Sunday, 17 September 2017

Falling In Love With U's - Dagenham & Redbridge FC Vs Sutton United FC, National League, Victoria Road (12/09/17)

I’m normally quite ambivalent about listening to the recounted tales of someone else's holiday, however sitting in the car, staring at the back of a Ford Focus, for the twentieth consecutive minute, our impromptu international break officially over (Tom went to Italy, I went fishing in Surrey). I nod along half listening as Tom insists on telling me about cannoli, gelato, insane Italian drivers and how people speak into their phone like on the Apprentice, instead of holding it to their ear, because I can no longer find anything interesting about the boot of the car in front.

Anticipating a fair bit of traffic, and still driven by my fear of missing the start of a game, it happened once before in 1997 and I have no intention of letting it happen again. We left with what I thought was plenty of time to spare, but time is now well and truly ticking, and as much as I enjoyed hearing about Tom biting into what turned out to be a big cheese filled doughnut from his hotel's breakfast buffet, I would much rather just get to Dagenham on time.

My mood is inexplicably lifted when my compatriot, who admittedly I’m not in the best of moods with, following his mocking laughs, when we discover we have a joint love of arancini, a risotto filled Italian taste sensation. I tell him my favourite filling is bolognaise, his response is to smugly chuckle to himself, telling me I wouldn’t find that in Italy, they call it “ragu”. However, I’m able to forgive this blatant display of food snobbery, you've changed by the way mate, you used to eat sirloin steak with ketchup, when he produces a gift for me.

Not much bigger than a fifty pence piece, garish pink, and in the shape of a t shirt, on closer inspection he has only gone and got me a miniature plastic replica Palermo shirt key ring, which has my name on it! “I know you love a pink shirt” he remarks, my heart thawing instantly, after the aforementioned bolognaise comment. It’s not what someone gets you, but the thought behind it: pink, Italian, football tat, ticks all the right boxes, it’s also as he calls it, “custom” which makes it even better.

A yellow sign sheds a bit of light on the crippling traffic “broken down vehicle”, so at least we know what we are dealing with, and eventually we catch a glimpse of the flashing lights of the emergency services in the distance, so know we’re getting close to the scene of the hold up.

Not wanting to wish ill on anyone, but considering we’ve spent nigh on an hour sitting, scooting along in second gear, only to see it’s an abandoned people carrier straddling two lanes, being attended to by a single policeman, I really wanted to see an overturned oil tanker to justify my lost time.

Other than a bizarre road side pyramid of sorts, that Tom says he "recognises", perhaps from his Close Encounters’esq visions, I imagine he has a mash potato version of his own at home, the rest of the journey passes without anything else of note worth mentioning, however we have lost quite a bit of time, my OCD is close to boiling point, only finding a parking space opposite the bright orange steward at the top of Victoria Road puts a hold on a full meltdown.

It’s a short walk from the car to the overly high welcome sign, so high up you get a crick in your neck craning to read what it says “Welcome to Dagenham & Redbridge FC”. With about twenty minutes to kick off, which to most people is totally acceptable, but to me is a nightmare, I squirm at the sight of those people arriving to their seats as the teams are walking out, I’ve already been sitting down for twenty five minutes, where have you been, I’m a mess. I should probably take inspiration from one of the visiting fans of Sutton United FC (SU) who is serenely walking around with a small baby in a sling, while I’m close to a panic attack, because I haven't got a programme yet.

Time to get my priorities straight, it’s time to pull myself together!

“50/50?” asks the man with a small Tupperware box, “pound a go” he informs me, making sure to reiterate its the “50/50” and not the “golden goal” and without even being in the ground, without even having secured a ticket for tonight's match, the most important part of the evening is sorted. Next stop the club shop.

The strip light lit red prefab building is pretty standard, minimal, but has the pin Tom requires. On our way to the turnstile, we notice the Programme Shop, outside a jumble sale of programmes and other goodies are laid out on the floor, I think I spot a framed West Ham shirt, but we don't have time to investigate, or the pennant and scarf adorned room next to it.

We’re in! The red walls of Victoria Road, home of Dagenham & Redbridge FC (DR) have been breached, the players are just finishing their warm up, we've about fifteen minutes to kick off, what were you worried about, I can hear you all asking yourselves.

Although the queue at the gaily coloured Julie’s Fast Food Bar is not very long at all, and what's on offer is “cheap” as Tom puts it, having cast his eye over the extensive menu plastered across its facade he decides to decline getting anything at this time, and waits while I have a muffled conversation with a man in what I can only describe as a phone box, exchanging £2 for a programme, through a small letter box sized hole.

“Covered my ass” says a somewhat perturbed Tom, as we turn a small corner, the ground opening up before us, and we realise that my understanding of the terrace that was recommended by someone on Twitter as the best place to stand, is probably the most underdeveloped part of the ground, and is sans roof. With Toms keen weather eye pointed to the heavens and the dark rolling clouds, he every so often puts out his hand, palm upwards, waiting for a raindrop, he is not happy. “Breezy” he mutters passive aggressively.

Standing on the small windswept terrace behind the goal, our backs quite literally against the wall, as the final wayward shots of the substitutes crash against the wall just inches above our heads, all while Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones plays over the PA, a gentlemen in a flat cap and distinctive East London accent, strikes up a conversation, that takes some interesting turns, and is in fact more of a bizarre monologue, with lots of me nodding, than a conversation at all.

“You see the result of the mighty Hammers?” he asks/says in my general direction. I smile, not wanting to divulge my true allegiance. I make a bit of a quip how they just squeezed past Huddersfield the previous evening, thanks to a deflection, he doesn't look very amused, so I stop. It doesn't seem to matter anyway, he’s soon moved on to DR’s last match, “played us off the park, and we won” he explains.

Please don't think me unfriendly, I’m happy to shoot the breeze as much as the next guy, but it’s hard to chat, when my knowledge of the subject matter is a little lacking, so I continue to politely nod along, wishing a little bit that I could join the procession of burger carriers making their way in front of us towards the long pitchside terrace to our right, which has a roof.

When the next topic is about telephone scammers, his language turning a little colorful to say the least, calling one person he recently received an unsolicited phone call from “scum” among a lot of other four letter words, and implying they must think he is a “prat” if he is going to ring a “premium number”, I’m praying for rain, so we can do a runner.

At the base of the largest stand, which has Daggers spelt out in white seats, the rest are red, a huge St George's cross with Sutton United FC on it has been strung out across the seats. Nearby the away fans are holed up in one corner, below them the red vinyl tunnel is extended, and the teams wait to walk out.

Always intrigued by the music played at football grounds, having always thought that most clubs fall either into the ‘dad music’ or ‘naff new pop music’ category, DR go and blow this out the water, with their choice of Richard Strauss - Also Sprach Zarathustra, most well known as the opening theme to Stanley Kubrick's 2001 Space Odyssey. The dramatic opening bars are briefly interrupted by the announcer asking all to “welcome the teams onto the pitch” and I’m momentarily distracted from the theatrical choice of music, by the large limping dog shaped mascot in DR colours, following up the team at the rear.

When the lineups are read out, SU first, then the home side, it’s made clear its not any old side, just like M&S’s sandwiches are not any old sandwiches, but John Still’s “manager of the month's” side.

With kick off imminent the voice over the PA makes a request of the home fans, “let's make some noise for the boys”. It is though the visiting fans who are the loudest at the moment, “United, United” they sing. There is the odd shout of “come on you Daggers” from a few around us, but they are again outdone by the traveling SU supporters, “we love United we do, we love United we do”.

SU get the first shot of the game, their fans encouraged by the that decree SU are the “team for me”.

Having not got anything to eat, Tom’s ravenous hunger has only increased, no thanks to the passing of “ohhh pie and chips”, which he has not failed to point out on every occasion he's seen some, despite all this, he is not let's say thrilled by the sight of the bacon filled half a baguette that has just been handed to the person next to him. It’s not lacking in filling, its positively overflowing, however it’s a little grey, a tad underdone. He turns his head to me, looks me dead in the eyes, and slowly shakes his head.

Singing is about all there is to do for either set of supporters as far as entertainment is concerned, the game so far is hardly gripping, the away team's fans are easily ahead off the pitch, “Sutton till I die” they sing. On it, it’s a relative stalemate, scrappy, no real quality from either side. When one SU player attempts to flick the ball on to a teammate with his shoulder, but it just ends up being a hand ball, Tom is quick to inform me with a huge amount of pride that the player responsible is, “ex Arsenal youth”, got to cling onto whatever you can I guess, you Gooners.

The sky has only continued to worsen, and with some sick kind of gratification, Tom leans over and whispers in my ear, “here it comes”, the rain is well and truly here. This is not grin and bare it British rain, this won't ruin my BBQ, kind of rain, but the kind that goes from barely any at all, to all of it at once.

Big long terrace here we come.

There are a few hardy exceptions, those not joining the mass exodus for cover, instead rummage around in their backpacks for a waterproof, or erect a large golfing umbrella, they will not be shifted.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, but walking along the back row of the well populated terrace, with its
low slung angled roof, reducing our view to a long narrow strip, that apparently the only place to stand is within a stone's throw of the small hatch surviving food and drinks, with its condiment crammed table just in front.

Even with the slightly restricted view I’m able to see the red dot matrix scoreboard that had been above our heads. It currently reads H - 0, A - 0, not sure why they missed out the other three letters. The metal roof contains the murmuring and conversations of the home fans, the mixture of that, the rain and the occasional crash of a ball on the corrugated roof makes for quite a din.

On twenty two minutes the red ‘0’ after the ‘H’ has been replaced with a ‘1’, as the home team go ahead with a sweetly taken goal, that sneaks in at the near post. Shouting over the first bit of real noise from the home fans, Tom bashes out his first football cliche of the match, “should of done better” the keeper that is, who was beaten, all those in the know say he shouldn't have been beaten, but to be fair to him it was a fiercely struck shot.

Closer to the SU fans now, they are even louder and are quick to reply to the now lively DR fans “U's, U's, U's"

The excitement of the goal celebration subsiding, Tom informs me once again, “oh I’m hungry”. He then lets me in on the fact that he doesn't know if he can “wait twenty minutes to half time”, my theory about the proximity to the food is proven correct. “All I can smell is gravy” he tells me.

A deep curling SU free kick almost makes its way to the back of the DR net, both home and visiting fans “ohhhh” but for different reason. It’s also the first time I hear the “shit, shit, shit, shit” man, whose repetitive string of expletives flows out of him every time the ball gets anywhere near his team's box.

SU go close again, this time a header just flashes wide. “United, United, United” sing the very seldomly quiet SU fans. Most of their noise it seems coming from the group standing on the final few rows of the stand. “South London wankers” is what one snarling DR fan brands them. Mr “shit, shit, shit” once more expresses his displeasure at SU nearly scoring.

“Come on Daggers, let's get that second goal” pleads one fan, a sentiment most supporters, whatever team you follow can empathise with. That feeling that unless you are at least five goals ahead, you have no confidence at all that you might go on and actually win the game.

Both teams are what you might call probing at each other's defences. That pawing jab boxers do, it's just so far lacking that mighty right hand, that does all the damage. All this while the rain continues to lash down. Tom reckons for a moment it’s stopped, or at least eased, but a quick glance at the floodlights, and it’s clear it’s still falling.

SU almost land a decisive blow, but the chance is well blocked. One DR fan down front in a baseball cap, offers some advice to his team, the same bit of advice he has offered since we started standing a few rows behind him, “in his face” he barks.

Thankfully for us all, there is no time to dwell on the fact that there are “no chips”, because seconds after Tom has dropped that bombshell, returning from the food bar, and now regretting he only got a quarter pounder and not a half pounder, ordering smaller because he wanted chips, but now he doesn't have any, SU have drawn things level on forty five minutes.

It’s very kind of the announcer to inform us that it is in fact the scorer's 100th goal for SU. I’m pretty sure 95% of the people here couldn't give a damn. As far as goals go to clinch your century, it’s far from spectacular, but they all count. “Dundo’s, gonna get ya” chant the SU fans. A chant that always sounds like it has a veiled threat attached, that the one hundred goal man not only scores a few, but might have something else in mind for you too.

“United, United, United” sing the SU fans once more, following their ever so slightly menacing song about the fan favourite.

The end concludes surrounded by a shed full of angry East Londoners, their anger directed solely at the referee. “What kind of drugs you on ref?” asks one fan, then adding that he “would like some” if the man in change is able to tick him a little something. Another suggests to the man in black that he must get some thrill out of blowing his whistle, and therefore that's why he does it “every 30 seconds”.

None of this can mask the real anger that their team on the stroke of half time, conceded a scrappy goal, that just about sums the first half.

The teams depart, and the break in the game gives Tom a chance to reiterate that he still “wants chips”, his sizable burger having only felt like a “small starter”. Much like the DR fan's learning that is was Craig Dundas 100th goal, I couldn't give a shit. I’ve just learnt that I won't be taking home the “£145” prize fund from the 50/50.

“Halifax top of the league” announces one fan, looking up from his phone, the bright glare of which illuminates his face rather sinisterly. Instead of looking like someone from the Blair Which Project, he could do with lending it to the man next to me who is visibly doing himself harm, straining to read his programme in the gloom and murk of the terrace.

“Tea and Kit Kat time” discloses Tom. I thought after all that ragu, it would be only espresso and biscotti from now on? Anyway I’m much more interested in the man walking along the front of the stand, with a small leather bag over his shoulder, shouting “programmes” with one held above his head, wonder if he sells peanuts too?

For a moment I think the rain might have finally relented, until a glance at the floodlights once again, and I can see it’s very much there. Tom not a fan of anything resembling the cold says it feels like “fucking winter”. It’s not quite that bad, but it might be time to retire the shorts for 2017 at least, I have very damp shins.

I never would have taken Tom for an Elvis fan, but as the players return, while 'Can’t Help Falling in Love' by The King plays, he goes a bit gooey and soft, looking off into the middle distance, like someone in a Spielberg film, and tells me it's one of his “favourite” songs.

“Please welcome the teams back onto the pitch” asks the announcer, a few home fans oblige with shouts of “come on you Daggers”

No amount of half time snacks, or gloating at rivals doing badly during the break, means the referee is any less in the cross-hairs of the home fans. They just don't feel like anything is going their way, “you don't know what you're doing” they chant, before going as far to suggest he’s a, “cheat, cheat, cheat” and other than the celebrating the goal, it’s about the noisiest they've been tonight.

With the rain now at its absolute worst, “match abandoned” shouts one fan, half joking and half hoping, Tom suggesting its coming in “sideways”. Yes the wind is blowing into us now and we are getting a few spots on us, but if we look to our left the hardy souls still on the open terrace, are really putting us to shame.

The first quarter of the new half, has pretty much picked up where the first half left off, uneventful and scrappy. SU are the first to get a chance of any real meaning, a curling shot, a “skimmer” as Toms calls it, that skids across the grass, and into the arms of the keeper. Not long after DR shoot just
over, and the game has officially got going.

You might think that going close would have lifted the spirits of the DR the fans, but it does nothing of the sort, they are still more focused on giving the referee as much stick as possible, and my grumble-o-meter is going through the roof. There is thankfully a moment of brevity among all the darkness, when the name of an oncoming DR substitute causes a few laughs. Chike Kandi has only one foot on the pitch, when the less than original cry of “it's chico time” goes up. However, the next attempt, “we've got candy” to the tune of the 1965 hit 'I Want Candy' by The Strangeloves, is at least worth a wry smile.

SU go close, but the player at the far post is unable to get the final touch to poke it in. This gets a  song from the fans, “we’re the Sutton boys”. When one player makes a great effort to take the game to DR, gliding through the midfield, surging forwards, Tom once again has that glint in his eye, “Arsenal academy”.

“HOW?” mouths Tom with his head in his hands, much like the player who's mazey, slinky, jinky almost balletic run down the left wing, his quick feet getting him into the box, all while he evades what seems like the whole SU team, does not result in a goal. His shot is blocked, the rebound falling to a teammate, who shoots wide with the goal gaping.

The fans instead of chastising the player who missed, applaud the player responsible for the awesome run, “come on you Daggers”.

Finally the game between these two teams at the top of the league, is living up to a bit of its potential. First the wonderful solo effort, then SU almost give DR the lead, when they nearly scored an own goal. Another deep free kick almost catches out the SU keeper, he just tips it over, not sure if it was an audacious shot or just a wind assisted cross, but the keeper was almost embarrassed. The resulting corner, is headed over by the SU defense, the second is met by a DR attacker whose own header goes fractions wide.

Finally the moaning isn’t the loudest the home fans have been “come on your reds”. I nearly have to eat my words, when Mr “in his face” thinks the SU keeper in his Barney the dinosaur shade of purple kit is time wasting, “fucking horrible team Sutton” he shouts.

The “horrible” teams fans reply to their now vocal rivals, “United, United, United”, things are hotting up a bit.

It’s really the final quarter of the match that is the best of the whole ninety. SU almost take the lead, but the player can't convert the big looping ball into the box. DR get another deep free kick, almost in the same place as where the effort earlier just saved, was taken from. “Shooooot” demand the fans, he does, “ain't gonna do it twice” says Tom as the ball sails well over.

Into the final ten minutes there is that feeling among the home fans, that their team are going to screw this up, “Oh here we go” says someone whose clearly seen it all before, SU’s attack this time comes to nothing. Two SU corners follow not long after, causing more consternation in Mr “shit, shit, shit” who is now in overdrive.

The outrage towards the man in charge hits its peak when nigh on the whole terrace is directing him to where an SU throw in should be taken from. To be fair the SU player is taking the, ‘edging along the touchline’ thing all footballers do, a bit far. About fifty pairs of hands, fingers pointed, wave manically around us, accompanied by shouts of “back” until the player in question is finally re-positioned.

It's all SU, “United, United, United” sing their fans, most of them on their feet, a goal for them seems imminent, one DR fan makes a solemn statement, with the ball a constant around his teams box, and very rarely in SU's half, “should be down the other end”.

The board goes up showing the three minutes of extra time, from the response of some of those around us, you would have thought it said three hundred. The idea of their team having to hold on to for a whole one hundred and eighty seconds, without conceding, seems impossible. And they are almost proven right when an SU player rounds the keeper, but fires over from a tight angle.

A fan's sixth sense is very rarely wrong, that ability to know exactly when your team are about to blow it, is a skill every supporter learns not long after deciding, ‘this is my team’, also if Mr “shit, shit, shit” said it enough times, he was going to be correct at least once.

“Shit, shit, shit” he repeats for the umpteenth time, about one minute into the three added on. The cross into the box, finds the SU forward between two defenders, and with a glance of his forehead, SU take the lead. “Oh shit” he says as the visiting players in white, not yellow for some reason, don't quite get that clash, as DR play in red, run off to celebrate. Their fans erupt to our right, the home fans taking it as their cue to leave in their droves, rain or no rain.

“We are top of the league, we are top of the league” sing the SU supporters, someone has had a quick look at their mobile, and it would seem that thanks to other results tonight, SU have jumped from fifth to first.

All the commotion of the shed has gone, we stand almost completely alone, except for one soggy steward who wants us gone, as we watch the SU players applaud the singing fans, some whirling their scarves above their heads, “Sutton, Sutton, Sutton”.

As the final players leave the pitch, the one hundred goal man gets one last song “Dundo’s, gonna get ya”, before they round things off with a their own rendition of The Kings classic, “falling in love with U's, U's, U's”.

Outside I do my best to walk at double time, wanting to avoid any further moistening of my lower legs. A group of SU fans continue to celebrate their teams ascension to the top of the league, with a bit of a sing song on a dreary Victoria Road, as they start the long journey back to South London.

Back in the car, preparing for Uber duties as Tom plays a game on his phone I'm still wondering, why were SU playing in white, it just doesn't make sense. Why are chips such a problem at non league football, this is a problem we have encountered before, and Tom wants answers, and if Dundo did get "ya" what exactly would he do to you?

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE ↓

 


 

'LIKE' us on Facebook

 

Follow us on Twitter


Subscribe to our YouTube channel




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

 

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Man Sandwich - Erith & Belvedere FC Vs Cray Valley Paper Mills FC, FA Cup Preliminary Round, Park View Road (20/08/17)

I’m not sure if it's the fact that The Raiders March is the first song on the radio on my way to pick up Tom or the fact that once I have got him, he doesn't “want to talk about football” after his beloved Arsenal lost to the Champions League winner swollen squad of Stoke City both of which give me great pleasure in equal measure. However as we dip under the Thames, heading South of the river through the Blackwall Tunnel, the sun is out, Tom yanking off his jumper as things start to warm up a little, today already has the feel of being a good one.

This afternoons venue could creep up on you a little, one could probably pass it without even noticing it, easily distracted by the large car showroom opposite. It’s coordinates for me though will forever be seared into my internal GPS, like a salmon who despite having a brain the size of a grape knows instinctively what river to swim up, what waterfall to jump, to reach that little rock, on that specific stretch of water, to get its spawn on.

Park View Road is the one and only place I’ve actually won something in a raffle! What an achievement, all the way back in 2015, the 2nd place prize of a bottle of Pinot Grigio, which still sits proudly on the shelf in my kitchen, will never be forgotten. I frequently look longingly at it, a reminder of why I always have a go, even two years later I can’t bring myself to move it, it’s just too precious to me, and it has nothing to do with the fact I hate wine, and have no intention of drinking it.

A much, much, much better three point turn later, far better then the horror show at Braintree and without having to worry about local parking restrictions, as it’s a Sunday. Normally a day I observe my strict code of doing nothing, however football is a powerful force, enough to budge me from the sofa, and away from a very average looking ‘Super Sunday’. Nothing about Newcastle this season is going to be super, and I don't want to face watching Spurs at Wembley Vs Chelsea so I’m recording it. We park right opposite the ground, only the width of the road away from the back of the terrace, the passing buses top deck getting the best view in the house.

Our short thirty minute drive was all done without the hint of Tom being sick, after the previous couple of days of excess at a friend's wedding in Brighton. Where he assures me he didn't go at it too hard, despite his girlfriend finding him asleep on the floor of their hotel room next to the bed, when he had started in it.

There are two types of 50/50 I know of in football. Firstly the fundraising type lots of clubs do. Secondly, and I think better known as a half and half, but for the purpose of this, let's all pretend for a moment we've all heard someone call it a “50/50 scarf”

The first is a fantastic way for clubs to boost their revenue on match day. Something most people, some more than others, are more than happy to chuck a pound in the pot for, on the off chance they might win £15 or a hamper of fudge.

The second, and currently ranked third after Sky Sports and Sepp Blatter, in the all time list of most loathed things in football. There will be at least one occasion a season my Twitter timeline is plastered with a picture of a Spurs or Manchester Utd fan with one on at their respective derby, forcing the internet into near meltdown.

It’s well documented that I’m a fan of the 50/50. I’ve never really had reason to discuss my thoughts on the half and half scarf, but I can’t say I’m a fan. Don't be greedy I say, just have one or the other, or just don't have one at all. In my humble opinion, it’s only ever going to make you look like a cock.

Today though I can increase that list, as certainly for the first time in three years, we come across a concept I’ve never been aware of before, the 50/50 stadium.

As I said we’ve been to Park View Road before, but the winning of a prize in the raffle and angry Welling United fans around us, shouting at their manager as they got thumped in the FA Cup by Carlisle means I must admit that I have no recollection of the setup being this way.

On one side, the red side, you have a building sized image of players, the large welcome sign and grand turnstiles, that you might expect from a National League side.

On the opposite side, the blue side, well let's just say you don't have any of that. The most you get is a small nondescript sign, a small white turnstile, manned by a single person. None of which has any of the razzle dazzle of a club one promotion from being talking about by Colin Murray on a Saturday evening. Honestly it’s a little scruffy, and not instantly obvious what it is in the first place.

Although we’re early, there is a game already in full swing, two local under 11 sides are using half the pitch for a match, as their parents look on from the big blue stand or the all red terrace, all while Wonder Wall by Oasis blares out from a changing room, which won't be the first song choice today reminiscent of my early teens CD collection.

Alan, Erith & Belvedere FC’s (EB), the team that calls the blue side home, club secretary tells me this is a new initiative they have started, a way to engage with the local community. I ask him about the set up here. To say EB simply ground share is not correct. Mainly because of quite how much of a stamp they have made on it. Normally with a ground share, your are either the landlord or the tenant, where the latter is not allowed to use any blue tack or put any of their own pictures up. The property comes fully furnished, and the lodgers can use the pitch every other Saturday.

With Park View Road this is not the case at all. Although it's not always been their home. It wasn't until a “fire” at their old ground in 1997 and after a bit of sofa surfing that followed, did they start calling it home until the start of the 1999-2000 season, taking up a “50 year” lease on the ground with Welling, Alan tells us. The arrangement between both clubs seems relatively straightforward, and one I’m surprised we've not see more of. “Our side, their side”, explains Alan. The pitch that divides the two teams who both live under the same roof, their relationship a lot more Bert & Ernie, than a Mark & Jeremy from Peep Show, is “maintained” by Welling also, as are the terracing behind the goals, which Alan is fine with, “less for us to shell out” he adds. And considering the condition of one end, I wouldn't want the responsibility for sorting it out, it's in a right state.

Looking on in blue tracksuits the EB players already here, watch the game unfolding on the pitch, offering up advice to the players, and getting very excited when one shows off a bit of skill, “did you see that chop?”. All while the second song from Dan's early 2000's mix CD comes on in the home dressing room, Tribute by Tenacious D, “that’s different” comments a slightly baffled Tom.

Always keen to be positive, and never wanting to be mean or unfriendly, I really don't want anyone at EB to get upset when I say that I don't think that the shop from our last match at Braintree Town, the finest example of a club shop we've ever come across, has much to worry about, when compared to that of EB. Again, not wanting to sound rude, its perhaps hard to even call it a shop, a dilapidated shed with an old front door with a broken window, is the most accurate I can be.

Once inside, there are no obvious lights as such, just piles and piles of programmes scattered around,
and the option to buy either an EB tie or scarf. The only light that allows you to see around the small space, is that coming in through the large opening at one end, which has been created by some chipboard having been pinned open.

Accessible only from the outside, and next to the old EB shirts hanging from some coat hangers above a couple of shopping trolleys, is the EB wall of mugs, each one hanging from a large rusty nail.

Among the Hull, Reading and Chelsea chinaware, low bottom right, cooly minding its own business, one in particular catches my eye, an England Euro’ 96 one. Relatively plain and simple, with a couple of dings and chips, it sticks out like a sore thumb. For most people my age, that tournament holds a special place in their heart, it stirs up a unique kind of nostalgia from within them, and not wanting to see it fall into a further state of disrepair and for the sum total of £3, I unhook it from its nail, and put it in my bag, preserving it for generations to come

The young man sporting the slick haircut, who is brimming with confidence, doesn't have to ask me twice if I want the chance of winning a signed EB football. All I have to do is pick a team or teams on the card he hands me, and fingers crossed it’s the one I pick, that gets drawn out the hat later today. Tottenham are gone, they're always gone, so I go for Wolves, because I had a Wolves shirt once. Arsenal are gone, so Tom goes for Rangers. “Wish us luck”, I ask the small red headed vendor.

We chat with two EB fans, @wearethederes in his dark blue EB scarf, with the clubs crest of a stag on it, and Ed who has been watching EB for over thirty years. Both are confident of an EB win, “2 -1” is their score prediction, they both tell us without hesitation and almost simultaneously. Both are confident of the win, despite the league difference between EB and their opponents from the league above, Cray Valley Paper Mills FC (CM). They tell us though their team will have to keep their eye on EB old boy Denzel Gayle who they describe as “quick” one miming fast hands to emphasise the point.

Well they don't mess about here, feels like only moments ago I was riding high on the thought of potentially winning a signed football, and still with a good forty five minutes to kick off, any notion of a win is brought crashing down to earth, with the announcement that the “ball is here” and ready to be collected, but not by me, by whoever picked “Hibernian”. At least the pain of the loss is out of the way nice and early, not having to dwell on its potential outcome, all through the first half.

Toms impending roast dinner, remember it's Sunday, means gambling is not the only thing getting resolved early. No dash for food at half time and heart palpitations about long queues today, and instead of him thinking to himself that he's having a large meal in a couple of hours when he gets home so I won’t bother, he just gets his food before kick-off instead.

Sitting pitchside, Tom two mouthfuls into his burger and chips, a second chance for a flutter presents itself, a chance at redemption. Same set up as before, Spurs and Arsenal are gone just like before, but it’s a different prize, this time the chance to pocket £20. Tom opts for Portsmouth, I hope that picking Stoke, Arsenals vanquishers from the day before, might just give me the edge.

“Welcome to Park View Road” says the voice over the PA, I wonder if it’s the same person who decided that Cotton Eye Joe (I NEVER OWNED THAT) was a suitable song choice? He tells us not if he is guilty of such a crime, but that “if you wish to smoke, please use the terrace”.

Along with his potentially dubious taste in music, his public information film address about smoking, he can add the curious way he reads out the teams to the list of reasons why he is a bit different from your average, run of the mill, non league announcer.

The ‘normal’ way I guess is just reading out the number and the name, quick and to the point. He instead reads out their name, fine, nothing wrong with that, then their number, again all normal, but then adds the word “shirt” on the end. The addition of the extra word, feels like we might be here all day, before he is done.

I’m not sure I’m the first person to be fucked by Leeds United, but for the second time today, the agony of defeat is raw, but quick, like the fast removal of a plaster. Whoever picked the Yorkshire club are the winners this time. I really thought my track record at Park View Road stood me in good stead, how wrong I was, 0 - 2.

Alan reminds the announcer at the back of the stand, just before the players arrive, to give a mention to one player who will be making his one hundereth appearance for the club today. @wearethederes and Ed are ready in the stand, @wearethederes scarf strung out across the seats in front of them. The kids from the game earlier, are now jostling in the small space at the mouth of the short tunnel, that rises up from the base of the stand, waiting to be allocated their player as today's mascots. The consensus among them is that they all want to go with a “striker”.

“Please welcome on to the pitch today's teams”, one fan follows the announcer with a shout for the home side “come on the Dares”. As the teams shake hands, he goes through the lineups again, “Erith & Belvedere in blue and white quarters” or “Blackburn” as Tom puts it, “Cray Valley in black and green”. EB win the battle of the kits today, but I was hoping for a run out of the CM beauty from the London Senior Cup final, a real gem, but it’s nowhere to be seen

Kick-off is slightly marred by the fact a crazy person behind us suggests it's “chilly”, when it's boiling, however first chance of the game, which falls to EB only moments after the start, focuses the mind. The shot on goal though, is not so focused as the ball sails over, almost clearing the nets and heading towards the car showroom on the opposite side of the street.

“Where's the cover?” asks an EB fan as CM race into the lead with only five minutes gone. The scorers dinked finish is almost kept out, the EB keeper gets a hand to it, but its not quite enough, the ball still able to just dribble over the line. Running towards the corner flag, the player who just put CM ahead, is lifted into the air by the player who assisted him.

The same fan who was bemoaning his teams lack of defending, is soon back to supporting them, “come on Erith, come on Erith” he sings. Another fan suggests to the referee, that he must have missed the “handball” that led up to the goal, I must admit I did.

Unfortunately having the best kit, doesn't mean you are impervious to attacks, sadly it doesn't work like something from Harry Potter. Quarter of an hour gone, the league difference between the teams, is looking like a gulf, more than just a few places on a table. This time the scorer of the first, assists with the final ball for CM's second. “Fucking relentless” shouts the CM keeper, who is not far off. It's all been one way traffic.

“This is our house” shouts one EB fan behind us, who apparently has just walked off the set of 8 Mile Two, or a teen dance based drama, talking like that. “Fucking wake up” adds another, Tom just decides to take the Lord's name in vain “Jesus” he says, as the green and black tidal wave continues to crash up against the EB defense, who at the moment look unable to stop them.

There is plenty of advice from the stands, and a little bit of encouragement for them when their forward shows good strength latching on to a long ball from the back, holding off his marker with ease. It’s only a half chance, a tame shot that never really threatened, but it’s their first since the one that almost broke the windscreen of a brand new Alpha Romeo, “that’s better” someone shouts.

Some football supporters in life can be cruel, ripping their team apart at every opportunity, some are the opposite, what people might call a “happy clapper”, the category I’m firmly rooted in. Whatever their name, the EB ones immediately around us also fall into the latter. “Good dummy” shouts one, half laughing, following a defender 100% missing a header, the ball completely bypassing him.

When they have a chance on goal, which are few and far between, the simple fact they register “a shot”, which one fan shouts, only a few notches down from what you might expect if they had actually scored, sparks off one of the only two people in the crowd who are offering any kind of singing or chanting. Curiously though they never do it at the same time, always alternately. “Come on you Dares”, one will shout, “come on you blues” the other will half sing. Maybe it's just the same person moving about to give the impression of a noisy support.

“Looks a bit viking” comments Tom, who without the burger queue to concern himself with has the time to point out some of the nuances of the game playing out in front of us. As ever though he follows up his slightly left field observation, with one that hits the nail on the head, “got to use him more”. ‘Him’ being the EB number 7, “ come on Olla” shout the home fans, whenever he gets on the ball. His frightening pace is EB’s one and only outlet.

Tom thinks EB are “getting better”, post the “relentless” attacks as the CM keeper put it in the first quarter of the match. The main reason in his eyes for the upturn in performance is simply because they haven't “conceded”. I agree, I reckon they look a lot more composed, they are passing the ball about with a lot more authority. I suggest you could even say they are ‘stroking’ it about, Tom’s not so sure however, “wouldn't go that far”.

“That's better blues”, EB’s determination has paid off, and number 7 has bagged himself a very fine goal indeed, and has well and truly dragged his team back into the game. Leaving the CM defenders in his wake, he picks up the ball just inside his half, tears down the wing, once in the box, the keeper racing out to meet him, he slots it past him into the far corner. The mascots sitting opposite us, show their appreciation by banging their seats.

The half finishes with what might be the line of the day, I thought hearing someone shout "man sandwich" when an EB player is caught between two of CM's all jumping for the same ball, but when a CM player shows the slightest whiff of a bit of showboating on the edge of the EB box, and one fan like a heckler at a David Copperfield gig, bellows at the defender “watch his trickery”, the human butty comment is easily surpassed.

There is a brief moment of handbags that I think the kids find the most entertaining of anything that’s happened so far, including the three goals, cheering like bloodthirsty spectators at the Colosseum and number 7, nearly, nearly, gets on the end of what someone quite rightly calls a “good ball” which would have put him in on goal.

As the players leave, a much different atmosphere engulfs the home team, than the one that hung over them after the disastrous first fifteen minutes. Now upbeat with a shared feeling of ‘we might be back in this’, following their performance of the last fifteen minutes. One CM supporter asks a player to “keep tight on their number 7”, he looks back, a few steps down the tunnel and tells him smiling, “I’ll try”.

The departing grown up players are quickly replaced by a hoard of much smaller and high pitched ones, as we are treated to a bit of half time entertainment, a penalty shoot out. Well trained by watching too much Premier League football, the scorers emulate their TV heroes, tapping their shirts badge when they score. One of the keepers is just shy of going full Joe Hart when he concedes, oh the face on him. One attempt is so high over the bar, that as Tom points out if it was “two inches lower, that laptop was gone”.

However all the passion, squeals of success, and moans of failure, might be for nothing, as after about
five or six spot kicks for each team, one of the coaches asks the other if he is “keeping the score?”. All this while music that was released before any of them taking part were born, once again from NOW 31, blares out from the sound system, “boom, boom, boom, let me hear you say wayo”, followed by a bit of Super Furry Animals.

Fancying a change of scenery, we tell @wearethederes of our proposed move, to what he calls the "Welling side", which he says with a mild hint of disgust in his voice, like we're off to join the enemy, If I’m honest we just fancied the look of the padded seats and the carpeted floors.

It’s a spot of Thin Lizzy that greets the players returning to the pitch.

Number 7’s low cross finds its intended target on the edge of the six yard box. Instead of putting his foot through it he decides instead to dummy it, sort of waft his foot at it, an attempt to leave or pass it to a teammate, but to who? There is no one near to him. “Fucking aider” says his manager standing outside the dugout just in front of us, momentarily embodying a cast member of Last of the Summer Wine, looking at his bench for an explanation for why he just did that.

Tom a little less Compo, but just as shocked as the EB manager suggests the player has “gotta to do better than that”.

CM’s coach is quick to acknowledge EB’s swift start and in turn tells his team to “wake up!”. He shouts at his captain, telling him to get the team's heads “out of the changing room”. His instructions almost come too late, as EB nearly score a deserved equaliser. It’s only a smart reaction save, that stops the point blank range header.

“We’re the blue and white arm” sings the fan in the stand, as the low fizzing shot from you guessed it number 7, looks destined for the bottom corner, so much so before it’s even gone in, Tom has blurted out “goal” like a monosyllabic John Motson. Only for somehow, the CM keeper managing to get down, and with a single strong hand turn the ball around the post.

All EB’s promise of a comeback is thwarted, when a “good cross” as Tom calls it, which kind of undersells it, it was a great first time cross, finds the CM number 9 in the six yard box. At first his header is saved, but the ball loops back down straight on to the head of the number 9, who gets a second bite at the cherry and is able to nod it in on his second attempt.

Once again CM look to have put the result out of sight, once again EB go close not long after conceding to reducing the deficit once more. His manager calls it “unlucky” the player looks distraught, his hands firmly clamped to the top of his head, after he watches his dipping shot from the edge of the box, come back off the bar. Only three games in and Tom reckons if he had scored, we would have seen our “goal of the season” already.

With twenty minutes to play, the result of what has been a thoroughly enjoyable match, seemingly all but confirmed, there is what looks like a innocuous tackle on the far side of the pitch, that sadly develops into an injury that requires a bit more than a blast of the magic spray. It’s shadow hanging over the remainder of the match, like a grey cloud. Bringing life into perspective a bit and really making the result irrelevant, because frankly there are more important things in life.

“Banged his head on the fence” we overhear someone say on the CM bench. “Eggy” has now been down for an uncomfortable amount of time, the physio is with him, and right under the nose of those fans pitchside, he is still being treated.

Number 7 once more shows his great feet, if EB have any chance of scoring, it would seem its only going to come from or via him, as he continues to bomb up and down the right wing, almost completely unabated. “Stop the cross!” shouts the CM bench, but they can't, they are powerless to stop him. The “great” ball as someone in the stand describes it, that he whips into the box from out wide, is a hairs breath from being poked in at the back post, only for the last ditch actions of a defender knocking it into to touch.

Tom suggests “I’ve fallen in love” with number 7, not sure my feelings for him stretch that far, he is rather good though, and I do tell Tom I would happily take him out for a set menu meal of his choice, if he’s up for it.

However with CM’s number 10 still down, it’s hard to be enthusiastic. Tom reckons he's getting “stitches”, but he still isn't moving much. Quite how serious the situation is, is made clear when very calmly the referee approaches the CM bench and checks that they have “called an ambulance”.

With the departure of their number 10, by far CM's brightest spark, they have lost all of their dynamism and creativity, with a two goal lead and with ten minutes left to play it doesn't look like it's going to make a big difference on the outcome.

EB’s number 7 though, has enough flare for both sides, the CM bench now instructing the team to “double up” on him. Such is his flamboyance on occasion he seems to be winding a few people up, which boils over into a brief outbreak of silliness, a bit of rutting, but not much more. Not long after, a CM player goes steaming in, a bit of left overs from the previous spat, which a couple of blokes along from us really enjoyed, taking to their feet to applaud the player who dived in. The referee doesn't see anything wrong with it, Tom is amazed that he "didn't book” anyone involved.

“Keep warm” both sets of players are told, as the ambulance arrives at one corner of the pitch. A sickening hush falls over the ground, only the noise of a couple of players doing keepy uppies breaks it. A brief ripple of applause lifts the mood as Eggy is put on the stretcher. The players are told it’s going to be about “three minutes” until the restart, and once again to “get fucking warm”.

“Never get small head wounds, do I?” asks the returning physio to the CM bench

Clapping his hands intensely to get their attention, one CM player demands his team mates are “switched on”, as the game gets back underway following the long delay. EB and I on the other hand are about as switched on as a broken lightbulb, almost from the restart CM add to their lead, 4 - 1. 

The stop for the injury has put to an end any kind of EB fight back, CM are well and truly on-top, almost toying with EB. Number 7 now casts a lonely figure on the touchline, and is far from impressed that he's not getting any of the ball. Almost sulking, and clearly frustrated, he watches the action in his own half, from just inside CM’s, waiting for the ball. When it does come his way, CM’s bench make the same request of the defense, to “stop the cross”, and like every time before that, they are just unable to.

“What a save!” cries Tom, at what firsts looks like an excellent bit of goalkeeping, but was actually the well placed head of an EB defender on the goal line, who manages to get something on what looked like goal number five. The attacker I’m sure could have just put it away, but seems to almost pause for dramatic effect, but it doesn't quite pay off.

“Four minutes of normal time” to be played, replies the linesman, when asked once again how much of the game is left. There is an air of ‘let's get this game put to bed now’ about everyone, on both sides, no one seems to know how much is going to be added on for the injury.

CM continue to create in the final moments, EB’s number 7 continues to demand the ball, but isn't getting a sniff now. The visitors get the final chance of the match, “strike” says the coach from his technical area, as the player shapes up to do so, on the edge of the EB box. A mighty ping follows, not that of the ball crashing off the underside of the bar and in, but off the top of a lamppost behind the goal.

The whole bench laughs, the manager turns to his staff and the substitutes, “that's what he was aiming for”

There were many subplots to today, many little factors that contributed to an excellent afternoon. The
friendly EB chairman on his bar stool in the scarf draped bar, with it's replica World Cup trophy, the wall of mugs, the teams sharing the ground, equal partners, rather than that one person nagging the other to put the milk away all the time, the battle of the kits, the carpeted stand or the fact that CM created a bit of club history, by winning they progressed the furthest they ever have in the FA Cup, however all of this seems inconsequential, when someone leaves in an ambulance.

It was a great game, a back and forth game, with plenty of goals, funny lines from the crowd and some tackles that give us the shivers, but again it all seems somewhat unimportant when someone leaves in an ambulance.

What was truly the best bit about today, was the calmness of the officials and the professionalism of the CM physio, because I imagine when you're lying on your back, looking up at the sky, while someone straps you to a stretcher, its those kind of people you need around you, to help you through a difficult spot, not someone who can write a paragraph about a mug.

Get well soon Eggy!

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE ↓





 

'LIKE' us on Facebook

 

Follow us on Twitter


Subscribe to our YouTube channel




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

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Sexy Football - Braintree Town FC Vs Dartford FC, National League South, Cressing Road (08/08/17)

“Why's it spitting?” asks Tom grimacing as he looks out of the window, at the small spots of rain hitting the windscreen. They are so inconsequential, I hadn't really noticed them until he had pointed them out.

For our second game of the season, and after going to the south coast for our first, it seemed almost rude not to venture into what might be the most abundant football county in the UK, Essex. I’m pretty sure we spend the majority of our time traversing it’s highways and byways, so much so that it’s almost become a second home.

Thankfully the minuscule amount of rain has not gotten any worse, so Tom unscrews his face, and we are able to continue our journey without anymore grumbling.

The long tailback that greets us as we arrive in Braintree, is not exactly the welcome we wanted. We follow the Sat Nav diligently as we do, until we realise where its directing us, doesn't exist, and we go from being as cool as cucumbers to having a mini meltdown, Tom desperately trying to direct me, as I navigate the rush hour traffic.

Turning down a nondescript suburban road still feels wrong, when in search of a football ground, despite the countless amount of times we’ve done it, and always find at the end of it what we’re looking for. Some part of my subconscious is still convinced that all football is only played in ‘Mega Domes’ and 90,000 seater stadiums.

You would think if we were clever, that we would've used the man in the lurid bright orange shirt of tonight's home team, Braintree Town FC (BTFC) like the lights on a runway (trust me the kit is bright enough) to guide us, however and long time readers can attest to this, but for those of you new to the blog, I'll let you in on a little secret, we’re not, so we don’t.

Ignoring him, we pass what I can only describe as prefab yellow houses that are almost toy like, almost completely square like something from a model village, and continue onward down a road, which quickly turns into a lane, then a path then a gravelly patch of wasteland in the middle of the Essex countryside.

Abort, abort, abort I scream to myself in my head. Putting the car into reverse, we retrace our steps, clearly in the wrong place, and only moments away from needing mountain rescue to save us.

I can only apologise to the people of number 39 Muddy Lane, for spending the next ten minutes loitering outside of your front door, continuously revving my engine as I perform what Tom later describes as the “strangest” three point turn he has ever seen.

Back and forth, every couple of seconds I make another small, but totally pointless adjustment. We are getting nowhere and are heading into Austin Powers territory. About a foot away from number 39’s living room, the bottom of my car scraping on the curb, I can only hope that no one wants to leave or get in, because my bonnet is almost touching the letter box.

For the second time tonight I scream, abort, abort, abort as the inside of my head has now gone fully Das Boot. I stop, and use Tom's face as motivation, it's a mixture of sheer embarrassment and terror. I just about manage to compose myself long enough to get us the hell out of this heinous situation, which was completely of my own making.

One again, I cannot apologise enough to the poor people of number 39.

Thankfully another BTFC shirt presents itself and we take heed this time, following it like the star of Nazareth, crawling ever so creepily in first gear behind the wearer of the orange of orangeist kits, not wanting to overtake them or deviate from the path whatsoever, to ensure we make it to Cressing Road.

Not quite the pearly gates, however the large wrought iron blue ones at the entrance to the ground are a very welcome sight. Not quite Saint Peter, however the man who sells us our pass to the car park, is just as cordial and patient, as I’m sure the guardian to heaven would be. When I spill my in car change pot all over the floor, sending a good £10 worth of coins to the unreachable realm of under the seat, and I have to cobble a couple of quid together from mainly shrapnel, he doesn't show for one moment that he might be getting annoyed, he just waits with a holy air, then happily waves us on.

I’m well aware the turnstiles of the last century were not built for great hulking lumps of the 21st century, however it feels just like the icing on the cake of a shocking past hour or so, when I genuinely think I might be stuck. Trying my best not to look completely panicked in front of the ticket seller, half a foot from my face, trapped in his cage fronted, tiny brick cupboard. I eventually pop out the other side, unscathed physically, but with my self esteem a little bruised.

What better way to restore one's morale, than a look around a club shop, we do love a club shop, and a little birdie has told me that there are two of them here, one being so magnificent, it has its own Twitter account. The one admittedly before us though, is pretty standard, a blue shipping container with a gazebo being erected in front of it. A man in a club baseball cap, lays out his wares on a fold out table, and hangs shirts on a portable clothes rail. I fail to see how it warrants its own social media presence.

Hidden between two banks of terracing that stand behind one goal, out of the way, and off the beaten track as all treasures generally are. Never heard of the X on the map, being just off the highroad have you? No you have to search a little, go down a few fiery rat filled sewers, almost get chopped up by the propeller of an ocean liner, or have to bring your own Dad back to life using the cup of Christ, before you can get you hands on the goodies.

I’ll tell you right now, if you're a true connoisseur of football related trinkets, the Supporters Club Shop at BTFC, is worth being chased by a one hundred boulders for.

Before I go on though, I think it’s important to clarify that we saw no rats at Cressing Road. I don't want anyone to take my Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade analogy too literally. Unfortunately though I must report we did spot some vermin, just a solitary mouse, Mickey Mouse to be precise, waving from the side of Mr Cheers ice cream van, which Mr Cheers had parked in one corner of the ground.

Get me a chair I’m feeling light headed, hide my wallet this could get expensive, and make room for the big man because once you make the short step up into the low ceilinged blue and orange hut, there is just about enough room to swing a smallish kitten.

Some call it Shangri La, some call it Valhalla, the Ancient Greeks called it Elysium, whatever your faith, whatever your name for Nirvana is, I might have just found mine.

Surely this is now the club shop that all future clubs shops are comparable to, the pinnacle of their kind? I’m choked up just writing this, it quite honestly is a thing of pure beauty. Step aside Mona Lisa, move over Sistine Chapel, because when people hear about this, your visitor numbers are going to plummet, and people will be taking their holidays just off the A120 to marvel at what I have just walked into.

If you have been unlucky enough to watch one of the many thousands of TV programs about home improvement, not the one with Tim Allen, then you will know it’s all about maximizing the space you’ve got, making the most of your ten square foot £1,000,000 apartment in London, by putting your shower under the stairs, oven in the second bedroom, that kind of thing.

This ethos has been embraced with both hands here, although not big, I think my head is almost touching the ceiling and if I stood with both arms outstretched I could touch both walls, however this has not stopped the them using every available inch of space to cover, hang, drape or suspend a whole array of football awesomeness.

Scarves from clubs as far afield as Madrid, Paris and Clacton. One whole wall is covered with programmes, everywhere else you look there are perspex boxes overflowing with more of them. Pins, you want pins, there is a corkboard teeming with them. Teddy Bears, key rings or maybe shirts are your thing? How about a Juventus, Celtic, West Ham or signed Southend one, all for the price of less than a pint in Toms local.

Somehow I resist, the strength of the tractor beam coming from the dark blue Juventus away shirt was strong, but something stops me from handing over what was essentially peanuts and I depart with only with a programme, cherished memories, and the coordinates on the map to find the next X, the 50/50 seller.

I think it would be fair to say BTFC’s home is a tad run down, just in need of a bit of TLC. I expected though a bit more from a club that was last season in the National League. I just have this feeling that I might catch my shirt on a loose nail every time I walk past something. Surrounded on three side by trees, you have the choice of the main stand on one side of the pitch, or what you might call a shed, a long covered terrace on the other, everything in the clubs unmistakable garish shade of orange.

It’s the reaction of two young BTFC fans, scarves around their necks, both clutching their programmes so tightly like they’re going to run away, when they see the players emerging from the narrowest tunnel I’ve even seen, it’s about a man and a half wide, for the warm up, that does away with my bad mood. According to Tom I’ve been well “grumpy” since picking him up.

“Actual footballers” says one to the other, his eyes on stalks, popping out of this head at the sight of seeing a man in his mid twenties in shorts jog onto a football pitch. The second boys response is even better, he is so overjoyed, so clearly delighted by the simple fact, as he puts it “they came close to me” he looks as if he’s had a minor religious experience.

With not only the finest hair in all of non league, but a fantastic name to boot, we bump into Daniel, who is perhaps the most dedicated of groundhoppers and life long BTFC fan. In the shelter of the shed I ask him his thoughts on tonight and on the rest of the season. After the disappointment of relegation, I’m sure immediate promotion is the only thing on their mind.

His reply is brief, but the tone of his voice gives away an apprehension and nervousness of what is to come for his team in the months ahead, “I don’t know, I don’t know” he repeats shaking his head. The main reason for his uncertainty is the fact as he puts it, “this team's all new”.

“Good evening and welcome to the Ironmongery Direct Stadium” says the voice over the PA, no we haven't moved on somewhere else, that's the official, sponsored name for the ground, but I’ve been told the locals still stick with Cressing Road.

The few fans of BTFC’s opponents tonight Dartford FC (DFC) one striding along with a black and white drum slung over his shoulder, are waiting for the arrival of the teams, on the very back row of the terrace behind the goal. The buzz of the bell from the changing room, which can easily be heard, due to its close proximity to the pitch, so close are they that not long before we could hear Zorbas Dance being played from one of them, inspiring the first chant of the night, “Dartford, Dartford”. One fan shouts “come on whites” at the waiting players confined within the extendable tunnel.

Back on the PA, and having read out the DFC team, it’s now time for the BFC line up, which he reads out with noticeably more gusto, than he did the visitors. He then asks the not inconsiderable turnout, to “put their hands together for both teams” and instructs us all to “enjoy the game”.

Their arrival, the players I imagine delighted to be free of their cramped confinements, is indeed greeted by applause as well as the drum. Playing a low rumbling beat, the fans respond to it, “Darts, Darts, Darts”.

With kickoff comes the latest offering from the drum, I’m sure the same that would have been played before an execution. A large cry of “come on your whites” follows, which is met with a sarcastic jeer from the majority of the noisiest home fans who are holed up behind the dugouts in the shed, and reply with their own chant, “Iron, Iron, Iron”. Their good spirits though are soon tested, when DFC craft the first chance of the half.

“Iron army” sing the home fans. Not long after watching their own team nearly concede, do they watch their team go close to scoring themselves. Only a strong hand from a tight angle stops them going ahead, in what early on is a very end to end contest. “Keep going Darts” shouts one of the drummers gang, who responds to everything, literally everything that happens on field, with a rattle of his drum.

Fifteen minutes gone and a big cruncher of a tackle, brings the frantic game to a halt. Our first teeth sucker of the season, the kind that makes you flinch a bit. “Off, off, off” demand the DFC fans. Nearby BTFC don't quite see it the same, “thought it was a 50/50”.

I do wonder about Tom sometimes, what’s going on in his head. Because when a friend can flit from describing a nearby tree as a “bit Omen” due to the abundance of birds circling it, and then in the next breath tells you how much he wants a team we visit to “do a good hotdog” it's a bit of a concern.

What had started as being relatively evenly matched, with about twenty five minutes gone, the tide starts to shift in favour of the away team, who Tom suggests so far are the “better side”. When BTFC do go on the attack, one visiting fan is so distraught, the anger in his voice as he screams at his team, asking them rhetorically “where are we?” as BTFC venture closer to his teams goal, is almost indescribable.

The home fans respond to their chance with a chant “Essex, Essex, Essex”, and then have a hell of a lot more to sing and shout about when one of their players displays a moment of sheer brilliance, real bit of class and flair, performing what I think is called a rainbow flick, Tom cooing “bit Brazilian”. With one flick of his boot, he sends the ball over his head, away from the opposition defenders, and continues down the wing.

“Come on Braintree, come on Braintree” sing the fans, at the sight of their players inventiveness. However the good mood is soon somewhat ruined after one of their players shapes up to shoot, from just outside the box, and under no pressure, he let's rip with the most woeful of shots, that goes miles wide, and the chants are replaced with groans.

Although admittedly Tom has moments when his mind does wander, he is also prone to very great moments of clarity and has the knack for a well timed comment. He is aghast when all the DFC player had to do was poke the ball into the open net, for what some might think was a deserved lead, but instead as Tom points out “he fell over”.

When it comes to timing, tonight he could not have been more spot on. Plenty of chances are being fashioned, however until now no one has been able to convert, the game as Tom puts it, “needs a goal”.

“The build up was nice” says a DFC fan about the move that puts BTFC ahead, somewhat against the run of play some may argue.

As classy of him as it was to recognise and admit that his team has been out foxed, bettered on this occasion, to call the play only “nice” however, doesn't do it justice. I admit I’m prone to the overuse of superlatives, but the pirouette that spins the attacker away from his marker, really is exquisite, his quick feet, gives him the space to make a neat diagonal pass to a teammate approaching the edge of the box, who is able to continue his run unabated, thanks to the precision of the ball, and coolly side foot it in. It really was very “nice” indeed.

The drum has fallen silent. When the voice comes over the PA to announce who has scored “for the Iron”, the announcer can barely be heard over the celebrating fans, who are so close to him, who can hear them rejoicing over the speakers.

Tom briefly thought the noise was some tragic attempt to pipe in a bit of atmosphere, like canned laughter from a poorly made sitcom, I explain it’s the fans opposite, going nuts by the sounds of it on the lap of the man with the microphone.

Dah, dah, dah, “sexy football” they sing, and they have every right to.

Going ahead has certainly buoyed the home team, who pour it on in the final moments of the half, the shed only getting noisier and noisier, “Iron, Iron, Iron”. One player turns nicely on the edge of the box, curling a shot just over the bar.

As I’ve said already, I like to be a little flowery sometimes, look at life through rose tinted glass, however one passing fan, in his thick Scottish accent, eulogising about the BTFC opener, takes it to another level, suggesting to a fellow fan that the lead up to the goal, “was like watching Barcelona”.

“Iffy pen” suggests Tom, when for the second time in just a few days, we see one given for handball, when I don't see how the penalised player could've really done anything about it. The same nearby fan, who moments ago was evoking thoughts of Messi and the gang, calls the player who steps up “Mr Braintree”, and adds he’s just returned from his “holidays”.

The mood of the home fans, is quite the opposite of the solitary away fan next door to us, who bows
his head, continually rubbing the bridge of his nose, as things go from bad to worse for his side.

2 - 0, penalty well dispatched, looks like it was a good holiday. “Mr Braintree” scores with ease from the spot, runs a short distance, before leaping and punching the air. When the PA comes on again to announce the scorer, he sounds fully caught up in the moment, the mayhem of the fans can be clearly heard once again.

“Good time to score” says Scottish fan, with two minutes left to play and BTFC very much on the front foot. Tom on the other hand can't take his eyes off the blue kiosk adjacent to the ice cream van, “burger queue is growing”.

With the DFC drum on the move, it was practically silent for the final quarter of the half. The home fans are in a palpable state of shock, “impressive weren't it” says one to another in the queue for food, “not used to seeing them play football” adds someone else. Someone who is far from impressed is Tom, after being informed there are “no chips” for sale, which he has had confirmed by the man in front of us, an issue with the “wiring” of the fryer he's told.

We all know a person who when you go out for something to eat with, and it comes to ordering, it’s never straight forward: can I have the chicken caesar salad with the dressing on the side and no chicken? that kind of person, the kind of person I never took Tom for.

However, having heard on the grapevine, of a double cheeseburger, but not seeing it on the menu, Tom doesn't have long to decide if he is to try his luck asking for it, or does he just stick to what's available according to the small chalk board. The man in front makes his mind up for him, ordering the doubler, Tom turns to me with a new found courage in his eyes, he’s going to do it, he’s going to order 'off menu'.

“Cheese between the burgers” is the apparent secret to what makes the “beast” of the double cheese burger Tom is tucking into, a “good choice”, accompanied by some Kinks being played, and in-between humongous mouthfuls, he tells me what a “fine summer's evening” it’s turned into. 

I’m always amazed at regardless of what he orders, regardless of how big it is or how much of it there is, it only ever seems to take him two or three mouthfuls to eat. A group of boys arrive in front of us, not long after we’ve take up position at the very back of the terrace. Talk among them though is not of the two goal lead their team has got, the large flag the DFC fans have put up, that was nowhere to be seen in the first half, but of a topic, very close to Tom’s heart. One of the group is as dismayed as much as Tom, or maybe even slightly more, at the fact they “don't do chips”.

I’m not sure why I even bother mentioning it, but I didn't win the “grand total of £70” in the 50/50, meh.

The first quarter of the new half sees the BTFC fans ole-ing their team, which is inevitably interrupted by DTF winning the ball back, and almost going close themselves with their first real attempt on goal.

Putting a bit of a damper on the home fans party. Their parade is further pissed on a little, when they have what looks like a completely valid goal chalked off for an apparent foul. Supporters and players alike are bemused. “You’re joking?!?” asks one fan nearby loudly, to no one in particular, the players remonstrate with the referee, Tom pointing out what seems to be almost what everyone else thought about it, that it was in fact the scorer “being fouled” not the defender.

All the deliberating nearly catches BTFC out, because while they're still debating the decision, the man in charge has allowed DFC to restart the match and take a free kick, and before it’s dawned on most in attendance that he's not given it, the away team are racing up the other end and almost score.

Taking up almost where it left off, the game continues to ebb and flow from end to end, each team taking turns at going close. DFC blaze over, BTFC go close with a low shot, which is kept out with what the home fans quite rightly call a “good save”, BTFC then go close again, however for the second time it’s the team under the cosh that score, almost a sucker punch, once again, against the run of play. DT poke home from a corner, the scorer left in a heap on the floor, while his team mates race back to the centre circle.

Although it’s too far away to tell, but judging by the deluge of abuse the DFC fans are aiming at the referee and the BTFC players involved, I think there is a chance they think someone needs to be booked for flattening their player, who's just halved the goal deficit, they are not happy. Their drum wakes up, the majority of the BTFC fans now on the terrace along from us, reply, “Iron, Iron, Iron, Iron”.

The goal has turned BTFC from a team being ole-ed, to a nervous wreck, their fans a little edgy to say the least. When one DFC player goes down, he get its both barrels after the foul is not given and as one person puts it, it's “a miracle” when he springs back up to his feet, after acting like he'd been chopped in half. Others are a little less Christian, branding him a “cheat”. Although number 3’s behaviour was a little dastardly, he was an easy target for a group of fans who are looking for a distraction away from their teams current state of mind,  which seems to be to chuck this lead away.

A good ten minutes since the goal not being given, and one BTFC fan is still stuck in a bit of a loop, asking anyone and everyone for answers, why was the goal disallowed? Wandering the terrace, he tries to catch the eye of whoever he can, tapping people on the shoulder, getting their attention anyway he can, to discuss the great injustice of it.

Once more a BTFC player does his bit to lift the game, with a moment of skill. “Not bad for a centre back” says Tom, about the towering and broad defender, whose delicate touch and quick thinking, means we see our second pirouette of night, which leaves the pressing attackers for dead.

With almost exactly a quarter of the game left, I overhear someone perfectly sum up BTFC current position, pulling out the much used Sir Alex Ferguson quote, that although a tad overused, describes where BTFC find themselves currently so perfectly, “squeaky bum time”.

“Oh dear” mutters Tom, “can you hear us over there? ask the DFC fans, as their team celebrates after doing what everyone knew they were going to do, and get that second goal, drawing the game level. “We’re the black and white army”  they sing, “orange, orange, orange” is the reply from the fans on the terrace, and for the first time since the first half, the ominous tell tale sound of the executioner is back.

“Don’t know who’s gonna win it” says Tom, and I have to agree, things have been far too back and forth, far too open, for it to finish all square.

Two curious things happen during what is usually quite an innocuous part of a football match, the announcement of a substitution. Firstly the fact that the announcer says it's BTFC's “fourth” substitution, Tom and I both turning to look at each other, mouth but don't say “fourth”, likes it’s a dirty word. I don’t think it’s a mistake, we must have missed that memo over the summer.

Secondly is the announcer using his air time to ask the fans for one last hurrah, “final ten minutes of the game” he tells us, “get behind the boys” he asks..

BTFC are chucking everything just shy of the broken chip fryer at DFC, which allows the team in white to test the home fans resolve a bit, “don't lose it now” pleads one in the build up of a DFC counterattack.

The announcer tells us how much time has been added on, and for one final time addresses the supporters, requesting one last push, “four minutes injury time, let's make some noise”. I’m not sure it's the noise he wanted, but the drum rumbles once more, it’s perhaps this that prompts one last chant of “come on Braintree, come on Braintree”. Their team respond, with one final chance, but it's DFC who nearly steal it, it’s only for a great save, and a miss in front of an open goal, that means home hearts aren't broken.

“England’s number one, England’s number one” sing the home fans, their keeper has well and truly saved his teams blushes, and by all intents and purposes has secured them at least a point. Tom who can appreciate a good save as much as the next man, not a bad goalkeeper at school I can tell you, just can’t understand how the DFC player didn't score, “how did he miss that?” he asks me slack jawed.

“Good night and god bless” says the dejected sounding announcer, on a bit of a comedown, after all the excitement of the first half. DFC’s players applaud their fans, the referee escorted off by a burly steward is bombarded with boos and demands of an explanation for why he “disallowed” the goal. He doesn't even flinch, his eyes remain fixed forward, he leaves the pitch under a cloud of even more boos and accusations of being a “cheat” and suggestions that he was “rubbish”.

The BTFC team and staff gather on the pitch for a debrief, the majority of fans stay put where they
are. When the players do eventually start to make their way off, some warming down as they do so, the fans who stayed, make sure to clap them off, the choice of music is a little inappropriate, ‘Happy’ by Pharrell. The mood is far from happy, the captain and scorer of the goal that wasn't a goal, discusses the decision with a fan, the look on his face of someone who also doesn't have a clue why it didn't stand.

If the league gave out wins for excellent shops and players replicating Fifa moves, BTFC would have won hands done. DFC gave it their best shot, their drummer, drawing his inspiration from a wide range of styles, the executioners block to the indigenous people of the great plains, but two pirouettes, a rainbow flick and a treasure trove, was always going to be near enough impossible to beat.

I regret not getting the shirt, I should have just stumped up the cash and got it, it niggles in the back of my head as we make the long dark drive home. For Tom, a first tonight, "never seen a ice cream van in a football ground" he reflects, but its clearly a front, a ruse, an attempt he thinks to distract me from what I know he's really thinking about.

No chips.... REALLY?!?!


For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

For our video from the match, click HERE



 

'LIKE' us on Facebook

 

Follow us on Twitter


Subscribe to our YouTube channel




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