Monday, 14 August 2017

Welcome To Hell - Eastbourne Town FC Vs Bearsted FC, FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round, The Saffrons (05/08/17)

Fatherhood and fishing, is how I’ve occupied my summer break. Tom tried to buy a house, but sadly it fell through, down to a slightly unscrupulous seller by all accounts, he knows who he is, and if you happen to be reading this I hear you're quite the dickhead.

As you can imagine with the sudden and slightly early arrival of a baby, football was forced to take a bit of a back seat. I thought timing her conception to coincide with the summer break, I had been very clever, however there has been plenty to watch, it doesn't really feel like it’s even stopped.

I think it was around day four of labour, that I managed to turn my eye briefly to the Confederations Cup, sitting in the corner of our hospital room with my tablet. However the deep Darth Vader type inhales of the gas and air and the agonising screams coming through the walls from the other rooms, as well as being sat right next to the sink as a steady stream of nurses and doctors washed and scrubbed themselves, practically on my lap, made it hard to concentrate to say the least.

When she eventually arrived, all 6lbs of her straight into her oversized Spurs babygro, which instantly made everyone think she was a boy, we had a short stay in the hospital, while aforementioned baby spent some time under what was essentially an infant sized sunbed, to banish the jaundice. Once home, and in between looking over to her bassinet to see she was still alive, I was able to enjoy the England under 20’s win the World Cup and did my best to avoid the tidal wave of cliches after the England Under 21’s lost to Germany on penalties.

Not really being one for pre-season games, I’ve done them, they mean nothing, they're boring, I turned my hand to my other passion instead, to occupy my time (between being totally in love with my new daughter of course) a day on the river bank, covered in meaty flavoured ground baits and chocolate orange boilies, but before I could hook into a double figure carp, our first game of 2017/18 was upon us, and I’m laundering our flag, ordering new stickers, and arranging with Tom what time to pick him up.

Such is my excitement for the arrival of football, as I pull up outside the train station to collect Tom, and before I realize what I’m doing, my arm is out the window, with my outstretched hand giving him a rapid burst of Ali G finger snaps. With the BN postcode already in the Sat Nav, the embarrassment of my outdated hand gesture subsiding, and deep in conversation about Tom’s choice of breakfast, chocolate covered peanuts, we are under way.

If you have not met Tom, the best way to describe him is a bearded vape smoking, weather obsessive, prone to the occasional bout of over excitement. This comes to the fore on most of our car journeys, particularly when we pass the brown motorway signs to local attractions. He almost goes full dolphin, on par with a dog whistle, hitting the highest of high notes when we see one for “CHESSINGTON” and I almost have to restrain him from leaving the car, when he spots a bumper crop of what he calls “motorway blackberry's”.

Another recurring scenario is what seems to be his inability to dress himself properly.

Me in my Alien Ant Farm shorts and light shirt, I'm just about dealing with the increasing temperature in my air conditioning devoid car, he on the other hand in dark jeans and Danny Zuko jacket, with collar popped, is suffering, and threatens me with an “outfit change” if things don't improve.

After we clear the backlog of Brighton Pride goers and the numerous horse boxes, containing their sad, travel sick looking inhabitants, the rolling hills of the south coast, more than make up for the insufferable traffic, and the grey spitting clouds are now far behind us. Tom is elated that the closer to our destination we get, the bluer the sky continues to get, “that’s better”.

M&M’s consumed, ear test booked, after I thought Tom couldn't go any higher, but was proven wrong after he sees a sign for a “medieval fair” and I threatened to take him to the Sussex Tent Show 2017, if he doesn't stop squealing every time he sees another poster for Sir Lancelot's get together.

I do love a seaside town. I’m not sure if it's spending a lot of my time as a kid in Brighton, and now most of my summer holidays with my own family at some slightly dilapidated but charming once thriving Victorian or Edwardian holiday resort playing endless rounds of mini golf, but there is a unmistakable and unique feel to them, that they all seem to share and Eastbourne is no different.

Sadly our plan to explore the esplanade, pier and doughnut stands are curtailed, by the traffic getting here. For us it's only the briefest of glimpses of the “SEA” between two houses, Tom spasming in delight at being the first of us both to see it.

The Saffrons Sports Ground is far from your average non league set up, mainly because on first appearances it's not instantly apparent that there is a football ground there at all. Driving in, the narrow road takes us round a cricket match, and past men and women with longer slender hammers, hitting various colored balls through hoops.

Parking behind the large electronic scoreboard for what we’re later told is a local derby “Eastbourne Vs Bognor”. The batting order relax on the veranda of the clubhouse, we shuffle by, the noise of leather on willow and muttered praises of “good shot” emanate from under hat wearing folk in deckchairs.

In the not too distant future, beyond the heated Sussex derby, and just before the bowls pitches, and beyond them, the imposing red brick town hall, with its single tower and four sided clock, above a wooden fence, we spot the familiar outline of a stand, and blue and yellow striped goal nets, reassuring us, we’re in the right place.

I think one thing that most people will say more often than not when talking about non league football, is that you’re nigh on always guaranteed a warm welcome. Yes I'm sure there are those clubs where this is not the case, but Eastbourne Town FC (ETFC) certainly could not fall into that category. In fact the welcome was so nice, so friendly, verging almost on the overwhelming, I struggle to remember quite how we got from the entrance to the picture lined boardroom.

Carried along on a tidal wave of handshakes and introductions, the first thing I remember after having had a chance to admire the collection of pennants hanging from the ceiling, was that someone had already put the kettle on for us.

I have to ask myself is this what living near the sea does to you? or are these people on drugs? And I mean that in the most flattering of ways, not in an awful Trainspotting climbing into toilets, with visions of babies kind of way, but in a Willy Wonka endorsed, family friendly drug, the only side effect is the taker exudes a mind boggling amount of infectious friendliness.

The club secretary Richard busily sorting today's programs, quickly joins the long list of well wishers, which spans every possible position at the club, from coach, groundsman to the guy who runs the bar.

Traveling on the whirlwind of hospitality like Dorothy and Toto I did notice in a short corridor between the door with the “Welcome To The Saffrons” sign above it and the boardroom, what I would describe as the best school project ever, meticulously laminated coloured paper covering the walls, chronicling the clubs history. One fact that stuck from the bombardment of ETFC facts, is that they are the oldest club in Sussex.

When we’re introduced to Chris who is described as the clubs “historian”, who by the way is nowhere near as beardy and pirate like as he was in his ETFC playing days, he coyly points to himself in one of the many pictures that line the walls, he tells us he is responsible for the numerous hefty binders, that fill a groaning bookshelf, that document in more detail of the clubs long and illustrious history

In one corner of the the room stands what might be mistaken for a drinks cabinet or sideboard which when opened gives little clue to it’s actual purpose. It’s green baize lined inside not giving much away, in fact it seems to be filled with the kind of things you might find in that cupboard at home, where everything that doesn't have a home ends up.

The box is in fact the home of the Eastbourne Charity Cup, large child sized trophy, that we’re told is more valuable than the FA Cup, is “uninsurable” says one person and is currently in a vault somewhere. The cup itself, and not the cardboard version that Chris has appeared clutching, is pointed out in one of the largest of the black and white pictures in the room, filled with stern looking men, posing manly.

Considerable injection of club history received, we emerge into the sun of the afternoon, to the first of the many quarterly chimes of the town hall clock, and are soon sitting down with the bronzed Peter Heritage, club coach, and ex Gillingham, Hereford United and Doncaster Rovers player.

“Bit of a dream for them” says Peter about ETFC's opponents today Bearsted FC (BFC), who are appearing in the FA Cup for the very first time in their history. He admits they don't “know much about them” which might make things “difficult”. However he adds that ETFC have been “looking good” in “preseason” against teams from a few divisions higher, so is quietly confident.

It’s at this point talking to Peter, and not for the first time today, a brief chat before with the club kit man, whose own links with the club go back eighty years, long ties with what is clearly a close and community based club are something of a resounding theme today, conversation turned to the clubs fan base, their Ultras, known as ‘Pier Pressure’.

Having sought out similar fan groups at Clapton and Whitehawk, fascinated by this kind of support, that is so common all over the world, but in Britain is looked upon skeptically. Pier Pressure’s presence on Twitter, their politics, immaculately crafted stickers and art work, I certainly suggest trying to find a picture of today's unofficial matchday poster, featuring the bear from BFC’s badge, who is amorously intertwined with the FA Cup, they have been hard to ignore.

Most impressively however, is seeing the way people involved with the club, genuinely light up, talking about them. The kit man dave tell us he thinks supporters like them are the “future of football” and he “loves” them. Peter is no different telling us about their commitment to the club, eulogising about how they travel “everywhere”, the fact they donated the tops the players warm up in. Excitedly he describes their ingenuity, telling us they have been known to use a “car manifold” as an instrument, like some kind of football Scrapheap Challenge crossover, telling us he thinks they are “fantastic” for non league football, and thanks to them gone are the days of “one man and his dog” watching games here.

“1-2-1-2” crackles the PA. At the moment the chimes of the clock, the noise of the cricket and the blaring questionable music coming from one of the nearby changing rooms, are the only noise to speak of, for now.

Food, Tom's favourite part of what we do. His summer diet is quickly put to the sword inside the Hot Food Bar, which feels a bit like a conservatory. He dissects the menu, places his order, and we head outside. Moments later someone is tapping him on the shoulder and informing him “young man, your food is ready”.

Concealed in a white paper napkin, Tom’s burger in his professional opinion has a “good bun to burger ratio”. We take a momentary pit stop in one of the blue seats of the main stand that runs behind one goal, Tom doing a good job on his burger, finishing it in what seems like only a few bites. The final one forcing a large solitary blob of ketchup to splat on his leg, much to my amusement, but not to his. 

The “sauce on trouser” dilemma as Tom puts it with a snarl and a half full mouth, doesn't distract me from noticing the increasing noise being made by more and more people arriving, but does distract my counterpart long enough so I can pinch a chip. Alicia Keys is doing her best to destroy the speakers of the PA singing about New York and for the first time we hear the distant rattle of a snare drum, coming from the small uncovered steps at the far end of the ground.

Another cheery face, and beaming smile, another introduction, this time to a man described as a “stalwart of the club”, who goes on to explain, just like many of the other people we've met already, he has a long association with ETFC. “40 years”. An ex manager, who for an older gent, has a vice like handshake.

He tells us he is very “philosophical”, his time as a “manager” means he has had to learn to think that way. When it comes to answering my question of how he thinks ETFC, will get on today, his reply is vague but delightful, “could be a lovely game of football” he tells us.

With the addition of some banners, and streamers, the area behind the goal, is slowly transforming, as a couple of people battle the wind to erect the yellow, blue and white flags. As much as I want to investigate, something else has caught my eye, on the opposite side of the ground, something has distracted me from taking pictures of the numerous Pier Pressure stickers covering the perspex dugouts, which also seems to be covered in bits of tin foil.

As Tom has been on a football food free diet this summer, I’ve been on a 50/50, golden goal one. No summer fair tombolas to fill the void for me, I’ve been clean. I track the seller with all the guile of Muldoon from Jurassic Park, but without any of the slightly strange misogyny.

I hand over £2, he offers me the sparkling wrapping paper covered box, as I plunge in my hand he instructs me quite rightly to, “close" my "eyes”. I’m a bit out of practice. In my haste I take three instead of the intended two, I panic. I can't put it back, what if it’s the winning ticket, I hastily rustle in my bag for another £1, handing it over, and glossing over my faux pas.

First inevitable waste of money of the season over, I make my way to the space behind the goal, which is now awash with banners, some in support of the club and the Ultras “Forza Town!”, some political “The NHS Is Not 4 Sale” and one that should be obligatory everywhere “Burn The S*n”.

The railing directly behind the goal has been turned into the percussion section of a medium sized
orchestra. Secured to it are variously sized blue and yellow drums, the biggest, too large to be tied on is half in a green bin, leaning against the fence. Behind them, a blue sticker covered Ultras dressing up box. Cow bells, a school bell, different masks, of different descriptions litter the floor. One pinched off the woman from Flashdance, one pinched off Jason. I overhear one person explain that the welding mask doesn't get many outings, because it’s just so “hard” to see out of.

In his badge covered bucket hat and yellow and blue ETFC scarf, I get chatting to Paul who in his North East accent and impeccable timing talks about today being the “start of the FA Cup” and the beginning of the long “road to Wembley” just as I notice the players emerging from a small door way at the far end of the ground, led by the referee.

He tells me about the Pier Pressure saxophone, which he explains does not normally appear until the second half, because its player gets “tired lips”.

With the players now making their way onto the pitch, a tune strikes up over the PA, the sort you might have heard on the promenade a 100 years ago, “Sussex By The Sea”. Strangely among all the paraphernalia of modern football, the surroundings mean it doesn't feel out of place, it feels again, like a nod to the clubs long history, and it’s connection to the area, and feels more than fitting as an accompaniment to the players exchanging handshakes.

“Good afternoon ladies and gentleman”, says a small voice over the PA. The greeting for the BFC keeper all in grey jogging towards us, from the fan in the hockey mask with a loudhailer, next to the man with the smirking V For Vendetta mask half pulled over his face, is a little more sinister than that from the club, and has a tinge of Galatasaray about it, “welcome to Hell”.

The comments from the ETFC fans following an early flap by the BFC keeper, who by all accounts is called “Scott”, set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Scott, who by a quarter to five, I must admit I felt a little bit sorry for. I thought the non stop “who ate all the pie” songs directed at Kevin Pressman in 1996 at Spurs was relentless. If I was Scott, I think I might have run away or feigned an injury, as he becomes the non stop focal point for the fans behind him, every goal kick they attempt to distract him with the bang of the snare drum or a blood curdling scream from one fan.

All the early ETFC pressure seems to be sending the match down the path everyone involved half expected, however BFC do their best to halt this, somewhat out of the blue, they fashion two chances in close succession, the second a goal bound shot is blocked on the line, there is a momentary intake of breath from the fans around us, before one breaks the tension by telling a another to, “have a bell” handing him a large school dinner bell.

“Old Eastbourne Town is wonderful, it's full of old people and seagulls” sing the fans as any inkling of an upset are brushed aside with eleven minutes on the clock, as ETFC take the lead. The chant is driven may I add not by the random banging of one of the many drums, but by a unified bank of sound, with the togetherness of a well rehearsed marching band.

As the song dies down, Scott obviously already glum enough after conceding, gets a little extra misery heaped on him by the hockey mask wearer, whose maniacal screechy delivery, reminds me of the cartoon version of Christopher Lloyd at the end of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, “typical Scott!”.

I want to be fair to Scott, no need to rub salt in the wounds, but when three or four minutes later ETFC double their lead, it’s down to the aforementioned goal keeper once again being a little bit flappy. Palming a relatively tame shot, right back out into the six yard box, to be poked in on the second attempt.

The tirade towards the man in goal now goes from the odd one liner, I think my favourite so far was when he was asked when he plays Fifa, is he “always the keeper”, to a hockey masked monologue, “you're a let down” he tells him, “you’re a terrible goal keeper”, the man with the baby in a sling on his front, seems to cover her young ears to save her from the abuse.

Children or no children though he continues, chanting “keeper sub, keeper sub, keeper sub” towards the BFC dugout, then loudly asking them “its your first year in the FA Cup and you choose him?”.

Scott gets a slight respite when after about twenty minutes, BFC go close with a header, however my attention today is very rarely drawn away from the end ETFC are attacking and the fans behind it.

We’ve seen many interesting things at the football we've been to, a man with a dog in a pram or a man with a crochet pint holder round his neck, however when the fan produces the fabled gleaming saxophone from its battered case, he turns the quartet of excellent drummers from a high school marching band, into one about to lead the procession at a New Orleans funeral.

Thirty minutes into the new season, and we get the first tick in our I Spy book of Non league. Only having seen what turns out to have been half of it, poking out the top of a large cardboard box being carried above someone's head before kick off, the immense tinfoil FA Cup is revealed in full, with blue and yellow ribbons hanging from its handles. Unfortunately instead of being a shining beacon of hope and greatness, as all homemade tinfoil cups are, this one is used for evil, the ETFC fans have weaponised the unweaponisable!

Thrust towards Scott, the large silver effigy is used to remind him, that as the score stands, he won't be winning it this season. A sad day for football!

The remaining quarter of the half flits between scrappy and ever so slightly bad tempered. BFC's players perhaps getting a little frustrated, start to fly in with some big big tackles, as ETFC continue to create more and more chances at ease. BFC do have one themselves, the ETFC keeper saving well, but the visitors are very susceptible to the counterattack. On one occasion it goes from a BFC corner to a near ETFC goal in the blink of an eye, with a big shout for a penalty in the middle waved away.

When the cries for a spot kick aren't given, the downed player is quickly back to his feet, managing still to shoot, even with a BFC player all in white, hanging off him. The attempt almost falls kindly for a teammate to tap in, but Scott saves at his feet to prevent the third. However not long after he is almost once again the cause of ETFC’s scoring, instead of the cure, when he half flaps, half punches at a free kick, forcing the ball back into the six yard box, when it maybe looked easier to catch it.

This error of course does not go unnoticed, “you're making me nervous Scott!”

Hark what is that, a sound that is from neither cowbell or drum, it’s the cheer of the BFC fans, as their team quite against the run of play, have pulled one back. The noise from the handful of traveling fans in attendance is fleeting, as the band are quick to drown them out, with perhaps the cleanest version of this particular chant, I’ve ever heard, “Eastbourne town is wonderful”.

Their goal comes late in the half, and inspires a surge, they finish the first forty five on the front foot, the helpful bell tower telling all time is up, it's only whats been added on to be played. One chance is so close, that it draws an “ohhhhh” from the supporters, and as one fans puts it, the “ball is down that end a lot now”.

Not that any of this seems to be bothering the child in the sling, she is now sitting under a tree behind me, on a lush patch of green grass, tucking into her lunch, taking it all in her stride, she knows there is nothing to worry about.

“Make sure you do better next half Scott” suggests the megaphone wielder, adding just in case he
didn't hear as he walks off, “number one, you must do better”.

The Pier Pressure caravan is soon packed up, the blue box is re-stocked, the flags and banners though are left to fly solo in the second half and one conscious fan hangs back to pick up any rubbish that might have been left, and ensures its put in the bin.

As a well documented enthusiast for all things Ultra Sticker, it takes me a while to make my way to the other end of the pitch, having to stop and take a picture of every new example of Pier Pressures handy work that covers every available space, as well as those left by visiting clubs. By the time I make it there, the drums, saxophone and tiny accordion, have already taken their seat in the stand, but their owners are nowhere to be seen.

Some may find it a bit annoying, I imagine the regulars are used to it, but I find the regular chimes of the town hall bell, very handy. Just before it strikes for four o’clock both teams return, taking up position, and moments after it informs us of the time, the referee blows for the start of the new half.

“More beer drinking, than football watching” is Tom’s suggestion for the lack of noise or
fanfare for the beginning of the second half, as there was for the the first. There is no Native American inspired drum beat, despite the array of instruments strewn about. Scott’s probably delighted, maybe he put his card behind the bar, and opened a tab, because for the first time, no one is screaming his name or asking him about his Fifa preferences.

“Why you sitting down?” asks someone returning from the bar. “We’re the non drinking contingent, waiting for the musicians” replies one of those arms crossed and seated in the stand. Another who's just finished their drink is applauded, “very civilised in here today” he says almost sneering.

With the stand slowly filling up, there is a moment of disharmony between someone already sitting down, watching the match, with those late comers who are now insisting on standing, Their argument that this is where the club have told them to stand, doesn't quite wash with the ever so sour looking man.

“Can we have some noise?” says someone, dismayed perhaps with that the fact the cricket and the clock are once again the noisiest. Someone agrees, picking up the accordion, and bringing it to life. One drummer multitasks, drinking from a bottle of Bourbon with one hand, while playing with the other, “Jack Daniels is out” points out Tom. With fifteen minutes or so gone of the new half, the atmosphere slowly starts to build up towards its first half levels, it’s made to seem a lot louder by the overhanging corrugated roof of the stand, containing the sound.

The game though has gone the opposite way, petering out somewhat, going a little flat. An ETFC tackle brings the whole BFC bench to their feet, the referee is on the scene of the crime in a flash, talking over the tackle with the players involved, but makes nothing of it and play continues. You might be able to say BFC are slightly edging it at the moment, but it's negligible. They do though have the clearest chance of the half so far, when they have a go from a freekick, forcing the ETFC keeper into a fine flying save.

Twenty five minutes gone, and ETFC should have put the game out of sight, a glaring miss from right in front of goal. Regardless of what is going on the pitch, the fans are now in full swing, the person with the megaphone, starts a low, slow and snarling “old Eastbourne Town…..” and one passing person is caught out when a drum is given an almighty whack, inches from her head, scaring the life out of her.

Multi talented, be it with the drum, cowbell or megaphone, most recently hammering out the beat on the largest of the drums, leading the chant by himself with a ear splitting scream, “TOWN” at the top of his lungs. Mr Hockey Mask now turns his hand to a hunting horn. I’m not sure I can say he is strictly ‘playing’ it, he is just blowing down it, however he stops for a moment, as most of the fans do, to applaud and praise their keeper for another excellent save, “Fred!”

Once more, like in the first half, there are long spells of ETFC pressure, with thirty minutes gone, there is a spell where they have three of four consecutive corners, each one causing a problem for BFC. One even hitting the bar directly from the kick and catching out Scott. That really would have been the final nail in the coffin for him, if it had gone in.

When the ball is eventually cleared up field, Scott, who maybe thought he was being given a second half reprieve, who perhaps thought, I’ve had my turn, time for someone else now guys, gets nothing of the sort, “who let the goals in, Scott did, Scott did, who lets goals in” to the tune of the Baha Men classic.

Again a glaring miss, with ten minutes left to play, and only a goal between them, are ETFC going to regret this profligacy in front of goal? One dangerous ball, is swiftly cleared, high and into the nearby bowling green.

I don’t think I’m an easily distracted person, however when you have what is tantamount to a live band, with the odd bit of audience participation thrown in, “keys out for the town” demands one drummer, with the people obliging, adding their own bit of percussion, it’s hard to concentrate on the match. Instead I find myself transfixed on the motion of the drumsticks, one particular chant with its hypnotic chorus “we'll always be yellow and blue” or by the malevolence of the hockey mask wearer.

Another miss, this time just before the chimes signify that we’ve had the ninety minutes. The fans are now spelling out the name of the team, which as far as team names goes, is quite a long one, it might take a while, “give me an E”, “give me an A”.

BFC send home hearts all of a quiver going close from a corner, a brief outbreak of argy bargy breaks out not long after, tempers flare, the referee marching the two main protagonists off for a word, one fan thinks they should quite literally kiss and make up, shouting “kiss, kiss” towards the players.

Home heart rates are almost restored to normal when they are awarded a dubious penalty in the dying moments. Dubious because it was given for handball, but looked more like ball to hand to me, the player whose limb was to blame, didn't really look like he could've done much about it. Sadly for the home fans, the heart rate spikes one last time, when Scott gets a little bit of payback, saving the spot kick.

I might suggest its slightly over confident of the fans to assume that the result is now a foregone conclusion, as they start singing of “Wembley, Wembley” and a wooden rattle is produced from somewhere, a local sign perhaps that they think this is all wrapped up.

What started off as spots of rain, as both sets of player leave the pitch, ETFC into the next round, BFC falling at the first hurdle, however giving a very good account of themselves, quickly turns into a monsoon level downpour. Tom's dream of a post match drink is dashed, “there goes my pint in the sun”.

Sheltering from the rain, I say sheltering, there are various places not safe to sit or stand, as not insignificant drips make certain seats a no go, the roof above having been breached. The home fans show the ethos of always showing your support, whatever the result, whatever the weather, the band striking up once more, “let's all have a party” shouts one fan, “at least until the rain ends” he adds.

“It’s easing” says Tom, so we make a run for it, admittedly a short run to the clubhouse next door, where we enjoy a drink in big blue armchairs, while glum looking BFC players eat pizza and cricket types all in white, mix with the Ultras, while the test match plays out on the big screen.

I think when the fact that there is a very, very, very slight chance of being hit by a cricket ball, as Peter Heritage had put it, "hope they don't hit a six" or that a club has decided to sell its drinks and food, at two separate locations, that are about ten feet a part, and really its no great inconvenience, are the most negative things one can think of when summarising their visit to The Saffrons, then they must be doing something right.

So captivating and engrossing were the fans, so agreeable are their politics, the "refugees welcome" flag flies the highest, so intriguing were their choice of songs and outstanding is their musicality, that I completely forget to find out if I'd won the Golden Goal, until Tom reminded me right at the end. I hadn't of course, missing out on the prize money by two minutes, but the sight of a man in a full head horse mask, somehow softened the blow.

A club run by loyal local people, sounds a bit League Of Gentlemen, but perfectly sums up what we saw. A club which is faithful to the people who have helped build it and mold it into what it is today. A club that embraces and recognizes its long history and the people who have contributed to it, the people who make up the fabric of Eastbourne Town FC.

It wasn't just ETFC and its fans that were responsible for today being the best possible start to the new season. BFC's kit with their team name across its back, evoking feelings of European football, and a badge that now takes top spot as the best non league badge going, all played it's part. Sorry Hemel Hempstead Town FC, I'm a BIG fan of Henry VIII, however a bear rearing up onto a football just pips you in the awesomeness stakes.

Yawning, exhausted, hoping the sugar from the second pack of M&M's will keep me going for the drive home, sitting in the car thinking maybe we should have done a bit of preseason training ourselves, because we are both knackered. I cant stop thinking about something Paul, the fan in the bucket hat had said to me about some railings behind the goal. He told me, "they're not to keep you out, but to keep us all together".

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

For our video from the match, click HERE


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Monday, 19 June 2017

The Search Continues - 2016/17 End Of Season Review

After twenty eight games and God knows how many miles traveled or questionable burgers eaten later, the 2016/17 season was punctuated with meeting a World Cup winner, pyro, heartbreak, changing room celebrations, visits to Lisbon, Halifax, Stockport and what feels like most of Essex. Wembley finals and Wembley woes for Tottenham, wonder goals and karaoke, all that made the past ten months eventful to say the least.

In fair Clacton is where we lay our scene, no violence or feuding families, just sun worshippers, arcades and greasy battered sausages. An FA Cup match, observed by ‘3 Old Gits’ a wandering minstrel, and plenty of squawking gulls, all while planes landed at a nearby airfield. Complete with timetables the ‘Bus Shelter’ stand at the The Rush Green Bowl, provided one of the best chants of the season, “oh I do like to be beside the seaside” - BLOG Don't Follow Me, Follow The Seasiders - FC Clacton Vs Eton Manor FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - FC Clacton Vs Eton Manor FC

Our obligatory early season foray into the League Cup’s current incarnation, took us to what just might be the most uncomfortable ground in the whole football pyramid, Loftus Road. All enquiries of where to sit, were followed with comments about the complete lack of “leg room”, we finally opted for the Upper Loft, where Tom declined the chance to have a ‘Mums hotdog’ instead eating a pie so quickly he was in his own words reduced to looking like a “dog”. In near agony we watched Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink almost marshal QPR to a first hurdle fail against a team from two divisions below them - BLOG Making Hard Work Of It - QPR FC Vs Swindon Town FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - QPR FC Vs Swindon Town FC

Hot, boiling, scorching, oppressive, all consuming disgusting heat is the overriding memory of our visit to the Croydon Sports Arena, for Croydon ‘The Trams’ FC’s FA Cup replay, the clubs nickname soon made clear by the constant passing of the South London mode of transport. From the vantage point of a steeplechase jump, at the athletics stadium come football ground, we hoped, just falling short of performing a rain dance, that the distant rumbles of thunder materialised, and the accompanying downpour might some some way to cooling us down - BLOG A Hurdle Too Far - Croydon FC Vs V.C.D. Athletic FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Croydon FC Vs V.C.D. Athletic FC

Hijacking a family holiday, putting our search for the perfect Slush Puppy on hold, we made the short hop from Margate to Ramsgate, for some Bank Holiday action to see ‘The Rams’ managed by the Man From Del Monte. Having been forced into an early season substitution, Tom was out, my nine year year old son was in. We watched a match played out on a sun scorched pitch, with plenty of goals, farmyard animals and the Channel Four news theme tune, which all made for an excellent family day out - BLOG Nowhere To Hide - Ramsgate FC Vs Hythe Town FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Ramsgate FC Vs Hythe Town FC

A stones throw from the financial heart of the United Kingdom, the two perhaps most exotically named teams in England go head to head in a late summer affair, where we saw four goals and heard a moment of pure poetry from the sidelines - BLOG Let Him Dance - Sporting Bengal United FC Vs London Bari FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Sporting Bengal United FC Vs London Bari FC

My first of two miserable visits to see Spurs at Wembley, where Rachel on both occasions stood in for an apparently and conveniently always ‘busy’ Tom. First up was their assault on Champions League, as they got their supposed ‘easy’ group off to the worst possible start. After meeting an ex Spurs player, one from my youth, who looks a little bit different now, and reveling in the grandeur and spectacle of 80,000 odd fellow Spurs fans descending on the nation's stadium, for a night under the arch, looking forward to seeing our team pitch themselves against Europe's elite, well let's just say, it wasn't the outcome anyone wanted - BLOG Bless - Tottenham Hotspur FC Vs AS Monaco FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Tottenham Hotspur FC Vs AS Monaco FC

Not our first visit to Champion Hill, however it was our first time watching Dulwich Hamlet play and seeing ‘The Rabble’, Dulwich’s vocal fan group with their giant pink and blue scarf. For all the key jangling and suggestions that “North London” is “wank, wank, wank”, the bad tempered football match took a bit of a back seat due to the divine dumplings on offer, and after chatting with Dulwich opponents Chairman, it was made clear, just how important the FA Cup is, to the clubs bank balance as well as the players pride - BLOG Dumplings - Dulwich Hamlet FC Vs Hendon FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Dulwich Hamlet FC Vs Hendon FC 

After a long bout of illness which forced Tom into a lengthy spell in bed, it was nearly a month between our visit to Dulwich and our chilly October Wednesday night under the nuclear orange hue of the Cricklefield Stadium floodlights, as we watched another Essex Senior League game surrounded by a running track. Plenty of goals, two red cards and another stop in Tom’s international culinary tour, this time the West Indies - BLOG Jerk Chicken & Tea - Ilford FC Vs Eton Manor FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Ilford FC Vs Eton Manor FC

Another day at the seaside, another toe dipped into the FA Cup, this time the first round proper. You might think a go on the carousel on the end of Brighton pier was the highlight of the day, but you would be wrong, especially after spending forty five minutes squeezed onto the ramshackle sticker covered scaffolding of a stand, that literally rocked with the constant singing and drumming of the Whitehawk Ultras. Men in full head rubber bird of prey masks, tiny dogs in football stripes, plus a heavy, heavy dose of controversy, made our go on the gaily painted horses earlier in the day, a little insignificant - BLOG Thursday, 10 November 2016 Football For All - Whitehawk FC Vs Stourbridge FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Whitehawk FC Vs Stourbridge FC

A cup upset, secured in the most painful of ways. Welcomed with open arms at Chalk Lane, unfortunately it was the home side, who were on the wrong end of an unexpected defeat - BLOG That's Football - Cockfosters FC Vs Enfield Borough FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Cockfosters FC Vs Enfield Borough FC

Hung over, wet through, in the wrong end, and lucky to get in, in the first place, just about sums up our European jaunt of the season, hijacking this time a friend's stag do to Lisbon. A dire game, elevated a little by the Super Dragons of Porto, was all made alright, after a chance run in with a World Cup winner - BLOG We are from England - Os Belenenses Vs FC Porto & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Os Belenenses Vs FC Porto

Before heading off for his romantic Italian New Year's Eve meal with his girlfriend, and I joined my Mum and her cats for a far from romantic spag bol on my knees and Jools Holland, or some such December 31st awfulness, we paid the eventual Ryman League South champions a visit. Mistaking Beethoven for an Oompa Loompa and both agreeing that Bovril is horrible, is how we finished 2016 - BLOG Come On Allsorts - Tooting & Mitcham United FC Vs Whyteleafe FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Tooting & Mitcham United FC Vs Whyteleafe FC

A new year, and a new ground, well when we eventually found it, and not before we avoided being run over by eager mums and dads in big cars, picking up their children from football practice. A last minute winner, meant we witnessed the continuation of one of the most remarkable of unbeaten runs - BLOG Twenty Eight Wins, Two Draws - Bridon Ropes FC Vs Crowborough Athletic FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Bridon Ropes FC Vs Crowborough Athletic FC

What started off as an attempt to finally see Bowers & Pitsea, was soon thwarted by a frozen pitch, that no amount of heel smashing and key prodding could resolve. It meant we had to try and find a game, and quick, so the long drive to Essex wasn’t for nothing. Deeper into our most visited of counties, our non league second home, on the banks of the Thames estuary we watched a five goal annihilation of what was the first outing of the newly acquired ‘Blog Mobile’ - BLOG Bit Late For That - Canvey Island FC Vs Bognor Regis Town FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Canvey Island FC Vs Bognor Regis Town FC

Normally associated with the impending bombardment from a Junkers Ju 390, heard from the limited safety of your homemade Anderson Shelter, it was bizarre to say the least when the fans of Harlow Town tore up the relative silence of a freezing Tuesday night, with their unique goal celebration. As well as songs about Poundland and one of Tom’s favourite burgers of the season, the addition of having a car and the ability to stretch our legs, was paying dividends already  -  BLOG Sometimes We Have Three - Harlow Town FC Vs Metropolitan Police FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Harlow Town FC Vs Metropolitan Police FC

Rain, so much rain, so much that it made Lisbon feel like a light shower. Amazingly the game went ahead, Tom spending most of the ninety minutes concerned for the mental health of the groundsman, as his beloved pitch ended up looking like some nondescript wasteland just outside Paschendale - BLOG IOU - Barking FC Vs Sporting Bengal United FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Barking FC Vs Sporting Bengal United FC

Our first of two encounters with the much column inch filling Billericay Town, another game in yes you guessed it Essex, saw us watch the Ryman League Premier side, pre ex Premier League arrivals, almost, almost blow a four goal lead, against a team from the division below, and despite the loss of a floodlight and a player, they eventually secured their spot in the Ryman League Cup final 2017 - BLOG This Wasn't Here Last Wednesday - Billericay Town FC Vs South Park FCVIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Billericay Town FC Vs South Park FC 

No Tom, Rachel stepping in once again, and I come to the conclusion that watching Spurs at Wembley is frankly fucking miserable. Bring back the heady days of drawing with Barcelona in the much missed Wembley Cup, because on a Thursday night against the De Buffalo's of Gent, Spurs crowned their dismal European season, crashing out to the backdrop of a ‘Thunder Clap’ or two - BLOG Where Is Gent? - Tottenham Hotspur FC Vs K.A.A. Gent & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Tottenham Hotspur FC Vs K.A.A. Gent

Rachel & I, and with Tom now back in the fold, made it a three pronged attack on the North West's non league scene, as we hit the M1 and many signs to The North later, we were parking in a less than official car park, in the shadow of Edgeley Park. Climbing the large stand of the Cheadle End, the drums and singing of the locals, "I - O County, County I - O". made up for a less than entertaining game - BLOG You’re Coming A Long Way For Chorley - Stockport County FC Vs Chorley FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Stockport County FC Vs Chorley FC

What might go down as our most depressing match of the season, was when we made our way to the once vibrant Valley, which no thanks to the dealings of a certain Belgian, has been reduced to a mausoleum, the tomb of a once top tier team, who are now languishing in the third tier. Not that anyone is there to see them floundering, except for a giant robin and a Knight, most have decided a boycott is the only way to force the much hated owner out. Those who were in attendance and not in fancy dress, which meant the amount of empty seats, far outweighed the full ones, with the help of an excellent drummer did not stop singing, and were even treated to a win - BLOG CAFC The Team For Me - Charlton Athletic FC Vs Scunthorpe United FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Charlton Athletic FC Vs Scunthorpe United FC

The second game in what turned out to be a hat trick of ‘League Games’, was a very pleasant evening at the compact and partially terraced Griffin Park, were Tom tucked into pancakes, huge bees wandered in fear of their lives, because of the sugar filled children, and Wolves in orange coats, ruined the home supporters night right at the death - BLOG I Refuse To Boo Them - Brentford FC Vs Wolverhampton Wanderers FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Brentford FC Vs Wolverhampton Wanderers FC

After over twenty years of visiting this Archibald Leitch palace, home of the purveyors of the most beautiful of the beautiful game, even having an Arsenal fan in tow, the constant whiff of tuna or the ill informed ramblings of two wannabe tacticians, did little to diminish, what turned out to be my very last ever visit to White Hart Lane. With what is to come imposing itself so shockingly in one corner of the ground, it was hard not to feel overly sentimental about its destruction. Meeting another ex player, not a La Liga winner this time or one who has gone through such a massive transformation since the end of his playing days, just one I made a massive tit of myself in front of. The perfect end, to a day that would not have been possible without the aforementioned Gooner - BLOG Minute By Minute - Tottenham Hotspur FC Vs Southampton FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Tottenham Hotspur FC Vs Southampton FC

Finally no frozen pitch, train strike, or illness could get in the way of us from watching Bowers & Pitsea at the Len Salmon Stadium. Unruly mascots, giant hotdogs, the warmest of non league welcomes, many a familiar face, impending rain, a rapid player with the power to assist himself and cut price raffle tickets, as well as a well earned victory with plenty of home goals, meant we couldn't have asked for more, from our long awaited visit - BLOG China Mugs & Onion Rings - Bowers & Pitsea FC Vs Dereham Town FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Bowers & Pitsea FC Vs Dereham Town FC

In the annals of time, will the Ryman League Cup final of 2017 be remembered for the eleven goals, the blue smoke bomb or what might go down as one of the biggest non league talking points of the season, the Billericay Town 'R Kelly' singalong - BLOG Watching ‘Ricay On A Wednesday Night - Billericay Town FC Vs Tonbridge Angels FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Ryman League Cup Final 2017

I think my shirt still smells of Budweiser and Cava, and I still have a slight ringing in my ears, following the events at the Wallace Binder Ground, where a single goal secured Thurrock FC's promotion and set off a chain of events and celebrations of last days of Rome proportions, that will live long in the memory - BLOG Over The Moon - Maldon & Tiptree FC Vs Thurrock FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - Ryman League North Play-Off Final 2017

Our second visit to Champion Hill of the season, was not to see the home team, but as the venue of the London FA Senior Cup Final which did not disappoint, even with the lack of dumplings, A genuine underdog, a "little step five club" as their chairman put it, beat a sorry looking Met Police FC, not the first time we could say that about them this year. No hot food, only a Crunchie, but one of, if not the finest goals we saw all season - BLOG What A Wednesday Night - Cray Valley Paper Mills FC Vs Metropolitan Police FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - London FA Senior Cup Final 2017

Nearly there, our penultimate game of 2016/17, we're almost able to reintroduce ourselves to our girlfriends, family, children and friends, as football is close to finishing. For the first part of our National League double header weekend, we made the four hour drive to West Yorkshire, for what might well have been the best game of the twenty eight, in fact one of the best we've been to these past two and a bit years. A play-off final which couldn't have given us much more: pyro, non stop singing, pitch invasions and nail biting endings. A truly fantastic afternoon, a long way from home, that was worth every hour behind the wheel, “we’re on our way” - BLOG Follow The Blue - FC Halifax Town Vs Chorley FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - National League North Play-Off Final 2017

Game number twenty eight of twenty eight, at Wembley Stadium, two teams, one of which by the end of a very, very warm Sunday afternoon will no longer be a non league one. On one side a once League Cup runner up, with a long history of loftier heights and a fan base to match, on the other a relative minnow in comparison, who have never in their history carried the moniker of a football league club. A very shiny trumpet, broken chairs, Vikings, sombreros and many, many tears, and not from me this time, after the previous days high of Halifax, it just proves we can’t always call it right - BLOG Stay Up Lad - Tranmere Rovers FC Vs Forest Green Rovers FC & VIDEO Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game - National League Promotion Final 2017

Perhaps the hardest thing to do when writing an end of season round up, is summarising twenty eight games, without going on and on and on, some might say like I usually do. So much has happened from the very small, like hearing a funny comment from a fan in the stands or a song or chant that particularly resonates. To the huge like watching a team get promoted or go through the agony of missing out on it.

One thing that is very easy though, is thanking all those that have helped and supported us, those that have shared and published what we do, allowing us to reach the wider world. Also those who one way or another have done us a favour or two this past season: @LWIMTH, @AshAndAlPodcast, @thetoughtackler, @ldnfootyguide, @ShootTheDefence, @Dispenssoccer, @BBFootballUK, @PollsNL68, @TheDaisyCutter1, @Matt_CAFC, @NonLeagueNews, @MarkNLDaily, @knockernorton1, @winkveron, @richbeedie, @LasVegasWI, @wagnerc23, @VFTAE, @ProseccoFront, @Copa90, @Gandermonium, @Phil_Football, @townsendaround .

We must also extend a huge amount of gratitude to all the clubs, teams and players who have been very patient and generous with their time, allowing us to wander around on match day, hopefully not getting in the way too much.

To conclude, well all I can say is the search continues. We have got close to finding footballing Nirvana this season, in the smoke filled stands of The Shay, the singing in the Cheadle End, in a rain soaked car park in the hills of Lisbon, witnessing the defiant stance of a betrayed fan base in South London or in a Cava soaked changing room in Essex, but have we found it? I'm not sure we have. Maybe our search is even a little fruitless, what even is the 'Beautiful Game'?

Is it noisy fans, ginormous stadiums or aging ones full of character, a flowing one touch counter attack or a forty yard cross field pass, is it all of that combined or is it simply finding the smallest of things that excites you on a cold Tuesday night in November, that makes the ninety minute shclepp worth it.

Whatever it may be, we will continue to search for it, we will continue to share with you our findings, silly flag and all. See you next season........

For a full photographic review of 2016/17, click HERE

For our end of season review video, click HERE

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Monday, 29 May 2017

Stay Up Lad - Tranmere Rovers FC Vs Forest Green Rovers FC, National League Promotion Final 2017, Wembley Stadium (14/05/17)

Sitting on the bus, sweltering, wishing I hadn't worn a great big woolly jumper, I’m still humming, even singing quietly under my breath a song I last heard over twelve hours and 300 miles ago, but can’t get it out of my head, “we’re on our way……”. With a 99% chance of hearing it again today, a lot, I’m not sure I’m ever going to be able to shake it.

Following our previous day's trip to West Yorkshire, the first part of our National League promotion double header, I’m bloody knackered. If I’m honest if we hadn't had such a good time at last year's National League Promotion Final, where we watched Grimsby go up, and the repetitive chant “FISH” was the one seared into my brain that day, as well as today's tickets costing us £41, each, then I think I might well have stayed in bed. Speaking to Tom just before I head off, he told me he had slept for “eleven hours” and I reckon he could have slept for eleven more.

Turning onto the final run into Wembley Park station, I expected the pub on the corner, the normal haunt of one set of fans, to be heaving with some of the 12,000 odd Tranmere FC (TR) fans expected today, but there are hardly any to be seen, the queue for the nearby burger van, non existent.

“Just got that out of my head” says the aviator wearing Tom, standing waiting for me on the bridge over Wembley Way, with Wembley stadium looking particularly picturesque in the spring sunshine. Someone walking towards the ground, hoots a horn, getting a song from the smattering of fans doing the same, “we’re on our way”.

The gulf in support between both clubs is clear, although it's far from busy, the TR fans already outnumber those of Forest Green Rovers FC (FGR), their opponents today. After seeing much crowing on social media about the enormous turnout coming down from Birkenhead, I would've expected to see more, even if we are as ever well early. Last year, I’m sure at roughly the same time before kick off, there were inflatable haddocks, men in black and white striped suits and Hawaiian hula skirts everywhere, for the moment at least, the biggest group of people are those sitting outside Costa.

At the base of the ramp heading up to the stadium, where people stop for the customary picture of them and the arch, a man slightly ruins the mood, as he insists on being sick on the floor, his loved ones just looking on traumatized before shepherding him away.

It’s here we get an inkling for the first time as to where all these thousands of TR fans may well be, that the big figures being bandied about on Twitter, are not just wishful thinking. In the shadow of the arch, in the forecourt of Wembley Arena, a fan space has been set up, that as we get closer to it, the music gets louder, and Tom says it’s like a “nightclub”.

The DJ in his booth blasts out a succession of dubious chart hits, that mingle with the songs being sung by the men in giant sombreros or being played by the boy on his gleaming silver trumpet. With the sun out, a never ending queue for beer, and peoples high spirits, there is a definite feel of a Balearic island party about it, just in the concrete and glass surrounds of North West London and not the sandy beaches of Ibiza, but I am hopeful of the arrival of some foam.

Not personally being a huge fan of fancy dress, I think its never being able to get anything cool to wear, there is only so many times you can go as Walter from the Big Lebowski, as well as a theory I think I share with some that it seems a way to make a dull persons party exciting, fancy dress at football on the other hand I’m very much in favour of. Who doesn't want to see a stand full of Buzz Lightyear's on the final day of the season.

The TR fans have certainly adopted this mantra, among the people having their faces painted, boys in jester hats, flags hanging from fences, one with a submarine on, there are a group in sombreros, men in Viking helmets, and lots and lots of melons. Not only are there people dressed as melons, watermelons to be precise not gala or honeydew, in fact there is a chorus line of watermelons at the front of the crowd who are leading the fans in a song after being handed a mike, by a man in a Vanarama t-shirt who talks like an MTV host, in that overly exaggerated way, “we’re on our way”.

Although there is no real explainable reason I can think of why someone would be dressed up as a Mexican or a marauding sea based pillager. That is somehow more computable, than trying to fathom why you would want to dress up as an ingredient from a fruit salad. Deep in debate about the choice of outfits, Tom and I are politely interrupted by a woman, who has overheard us talking, and puts us straight, “manager's name is Micky Mellon”, ahhhhhhhhhhh, I see, well that makes perfect sense then.

“I need to eat”, says Tom, “not eating in there” he adds, nodding towards the money black hole behind us that is Wembley Stadium. We leave those playing football pool, and the group of kids leading the grown ups in a song, “oh Birkenhead is wonderful”, and the Chorley FC mascot, a giant magpie whose wandering around, is he lost?

Climbing the stairs, people in the white and blue of TR are everywhere, the sound of a horn, is more often than not followed by the sound of a song, “we’re the famous Tranmere Rovers and we’re going to Wembley”. The concourse is a buzz with all the hustle and bustle of a big football match. Moving along it, in search of some lunch for Tom, the crowd starts to thin, the atmosphere starts to dissipate, and we are soon on the black asphalt covered dark side of the moon, the FGR end.

A few FGR black and green shirt wearing fans, shirts with the sign of Sea Shepherd the marine conservation organisaton at its base, mill around in near silence. We eventually see some signs of life, in the form of a very low patronised burger bar, the picnic tables in front sparsely populated, those who are sitting down eating, in the eerie quiet, have a look on their faces, that I imagine we have too, ‘where is everyone?’.

“Poshest burger I’ve ever had” comments Tom, returning with his paper wrapped behemoth, he certainly got a lot for his £7, however no burger at football should cost that much. Always fully committed to eat at a match, I can probably count on one hand the times he hasn't in over two years, and that would've only been because there was none for him to eat, he is relieved in some small way this is our final match of the season, “be good to eat less burgers over the summer”.

The wind gusting across this desolate waste ground is playing havoc, one person is forced to chase the top of his burger, and Tom loses his napkins, which he certainly needs. The majority of the burger
sauce is currently in his beard.

Food done, we don’t hang around in no man's land for long, we complete our circumnavigation, passing Bobby Moore, and the people having their picture with him. Although our walk is devoid of much life, none of the jollity we’d seen round the other side, anyone who has been to our nation's national stadium, will know it's never really quiet as they insist on playing loud, obnoxious, “pop music” as Tom describes it like a 1950’s Dad. Today it’s slightly harder to hate this obsession with playing music all the time at football, this attempt to manage the atmosphere, when that's the fans job, because the choice of the Arctic Monkeys and Foo Fighters, is a lot more agreeable than the shit they normally play.

I think the fan space might have called final orders, down below which not long ago was a sea of people, is now a sea of discarded plastic pint glasses, and all those who were there, are now filling up the stairs and ramps, making their way inside. After our moonwalk, the atmosphere is finally restored.

Through the turnstile, and it’s no different, if anything it’s louder, the noise now contained within the concrete walls. The chap with a 1930’s style cinema usherettes tray selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts, is getting a few odd looks, while the family of watermelons, four or five strong, don't get a second glance.

The gleaming trumpet leads the fans, like a conductor his choice of tune, dictates the song that is going to be sung next, his most frequent number is one I now know for sure, I will never, ever be able to forget, “we’re on our way”. The watermelons, Mexicans and Vikings all join in. One chap, not sure what he has come as, a Space Cowboy perhaps, a Jamiroquai fan? In his black stetson, and shades with LED display running across the lenses, stands next to the trumpeter, whirling his wooden rattle.

A few rows shy of the back, directly behind the goal, my many prayers to the football Gods have been answered, an aisle seat, in what according to the Wembley Ticket booking system is the ‘singing section’. On first impressions the divisions between singing and non singing sections, are thoroughly blurred, the whole TR end is awash with song. More wigs, more Vikings and plenty of melons fill the seats as blue balloons, with a inflatable football added in for good measure, jump around over the heads of the crowd.

“Half an hour to kick off, are you ready?” asks the stadium announcer, “Forest Green?”, nothing. I can hear little if anything from their small turnout opposite, “Tranmere". Let's say their response was the opposite of quiet.

Much like both sets of players, the referee is also warming up, when he ventures down our end, he is greeted with a chorus of boos.

Time for some more music, and the first of the live offerings today. Standing on the pitch, his picture filling the whole of the big screen, a man belts out Jerusalem. Obviously keen singers themselves, the TR fans respond, but with their own song, it might be one you know, we certainly do, “we’re on our way”, even with the assistance of the booming PA, they go very close to drowning him out.

Not content with one song, “he's off again”, says Tom, the singer telling us he is about to serenade us with a familiar tune about Mexico, is at least what I think he says, which will appeal to some of the gringos in their big hats, however TR fans are so loud, “super white army”, I struggle to hear him.

“Is he still singing?” asks a returning fan, indeed he is. On to song three, it's all just a little bit cruise ship or 1970’s Greek holiday resort evening entertainment for me, it’s not floating my boat, neither would it seem that of many of the fans who continue with their own songs, “oh when the whites go marching in”.

Musical interlude done, a triangle of deep red carpet is rolled out, as the military band in their dark green uniforms take up position, their instruments almost as sparkling as the TR fans trumpet, but not quite. With a giant slush puppy and a box of popcorn in hand, I make way for a child, fully stocked for the approaching match. At this point Tom divulges his objectives for the day, “I want a melon” one of the inflatable kind, not an old lady dressed up as one, he also expresses his relief that we are “not sitting behind the three sombreros” a few rows in front of us.

Another soldier appears, carrying the trophy, not long after the stadium announcer's voice comes on, introducing the teams, who both arrive single file, walking either side of today’s silverware. Horns blasting, scarves held up above heads, flags swishing from side to side, balloons and fluttering home made confetti, made up of torn up newspaper, fill my view. A young child walks to his seat wearing ear defenders, like from a construction site, he is well prepared, the noise levels are extraordinary, “Tranmere, Tranmere, Tranmere”

The latest rendition of “we’re on our way” overlaps ever so slightly with the national anthem, but the song soon changes and those around us belt out ‘God Save the Queen’.

FGR’s team is read out, each name followed by a hearty boo. The TR fans reply with even more enthusiasm for their own players, and then tell the small pockets of FGR fans that their “support is fucking shit". It’s just before kick off that I notice one of the balloons, is not in fact a balloon, but an inflated condom.

“Fucking helmet” shouts a TR fan, after a poorly taken early corner.

There is a slight let up in the noise for the first time, preceding the eighth minute FGR free kick, which fails to result in anything, and all that I can really hear for a brief moment are the distant horns of the FGR fans. When it’s clear the threat level of the set piece has diminished, TR start to sing once more, like someone has turned them on all off a sudden. This enthusiasm and considerable support is truly tested for the first time, less than five minutes later, when FGR take the lead.

“Good strike that” says a pragmatic TR fan close by, it was. It caught me a bit by surprise and by the looks of it the TR keeper too. The FGR players run goes unabated, he is allowed to get closer and closer to the area. From about twenty five yards he almost looks to toe poke the ball, and with a ping off the post, it’s 1 - 0 FGR.

Getting back to his feet the man in goal for TR remonstrates with his players for not even trying to
stop the scorers run, while he, followed by his teammates head towards their fans, whose turnout admittedly is only a fraction of the size of TR's, but they are going just as mental. Their celebrations almost sounding a bit tinny, just because of how few there are and how big Wembley is.

There is a quick reply of a song, “super white army”, but it's muted. Just over ten minutes in, its clear TR have not settled into the game, “not started very well have they” states a TR fan, the one right in front of me is sitting down, as are a lot of people for the first time since we got in. He is being consoled by his girlfriend, although no amount of tender arms strokes, are going to get him out of his current funk.

It’s FGR’s turn to sing that song, you know the one, the one about being on their way somewhere. One of the TR drums tries to rally, I can just make out the tops of his sticks through the crowd, however everyone is a bit stunned. One fan is far from happy with the football his team are playing, “stop playing the hoofy ball”. Another has just resorted to calling anyone and anything a “shithouse cunt”, he could maybe do with a few arm strokes.

That's more like it, twenty three minutes gone and parity is restored, as all the fun and hysteria of the fan space and pre kickoff returns. Receiving the ball, around the same distance out as the FGR scorer, TR’s number 11, takes a touch, then swipes his foot at the bobbling ball, sending it well out of the reach of the full stretch neon pink wearing FGR keeper, his goal interrupting probably the loudest chant since going behind, “super white army”, but I’m sure they won't mind.

Running off towards the corner flag, arms outstretched, number 11 knee slides across the pitch, one player before joining the celebrations, wallops the ball that's bounced out the goal, back into it, just to make sure.

Flags are back to being waved with full force, more confetti litters the floor, people are dancing, hugging, going berserk in the aisles, in their seats, wherever they are able. Relief, that’s the only way I can describe the moments following the equaliser, a huge outpouring of relief. As one fan puts it, it was a “nervous first fifteen” for TR, now they are back in the game, but so far I’m not sure their performance warrants it.

TR almost turn the game right around, when a miss timed header from a FGR player, inadvertently turns into an excellent assist, which is brilliantly anticipated by one quick thinking player. It perfectly dissects the FGR defence, with only the keeper to beat, the forward shoots low into the keepers knees. “Best chance, weren't it?” says a nearby person to his neighbour, other than the goal, chances of this type have been few and far between with thirty minutes gone. That one will go in the ‘gilt edged’ pile, or even the ‘might regret that’ one.

A save right from the top draw, stops TR going behind once more, just when they started to impose themselves in a small way on the game. A FGR ball over the top, is controlled first time by the player running in behind the static defence, hareing out to meet him the keeper is a fraction slow, allowing the attacker his second touch, a deftly hit lob, stranding the keeper neither here nor there. Destined to go in, and with a second FGR player poised to knock it into the empty net, TR’s man in goal back peddles expertly, and with one hand scoops the ball clear, excellent stuff.

Two minutes later, TR fans are left wondering how have they not scored, with the ball slid right across the front of the FGR goal, one player in white sliding in at the back post, and in a near perfect replica of England Vs Germany at Euro 96, much like Gazza, if his boot was a couple of sizes bigger, they would be ahead. With the game continuing, the player who just missed is lying on his back half in the goal, his hands clasped to the back of his head, many around us adopt a similar pose, and can't believe it didn't go in.

The next five minutes are some of the toughest we have endured, even as neutrals it's painful to watch the two goal body blow FGR are about to inflict on the team in front of us, and the fans around us.

Once more the TR defense back off, allowing the attacker to get closer and closer to their goal, before with little resistance, he is allowed to cut the ball on to his right foot, unleashing another super strike, putting FGR back in the lead. Silence, literal near silence. A single voice breaks the awful quiet, “come on Rovers”.

Running towards the supporters, a teammate jumps on the scorers back. Not unsurprisingly the FGR fans are ecstatic, one player sidesteps the main celebrations and gives a mighty Stuart Pearce against Spain fist pump towards the crowd, it's like a Euro ‘96 reenactment day.

A full two and a half minutes later the knock down is complete, TR have gone from staggering around the ring, to flat out on the canvas. On this occasion it’s not because of some well hit strike, but a bit of woeful defending. A dawdling TR defender is eventually and far too easily muscled off the ball by the pursuing FGR player, and no amount of masterful goalkeeping can stop his calm side footed finish.

Running towards that same corner to celebrate, there's no knee slide, more of a bum skid. One TR supporter has seen enough, lashing out he kicks the chair in front of him, breaking it. As the FGR end breaks into that song again, the TR fan picks up and holds a large shard of red plastic, that he describes as his “souvenir”.

One solemn fan behind us boils down FGR's performance perfectly in four words, “three shots, three goals”. Half time could not come soon enough.

“M & M?” offers Tom from a small yellow bag he has just got out of his rucksack. If we had enough to handout to the TR fans, I would happily, they need a little pick me up. The appearance of a marching band, does little to raise a smile, and only freaks out the sound system, causing some epic feedback and distortion. Although as horrific a noise it is, it's something to pierce the deathly quiet. The odd fan makes an attempt to wake them from their languor, but it falls on deaf ears.

When it’s announced that the first half highlights are about to be shown on the big screen, one fan turns his back to the pitch and tilts his head up to watch it all again, another makes his opinion of the offer to rub more salt in the wound abundantly clear, “FUCK OFF”

TR are out first, those watching the final moments of the highlights, just shake their heads. “Give it a fucking go, aye” demands a fan. There is a cry of "come on Rovers", as FGR kick off the new half. “Come one boys” shouts supporter, the attempted song “super white army” is a little lackluster.

Tom returns from a toilet run, to tell me “everybody is smoking” that’s certainly one way to relieve the tension.

“Put up a fucking fight” orders a fan, and certainly in the opening moments TR look like a team who have well and truly had a rocket put up them. Three minutes into the new half, its FGR’s keepers time to dazzle with a bit of his own heroics.

A TR corner is whipped in, it's well met, the header angled downwards looks well on target. People are halfway out of their seats, sure in a second or two their team will be back in the game. However, this is cut short, through the arms of the people in front, they like me are realising that somehow, it’s not gone in. It’s only thanks to the replay, it wasn't obvious through the crowd of players in the box, that the FGR keeper had pulled off a very smart one handed save of his own.

All the noise is now in the FGR end, the occasional toot of a horn and the odd tap of the drum, can’t stir the fans. When they do shout, it's out of annoyance. They are having a lion's share of possession, but it's just not happening where it matters, “it's simple stuff” says a bamboozled fan, at his team's inability to make that all important final pass.

Not able to make their own chances, FGR kindly hand them one on a plate instead, their failure to capitalise, just about sums up their afternoon. The FGR keeper goes all Cruyff, or should I say Ben Foster. His attempt at the Dutchman's signature move, not quite coming off, he loses possession just inside his area, the loose ball falling kindly to a TR player, all he has to do, is put it in the empty net.

If I was kind I could maybe blame his miss on the fact that the FGR keeper was all over him trying to recover after his mistake, as Tom put it “all he had to do was roll it in over the line”. The fans around us are less than sympathetic, the chap in front is now beyond consolable, his head permanently in his hands.

Tom as ever is able to say in a few words, what always takes me too many, “Tranmere need to score soon”.

When TR do make a chance, they are still it would seem completely and utterly unable to take it. On the hour mark they flash a header agonisingly wide “COME ON” screams one fan, begging his team to get their act together. The TR manager motions from the sidelines, that he also wants more from the players. The atmosphere is really going south, one fan takes to his feet, asking his fellow fans to sing and to stand up, “fucking hell come on” he says gesturing with his arms, but their are few takers, other than those immediately around him.

Two minutes later FGR break, “here we go again” says someone with an tone of inevitability in his voice, on this occasion it’s not a goal.

The crowd turn on the referee, “cheat, cheat, cheat” they chant, just not feeling anything is going their way, the man behind us, just says, what he has been saying all day, “shithouse”. When in their eyes, they eventually get something their way, there are cheers, one fan thinking it's been a long time coming, “about time knobhead”.

It’s never a good sign when as one fan puts it, supporters are “scrapping” among themselves. A small pocket of something or another breaks out, bringing people to their feet, for a good peer over at the ruckus. One person not interested in the punch up or watching the match live, he stands with his back to the game, choosing instead to watch it on the big screen. Another woman just sits in her chair, hiding behind her scarf.

FGR’s end has not stopped, one TR fan makes the current situation perfectly clear, “20 minutes boys, COME ON”.

Edging closer to the end, FGR start to really implement their own ‘tactics’ that have become so increasingly blatant, that their own manager tells a player being subbed off to hurry up. This approach is not a new one by all accounts, fans behind us discuss a similar method at this season's home match.

One FGR player is branded as “disgusting” by one outraged TR fan, I’m not far off agreeing with them, following his execution of the action plan. With plenty pushed up in support, an FGR attack breaks down, TR win the ball back and look good for their own counter attack. The “disgusting” player goes down in a heap, by the looks of it feigning injury, forcing the referee to blow up, stopping the TR move before it’s got going.

“Come out this half with that mindset” says Tom, sharing the opinion of the FGR second half mentality with those around us. They are doing everything they can to slow the game right down.

A few shirts are off in the FGR end, which is bathed in sunlight, our end very much in the shade, in darkness, on so many levels. Those with tops off and tops on, are singing, the notion of being a Football League club getting ever closer, “we’re on our way”.

Shaping up to shoot on his left, the TR number 16, cuts it back onto his right, just outside the areas far right corner, with three or four teammates in the box. Instead of crossing or passing, he takes a wild swipe at it, sending it well high and wide. He knows he fucked up, he stays bent over double as the rest of his team, jog back down field, with the FGR fans mocking cheers, ringing in his ears. Not impressed with the players attempt with so little of the game left, one fan calls him a “fucking knobhead”.

FGR’s blatant time wasting ends up riling the TR players so much there is a moment of handbags. Another FGR player goes down far too easily, one fed up TR player picks him straight back up like a giant toddler. Miraculously his injury has disappeared and he is quick to fight back, not delighted with having been manhandled like he was, and to be shown up as a bit of a, “shithouse”.

Having kicked the ball out for the supposed ‘injury’, TR expect the ball to be passed back, instead the FGR player kicks the ball into touch, he is rightly declared a “wanker” by more than one person, and is quickly mobbed on the pitch for a spot of posturing and rutting, but not much more.

Five minutes of extra time is shown, one TR fan wills his team to “score, score, score”. There is one last rallying cry from the supporters around us, “Tranmere till I die” conveying their unwavering devotion, despite what has been a woeful afternoon. One man has had enough, he leaves, noticeably emotional, crying even. When the FGR keeper claims the ball, falling slowly on top of it, in no rush to get up, there is an almighty roar from the FGR end, with only seconds left of extra time, the result is all but official, they sing almost in a trance in the bright sun, some still bare chested, “we are going up”.

TR’s fans applaud their players. FGR’s players join hands for a Jurgen Klopp/Borussia Dortmund slide towards theirs. A few TR players have crumpled to the floor, one goes round, not allowing them to dwell on defeat to long, picking them up. One TR drummer sits, his drum on this lap, occasionally hitting it, but never mustering up enough energy to break out into a full tune, the fans numbers have thinned considerably, a white surge straight towards the exits.

Out of those who have remained, many are in the throes of inconsolable sadness, one young man is crying, red faced, his father standing alongside him, the absolute agony of losing a final, plain to see, don't anyone dare tell me, ‘it’s just a football match’.

Many discarded flags now litter the floors, along with all the other detritus you see post football match, the aisles all but empty, the red seats mostly folded upwards. We hold back, to watch FGR lift the trophy, once they have ascended the “one hundred and twenty one steps” the announcer informs us.

He rolls his R’s in a slightly overly dramatic fashion, when he presents the winners “Forest Green Rovers” who I’m sure floated up the hundred odd steps. Taking their place on the balcony, TR look on, waiting to collect their runners up medals. As they make their way up, FGR are making their way down, stopping every so to often to celebrate with supporters and a few very proud family members and friends. The TR fans who have stuck out the presentation sing one last song to them, a small boy in a blue wig passes us, accompanied by his mum, he looks like he's seen enough.

On the pitch all that is necessary for a photo opportunity and some low level fireworks has been set up, awaiting the players. We stay to watch FGR lift the trophy once more, behind them gold and silver shimmering metallic streamers go up, then slowly fall above them.

It's no secret I can get somewhat emotionally invested in football, there were no tears from me today, but I can sympathize with anyone who shed a few, in joy or sadness. We football fans pour so much of ourselves into this game, it would be odd not to let it get the better of you once in a while, be that kicking and breaking a chair, which isn't ideal, or blubbering into your hanky. Which in some quarters might not be seen as 'manly', but I can tell you from experience, it's very cathartic.

In the 'Battle of the Rovers' which I'm sure only Sky Sports would have called today, FGR prevailed, from what I have seen on social media, they are not the most popular club in the world. A lot of that it would seem being down to them not selling meat at their ground, which if that is the main reason people can come up with to dislike you, then you're doing something right. After the heartbreak of missing out last year, what a day it must have been to be an FGR supporter. As I said about Grimsby, FGR are 'non league no more', for them the first time in their history.

Out side the heavens have opened, a few FGR fans that have left are in a good mood to say the least "green army" they shout and they aren't at all bothered about the increasing rain, in fact a small group of them have gone all Gene Kelly, "singing in the rain". One young fan without a care in the world is marching around in ray bans, a popcorn bucket as a hat and green and white chequered flag over his shoulder.

There is not a TR supporter to be seen, except one, who approaches a group of  FGR fans, exchanges a hug with one, and I just hear him say, "stay up lad".

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

For our video from the match, click HERE

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