Diverted by Storm Katie Two Men in Search Of The Beautiful Game take in a Hampton & Richmond Borough game where they encounter a familiar face and even more familiar voice.

Words by Daniel Magner. Photographs by Tom Sparks.

Well thanks a lot Storm Katie, you have truly gone and chucked a weather shaped spanner in the works, and no doubt we are not the only ones. Twitter is awash with cancelled games and pictures of waterlogged pitches, in some places it’s the high winds causing all the grief.

The match we were supposed to be going to was Clapton FC’s Gordon Brasted Memorial Trophy Final, but guess who has put a stop to that. Having put aside bank holiday Monday as the day for football over the long Easter weekend, we were however determined not to miss out, but options were thin on the ground, all because of the buslhey weather mistress chucking her weight about.

Dulwich Hamlet FC or Hampton & Richmond Borough FC (HRB) were our options, and having already been to Champion Hill this season to see Fisher FC we decided, after much deliberation, for a trip to see the Ryman Premier League table toppers.

My biggest decision of the day though is yet to come, the next five minutes could end up impacting heavily on my day, so it’s one I dare not make without much soul searching: coat or no coat? Yes rain and wind have been battering at my bedroom window all night, yes some of the pictures from some grounds look post tsunami, but I’m easily fooled. The sun is shining and the always reliable ‘hand out the window trick to see if it’s cold’ has made me question the need for my bulky winter jacket. Ultimately though I let my head rule my heart, and by the time I have made the short journey to my local tube station, I instantly regret my decision, should’ve left the thing at home, stupid head.

Tom and I meet at Waterloo station, busy with people tooing and froing after the pagan decorative egg giving weekend. We are quickly on a train, and crawling through South West London. Tom asks if we are going to a “Lord of The Rings game?” which is his way of asking me ‘where the hell are we going?’ as we pass train stations like Norbiton and Earlsfield, and I have to agree they do have a slight Tolkien quality to them.

Katie’s handy work is more than apparent as we make our way to Kingston, bent over rugby posts, football goals and felled fence panels litter the fields and gardens either side of the tracks. Tom informs me that we are “in the eye” of the storm and not being a meteorologist, but having watched a storm themed film with George Clooney once and Twister, I think that means that it’s going to be nice for a while, then get really horrible again. The sun however is out, hat on and all and things look rosy, but my personal Micheal Fish quickly brings me down to earth, “for now” he says ominously.

Our short bus ride from Kingston is very pleasant, we cross the shimmering Thames, pass the regal gates to Hampton Court gardens, with their tall white stone pillars with lions on top, notice a rowing club or three and Tom questions the benefits of a house built above the river, “not sure about a house on the water. Build it on land”. Even the bus stops sound grand, Garrick Villa and Hampton Lodge, suitably named to go along with their upmarket surroundings..

Off the bus, for a brief moment we become ‘Three Men In Search…….’ as a young lad in a long black Brentford jacket, overhears where we are going, and tags along, as he tells me it’s “free entry for Brentford season ticket holders”. It’s an initiative we have come across at a few clubs now, and a really clever way of getting bums on seats and people interested in non-league football.

Tom leads from the front, taking us through a churchyard, and finally up Beaver Close. Blue metal gates with the letters HFC in a red circle are the first things we see, just behind them the aftermath of old Katie is apparent, the club sign is flat on its back surrounded by cones. Adjacent are the blue turnstiles with an antique looking red mechanism just about big enough to squeeze a malnourished 4’2 man from the 1900’s through, not quite built for a great lump like me.

“Club shop, club shop, club shop” says Tom possessed, moments within entering Beveree Stadium. He with me in tow make an immediate beeline for the portacabin just opposite where we came in. There is quite a queue, enough time to admire a nice display of mugs and a scarf hanging on the wall. Tom gets his pin, I a programme, no one else is buying anything, they are waiting for the team sheet.

The woman behind the counter is somewhat amazed at the queue forming outside the ground to get in, and the conversation between those waiting for the line up, sheds a bit of light on it as they discuss the fans of other teams who are here, because of games being abandoned left, right and centre. “Some Pompey here” says one man, their game up the road at AFC Wimbledon had been called off last minute. Once back outside it’s like name that team, as the colours of many different teams are on show.

One perhaps most apt, considering our proximity to his Royal Palace, is that of Hemel Hempstead Town FC known as The Tudors whose badge has Henry the VIIII on it. Not only is he by a long stretch my number one tyrannical, multi married, Catholicism rebuking monarch, but also Hemel’s my club badge and nickname my just be my favourite of them all.

“Golden goal tickets” announces a woman with a white box around her neck, like an ice cream seller at the theatre. When she is finished a man on a stool in front of a small shed takes over “programmes”. A sucker for a little flutter and the chance to win “£40”, I hand over my £1 which she puts in the top section of the box, then opens the bottom which is filled with minuscule Borrower sized folded up tickets. Such is the turn out she tells someone “on to the second set, big crowd”. One passing fan is a little reluctant to hand over his money “golden goal, want to humiliate myself with another ticket?” he asks himself outloud.

Hampton FC 085There are a considerable amount of Brentford fans in attendance, most of them in a club jacket or sweatshirt of some kind, one is particularly is very excited at the price of the bacon rolls “only £2.50” he says with absolute delight, you would have thought he had just found a Rembrandt in an Oxfam shop. It does make me wonder how much the food is at Griffin Park, considering he looks like all his Christmases and birthdays have come at once.

With only a slight breeze, and the sun still out, Tom’s doomsday premonition for the end of the world has not quite come to pass, yet. People take advantage of the nice weather, with a pint in hand they bask like lizards on a rock pitchside, the novelty of being aloud a drink where you want conjures up a slight feeling of deja vous of being back in Germany.
Beveree Stadium is a bit of a hodge podge of old shed like terracing, no barriers just steps under a corrugated roof, the odd lean to here and there. Behind one goal the newest looking of them all a red and blue seated stand, not the Ostkurve or the Westkurve the Alan Simpson Stand. Next to it is a two storey prefab, a flat roofed building which contains the boardroom and hospitality. We hear some fans who seem surprised the game has gone ahead, considering they describe the pitch as being “notorious” for falling foul of bad weather.

“Sounds like the buzzer” says Tom, as we hear the faint hum notifying the players its game time, the
teams arrival is imminent.

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen” says the most silky of all stadium announcers, her voice Tom thinks sounds a bit like “Delia Smith” certainly not the on pitch “let’s be having you” Delia, this is most definitely more the pre drink, cover of a Christmas cookbook Delia.

The players appear at the mouth of the beige PVC tunnel between the clubs bar ‘Hammonds’ and the multi storey prefab, which has a balcony overlooking the pitch is now full ,“that’s a nice view” says Tom.

“The players are being led out by today’s officials” she says again, I’m now thinking her voice is leaning away from Delia and more towards that of the old speaking clock.

As the players shake hands, the Leatherhead FC (LFC) keeper sporting a Barthez esq short sleeve jersey, the referee goes through a few last sprints on the sidelines, readying himself for the start. Tom though is fixated on one HRB player, a towering defender “have you seen the size of that fucking centre-back?” he asks me. The same player, moments before kickoff rallies the troops “come on, come on” he says, clapping his hands.

Behind the LFC goal the most vocal of the home fans get going “come on Hampton, come on Hampton” they shout banging the hoardings around the pitch. Then for the first time we hear what is possibly the the nicest football chant only perhaps equal to “come on Angels” which the Tonbridge Angels fans sing, when they shout “come on Beavers”. The Beaver not perhaps the first animal you think of when wanting to strike fear into the hearts of your opponents, unless they own some land and are causing substantial undercutting to their river banks, which in turn causes considerable soil erosion, but who says football songs all have to be scary or intimidating, I like it.

Most songs and chants are pretty interchangeable, cannibalised by supporters to suit their particular team. Tom’s ears certainly prick up when the first rendition of, “who to, who to be, who to be a beaver” is belted out. Tom, an Arsenal fan of course comments “never heard anyone sing that other than us”!

Not surprisingly the league leaders are showing all the threat. Some nice one touch passing gets them their first shot on goal, and most if not all of the danger and creativity is coming from their number 10.

“Already wasting time, happy for a 0 – 0” moans an LFC fan to another behind us, after their keeper takes a painfully long time to take a goal kick, this has also not gone unnoticed by the home fans either behind his goal, who are starting to get a little agitated by it to say the least.

Not long after Tom returns from his customary food run, with about thirty minutes of the game gone, clutching a burger, but that’s not all, because then he produces a white bag from nowhere like Penn & Teller, minus the puff of white smoke and asks me “chip?”. Around the same time it’s only the big toe at the end of the outstretched leg of the LFC keeper that prevents what looked like a certain goal, a goal that has seemed destined since about one minute after kick off.

“Beavers, Beavers” sing the fans. Tom with a mouth full of food sniggers like a school boy, food that as far as the kind you find at football goes he’s “happy with”.

Hampton FC 211When LFC do string a couple of passes together, and break into what must feel like a distant land, HRB’s half, the same disgruntled fan behind sarcastically comments “some footballs broken out”.

Such is the presence of the lofty defender, one LFC forward has had enough and yells at his teammate in goal, “anywhere but there!” as he continues to pump ball after ball in his and the center-backs direction, only for the attacker to be helpless in the shadow of his marker who doesn’t even need to jump, easily heading the ball away, without even breaking a sweat. The man in goal is not only annoying the players on his team, but the home fans who are now beyond fed up of his time wasting, demanding that the referee, “gives him a card!”.

If LFC had scored their chance right at the end of the half, it might have been the greatest example ever of a team scoring against the run of play. It was very close, a well hit half volley goes just over. When the half time whistle does go, a collective “meghh” rings out, like the noise the old man in Up would make, before he is softened by all the joy and happiness a Disney/Pixar film can bring.

Her noble voice fills our ears once again, she sounds so regal she is surely in a tiara and ball gown, as she tells as all about the upcoming family fun day, where you can meet “Bertie the Beaver”. Tom is quick to ask “where’s Bertie today?”, don’t tell me Katie has gone and ruined his day too!

HRB are out first, the noisy bunch have swapped ends and their numbers have swelled, they have taken over a couple of small sections next to Mr Simpsons stand, “come on Hampton”. We have also moved, and are now standing next to the LFC bench. Their very young looking coach, stands pitch side, just behind him is an even younger looking bench. Tom on the other hand is gazing skywards, “definitely greying up”.

Just as in the first forty five it’s all HRB in the second, one half of the pitch might as well not be there. They really should go ahead with ten minutes gone, only for the player to blaze over from just inside the box. If the home number 10 was the stand out player of the first half, the number 11 is really coming into his own, everytime he gets the ball Tom calls him “dat man” because of his Danny Welbeck-ish hair.

When the most minute spot of rain hits us, Tom sprints for cover. I stay put, as do the home fans behind the LFC goal, unperturbed by the rain and still singing, “Shala, la, la, la, la Richmond and Hampton FC”. One of them, who has been blessed or cursed depending on how you see it, with a voice off the same richter scale as Brian Blessed. I’m not sure he is even shouting, but when he comments on something, more often than not about the treacle slow LFC goal kicks, it reverberates around the ground like he has his own megaphone.

It’s no great surprise, when HRB finally score, it has been a matter of when, not if, and some fans had started to get a little frustrated. It follows a superbly saved free-kick that the LFC keeper does a great job in covering the ground, and pushing it round the post. The resulting corner is played short, passed to the edge of the box, breaks to a player wide and alone who is able to cut in on his right foot and shoot. His shot looks to have squirmed under the man in goal, and is finally put in by a player sliding in.

The home players race off towards the corner flag, jumping all over the scorer, the LFC players trudge back towards the centre spot, their rear guard action finally breached. One LFC sub, warming up as the goal went in, returns to the bench, shaking his head “offside”.

Once the celebrations have died down, I remember my golden goal ticket, when I open it I find I have missed out on £40 by four minutes. I don’t however feel as sick as the father of the person next to me, “my Dad missed it by a minute”.

Spitting rain has now turned torrential, looking on jealously at the LFC bench dry under their perspex roof, I give in to the good old British weather, thank my head for making me bring my jacket and join Tom under the shelter, with pretty much everyone else in the vicinity, it quickly turns into a game of sardines.

“Four seasons in one match” says someone when as quick as the rain had arrived, it disappears again, we do hear a rumble of thunder in the distance and Tom is pointing at various clouds, trying to work out which one has the potential for more rain. Such is the unpredictability of the weather, bright one minute, dark the next, the floodlights are turned on and splutter to life.

With HRB ahead and comfortably in control, they are not as adventurous, in turn LFC are getting a bit more time on the ball, but the home team are doing well at slowing the game down. This then provokes the irony of all ironies, when the LFC keeper starts to moan about them time wasting, much to the amusement of the HRB fans especially Prince Vultan behind the goal whose laugh is just as loud as his voice.

Hampton FC 256“Keep putting the ball in the box” are the instructions from the LFC coach, he seems convinced they will get their chance, but I think it’s wishful thinking.

HRB put the game to bed with a couple of minutes to spare, and it’s the number 11 who crowns his fine second half performance with a curling free kick. If the goal was good the celebration is even better. He races towards the bench doing only what I can describe as a 1920’s Flapper knee jive. They almost get a third, it would be the least they deserve. One players mazy run, the jinks past, one, jink’s past another, shoots, the keeper is rooted to the floor, the fans behind the goal rush the fence in anticipation, only for all watching on see it crash off the post.

“We are top of the league” resonates around Beveree Stadium as the final whistle goes. The wet through fans, make their way to the mouth of the tunnel, clapping the players off, “well played” says one, “phenomenal” says another.

“Beavers, Beavers, Beavers”

Looking like a drowned rat, I see a familiar face, in fact it’s someone who is probably more famous for his voice than his face, drenched, but smiling from ear to ear, it’s Martin Tyler of Sky Sports and “AGUEROOOOOOOOO” fame. What’s he doing here? After a quick Google we learn he is the first team coach.

Most people have left now, driven away by the rain, those who have not, are in the bar. A couple smoking outside congratulate the manager, whose response seems to indicate that he was less than satisfied with the performance, but the supporter is correct when he says “it’s a win”. Inside the bar we see Martin Tyler, chatting away, now in a much drier tracksuit. We introduce ourselves, and ask if he is happy for a picture. He is, and is very accommodating, if not a little hesitant, he tells us he wants the manager to get all the attention, “he is the driving force” behind the team. He understands that because of his “day job” he gets plenty of attention but insists that he “just puts out the cones”.

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