Two Men In Search Of the Beautiful Game head to Dorset for some testing conditions and a decent sausage roll.
Words by Daniel Magner. Photographs by Tom Sparks
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.
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.
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