Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game continue their non-league odyssey, this time taking in Leatherhead v Hitchin Town in a FA Cup 4th qualifying round replay.
Words by Daniel Magner. Photographs by Tom Sparks
It’s amazing what a bit of traffic can do to your mental health. I say a bit, its pretty constant as we make the not very far journey from North London to Surrey. One woman creeps along next to us filing her nails, the other side of us and thankfully not driving a woman has fallen asleep in a less than flattering pose and Tom amuses himself by gawking at her very public misfortune.
“Not for sharing” snaps Tom, as I attempt to help myself to a couple of his M & M’s from their yellow bag. A mainstay of any of our trips, I was excited when I saw the garish packet at the top of his rucksack, but Tom is clearly not in a generous mood.
Prenups and probate occupy us for a big chunk of the drive, and you’ll be glad to hear there is no more FIFA chat, instead we discuss the imminent release of Red Dead Redemption Two and the fact I was so engrossed in the new Call Of Duty, I probably could have pulled a sickie and stayed at home tonight, had it not been for the magnitude of tonight’s match.
Things take a very funny turn when Tom somewhat out of nowhere, starts contemplating the state that Toy R Us mascot Geoffrey currently finds himself in. What does a once world wide icon of the late 80’s/90’s, now unemployed giraffe do with himself now the company he so dutifully served, is defunct. “I used to be on top of the world” says Tom, trying to imagine what poor old Geoffrey is going through.
When Tom suggests we should consider “branching out” in to “horse racing” one of the main reasons being that I would look good in a “flat cap” I feel we have hit rock bottom, the sight then of a purple building, makes me ponder has Tom spiked the sweets.
I was not expecting such a grandiose entrance at the end of the dark tree lined drive, when we turned left having just about spotted in time the gloomy sign into Fetcham Grove. Like the gateway to some ageing fairground and the Meccano floodlights rising up out of the night behind it, it was quite a sight. We’re directed through the adjacent imposing green iron gate and into the already swollen car park to find a spot.
Our welcome to the “least exciting ground going” according to the Leatherhead FC (LFC) media man Alex is a pretty instant one, he informs us that the coach of Hitchin Town FC (HT), LFC’s opponents, isn’t here yet, due probably to the same traffic we were caught up in.
A couple of their fans are here though, a young girl is complemented by a steward on her choice of headgear, “like your bobble hat” says the man in hi viz, who is particularly impressed by the size of the bobble, balanced on top, “that’s a big one”.
Not only has the young lady got a very fetching hat, but also a wooden rattle and to complete the scene and as if she was plucked from the centre pages of a ‘things that are great about the early round of the FA Cup book’, she has not one, but two very well crafted tin foil FA Cups complete with yellow and green ribbons, HT’s colours.
Before heading to the clubhouse, it is hard to not stop and stare in awe at the car that looks straight off the Fast And The Furious lot, gold with a black panther down the side and claw marks on the bonnet, it’s staggering.
The clubhouse is already well patronised, as ever we have arrived well before kick off, but for once we are not the only ones. A man stands in the doorway wearing a LFC Green Army hoody, and the noise of Sky Sports and the general bar chatter, has to compete with the sound of Axl Rose blasting from the nearby home dressing room.
With the recent arrival of the HT fans, the woolly hat and scarf quota in the bar has nearly quadrupled. The small outside area in front is already cramped, shoulder to shoulder people get their early evening drink on, with a view of the pitch, via a chain link fence.
It’s clearly all about the classic rock for the LFC players, it’s now Freddie Mercury’s turn to belt out a hit. Around the ground the music is a bit more eclectic. What sounds like a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute, is followed by Peter Andre’s Mysterious Girl. Mr Insania and then Gala’s Freed From Desire book end a bit of old school reggae.
With roughly just under an hour to kick off, a few people have already picked their spot in the green corrugated roofed main stand or have staked a claim to a spot around the edge of the pitch, while the newly arrived HT players in their dark blue tracksuits, finish their walk of the pitch.
“Shop looked a bit bare” reports Tom, having gone on a reckie for his customary pin. “Old shirt on the wall and not a lot else to it” he adds, having peered through the the locked double doors of the shop which looks remarkably like a garden conservatory.
A group of boys passing us, each clutching a yellow Styrofoam food container pricks Toms ears, “big burgers” he says, perving over their dinner, in a way that is always a bit too thigh rubby.
The slightly curious choice of music, Rocking All Over The World now fills Fetcham Grove, then Chas & Dave, all while the players warm up, is courtesy of the local radio station, Surrey Hills Radio, explains the enthusiastic voice over the PA, who by the sounds of it have not invested in a Now That’s What I Call Music! since about the early 90’s. His announcement that no booze is to be taken pitch side, because of the FA’s rules, is delivered with all the panache of a real pro, “greatly appreciated” he signs off as the opening bars of Rabbit are expertly faded in.
Tom’s appraisal of the shop was pretty bang on, the doors have been opened and once inside, the only other person in their isn’t even the one in charge, so we leave him to rifling through a box of old programs. There is not much on offer other than a window sill of mugs. When the custodian appears he informs Tom that there is no pin to be had, but perhaps seeing the sadness in his eyes, presents him with a badge, “printed by a local punk band”, called The Head.
It’s not my favourite song in the world, but Sweet Caroline has the innate ability of making anyone who hears it sing along, and I am unable to resist Neil Diamond’s powers. “Fifteen minutes to kick off” informs the man on the PA in this best local radio voice. The countdown to the start of the game highlights a bit of a conundrum Tom has found himself in, eat now to “beat the halftime rush” but risk missing the start of the game because the queue is “massive”.
I’m now almost certain the man from “Surrey Hills Radio” must also do weddings, school discos and bar mitzvah, simply based on his choice of songs. A bit of Frankie Valli to get Mum and Dad up on the dance floor, but not wanting Uncle Stu to feel left out, who is showing a few battles scars from his raving days, he then plays the Happy Mondays.
The skinny Subbuteo floodlights do a grand job illuminating the ground under a jet black sky. The full moon is just about visible through the branches of the nearby trees, and unless everyone is in the bar, it certainly is a bit chilly, the surge of people I saw making their way pitchside not long ago, are nowhere to be seen. One passing fan has an explanation for where they might be, “there all in the queue for the chips” he explains to his friend, his voice sounding a little aggrieved after what I imagine was a long wait, “need more people on the chips” he emphasises.
Perhaps there was some method to the madness and the playlist being played over the last hour was compiled in such a way to gently, build the atmosphere. It feels charged, there are spots around the bar and in the stand that are thick with people, there is almost the feel of a outdoor gig about the place. The music feels like its been getting steadily louder, ready to peak just at the right time.
The last few home substitutes shuffle back towards the changing rooms, the first elevens long gone, and they look cold, but are happy to high five the kids waiting for them at the mouth of the tunnel. If Step On was not the pinnacle of the playlist tonight, then the next two numbers are the crowning glory. The first is what sounds like a prog remix of a Fanfare For the Common man, which took my breath away.
Having already secured my program from the dingy cabin manned by a small child on the way in, it had slipped my mind completely the notion of a flutter. “Johns doing the raffle, he’s rattling his tin” says the voice, “ a chance to win some cash tonight”, but where is John, I can’t see him anywhere.
If you have ever watched any kind of TV programme about a zoo you will hopefully know what I mean when I say that the tunnel, the tunnel which effectively cuts one part of the ground off from another, forcing you to take a detour down some poorly lit alleyways, is a bit like something animals are moved around their enclosure in. Narrow and caged, it’s about one medium sized four legged mammal wide.
The second of the DJ’s night defining song picks, and the music that accompanies the players arrival and the instruction to “welcome the teams”, is the 1998 Puff Daddy, featuring Jimmy Page version of the Led Zeppelin classic, Cashmere, from the film Godzilla of the same year, someone has clearly pinched a CD from the home dressing room.
It is only thanks to the help of some LFC fans, John didn’t hear my patients attempts to get his attention over Jimmy Page wailing away, that I’m able to bag my raffle tickets with only seconds to spare.
Cashmere is off just in time, for the slightly late kick off, and the strangest of musical collaborations is soon replaced with almost as loud singing from the packed covered terrace at the opposite end of the ground. A single green LFC flag has been draped over the hoardings, and maybe because of the unorthodox way of getting here, the HT fans who have travelled in good numbers, are absent.
Watching the game and high spirited LFC fans, the man passing behind me whose gruff almost pirate voice shout of “come on you yellows” makes me jump. He also turns out to be the front runner for the HT fans who start to trickle in, filling the end they are attacking, a single file line of tinfoil cup carrying, wooden rattle turning fans, they are quick to start their own chants.
The HT supporters come a distinct second in the battle of the colour songs, to be fair they are outnumbered, but their cries of “yellows, yellows” pale into insignificance up against the rumbling “green army, green army” coming from the LFC fans.
Not long in to the game and there are two factors affecting Toms current mood, the fact there are now two rattles. A sound I love, they evoke memories of a time gone by when everything was better, whereas Tom plainly states “that’s going to be annoying” and secondly the lack of food, “I’m hungry” he says weedliy, falling just short of stamping his feet.
Such is the noisy start, its turning into one of those occasions where we end up watching and listening to the crowd more than watching the match. It has not passed me by though that the LFC keeper is all in pink or that they play in a kit made by Kappa, Toms all time favourite kit manufacturer that get his nostalgia receptors buzzing. The HT keeper is also in a very fetching shade of purple, which is nice but not as good as pink of course, and I’m trying to work out why the kids nearby are singing about West Ham’s Declan Rice.
For a second he was about the happiest I think I’ve ever seen him when he thinks there is “no queue now”, but just how quickly the bottom dropped out of Tom’s world happened so fast, that it’s not measurable by modern technology, when he realises, “there is still a queue”.
“Green army, green army” repeat the home fans, banging the hoarding, whipping themselves up into a near state of frenzy. The visiting supporters reply, but just can’t match them, “come on Hitchin, come on the yellows”. Their attempt at a response, breaks the “green army” loop and prompts a new song, “can you hear the Hitchin sing?”.
I think roughly about fifteen minutes have passed, and I can’t recall either team having a shot on goal, saying that though there is a chance I would have missed it anyway, everything of interest is happening off the pitch. Tom continues his queue watch, “still a queue” he updates me, his demeanour getting more and more sulky as he starts to waste away.
It is not only the noise levels which is the difference between the fans, but also their temperaments. The home fans are rowdy and boisterous, the visitors a little bit more gentile. Nothing wrong with either way, but the attempt at haranguing the LFC keeper into speeding up his goal kick, is not really going to strike the fear of god into any one, “come on pinky”.
Finally a shot and a collective “ahhhhh” from the home fans, as the HT keeper is forced into a save with his feet. A corner follows and there is a hush of anticipation, that is pierced by the high pitched squeal of one HT supporter, “come on Hitchin”.
The attention of the HT fans soon shifts from “pinky” towards the linesman, whose lack of conviction in which way to award a throw in, I don’t think he honestly knew which way to give it, riles them up. Getting it from the LFC fans behind him too, he just stands there, quivering his flag, waiting for the referee to make his mind up for him.
Twenty minutes gone the on field action has thankfully increased, and it’s all going LFC’s way. As Tom puts it HT “like the long ball” but its not working for them. “Keep it up there” shouts a HT fan towards her team, who have been forced right back into their half, unable to break out. A towering back post header from a corner looks like it might break the deadlock, but it skims off the top of the leaping players head and into touch.
A break in play because of an HT injury, allows for Tom to check the food queue, its still huge and sees the home fans quiet for the first time, in fact they don’t quite reach the noise levels of pre injury for a while. There are plenty of angry shouts from them towards the referee about the length of time its taking HT to do everything and there is the occasional “oh leather, leather” and a quick rendition of “Nikki Bull’s green and white army”, but it’s not until the twenty ninth minute that we reach and then exceed the decibels of before.
Up until now, the game had been a little poor, the choice of song to accompany the celebrations of LFC goal is not a lot better, The Fratellis Chelsea Dagger, but that is soon drowned out by chants of “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry” from the home fans towards the hulking number 6 whose just poked home following a corner.
Having heaped enough praise on “Jerry”, the home fans turn their focus on the away ones, “can you hear the Hitchin sing?” they ask. There are a few family friendly replies, PG at worst, a few turns of a rattle and shaking of a tinfoil cup, a few lines of “yellows, yellows” however the goal has clearly knocked their confidence a bit.
Surprisingly the LFC goal has had the opposite effect than one might expect on the players, if anything it has invigorated them and they go on to have their longest period of sustained pressure immediately after.
The “angry Scottish man” as Tom calls him, whispering, making sure he doesn’t hear him is not best pleased with this. “We are Leatherhead” a fellow LFC fans slurs, “too many Stellas” Tom surmises. The drunk man then turns and attempts to hold court, a court made up of far more sober people then him, who are now the quietest they have been all night. Next to me the rattle is going and the lady in a yellow hat and pink hair instructs her team, very politely, to “bring” the ball “up here”.
Clearly being a team that responds to her cordial style of man management, they do just that, one player teeing up another, whose shot is just wide.
“Anyone interested in the raffle” strains John over the most recent shouts of “yellows, yellows”, as he does the rounds. “There you go” he half shouts to someone who has taken him up on this offer, handing them their tickets, joking as they turn back towards the game, “while you’re watching this, I’ve gotta go and rip them all up”.
Three HT corners in a row, don’t bring any goals, but for the first time the HT fans are louder than the LFC ones. To rectify this the LFC fans start a chorus of “mighty, mighty, Leatherhead” that goes on for an eternity.
“Maybe I’ll go and get my food in a minute” says Tom, his eyes for the past thirty five minutes having been firmly locked on the ebb and flow of the seemingly never waning queue.
The HT fans sigh at the sight of every poor ball forward, I think it’s the lack of food talking, but Tom is far from impressed and in my opinion a little harsh, “they are fucking awful”, I think it’s called being ‘hangry’. An HT knockdown in the box looks promising, but the HT player can’t get the ball out of his feet, the HT’s purple patch is over, they are surviving on scraps at best.
Tom checks his watch again, I can see the cogs in this head still trying to work out the optimum time to go.
“That hurt my feelings, that’s not very nice” smirks the LFC keeper, in response to the latest of the HT fans hard hitting jibes, maybe they called him “pinkÿ” again? Old “pinky” though has more to worry about, when he is very nearly caught out by a cross come shot that rattles off the upright, sending him clattering into it, in his attempt to get near it.
They go close again, this time with a snap shot, however my eye has been caught by the glimpse of a massive tinfoil cap among the LFC fans, the size of which is something else, by my reckoning it’s about length and breadth of a toddler, but my looks at it is oh too fleeting.
“We’re on top here” bellows one LFC player, I guess you could say they are, but nowhere near as much as they were. The child with the rattle quietly sings to herself the opening line of, “oh when the yellows go marching in” and then falls silent as she watches her team play the most suicidal of passes across the defence, that is latched onto by an quick witted LFC player, who fails to make the most of the gilt edged chance.
“How you doing” asks one passing HT fan to another, “alright” he replies “well you know what I mean” he adds, the caveat being that in the distance, HT had a penalty awarded against them, on the stroke of halftime. “I’ll pay you a fiver” offers up one fan, a token gesture towards their keeper, if he keeps it out.
Pay Pal, travellers cheque, postal order, bank transfer, I’m sure the HT keeper accepts them all. “I owe him a fiver” says the same fan, probably the happiest sounding anyone has ever been about voluntarily giving money away.
Tom is long gone by now, I assume he watched the failed spot kick from the queue for his food. “Would have been a bit of a disaster if that had gone in” says one HT fan as they join the migration to the other end, which is done by both sets of fans at rapid speed.
HT’s flags, which I couldn’t see in the first half, have gone up, four large St Georges crosses, each with a different slogan on, Barmy Army, Yellows, Canaries. John now stands on the edge of the pitch with a board displaying the raffle results, but I can’t make them out. I have to wait for the voice to read them out over the PA. No “first”, “second” or “consolation” prize for me and I have to deal with the ignominy of the loss alone, Coldplay as the backing track, doesn’t help.
The half time drinks have been clearly flowing, “Wembley, Wembley” sings one fan, struggling to form the words. The teams are making their way back out, Blurs Park Life has replaced the insipid Coldplay, and the LFC players are cheered on by people pushed up against the fencing, either side of
“Nearly done” is the message from Tom, still in the queue, he’s been gone well over twenty minutes now and the game has restarted. Now surrounded by LFC fans, the girl next to me whose had her hair sprayed a kind of mossy green colour, is ignoring her dads instructions to put her coat on.
Chatter about the missed penalty occupies most people minds, and that the taker was so insistent he was the one who took it, “he really wanted that”, he was almost bound to miss. I can still hear the rattle, I may well hear it until the day I die, even though it’s now right down the other end. It gets a few turns and a complements the latest shouts of “yellows, yellows” after the visitors get the first attempt on target of the new half.
Despite the setback of the missed penalty late in the first half, LFC are quickly back in their stride and so are their fans, “leather, leather, Leatherhead”. Their treatment of the HT keeper is also far more robust, then the HT fans were to theirs. “You’re shit ahhhhhhh” follows the taking of every goal kick.
He has returned, “you should see the queue now” he says, nonchalantly nibbling on a chip, oblivious it would seem to the fact that he’s been gone nearly half and hour, “its into the car park” he tells me. There is no sorry, no apologies, just that where he got his burger and chips from, also did “noodles”.
We’ve gotta get that second goal” is a sentiment probably all football fans can relate to. It’s not the case that LFC are hanging on, by any means, but as all fans know, that little buffer helps the nerves, relieves the tensions, allows for a little wiggle room, if any unforeseen fuck ups occur.
They almost get it in the most spectacular of style, unfortunately for them the save, is equal or perhaps even better, “save of the season” gasps Tom. The HT keeper looked like he had no right to get a hand on the pin point curling shot heading right for the top corner, but somehow he made it, tipping it over. “Come on hitchin” shouts one of the rattle rattlers.
Again HT seem to be inspired by adversity. Much like with going behind, the sight of the wonder save has sparked them to life. “Yellows, Yellows, Yellows” sing the fans when a low goal bound shot is saved, and they’re back at it again soon after when a deflected shot is just forced wide by “pinky”.
In some parts of the world, a hearty belch is a sign that you have enjoyed your meal, standing next to Tom in Surrey, it means he has eaten too quickly. “Meaty bun, lots of dough” he tells me.
Compared to the first, the second half has been much more even. “That thud” squirms Tom when a LFC shot curls into the crowd, and makes contact with a person. HT then go close, but the header is straight at the keeper, is gets a nervous “come on your Tanners” from a nearby fan and then the name “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy” rings out again, the defender hasn’t scored his second, but has made a vital tackle, halting a HT attack.
Between breaths of “we are the Head, we are the Head” there is a slightly drunk, and premature if you ask me, chat taking place behind us, about post victory celebrations. Tom thinks LFC are “happy with one” goal, their fans, like I said it might be the halftime refreshments talking, are discussing putting on the video of the victory over Billericay from last seasons FA Cup run on the in bar.
As loud as some of the home fans are, the one directly next to me is quite reserved in comparison. Restricting himself to under his breath comments about his teams performance. When HT are awarded a free kick after a “clumsy professional foul” as Tom puts it, he doesn’t snigger like Tom did, but he is not best pleased.
“Can you hear the Hitchin sing?” ask the LFC supporters once again, I tell you what I can hear is that
bleeding rattle. “Jerry” or “big Jerry” as one person has dubbed him officially reaches cult hero status after once more being the difference between the two teams, hooking the ball near enough off the goal line, stopping an inevitable goal.
Despite their jibes at the HT fans for being quiet, the LFC ones are struggling to match the high bar they set earlier, it may have something to do with HT’s increasing dominance. “Get this ball away” shouts a concerned LFC supporter. A HT substitute allows them a moment’s respite, but the pace of the departing player rankles one, “today grandad”.
The inebriated fan from the first half, is back on his feet, singing alone, “how many more has be had?” wonders Tom. He is though soon firmly back sitting down, because the shimmering flash of tin foil FA Cups and the ever present rattles are going hell for leather, means HT have drawn level.
A short corner and a well placed header leaves “pinky” stranded. The scorer leaps, punches the air before he is overcome by his teammates affections.
“Shut up” shouts one LFC fan towards the noisy visitors, banging the hoarding in protest. Their next song is a defiant rendition of “we are the Head” then “come on you Tanners”, however the shout of one HT fan from the sidelines, seems the most poignant, “go get the winner boys”.
It would be rude of the HT fans not to have their own little jab at the now demoralized home fans, “you’re not singing anymore”, the tide has really turned on and off the pitch, “everywhere we go, making all the noise”. The home fans attempt a reply, “oh leather, leather” but its lacking any of that energy of the first half.
My hands are getting so cold, I’m half tempted to ask the green haired girl to borrow her coat, so I can use it as a makeshift muff. Tom has his hands up and in the sleeves of his jumper, holding the ends closed, making his arms look like strange salami.
With extra time looming Tom considers if “they will swap ends”, by “they” he means the fans, but I think he means the players, causing a hilarious exchange to ensue. “I’m not sure” he says answering his own question, “it’s the rules” I point out pompously, “no the fans” he clarifies. Told you it was funny.
HT really look a different side since equalising, “they’re winning every second ball” moans one LFC fan, another has been driven to start talking about cricket. LFC are starting to ride their luck a bit, it’s only down to a miss of Ronny Rosenthal proportions, a point blank header that is put wide, that they are not behind. “Wembley, Wembley” sings or should I say, garbles, one LFC fan, but the way things are going, Wembley looks a long way off.
Seemingly wanting to undo all his good work after saving the penalty, HT’s keeper has a sequence of wobbles, and is bombarded with chants of “dodgy keeper”. One a missed punch, leaves his goal gaping, but the shot is wild and over and another error, is only unpunished because the LFC forwards can’t get a shot on target.
The HT’s fans flags are coming down, the clearest sign that they will be swapping ends.
It certainly looks like HT are the most likely to score next, their fans are now certainly the loudest, despite the best efforts of some of the LFC supporters. If there is a way back into the game for LFC, it will be down to their number 11, who is as Tom puts it a “step above”. His languid style, but he’s not slow by any means, makes him almost look a bit aloof, like its all far too easy.
“Green army” is now on repeat, hypnotised by their own chant, the home fans sound like they are never going to stop. For some added percussion, they pound the fence behind the stand, however a visit from a steward brings a stop to that, it did look like it was going down.
HT’s keeper is making quite the name for himself tonight, again all eyes are on him, but this time not for a save, but an attempt at a two handed, what I think they call in mixed martial arts circles a superman punch, his with the added finesse, of being about three foot in the air, however he misses the ball completely and instead wipes out his own player.
A sickening yelp and a few rolls later, he’s down injured, clutching his shoulder and his team mates are yelling at the “iffy lino” as Tom has dubbed him, the flag quivering assistant surely saw the shove, that resulted in their downed compatriot.
The break allows LFC’s number 11, “Alfie” to chat with the home fans, who offer up some words of encouragement, “get that goal, you’re the best player on the pitch”.
A bit of rutting ensues, “Alfie” wants nothing to do with it, staying well out the way, while the HT players point fingers at who they think fouled the keeper, this tattle tailing doesn’t go down well, and the LFC player, “Jerry” specifically is getting a few mixed messages. “Walk away” says one fan sternly, “go on Jerry”, urging him to get stuck in, says another.
HT’s keeper in eventually back up, and there is some half hearted applause that he is ok. The home
fans are soon back singing, they are led by a brave man only in a t shirt, his arms above his head, a pint in one hand, “we are the Head, we are the Head”.
It’s the visitors who have the final chance of the half, the air thick with what looks like the aftermath of a pyro show, but its just Tom’s vape smoke, a solo run from his own area, all the way to the LFC one, but his shot is over.
Groans fill the air along with the copious amount of juicy peach or mega melon smoke, that doesn’t look like shifting any time soon. It’s quite the opposite among the away fans, “yellows, yellows, yellows” they sing. Where as most people see the draw meaning another thirty minutes standing around in the cold, one person is very happy, he’s getting more bang for his buck, “£10 well spent”.
The consensus of the home fans is that HT are “up for it” but their team “don’t have any ideas”.
Among the fans of each side, as the players take a moment to gather themselves, there are many cases of people who don’t know to whether to stick or twist, swap ends or don’t swap ends. The home fans are now signing their managers name, and Tom has come to the conclusion that he’s “got to get some fingerless gloves”.
In a last minute change of heart, it looked like they were staying, the LFC flag is down off the fence and it’s a quick march to the other end. Although I’m sure not everyone has moved, there is a definite mix of home and away, the rattle is back, and the shouts of “yellows, yellows” are the loudest again. Some people caught in two minds, end up in no mans land, behind the dugouts.
Those with a spot more decisive and are are on the move, sing whilst they do.
“I love how no one is allowed to drink, but everywhere I look people are drinking” says Tom smirking, the FA’s rules being flouted somewhat as the drink continues to flow. LFC seem to have caught a second wind, HT sting the keepers hands with a free kick, however its LFC and their number 11, looking that little bit more composed. “They’ll struggle to keep him” comments Tom, after he shows off what he’s capable of, drawing a satisfying “ohhhhh”, from the crowd
The home fans feed on their teams newly found morale, they’ve found a bit of that early vigour. Their reply to the energetic HT supporters, is a round of “green army, green army”. All this though is about to fade away.
One HT player dives into the crowd, one runs around with his arms out by his side delirious, they all eventually end up in a heap on the floor, the scorer of HT’s second somewhere at the bottom.
“You’re not singing anymore” sing the HT fans, but to who I’m not sure, with everyone all mixed up, they could be talking about the person next to them. The LFC fans respond as they always do, “where we come from, mighty, mighty Leatherhead” despite the turnaround in their team’s fortunes, as of yet they have not been silenced completely.
To change ends or not change ends, that is the question. There is another migration of sorts, but I’m cold, I’ve lost all concept of time and who is who. One person who is back is the girl with the pink mohawk wig, while other fans are trying to surreptitiously drink, but I’ve no idea why, it’s not like anyone else is.
My hands are officially frozen, the HT fans keep theirs alive by clapping along to another chant. The LFC fans sing one that Tom’s thinks has the line “itchy balls”” in it, I think he’s lost it, but whatever they are saying, it gets louder and louder as they make their final move of the night.
Drinkers do their best to down their pints or hide them, because a steward is on the prowl, forced to enforce the most ridiculous of FA rules. Both sets of fans again sing about what colour they are, and the sight of a HT freekick means for one person that “if this is in I’m going”.
“Keep it going mate” says the linesman to the HT keeper, the dark arts are creeping in and he is 100% eeking out every second he can. “Can you hear the Hitchin sing?” ask the LFC fans for the last time, who are maybe suffering from a case of beer deafness, because they are booming, “yellows, yellows, yellows”.
Tom joins the locals berating of the referees assistant, “wake up lino” he shouts when he fails to give a clear foul on LFC’s number 11, who despite having his shirt half pulled off, still makes it into the box, and is able to cut it back to a teammate, but the eventual shot is over. With the ball still sailing through the air and out of play, the whole places explodes in indignation.
LFC are throwing the kitchen sink at HT, but nothing will stick. “Switch on boys” shouts one player, number 11 is still looking sharp. The craft two quickfire chances, both headers, both on target, but no goal.
Demands of “off, off, off” from the HT fans follow a snapping LFC tackle, but the player only receives a yellow. The home fans have finally been subdued, the HT rattle all conquering. A group of three LFC fans toast the impending loss, with a spliff. Maybe a bit out of practise or its some pretty potent stuff, all three are coughing their lungs up.
The LH flag has come down and been put away, some people are caught between staying and going. Another flare up between the teams, holds people here a little longer, but its HT’s keepers time wasting that is really starting to wind some people up and they’ve seen enough.
Don’t you tell me the FA Cup isn’t special, the next time you hear some journalist come up with a way to ‘revamp’ it for the modern era, tell them where to stick it. Don’t tell me that the scenes at the end of tonight’s game, players embracing fans, players lifting players in celebration, supporters and players sharing songs and the scenes we’ve seen over the last almost four years in this remarkable competition, don’t mean the world to all those involved. Don’t tell me that the sight of a twinkling tin foil FA Cup, catching the rays of the floodlights, held aloft by a young boy or girl, is not enough to get the tears of any football romantic flowing.
It’s only a shame that this is the first game in the FA Cup we’ve got to this season, because the first round for me is not the ‘beginning’ of the competition as many imply, but the end of the best bit.
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