Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game continue their non-league odyssey, this time out experiencing the heat and passion of a play-off final in King’s Lynn.
Words by Daniel Magner. Photographs by Tom Sparks
I take it back, I take it all back. The day before at Chelmsford City was nothing, cold in comparison to today which is even hotter. It’s skin meltingly clinging to a chain link fence Terminator Two hot, I just can’t cope.
Tom on the other hand is loving it, the heat wave has prompted him to discard his “winter cycle” of socks, and invest in some of those daft ankle high ones or “summer socks” as he calls them. It’s a pack of them he has clutched in his hand when I pick him up from the car park of his local Sports Direct. Unlike me, his arms are uncovered, mine are all kinds of fucked up after the roasting they got in the Essex sun, they are throbbing, they hurt to use.
He is clearly not concerned with such problems, but has at least packed some sun cream as have I, I say packed my other half left some in the car for me, just before setting off. The colour of Toms neck though is looking a little suspect, a bit like beef jerky.
Allowing Tom full control of the radio, I’m reminded once again of his somewhat dubious taste in music. In his defence my radio is only able to tune into the most awful of stations, and Radio 4, but when he doesn’t think it’s prudent to skip past Rod Stewart, Linkin Park and then Beyonce, I consider leaving him on the side of the road next to what we think was the inflated, rancid carcass of a “pig” that Tom is sure we just passed, to fend for himself.
Having relied solely on public transport in our early days to get around, I’m thankful more than ever for my motor, when we pass a National Express coach whose apparent big selling point is the fact it shows CNN on it. It also allows us the freedom to stop for necessary provisions, if and when they are required.
In the middle of a secluded coppice, next to a Burger King, I fill up with petrol, while Tom heads off on snack duty. Returning with a single small bottle of Lucozade and a family sized bag of salt and vinegar crisps, I again consider abandoning him.
It’s not that I’m not a fan of salt and vinegar, but a couple of handfuls in, and both our faces have started to pucker, Tom even admitting his mouth “hurts” a bit. It’s not exactly the refreshing flavour one desires on a day like today. At least he has a cold drink to wash it all down with, I have to make do with the lukewarm bottle of water that’s been rolling around in the foot well of the passenger seat behind me for months.
The further we head into East Anglia the closer our final destination gets, our final destination that according to Tom is east of Manchester, which was a huge concern of his the evening before when we talked about set off times, and he thought it was going to be a really long one. King’s Lynn being east of Manchester, just like London is north west of Cape Town.
“Looks like Spain, very beige, like being on holiday” Tom declares. The dazzling sun already seemingly bleaching the countryside around us, giving everything that slightly oven baked Mediterranean look.
Quite suddenly though it’s all change, horizon to horizon of luscious green. Navigating the narrow and empty elevated roads of The Fens, there is nothing to look at but never ending fields. What look like toy tractors manned by miniature farmers, stick out, tending to their crops.
It has been quite a drastic change in scenery, all of a sudden we’ve found ourselves on the great prairie lands of North America. Toms compassion to our surroundings looking like Spain, is now replaced with “Texas”. Winding our way through chocolate box villages, past moored boats, and little riverside pubs, it was definitely some of the more stunning scenery we’ve ever seen this season, beats Bromley any day.
“Norfolk Nelson’s County” reads the small road side sign. Never confident at all that my Sat Nav is sending us the right way, and as nice as the backdrop to our drive had been, there was a definite sense that we were going to end up in the middle of nowhere, it is comforting to know we are in at least the right county, and one with such an illustrious son, I thought Stephen Fry was about as good as it got round here.
We are soon greeted by some ornate roundabout decor informing us we have finally arrived in King’s Lynn. Not far away and the signs of a football match are soon apparent, men in hi viz jackets, whispering into walkie talkies and people, lots of people.
The queue from the ticket office, the small windows under the big blue sign that reads, “Welcome To King’s Lynn Town FC” (KL), are doing frantic business. Each person turning away once their transaction is concluded, has their tickets in one hand and a broad if not ever so slightly nervous look on their face.
The railings used to demark the usual space to queue, are now defunct, the line of people still waiting, one with a club scarf hanging from his belt, now reaches far beyond them, off up the road along a long dark fence.
Sticking almost exclusively to the shade of the nearby trees, although sometimes venturing in to the glare and unforgiving heat of the sun, is the club’s mascot “Lionel”, according to Tom. A six foot yellow bird wandering among the people waiting in the ever growing line, I don’t know how Tom knows his name already, or if it’s even true, we’ve only been here for five minutes.
I’m no ornithological expert, but “Lionel” if that is even his real name, doesn’t look much like a Common Linnet, of which he is impersonating. He is far too garish a yellow, admittedly just like the one on the KL badge, but nothing like the real thing, which is more of a dappled brown, than a gaudy yellow.
I thought The Linnets, which is also the clubs nickname, were a late 60’s all-female soul trio, and not a football club, let alone a bird.
Once past Lionel, who had more the menacing air now I think about it of a bouncer, patrolling his patch, than a cheery club mascot, we are treated to our first glimpses of a ground, I had heard was a bit special, I had seen some pictures of online, but none of what I had been told or seen, does it justice.
Where to begin with The Walks. After the previous afternoon, straining our eyes from the other side of a running track, to the pitch in its middle, the home of KL could not be more different. It’s not small by any means, but it feels intimate. It is impossible to not stand and stare at the truly wonderful main stand, which is like something from the pages of a glossy book about football grounds of yesteryear. It would not be out of place among black and white pictures of the Baseball ground or Filbert Street.
With its mixture of blue and yellow seats, which keep on climbing up and up towards its flat back wall, it really is a relic, but I mean that in the nicest possible way. It’s like a classic car, its age and design bestowing a timeless class upon it, the kind of which you just don’t get with modern stadiums. With it’s bare beams and corrugated roof and sheer size, I’m not sure we’ve ever really seen anything quite like it before.
That is not it though, although there is nothing else quite as stand out as the main stand. Opposite it running the whole length of the pitch is a sizable strip of covered terracing stretching from one corner flag to the other, and behind each goal a narrow section to stand.
One slightly broader that the other, it allows for a few more steps and a couple of ageing blue railings. At its back the same fence the fans were queueing along outside, inside the home fans flags have already been hung on it, looking almost regal with their vibrant blues and yellows glimmering in the sun.
Ground geek out over, it’s time for some shade and a cold drink. On one corner of the main stand, a small UPVC door leads you to a cool little nook with a slanted ceiling because of the seats above. Decorated with framed home shirts, and furnished with a couple of faux leather sofas, we find the small club bar and and even smaller club shop.
The price of a drink is quite reasonable, the queue is yet to reach the astronomical proportions of later in the day, and I even manage to find a spot on one sofa, the youngest of my immediate neighbours by about fourty years. Some of whom have such impenetrable accents I can barely decipher what they are saying.
The shop though, well lets just say, is not quite as good value for money as the bar.
I admit I feel a little bad for the young lady manning it, when I make her repeat the price three times, and make sure we are talking about the same thing, ensuring its the scarf, the polyester scarf that she is asking £20 for. Tom thinks maybe she thinks I mean the slightly plush one that doesn’t taper into tassells like your bog standard football scarf, but ends with the outline of the KL home kit, so I reiterate once more, that I only want the standard blue and yellow one, the kind of which that doesn’t keep you warm, due to its synthetic nature and that you can pick up outside most Premier League grounds for £10, that she wants £20 for.
I feel like I’m cross examining her, so stop. I thought there was a slim chance of fainting today because of the heat, I never thought I would be feeling light headed because of the price of a souvenir. We back out slowly, Tom getting his pin, me trying to not avoid any further medical complications, when I see the price of a plastic water bottle.
With still ninety minutes to kick off, seats in the stand are clearly at a premium, as people have already like tourists on a package holiday, thrown down their metaphorical towels to secure a
spot. Space for flags in the away end, yes today is segregated, is less difficult to come by. A single Slough Town FC (ST) flag has been hung, it looks like a bit of a homemade jobbie, in black paint on a white sheet, “Rebels”.
Having seemingly softened his attitude Lionel with his piercing brown eyes, is doing a bit of a meet and greet with some young fans, who don’t seem at all threatened by his stubby blue wings. On the pitch both sets of players, casually stroll about, taking in the sun.
The players departure is the cue for the man next to me, who by the looks of it is attempting to covertly turn on the sprinklers. My first thought is how much I would like to stick my head in its stream, my second thought is why is the man turning them on looking so guilty, like he’s not supposed to be doing it.
More and more flags have been added in the home end, a real mixture, that only add to the sense of the big occasion. The occasional passing cars, continue to beep their horns in support.
There has been such an influx of people since our short pit stop for a Coke on the sticky sofas, next to the gold dust scarves. Many of whom are wearing a vast array of different age and style home kits, as well as ones in West Ham, Millwall, Luton and even a BVB strip. The local BBC reporters with their headphones on, are standing in front of the home dugout, talking loudly into their microphones.
Tom has caught the whiff of something, “smells like Shepherd’s pie” however he thinks his chances already of getting something to eat are slim to none. The queue for the bar is now out the door, and is the main topic of many passing conversations.
It’s not food, but where we are going to stand today that is concerning me. With the heat steadily increasing, and thinking I may well have seen the first victim of the hot weather, a man wearing his walking stick around his neck, I had spotted earlier a nice little spot at one corner of the pitch, near the way in, fully in the shade of the large nearby trees, but that looks to have been taken.
I can’t do another whole day in the sun like yesterday, I’ll turn into a pork scratching. The small contingent of ST fans, who have added to their flag collection have gathered under the roof of their small section of the covered terrace. The rest are fully exposed to the suns rays, but I don’t think I want to stand in a metal roofed shed all day either, I imagine it’s a little bit like something from the Deer Hunter under there.
There is some wonderful irony, most definitely not of the Alanis Morissette kind, when the KL players arrive for their warm up to Glenn Frey’s ‘The Heat Is On’. A single blue and yellow flag, and a smaller chequered one of the same colour, are being waved at the end of thin white plastic flag poles in the stand behind me. The players are greeted not only by the tune from the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack, but also plenty of clapping and shouts of encouragement, “come on lads”.
The amount of sunburn on show is staggering, men and women walkabout brazenly with large slabs of pink, red and scarlet flesh on show, with no attempt to protect themselves. Having come to terms with the fact they are already burnt, I can only assume that they are happy to just put some more burn on top, they will be in agony tonight.
“By far the greatest team, the world has ever seen” sing a small section of the home crowd, already packed tightly, as everyone is everywhere, I’m shoulder to shoulder with a paramedic eating a chocolate muffin, into the covered terrace opposite us.
The muffled voice of the PA, is far from clear, but the fans of both teams still give the customary cheer after each players name is read out from the lineups, even though I’m not sure they can really make out what is being said. When the ST players close to finishing off their warm up, they are serenaded with shouts of “rebels, rebels, rebels” all while David Bowie sings ‘Heroes’.
If only the person in charge of the music had had the foresight to play ‘Rebel, Rebel’ instead, it would have completed the musical irony circle completely.
When the KL players leave, back down the short blue caged tunnel at the base of the stand, the flags are going again just above it, and it’s loud, really loud.
Both sets of fans are singing, both sets of fans are building towards the kick off, there are plenty of signs already that today could be a bit special. The atmosphere takes a bit of a dent when the announcement over the PA informs us that down to “police advice” the games start has been postponed by thirty minutes, because of the sheer amount of people still outside, waiting to get in.
The chanting dips ever so slightly, the fans straining to hear the quiet PA’s announcement, but they are soon back to singing at full force. The pocket of by far the most raucous of the home fans on the terrace are still bouncing, arms still in the air, repeating a particular chant, that on days like today can be prolific, and I’ll be humming for weeks, “we’re on our way”.
By far the most intelligent person I’ve seen today is the man with the small fan built into the brim of his blue baseball cap, blowing cool air directly at his face, the least intelligent person is the old man in a fleece and shirt who is wandering around, somehow oblivious to the fact that it is nearly 30c.
With the delay comes a significant amount of thumb twiddling, I can confirm that the paramedic has finished his muffin and KL have gone back to their changing rooms, having reappeared briefly to confirm the delay. ST though are still outside, a few hide in the shade of the dugout, a few stand around with hands on hips, one practises his kick ups.
The sprinklers are still going, they are manoeuvred about the pitch by their long hoses, sitting on top of what is clearly the bottom half of a shopping trolley, very Scrapheap Challenge or shit Robot Wars depending on your view. The crowd clamour once again, as the KL players reemerge to complete their warm up. Those going through their pre match routines nearest the singing section in the terrace are applauded, and they duly applaud back
“Come on boys lets go” is the instruction of one ST coach, no more time for sitting about, “Slough Town, Slough Town” respond their fans to seeing their players coming back to life. “Rebels, rebels, rebels” they chant again as the players get closer..
Someone very cruelly has made the long line of fidgeting mascots stay in place near the mouth of the tunnel, the time they have had to stand around doing nothing is starting to show, some frankly looking a bit fed up. The teams are read out again, and again its faint cheers from the away fans, much louder ones from the home ones, which is then followed by an apology for the “short run of programmes” apparently they have sold out.
The ST goalkeeping coach wets his gloves in the sprinklers, a novel way to aid with a bit of added traction. I used to have to spit in mine, which I never liked.
Like a never ending game of hokey cokey, the players leave the pitch once more. A couple of home fans near us start to discuss their teams chances for the afternoon ahead. The fact that ST play on a 3G, means that one fans thinks that KL might have a slight advantage, “few nobbles on this pitch could cause them a few problems”.
The roar that eventually welcomes the teams after their in out in out shake it all about last thirty minutes is nothing short of marvellous. Much like at Chelmsford the previous day, it’s a kind of atmosphere we are just not used to. With the wonderful main stand packed, as is every other square inch of the place, I’ll be able to tell you what the paramedic eats next if I wait long enough, it could be mistaken for a game much higher up the pyramid.
Again like our sweaty day in Essex, both sets of fans are giving it everything, “come on King’s Lynn, come on King’s Lynn” is the chant coming from the mass of bobbing heads in the covered terrace, along from them the other side of the makeshift partition, which is basically a bit of flimsy fencing off a building site, the ST fans have gone all 90’s Brit Pop and are singing a song to the tune of Blurs ‘Parklife’.
More and more shouts come from all quarters, “come on the Lynn”, as the referee prepares to kick off.
It’s not from the best of angles we see KL crash a shot off the bar after just five minutes. There is not even the smallest gap to squeeze into, the brick wall that surrounds the pitch in places, is a perfect place to rest a beer and watch the game up against. The flag covered terrace is jammed too, we eventually find a place to stand, but for what might be the first time ever, our view is obscured by the sheer amount of people.
Most if not all home songs emanate from the covered terrace, where one fan, a young one, a really young one, is held in his father’s arms wearing blue ear defenders, “come on King’s Lynn, come on King’s Lynn”.
Not long after hitting the woodwork, KL flash a ball at about head height across the box, the ST keeper in short sleeves, who has forgone wanting the ability to lift his arms tomorrow, for being a bit cooler now, gets a diving hand to it, just about flapping it away from the danger zone.
“We’re gonna score in a minute” sing the home fans, and it feels just like they might. The ST keeper seems a tad rattled, every goal kick gets a “woahhhh you’re shit” he has without doubt been the busier of the two in the opening ten minutes. It might be the beer or the sun, but one nearby fan is feeling supremely confident, “we’ve got this in the bag easy, Slough already feeling the pressure”.
ST finally get a chance at goal, but its soft, the keeper still deciding to parry the shot through, not sure why, hearts flutter for a minute, but he eventually gathers it easily. Their attempt on goal is followed by the single blast of a horn from somewhere in the away end, as well as more rowdy shouts of “rebels, rebels, rebels”.
Any movement in the KL area results in an almighty dust cloud being kicked up, and I wonder if it’s that which the KL keeper will blame his air sliced, almost Paul Robinson Vs Croatia clearance, that lucky for him goes out for a corner. “If we concede from this” laments a home fan, and they almost do. The resulting header is on target, but also right into the arms of the man in goal.
“Come on King’s Lynn” sings the main stand, which quickly spreads throughout the ground. With just over twenty minutes gone, ST have a shot blocked, that wins them another corner. The away fans replicating the recent home song, but with a subtle difference, “come on Slough Town”.
Twenty five minutes on the clock, and KL take the lead. Our view of it is not great. We can see the floated in free kick to the back post well enough, and then the header back across goal, but it’s only the actions of the fans down front that confirms the ball has been bundled in.
We eventually see a glimpse of the celebrating players who have rushed across the pitch towards the terrace. This view is then impeded further by a man, who I can only describe as going mental. He has scaled the low wall, his pint just about still in hand, but he’s lost at least half of it, as he violently punches the air.
“We are going up, we are going up” sing the already confident fans, who now a goal ahead, are even more cocksure.
As has been the case these first thirty minutes or so, KL’s chances come in bursts, and they almost pull two ahead straight away. The short sleeved keeper flaps again at a cross, the KL player with his back to goal, does an overhead kick to get the ball back into the six yard box, the header that follows is just wide. “Dodgy keeper” sing the fans before turning back to a more upbeat tune, “we’re on our way”.
I suspect it’s not because of the oppressive heat that some in the covered terrace are now topless, I’m putting it down to hysteria. The group then suggests to all those that can hear that it’s time to “have a disco”. The noise of the crowd is really something else, one nearby fan mimics another nearby, who is let’s say slightly inebriated, “you say what we need to say” he explains, when the pissed fan realises he is being mocked.
The explanation of one supporter for having bare arms, the sun now pounding against my forehead, making me feel woozy, is not a justifiable excuse for third degree burns, “suns out, guns out”.
“Can you hear the Slough Town sing?” ask the home fans, but don’t have to wait long for a response. ST, who have certainly grown into the game, after a bit of a slow start, then send a shot just wide, causing a collective intake of breath from the supporters around us.
There is a near constant stream of people on the beer run, like ants they head off in single file, coming back not with a bit of a leaf or dismembered wasp, but with armfuls of beer. Showing the same body weight to strength ratio as the insect, many carrying far more than they actually should be able to. The boy with the elephant bubble blower, walking along, not paying much attention to the match, doesn’t have such concerns.
Their number still as healthy as at the start, the group in the terrace are not heading off for refreshments yet, “we all follow the King’s Lynn over land and sea” they sing, they are not going to miss a second of the match, belting out another song to the tune of the Addams Family, “we’re the King’s Lynn family”. They even pose a question to their fellow fans, fans they wonder may only be here because of the occasion, the sun and that its a bank holiday “where were you when we were shit?”.
There is still the odd beeping horn from passing cars, and one loud shout of “come on you Linnets” prompts Tom to look over his shoulder, towards the high wooden fence, asking “is someone outside?”.
The KL keepers kicking ability is soon brought into question again, with two very iffy kicks in a row. Seeing this rouses the horn in the away end, it giving up one of its infrequent blasts.
ST have looked threatening since the start from the few corners they have had, and its via a late set piece that they draw level, with only minutes left of the half to play. What some might call a towering header, sends the ball through the considerable dust cloud, passed the keeper and into the back of the net.
It’s the turn of a ST fan in a pork pie hat to mount the wall, from on high he waits for the charging players who celebrate below him, other fans embracing the scorer as does his teammates, for getting the crucial goal.
“Rebels, rebels, rebels” sing the away end, which gets a quick reply from the home end, “we forget that you were here. This jibe does not deter them from offering up a different tune, “oh when the Town got marching in”. A song for the home fans starts in response high up in the back of the stand, and soon spreads throughout the crowd once more, “come on King’s Lynn”.
The home fans who not long ago were asking if they should “sing a song” for the ST ones, can put that particular chant to the back of the song book, as they are more than happy singing their own ones now.
From the hushed groans and sighs around us and the near delirious scenes in the way end, it’s fair to say it is the visitors who go inside the happier at the break. The voice over the PA is quick to confirm the score and the players seem just as quick to get inside and out of the sun, and so are we.
Even Tom who is positively reptilian when it comes to sun worshipping has had enough. For fourty five minutes straight we have stood with the sun beaming down us, we are done, it’s time to move.
As pulsating as it is, the covered terrace still doesn’t look very appealing. The combination of the collective body heat and metal roof, still makes me think it would be very unpleasant under there. It would be wishful thinking on our part to think we have any chance of getting a spot in the stand among the flag wavers, so the only place for us, is at the other end of the pitch among the rebels.
While we manoeuvre ourselves through the dense crowd, reminiscent of a music festival, such is the amount of flesh on show and pints of lager, the ST fans are taking their turn to goad the home ones, whose lack of noise, they think is worth bringing up, “you’re supposed to be at home”.
Having finally been able to get anywhere near something to eat, Tom learns that the outdoor grill in the away end has “sold out of burgers”. As much as I feel for him, I’ve just spent nearly £10 on bottled water, doing my best to replenish some of the fluid lost in the first half.
The shade of the fence and the large trees behind it, is a welcome relief. I take the risk of sitting down on one of the gravelly steps, as I’m not 100% sure if I will be able to get back up again. Sipping slowly at my child water, trying to savour every drop, the response of one sitting ST fan next to us, to the chant of the seemingly Duracell powered ST fans in their corner of the terrace who ask “stand up if you’re here for the Slough” is perfect, “it’s quite hot you know”.
Tom doesn’t have long to dwell on missing out on a burger, the players are soon back out, both greeted with their own chorus from their respective fans, “rebels, rebel, rebels”, “oh when the Lynn go marching in”.
Sensing perhaps an increased chance of some kind of coming together, to suggest clashes would be a bit dramatic, but clearly feeling in their policy waters of growing tensions between the two sets of fans separated only by the wobbly fence and some very flushed looking stewards, the very small police presence from earlier in the day has grown considerably, and they add their authoritative weight to the party.
Slightly unorthodoxly, but it sounds like the halftime draw is being announced after the game has already restarted. I scramble around for the tickets I got from the Barbara Windsor look a like earlier, but even when I eventually find them, I can’t make out what the PA is saying.
I must admit we are a lot more comfortable now in the away end, there is a bit more room for starters, but also the shade is very welcome. It is though not any less entertaining. Fewer in number certainly, however the ST fans are without a doubt holding their own, the song to the tune Parklife “so many rebels” is on a near uninterrupted loop.
Also our new position means I can see who has been responsible for the single blasts of the horn from this end, the old chap in the blue and yellow jester hat, with bells, and scarf, has a large white horn slung around his neck.
There are a few tasty challenges flying in early on, one in particular from a KL player is followed by shouts of “off, off, off” from the ST supporters, but the player responsible for the far from clean tackle only gets a yellow.
“Keep them out rebels” pleads one fan in yellow nearby, after a KL shot on goal, that in the end was more than routine for the keeper to save, but highlights the fact that it’s the home side who have come out on top in the opening ten minutes.
The visitors have a vast array of different chants, despite the opinion of the home fans that they’ve “only got one song”. Many are being started by the young capo in the covered terrace.
“You’re going home in a combine harvester” is what I think you might call bespoke, crafted to be relevant to the place they are in, for example I’m not sure that one would work so well in North West London. However there are plenty of others, plenty more each as loud and passionately sung as the one before “Slough Town, Slough Town” and after one particular fluent move in attack they suggest they are the “Brazil of the Southern League”.
Since the break, the game has certainly ebbed and flowed a lot more, instead of long periods of only going one way. ST have a shot deflected over, which gets a lines of “rebels, rebels”. They have a another attempt, this time its blocked and once again they respond with their now familiar war cry “rebels, rebels”. All the action in their area has quietened the home fans slightly, which is not lost on the traveling supporters, “you’re supposed to be at home”.
A break in play, brought about by what looked like a clash of heads, allows the downed players to be treated and for the rest of the players to take on some much needed water. It also allows the ST fans to simmer a bit, after their seething shouts of “cheat, cheat, cheat” following what they thought was a KL player going down a bit too easily, just prior to the injury.
“Come on make some noise” demands one ST fan, who doesn’t have to ask twice, “Slough, Slough, Slough”. A rather ruddy faced man with a can in his hand, takes it upon himself to goad the KL fans though the cordon, rather sloppily, and isn’t paid much attention.
Nearly half and hour gone, and the game has shifted back KL’s way now, it is they applying plenty of pressure on the ST keepers goal, who is far too fair haired for short sleeves, and will be suffering tomorrow. “What game you watching?” screams one ST fan towards the referee, when he awards KL a free kick, a free kick that is whipped in excellently, but is eventually cleared.
“Wanker, wanker, wanker” they sing now towards the man in charge, oblivious it would seem to just how dangerous that ball into the box looked for a second. In fact there’s plenty of loud fan commentary, when KL get a foul given against them, it’s their supporters turn to let the referee know what they think, “you’re not fit to referee”.
“It’s going to extra time isn’t it” says Tom, upset I imagine because he had not long ago told me he was “hungry”, and now there will be even more of a gap before he can get something to eat.
One ST defender stretches on the centre circle, watching on as the rest of his teammates attack a corner. They have looked so threatening all afternoon from set pieces, and it looks as good away as any for them to get a winner, and more importantly will allow Tom to get some chicken nuggets sooner rather than later.
“Come on Linnets” shouts one fan from back of the stand. With under ten minutes to go, the game is getting tenser by the second, each team so conscious of not making a mistake. The away fans though don’t seem to be displaying any such signs of stress, not the ones on the terrace at least, they are boisterously singing about drinking the “bar dry”.
The KL players are still arguing with the referee, as he waves play on, the ball still in play, moving now up the pitch. “That was a hand ball” says Tom, the ST defender lucky to get away with stopping the hooked over the shoulder shot from the KL player in the six yard box. The appeal of the home fans is huge, but falls on deaf ears, much like the players remonstrations.
“Cheat, cheat, cheat” chant the home supporters.
The lady next to me can barely bare to watch, she’s going to groan or sigh herself some kind of injury, if she carries on how she is for the remaining five minutes. Her and those around her want to see the ball played on the ground, it’s “all up in the air” she comments, “get it down boys” shouts another. Interestingly one points out, as the KL fans had earlier, that the natural pitch is maybe causing them some problems, “pitch is bobbly”.
“He dropped it, he dropped it” gasps one ST supporter, when at the far end the KL keeper drops what looks like a simple cross from a corner, right at his feet, only for the ball to be crashed away, before any ST player can capitalise. Despite what looks like a reasonably diddy front line, and the lack of threat the numerous highballs into them have been, they continue to look so menacing from corners.
With maybe a minute or two left to play, Tom is sure the ST keeper is now playing for extra time and spot kicks, “I think they want penalties, the keeper is slowing everything down” he points out.
What do you know, when you play to a players strengths, good things will happen. Pumping long balls up to a guy under 6 foot, is never likely to pay off. However play it to his feet, add a little bit of individual magic, a classy chop inside to avoid the defender, and a cool side footed finish, with one minute, yes one minute of normal time to play, ST have taken the lead.
“Oh Manny, Manny. Manny, Manny, Manny Williams” sing the fans, the scorer followed by his teammates meander to the corner of the pitch to celebrate, right in front of the home fans, this provokes someone into throwing something, but does not from where we are, seem to ruin the moment.
The woman who was only minutes ago, was and groaning and tutting is now screaming, having half mounted the wall herself, while one young fan, I’m not sure knows what to do with himself, charges up and down the crumbling steps, pumping his fist, mouth opened wide, simply shouting “yes, yes, yes, yes”.
There will be “four minutes of extra time” says the voice over the PA, who sounds like the wind has been knocked right out of his sails. The same though cannot be said for the home fans, who give it one last “come on King’s Lynn, come on King’s Lynn”
As you can imagine in the away end, their sails are fully blown, the songs now even more frequent, somehow even louder, “la, la, la, la, la,Slough town” .
In the seconds and minutes following the final whistle, and for about the next half an hour, I think I would be right in saying it might be the most hectic, frantic and at times verging on the the unsavoury end to game in our three years.
“We are going up” is the song now being sung. It is by far the loudest of all the many songs they’ve not stopped singing all day. The players have joined their jubilant fans in their little corner of the ground, a few have entered the pitch, dancing, arms aloft, pumping the air. Its only for the shorts, that you are able to distinguish player from supporter. The stewards do their best to usher the fans off the pitch, but its slow going.
All this revelry is not going down well with a small section of the home fans, those who had been on the terrace for the game. Quite quickly it is clear that the cordon is not robust enough to hold them back the baying supporters, who are not taking kindly to having their defeat so brazenly rubbed in their faces.
Going full Maginot Line, instead of going through the defences, they just go around them, soon many are hopping over the low wall on to the pitch and are making their way towards the ST fans. This unfortunately means batons are quickly drawn and put into attack position, also from somewhere a very large, very angry looking dog black dog appears, straining at its leash.
Amongst all the joy is a shed load of heartbreak, many of the KL players are strewn across the floor around their dugout distraught in defeat. They are forced to watch on as a small table is brought out, and the winners medals and trophy are placed on top.
With the angry home fans still on the pitch, yelling from behind the police line, it was probably ill -advised to allow the awarding of the silverware to be done, with them still on the pitch. The chants of “we are going up” now from the players, who are spraying each other with fizz and posing for pictures, was perhaps a bit ill advised. It’s at the point where we come the closest to any actual conflict, when the small group of idiots start surging towards the now medal wearing players, only to be forced back once again by the threat of being hit with a baton.
The stadium all but empty now, the KL manager finishes up with the considerable group of press that had surrounded him and the task of tidying up starts to begin, the ST fans have been held back. Now in the opposite corner to where they had spent the day, they don’t seem bothered one bit about any delay to getting home, it just means more time to sing, sing, sing, “its the Slough Town boys making all the noise”.
I heard two things today, I never thought I would ever hear Tom say, “that dog wanted blood” and “someone is hog tied on the pitch”. To stress it was a very small minority, as it always is, that slightly marred the end of the match, but the actions of a few should not reflect badly on the majority of KL fans who where exemplary.
The ST keeper win his “lucky” Snow White towel, the second ST goal scorer in the fans pork pie hat, the supporter on the pitch conducting the fans in the stand, “la, la, la, la Slough Town”, the stunning ground, the “inspired substitution” as one person put it, when describing the introduction late on of “Manny, Manny, Manny Williams” who grabbed the winner and even the plain clothes policemen, with hands pressed to their ears all contributed to a day the kind of which only happen at this time of year. The kind of game where so much is in the balance, where emotions are amplified and a single goal can be the difference between crowning glory to end of the perfect season, or absolute anguish.
‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ was one of the pop classics the ST fans appropriated at one point today. If you’re a KL fan, rubbing after sun into your obliterated arms and are nursing a hangover, its football that tore you apart this bank holiday weekend.
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