Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game continue their non-league odyssey, this time out visiting the home of football for Sheffield FC v Prescot Cables in a FA Trophy Extra Preliminary Round.
Words by Daniel Magner. Photographs by Tom Sparks
It shouldn’t make me as uncomfortable as it is, but the sight of Tom loitering about outside the front door of my block of flats, is really a bit unnerving, and it reminds me I must get in touch with the landlord about upping security. For the first time this season he has come to me, parking his behemoth of a car somewhere on my street, as we are heading north today. Not east to Essex or south to Kent or Sussex, but north or as he always calls it, the “proper North” and by that he means further than Potters Bar.
Most of our time in the car heading two and a half hours straight up, is consumed with more FIFA chat. Tom explaining the gratification he gets from winning online due to making people “rage quit”, all while he sips from a ceramic Marvel universe travel mug, containing the cup of tea I made for him. I know, I know, I’m awesome.
The nuances of FIFA 19 are not all that we talk about, we are not totally one dimensional. I can honestly say though I never thought I would hear Tom utter the sentence, “she has good piping skills”, when the topic of the Great British Bake Off crops up, and we both discuss the genuis that was the Christmas scene Kim-Joy managed to do in miniature with icing, on the side of a biscuit.
Tom is a kean vaper, his current device akin to something you might have seen in the early episodes of Star Trek or one of Kryton’s attachments, is omitting a very odd smell. Normally I don’t mind the faint odour of grape or candy floss or whatever he has happened to fill it with that day, but this morning, it’s horrible. I wonder if what I can sense is in fact some countryside smell from the outside world, but its not, and he informs me its the “strawberry cheesecake” liquid, he’s currently vaporising to my left.
I haven’t been a smoker for six years and therefore missed the whole vape thing. I had no idea the possibilities and vast array of flavours available. When he informs me I could be sucking in anything from beef, bacon or pizza flavoured smoke, I’m astounded.
Oh, and I forget to make my obligatory attempt at a poetic comment about the sky or the autumn tones of the trees, that my other half/proof reader finds so amusing, so just for her I’ll keep it simple, today its blue.
Other than our trips north of Watford, Tom doesn’t venture outside the M25 all that much, “like being abroad” he says as we approach Chesterfield. A large piece of roundabout sculpture has him mesmerised and the sight of the twisted wonky spire of Chesterfields church of St Mary and All Saints, well you would think we were passing one of the seven wonders of the world. His head is on a swivel, his eyes dart about like he is seeing things, he has never seen before.
At one point he is even convinced we are being followed by an “angry biker” a “Sons of Anarchy” type he calls him. This is Derbyshire for fuck sake, not Charming.
Although my demented Sat Nav looks like it is trying to direct me to a petrol station, it is thankfully spot on with its route planning, steering us pretty much to the front door of the Coach & Horses pub, from which the adjacent ground, takes its name. A squat sandstone building, with a slate roof. It’s sign swaying gently, below it some benches and hanging baskets, makes it near picture perfect.
My car struggles up the short but steep slope up into the car park, teetering on what feels like the edge of a cliff, I check, then double check the handbrake is on hard, so we don’t come back and my car has rolled into the road. The main door of the pub is narrow, built for the malnourished hobbits of yesteryear, not 21st century brutes like me. Inside the beer taps are glistening and the sound of Led Zeppelin fills the room, both are very good signs
Having not even seen a blade of grass or a floodlight yet, and even if I didn’t know where I was, I would still be able to tell you we are in a place of football significance, because of the sheer amount of football/ultra stickers that are plastered on the cistern in the loo and anywhere else you could put one. The importance of where we are is only reinforced by the vast array of different countries that they have come from.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say, that today’s ground and club, is tantamount to a football El Dorado, a shire, a mecca. Somewhere, that someone has a keen eye for a funny, because scribbled on the sign over one urinal that reads “out of order” someone has added in biro “you’re”.
We had convinced ourselves the entrance to the ground would be through the pub, like it was some great stone turnstile, where you can get a pint of local IPA with your ticket. It is though only a short walk to the entrance to the “Home Of Football” that the sign on one fence proclaims this particular corner of the football universe is.
I’m not sure, but I bet there are a few football clubs who attest to being the ‘first’, just like I imagine there are a few barns in Bethlehem who claim to be where Jesus was born and a few dingy Soho clubs who claim to be the first place the Stones played, but none of them have been recognised as being so, not only by the FA, but also the all seeing eye, the Big Brother of soccer, FIFA, like Sheffield FC (SFC) have been.
Formed in 1857, they can unequivocally say they are the world’s very first football club and they are not shy in letting you know about it. Although we are here to watch SFC, named after one of Yorkshire’s major cities, we are not actually in Sheffield or even in Yorkshire, but Derbyshire. Yorkshire is one mile up the road.
“A tough one” explains the SFC physio, who claims to be the “busiest in the league”. Their opponents today Prescot Cables FC (PC) have “not lost” since the start of the season, and as the physio points out, Liverpool have a knack of “producing good teams”.
Bathed in bright autumn sun, the trees that stand at one end of the Coach & Horses are on the turn and Tom is impressed by the “nice pitch” and the fact that its “straight” unlike so many of the wonky, tilted ones we encounter.
Three quarters of the ground are quite charming, with a small seated stand behind one goal, and a small terrace along one side, with “home of football” brandished across it. In one corner is the back of the pub and opposite it a large, manual scoreboard, with stacks of numbers on white boards piled up at its base, ready to be applied whenever a goal is scored, it’s a bit like something from a cricket oval.
One whole side of the ground though, the same as the dugouts, is not so scenic. A long blue tarp covers the bare earth bank underneath, a long blue tarp endorsed by FIFA no less, its large badge stamped on one end. Next to the seated stand is a formation of black and red portacabins, that contain the boardroom, club shop, changing rooms and where Toms eyes have fixated, the refreshments.
“Hope they do gravy” he says, running his eyes over the menu, I think that’s the only reason he agrees to these trips further afield is because of his love of all things hot, brown and beefy. “Just says chips and pies” he adds not long after, a tad disappointed. He still orders though, and sits down on of the few benches set out.
In Richard Tims, SFC have a chairman who is not backward in coming forward. In his green tweed jacket, with a vice like grip, he along with his son, the acting mini chairman in his colourful woolly hat, join the already long list of warm welcomers. “You never know in non league football” he explains, when I ask him how many people through the already ticking turnstile they would expect today. “Wednesday and United are not at home today” he adds, so that’s in their favour, and not so long ago “two hundred and fifty Cologne fans” turned up, “mental” he says, his face lighting up, so he can never be sure.
With an average gate being around two hundred and eighty, he would hope for close to that, but it being a cup game means “no season tickets” are valid and he probably sums up the life of a chairman and the anxiety of how many people are going to turn up, week in, week out, perfectly in one sentence, “If it’s chucking down on a Tuesday night and Barcelona are on the telly, it will wipe out half your gate”.
It being a Saturday, the sun is unseasonably glorious and as far as I know Barcelona are not on the TV, he should be OK.
One thing I certainly wasn’t expecting today was an assignment. “Loud and clear” shouts someone on the pitch to the person testing the PA, high up on the second floor of the portacabin heap. The first piece of music to come over the recently tested speakers sounds like the opening of a 1960’s TV show and it is my enquiry with Richard, as to what is it from, that triggers him setting me my homework.
“Shazam it” he tells me when I ask him again what the music is from. Not only was I not aware that was a thing anymore, I think the last time someone used it was around the same time someone asked Jeeves something, it would just be a lot simpler if he would tell me. However he has a mischievous glint in his eye, he’s not giving up the answer easily and he tells us he hopes Shazam is still a thing, because if it isn’t, it’s going to seriously damage his street cred with his kids, “don’t want them thinking I’m any less cool”.
The recently arrived PC players like Tom, are more than happy with the state of the pitch, as they do their customary wander about on it before getting ready for their warm up. “That’s alright” says one, “like a carpet”, says another. One of their coaches points out that, “if you can’t play football here, you can’t play anywhere”, all while You Sexy Thing by Hot Chocolate. Which of course was on the Full Monty soundtrack, which yes you remember correctly was based in Sheffield.
In the opposite corner of the ground to the man sitting on a low wall listening attentively to his transistor radio, is the members and supporters wall. Long, shiny and black, what it lacks in names on it, the majority of the gold spaces on it are empty, it makes up for in the calibre of the people who are, Ian Rush, Sir Bobby Charlton, Alan Mullery and Gordon Banks.
I can’t stress enough quite how lovely the weather is, us southerners do have some daft
preconceptions about how it can be in the North, but I’m delighted to say its a beauty of a day, and although I’m not that a huge Heather Small fan, her warbling is pleasant enough accompaniment and I’m sure she was also on the 1997 miners doing a bit of stripping film soundtrack too.
Tom having finished his pie, a very nice pie at that, served upside down to allow for quick access to the bountiful filling, he is though not as upbeat as I thought he would be, as he puts it, he is feeling “duped”.
“He had mushy peas and gravy, I didn’t know that was on offer” he says sullenly, pointing to one of the bigger boys, whose pie is smothered in the thick brown gravy he loves so much, as well as a healthy serving of vivid crushed peas.
Pulp follow the Arctic Monkeys on the speakers, but Richard tells me I’ve only worked out “half” of his conundrum, but that I’m “on the right track”, when I march up to him, sure I’ve cracked his test, telling him the answer must be that all the music is Sheffield themed.
Of the three games we’ve seen so far this season, we’ve only seen one win, and one goal, “I really wanna see some goals today” hopes Tom, not only for the entertainment value of them, but because he wants to see the “scoreboard in action”.
The chance of a raffle today seems iffy, “depends if someone turns up”, I’m told. Tom is indulging in some retail therapy, his stomach suitably full. Buying himself a one hundred and sixty years commemorative SFC shirt, a red and black harlequin number, with a string tie collar, a kit worthy of gracing any collection. He pays the man at the pop up club shop, a small table set up near the tunnel, the man after him shells out a few pennies for a team sheet and tells the vendor that he “hopes” today is “better than Tuesday”, “can’t get any worse than that” he replies. SFC lost 6 – 0 away.
“Cables, Cables” sing the visiting fans, distinguishable by their bright yellow scarves, gathered around the end of the red tunnel, that has just been extended a fair way to the edge of the pitch. “Welcome to the home of football” says the voice over the PA, while the PC supporters sing a song that includes their nickname, one that instantly joins the likes of the Beavers of Hampton & Richmond, The Angels of Tonbridge, as being just a bit too nice for football, a little bit Disney, or in their case Scooby Doo, “pesky bulls”.
Kick off brings more chanting from the moderately sized contingent from Merseyside, it also for the first time makes us aware that the referees assistant running the line in front of us, bares a striking resemblance to a less bulky Chris Hemsworth.
Such is the height of the barrier around the pitch, it allows us to perch on the nearby breeze block wall with a perfect view, which is only spoilt occasionally by the shuffling flag bearing Thor. One man next to us, has taken it to the next level and is on a padded fold out chair, chuffing profusely on a cigarette. The PC fans have changed song, their latest offering to the tune of Anarchy In The UK.
On five minutes SFC have a goal bound shot blocked and I’m not sure the PC fans have stopped singing yet. One of their number, away from the main company has hung his small yellow flag, featuring the red rose of Lancaster, his pint resting perfectly next to it.
A minute later PC attack, the first of a succession of attacks by the away team. Their first sees the home keeper do a big floppy punch to the cross into his box, where he gets more of his team mate than the ball. The second is a jet heeled counterattack, with a curling shot at its end that’s just over, and the third, interrupts their fans singing about asking their mothers “what will I be”, and inspires a new one about playing like “Brazil”, bolstered by the fact they are wearing yellow tops and blue shorts.
“I don’t think they’re going to stop singing” says Tom, even when they look to be taking a breather, one keeps it up, “I’ll sing on my own” he announces.
SFC’s physios concerns seem to be founded, it’s all one way traffic. PC have what seems a quite legitimate shout for a penalty turned down, “handball” cry the players, but the referee gives a corner instead. “What happened there, he went flying” asks Tom, the one PC player going airborne due to a hefty shove from a PC defender, there is another appeal for a penalty, but again nothing is given. All this action right in front of them, only encourages the PC fans further, “Cables, Cables”.
The PC onslaught is only briefly adjourned by a half chance from a SFC corner, but PC are soon back at it. Attacking down the right, the winger is spoilt for choice as to who to pass to in the box. Chopping the ball one way, then the other, he sends his marker inside out, he chips the ball delicately into the box, only for the SFC keeper to pluck it from the air.
All this, and it’s only a quarter of an hour gone.
I understand football has moved on a lot since a time of cigarettes at half time, keepers wearing no gloves, players owning tie shops to earn a little bit of extra money and two points for a win. We are about pink boots, Snapchatting on the bench during games, over elaborate goal celebrations now, which is fine, but I think that the Thor looking lino, with his sparkling blue boots, is a step too far, #AgainstModernFootball.
Tom just thinks I need to get over it, pointing out that that is the “norm” now.
PC are attacking at will, “come on Cables” chant their fans and Tom is fleetingly confused by the mixture of unfamiliar accents, thinking someone is shouting “shooo, shooo” like the old lady would in a Tom & Jerry cartoon to that troublesome mouse beneath her stockinged leg, when the ball enters the SFC box, a new version of clear it, only for it to be PC fans telling their player to “shoot”.
“Where’s he played the ball then dickhead?” asks a PC fan in a thick Liverpudlian accent, when they have their third appeal for a penalty turned down. “Not touched him” confirms the referee to the appealing players. Looked a pretty bang on penalty to me.
SFC incursions into the PC half are few and far between, they are nearly handed the chance at an undeserved advantage, when the all neon green PC keeper, who looks like “Fabianski” according to Tom, charges out of his box and appears to handle the ball, but it goes unpunished.
Not for the first time in the game, the speed of the match ball returning to the pitch is brought into question, “can we get these balls sorted, it’s getting a bit embarrassing” complains a home player. On one occasion when one is hoofed on to the pitch by the SFC bench, it ends up hitting one of their own players plumb on the top of the head. The players demeanour, cowering with his arms above his head, made me think he might have had a premonition it was going to happen, “of all the people to hit” chuckled Tom.
The visiting fans are the far more vocal, Tom doesn’t get the “pesky bulls” nickname though, but the shouts from those away supporters around us, like they have been all match are loud and reassuring, “keep going Cables it will come”. One fan though is not quite as positive, “get a grip Cables”, he yells, it’s as if he could sense some kind of imminent danger. An SFC player also has a slight moment of clairvoyancy of his own, “standards” he shouts, and that’s just what they do, upping them considerably.
“Started brightly, but not a lot happening now”, says Tom with about twenty seven and a half minutes gone, when the clock hits about twenty eight and a half, he tells me he takes his previous comment “back”, SFC have just scored. A knock down at the far post into the box is latched on to by the sprightly number 8 who crashes it home.
“What’s going on here?”, asks one PC fan baffled, unable to get his head around how they have just spent the previous twenty seven minutes hammering on the SFC door, only to find themselves behind. They do not though have long to wait long before they are back battering away at it again.
The scoreboard changed, the man rifled around for his big number one, reached up high, removed the nought and replaced it, and neither of us bloody saw it happen. “Keep going lads, it will come” suggests a still confident PC fan, as they continue their siege of the home goal, seemingly not too dejected by the SFC goal. Great feet sees one of their players graft some enough room to shape up to shoot, only for his shot again to get deflected just wide. It’s back to the walls stuff for SFC.
A temporary match of midfield pinball breaks out with about ten minutes left to play, neither team it seems wanting to keep the ball longer for long, give it away, only to win it back again just as quick, it’s all shins, knees and loose touches. The sight of which gets the away fans all animated “Cables, Cables, Cables”.
Tom is really relishing the sun, his mood is improved tenfold by what he thinks is the Top Gun esq call for a player called “Ace” coming from the home bench. I personally would rather be standing with the home fans on the black and red striped terrace opposite, I’m really not much of a sun worshipper.
SFC’s number 3 is young, maybe no more than seventeen and until now he’d been having a reasonably solid game, it is however him that Tom is “feeling sorry for” when his poor header, ultimately leads to PC getting back into the match. To be fair to him, there is a lot more that happens after it, but it was the catalyst that starts the attack.
“Get in there, come on” howls one of PC fan. Like I said a lot happened after number 3’s header, the home goalie is in for some stick too, “good save keeper lad” declares a PC supporter, he couldn’t hold on to the low angled shot, pushing it right back into the six yard box, allowing for a simple tap in. “you’re fucking shit” adds the same sympathetic fan.
What I call dancing, my interpretation of a PC players close control to get past his marker, Tom calls “fumbling”, he didn’t think he knew much about it, but however the PC player got into the box for the late chance, he got there nonetheless. “These lot will shit themselves now”, shouts one PC fan, who I suspect is the same one who was trolling the SFC keeper earlier.
Unfortunately for PC a spot of sideline shenanigans breaks up their momentum, when the two dugouts start going at it. From where we are we can’t really make out what’s going on, I think I see some water being squirted and a hell of a lot of posturing, the players on the pitch from either side just look embarrassed, and the away fans are loving it, “Cables, Cables, Cables”. The referee in his attempt to regain control, goes a little bit substitute teacher, “behave”.
Although there are calls from the home bench to “calm it down” the game is at points close to boiling over. PC have the last chance of the half, a close range attempt is blocked by the keeper who deflects it out for a corner, which comes to nothing. There is no extra time, the tunnel is out, ready and waiting for the departing players.
“Come on lads” shouts on of the PC fans who have stayed put to clap their team off. The music is soon back on, ABC’s Poison Arrow is followed by a long string of Arctic Monkeys numbers, by the sounds of it, someone has just opened up their Spotify page and left it playing. Pulp are next, Tom confesses to not being much of a fan of theirs, so does his best to drown them out, first by explaining to me what a “flat white” coffee is in much detail, then secondly what a “flat mocha” is, cheers dude.
The opposing managers emerge from the tunnel deep in conversation, some kind of peace accord has been brokered, following the pre break spat. The referee is out way after the players, Tom with his vulgar schoolboy hat firmly on, mutters “nice shit ref?” then snigger’s to himself. Jarvis Cocker is still blaring over the speaker only seconds before the ball is kicked to restart the match.
PC are first to craft a chance, the half only about three minutes old, however its way, way over. When they win a free kick a couple of minutes later, there is something about the manic, me, me, me, me waving of the PC number 5 that gives an inkling that he might like to take it. He does and it’s not half bad, the player at the back post doesn’t do it justice, putting his free header wide. Most if not all the players have their head in their hands, astounded.
“They look warm” says Tom passive aggressively, the PC fans have of course swapped ends, along with their flag, more to do with the fact that they want to be closer to the goal their team are now attacking, more than they are chasing the last vestiges of the sun’s warmth.
After what was a rather rampant first half the opening quarter of the new one, feels a bit flat. Tom seems to the think that the “longer it goes on” 1 – 1, the more he reckons “Sheffield will win”, but then says in the next breath if PC “score next, they could run away with it” I think that’s called having all the bases covered or in gambling circles, hedging your bets.
On about the fifteen minute mark, the course of the match, is inexplicably affected, we’re talking buying the Grays Sports Almanac, taking you Mum to the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance kind of affect, by a very controversial call by the referee and his spangly boot wearing assistant. The looping SFC header is well out of reach of the PC keeper and is destined for the top corner of the goal. Perhaps not so sure that is the case, one SFC player attempts to make sure and in doing so, having supposedly come from an offside position, rules the goal void.
Just for the record the ball was going in and didn’t need his extra touch, regardless and as the SFC players attest, “he never touched it” he really didn’t, but the linesman has raised his flag, giving it for interfering with play perhaps or obstruction, whatever it is, it isn’t a goal, much to the delight of the PC fans who I’m sure were a little on edge for a second, who let out a sarcastic, “weyyyyyyyyy”. A very red faced Richard speaking on behalf of all SFC supporters, is giving the linesman both barrels from the sidelines.
SFC look like a different team, since the restart, far more assured, they themselves however, despite their new found tenacity are not immune to the odd wobble. When PC look to have scored, you can almost see all the swagger draining out of them, only for the goal to be ruled off, for offside, so in response they go up the other end and all but decimate the crossbar with a long range rasping shot. The distant shouts of “Cables, Cables” doesn’t sound as confident as before.
It is a bit of nifty wing play and a cynical challenge, with just over twenty minutes gone, that leads to the next major talking point. The SFC wideman leaves his marker for dead, zipping on by him, leaving him no other option but to stick a leg out to trip him up, instead of allowing free reign in to the box.
The PC defender is booked, the free kick is lofted in and the keepers method to clear is a hoaky overhand right punch, that only gets the ball as far as the edge of the box, where his teammate momentarily gains possession, only to lose it again. Once more the ball is sent goalwards, this time it’s a bit more up and over, one SFC player breaks free of the defensive line, attempting to latch onto the high ball.
His progress is quite unceremoniously halted by a combination of upper thigh and bum of the leaping PC keeper, who gets nowhere near the ball, and totally wipes out the SFC number 10, which results in a penalty, much to the dismay of one nearby PC fans, “fuck off”.
It is not the most convincing of spot kicks from the number 10, maybe he is still a bit rattled after being attacked by the PC’s keepers arse, but he scores, bobbling it along the ground into the bottom left hand corner.
I think it’s for about the sum total of three minutes that the home side look a good bet to see this one out, onto the next round boosted by a win over a tough opponent, until as one PC fan put it, an SFC defender “UFC’ed” a PC forward on the edge of the box and gets a second yellow.
The red card takes the referee a while to administer, because it all gets a little heated once again, there
is plenty of rutting and chest thumping and as Tom notices too, one SFC player is lucky to still be on the pitch once it is, because he clearly stamped more than once on one PC players foot.
As you can imagine the PC fans who had a grandstand view of the melee are delighted, “fucking move” shouts one as the dismissed player takes the long walk of shame off the pitch at a snail’s pace.
When the set piece is eventually taken, it is very almost a double whammy for the home side, testing each and every one of the home fans resolve to the enth degree, when the free kick, which never looks like it got off the ground, hit the foot of the post, “Cables, Cables, Cables”.
Into the final fifteen of the match and I honestly have no idea which way this game is going. “If they can cling on to this, it’s a great result” says Tom, but clinging on is just what they are doing, its fingernail stuff. It’s all PC, the home side look for the same ball over the top when they get the ball that is, but its not paying off, and the visitors look certain to be the ones to score next.
“Don’t forget we’re one down” might just be the the least helpful instruction from a team’s bench we will hear all season. I’m not sure stating the bleeding obvious is going to help anyone, I’m pretty sure no one had forgotten.
“Nice, nice” says Tom when a purposeful run and powerful shot by the SFC number 7 is saved well. As a former goalkeeper himself, I imagined his appreciation was for the skill of the stop, when it is actually because at the moment his score prediction is correct and even though we don’t as of yet have anything riding on our wager, the simple case of being able to get one over me, has him delirious. He must have said “final whistle please ref” about five times already, he has no desire to see any more goals.
“Speed it up ref” insists one PC supporter, banging the hoarding, the SFC keeper for some unexplained reason is now taking an age to do anything.
Not far from the second person I’ve spotted today with a transistor radio, its long silver antennae picking up Radio 5 Live no doubt, updating its owner on all the up to date scores or he’s listening to Heart FM, Richard sits on the low wall, his son next to him, looking on forlorn, “can we hang on with ten men” he ponders as I pass him.
It looks like if SFC have any chance of scoring again, and putting this game out of PC’s reach, it’s going to be down to their number 10, whose movement, hold up play and positioning, means he is able to single handedly torment the PC defence. He is by no way one of the biggest players on the pitch, we’re talking brain over brawn. With only a few minutes to go, he nearly puts the game out of sight, but his shot is saved.
Edging ever closer to full time, there are plenty of nervous home fans around us, “come on guys” pleads one, as a PC half chance nearly results in a goal. Nerves quickly turn to anger, when SFC don’t help themselves, giving the ball away cheaply in midfield, “what ya messing at”.
There can literally be only about a minute left to play, and the familiar cry of the PC fans at the far end of the pitch, rings out again, “Cables, Cables, Cables”, they’ve only gone and equalized. The voice of the man over the PA is one of absolute dejection, when he reads the name of the scorer and time of the goal aloud.
Deep into injury time and PC clearly want this tie sewn up today, however it is the home team, a man down remember, still reeling from the late sucker punch of an equaliser, who go close to winning it not once, but twice.
Audacious, ambitious, outright ballsy, whatever it was, the attempt at a long range lob, I mean really long range, would have been the perfect end to what has been a engrossing match. Having joined the SFC fans behind the goal, we all watch as it sails just over, no way I say to myself, in anticipation of witnessing something insane, as it soars towards us.
I can’t believe what I have just seen, how, oh how are SFC not ahead. The run down the right wing, the ball across the box all perfect, all perfectly timed, and what looked like a simple back post tap in for the picked out player, is not so. How has he conspired to put it wide? It was an open net, lying face down in the goal mouth, I doubt the number 17 wants to get up again, and the sight of such a blatant miss, makes me make an involuntary noise akin to that a long dead human body, being turned over, might make.
“If I was a neutral I’d say that was a fare result, but I’m not” says a SFC fan, the red tunnel extended for the last time today, the players slow to leave the pitch, the rigours of what for the whole was pretty blood and thunder stuff, visible across their faces.
A visit to the Coach & Horses, is tantamount to a visit to a living football museum, but without any out of work aspiring young actors having to pretend for eight hours a day they are a chimney sweep. One can not be anything but a little bit awe struck by the fact that SFC are where it all begun, they are the very first, the first of what must be millions of teams that have come after them.
“Can’t say that wasn’t entertaining?” says Richard, as we make our way to leave, asking if we are heading to the pub first, a pub he tells us he has failed to find a “better one” in all of non league. Richard who I now see in a different light, he is more the head curator than the chairman. Custodian of what I imagine can be quite a heavy burden at time. Responsible for the direction of such an entity, with so much history and significance.
If you ever get the chance to see the SFC boardroom you will see they are not short on shiny things, cups, awards and accolades from all around the world, and if we may, we would like to add to the already heaving shelves and sparse wall space. It’s very small award, very understated, but its one from the heart. I think the biggest thumbs up we can give any club we visit, is when Tom says its one he could see himself supporting.
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