Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game continue their non-league odyssey, this time out venturing to Witham Town for a local affair with Heybridge Swifts in the Bostik League North. 

Words by Daniel Magner. Photographs by Tom Sparks

I wouldn’t go as far as calling myself a football traditionalist, a football romantic yes, but I’m not adverse to changes or modifications to most elements of the game, as long as they are not just gimmicks, the MLS halfway line penalty shoot out for example and most crucially, that they benefit all involved, the clubs, players and fans.

P1020334One thing I am definitely in favour of, and as much as I love a 15:00 kick off on a Saturday, is football on a Friday. Once the exotic folly enjoyed by our European neighbours, it seems more and more that it is being adopted in the UK, and I love it.

You’ll be glad to hear that the car is now a FIFA free zone, I won’t bore you with too much with what has replaced it, the amazing Red Dead Redemption Two and the best way to shoot a squirrel to ensure the pelt is perfect or the ideal way to kill a man at thirty paces with a tomahawk, but I was a little peeved to say the least, when describing my character’s appearance to Tom that he said he sounded like “Jeremy Clarkson”.

More traffic, the only downside of an evening game, is the inevitable grind of rush hour. “Long way from Lincoln” says Tom, the car in front of us is sporting one of those minute scarves in its rear window. Creeping into Essex no faster than at maybe ten miles an hour, at this rate the Imps fan is going to take days to get to Sincil Bank.

The only break away from discussing our western adventures is when Tom fills me in on his midweek visit to the Emirates and £10 touch base with his beloved Gooners with his visiting nephew. A half empty stadium, a far from riveting match and a curious altercation where the person behind him, hit the person in front of him with a rolled up newspaper, who turned out to be a young woman and not a young man, and all hell broke loose.

Add into the mix Tom being mistaken as his nephews agent, when the already signed future catwalk star was spotted, “you’ve got Gucci all over your face” said the talent scout about Tom’s nephew and not Tom, it was an eventful evening, even if the football was a bit drab.

“Gonna be a cold one” says Tom, looking forlornly out the window. I fear he’s not wrong, it’s a definite big coat evening and it is now that time of year, that however early we might get to where we are going, it’s inevitably going to be dark when we get there.

Trains seem to be a theme as of late, not travelling on them, but their proximity to the grounds we visits. Admittedly the one running along behind Spa Road, home of Witham Town FC (WT) is not North Ferriby close, however it’s still quite intrusive as it rattles past.

The sight of the flat roofed clubhouse, with its illuminated frontage, a guiding light in the gloomy car park is a welcome sight, not long out of the car and away from the caress of the heaters, it’s certainly fresh. Through the front doors and the welcome, well the welcome is not the friendliest, “I’m sorry no Giants fans allowed” says a man to a startled looking Tom, who is wearing a San Fransisco Giants cap.

Baseball is clearly thriving in this part of Essex and so are the rivalries. When the man starts to talk to Tom about some such MLB related news, I know full well that Tom’s confident head nodding and affirmative grunting is a ruse, but don’t blow apart his illusion.

20181102_190628Music in so many of our outings, seems to play such a significant part. The girl asking her Dad curiously why the home dressing room is “listening to Whitney Houston?” it’s a valid point. It is not the usual high tempo, get your blood pumping music we normally hear. Saying that Michael Jackson is coming from the away one, as a huge MJ fan myself I’m always in favour of hearing him, but again it’s a bit school disco.

A quick wander pitchside, before promptly returning back to the clubhouse, it really is cold, we witness one of the clubs youth teams being put through their paces, being shown their positions as tonight’s guard of honour.

Perhaps not au fait with the subtle art of clapping and cheering, their instructor requests a dry run, and informs the young guns not to “boo” any of the away players, when they appear for the warm up. Another train slips by and the young men only in flimsy tracksuits, genuinely look a bit concerned with well over an hour to kick off, when one of their coaches jokes “they’ve gotta stay there all night”.

“We’ll have to chisel them out of their ice cubes” jokes another.

Time for tea, time for some scalding non league tea to help banish Jack Frost. Standing at the long dark wood bar, behind which the shelves are littered with all manner of the clubs silverware, Tom’s choice of accompaniment to his cuppa, is a packet of Wotsits.

The clubhouse is busy, no great surprise considering. A big TV, something else that Tom and I spoke about on the way here, the purchasing of a new one, because my daughter took a wooden block to mine and has broken it, draws most people’s attention. No one is using the darts board, but what was covered when we arrived, the snooker table has just had its faded emerald base revealed by some kids, their cues taller than them.

“I could eat now” says Tom not even halfway through his crisps, “they’re doing burgers” he reliably informs me. He laughs at my hasty attempt to drink my tea, which is still face melting hot, and I forgo any sensation in the tip of my tongue, just to have a sip of something warming.

Tom gestures with his head, towards the “box of tricks” as he calls it, the blue storage container full of WT club tat, and I use the word tat in the nicest possible way. I’m a big advocate of football tat, who doesn’t need a nylon scarf that won’t keep you warm or a club branded mouse mat. There is also a big box of programs, but my attempt to get one is thwarted, I’ll have to wait and get one on the “turnstiles” I’m informed.

As ever it is I who has the last laugh, “oh it is hot” splutters Tom, having just had his first taste of his tea, and he also loses the use of his taste buds, however will he enjoy his food now? Cutlery wrapped in napkins is being laid out on the table next to us, someone a bit more decisive than Tom has ordered. Enviously looking at a child’s burger, he still procrastinates, “shall I eat now?”. Even the cry from behind the bar, “cheeseburgers”, someone else’s order is ready, can’t make his mind up for him.

The single black and white striped scarf wearing Heybridge Swifts FC (HS) fan at the bar enjoys a pint. The thunderous rumble from behind me is not another train, but the kids on the pool table releasing the balls and starting to rack them up. Even the arrival of next doors food, which brings a sizable grin to Tom’s face, still can’t twist his arm to order, and having finally been able to finish my tea, I’m ready to head back outside.

Before leaving though, I would quickly like to address a comment I overheard someone make on the way out, and I’m sorry but you’re wrong, “jeans and a jumper” categorically don’t “always keep you warm”.

DSC_0121I’ve a good feeling about the 50/50 tickets the woman in the WT woolly hat the other side of the turnstiles sells me, next to the club shop, which is little more than a cupboard with the door open and the contents of the blue storage box from earlier pinned to the door. She tells me I can collect my winnings from the “boardroom at half time”, I could tell her about my track record, but she would only get depressed and like I said I’ve got a good feeling about tonight.

I must stay positive, I must stay positive, PMA, PMA.

A man doing a spot of gardening outside the boardroom, freshening up the stone planters, doesn’t
flinch at the sound of some fireworks crackling away in the distance. A HS fan clutching a small white drum, plays the customary non league game of hovering around the halfway line, not wanting to make the error of committing to one end or the other, before its been decided, as to avoid making any unnecessary journeys.

The PA sounds like it’s seen better days, the mix of the person testing it, all while some music plays, makes a terrible din.

Both teams emerge from the long tunnel, lit by a single flickering security light, one player bangs the high crenellated metal sides, in an attempt to bestir his team, to quite a rapturous reception. The youth players rehearsal has clearly payed off and they expertly welcome both teams, with not a hint of jeering. The little white drum is already going and there are an equal amount of shouts for both the home, “come on Witham” and the away team, “come on swifts”.

The teams shake hands, the PA now on better form reads the starting elevens out. Each team forms a quick huddle, before performing one last warm up. WT run in a circle, all looking inwards before suddenly running away from each other. HB just kind of bobble about a bit on the spot, and then like the home team, all run away from each other.

Post the coin toss, the ends decided, a minutes silence for those killed in the recent tragedy at Leicester City is well observed. Many of the youth players, still in position, bow their heads. The players are linked arms over shoulders on opposite sides of the centre circle, with the referee and his assistants in the middle. The only noise to interrupt the silence at Spa road, was a HS fan, a boy dressed as a tyrannosaurus rex making his way to the right end of the pitch. He wasn’t talking, he certainly wasn’t being disrespectful, it was simply the swooshing sound his polyester green costume made as he walked.

“That’s your warning, don’t get caught out like that again” are the stern words of the WT manager, following an early chance to the visitors. A shot is flashed just over, right in front of the dinosaur, who has joined the drummer, and the HS flag in the covered stand behind the goal.

Tom is already feeling the affects, “oh it’s cold isn’t it”. His brand new maroon, Arsenal branded snood, an “upgrade” on his old one, that he very clandestinely put on when he didn’t think I was watching, is not quite having the effect he had desired, in what he calls very dramatically, “sub zero” conditions. Considering how much the HS fans are leaping about to the beat of their half decent drummer, I’m sure they want to cool down rather than warm up.

The young man has emerged from inside the dinosaur, the experience of watching the match out of two tiny holes, from within a neon green straight jacket was short lived. Tom has a vaping rival, because on the opposite corner of the pitch, someone is outdoing him quite monumentally, some older WT fans, not up to date with the world of vaping, have to have what is drifting across the pitch explained to them, and reassured it is not because of a fire.

DSC_0116It is quite an impressive early showing from the HS fans, their songs are frequent if not a little crude, “we hate Maldon, we hate Maldon”. One is sung to the tune of the Sunday evening TV staple of the mid 90’s, Heartbeat, has me thinking that none of them are probably old enough, to remember it being on the box, unless they are keen viewers of ITV4.

They are also quick to pick up on one glaring absence, that of James Beardwell, AKA The Witham Town Super Fan, AKA The Witham Ultra, “where’s your famous atmosphere?”. WT’s frankly dismal current record, has even tested James’s unwavering support, such is his unrelenting devotion, so many defeats have started to take their toll. It was such a joy watching his one man assault on the ears of the people of Hertford Town, when we saw him last season, so it is a shame not to see him on his home patch, however we wish him well, and I’m sure we’ll see him on the road soon.

“That is what I told you about” barks the WT manager, towards the same players as before, who has just made the same mistake.

Although there’s a fine home turnout, I might be wrong, one that is much bigger than had today been a Tuesday, the away fans are not impressed, “what’s it like to see a crowd?”. Except for the odd shout of “come on Witham”, which is almost exclusively coming from the same lady just along from us, it’s the visitors picking up the mantle of the missing James, the one man crowd, who the WT fans blame the team for not being here, “James Beardwell left because you’re shit”.

“Was that a shot or a cross” wonders Tom, whatever it was, it was the first meaningful piece of action we have had, with just over a quarter of an hour gone. The home fans at the sight of it, the HS keeper forced to stretch every muscle to reach the high ball, but in the end the high is fleeting, the lineman’s had his flag up.

The opinion of one home fan is that WT look “more like scoring” than HS. As much as I’m sure he would like to see his team take the lead, he is somewhat driven by ulterior motives, the goal might go some way to “shut them lot up”, he says motioning towards the away fans. The latest rendition of “can you hear the Witham sing?” is starting to grate.

When a WT header from a corner is followed by a sizable “ohhhh” from the crowd, the WT fans scoff, not sure what they were getting all excited about. One small child’s efforts of putting off the HS keeper with her high pitched scream, gets an A for effort, but isn’t really making any difference, however the until now very raucous HS supporters, are somewhat stunned into silence, momentarily at least.

“Told you we would score” says the the nearby WT fan smugly whose prediction was correct, it also grants his second wish of “shutting up” the WT fans, but its not for long. The home fans are able to enjoy the goal and the far better celebration, a perfectly executed knee slide by the scorer in relative peace, however the HS fans are soon back singing, “and you fucked it up one nil”.

The man announcing the goal over the PA is ecstatic, it’s been tough going round here of late and to go ahead against a WT side flying since the arrival of their new manager, West Ham United royalty Julian Dicks, you can hear how much it means to him. I can’t be sure, I didn’t see, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did a little knee slide of his own.

DSC_0139What a way to get back in the game that would have been, near enough from the restart, a fine cross field ball is almost volleyed in from outside of the box, however the dream, the fantasy of those watching HS fans doesn’t quite come to fruition, the complete air shot by the forward, doesn’t do the
quality of the pass justice, and the ball ends up rolling out of play. The attempt at the shot gets an “ohhhh” from the home fans, but its more one of awkwardness, then of admiration.

A threatening WT cross is cleared over the bar by a HS player, the sight of which is greeted with an “ahhhh” from the home crowd. “We forgot that you were here” reply the HS fans, before bestowing upon the WT supporters the ultimate football insult, ‘’you only sing when you’re winning”, before proving just how committed they are, “we only sing when we’re losing”.

The resulting corner sees Tom excited at the return of “the love train”, but the set piece routine coined by Glenn Hoddle at this summers World Cup in Russia, can’t bring about another goal. “Witham, Witham” chant a few supporters, their first real noise since kick off, that the lady in the woolly hat wasn’t responsible for. Tom doesn’t think that WT are going to able to “cling onto” their slim lead, the WT fans are sure their “gonna score in a minute”, both are right.

Tom and I are big proponents of the headed goal, few things in life are more satisfying than when a player puts one in the back of the net with his bounce. You can have power ones, looping ones, glancing ones and deft ones, HS’s equaliser is most definitely the latter. Ghosting in between two much larger men, the scorer gets his head on the end of the wicked cross and finishes from close range, past the all blue WT keeper who Tom thinks looks, “very young”.

WT held on to the lead, for a full six minutes.

The crowd behind the goal erupts into a mass of bodies and flailing arms, people leaping, bouncing and ricocheting of each other. The drummer is at his station at double time, beating away. The players don’t celebrate nearly as wildly, a quick congratulations to the goal scorer, and then back towards their half.

There are sigh’s of resignation from the home fans, “told ya” says Tom. You can hear it once again in
the voice of the man over the PA and even the ever positive lady in the woolly hats, shouts of “come on Witham”, sounds a fraction less optimistic. For WT the signs are not great, HS look dangerous, very slick. I might be doing Julian Dicks a disservice, I never saw him, play, but I understand he was hard hitting, a no nonsense kind of a player, his team are not quite built in his image.

Somewhat out of nowhere a sudden injection of adrenaline sees the game reach a very strange state of frenzy. The still lingering vape smoke in the distance, that’s making one corner of Spa Road look like Bodmin Moor, is still causing much alarm among a small section of the home supporters. There is an attempt at a song from the group of WT fans behind the goal and a brief whack of the stand for some added percussion, but it fades away. The efforts form the away fans have dipped too, the drumming less coherent now, more primitive, the loudest thing here now are the passing trains.

The presence of a young Spanish player in the HS side gives the home fans something to talk about, other than the vape smoke, the game having dried right up with ten to go, the promise it showed after the two quick fire goals a distant memory. It also gives them something else to do than badger the referee, who they don’t feel is giving them the rub of the green.

DSC_0126“Pick it up, pick it up” demands one WT payer of his team mates, the woolly hat lady joins him in his attempt to rally the team, “Come on Witham”. The HS drummer has all but given up, there is a brief revert back to form “whoo, whoo, Heybridge”, but he’s soon back to just random hitting.

Next to us the tension is building between one home and one away fan, a disagreement about a referee’s decision, is bubbling to the surface. “You sure mate, I’ve got eyes” says the HS supporter to the WT one, pointing to his actual eyes in case he wasn’t sure what the two holes in his face above his nose were. “Thrown to the ground” adds the eye highlighter, building his case.

The sight of their team nearly and quite fortunately going ahead, after HS almost scored an own goal, raises the temperature of those around us, it might not though be enough for the WT substitute warming up in front of us, who looks frozen to the core.

A late WT charge sees form restored, the visitors really have been the much better side since drawing level, their late flourish and that of their fans, pumps a bit of life back in to what has been a very bleak match. I’m not sure if he is a HS, WT or Julian Dicks fan, on account of his West Ham scarf, which tonight he has paired with salopettes and a small dog, but the man in the curious get up passes Tom and I moments before he informs me there is “two to go”, and that’s his cue to head off for food, navigating through the crowd well, towards the smell of frying chips.

The garden gate that lets the players on and off the pitch has been opened, and I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that the HS players are not so quietly arguing with each other, as they depart.

No 50/50 win for me, I was well out of the running, the cheeky comment made by one steward, who unknowingly pinched Tom’s tedious catchphrase, “you’ve got to be in it to win it”, is clattering around my skull. I wouldn’t have had far to go either to collect my “£50”, but alas I am not the “lucky winner” and I won’t be the one heading for the frosted glass door to the portacabin boardroom, less than ten feet away.

Not the best of songs in the first place, but the deafening and frankly awful rendition of Mr Brighteyes blaring out of the distorted speakers, is enough to make you want to go home. It accompanies the HS fans who have swapped ends and are now attempting to hang their large black and white flag from the back for their second half home, but after a few tries they give up and just flop it over the railings. The WT supporter putting his up, has no such problems, it’s much smaller for one, much smaller, but I can just about read what it says across the front of the Union Jack, “WTFC No Surrender”.

The Coke Tom hands me, after his rapid excursion for dinner, must be about the only thing that isn’t cold here. He is very thankful for his hot food, “it helps” he says shovelling it in, his upgraded snood, not quite fending off the cold as he had wanted. “Already had this one” he comments between mouthfuls of cheese burger, the playlist has gone full circle, but all I’m listening to is the conversation between the young stewards next to me about the WT fans, “if they pitch invade, they will slip over”.
It was a “proper football burger” Tom tells me once he’s finished, and he was very satisfied with the chip to burger ratio. Sometime he explains he feels “duped”, because the tray will only be half filled half with chips, the rest the burger, but not at WT. They do it, the “right way” he adds, filling the tray completely with chips, then balancing the burger on top.

“That’s decent” says one home supporter to himself following the announcement of the attendance, the virtues of Friday night football, rearing its head. “Come on boys” shouts another as the players return, the drum is back at it and the stewards have stopped talking about possible crowd trouble and are now passing around hand warmers, the same ones that Tom had, that did not work, on a similar freezing cold night in Essex last season.

46197251_1939171199524198_6831303603509002240_oAn early injury to a WT player means an eerie hush descends, “looks serious” comments one fan. Another passing train shatters the silence and a player rescues one girls drink, that she dropped on the pitch. “Stop talking, get warm” shouts the home manager to the gossipping players, who spring into action, and start running some drills.

The random whacking of the drum is back and so is the dinosaur, the HS fans alternate between singing about how much they “hate Maldon”, and simply repeating their name “Heybridge, Heybridge”. Po going at the front of the stand, they mix it up with a chant that Tom used to be quite fond of, after a night out, “lets go fucking mental”.

After being down for a while and as of yet not showing any signs of getting up, the downed player is eventually back on his feet, but is moving gingerly. Proving how fickle football fans can be, the attention of those around us has quickly shifted from their injured number, to the fact that someone has a particularly powerful hand warmer, “this ones well good”.

It is because of the hideous racket being made by the angriest sounding of trains, grinding its way along the tracks that I only half hear the most random of questions Tom has ever been asked, “can you smell the Bovril?”, so have to nudge him in the side and confirm if what I just heard was right. The dinosaur has gone, and maybe because of the long injury, but the first fifteen minutes of the second half, might go down as the least memorable in  living history.

A small crowd has gathered behind the goal WT are attacking, “come on Witham”. The reply from the HS fans is a bit crass, “fuck off Witham, you’re fucking shit”. Their chants admittedly could do with a bit of work, but at least the drummer is back to his best, beating out the rhythm to a much more pre watershed song, “we love you Heybridge we do”.

“That’s going to sting for the next year and a half” says the ever vocal steward next to us manning the garden gate, a monster of a HS clearance has just walloped into a WT player, who didn’t even flinch. The same can’t be said for any WT players who a minute later, are unable to put their bodies on the line and get in the way of an HS shot that sails just over the crossbar. “We’ve not started” shouts one WT player, annoyed at his team’s slow slow tempo.

The new snood having been insufficient at half time, is now far too efficient, “too hot” says Tom peeling it off, his glasses having steamed up.

Twenty minutes gone and WT go the closest to scoring they have since going ahead, a close range shot at the near post is beaten out by the HS keepers, who is applauded by the home and away fans,
“well saved” says a WT supporter begrudgingly. Our friendly local steward is starting to feel the icy conditions too, my feet feel like they are frozen, “so cold” he says to Tom, someone get this man a hand warmer.

Memories of the incoherent thumping of the drum are all but forgotten, when the HS fans start my all
time favourite chant, the one I always call the ‘Celtic chant’, but I’ve heard more in Essex, than I ever have in Glasgow, “come on you boys in red”.

HS go close now, a free header from a corner is put wide and the single female WT fans lets out a resounding, “come on Witham” while the HS fans dinosaur or no dinosaur start to give their stand one hell of a beating, the noise of the drum no longer sufficient.

Another WT injury stops play, causing this half to feel quite disjointed, “let him die” are the sympathetic shouts from the HS fans towards the stricken player who is making a sign towards his bench, that he needs to come off. As the physio makes his way to him, he brings to the attention of the referee the culprit responsible for this current situation, with a thrusting jab of his finger. The break allows for some much needed instructions from the home bench, but the manager is frustrated, he clearly doesn’t feel like he is being listened to.

46133151_1939171129524205_5867507582167416832_oWith just over a quarter of an hour left, the home fans are in a near state of mania at the sight of their player one on one with the HS keeper, is this the moment they take the lead and stop the rot, nope, the MT keeper blocks the goal bound shot out with his feet and the home fans come crashing back down to earth. The away end explodes into a cacophony of random noises, more Maldon hate, more “Heybridge till I die” and then shouts of “who are ya, who are ya” to a WT substitute.

“Why did he stop it?” is the exacerbated question on one WT supporter lips, when the referee halts play, following a HS foul, when he should have perhaps played the advantage. “Should have been a red” says one WT player to the man in change, its only a yellow.

Thank the lord for small mercies, the HS supporters have really been somewhat of a saving grace, yes they are a little bit gobby, but their boundless energy is getting me through the most turgid of games. Both teams are so “hit and hope” as Tom puts it, it’s really not been much of a spectacle.

Ten minutes ish to go, there will be a fair chunk of injury time, unless the referee fancies doing us all a favour. One HS player another Spaniard I think, is less than impressed with what he perceives as time wasting by the home bench, the speed in which he ball is returned to him, does not best please him, “idiota” he says, that means idiot in English, but the home manager asks the player for clarification, “Spanish?”.

“Keep fucking going” shouts an away player, he like many here I’m sure, on and off the pitch, know that the three points are there for the taking. “Come on Witham” shouts the same fan once more as the away supporters break out into their second rendition of “come on you boys in red”, and despite the best efforts of his crowd, WT’s number 9 is cutting a sorry figure. It really has not been the best night. His shoulders drop that little bit further after a failed one two, and a fan offers up some encouragement, “chin up”.

Into about the final five minutes and I let out a screaming internal HOW? When the chance for WT to surely secure the win, putting an end to their dreadful run goes begging, a free header, no more than five yards out, goes over. The WT manger agasp, turns his back on the pitch and falls just short of throwing himself to the ground.

An injury this time to a HS player stops the game, he pounds the floor and rolls across the pitch, his breath, just like everyone else’s visible as it clings to the cold night air.

Mindless shouting from all corners hits a new high, when HS have a shout for a penalty turned down, players and fans lose their heads a bit. They shout again, another claim of a foul in the box, two in less than thirty seconds, this is waved away, just like the first. I’m almost certain HS fans are simply just shouting for the sake of shouting, maybe in the hope they can convince the referee into making a decision.

Late HS pressure and WT are well and truly on the back foot, “can’t be much left now” says the steward hopefully. “Come on you swift’s” yells someone from the crowd, “come on Witham” shouts the single female home fan, who deserves some kind of plaque or medal, she has single handedly held the home fort tonight.

There has been no sign of how much injury time is to be played, Julian Dicks as he has done for the whole game, stands steadfast on the edge of his technical area, his team looking like the most likely to nick the win, however, and against the run of play, its WT who once again are offered the chance to score on a platter and instead of scoring from no more than five or six yards out, their manager once more dismayed, they knock the platter to the deck and spit and stamp all over the three point pie.

45849350_1939171049524213_1718000559216132096_oDelirious in their local rivals misfortune, the away fans let out a spirited “Heybridge, Heybridge”

The referees is getting dogs abuse, the away end continue to call for everything, the mearest contact a foul in their eyes, and they grow increasingly annoyed when its not given.

WT hearts are in mouths when HS look like they’ve done it, but much like the home side, they can’t put away the simplest of chances, and the header goes wide. One WT player does his best to buy his team some time, going down with a bad case of bullshit, but no one is buying it and he is almost embarrassed into getting back up

“Come on Witham” shouts you know who, and having shown five minutes of extra time, what feels like ten minutes ago, one home fan is sure, “that’s your five ref”.

More Killers and substitutes wrapped in blankets invade the pitch following the full time whistle. There is no sign of any HS fans “slipping over” and they are rightly applauded by their team for their support.

The home players are not so quick to leave the pitch, they take the time to thank those fans who have stayed behind to cheer them off, walking along the line of them, they dish out high fives and handshakes, the hugs though are reserved for the lady in the woolly hat.

I thought I had the ending of this blog all sewn up before we had even arrived. Tom had blurted out one of his profound little sentences, as he has the habit of doing so from time to time, in the car on the way here. Comparing going to see Arsenal and non league football, and that you know what you’re going to get with a visit to the Emirates, but the non league lottery is so much more interesting,
it’s the “surprise” of where we are going next and what we will find, that keeps him engrossed.

However when I saw the sign on the outside of the clubhouse as we made our way back to the car, Tom’s vape juice frozen, the big Union Jack that fly’s above the ground high on top of its flag post still, it blew his little comparison out the water and maybe summed up non league football in a nutshell and is a sentiment we could all maybe carry with us, into the outside world:

Before you’ve complained, have you volunteered.

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