Two Men In Search Of the Beautiful game are back, refreshed and ready to go after a summer break, to once again travel the picturesque back-roads of English football.

Words by Daniel Magner. Photographs by Tom Sparks. 

Fatherhood and fishing, is how I’ve occupied my summer break. Tom tried to buy a house, but sadly it fell through, down to a slightly unscrupulous seller by all accounts, he knows who he is, and if you happen to be reading this I hear you’re quite the dickhead.

As you can imagine with the sudden and slightly early arrival of a baby, football was forced to take a bit of a back seat. I thought timing her conception to coincide with the summer break, I had been very clever, however there has been plenty to watch, it doesn’t really feel like it’s even stopped.

P1000691I think it was around day four of labour, that I managed to turn my eye briefly to the Confederations Cup, sitting in the corner of our hospital room with my tablet. However the deep Darth Vader type inhales of the gas and air and the agonising screams coming through the walls from the other rooms, as well as being sat right next to the sink as a steady stream of nurses and doctors washed and scrubbed themselves, practically on my lap, made it hard to concentrate to say the least.

When she eventually arrived, all 6lbs of her straight into her oversized Spurs babygro, which instantly made everyone think she was a boy, we had a short stay in the hospital, while aforementioned baby spent some time under what was essentially an infant sized sunbed, to banish the jaundice. Once home, and in between looking over to her bassinet to see she was still alive, I was able to enjoy the England under 20’s win the World Cup and did my best to avoid the tidal wave of cliches after the England Under 21’s lost to Germany on penalties.

Not really being one for pre-season games, I’ve done them, they mean nothing, they’re boring, I turned my hand to my other passion instead, to occupy my time (between being totally in love with my new daughter of course) a day on the river bank, covered in meaty flavoured ground baits and chocolate orange boilies, but before I could hook into a double figure carp, our first game of 2017/18 was upon us, and I’m laundering our flag, ordering new stickers, and arranging with Tom what time to pick him up.

Such is my excitement for the arrival of football, as I pull up outside the train station to collect Tom, and before I realize what I’m doing, my arm is out the window, with my outstretched hand giving him a rapid burst of Ali G finger snaps. With the BN postcode already in the Sat Nav, the embarrassment of my outdated hand gesture subsiding, and deep in conversation about Tom’s choice of breakfast, chocolate covered peanuts, we are under way.

If you have not met Tom, the best way to describe him is a bearded vape smoking, weather obsessive, prone to the occasional bout of over excitement. This comes to the fore on most of our car journeys, particularly when we pass the brown motorway signs to local attractions. He almost goes full dolphin, on par with a dog whistle, hitting the highest of high notes when we see one for “CHESSINGTON” and I almost have to restrain him from leaving the car, when he spots a bumper crop of what he calls “motorway blackberry’s”.

Another recurring scenario is what seems to be his inability to dress himself properly.

Me in my Alien Ant Farm shorts and light shirt, I’m just about dealing with the increasing temperature in my air conditioning devoid car, he on the other hand in dark jeans and Danny Zuko jacket, with collar popped, is suffering, and threatens me with an “outfit change” if things don’t improve.

After we clear the backlog of Brighton Pride goers and the numerous horse boxes, containing their sad, travel sick looking inhabitants, the rolling hills of the south coast, more than make up for the insufferable traffic, and the grey spitting clouds are now far behind us. Tom is elated that the closer to our destination we get, the bluer the sky continues to get, “that’s better”.

M&M’s consumed, ear test booked, after I thought Tom couldn’t go any higher, but was proven wrong after he sees a sign for a “medieval fair” and I threatened to take him to the Sussex Tent Show 2017, if he doesn’t stop squealing every time he sees another poster for Sir Lancelot’s get together.

I do love a seaside town. I’m not sure if it’s spending a lot of my time as a kid in Brighton, and now most of my summer holidays with my own family at some slightly dilapidated but charming once thriving Victorian or Edwardian holiday resort playing endless rounds of mini golf, but there is a unmistakable and unique feel to them, that they all seem to share and Eastbourne is no different.

IMG_20170805_144113Sadly our plan to explore the esplanade, pier and doughnut stands are curtailed, by the traffic getting here. For us it’s only the briefest of glimpses of the “SEA” between two houses, Tom spasming in delight at being the first of us both to see it.

The Saffrons Sports Ground is far from your average non league set up, mainly because on first appearances it’s not instantly apparent that there is a football ground there at all. Driving in, the narrow road takes us round a cricket match, and past men and women with longer slender hammers, hitting various colored balls through hoops.

Parking behind the large electronic scoreboard for what we’re later told is a local derby “Eastbourne Vs Bognor”. The batting order relax on the veranda of the clubhouse, we shuffle by, the noise of leather on willow and muttered praises of “good shot” emanate from under hat wearing folk in deckchairs.

In the not too distant future, beyond the heated Sussex derby, and just before the bowls pitches, and beyond them, the imposing red brick town hall, with its single tower and four sided clock, above a wooden fence, we spot the familiar outline of a stand, and blue and yellow striped goal nets, reassuring us, we’re in the right place.

I think one thing that most people will say more often than not when talking about non league football, is that you’re nigh on always guaranteed a warm welcome. Yes I’m sure there are those clubs where this is not the case, but Eastbourne Town FC (ETFC) certainly could not fall into that category. In fact the welcome was so nice, so friendly, verging almost on the overwhelming, I struggle to remember quite how we got from the entrance to the picture lined boardroom.

Carried along on a tidal wave of handshakes and introductions, the first thing I remember after having had a chance to admire the collection of pennants hanging from the ceiling, was that someone had already put the kettle on for us.

I have to ask myself is this what living near the sea does to you? or are these people on drugs? And I mean that in the most flattering of ways, not in an awful Trainspotting climbing into toilets, with visions of babies kind of way, but in a Willy Wonka endorsed, family friendly drug, the only side effect is the taker exudes a mind boggling amount of infectious friendliness.

The club secretary Richard busily sorting today’s programs, quickly joins the long list of well wishers, which spans every possible position at the club, from coach, groundsman to the guy who runs the bar.

Traveling on the whirlwind of hospitality like Dorothy and Toto I did notice in a short corridor between the door with the “Welcome To The Saffrons” sign above it and the boardroom, what I would describe as the best school project ever, meticulously laminated coloured paper covering the walls, chronicling the clubs history. One fact that stuck from the bombardment of ETFC facts, is that they are the oldest club in Sussex.

When we’re introduced to Chris who is described as the clubs “historian”, who by the way is nowhere near as beardy and pirate like as he was in his ETFC playing days, he coyly points to himself in one of the many pictures that line the walls, he tells us he is responsible for the numerous hefty binders, that fill a groaning bookshelf, that document in more detail of the clubs long and illustrious history

In one corner of the the room stands what might be mistaken for a drinks cabinet or sideboard which when opened gives little clue to it’s actual purpose. It’s green baize lined inside not giving much away, in fact it seems to be filled with the kind of things you might find in that cupboard at home, where everything that doesn’t have a home ends up.

IMG_20170805_140633The box is in fact the home of the Eastbourne Charity Cup, large child sized trophy, that we’re told is more valuable than the FA Cup, is “uninsurable” says one person and is currently in a vault somewhere. The cup itself, and not the cardboard version that Chris has appeared clutching, is pointed out in one of the largest of the black and white pictures in the room, filled with stern looking men, posing manly.

Considerable injection of club history received, we emerge into the sun of the afternoon, to the first of the many quarterly chimes of the town hall clock, and are soon sitting down with the bronzed Peter Heritage, club coach, and ex Gillingham, Hereford United and Doncaster Rovers player.

“Bit of a dream for them” says Peter about ETFC’s opponents today Bearsted FC (BFC), who are appearing in the FA Cup for the very first time in their history. He admits they don’t “know much about them” which might make things “difficult”. However he adds that ETFC have been “looking good” in “preseason” against teams from a few divisions higher, so is quietly confident.

It’s at this point talking to Peter, and not for the first time today, a brief chat before with the club kit man, whose own links with the club go back eighty years, long ties with what is clearly a close and community based club are something of a resounding theme today, conversation turned to the clubs fan base, their Ultras, known as ‘Pier Pressure’.

Having sought out similar fan groups at Clapton and Whitehawk, fascinated by this kind of support, that is so common all over the world, but in Britain is looked upon skeptically. Pier Pressure’s presence on Twitter, their politics, immaculately crafted stickers and art work, I certainly suggest trying to find a picture of today’s unofficial matchday poster, featuring the bear from BFC’s badge, who is amorously intertwined with the FA Cup, they have been hard to ignore.

Most impressively however, is seeing the way people involved with the club, genuinely light up, talking about them. The kit man dave tell us he thinks supporters like them are the “future of football” and he “loves” them. Peter is no different telling us about their commitment to the club, eulogising about how they travel “everywhere”, the fact they donated the tops the players warm up in. Excitedly he describes their ingenuity, telling us they have been known to use a “car manifold” as an instrument, like some kind of football Scrapheap Challenge crossover, telling us he thinks they are “fantastic” for non league football, and thanks to them gone are the days of “one man and his dog” watching games here.

“1-2-1-2” crackles the PA. At the moment the chimes of the clock, the noise of the cricket and the blaring questionable music coming from one of the nearby changing rooms, are the only noise to speak of, for now.

Food, Tom’s favourite part of what we do. His summer diet is quickly put to the sword inside the Hot Food Bar, which feels a bit like a conservatory. He dissects the menu, places his order, and we head outside. Moments later someone is tapping him on the shoulder and informing him “young man, your food is ready”.

Concealed in a white paper napkin, Tom’s burger in his professional opinion has a “good bun to burger ratio”. We take a momentary pit stop in one of the blue seats of the main stand that runs behind one goal, Tom doing a good job on his burger, finishing it in what seems like only a few bites. The final one forcing a large solitary blob of ketchup to splat on his leg, much to my amusement, but not to his.

The “sauce on trouser” dilemma as Tom puts it with a snarl and a half full mouth, doesn’t distract me from noticing the increasing noise being made by more and more people arriving, but does distract my counterpart long enough so I can pinch a chip. Alicia Keys is doing her best to destroy the speakers of the PA singing about New York and for the first time we hear the distant rattle of a snare drum, coming from the small uncovered steps at the far end of the ground.

Another cheery face, and beaming smile, another introduction, this time to a man described as a “stalwart of the club”, who goes on to explain, just like many of the other people we’ve met already, he has a long association with ETFC. “40 years”. An ex manager, who for an older gent, has a vice like handshake.

He tells us he is very “philosophical”, his time as a “manager” means he has had to learn to think that way. When it comes to answering my question of how he thinks ETFC, will get on today, his reply is vague but delightful, “could be a lovely game of football” he tells us.

P1000654With the addition of some banners, and streamers, the area behind the goal, is slowly transforming, as a couple of people battle the wind to erect the yellow, blue and white flags. As much as I want to investigate, something else has caught my eye, on the opposite side of the ground, something has distracted me from taking pictures of the numerous Pier Pressure stickers covering the perspex dugouts, which also seems to be covered in bits of tin foil.

As Tom has been on a football food free diet this summer, I’ve been on a 50/50, golden goal one. No summer fair tombolas to fill the void for me, I’ve been clean. I track the seller with all the guile of Muldoon from Jurassic Park, but without any of the slightly strange misogyny.

I hand over £2, he offers me the sparkling wrapping paper covered box, as I plunge in my hand he instructs me quite rightly to, “close” my “eyes”. I’m a bit out of practice. In my haste I take three instead of the intended two, I panic. I can’t put it back, what if it’s the winning ticket, I hastily rustle in my bag for another £1, handing it over, and glossing over my faux pas.

First inevitable waste of money of the season over, I make my way to the space behind the goal, which is now awash with banners, some in support of the club and the Ultras “Forza Town!”, some political “The NHS Is Not 4 Sale” and one that should be obligatory everywhere “Burn The S*n”.

The railing directly behind the goal has been turned into the percussion section of a medium sized
orchestra. Secured to it are variously sized blue and yellow drums, the biggest, too large to be tied on is half in a green bin, leaning against the fence. Behind them, a blue sticker covered Ultras dressing up box. Cow bells, a school bell, different masks, of different descriptions litter the floor. One pinched off the woman from Flashdance, one pinched off Jason. I overhear one person explain that the welding mask doesn’t get many outings, because it’s just so “hard” to see out of.

In his badge covered bucket hat and yellow and blue ETFC scarf, I get chatting to Paul who in his North East accent and impeccable timing talks about today being the “start of the FA Cup” and the beginning of the long “road to Wembley” just as I notice the players emerging from a small door way at the far end of the ground, led by the referee.

He tells me about the Pier Pressure saxophone, which he explains does not normally appear until the second half, because its player gets “tired lips”.

With the players now making their way onto the pitch, a tune strikes up over the PA, the sort you might have heard on the promenade a 100 years ago, “Sussex By The Sea”. Strangely among all the paraphernalia of modern football, the surroundings mean it doesn’t feel out of place, it feels again, like a nod to the clubs long history, and it’s connection to the area, and feels more than fitting as an accompaniment to the players exchanging handshakes.

“Good afternoon ladies and gentleman”, says a small voice over the PA. The greeting for the BFC keeper all in grey jogging towards us, from the fan in the hockey mask with a loudhailer, next to the man with the smirking V For Vendetta mask half pulled over his face, is a little more sinister than that from the club, and has a tinge of Galatasaray about it, “welcome to Hell”.

The comments from the ETFC fans following an early flap by the BFC keeper, who by all accounts is called “Scott”, set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Scott, who by a quarter to five, I must admit I felt a little bit sorry for. I thought the non stop “who ate all the pie” songs directed at Kevin Pressman in 1996 at Spurs was relentless. If I was Scott, I think I might have run away or feigned an injury, as he becomes the non stop focal point for the fans behind him, every goal kick they attempt to distract him with the bang of the snare drum or a blood curdling scream from one fan.

All the early ETFC pressure seems to be sending the match down the path everyone involved half expected, however BFC do their best to halt this, somewhat out of the blue, they fashion two chances in close succession, the second a goal bound shot is blocked on the line, there is a momentary intake of breath from the fans around us, before one breaks the tension by telling a another to, “have a bell” handing him a large school dinner bell.

DSC_0208“Old Eastbourne Town is wonderful, it’s full of old people and seagulls” sing the fans as any inkling of an upset are brushed aside with eleven minutes on the clock, as ETFC take the lead. The chant is driven may I add not by the random banging of one of the many drums, but by a unified bank of sound, with the togetherness of a well rehearsed marching band.

As the song dies down, Scott obviously already glum enough after conceding, gets a little extra misery heaped on him by the hockey mask wearer, whose maniacal screechy delivery, reminds me of the cartoon version of Christopher Lloyd at the end of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, “typical Scott!”.

I want to be fair to Scott, no need to rub salt in the wounds, but when three or four minutes later ETFC double their lead, it’s down to the aforementioned goal keeper once again being a little bit flappy. Palming a relatively tame shot, right back out into the six yard box, to be poked in on the second attempt.

The tirade towards the man in goal now goes from the odd one liner, I think my favourite so far was when he was asked when he plays Fifa, is he “always the keeper”, to a hockey masked monologue, “you’re a let down” he tells him, “you’re a terrible goal keeper”, the man with the baby in a sling on his front, seems to cover her young ears to save her from the abuse.

Children or no children though he continues, chanting “keeper sub, keeper sub, keeper sub” towards the BFC dugout, then loudly asking them “its your first year in the FA Cup and you choose him?”.

Scott gets a slight respite when after about twenty minutes, BFC go close with a header, however my attention today is very rarely drawn away from the end ETFC are attacking and the fans behind it.

We’ve seen many interesting things at the football we’ve been to, a man with a dog in a pram or a man with a crochet pint holder round his neck, however when the fan produces the fabled gleaming saxophone from its battered case, he turns the quartet of excellent drummers from a high school marching band, into one about to lead the procession at a New Orleans funeral.

Thirty minutes into the new season, and we get the first tick in our I Spy book of Non league. Only having seen what turns out to have been half of it, poking out the top of a large cardboard box being carried above someone’s head before kick off, the immense tinfoil FA Cup is revealed in full, with blue and yellow ribbons hanging from its handles. Unfortunately instead of being a shining beacon of hope and greatness, as all homemade tinfoil cups are, this one is used for evil, the ETFC fans have weaponised the unweaponisable!

Thrust towards Scott, the large silver effigy is used to remind him, that as the score stands, he won’t be winning it this season. A sad day for football!

The remaining quarter of the half flits between scrappy and ever so slightly bad tempered. BFC’s players perhaps getting a little frustrated, start to fly in with some big big tackles, as ETFC continue to create more and more chances at ease. BFC do have one themselves, the ETFC keeper saving well, but the visitors are very susceptible to the counterattack. On one occasion it goes from a BFC corner to a near ETFC goal in the blink of an eye, with a big shout for a penalty in the middle waved away.

When the cries for a spot kick aren’t given, the downed player is quickly back to his feet, managing still to shoot, even with a BFC player all in white, hanging off him. The attempt almost falls kindly for a teammate to tap in, but Scott saves at his feet to prevent the third. However not long after he is almost once again the cause of ETFC’s scoring, instead of the cure, when he half flaps, half punches at a free kick, forcing the ball back into the six yard box, when it maybe looked easier to catch it.

P1000673This error of course does not go unnoticed, “you’re making me nervous Scott!”

Hark what is that, a sound that is from neither cowbell or drum, it’s the cheer of the BFC fans, as their team quite against the run of play, have pulled one back. The noise from the handful of traveling fans in attendance is fleeting, as the band are quick to drown them out, with perhaps the cleanest version of this particular chant, I’ve ever heard, “Eastbourne town is wonderful”.

Their goal comes late in the half, and inspires a surge, they finish the first forty five on the front foot, the helpful bell tower telling all time is up, it’s only whats been added on to be played. One chance is so close, that it draws an “ohhhhh” from the supporters, and as one fans puts it, the “ball is down that end a lot now”.

Not that any of this seems to be bothering the child in the sling, she is now sitting under a tree behind me, on a lush patch of green grass, tucking into her lunch, taking it all in her stride, she knows there is nothing to worry about.

“Make sure you do better next half Scott” suggests the megaphone wielder, adding just in case he
didn’t hear as he walks off, “number one, you must do better”.

The Pier Pressure caravan is soon packed up, the blue box is re-stocked, the flags and banners though are left to fly solo in the second half and one conscious fan hangs back to pick up any rubbish that might have been left, and ensures its put in the bin.

As a well documented enthusiast for all things Ultra Sticker, it takes me a while to make my way to the other end of the pitch, having to stop and take a picture of every new example of Pier Pressures handy work that covers every available space, as well as those left by visiting clubs. By the time I make it there, the drums, saxophone and tiny accordion, have already taken their seat in the stand, but their owners are nowhere to be seen.

Some may find it a bit annoying, I imagine the regulars are used to it, but I find the regular chimes of the town hall bell, very handy. Just before it strikes for four o’clock both teams return, taking up position, and moments after it informs us of the time, the referee blows for the start of the new half.

“More beer drinking, than football watching” is Tom’s suggestion for the lack of noise or
fanfare for the beginning of the second half, as there was for the the first. There is no Native American inspired drum beat, despite the array of instruments strewn about. Scott’s probably delighted, maybe he put his card behind the bar, and opened a tab, because for the first time, no one is screaming his name or asking him about his Fifa preferences.

“Why you sitting down?” asks someone returning from the bar. “We’re the non drinking contingent, waiting for the musicians” replies one of those arms crossed and seated in the stand. Another who’s just finished their drink is applauded, “very civilised in here today” he says almost sneering.

With the stand slowly filling up, there is a moment of disharmony between someone already sitting down, watching the match, with those late comers who are now insisting on standing, Their argument that this is where the club have told them to stand, doesn’t quite wash with the ever so sour looking man.

DSC_0326“Can we have some noise?” says someone, dismayed perhaps with that the fact the cricket and the clock are once again the noisiest. Someone agrees, picking up the accordion, and bringing it to life. One drummer multitasks, drinking from a bottle of Bourbon with one hand, while playing with the other, “Jack Daniels is out” points out Tom. With fifteen minutes or so gone of the new half, the atmosphere slowly starts to build up towards its first half levels, it’s made to seem a lot louder by the overhanging corrugated roof of the stand, containing the sound.

The game though has gone the opposite way, petering out somewhat, going a little flat. An ETFC tackle brings the whole BFC bench to their feet, the referee is on the scene of the crime in a flash, talking over the tackle with the players involved, but makes nothing of it and play continues. You might be able to say BFC are slightly edging it at the moment, but it’s negligible. They do though have the clearest chance of the half so far, when they have a go from a freekick, forcing the ETFC keeper into a fine flying save.

Twenty five minutes gone, and ETFC should have put the game out of sight, a glaring miss from right in front of goal. Regardless of what is going on the pitch, the fans are now in full swing, the person with the megaphone, starts a low, slow and snarling “old Eastbourne Town…..” and one passing person is caught out when a drum is given an almighty whack, inches from her head, scaring the life out of her.

Multi talented, be it with the drum, cowbell or megaphone, most recently hammering out the beat on the largest of the drums, leading the chant by himself with a ear splitting scream, “TOWN” at the top of his lungs. Mr Hockey Mask now turns his hand to a hunting horn. I’m not sure I can say he is strictly ‘playing’ it, he is just blowing down it, however he stops for a moment, as most of the fans do, to applaud and praise their keeper for another excellent save, “Fred!”

Once more, like in the first half, there are long spells of ETFC pressure, with thirty minutes gone, there is a spell where they have three of four consecutive corners, each one causing a problem for BFC. One even hitting the bar directly from the kick and catching out Scott. That really would have been the final nail in the coffin for him, if it had gone in.

When the ball is eventually cleared up field, Scott, who maybe thought he was being given a second half reprieve, who perhaps thought, I’ve had my turn, time for someone else now guys, gets nothing of the sort, “who let the goals in, Scott did, Scott did, who lets goals in” to the tune of the Baha Men classic.

Again a glaring miss, with ten minutes left to play, and only a goal between them, are ETFC going to regret this profligacy in front of goal? One dangerous ball, is swiftly cleared, high and into the nearby bowling green.

I don’t think I’m an easily distracted person, however when you have what is tantamount to a live band, with the odd bit of audience participation thrown in, “keys out for the town” demands one drummer, with the people obliging, adding their own bit of percussion, it’s hard to concentrate on the match. Instead I find myself transfixed on the motion of the drumsticks, one particular chant with its hypnotic chorus “we’ll always be yellow and blue” or by the malevolence of the hockey mask wearer.

Another miss, this time just before the chimes signify that we’ve had the ninety minutes. The fans are now spelling out the name of the team, which as far as team names goes, is quite a long one, it might take a while, “give me an E”, “give me an A”.

BFC send home hearts all of a quiver going close from a corner, a brief outbreak of argy bargy breaks out not long after, tempers flare, the referee marching the two main protagonists off for a word, one fan thinks they should quite literally kiss and make up, shouting “kiss, kiss” towards the players.

DSC_0370Home heart rates are almost restored to normal when they are awarded a dubious penalty in the dying moments. Dubious because it was given for handball, but looked more like ball to hand to me, the player whose limb was to blame, didn’t really look like he could’ve done much about it. Sadly for the home fans, the heart rate spikes one last time, when Scott gets a little bit of payback, saving the spot kick.

I might suggest its slightly over confident of the fans to assume that the result is now a foregone conclusion, as they start singing of “Wembley, Wembley” and a wooden rattle is produced from somewhere, a local sign perhaps that they think this is all wrapped up.

What started off as spots of rain, as both sets of player leave the pitch, ETFC into the next round, BFC falling at the first hurdle, however giving a very good account of themselves, quickly turns into a monsoon level downpour. Tom’s dream of a post match drink is dashed, “there goes my pint in the sun”.

Sheltering from the rain, I say sheltering, there are various places not safe to sit or stand, as not insignificant drips make certain seats a no go, the roof above having been breached. The home fans show the ethos of always showing your support, whatever the result, whatever the weather, the band striking up once more, “let’s all have a party” shouts one fan, “at least until the rain ends” he adds.

“It’s easing” says Tom, so we make a run for it, admittedly a short run to the clubhouse next door, where we enjoy a drink in big blue armchairs, while glum looking BFC players eat pizza and cricket types all in white, mix with the Ultras, while the test match plays out on the big screen.

I think when the fact that there is a very, very, very slight chance of being hit by a cricket ball, as Peter Heritage had put it, “hope they don’t hit a six” or that a club has decided to sell its drinks and food, at two separate locations, that are about ten feet a part, and really its no great inconvenience, are the most negative things one can think of when summarising their visit to The Saffrons, then they must be doing something right.

So captivating and engrossing were the fans, so agreeable are their politics, the “refugees welcome” flag flies the highest, so intriguing were their choice of songs and outstanding is their musicality, that I completely forget to find out if I’d won the Golden Goal, until Tom reminded me right at the end. I hadn’t of course, missing out on the prize money by two minutes, but the sight of a man in a full head horse mask, somehow softened the blow.

A club run by loyal local people, sounds a bit League Of Gentlemen, but perfectly sums up what we saw. A club which is faithful to the people who have helped build it and mold it into what it is today. A club that embraces and recognizes its long history and the people who have contributed to it, the people who make up the fabric of Eastbourne Town FC.

It wasn’t just ETFC and its fans that were responsible for today being the best possible start to the new season. BFC’s kit with their team name across its back, evoking feelings of European football, and a badge that now takes top spot as the best non league badge going, all played it’s part. Sorry Hemel Hempstead Town FC, I’m a BIG fan of Henry VIII, however a bear rearing up onto a football just pips you in the awesomeness stakes.

Yawning, exhausted, hoping the sugar from the second pack of M&M’s will keep me going for the drive home, sitting in the car thinking maybe we should have done a bit of preseason training ourselves, because we are both knackered. I cant stop thinking about something Paul, the fan in the bucket hat had said to me about some railings behind the goal. He told me, “they’re not to keep you out, but to keep us all together”.

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