by Bob Lethaby
Basingstoke became engulfed in FA Cup fever yesterday as a bumper crowd, braving quite hideous conditions, witnessed a hard fought and honest contest where the Dragons were perhaps unlucky not to get the job done at the first time of asking.
As we arrived at the ground, the heavens opened so the club bar was an ideal place of refuge and it was in there where I saw so many faces of people I recognised; apparently isn’t just me fed up with the corporate blaggards who are playing the part of sycophants to an oligarch’s riches at the higher end of English football.
The bar was packed out and steaming with human heat emanating from wet clothes and as we stripped of our sodden jackets and got a drink from the staff (who were working with admirable efficiency) we were found a seat in circle of supporters by a friend of mine, Craig.
This is where we met an elderly chap who looked and talked like Grandad from Only Fools and Horses and had supported Basingstoke as a man and boy, surviving all sorts of health scares along the way. An engaging and brutally abrupt character, his resilience reminded me of someone who smokers and heavy drinkers use an example as to why they needn’t kick the habit.
Watch video of Basingstoke legend John Turner here
Inspired by my positive comments regarding last weeks visit, our friends Pete, Andrew, Mark and Steve joined us and as we walked through the turnstiles the rain became heavier still. It really was hideous and had it started coming down a bit earlier in the day, the game would surely have been cancelled.
For some inexplicable reason, despite there being three sections of the ground protected by corrugated iron, we chose to stand on the uncovered terraces behind the goal. It was as if though if we were telling ourselves that to enjoy the full FA cup ambience we had to show how stoical we could be in the face of adversity.
On the pitch it seemed to be Basingstoke who were dealing with the conditions better but perhaps that was a biased view. Whatever the case, it was Telford who took the lead with a goal that seemed, through the rain, to be a slightly chaotic deflected free kick. It was certainly no Ronnie Radford v Newcastle, one of the great FA Cup moments.
It was rather apt that on Remembrance weekend that the pitch was now beginning to look like La Somme but I thought that Basingstoke showed great belief in themselves by trying to keep the ball on the ground when going aerial and hoping for the best would have been understandable.
Half-chances came and went but half-time arrived with the Dragons still behind and the conditions worsening by the minute, with pulses of rain cascading down the terraces. After a short debate we decided that we were all now wet enough to prove we were hardy non-leagues types so we walked to the covered terrace behind the opposite goal, leaving one solitary chap stoically eating his sodden chips from the pool of water that had gathered in his polystyrene container.
It was a long walk too, as every step seemed to open up another channel from my jacket to the back of my jeans. By the time I got there I looked like someone who was doing a combined impression of John Wayne after 200 miles on horseback and a two year old desperately trying to walk whilst avoiding the impending misery of nappy rash.
Basingstoke started the half in the ascendency and after a couple of near misses a 50th minute equaliser came, rather ironically, from the head of Flood, who had looked a menace throughout.
It looked like Basingstoke would go on and win from there but Telford showed great tenacity by staying in the game and even dominated for a short period after the goal. It was great credit to them that despite propping up the Conference League, the were prepared to battle when they could have easily caved in.
Despite a late Basingstoke surge, with chances skidding across the goal, it wasn’t to be and both sides settled for a return to Telford in just over a week. We returned to the bar for a couple pints and went off for a curry in a bid to thaw us out.
The so called BIG clubs tend to dismiss the FA Cup these days but you could see sliding about in the quagmire, that for players at this level, the romance of the cup is as strong as it ever was.
The same can be said for the fans who love grass roots football and refuse to get dragged into the media and corporate bandwagon. Coming to BTFC makes you feel that Premier League football is now, in effect, a different sport altogether.
Up the Dragons!
This article was originally published in Bob’s excellent blog that can be found here