Thursday, 16 November 2017

Cockneys All Together - Erith Town FC Vs Windsor FC, FA Vase 2nd Round, Oakwood (12/11/17)

The man walking along my road in the ushanka-hat is a good indicator of quite how much the temperature has dropped these last few days. Not that I really need the sight of a Soviet in Finchley to confirm that it's cold, I can currently see my own breath in my car and the steering wheel is so chilled, it's almost painful to hold.

It's now a well worn path to Tom's, down the god forsaken Holloway Road, and I’m just about at the end of my tether with all the Sunday drivers when I pull up outside his house, drop him a text to tell him I’m here and stare at his red door waiting for him to appear, as his reply of “1 minute” turns into two, three, four and then five.

Tom went out last night, which can sometimes be a little bit ominous, but he hasn't canceled on me yet, which is always a good sign he's not had a big one. His groan when I ask him how he is is minimal, so I can assume he had a relatively sober outing. Probing a little further, he didn't get home particularly late, around 1 o’clock, however that's when the real party started, as he and the Sparrow tucked into some homemade cocktails consisting of “passion fruit juice”, “gin” and “cherry brandy” and although I’m sure he's brushed his teeth and had a shower, I did notice a fruity aroma when he first got in.

Heading to South East London today, although cold, it's at least bright and each with a coat packed it should be fine. Not long after passing the remnants of a gas works we are soon greeted by two signs at the entrance to today's ground, along with one for the local slimming club, both claiming it’s the ‘home’ of two different clubs. 

Oakwood is actually the home of Bostik League North team VCD Athletic FC. The other team, and the one we are here to see today, the other team who call Oakwood ‘home’ for this season at least, are what you might call lodgers, Erith Town FC (ET).

From our experience and I’m sure that of many other people, when you intend on watching a lodger play in this not too unfamiliar non league ground share set up, there is a very high chance you might be watching them on the Sunday, if the landlords were at home on the Saturday. Hence while you’re all at home, wrapped up warm with the Sunday papers on the go, a roast in the oven, half dosing with the Formula 1 on the TV waiting for Countryfile or the Antiques Roadshow, we’re climbing out of the car, being blasted by a harsh cutting wind, with Tom muttering “it’s cold in Erith”.

It’s certainly cold, Tom wishing he'd brought his "snood", assuring me it would be making an "appearance on Tuesday" when we go to our next match. Looking down over the Oakwood from our exposed spot above it, with a reasonable slope falling away before us down to the pitch, feeling a little weather beaten already and the wind only getting stronger, we’re not actually in Erith at all, but Crayford.

An unfortunate side effect of having to sleep in someone's spare room, sofa surfing around other grounds in the general vicinity of your patch, is not being able to play where your name suggests you are from. This is not the first time we've seen ET and it's not the first we've seen them bunked up in the second bedroom of someone else's house.

The tall thin man in his long black ET jacket, with a poppy tightly fastened to it, welcomes us at the green and white turnstiles that crown the top of the hill. ET’s opposition today Windsor FC (WFC) are from the “same level” as ET he tells us, so he reckons they've “got a chance”, however a few “injuries” could be the deciding factor.

I can see the main stand, the dugouts that are sensibly spaced apart and the covered sections for spectators that flank either side of them, but neither of us can work out where the changing rooms are. When we ask our poppy wearing friend, he points far into the distance, at the end of a winding, garden fence lined tunnel, at the “pavilion”. Imagine a white plantation house with a veranda, very “deep south” says Tom, imagining the mint juleps he could get through on there, and it’s so far set back, it may hold the record for the longest walk to the pitch going, that doesn't involve an escalator or lift.

Neither of us can agree more when our welcomer suggests we take shelter in the bar, the wind howling around our ears in conditions no sensible person would stay out in for long.

The twinkling lights of the fruit machine, the low hum of a nearby hoover being run over the carpet as someone does one last tidy before the crowds start to arrive, the bright sunshine flooding in the large bay windows, that gives the impression that it's actually nice outside, the faint smell of Toms cheese and onion crisps, my blue velvet chair or the non league hot cup of sweet tea he's just handed me, means it's near nirvana in the bar compared to the wilds the other side of the narrow door.

I’m distracted from studying the VCD Athletic wine list on our table, which isn't cheap may I add, no Calais booze cruise plonk here, which sits next to a small vase with some flowers in, by the near criminal replay of the penalty given against Northern Ireland in their recent World Cup playoff with Switzerland, that Tom hasn't seen, and like most people baulks at the absurdity of it.

Tom’s head is turned by the woman with the heaving tray of sandwiches, and then by the arrival of WFC filing past the windows, one member of their staff at the rear, is carrying a Subbuteo box. We both clock it, turn to each other to share a baffled glance, before Tom ponders if it's for “tactics?”

The arrival of WFC’s players, sees the arrival of some of their fans, some who are wearing knitted green, white and red striped scarfs that Tom thinks are “very Christmassy”. It also means we get a glimpse of WFC’s astonishing strip, which I told Tom about on the way here, and he sees for the first time when one of the fans takes off her large winter coat. He almost has to stop himself gawping, “there’s the kit” he says under his breath pointing.

I’m a definite sucker for a football shirt, anything from the weird to the wonderful. The garish patterns of the early 90’s to the classic simplicity of the 50’s and 60’s, only moments before I was raving to Tom about the Croatian national kit, and it’s glorious red and white cheques, but WFC’s might just be in a category all of its own.

Imagine a green Union Jack with red stripes and you’ve a good idea of what it's all about, but without actually seeing it for yourself, it’s tough to grasp quite how striking it is with your mind's eye alone. Tom can’t quite see it, “too much” he says, with a touch of Anna Wintour, he thinks its looks more like a “rugby kit” than a football one. I on the other hand can see the method in the madness the greatness in it’s totally over the top design. I’m not sure it's one I’m in love with, but it certainly has its place in the annals of football kit porn.

Somehow Tom has finished his drink already and is ready to brave the outside, my tea is still barely drinkable. He explains that the fact he burnt his tongue with his first sip, means he was able to drink the rest before it had completely cooled down, because the damage had already been done.

Oakwood is not only a football ground, but a hodgepodge of tennis courts and a bowling green with a very unexpected sign on it which Tom thinks is worth pointing out, warning people off the playing surface due to the presence of “poison”. A mixture of trees and a sea of roof tops border the ground itself. Behind one goal, nets preventing any broken windows in the nearby houses, billow in the wind like large black sails and music plays to no-one other than Tom and I.

“Bit grey over there” says Tom pointing at the ever changing sky. In the next breath the sun is doing its best to emerge, but soon it disappears behind some low white clouds and we’re not sure what kind of a day we’re going to get. “Want that sun to come back out, horrible now” pleads Tom. 

Returning from a bit of a wander about he does know that he “needs to get a woolly hat”, he cheerily confirms the presence of a “burger bar” and informs me that the 50/50 is not ready, “yet”.

I’m no fashionista, I’ll leave that to Tom and I only cement his position when I make the foolish mistake of thinking he had on his winter coat, and I couldn't understand how he was so cold. “No” he snaps, the one he has on is his “spring and autumn” coat and his winter one has yet to be taken out of storage. Anyway he tells me, he won't be cold in the future, because he's getting “hand warmers” soon.

A reasonable crowd has amassed around the picnic tables at the top of the slope, as ET are the first out to warm up. WFC are nowhere to be seen, Tom is concerned by the lack of the required paraphernalia on their half of the pitch “got to have cones” he says and wonders if they “do know it's a 3 o’clock kick off”. We ask a man in a green WFC coat who appears from the mouth of the tunnel, who tells us they are in “no hurry”.

The cherry brandy is catching up on Tom, “I’m hungry, need a fry up” he grumbles. With his concoctions from the previous night still swilling around inside him, I can only hope the appearance of ex Fulham, Millwall, Stevenage and Leicester player Barry Hayles at the ripe old age of 45, who saunters out with his WFC team mates, will be enough to cheer him up, but he is only interested in the player who remembered his “snood” and not the presence of a once Premier League striker.

Earlier we had a brief introduction to the ET manager Adam or “Woody” who bares no resemblance to the Toy Story cowboy with his Wildling beard and red and black woolly hat, and we cross paths again with him on the edge of the pitch, and ask him his thoughts on the match. 

“Cup game, anything goes” he tells us frankly, “can't do anything else to prepare” the team he adds. He of course recognises the “experience” WFC have up front in Barry Hayles, and hopes he'll “bring the crowds with him” too. Before we are able to reply, he wanders off, not rudely or dismissively, but in a way that leaves you wanting more, hands firmly stuffed in the pockets of this long black coat, “likes doing that” says Tom.

If ET progress today, it will be the furthest they've gone in their history in the FA Vase in the battle of two teams who are relative babies in the football world, WFC being formed in 2011 and ET in comparison positively geriatric, they were formed in 1959. I overhear Woody expressing again his concerns that WFC have Hayles up front, but the reply from the ET fan is spot on, he's “only one player”.

Talking to Mark, ET’s owner, also in a long club jacket, talking from underneath its hood, he only took over the club in “June”, however he already seems like a man with a solid plan. As he puts it, and we would agree it's a “decent little set up” at VCD, he wishes it was “our home ground”, but the prices to lodge there are a little steep, and he intends to move them back to their old stomping grounds as of next season.

He is learning all too fast about the rigours of running a club, along with “the Mrs” and his 14 year old son, the club photographer. The “football side is great” he explains, but it’s tiring, “midweek games are a killer” he tells us. His story is an all too familiar one in non league football, that of a disenchanted supporter of a ‘bigger’ team if you like, in his case Charlton, who he supported “home and away” who has dropped down the pyramid because of the way his club, that he speaks about with such passion and dismay at the same time is being “completely fucked up” as he puts it.

Now, I’m going to get a little serious for a moment, we normally like to keep things light hearted, but I’m just going to have to take things down a notch or two. They've sold out of programmes. If you're anything like me, someone who has a programme from every single match they’ve ever been to, in over twenty years, other than having numerous full storage boxes of them, and nowhere to put them, you will realise this is a big deal, that will have an adverse effect on the rest of my day. That and no sign of anyone selling the 50/50, I feel like curling up in a ball, life is not worth living.

ET’s captain leans down, touches the grass then crosses himself as he walks onto the pitch. With his other hand he holds that of a small boy in a green jacket, whose tightly grasping a pennant to commemorate todays match. He leaves it to the mascot to exchange it with the ET captain, who he then exchanges handshakes with. 

Tom tries to rally me, he can sense my programme less despondency, “bet you love the WFC goalkeepers kit” he says, pointing to the pink, black and brown Union Jack design. In fact both keepers are sporting my favourite colour for a goalkeeper. ET’s is more traditional, a nice shade of Palermo pink, but without the pink boots, like the man in goal for the visitors has on.

Both sets of outfield players kits have their plus points and are worth a mention. WFC we've covered, I've officially put it in the ‘never going to see anything quite like it again’ unless we happened to go to CD Guijuelo and see their kit that looks like Iberico Ham. The home team in their black and red striped number, falls into the ‘little black dress’ category, a classic, handsome in it's simplicity.

Tom gives his final verdict on WFC’s get up, after much deliberation, “don't like it” he tells me, just as Oakwood falls silent, both teams arms linked, standing on opposite sides of the centre circle, heads bowed, as the referee blows his whistle to signal the start of a two minute silence to mark Remembrance Sunday, which is well observed. The players shirts rustle in the breeze, as a good portion of the crowd in the main stand opposite leave their green and white seats to stand.

I bizarrely quite enjoy that split second after a silence when the noise of people and players refills the ground, like someone has flipped a switch.

The “Christmas flags” of WFC are quickly up behind one goal, which are just as colorful as their kit and with the game underway, Woody is soon in full voice, along with a fellow member of his staff who has wandered on to the pitch barking out his orders, and has to be ushered back by the man running the line.

What's the old expression, ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’, this could quite easily be applied to Barry Hayles whose current scoring record I’m not au fait with, but he’s rolling back the years in this part of South East London today, dropping his shoulder and spinning away from his marker with consummate ease, much to the annoyance of the ET bench, “don't let him roll you” someone screams.

It’s been trying all day, and finally the sun wins it’s battle with the clouds to our right over the rooftops of the nearby houses, like something from a biblical suburban scene. It’s so dazzling and bright it's near blinding, and for a short while small bits of our face thaw out, but alas not for long, we are treated to its warmth only momentarily before it's gone again.

The first quarter of the game offers up very little as far as entertainment is concerned, Tom is again mulling over the WFC kit, and wonders if the presence of the Union Jack and that they come from Windsor means they are the “Queens team”. 

Not so much saved by the bell, but by the feet of the ET keeper who is a flash of pink as he races off his line to save the first meaningful chance of the game, and entertains Tom long enough that we don't need to talk about WFC potentially being our monarchs very own non league football team. He’s soon back to thinking about food regardless, as the gin rears its ugly head, “I’m starving, not sure I can wait until half time”.

The save rouses from the main stand a single female fan, who shouts “come on Erith”

The fact Woody is now sitting on a drinks cooler, only makes me think of Marcelo Bielsa sitting on his coffee. He might not manage at the same level as the Argentinian but he shares his choice of pitch side perch with one of the best, and the fact that other members of the team are sitting on brown plastic chairs from a secondary school, makes me think it’s time to get a bigger bench.

There is still a complete and utter lack of on field action of any note. A very brief and garbled chant is started by the WFC fans but it soon dissipates and Tom is now using him getting closer to a burger and chips as a new measurement of timekeeping “15 minutes to food”.

It’s fair to say neither side have really failed to fashion anything of merit other than the well saved WFC chance earlier on. Hayles shows off some of his top flight class surging forwards in midfield, he rides a couple of challenges before passing the ball out wide. It's crossed into the box and the player at the far post has a go at an almost spectacular volley, but it goes over.

“Hope they do chips” wonders Tom, that craving for greasy food, the only remedy to a night on homemade cocktails is starting to consume him.

With ten to go, ET’s winger does a great job with some nifty footwork to get into the box on the far side of the pitch, but as Tom puts it, he does “too much” one step over too many and loses the ball in a fabulous position on the WFC by line, this is not lost on his manager “cross the fucking ball” he shouts, leaping up from his ice filled stool. Again any sign of ET doing well in defence or attack is followed by the single female voice in the stand “come on Erith”.

The home crowd finally have something to shout about and clap about, it's not just the solo lady in the stand, applauding and cheering the most excellent of volleys from the edge of the box, that is equalled only by the fingertip save by the man in the pink boots, who gets an acrobatic hand to the ball, forcing a corner.

It won't be for the first time today, when a melee of sorts halts play, involving most of the players from each team. Almost on half time, ET have a half chance, but the forward is stretching and is off balance and can’t prod the ball home, much to the relief of WFC’s keeper who lets his defence know that was a “let off”.

Looking longingly at the tea bar on the hill, the referee having just put his whistle to his lips, blowing for half time, Tom hopes they haven't “run out of burgers”.

Among the earmuffs and and woolly hats and the people studying the lineups on the whiteboard and suitably wrapped up himself, is the man who broke it to me that they had sold out of programmes, the very same man who recommended we eat faggots in Stourbridge, Andy @APCAFC. He quickly reaffirms that we really know very little about football when I tell him Tom thinks the game has “0 - 0” written all over it, and he informs me that means “extra time” with it being the FA Vase. I might have to find a way of getting Tom the “duvet” he said he wished he had, I don't think he's going to take that news very well.

The game has already restarted when Tom appears with food, but not what he wanted, they had indeed “run out of burgers”. He also shares with me that the woman serving him was individually defrosting the buns in the microwave, hence why he might have taken a little longer than normal.

Sausage sandwich still in hand, Tom and I watch in the far distance, under the most stunning of sunsets, a mixture of oranges, purples and pinks, with just over five minutes of the second half gone, as WFC take the lead.

“Pick yourself up” shouts a ET player to his team mates.

Four minutes later, ET have done exactly that, and pull it level in double speed. A storming late run from the edge of the box, and a runner whose not picked up and heads in making it 1 - 1. Sausage sandwich now gone, Tom is able to utter his once prolific catchphrase, which hasn't had an outing in awhile “game on”. Mark pumps his fist to the bench, “come on Erith keep going” he shouts as he is quickly becoming the home teams one man cheer squad. All while still the sky is like something from a Monet painting.

“All happening now” says Tom, as the first quarter of the second half, makes up for all three of them in the first. ET shoot just over “come on Erith” shouts the lady once again, she's now growing louder and louder and the chances for her team become more frequent. 

One player insists to the others that they “go again”, they are now much more fluid going forward, and go close thanks to their long throw, Rory Delap merchant number 2 who rocks back and forth on heels, sometimes going as far as to arch backwards over the barrier before flinging the ball into the box. “Too easy” screeches the WFC keeper.
With the sun fully gone, the mercury has plummeted, “could do without extra time” says Andy to Tom, who are soon talking football food, Andy telling Tom the best pie is to be found at “Kidderminster” and he's to “put” them on his “list”.

Those who talk about football professionally, the types who sit high in the rafters of our nation's grandest stadiums, normally accompanied by an ex pro, call it the ‘commentators curse’. Those of us in the normal world who are not paid to look after a bumbling Hoddle or hang out with a sudo relaxed Mcmanaman, would probably call it ‘tempting fate’.

So ET might have us to blame when seconds before they find themselves behind again, with twenty minutes left on the clock. I had just said how dominant they had been since equalizing, and post goal Tom quite rightly points out WFC’s second was “against the run of play”. Not that the players in red, green and white give a damn, they're too busy celebrating with their cheering fans.

While WFC return from their player/fan bundle, the lady in the stand gives her encouragement “come on Erith”, Mark even more animated than before tells the players they've “gotta wake up”.

From where we’re standing it's not quite clear if the WFC keeper has just made a game changing save at the foot of the post or in fact the ball hit the frame of the goal, but the referee gives a corner, so the plaudits have to go to the man between the sticks, who if the referee was correct, somehow managed to get a hand to the ball destined for the back of the net.

Again the match descends into an almighty scuffle, this time seemingly involving even more players than before. There has been an underlying tension all afternoon, which boils over into quite an unsavoury spat, that as Tom puts it “sours” what has been a greatly improved match since the restart. One WFC fan wants the man in charge to get a grip of things, “come on ref I wanna go home”, when the same fan doesn't feel the correct punishments were dished out to the ET players involved in the initial incident that sparked off the quarrel, he implies some kind of cockle eating, pearly king, apples and pears conspiracy “cockneys all together”.

Not sure if it's the excitement of the punch up or the pressure of a knock out cup game, but the Sunday malaise that had shrouded large sections of the crowd, has now all but disappeared going into the final five minutes, as Oakwood is the loudest it's been all afternoon, as Tom puts it, the “game has woken right up”. 

The home fans and players think they have pulled it off, a deserved reward for their second half efforts. They taste ecstasy for a brief moment only for it to be ripped away by the raising of the linesman's flag, what they think is the equalising goal, is ruled offside. “Sit down shut up, sit down shut up” sing the unsympathetic WFC fans.

In extra time tensions between each team are tested once more, when a WFC player is shoved off the ball and on first impressions seems to hit his head on the fence around the pitch. Thankfully he is ok, but this it not clear until the physio confirms it, but this is delayed because shes currently picking herself up off the floor, after taking an almighty tumble sprinting up the touch, letting out a high pitched yelp before she hits the deck, with the crowd in the stand in near hysterics.

We’re now at that point in the match, where players are asking the referee how long is left to play. Some look appalled at quite how long they have to hold on for, while others find out just how little left they have to grab that vital goal. The ET keeper is once again a flash of pink as he dashes forward for a corner. “Come on Erith”, she screams one last time, “come on Windsor” replies one of the travelling fans.

“Erith it ain't over” shouts a player, moments before the referee blows the final whistle, and unfortunately for the home team, this years FA Vase run is exactly that.

It’s quite the juxtaposition between both teams on the pitch. ET are strewn about, some sitting, some standing as they have a full and honest inquest, Woody is pulling no punches, “you let yourselves down”. The WFC team are in a tight huddle, their manager singing their praises, before they break to celebrate once more with the travelling few. One of whom while taking down one of their “Christmas flags” is singing to himself “Windsors on a cup run, Windsors on a cup run”.

Mark cuts a lonely figure, when we find him to say goodbye sitting in the dark alone outside the tea bar, slumped in a wood patio chair. The ups and downs of a football club owner clearly written across his face. However, he is gracious in defeat inviting us back, and even offering a us pint when we do.

I'm not sure what was the best bit about today? Getting into the car and putting the heaters on full blast, the windows steaming up like a scene from Titanic or Tom's tender concern for Barry Hayles throughout the whole match. He certainly showed some of the reasons as to why hes played at the pinnacle of the pyramid, but also took a bit of a kicking at times, something Tom thought totally unacceptable for a man of his age. Every time he went down, clutching a shin, an ankle or calf, Tom without fail would say, "leave him alone!!".

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE








 

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Sunday, 5 November 2017

Back On The Burgers - Ware FC Vs Bowers & Pitsea FC, Bostik League North, Wodson Park (24/10/17)

“Back on the burgers” are Tom’s first words getting into the car, as he not only confirms he is in better shape than he was on our last outing but inadvertently names this week's blog before even having said hello.

Heading North tonight, our stop start journey along swollen rush hour filled roads takes Tom on a trip down memory lane. Driving through East Finchley and then Muswell Hill, he noticeably lights up. The green trees and smog-less skies, a welcome change to the IPA drenched dystopia he has voluntarily moved to in East London, all in his quest to be ‘cool’.

Once in leafy Hertfordshire in the low crisp light of an early October night, it makes the supposed aforementioned leafy parts of North London, look like they are pretending.

It’s not totally apparent that we have arrived in the correct place, when we pull into another leisure centre expecting to find a football ground. The long skinny blue gate, with WFC for Ware FC (WFC) written in even thinner white metal struts gives us an inkling that we are where we are supposed to be, but other than the gate and the man tending to it in a high viz jacket, there are very few signs of life.

Not long out of the car, looking for the way in, we are soon set upon in the nicest of ways by a short and softly spoken man in a long black WFC jacket. Tapping on the initials on his chest, BS for Bill Spink WFC’s Secretary, he welcomes us to Wodson Park.

Bill doesn't beat around the bush and we are subjected to a whirlwind breakdown of the clubs current fortunes, “lots of first teamers out injured” he explains as the reason for their less than glowing recent run of form, but he’s quick to tell us the “kids” deputising for the “first teamers” did “well” and that two of their recent missing numbers are “back tonight”.

With a little bit of a nod and a wink he suggests we keep an eye out for one of their players in particular, one with a European pedigree, who scored against “Anderlecht” in the “Champions League” he explains. Having yet seemingly not taken a breath, we are both impressed by Bill's machine gun delivery and the fact we might be seeing a player of such stature.

Bill moves on from WFC’s on field dilemmas, peeking up at us from the brim of his New York Red Bull cap, and fills us in a bit about WFC as a club. It’s “ family run” he tells us, between him and his “five daughters” who are spread out throughout the club in different roles, from the treasurer to the tea bar.

WFC’s opponents tonight might just be the club we’ve crossed paths with the most these last three years, Bowers & Pitsea FC (BP). Arriving not long after us, it's hard to miss the large outstretched hand of the clubs goalkeeping coach, Wayne. Ever positive and happy to chat, with arms crossed he tells me he is “confident” they’ll be heading back to Essex with three points, as long as they do all the “basics right” they should get a “result” he adds.

Much like Bill did, talking in almost hushed tones, he points down the the long tunnel at the players milling about on the pitch at the other end, and singles out a player worth paying extra attention to tonight, BP’s keeper, who he tells us he has what it takes to “go far”.

I’m parched, a drink is in order, we’ve not stopped gassing to one person or another since arriving and Tom is clearly back to his best returning from the bar with two pints of Coke and some “Mini Cheddars”, nice to see he's got his appetite back.

The large function room with the bar in, is half bathed in light, half in darkness. The dance floor at the far end, the other side of the half drawn partitions although a bit gloomy, still seems like a more than adequate place for some of the local kids to use as a makeshift playground. The lit side, with its small bar decorated with the club crest that’s seen better days, it’s covered pool and fussball tables and walls adorned with ever so slightly wonky pictures and club memorabilia is fairly empty, except for us and one lady with a pint who looks to be playing Candy Crush on her tablet, however all this is about to change.

Enter stage left a hyper member of the WFC staff in club polo shirt, who is excitable to say the least, even more so than the kids charging around on the parquet dance floor or the one perched behind the bar who has to be kept being told not to pull any pints.

“Lively” he says in response to questions of “how was Madrid?”. A fellow Spurs fan he tells the small crowd gathering around him that he had to “keep pinching” himself, having just watched Tottenham go toe to toe with the European Champions, and leaving the Bernabeu with a well earned point.

Maybe it's a Hertfordshire thing, or a Ware thing, but he also much like Bill doesn't seem to need to take a breath. With an ever growing audience he reels off his thoughts on selling Kyle Walker, informing all that are listening that if Spurs won the league he’d “spend two weeks in Thailand” and goes into quite graphic detail about the intimate act he would be happy to perform if it meant Spurs re-signed Gareth Bale.

The glare of the floodlights coming through the double doors and the faint sound of Natalie Imbruglia is my cue to go in search of a programme, leaving the Spurs debate now in full flow, which has moved onto the pros and cons of selling Luka Modric, where one lady makes her position very clear on the Croatian midfielder, let's just say she’s not a fan.

A small laminated sign pinned to a fence alludes to a 50/50, but when I enquire with the women on the turnstiles, they have a feeling that it might not be happening tonight and I’d have to ask the “lady
behind the bar”. I retrace my steps, on reaching the bar I'm disappointed to hear there will be no 50/50, the notice is a little out of date. Perhaps sensing my abject disappointment, the lady behind the bar has an alternative “can do you a scratch card?” she offers.

As she rummages high up on a shelf, searching for a while, I get the feeling this isn't a regular occurrence. I’m overwhelmed with the excitement of being able to possibly win “£20” according to the slightly dusty card she has finally found, but in equal measure I feel a bit pathetic, this infliction of mine is getting out of hand.

It was only ever going to be Tottenham and Arsenal I picked from the list of teams, the pen I’ve been given only half works, I’m offered a different one, but I’ve come prepared, soon producing my own from the deep pocket of my coat and just about manage to scribble our names in the small boxes. “The joy” says Tom sarcastically, as I hand over my money, transaction complete, fingers tightly crossed, will tonight be the night?

Sitting in one of the blue seats of the main stand, noticing the odd white one, which I put down to a bit of non league recycling there is not much to say about Wodson Park. Surrounded by fading autumn trees, there is a covered terrace on the opposite side and little else. Either side of the main stand, the two dugouts are Stourbridge FC apart, they are closer to the corner flags, than each other. I’m not sure if its normal, or just for the pleasure of the paying public tonight, but the overpowering smell of Deep Heat, emanating from the changing rooms in the bowels of the stand, is so powerful, I get a bit of a head rush.

Coming down from my eucalyptus high, I’m soon aware of many familiar BP faces, particularly Darren, BP’s fixer and all round top bloke, he joins me in the stand, perching on one of the small steps next to me.

“What's the team?” he asks a fellow BP supporter, “same as Saturday?” he asks again before they can reply, they confirm that is the case, and he seems satisfied, “do the job”. By the sounds of it BP putting out the same team two games in a row is just short of a minor miracle at the moment, due to the “injuries, injuries, injuries” that have blighted them the last “month or so”, he tells me. Darren who knows a thing or two about football pitches explains the one at WFC is a real “leveller” and looking at the the state of the undulating centre line, it's anything but level.

Music, much like what Toms eats and my gambling are a pretty common theme throughout our blogs and for once it's nice to be able to share with others who subscribe to my theory on what music a club plays says about it and the choices of the DJ sets. “Better music than our place” says Darren as the Beatles start to play, and it has not been lost on me so far tonight the eclectic but more than acceptable playlist.

“Can't stand we run out to Robbie Williams” says one member of the BP group, visibly appalled by the clubs choice of walk out music. His face contorted with disgust at the mere mention of the “Steps” greatest hits album which reared its head at a recent home match, “fucking tragedy”.

A fare few pie and chips are flying out the tea bar hatch, but non yet in Tom's direction. BP are warming up now in their very agreeable pink bibs and Darren asks a late arrival for their prediction for tonight, “what you reckon Joe?”, “take another scrappy 1 - 0” he replies, I can assure you Joe you're gonna get a lot more than that.

Straight off the ‘Best Music for Dads to drive to' CD, Art for Art's Sake by 10cc starts to play, as the players make their way in and the BP manager Rob Small addresses the many tracksuit clad BP payers, that he doesn't have at his disposal tonight, “a lot of talent in this stand” he says before disappearing down the scrap heap challenge creation of a tunnel.

Seven Nation army by the White Stripes is certainly a step up on “the fat dancer from Take That” to quote Noel Gallagher, as entry music. “Come on Bowers” shouts a fan, just before we are all deafened by the PA welcoming us to “Wodson Park”.

“No excuses” shouts Rob Small with the game only seconds old, “set your tone” he says to the players, standing alone on the edge of the box, having just told the BP kit man leaning against the railing just behind him, half jokingly half not “not to talk to him”. Something I’ve learnt from our time in Rob’s presence, he is never anything but focused on the job at hand.

The first ten minutes certainly do set the scene for what might be the most extraordinary forty five minutes of football either of us have ever seen. BP have an early shout for a penalty declined, then go close with a half volley “should of scored that” says Tom as the chance goes begging. “Come on Bowers” yells a supporters from behind the WFC goal that is living a bit of a charmed life.

It certainly won't be the most memorable of goals tonight, and somewhat against the run of play, it's the home team who take the lead. Assisted by the face of their number 10, who stops a full blooded clearance with his mush from close range without even flinching. Tom christening him a “beast”, he unwittingly sets up a teammate in the box, who at the second attempt, his first having been stopped by the BP keepers boat race, he pokes home, putting WFC in the lead.

In the next four minutes between WFC going ahead, and BP equalising in equally scrappy fashion, the game continues to show signs of being an absolute barnstormer. “This games got goals in it” says Tom, moments before our second of the night, but not before we are treated to a masterful pirouette by the WFC number 10 who beautifully pivots one footed on the ball to evade his marker, the BP keeper going full Nuear, rushing off his goal line to chest the ball down and start an attack from the back. I notice that the odd white seats in the main stand are not random but spell out WFC and the pre match words of Bill seem like an ominous premonition, the likes of which are normally dished out by long haired ladies in the Sheriff of Nottinghams dungeon “we'll score early, then lose the game”.

BP are relentless, a constant threat, Rob Small at some points emulating the great Ossie Ardiles, by adopting the infrequently used tactic of one at the back, and nine in attack, they flood forwards onto a hapless looking WFC defence at every opportunity, with always three or four players in the box, ready to receive the ball. Tom hits the nail on the head, “Bowers play like they wanna go home at half time”.

Not for the first time tonight WFC’s keeper is required to pull off a quite excellent save to prevent BP going further ahead, but there is very little he can do a few minutes later, with twenty two minutes gone. The surging run of BP's number 9 goes unabated by the WFC defence and hes allowed to pick his spot and then curl a low shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the box, and well out of the reach of the man in the WFC goal.

Tom so delighted by BP’s second lets out an audible whimper, like a Victorian lady who just saw a shin. The more robust gents behind the goal let out a much more masculine “come on Bowers” . While the WFC team argue among themselves, BP complete their ascension to the top, and with a poetic coincidence not far in the distance we are treated to some fireworks, filling up the night sky, set off I'm sure to signal and celebrate BP’s turnaround and unrelenting attacks.

Before we go any further I need you to join me, I need you to travel back to 2002 and the World Cup
quarter final in Shizuoka, England Vs Brazil. If I remember correctly I was still in my dressing gown, as I was for most of that tournament due to the time difference, when England crashed out in the year we were going to to do it right, thanks to a free kick from a certain toothy long haired Barcelona player. The debate afterwards was not is the pony tailed gooner goalkeeper who was prone to such gaffs, Nayam, at fault, but did Ronaldinho mean it? Was it a cross miss judged by the man in goal or was it a spectacular set piece from a player at the heights of his powers?

Fast forward now to a cold October night in Hertfordshire, thankfully I’m not in my dressing gown, a similar debate breaks out, did he mean it? I think we’ve just witnessed what might already be our goal of the season, only ten games gone, Tom agrees it was a very fine goal, but is not convinced however that it was his intention.

From all of thirty five to forty yards the BP number 4 has creamed in the most audacious free kick straight into the top corner. Five keepers on form were not getting close to it, you have to ask yourself was one of the nearby fireworks attached to the ball?

I’m not sure who are more shocked the fans behind the goal, each one letting out a “woohoo” arms in
the air, having just witnessed something a bit special or the scorer who is soon mobbed by his teammates on the pitch, and by those in the stand in a big red and white bundle. The final congratulation is from his manager, who runs along the touchline, for a handshake and a hug.

“All fucking dayyyyyy” screams one BP player as WFC attempt a shot directly from the restart, that fails to catch out the keeper. As if this game wasn't loopy enough already, if that had gone in, Tom and I’s brains might have just squirted out our ears like melting cheese.

There seems little chance of this game slowing down, swinging back and forth from end to end WFC almost get back into the game straight away with a stunning volley but it's just off target. I’m not sure how the man in charge is able to keep up, at one point the BP players have to be reminded by Rob Small that “you're arguing, we’re playing” as they remonstrate with the man in charge, with the game still going on around them.

“Bowers relax” instructs Rob Small who, who might just be the politest manager in football, finishing most of his barked orders with a “thank you”. WFC are certainly seeing plenty of possession they're not out of this by any stretch even though they’re two goals behind, Rob has to caution his players that they need to “focus on being better without the ball”.

With ten left to play of the half, BP send a thunderbolt just off target, that crashes off the mental fence behind the goal, causing a couple of the small group watching on to jump. There was a part of me that thought tonight was going to be a little dull, but when BP are involved, that is very rarely the case. Their own manager even wants them to embrace the less glamorous sides of the game, “enjoy defending” he tells his players.

WFC go close in the final five minutes of the half, there is then a brief stoppage when the BP keeper has to hop the fence around the pitch to retrieve the ball so we can play on. In their number 10 the home side have a player who is noticeably a notch or two above his teammates. “Lovely touch” says Tom as he delicately flicks the ball to a teammate, unfortunately for him, the rest of his team just don't seem up to it.

There are the occasional flickers from WFC of what Tom suggests might be the “greatest comeback of all time”, but for once even I have to admit that's a little dramatic, not sure were getting treated to an Istanbul 2005 tonight. It’s more likely going to be a case of BP running “away with it”, which he points out is certainly a possibility too. BP are far from one dimensional, and seem to have many different ways to hurt you. In the dying moments of the half, they force two quite spectacular saves from the WFC keeper. “He did it again” gasps Tom when it seemed a goal was the only outcome.

“Well played Bowers” cheer the fans clapping their team off for a well earned orange slice. I need a rest having just watched the most frantic and all consuming half of football we've ever seen, so slump down on the back row of the terrace to compose myself. Tom is off in search of food, and for some reason “hopes” the tea bar has got “something left” I’m not sure why, it's not exactly busy here tonight.

For Tom the “foods not as exciting as the football” and a little dear in his learned opinion, £5.20 a little steep for burger and chips.

WFC are out well early, “they don't look happy” says Tom who reckons they have been given a “rollicking”. One player does his best to motivate his teammates “liven up Ware” but it's a tad half arsed, when BP make their way out, one players roaring “come on Bowers, come on”, is a little more convincing.

“I’m back” announces Tom, who watched the opening moments of the new half seated on the terrace steps behind me finishing his dinner, watching BP as I did come flying out of the traps. “Great start” he adds as BP continue to pile on the pressure. The away side hit the bar early on, after a vital touch from the WFC keeper who despite conceding three is on track to be their man of the match. “Wake up” screams a WFC player as a BP header flies just wide and their goal again is living on borrowed time.

BP clearly have plenty of goals in them, however WFC are showing a modicum more composure. They almost catch BP cold, when their concentration slips for a moment. “Watch the short one!” shouts the BP player, as WFC line up to take a corner, no-one takes notice of the players foresight, and WFC do just that, play the corner short, and almost grab a goal.

“Starting to rain” grimaces Tom with the palm of his hand turned skywards as a single spot of rain falls from the clear black sky, but who has time to worry about that, BP have just had a goal bound shot blocked and then their bench has “ringside seats” as Tom puts it to a hefty tackle right in front of them, things are getting heated.

Along with the WFC number 10 and the man in goal, their number 4 has also impressed. Playing the “Makelele” role as Tom puts it, at times is “bossing it” single handedly putting out numerous BP fires at once, trying desperately hard to hold it together, but one man can only do so much.

“Jesus Christ we just had a free kick” says the forlorn WFC player, hands over his face, walking away from the scene of BP’s fourth. Only moments before his team were considering their own set piece from a dangerous potion, but now find themselves even further behind.

A minute later WFC’s number 4 is booked, as frustrations start to boil over and another BP player looks to be on the injury list, limping off. The game as Tom puts it is getting a little “cynical” and one BP player looks very lucky to still being on the pitch as he just seemed to straight up kick one of the opposition.

“First of the half?” asks Tom with half an hour of the second forty five gone, following WFC off target attempt.

Tom continues to give every player a top flight equivalent, “hes like Xavi” he labels the WFC number 10 who admittedly has flair and a range of passing but as demonstrated “can't take a free kick”. In a good position, his attempt is poor and it's straight into the keepers arms.

BP continue to be so dominant like “a well oiled machine” says Tom and they continue to “enjoy defending”. WFC do graze the BP crossbar late on, thanks to a quite brilliant cross field pass from “Xavi” that started the attack, and Tom tells me he “told” me, quite how much like the diminutive Spaniard the WFC player was. The away team almost make it five, players are telling each other to “finish” but the arse of the keeper stops it rolling over the line.

As Tom puts it, it's somewhat of an “unsavoury” end to the game, as an almighty “bust up” as he calls it involving most of the players from both sides breaks out, marring what until now has been a cracker of a match. The BP fans tell the players to “get him out of there” one of their players in particular seems a little hot headed and needs extracting from the situation, another supporter reminds them they’re “4-1 up” and there really is no need for all this silliness. One fan asks for calm, and for his team to “see this game out please”.

Despite the referee having had words with those involved, dishing out yellows to the main protagonists the nonsense rumbles on, and again he is forced to intervene. Not long after and perhaps for “something he said” Tom reckons, WFC number 7 is shown a straight red, we truly have seen it all now.

What feels like well, well into injury time, WFC grab a consolation second goal, a towering header,
that is received with muted applause. The tunnel being extended is normally a good sign that the end
of the match is imminent, however its been pulled out a while now, and the game feels like it's never going to end.

Rob Small instructs the players to thank the travelling fans, when the whistle is finally blown on what has been an eventful evening to say the least, but not before both he and Wayne have shaken hands with the WFC keeper, who after the the BP with the wonder foot, has been the stand out performer, with some outstanding stops or "Match of the Day save of the season shit” as Tom so eloquently put it. The few away supporters meet the players at the side of the pitch and there is an exchange of high fives and thank yous.

On our way to the car, I pop into the bar, and its hard to miss the many solemn faces. With hopes of a win on the scratch card, only to be told it was “Middelsborough” under the small silver square, leaving I probably look as jolly as the WFC fans drinking their sorrows away.

"Don't really like blue, but I like their kit" says Tom about WFC's two tone kit, a striped number of navy and sky, when summarising tonight's epic clash on the drive home, his 'Spark's Final Thought' if you like. For once the kit of either team is low down my list of things to get excited about. Although the second half failed to quite live up to the first, you would have to have been close to super human to have been able to keep that up for a whole ninety minutes, over all we were genuinely treated to one of the most thrilling, entertaining, insert adjective here, games we've ever seen, it quite literally had everything.

Wayne was at least half right, it was certainly worth keeping an eye on a goal keeper tonight, but it wasn't BP's. The man between the sticks for WFC was outstanding, a diamond in the rough, I suspect Wayne's prediction that BP's keeper will "go far" could quite also easily apply to the WFC number 1. If it hadn't been for him it could have been a cricket score.

Almost home, I still can't decide what was more worrying: The fact I nearly fell over retrieving a ball, how much I now have a complete irrational hatred of Middlesbrough, because it was they who denied me £20 quid or the Nostradamus ability of Bill, whose prediction of tonight's outcome was so accurate, its almost scary. It's always the quite ones.

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Sunday, 29 October 2017

#StormBrian - Wimborne Town FC Vs Swindon Supermarine FC, Evo-Stik Southern League West, Cuthbury (21/10/17)

The name Brian is not one that instantly strikes fear into the hearts of men, I may be wrong, but I can't think of any great tyrant, villain or bastard who was called Brian. However, put the word ‘storm’ before it, add a ‘#’ into the mix, well you've got yourself a whole other kettle of fish. This is because the name usually reserved for the assistant regional manager of a local DIY chain or the shouty guy from Flash Gordon, now has the power to fell trees, rip off roofs and even kill.

“Here it comes” says Tom, flitting between the app on his phone that's forecasting “25 mile an hour” winds where we're heading today, and weather watch. Unable to make up her mind during most of our two hour drive to Dorset, Mother Nature just spends it on an ever changing wind, rain, blue sky cycle.

Pre leaving to collect Tom, I had also been somewhat glued to my phone, waiting for an update from todays club about an impending pitch inspection, an update that never came before I was due to leave, so decided to risk a wasted morning in the car and head off anyway, but remembered to pack a coat.

When Tom then informs me of an “amber weather warning” I feel like our chances of seeing a game are becoming less and less unlikely.

Normally quite the worry wart, Tom is extra fragile today, due to some “dodgy ham” he had from a less than clean eatery near his work, and without spelling it out like he did, let's just say he’s not been in the best shape the last twenty four hours, and as he keeps reminding me, he's not yet fully recovered.

I wonder if we’re being a bit soft, when we see a road side stall selling giant, fair ground sized teddy bears from a tarpaulin covered pitch next to quite a busy dual carriageway, as a considerable amount of rain falls. If they’re still open, then we don't have much to worry about, do we? However, climbing out of the car at the Cuthbury home of Wimborne Town FC (WT) I’m soon engulfed by my jacket caught in the wind like a large black sail, Tom for the first and certainly not for the last time today almost loses his hat, and I conclude that the teddy bear merchants were crazy and Tom’s app is not far off the mark.

The narrow, autumn leaf covered lane leading to Cuthbury is picturesque, and the stylised outline of a man kicking a football in our second black and white striped kit in as many games, lets us know we are in the right place, despite the instructions of my impertinent Sat Nav to keep on going.

At the end of the long thin car park, stands what looks like a small cottage, with a black and white gabled roof, hanging baskets, well stocked plant pots and a small black door with brass letterbox. Once I’ve slain my coat, the small house from Hobbiton seems like the ideal place to find some shelter from Brian and his almighty gusts.

It’s not long after arrival that our early start and long drive is vindicated. Confirmation from the WT Twitter account that the game is going ahead, the blackboard on the front of the clubhouse mentioning a meat raffle, and the generous handshake and reception from the man in the West Ham cap with a WT badge on it, “welcome to Wimborne”. He also confirms the game is “on” and we can start to enjoy ourselves.

Beyond its Middle Earth facade the clubhouse opens up into a decent sized space, its obligatory non league clubhouse dance floor is currently occupied by two girls playing pool on it, while the Celtic game plays on the TV. Behind the bar with the magpie soft toy, the WT shirts that features the aforementioned tea-leaf bird on its crest, a man makes us each a much needed hot drink.

Our cuppa is given to us in a standard cardboard cup, the sugar is delivered in an old Cornish ice cream tub, however how the milk arrives is on a different level. Each handed our own individual china jug, it's apparent they do things a little differently around here, very fancy. Taking a seat on one of the tables that encircle the dance floor, the kids still playing pool, people watching on like it's the Crucible, Tom is very impressed by what we've seen so far, “nice” he says nodding, between mouthfuls of cheese and onion crisps.

The clubhouse is filling up quickly, and that familiar non league feeling of it being a bit like in Cheers is almost instant. Every new arrival once they've managed to defeat the main door pinned closed by wind gets a “hello”, “alright” or a "hey". One player arrives and is swiftly offered a “pint” but declines, the same player is one who recently turned out for the England C team. A steward asks him if he got to “keep the top?” and before the player can respond, the steward rattles off the name of a well known auction website, “eBay, eBay, eBay, eBay”.

“Windy out there” says an ever so slightly dishevelled arrival, who's been bashed about a bit by Brian, this prompts Tom to ask if I think today will be our “windiest ever game?”.

I find you very rarely go to a non league match without hearing something a little different, but the question “got any rope?” is certainly challenging for top spot, in the ‘odd things heard at football’ table. Only half hearing the conversation that followed, I think it’s for securing a part of one of the grounds stands. Once pitchside the comfort of china milk jugs and crisps are a distant memory, Brian is in full flow, he has no intention of letting up, we might need a bit more than rope.

One corner flag has been fully displaced, lying horizontal on the pitch, a row of nearby trees look positively drunk, leaning at a very dubious angle. Talking to the club secretary Peter, clutching his clipboard, it’s clear he's had a stressful morning to say the least.

“It's been awful” he says, thankfully the pitch passed inspection, the referee having told him he's “never seen it so good”. I ask him if the wind gets taken into account when deciding if the game goes ahead or not, he says it’s now in the hands of the match day officials, but at least it's keeping the “rain
away”. I’m sure with one hundred and one other things to do, Peter adds that he's sure it going to be an “interesting game”.

Battling to be heard over the rain, wind and the already mind numbing noise of a loose rope on one of the nets behind the goal that prevents the ball going into someone's back garden, that's clanging against the metal upright, producing a constant chime, a voice comes over the PA “testing 1, 2, 3”.

Cuthbury is compact, at points walking around the pitch the path and grass merge, but it has all the charm of a well kept non league ground, with the added bonus of a super view of rolling Dorset hills behind one goal. A long terrace with Wimborne Town FC written along its back wall in large white letters, is decorated with an impressive collection of flags of different shapes and sizes. It’s a real mix, some big, some small, some look a bit more homemade than others. The only one that doesn't quite work, and I know it’s black and white, but the Ying Yang flag, is a little tenuous.

Between the dugouts and not something we’ve ever seen before, is a sizeable manual score board, “Wimborne Town 0 v Visitors 0” opposite the changing rooms are neatly contained in a small red brick bungalow, but due to the grounds dimensions, there is no place for a roll out tunnel or extendable one, just two small steps and you're on the pitch.

The recently arrived opponents of WT today, Swindon Supermarine FC (SS) are soon on the pitch. “Can you play football in this, and they said yes” asks one player to himself out loud, as he kicks the ball in the air, and watches Brian take control of it. Another does the same, and watches on as its blown backwards, ending up behind him, “that's windy”. Tom suggests that it “might be a case of trying to keep the ball on the ground” today.

“Testing, testing, testing” say a couple of different voices one after the other as the PA is put through its paces once more, anything to distract me from the clanking noise of the nets behind the goal, which is a constant.

The weather continues to be changeable, wind, rain, sun, wind, rain, sun, but at least Tom’s visit to the loo was memorable, not the loo bit, but more what he saw on his way back, a “pirate” apparently.

Except for his crisps, Tom is hesitant to eat anything else today. Not any kind of reflection on WT, more because of the after effects of the “dodgy ham” so when we see the smart outdoor grill and BBQ in its black and white striped hut, that doesn't look like there is much chance it's going to get fired up today, he is not totally distraught.

“Here we go” says Tom tentatively as we are treated to some music. Always a good test of what a club is made of, the music they play, so far Tom is happy “like it”. The next song causes a momentary, intense and almost violent flashback, when Insomnia by Faithless starts to play. We share a knowing glance and are teleported to hazy smoke filled days in Tom's room in our youth and then the summer of 2002 standing on the hill overlooking the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury.

As if it were a sign, the introduction of a bit of nostalgic 90’s dance music, sees the sun giving its best effort so far to break through the clouds, sending down thick shards of light over the surrounding countryside like something biblical is about to happen and out of the corner of my eye I see a man in chequered chef trousers, making his way into the BBQ hut to fire up the grill.

Not far from the BBQ and the busy chef is the club shop, a brown shed, that's yet to open. After inquiring when it will, it all depends if “the lady shows up”.

I don't think a single player from either side comes out for the warm up, and doesn't give the look of ‘bloody hell’ to at least one other person. A passing elderly SS fan making her way to her seat is worried she's about to get “blown to pieces”. A group of teenage WT fans don't have any such concerns, signed programmes in hand and fuelled by too much Fanta, they're tearing about, already in the mood “Wimborne, Wimborne”.

I thought the china milk jugs were swanky, the brushed aluminium BBQ pretty plush, but they are positively Poundland in comparison to the single most regal voice I’ve ever heard, other than the Queen herself, that comes over the PA. Clearly the voices before were just her lackeys doing her dirty work, royalty don't do such menial tasks. I cannot stress enough to you, I think we are in the presence of a bonafide member of the Royal Family. Sitting behind the mic in a small cupboard, I'm sure with crown and septa in hand, after reading out a bit of housekeeping, she informs us it’s time for “the line ups”. When she’s finished, I’m half expecting some fanfare or a twenty one gun salute.

Plenty of people are moving about in the moments leading up to kick off, filing along the slender pathways that surround the pitch. Two drums wait patiently with no apparent owner, not yet committing to an end until after the coin toss. With a drink in hand I think I spot Tom’s pirate, unless there is more than one person here today with a Tricorn hat, however I don't think he's a pirate at all but a town crier or maybe a British soldier from the American War of Independence in his crimson coat and gold braiding.

Many of the long wooden benches perched on top of stacks of breeze blocks are near to full in the main stand, one seat that isn't is the wicker chair that straddles one front bench reserved for a former player. Peters suggestion that he doesn't think there is “going to be much of a crowd” today, seems unfounded. Storm Brian will not win.

“Come on Marine” shouts one of the SS players, forced to mill about pitch side. With no tunnel, an untidy mass of men forms until the referee who Tom thinks looks like “Santi Cazorla” leads them out. Despite the best efforts of the White Stripes and their much overused Seven Nation Army, the many people who are here are muted to say the least.

I can confirm that kick off certainly happened, but I didn't see it, I’m focused on the distant cry of “50/50”. After many enquires of where to get my tickets, and many assurances that the guy will make himself known, I can finally hand over my £2 to the seller's assistant, who takes my money and puts it into what looks like the bucket for a squeegee mop.

Both drums are soon in action, not far from us in front of the wall of flags that is offering some protection from Brian, however the roof is definitely lifting on occasion, which is a little disconcerting. Hammering out the beat on his drum slung around his neck, in his grey beanie and WT scarf the ring leaders energy is not matched by the dull thud of his instrument, but this doesn't seem to deter him, “Wimborne, Wimborne”.

Between the 50/50 and watching the Wimborne Massive go through their repertoire of songs, “I’m Wimborne till I die”, “super Wimborne Town”, SS have a penalty appeal turned down, then go close with a chance that they put just wide.

“He’s coming for you, he’s coming for you, Toby Holmes, he’s coming for you” sing the fans behind
the goal, who've just watched with only eight minutes gone their number 9 put them ahead, who then takes full advantage of the slick surface and celebrates with a knee slide.

Nudging me Tom points out that the “boards changed already” the both of us having hoped we'd be able to watch it flick from 0 to 1, but whatever house elf they have to do it, did it as quick as a flash. However, we have bigger things to worry about, “that flood lights wobbling” points out a concerned Tom.

The stature of the referee has not been lost on the WT fans either who are now singing “hi, ho, hi, ho” but don't tease the man in charge for long and are soon taking inspiration from Poland via the Etihad, and are trying to get a “Poznan” going, but there aren't many takers. Not discouraged one iota, they just move on to the next song “sunny, sunny Wimborne” trust me it's not, and one person has decided to hoist a black and white flag on a home made flag pole that is almost bent double, before they change tack again and are singing about a magpie taking a “shit” on local rivals Poole Town FC.

On twenty minutes the WT keeper as Tom puts it is “caught out by the wind” he very, very nearly does a Mile Svilar, replicating the unfortunate goal from the recent Champions League tie between Benfica and Manchester United. Almost completely in his goal, he just about manages to keep the ball the right side of the line.

Seemingly everyone gets a go at leading the crowd at WT, this time it’s not the drummer but a small child banging a drum on the floor, that starts the next chant “Wimborne, Wimborne”. On the pitch and SS continue to insist on crossing the ball from out wide, but with Brian around it’s just not working, “what the fuck was that?” asks Tom on the thirty minute mark when an SS free kick almost ends up in the next town, no thanks to blooming you know who.

Thanks to “Trigger” in goal, WT five minutes later are still in the lead, after a truly excellent save, as SS register the first meaningful attempt on goal since their one in the opening minutes of the match. They are in fact offering very little going forward, their dedication to crossing the ball into the box is really stifling them.

“Sunny, sunny Wimborne” sing the fans once more, with the rain and wind at it’s worst, but in keeping with the well established pattern today it’s soon gone, and a big rainbow appears. “At least the sun's out now” says Tom, like it’s some kind of condolence at the end of what has been a relatively poor half of football.

Bringing up the rear, the rest of his group having left him to lug the percussion section alone to the other end of the pitch, we finally get to meet the reason we are here today, Luke or the “twat with the drum” as he calls himself. His enthusiasm and clear dedication is the kind that will never be dampened by a little bit of rain or wind, be it Brian or Beelzebub that prefixes that particular weather front affecting the area, Luke is there, according to one fan in the clubhouse he only missed one game home and away last season.

Tom is going to test his delicate insides, not from the black and white trouser wearing chef, but from the tea room, but not before he's got himself a pin from the club shop. Its hatch now open, the woman inside is dishing out enamel badges from old takeaway containers. As much as I like a bit of football tat, I can’t be tempted by the half black half white ‘football supporters wig’ or the WT thermos cup, that someone tells us are on “special offer” like a host on QVC and are only “£1”.

“Full fat, half fat?” asks the woman behind the gingham covered table, who has just handed Tom a sausage roll, and wants to know what strength Coke he wants. There is no sign of the 50/50 results on the chalkboard above the turnstiles, so we join the second half end switch and now with no shelter from Brian, we instantly feel his full force.

The sun now low on the horizon combined with the constant wind, means it’s genuinely hard to make out what's going on, on the pitch, we're required to stand almost side on, half squinting, so as to not be blinded. Tom's sausage roll goes down well, “flaky” he describes it, so flaky in fact standing downwind of him I’m showered in pastry. There is no apology, just sniggering.

In our new spot, we are treated again to the splendid view behind the opposite stand. We are also subjected to forty five minutes of the clang, clang, clang of the nets behind us.

I don't hear my Coke crash against the floor, or the pint of the person next to me, but we both have the same look on our faces. The spilt liquid swirling around our feet having been bitch slapped to the floor by Brian. Tom’s tea has survived, but he spends the rest of the match with his hand half cupped around it, to prevent it from meeting the same fate as my Coke.

“Why didn't he shoot?” asks Tom ten minutes into the new half, when instead of trying himself the WT attacker squares the ball across the six yard box, and its mopped up by the SS defence. Who are just about doing enough for now, to stop WT going any further ahead.

The wind is playing its part more and more as the minutes tick past, affecting the game and in particular how effective SS are able to be going forward. They still try the long ball, seemingly committed to a tactic that Brian is making completely ineffective. It’s as if they can't see the trees which continue to sway and bend, the corner flags which spend more time on their side then upright or the long grey beard of the town crier, which has been parted down the middle and blown over his shoulders like a hair stole.

I put it down to the adverse conditions, as to the reason why the first quarter of the second half was so dull. Quite out of the blue, there is a brief and sudden flurry of chances, not in keeping with the snooze fest of the previous fifteen. A WT shot is deflected just over, and then their keeper makes a crucial save which gets the biggest cheer of the day since the goal and a song from the fans led by the drum “we've got big Gerrard in our goal”.

SS almost equalise, this time the cross is a low fizzing one, instead of high and lofted, but the player coming in at the back post just can't meet it. WT have started to use the wind to their advantage, a goal kick flies from one box to the other and almost catches out the SS keeper “Jesus” says Tom, who reckons they should start taking more “long shots”, with an assist from Brian, you could probably score from anywhere.

The wind is not only effecting the match, but people's style, “love how the keepers developed a quiff, he didn't start with that” says Tom in his professional capacity as the official Beautiful Game barber, about the SS keeper whose unintentionally channelling a bit of Mark Lamarr.

I’m not sure who's more disappointed following WT’s second goal on 76 minutes. The SS player lying face down in the mud who scored the own goal, or us because no-one has changed the scoreboard that still reads 1 - 0. The ring of the town criers bell cuts through the deafening whoosh of the wind as does the sound of the once again animated main stand.

SS are in disarray since going further behind, WT curl a shot just over the bar, and then a volleyed attempt is just off target, not not long after.

The fans in the main stand and in particular one person with a very high pitched voice, who let's out a piercing “no, no, no, no” when SS have one of their increasingly infrequent attacks, are becoming increasingly lively as the game goes on. The Massive who've not been anything but energetic since kick off, are still loyal to the drum, letting out a long drawn out “Wimborne, Wimborne”. Some have climbed the small white wall behind the goal and are holding on to the stanchions, before a man in a high viz waistcoat turns up, and they scamper down.

The honour of ringing the bell is given to the small boy perched lawfully on the wall next to the pirate/town crier/person who participated in the Siege of Yorktown, to signal WT’s 87th minute third. The increased lead fails again to bring about a change to the scoreboard which is now two goals behind, but has confirmed to the home fans that “we’re gonna win the league”.

WT almost bag a fourth in the “three minutes of added time” her highness has informed us of, expectant faces pushed up against the window of the clubhouse and peering out of the club shop look on as it goes down as another near miss. On the final whistle the Empress of Wimborne thanks the fans for their “support” and says “ladies and gentleman” in such a way I don't think I will ever hear said quite like that ever again. It's was literally dripping with ermine.

“Wimborne Town, Wimborne Town” sing the fans, some players respond with that above the head clapping only footballers do. The manager gets plenty of the plaudits as the team walks off, from the small crowd at the mouth of non league's smallest ‘tunnel’, “well done Matty”. One supporter gets a high five from one of the departing players and is beyond chuffed, “I'll never wash my hand again”.

The sun's finally out for more than just a brief visit, the winds still up, and Peter doesn't look much happier than he did pre-match, despite the three points. With perhaps a more level head than the younger fans, his age and experience giving him a bit more perspective,  he gives us his opinion of the match, “to be quite honest they played better football at times” he says about SS, but adds that WT “took” their “chances”, he is also sure to heap praise on the keeper who as he rightly points out made “two good saves at the right time”.

Having heard nothing about the 50/50 or seen an update on the chalkboard, I ask Peter if it was claimed “I think so” he tells me. “Then you didn't win it” adds Tom brutally, fed up watching me week in week out punish myself.

With a definite spring in his step, walking around the pitch alone towards the wall of flags to take them down for another day, Luke is cheerily and loudly singing to himself, “we’re on our way”.

Much of the crowd that Peter didn't think was going to be in attendance now fill the bar. I briefly
pop into replace my downed Coke for the drive home and with a slight hint of deja vu get an equally generous "goodbye" from the man in the West Ham cap as I did a hello a few hours previously.

Having almost "nearly" lost his hat for the umpteenth time, Tom is eager to get in the car, but not before he points out the "party" happening in the nearby WT changing room. With music blaring some of the players are singing along, some just letting out the occasional "wooo".

Weather aside, watching a woman loose a fight with an umbrella and a man refusing an invitation to climb the gantry without a "safety chain" and kudos the the man who did, who was no spring chicken and a braver man than me, he had more things to worry about loosing his hat, our visit to WT was extremely enjoyable.

Excellent facilities, a wonderful welcome, a good sausage roll and a cheap wig if you want one, not to forget the thermos for only £1, get them while you can, but more importantly, Luke and his Massive and all the fans who defied Brian and his wicked ways.

We leave Dorset with the overwhelming feeling of community and that feeling that only non league football can produce coursing though our veins, and with thoughts of starting a Crowdfunder for a new drum for Luke, who for his efforts, deserves much better.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

Watch our video from the match ↓ HERE

 


 

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