news conference from the Prime Minister, means the dial on my radio is very much turned to Radio 4 and when old Boris appears over the airwaves, he brings word of Manchester being placed into tier 3.

I was already feeling a little anxious, having left the daughter for the first time with a babysitter, but I can assure you she was displaying no signs of someone who was remotely fazed by it, and I’m not sure she even noticed me leaving the door. The aforementioned tightening of restrictions in the North West makes me feel that London and the South East is surely only days or weeks away from a similar fate, maybe even lockdown again. It very much feels like our window for going to football is closing.

Due to Tom having his own flirtations with Covid, I’m happy to say it was in the end a false alarm and me having caught something via my daughter from the germ factory that is her nursery, we’ve not been out for a couple of weeks. Every missed opportunity to get to a game is a tough one to take, in these uncertain times. However when you are curled up in the fetal position on the sofa, being sick into a waste paper basket, there's not much you can do about it.

It is thankfully a glorious autumn evening, the trees that line the road have already changed into their new outfits or are very much on the way. My car feels far too big for the tiny lane I find myself on, and it's not a boy kicking a ball I find myself creeping along behind like at Godmanchester Rovers, but a girl on a horse.

Spotting the tops of the floodlights above the fence always sends a bit of a shiver of anticipation down my spine, and once safely past the horse, I'm turning through the black wrought iron gates that pave the way into not just any old non league football ground, in fact any old ground in the entire universe of football, be that now, in the past or the DeLorean reachable future, became this is a ground simply known as, are you ready for it, Pancake Lane.

“Gates are up, that’s a bonus” says Tony Leverstock Green FC’s (LG) Vice Chairman, who is busily setting up an olive green gazebo with all the apparatus that is all too common now at grounds, QR codes to check into the NHS track and trace app and a device to measure your temperature, which is basically a small white gun, you have to stand still for, while he points it at your forehead.

The lack of “elite football” locally he tells me means people are searching out football in all shapes and sizes, and Pancake Lane is as good a place as any to get your fix. There are a few downsides though to the nationwide rules, the “bar is restricted” Tony explains, however “some people don't pay any notice”, he adds, but its still “better than it being closed”. 

As a man of a somewhat limited stature, he’s struggling with the roll down zip up door of the gazebo and I'm caught in an awkward position of should I help him or leave him to it, thankfully a steward steps in and I’m not forced to treat a man much my senior, like a toddler.

Both the home and away managers and their entourages arrive at the same time, LG’s much like the visitors Biggleswade United FC’s (BU) are all weighed down with bulging bags full of kit. It’s all very convivial, plenty of hellos and nods of recognition. Every one of them passing by a large Welcome To Pancake Lane sign on the side of the flat roofed clubhouse, but none of them are anywhere near as giddy at seeing this club's great home name emblazoned in black block capitals. For Christ's sake people the place is named after something you have for breakfast.

The actual bar is closed, the optics secured behind a metal shutter, the room though is busy, and Tom is a fan of the home shirt framed on the wall, “I like that green kit”. The 50/50 notice on the board next to me is a promising sign, as is the honesty pot and the small pile of programs on a table by the door on the way in. An actual paper programme, my first of the season, remarkable.

“We're up, we're down” explains an LG fan, his face says it all of the clubs current fortune when he tells us they “lost to ten men” in their last game, “Saturday was disappointing. His summation is disturbed by the rattling din made by the shutter as it is hoisted upwards. The lady doing it, then prepares herself for a bit of table service.

Outside the tiny tea nook, with the menu scrawled on a small bit of card affixed beside it, has flung open its doors. The nearby white board with the lineups, has yet to be updated, and shows the starting 11’s of the last game here.

With the players out to warm up, Tom heads off in search of a hot drink, and above the pitch, only half illuminated, a bat swoops, snagging bugs drawn in by the lights. Not allowed to train on the pitch, the BU manager instructs his players to vault the railing around it and warm up on a grass verge next to the stand behind us. “Focus, focus” he encourages as they dash back and forth. “Fucking three points” demands one player. 

A man in the most fantastic Hummel jacket has me somewhat hypnotised and I almost consider half hitching it, but it's so tightly zipped up, and long, it’s almost down to the wearers knees, I wouldn't be able to do it without him noticing and such is my admiration in this vintage get up, I miss the teams coming out, however it's another underwhelming entrance, no music, no fanfare, the norm now really.

“Captains please” instructs the referee, who promptly join him in the centre circle. The coin is tossed, the ends are picked, forcing the sides to swap ends, before we can get underway.

The word from Tony was that “whoever plays at home wins” in this particular fixture, but it's the visitors who go close first, and second a long distance screamer smacking the cross bar and third, only a point blank block inside six yard box prevents the player teeing up his effort, from putting BU into an early lead. “Good challenge” screams an already animated away supporter.

BU’s early pressure is somewhat relieved by the home side's first half chance, but the cut back into the box is well and truly hoofed clear. 

With all this action, you’d think Tom would be suitably entertained however he’s already playing the ‘he looks a bit like someone else’ game. The referees assistant on our side, he has already dubbed “fat Clarkson” and the referee himself is either “Pepe Reina” or a “thin Benitez”, saying he didn't know the once Liverpool stopper had “taken up refereeing”.

The dugouts are ludicrously far apart, meaning if the managers want to have a set too, they've a long walk before doing it. Tom thinks I was a bit “optimistic” with my “3 - 1” home win prediction, it's all BU and Slim Fast Benitez is already showing his relaxed Mediterranean nature. “Fucking referee” bellows someone on the home bench, everyone of his decisions is greeted by some level of remonstration from one bench or the other.

It’s taken LG a quarter of an hour to register their first chance of meaning, a looping cross into the box is met by the head of a player but it's over. The latest away attack a few minutes later only reinforces Tom’s earlier comment of how well they “transition” into attack, as well as showing off the angular, almost Cubist numbers on the back of their red and blue shirts. Again it’s only another last ditch tackle that stops an inevitable goal.

One late arrival to the pitchside car park, momentarily shines an unwanted spotlight on one goal with his headlights, before shutting them off. It would perhaps be too much to say LG had been under the cosh so far this half, they are taking a while to get up to tempo, but are showing signs of maybe putting a bit of weight behind the statistics Tony shared with me before.

A free kick finds the intended player in the box, but he can't get the ball out of his feet and the chance for LG goes begging. BU are quick to counter, however LG win the ball back not long after, forging then their own attack and forcing the BU keeper into a smart low save.

According to someone on Twitter the food is supposed to be pretty good here, I share this with Tom as we edge closer to the break, but he nigh on snaps my head off with his reply, “I’ll be the judge of that”.

In a brief lull one home player displays football's sometimes unfathomable grip or lack of, of reality, “good start, let's make something happen”. It’s been anything but a good start, they are lucky to not be behind. The referee also shows his credentials as a laissez faire, letting a horrible BU challenge go unpunished. “Come on guys, let's go” shouts the distinctly Spanish sounding BU manager, but Tom’s not quite sure of his origins, “do you think he's Spanish?”.

“Unlucky Bullet” says the same nearby energised BU fan as before at the sight of the away number 9, turning on a sixpence and sending the most mesmerizing shot towards the top corner of the goal from outside the box, only for it in turn to be matched by an equally top draw save from the LG keeper. “That was a bullet” sniggers Tom, sounding slightly like a red top headline writer.

Bullet is not the kind of person you want to anger, his hulking frame and bullish mentality means he is quite the force to be reckoned with. “Come on” he snarls after doing all the hard work, great feet and a pin point cross into the box, only for none of his teammates to have made a run, much to his annoyance.

“How did we not score” wonders a flabbergasted LG player, the ball from a corner having just traveled through the entirety of the BU box, but no one was able to get a touch on it. “We just watched it '' says one teammate, such was it’s likelihood of going in, everyone assumed that surely it was going to.

Bullet is down in the LG box and quickly claims a penalty, “reffff”, but he gets no response. A glance towards “fat Clarkson” hoping he'll give it, gets no reply either. He and everyone knows the only thing getting him over is a bulldozer, “fat Clarkson” who is a chatty assistant to say the least, reassures Bullet he wouldn't “mug him off”.

Into the final ten, and things are reaching close to boiling point. “How many more?” asks the home bench, after another robust BU tackle. “You're not going to get away with it” mumbles Tom, BU barreling people over time and time again.

A blatant hack from a BU player on a LG one, after the referee had already awarded BU a free kick, sees the player downed in the book emphatic to go unanswered and off he marches for his time out on the naughty step. This rule like every other time we’ve seen it confusing the hell out of us both.

“Let's settle down and play” pleads the BU captain, however his intention for calmness, feels a little bit late. 

LG’s keeper is doing his best to take as long as possible to do everything, which this early on is a bit of a “worry” as Tom puts. Bullet flattens an LG player like he wasn’t ever there and when a LG player goes down like an extra from a war film, the home bench erupts. “Why is he screaming like has been shot?” asks one nearby person of his friends. “Looked like a yellow from here” interjects “fat Clarkson”. The home fans are asking for the sin bin, and the home bench are asking for a bit of consistency after claiming a BU player just “swore” at the man in charge. I say in charge, I'm not really sure he is.

The half ends with a bit of a question mark hanging over it, the referee on the sidelines before blowing his whistle talking to a home steward from a prolonged amount of time, the players standing around twiddling their thumbs, “ref get on with the game”. My first inclination is that during all the commotion of the recent flair up, something has maybe been said by someone in the crowd towards a player perhaps. Tom states that that’s the “point of non league football” audience participation, I guess it is to some extent, but it’s a fine line.

Tom returns from the food hatch with talk of absolute madness, struggling with one of non leagues greatest dilemmas, where to balance your burger and chips so you can have a drink.                    Rumour is rife about what caused the referee to have his elongated chat with the steward.

 “Big half” demands one of the freshly returned BU players, and just over five minutes into the new half, his team spank the LG cross bar for the second time tonight. The home side are still a man down, both the bench and fans ask the referee “how long?” has he got left in the naughty corner and even if the game is devoid of goals, “fat Clarkson” can't help but get involved, engaging in a full blown conversation with a man behind him at one point.

All the chances are coming BU’s way as they look to overturn the form book of the home side always being victorious. “Fucking hell” exhales one travelling fan, the ball having traveled all the way through the LG box, however again no one is able to poke it in, before finally being met at the back post by a player who is only able to scuff his shot directly at the keeper.

“It's going to be a match of near misses” says a wise Tom.

Bullet once again shows his undoubted class, Tom thinks he’s “too good for this team”. Holding up the ball, then with a delicate flick he releases his teammate, who surges forward only to let loose the most dismal shot at the end of his run.

The chatty assistant delivers perhaps his best line of the match so far, in response to a whinging player, “keep your hands to yourself and grow up”. An LG kung fu kick of a tackle, that results in no free kick sees the entirety of the home crowd slacked jawed at the decision and the referees assistant completely undermines him, saying quite clearly, ”in my opinion it’s a foul”. In Tom's opinion, “Pepe Reina is losing a grip on the game”.

BU are in again and it's only a spread eagle save with his right foot, that denies what feels like an impending BU goal, “he’s pulled a few out the bag today” comments Tom. 

Considering everyone else is having a chat with him, I try my luck striking up a conversation with the chatty assistant, asking him why he just sidestepped a ball rolling out of play, when he could have easily just stopped it, and he is of course more than willing to explain his reason behind it.

A big midfield 50/50 challenge leaves one BU player screaming, but the referee just waves play on. Bullet is then dispatched, and LG counter, their long range effort is straight at the keeper, who spills it, but he’s able to gather it at the second attempt. The referee continues to get it in the ear from all corners, the latest big challenge is still being discussed.

“He had him panicked” rues Tom, a rushed home clearance is straight to a BU player who hits it first time, straight back from whence it came, forcing the home keeper to furiously back peddle, the ball eventually going just over the crossbar.

Bullet is off, how he leaves the pitch without at least one goal to his name is a mystery. Into the final fifteen and as Tom put it, “it’s all going on”, players are starting to bicker, tackles are flying in and a break in play comes about after one LG player stays down clutching his neck, the incident brought to the referees attention by “fat Clarkson” repeatedly shouting, “heads, heads, heads” at him.

I’m not sure if it's the departure of the BU front man, but the game's quality has somewhat dipped, so much so we are talking about Covid 19 Christmas. An LG cross is then just above the heads of the players in the box, drawing a “ohhhh” from the crowd, Tom reckons they are going to “nick it” and “wouldn't deserve” it one bit.

A BU free kick on the edge of the LG box is in a promising position, the first runner is a decoy, the one behind him strikes it straight into the wall. A cry of “handball” goes up the referee shakes his head. Another big challenge, this time by the visitors, results in a mighty yelp from the player on the other end of it, but once more no foul is given.

Five to go and the game is frantic and sloppy in equal measure, the dog pottering about the stand behind us seems to have lost all interest. LG are so wasteful in possession, their number 9 telling a teammate who tries to find him with a through ball, “I can't do that, I’m not that kind of player. Again the referees assistant isn’t shy telling the players, “why don't you worry about playing the game and stop whining”.

Tom is still sure “someone is going to nick it” but who that is, he’s now not so certain. The home bench call for the team to push up, “too deep” shouts the manager. One player asks his team mate to “dig in” with the final whistle rapidly approaching.

LG have their chances to “nick it” as Tom put it, in added time. A hooked shot over the bar looks to be their last one of the match, but when they are gifted a corner, they are granted one more go at threatening the BU goal, but as Tom put it, it's “shit”. A free kick in a dangerous position is rushed, taken while the ball is traveling. All the late home pressure comes to nothing and come the final whistle one person leaving puts it perfectly, the match will go down as a “classic 0 - 0”

There is plenty to like about LG, more than just the wonderful name of their ground. As I overheard one BU player say “this is some fucking ground to find”, but it’s worth it. Any club that has Our Guests above the away dugout, are a classy one to say the least. It might be a bit “wiggly windy” as another player put to get here, but you won't be disappointed.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE

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