It is confusing for two city mice, when the familiar red roundel of London Transport isn't sitting above the bus stop, and so not wanting to worry about half fares or returns, or if we have the right kind of money, we find a local cab firm, and for the princely sum of £3.50 they will take us to the ground, which we reckon is probably cheaper than the bus anyway, so jump in.
The animated, high pitched, flat cap wearing cab driver is off like a shot, talking football, once we tell him our destination, his topic for discussion, Jose Mourinho and his daughter. His theory for why Jose is “so grumpy”, which is followed by an impression of a grumpy person, “mergh, mergh, mergh”, taking his hands off the steering wheel a little long, is according to him a two pronged issue, one completely plausible, one a little less so.
Firstly the recent defeat by Liverpool, where they “busted them up” is a genuine explanation for the managers mood, the second is perhaps a little bit more Daily Star than Guardian, when it comes to fact checking and tone. Apparently according to a previous customer, Jose is not the congenial at the moment because his daughter, who I'm sure is the shining light of his life, “opened her legs” for a footballer, the ‘Special One’ found out, and is not best pleased.
Trapped in the back of a small four door, both of our heads pressed against the roof, we look at each other, overcome with nervous laughter, not quite sure what to say, agreeing with his first point, but wanting to distance ourselves as quickly as possible from the second, I grip the door handle and consider taking my chances with a commando roll onto the high street. Only the brief moment when Tom points out a Wimpy, and we both reminisce about square burgers, do we not feel a little less dirty after the “open leg” comment.
Our driver perhaps can pick up our PC North London sensibilities, and falls silent for the rest of the journey, unceremoniously dumping us on the curb outside Meadow Park, home of Boreham Wood FC (BW), as the away team coach pulls in, Lincoln City FC (LC), and he doesn't want to go in the car park because he “might get stuck”.
As the LC players pile off the bus, after what is a long trip for both fans and players on a Wednesday evening, just over 120 miles, the turnstiles are not even open yet, we hope to find a bar or clubhouse, until they do.
First impressions are important in all walks of life and our welcome from the the two stewards on the door of the bar, flanked by a large RoBoCop, is less than ideal. When asked “what you looking for gents” and replying "the bar”, instead of a smile and “this way”, we get a unfriendly and aggressive “you Boreham Wood?”. Considering we are ‘home’ fans for the evening, we say “yes”, but this only encourages more cross examining. “Who's the manager?” I’m a bit flummoxed, and try and recall the Wikipedia browsing I had done earlier in the day, but can't for the life of me remember his name, Tom mutters the name of the previous manager, who was replaced last month, but I know that it’s not correct.
“Well I’m not Lincoln”, I finally reply.
Two other locals are getting the same dressing down, just out for an evening of football, not quite prepared for all of this. When someone eventually explains to us the need for the examination, it's because of the chance of “trouble” after some issues at LC in the corresponding fixture, earlier in the season.
It reminds me of a friend who went to a Barnet FC Vs Lincoln City FC match, and after some similar heavy handed police/security, he ended up getting carted off, he assures me because of a police dog's interest in his cheese sandwich.
Anyway we are in, the fairly empty bar decorated with Jackson Pollock esq pictures, illuminated framed home shirts celebrating games of note. An older man just inside the door shows the guys outside how it’s done, in his long club jacket and scarf “evening chaps”. His simple, but well received greeting, dampers the anger the two outside have riled up in me.
Tom’s description of the bar looking “like a strip club without the strippers” is about the most accurate description I can give you. The frosted glass, red top baize pool table, and bad music, all have a hint of Spearmint Rhino. Nonetheless we take a seat and grab a drink, whilst at the bar Tom hears more chat of potential problems, one person's explanation of why is simply, “well it’s Lincoln”.
My attention is drawn away from Sky Sports news, when I see a boy at a nearby table is selling 50/50 raffle tickets. “It’s a mug’s game” proclaims Tom, feed up with dealing with the emotional aftermath of me never winning anything, it is him who has to pick up the pieces. £2 and a “good luck” later, I secure the tickets in my notebook, in preparation of the draw at half time.
The combination of music and the TV on at the same time, is driving Tom a little nuts “make your mind up, I’m trying to watch the news”, so we drink up, hoping the gates are open and we can enter the ground.
More stewards, and more people severely lacking in people skills, in fact of the two, one barely said anything, because who turned out to be his boss was doing enough shouting, for them both. This was brought on by stating we were “neutrals” when asked again who we support, thinking that would just be easier, as our knowledge of the 1956/57 starting lineup is a little lacking, and we wanted to avoid any more quizzes. Playing Switzerland had quite the opposite effect however, it resulted in him telling us we had to go to the neutral section, and when I tried to explain we had been in touch with the Press Officer, he just continued to shout at me. When a break in the barracking occurred, I was finally able to show him evidence of my correspondence, and after a quick chat over the radio, the guard dog relented.
Tickets bought, programme purchased, turnstile squeezed through, another pin for the collection from the portacabin club shop, after which Tom noticed all of his badges look very, very similar, and is contemplating a conspiracy, we have to ask a much calmer and rational steward about the heightened security. Our first question is how many he thinks LC will be bringing, he hopes the combination of mid week, and their “coach breaking down” means that it won’t be many, if any at all. He curiously used the word “retaliation” and makes us both wonder, what the hell went down up there?
Tom makes a beeline for the ‘Lunch Box’ opposite where we came in, next to one of two stands along each side of the pitch. Flags hang from its back wall, "small town - big dreams" states, the seats are the BW colours, black and white. The smaller stand opposite, also all seater, has red seats with “BWFC” spelt out in white ones. At each end is an uncovered concrete terrace, the away end already looks almost full, and the stewards hope of fewer people due to coach technical issues has not come to pass.
Once Tom has visited the toilet, which he said smelt like “Armani” he peruses the menu of the Lunch Box, returning with two polystyrene cups of chips, and a burger for himself. We stand behind the goal, using the black metal railing as a table, with Tom developing a theory that the higher you go, the better the food is, until about halfway through his dinner he has to admit that the “burger sauce was a bad idea”.
“Welcome to Meadow Park” says the the voice over the tannoy, as both teams finish their warm up, a BW coach after some final sprints, instructs the players “in you go, in you go” as the voice reads out the teams. The first name is greeted with an enthusiastic “waahay”, which is not replicated with any of the others. He is either very popular, or no one likes any of the players.
To the tune of the Sex Pistols ‘Anarchy In The U.K’ the LC fans, who out number the home fans start to sing “I am a city fan”, and accompanied by either a “drum or an advertising board” says Tom, they make a good level of noise, and only get louder “oh when the Imps, go marching in”.
As the team's walk out, under a full silver moon, in a cloudless sky, from the opposite corner of the ground, the away fans go up another level “eh, i, eh, i, eh, i, o, off to the football, here we go”, they drown out the home walk out music, ‘Tom Hark’ by the Piranhas, and every so often the BW fans closest to us, standing underneath a flag with a fist wearing a club crest sovereign ring, shout “wood army”.
Sitting 5th in the table, LC are hopeful for promotion this season “we’re on our way, to the football league, we’re on our way”, and as the referee gets things under way, they sing and sing “we are the red and white army”, “come on city, come on city” really impressive. The noisy BW fans, a lot less in number, try their best to hold their own “we are, we are, we are the wood”.
LC are rapid on the flanks, and venture into the BW half down the left or right with ease, but its BW who score first, but it doesn’t stand, the referee disallows it for offside. Not long after LC score, this one counts, it’s about 15 minutes in, and it’s a super header. A raking ball from the left is met perfectly by the player on the penalty spot who leaps, heads it, the placing and accuracy leaves the BW keeper rooted to the spot, it really was a purler, and one of his team mates lets him know, as they celebrate in front of us “great fucking header”.
“The imps are going up, the imps are going up”
BW are almost straight back in the game, after some good work in midfield the player holds off a few of the opposition, turning out of danger well he distributes the ball wide, a cross is whipped in, and the attempted header is glanced well wide. Tom puts it perfectly “that’s a glaring miss”.
Almost 30 minutes in, we get another goal from a pinpoint cross, this time it’s the home team’s turn. The powerful header sends the ball over the grasping hand of the LC keeper, who can’t get near it. This is all unfurling at the opposite end of the pitch, and no one is sure if it’s gone in, but it has, the fans reaction is a little delayed, but brings celebrations and more singing “wood army, wood army, wood army”.
LC’s end is almost silent now, and even though they almost go ahead again, another headed chance missed, the player annoyed with himself, screams to the heavens, they are making a fraction of the noise they were previously.
“Wished we lived in California” says Tom, fed up with the cold.
Sustained LC pressure, can’t bring another goal, the BW keeper does however pull off a notable save after a cross field pass finds the attacker with space to cut in from the wing, and makes a powerful attempt at goal. One shot though is way off target and ends up in the car park behind. A fan peers over the fence, perhaps anticipating some damage, and it would seem it did hit someones car, “he didn't look impressed” he says to a fellow fan, after seeing the owner inspecting it.
We make the short move from the terrace to the stand for the second half, as the voice over the tannoy explains the club are offering subsidised away travel and thanks the fans for “their continued support in the fight to stay up”. With our undrinkable cup of tea, not because of the taste, but because of the temperature “it’s always nuclear hot” says Tom, as he mimes with one hand the action of drawing a cup from the urn.
The 50/50 announcement is made, no win this time, some other “mug” pockets the £12.00 on offer!
“Come on the wood”
Two early chances in the second half go to LC, and their fans are showing some of the form they had showed at the beginning of the first 45 making a great racket. The group BW supporters in the stand, who are now mostly all standing, are certainly giving a much better account of themselves, and start to add a few other chants into the mix “Hertfordshire, la, la, la, Hertfordshire, la, la, la”, all backed by the noise of people stomping their feet on the metal stand, the man behind me wonders quite rightly if it’s “just to keep warm”.
The second half is dominated by the direct, pacey wing play of BW number 25 ‘Jeffrey’, whose ability to push the ball ahead of him, turn on the afterburners and sail past his marker, time and time again, means LC’s number two is in for a torrid half.
BW’s first of many chances, is down to the brute strength of their number 24, or “the beast” as Tom dubs him, some good overlapping, results in a cross into the box, but it's behind his teammates, by the time he can get a shot off, it’s straight into the arms of the keeper.
Both the team and the fans have woken up, the players look so much more composed. The fans even have the nerve of calling out the LC fans “can you hear the Lincoln sing?”
“Wood army, wood army, wood army, wood army, wood army ,wood army”
Jeffrey is standing alone, and the fans urge him to “call” for the ball, “you got him all day son” shouts one fan, “you can skin him” adds another. Chance after chance, and it’s all down to the same player, coming from the left hand side, LC are helpless to stop him, when for the umpteenth time he makes a run, leaving the LC number 2 in his wake, Tom shouts “release the Jeffrey!”
One of the group behind us make a very solid point “we’ve got to score with all this pressure”, and as if the grim reaper was listening, just as he says “when it’s like this it unnerves me” all the ball, but no goal, an LC player goes up the other end and crosses into the box, only for it to just be cleared from underneath the crossbar, and the person next to him, with impeccable timing says “just like that”.
A conversation behind us, is one you will hear at every football ground, in every country, when your team are on top, but just can't score, “you know what's going to happen now?
“They are going to score”
“Of course they fucking will” replies a person a few rows behind.
BW suffer from perhaps not having the most adaptable of names, when it comes to chants, forcing the fans to abbreviate “we’re the barmy, b-wood army”, nonetheless they continue to roar their team along, who on the pitch, are giving them every reason to, but as one person says “they just can’t get it in”. Also with the increased atmosphere and watching Jeffery fly up and down the wing, my mood has finally softened, compared to the first half where the greeting before the match conspired to make me be a bit of a grump.
On the other hand LC’ fans are so quiet now, only coming to life when they shout for a free kick, which isn’t given, the fans around us poke even more fun “we forgot that you were here”. The team although pushed, back into their half, every so often get up the other end, and get close to scoring, there is a familiar feeling of tension in the air, WD would be very unlucky to go behind.
“We hate Barnet”
Tension is turning to outright narcissism, you would think they would be happy to see LC score, it would relieve some great pressure in them. Every time LC get the ball, the group around us are almost hysterical “it would be typical Boreham Wood”, “it’s coming”, “seen loads go in from there”.
One couple are a bit more optimistic, and instruct the team “FORWARD!”. An old looking mod type in a long parka jacket turns to the crowd, “come on get behind them”. The small group who have left their seats, and are now standing pitch side, are quickly ushered back to their seats by the stewards.
Some have even turned on the mercurial Jeffery, who has been an absolute star this 2nd half setting up the first goal, and since the restart has created a hatful of chances, but they think his final ball is not good enough, I don’t think the other players seem to be busting a gut like him to get in the best positions, and when they do, it culminates in what happens to be the last chance of the game. His cross across the six yard box, finds the attacker perfectly, whose back heel attempt is blocked.
The players applaud the fans, who in the second half did everything they could, really supported their team well, its was relatively non stop singing, which you would like to think the players appreciate and feed off.
Everything is of a very high standard at BW, the ground is very nice and you can see why the Arsenal FC ladies team call it home as well. The football in the second half was a good watch, it was not obvious the teams were at opposite ends of the table, if BW could have taken one of their countless chances, they would have been worthy winners. The LC fans, of which there were over 300 today, a remarkable turnout, talk amongst themselves at the station on the way home, and we agreed with them, “if they (BW) had a decent striker, we would of lost”. I hope it’s not a result or the issue of not scoring goals that seals their fate come the end of the season.
I know the stewards were just doing their job, it must be undoubtedly tough when you are at the forefront, and there is a threat of violence, grief or marauding gangs of barbarians. I’m sure the pressure that comes with that, must be huge. I guess in every line of work and in life there are just ways to do things, and ways to not, this evening felt like the latter, but we will get over it and wish BW all the best for the rest of the season.