Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game continue their non-league odyssey, this time out venturing to Bromley on a solemn, chilly Sunday.
Words by Daniel Magner. Photographs by Tom Sparks
It’s not the cheeriest of drives to pick up Tom this morning, Nimrod by Elgar is shortly followed by a single bugler playing the Last Post. The scenes from The Cenotaph that occupied me at home, now fill my car, the solemn voice of Jonathan Dimbleby echos from the speakers. What sun there is, is warm, but the slightest crack in my window lets the ice cold wind come rushing in.
A quote from a Wilfred Owen poem, the enamel poppy my brother gave me pinned to my shirt, which he sells without fail every year, picking them up from our local Royal British Legion and thoughts of my grandfather too traumatised by World War Two to even acknowledge the 11th hour of the 11th month, on the 11th day, run through my mind.
I do my best to try and steal a glimpse of the newly erected cockerel on top of the new Spurs stadium, but the sun is just too bright. The mood though is soon lifted by the arrival of Tom and his gilet based one liners, “I hope that cloud fucks off, I’ve got no sleeves”.
Today’s weather is a marked improvement on yesterdays, and the monsoon rain that plagued most of my drive back from the North West after a visit to see the soon to be in-laws. There is the odd grey cloud in the sky, that Tom has his eye keenly locked on, but as of yet they are posing no threat.
It is a reasonably well trodden path for us to the particular corner of South East London we are heading to. Last season in the midst of The Beat from the East, Hayes Lane and it’s 4G surface saved us from a busted flush and this season with Tom’s new rota, and for the time being Saturdays being out of the question, it comes to the rescue once again.
Snow and ice covered the cars and pavements last time, the significant potholes in the car park were frozen over, and the horses, yes horses, were tucked up inside. Today the horses, yes horses live in a field next to a football ground in the middle of suburban London, graze peacefully, there is no snow, but the potholes remain and are just as hazardous.
We arrive as the local kids are finishing up their morning training session, their parents doing their best to guide them away from the craters that litter the car park floor, in fear of losing them.
“Too much advertising” says Tom, which I’m pretty sure is what he said last time we were here, in fairness Hayes Lane does look a bit like a F1 drivers jumpsuit, there is no spot that isn’t advertising a local solicitors or double glazing showroom. There is though one glaring change to the place, and that is to the old stand behind one goal, that is no more. The very place we watched Cray Wanderers FC (CW) who three years later are still Bromley FC’s lodgers, survive relegation, has been demolished.
Such is our promptness, a mini game is still playing out. The goals on rollers having been moved to halve the pitch in size. Tom watching on, has one of his Pep moments, albeit a chilly Pep today, “ohh it’s cold” he says half shuddering, should have brought a complete jacket then, he gives up one of his pearls of wisdom, sharing his thoughts on the exercises being gone through, “two runners, teaching them how to go forward”.
The upstairs bar, on the second floor of the main stand is already well inhabited, the early kick off on a what I’m sure is going to be a truly stunning Super Sunday, Liverpool Vs Fulham is being shown via a projector. The seated programme seller perched on top of a stool is surrounded so I join the queue and Tom heads straight for the tea bar.
“Ohhh, a cheeky sausage roll” he says, peering into the tin foil lined glass fronted, heater cabinet. There are also some pretty sizable pasties in there too, but he’s “not hungry” he tells me, so it’s just a cup of tea for now and with nowhere to sit in the bar, we head back downstairs, “away from the warm and the big TV” Tom points out, in his best passive aggressive voice.
Any Sunday cobwebs that may still have remained, I’m not one for doing much on the 7th day, for me it’s a home on the sofa kind of day, football being just about the only exception that will get me out, are soon blown away by the rowdy kids in the back of the stand talking Fortnite.
One could feel the cold, before even getting outside, I sit, sipping at my tea, Tom stands fidgeting, doing his best to keep warm. Having both been caught out by the rate at which the sugar shaker dispensed its contents, we both grimace with every gulp, it’s like drinking a cup of melted Brighton rock.
Talking to a member of the CW board in his tweed jacket, club tie and poppy pin, who Tom says looked “very swish” as he walked away, he is beaming about CW’s current form. They have had quite the turn around since we last saw them. From fighting relegation to challenging for promotion, they are as he puts it, on an “incredible curve”.
The upturn in fortunes are not only reserved to the first team, their youth team is going great guns in the FA Youth Cup, an encounter against Portsmouth is up next, but although he says it’s not the case, all eyes are on who and where they will play in the next round if they beat the Hampshire club, “to think of Cray Wanderers playing against Liverpool”. Thoughts soon return to today though, it’s a “massive game”, he emphasises, first vs second.
It’s got a lot quieter now in the stand, the roller goals having been put back in place, which was the cue for the kids behind us, to have a kick about on the pitch.
A man with a much grander poppy then me, climbs the few steps into the main stand to find a seat, not long behind him a man in a long dark jacket, sits just along from us, and leaning on a leather folder, fills in the team sheet.
Wispy white clouds float along in a sea of blue, and although cold and coming down from my sugar high, I’m happy to have dragged myself away from the confines of my house. Tom on the other hand, wracked with some real first world problems, laments his indecisive food purchasing, “should have had a sausage roll” he says to himself, annoyed now he’ll have to “wait until half time”, he somehow has turned it on me, making the fact he is not currently covered in flaky pastry my fault, “you should have forced me”.
“Cheer up, we’re gonna win today” says a man sporting a Hastings United FC (HU) scarf, CW’s opponents, to the man completing the team sheet, who is less than impressed with having to be out on a Sunday, unlike me it seems, even football is not an exception.
Tom finally reaches the end of his tea, “oh the bottom” he says contorting his face, having just got a mouthful of undissolved sugar sludge. Both agreeing we have been sitting around for too long, it’s time to get a bit of life back in our feet, so we go for a wander. Tom thinks he’s seen something that will get me excited, but I think he’s just winding me up.
Oh what a sight that is, pinned to a corkboard on the door of a changing of the guard sized shed, are the meticulously folded and stapled, orange golden goal tickets. “Everyone a winner until kick off”, says the man selling them, when he can see I’m struggling which one to pick.
‘I am’ says the same man with a shrug of his shoulders, when I ask if there is a club shop, hung behind him a single CW shirt. I eventually pick one of the orange tickets and overcome with an unfamiliar feeling of generosity, ask Tom to pick the second. He opts for one secured with a red pin of course, and as he hands it to me, informs me that it’s his, any winnings that might result because of his choice, are his too.
Considering both tickets are indistinguishable from the outside, I give them a quick shuffle, and his ambitions of getting his hands on my winnings quickly fade.
“Be a good game” says Mark, CW’s Club Secretary, but it will be “close” he adds cautiously, “Hastings are in great form” and CW he explains don’t do themselves “justice” in “big one off games”.
Talking to Mark, I hope he doesn’t think I’m rude, I hope he hasn’t noticed my eye wandering towards one corner of the pitch, and to the enormous orange and black CW flag, that has just been hung from the back of one section of the terrace behind the goal.
The one flag would be impressive enough, however on closer inspection, and by the time I’ve got over to the man putting them up, more have been raised, each as large and as orange and black as the first. I can see at his feet three overflowing supermarket bags for life, bungee cords, lengths of rope and crocodile clips, scattered across the floor.
I don’t think in all my time watching non league football I’ve ever seen quite the display, certainly not all by one person. I admit the James Bearwell show was impressive, but the bottomless Mary Poppins Sports Direct bag in front me and just how many flags and banners it contains, makes James offering, just look like a few hankies on a washing line. Flag after flag and a few scarves continue to appear. His wife by his side helping, his two kids watching on, a bit like, ‘really Dad, it’s a bit cold for all this’.
So in awe of his collection, I forget to ask his name, but he tells me he’s been a CW fan for “twelve years” and is originally from Portsmouth, and a Pompey fan. I can see on closer inspection one of his bags has the Portsmouth badge on and not Tesco, he explains he is a little torn about CW’s FA Youth Cup match against his home town club, “don’t know who I wanna win”.
I have to ask, all while he ties and clamps, his wife ready with the next one, that surely he doesn’t change ends at a half time with all this. He laughs, so does his wife, exasperatedly, they don’t he informs me. The “Cray Massive” spectacle, as one flag identifies them stays as it is until it’s time to pack them all away again.
Before the 1980’s overtake the airwaves, the PA is tested, and the music that follows is all clearly off a single Spotify playlist. Tainted Love by Soft Cell is first, and the rest follows suit, there is a brief chant of “come on Hastings” from the travelling fans, and wehhhhhh’s of delight, when they get a reply from the flag mans son.
The man having the very loud, shouty and sometimes aggressive mobile phone call, might want to consider taking it outside, he is bringing down the tone a bit. Duran Duran are next up and a good sized turnout, many of them devouring chips, from white paper bags, bob their heads to the lyrics of Simon Le Bon.
A vociferous whistle interrupts Adam & the Ants, a signal from one CW coach that it’s time for the team to head in after their warm up. The Fortnite kids, still on the edge of the pitch, high five the departing players, one child whose touch momentarily loses him, nearly boots a ball right in to the face of one of the starting eleven.
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Hayes Lane” announces the man with the mike in the pin covered CW hat from the stand. He shares with us the itinerary for the rest of the day, there will be a few presentations before kick off and “of course a minutes silence”. He battles with some of the names as he reads out the teams, and as he does so the long shiny black tunnel is extended like the Alien Queens mandibles, from the stand to the edge of pitch.
The music takes a distinctive 1960’s turn when Dion DiMucci’s song The Wanderer, starts to play in anticipation of the players arrival. One stewards asks another what the presentations are in aid of, CW’s gaffa has won the manager of the month award, “thats put the mockers on us”, he replies.
The bang of upturning seats follows the sharp blast of the referees whistle at the start of the silence, the Fortnite boys are impeccably behaved, standing on the touchline, arms behind their backs, heads bowed. Both teams stand shoulder to shoulder on opposite sides of the centre circle, the CW players hold a white flag, with a large red poppy on it.
The second and equally piercing blast of the referee’s whistle, is the signal for the HU fans who are here in good numbers with drinks in hand, to get back at it, “come on Hastings, super Hastings, from the south”. With the ends decided, the HU supporters head for the large covered terrace, and are soon banging its back wall as they continue to sing. The Cray Massive end will remain unoccupied for the first half.
An early dangerous CW cross that is only just cleared, a half hearted appeal for a penalty from the home team, then a HU’s shot that goes just wide, plus plenty of singing from the HU fans, “super, super Hastings”, all within the first four minutes, sets the tone for a high tempo, action packed top of the table clash, that doesn’t disappoint, that hopefully will even appease the grumpy HU official.
“He didn’t touch it” shouts one of the CW fans at the back of the well packed stand towards the referee, who has just ruled off CW’s sixth minute goal for offside, the player who hopped over the ball as it fizzed goalwards, was deemed I guess to have been interfered with play.
Two minutes later, and such is the nature of the wide open game, HU go close with a stabbed attempt at a finish, that is kept out by the CW keepers feet. Less than thirty seconds later, CW are flying down the wing, the wide player making his way unabated all the way into the HU box, where he shoots low, forcing a save from the keeper. His second attempt, the ricochet falling having fallen kindly to him, is saved also.
The back row of the stand, still on their feet, are much happier now, than they had been.
Impressed by the HU fans, “Hastings travel well” says Tom as they belt our their latest song, “oh when the U’s go marching in”, his praise for them and their near non stop chanting is not for long though, “I’m hungry”.
CW are relentless, in the HU box once again, this time their attempt at a cross is blocked, “come on Wands”. What looks like might be the most stunning of openers, an edge of the box volley, falls into the arms of the grateful HU keeper, a CW goal feels imminent.
“He dived” declares one CW fan in the stand, at the sight of an HU player going down. It wasn’t a dive by any means. The Fortnite kids, seemingly never far away, are far more interested in getting the attention of what I can only assume is of one of their teaches, who is playing for CW, “Mr Pritchard, Mr Pritchard”.
“Come on Hastings, come on Hastings” sing the HU fans at the sight of their team breaking into attack. The Fortnite kids, no longer harassing their English teacher, at the sight of the same attack, suggest their team “break” the “legs” of the HU player sprinting towards their goal. People really are a lot tougher South of the river.
HU attack again, the keeper gets his hands on the shot, but he spills it, the ball is hurriedly cleared by a CW player. “Come on you U’s” sing the HU supporters behind the goal, whose banging of the back of the stand, has become even more frequent.
End to end, I don’t think we’ve seen this many chances in one match, heck even the whole season, then we’ve seen in the first fifteen minutes today. Many gruff football comments are coming a plenty from the back of the main stand and the CW keeper demands his team mates in front of him “talk” after allowing one HU player far too much time with the ball, and his eventual shot only going narrowly over.
As previously mentioned the HU fans have had no issue finding the bar, and Tom thinks this is starting to affect their performance, “don’t understand what they are saying” he says, as he attempts to decipher their current tune, “all sounds the same”, tilting this head towards the singing fans.
CW’s number 4’s boots have caught Tom’s eye, “very nice”. Black Nike’s with a hint of the Louboutin about them, with their red soles. Back and forth the game continues to swing, “come on you U’s” continue to sing the away fans. In their number 9, they have a player so fast he’s forced Tom to blaspheme, “Jesus!”.
With just over twenty minutes on the clock and HU go close, a near post corner is hooked just wide by the player with his back to goal. Chips by the bag full continue to be polished off, maybe also acting as hand warmers, people using the hot fried potatoes to keep their digits from freezing.
“He’s like a centre back in midfield” says Tom, with his Pep hat securely back on, about CW’s number 6. ‘Mr Flick On’ as I have dubbed him, is the main focal point for all the long balls out from the back, winning nigh on everyone. His ability to set attacks up with the deftest of flicks of his head, is impressive. He is also pretty adept in receiving the ball to his feet, holding up play, then initiating a move that way instead.
Sadly for all involved, HU’s number 9, the speed demon who made Tom take the lord’s name in vain is limping. “That hit your car” chuckles Tom as a mega clearance, clears the stand towards the car park, however I’m less concerned with the state of my windscreen, and more with the condition of HU’s number 9, simply because I want to see just how fast he can go, because he is down and signalling to the physio.
The injury allows a few CW players to take on some water and have a bit of a conference about the game, “we gotta try someone else” says one. “Oh that’s a shame” says Tom, as HU’s number 9, limps
off. Maybe not a sight the CW defenders want to see, but it is a definite relief when he appears on the touchline, ready to come back on.
Half an hour gone and Tom is convinced that HU are going to win, despite him just saying both teams were guilty of plenty of “almosts”, his decision may have been somewhat influenced by the defence splitting pass by the away team, that the CW defender did well to shield the forward away from and allowing the keeper to claim.
Tom is also at that point in the day when he is trying to work out his ‘when do I go and get my food’ equation. This afternoon has the added parameter of the Arsenal likely to be on when he goes, and the fact he might not return.
For now, he forgets the draw of the top flight and is suitably impressed by a “great ball” from CW’s midfield out to the wing. “Cut it back” demands a fan in the stand, and the player does just that, teeing the ball up for a teammate who hits it first time, his shot is blocked. “Should have taken a touch” bemoans the back seat coach.
An elderly shuffling steward dressed almost head to toe in yellow hi viz, arrives in front of the main stand, having spent most of the half behind the HU goal bearing news, “should have been a penalty” he announces. From his better vantage point he is able to confirm to us all, that the early shout for a CW penalty, should have been given as one.
Tom doesn’t think the HU number 9 is “going to make it”, he hasn’t got out of second gear since picking up a knock. The HU fans are still dishing out the occasional low rumbling chant, “la, la, la, la, Hastings” and good CW pressure sees them win the ball back on the edge of the HU box, only to be fouled and awarded a free kick.
“Sausage, roll, pasty, got a roast at home, you know I can’t turn down a burger, might not have any sausage rolls, always in high demand” is the nonsensical sentence that just tumbled out of Toms mouth, who is now in full snack mode. “Off for food” he tells me, at the same time the HU fans declare they are off “to victory”
Two CW goal line clearances, sandwich a HU free kick right on the edge of CW box that clips the top of the wall and goes over, cementing this game, without any goals and still forty five minutes left to play, as the best one we’ve seen so far this season. The first goal line clearances the pick of the two, the defender, takes up position between the posts and heads the certain goal away to safety. “Hastings, Hastings” sing the HU fans quite clearly, no way Tom wouldn’t be able to understand them now.
“Let him die” are the callus shouts from the HU fans towards the CW player who just yelped as he was hacked from behind, and sent crashing to the ground. “You are joking?” asks one less than impressed home fan, when no booking is forthcoming from the referee.
I have seen few funnier sights in almost four years watching non league football, then that of two players, whose intertwined legs, mean neither can get up properly, their mangled limbs making them look like a human pretzel, having somehow come together in the HU penalty area, and neither one wanting to let the other get up first, causing a minor scuffle to break out.
More angry shouts from the home fans towards the man in charge, this time not because of a foul against them that didn’t get a yellow, but because one committed by them that did. Even the kids are chiming in, “you’re rubbish ref, you don’t know what you’re doing.
“Justice” cries a person in the crowd dramatically, as if they were auditioning for a courtroom drama. CW having just scored and neither the referee or his linesman this time deem that any of the games laws had been contravened. “We forgot that you were here” sing the HU fans, the only song that any respecting supporter can sing, after going behind Tom arrives back claiming to have seen the goal, I bet he was in the stairwell, however he has bigger worries than having missed seeing CW go in front, “told you, sausage rolls are like diamonds, all gone”.
“Mr Pritchard, Mr Pritchard” call out the Fortnite kids to the exiting players, as the 80’s playlist starts up again and “Mr Pritchard” hears his students this time, greeting them with a smile, before disappearing up the tunnel. I thought the pretzel leg players, who looked like mating snakes, was going to be the best thing we saw today, but the sight of the two small children doing laps of the ground in a black convertible remote car, is giving it a run for its money.
The chips are “great” Tom informs me, but he is clearly not in a sharing mood. The Cray Massive are in place for the second half, the son of the flag man now in an orange and black jester’s hat and the thumping music coming from the Kids Zone, a long white tent on one corner of the ground, as Tom points out would have been “something for Lily” (my daughter) to do, had I brought her along.
Dipping down, the final hurrahs of the sun, turn the sky the most exquisite shade of yellow. Having completely forgotten about them and with Tom reiterating his claim to my prize, because I left my money in the car and he lent me the £2 to buy them, we open my golden goal tickets, and once again we will or should I say I, will not be going home any richer.
Not content with the jingle of the bells on his jesters hat alone, the Cray Massive now have a horn and it’s given it’s first blast of the day as the players appear to the final hit from the best of the 80’s playlist, To Shy by Kajagoogoo
As one of the linesman checks the net, the Cray Massive bring out the latest piece of their second half orchestra, another bell, a much larger one then those on the jesters hat, imagine more town crier. “Your support is fucking shit” chant the HU fans, who have taken up their new position, and I have to disagree with them. The flags and the noise the Massive are making, eclipses that of many groups of supporters we’ve seen, and there are only two of them.
The CW coaches look effortlessly cool in their bobble hats, clearly the kind of guys that will turn a chair around to straddle it backwards, they decline the bench as somewhere to sit, instead opting for water coolers. “Pads in, be ready to play” barks one of them, to the substitutes sheltered under the curved roof of the dugout.
It is a battle of the fans in the first few minutes of the new half, its all bell, bell, bell from the Massive. The HU fans respond with a few more whacks of the hoarding and a song about how “super” they are, and that “no one likes them”.
For the second time today CW have a goal disallowed, the home bench explodes, the substitutes rushing out of cover, but on the realisation the linesman’s flag is up they quickly and ever so slightly awkwardly, have to back track out of sight. “Come on Wands” shouts the Massives youngest member, giving his horn another blast. Clearly not wanting to be outdone, and having held back until now, both sets of fans respecting the ‘no horns in the first half armistice’ the HU supporters let rip their much larger and far louder air horn, like they’re trying to start a local marathon.
The sky continues to turn all kind of shades of wonderful as the sun sinks lower and lower behind the Kids Zone, where the music is blaring and the disco lights are whirling. It’s all CW on the pitch, they crash a shot off the post that then hits the bar. The bell and horn of the Massive a constant and I think it’s safe to say the CW bench is a happy one.
“Get your fucking head up” shouts a far from happy HU player to a teammate and I start to wonder if the Cray Massive who were all but absent in the first half, now surrounded by their plethora of flags, feed off their power, “come on you Wands”.
There are different aspects to a goal that can make it good or even a great one. The finish, the build up, the setting or it’s significance. CW’s second on fifty six minutes, that sends the bench in to near meltdown with much hugging and giddy jumping, might just be the most well rounded goal we will see all season. The build up and then the eventual strike from the edge of the box, by Mr Flick On no less is an absolute peach.
“Come on you Wands” screams someone in celebration, “saw it coming” says one all seeing supporter to himself. The HU fans try a song, but they have recoiled into their shell somewhat, the air horn nowhere to be seen, their confidence dented. However their shell shock is short lived, CW’s two goal lead lasts all of sixty seconds. An own goal from a corner, sees them right back in the game, and the fans are soon back on point, singing and given the hoarding a kicking and they nearly pull level a minute after getting one back. Quick feet in the box, allows the HU player to create the space for a shot, but the CW keeper is all over it.
The HU goal has brought about a shift in the dynamic, the visitors find themselves on top, their fans are confident once again, “we’re gonna score in a minute” and for maybe the first time today CW heads have dropped and the bench is not such a happy place any more.
One place moral has certainly never dipped is in the Cray Massive corner, from the same bottomless bag of flags, more instruments appear, this time a plastic rattle. Even as their team go close to conceding again. A flick on performed by someone other that CW’s number 6, sees HU away, the shot from the edge of the box looks to be creeping in, but is held.
“Popular” comments Tom, as an HU sub is serenaded and gets one of the biggest cheers of the day, “take your Cruttwell with you”. The sky now a mix of purples and blues, the sun all but gone and high above the HU fans a tiny slither of the moon is visible.
I’m not the only who has noticed the child sized rave in full flow in the Kids Zone, the music now even louder, the lights from the inside lighting up the canvas, “its going off in that tent” says one of the CW coaches. The only things slightly louder is the HU airhorn and it’s attempts to put off the CW keeper.
“Take your booking and hurry it up” instructs the HU bench to the player who has just cut short a CW attack, and is rightly reprimanded. With only a quarter of an hour left, the HU coach recognises there is no time for dicent, so take it on the chin and move on.
On the other side of the coin, CW are doing everything they can to kill time, “slow down” shouts one fan to the CW player coming off, who does just that, not very subtly stopping to take out his shin pads, moving at a near crawl as he leaves the pitch.
HU are rapidly losing their heads, “he’s not got it in him” are the textbook words from the HU bench after a particularly robust challenge. A debate between the dugouts break outs, the CW opinion being that he might not have “it in him” but he clearly committed the foul and its their player lying flat out on the deck. “Diving scum” is the shout one HU fan, when a CW player goes down. The HU supporters who are all but silent now. The HU bench is demanding “discipline” the stop start nature of the game “suits” the team with the lead.
With just over ten to go CW flash a shot goalwards that is just tipped wide, “come on you Wands”, shout the Massive, who follow it up with a ring of the bell and a hoot of their horn. There is a muted rendition of “oh when the U’s go marching in” but its not even half as loud as it had been earlier in the day and from his technical area the HU manager is willing his team higher up the pitch.
“Finish our fucking chances” deplores one CW coach, when the opportunity to effectively kill the game off goes begging. HU’s keeper in his eagerness to reach the ball on the edge of his own box, clatters into his own man, leaving his goal gaping and the ball in CW’s position. The sky blue HU keeper makes up for his earlier mistake and is soon back on his feet and able to smother the ball, his teammate is not so fortunate, and is lying face down still on the pitch.
CW’s number 6 is starting to the feel the fierce pace which has rarely dropped all game and is going through some stretches with the aid of one of his coaches. The HU player who was wiped out by his own keeper has played all he is going to play and is being subbed off.
Except for the odd song, fuelled by more drink, “HUFC, HUFC”, Hayes Lane has fallen quiet and feels a bit on edge. The HU horn being exclusively used to annoy the CW keeper at his goal kicks.
Four to go and HU have gone to pieces, a filthy challenge from their number 3, sees him scythe down Mr Flick On. “What a cunt he is” says a CW substitute, the HU number 3 daft enough to commit his foul right in front of the home bench. The comments from the HU dugout are not as X rated, but just as damming, “so naive”.
Every call against HU gets an increasingly angry response from their fans, every call going CW’s way gets more of the bell and the rattle and shouts of encouragement “come on Wands”.
There is a brief hearts in mouth moment of those of a CW persuasion, when their keeper spills a shot, but it’s cleared and parity is restored. The shouts of support, have changed to plees of ‘let’s just get over the line’. “Finish” cries one CW coach when on the far side of the pitch the wide player cuts into the box, the goal at his mercy, but his rifled shot flies just wide, and hands are clasped to the tops of heads.
One last push from the HU fans sees them back at their best, if only briefly. The hoardings are taking a battering, and I think I saw a scarf swinging above one of theirs heads and I now, like Tom, have no idea what they are saying, as bell in the Massive end continues its jangling chorus.
“No discipline” laughs one CW fan as HU once more giveaway a needless foul. “Discipline without persession” is the fans suggestion to the HU bench for training on “Monday”.
Today’s game likely will be remembered for the CW second goal, but it would have every right to be remembered for the tackle by one CW defender on the edge of his box, that stops a threatening HU attack in its tracks.
“There will be a minimum of four minutes added time”
The Massive give one last father and son “come on you Wands” as we head into added time. The away fans have hit peak angry. Another foul by one of their number, a clear one at that, but they feel hard done by. Mr Flick On is on his arse, the free kick goes CW way and the HU supporters are ready to burst, “he got the foul now, he can stand up”
It is the opening bars of the saxophone intro to Madness’s One Step Beyond that accompanies the post final whistle celebrations. The CW manager ensures he applauds the Massive, the bell still going, as it did nigh on the whole of the second half. The HU fans give up one last song as they leave, “we love you Hastings we do”, their devotion never in doubt, their support magnificent today.
The final song of the afternoon, is not an 80’s one but a 70’s disco classic, the very apt Ain’t No Stopping Us Now, considering CW have just opened up a gap at the top of the table on their closest rivals. The whole team and all the staff convene in a mass huddle, for a few choice words of wisdom from the boss.
Hayes Lane is once again Bromleys, the only sign that its also CW’s home, all be it their temporary one, is a bright yellow plaque with their badge on, that hangs near the mouth of the tunnel, that is taken down and put away. The players under the instruction of their pizza eating physio, are lying on their backs, legs up on the railings around the pitch, going through their warm down, before they head inside past a not insignificant party of well wishes, high fivers and back slappers.
Every football club deserves a home, every football club and its fans deserve their own little corner of the world they can hang their memorabilia on the walls of, paint the clubhouse whatever colour they want and install that garish yellow carpet they like, without getting worried what the landlord will think.
As we are leaving, flag man and his family are in the process of packing away their attempt to make their rented accommodation, as homely as possible for another day and I can’t forget one thing he said from our brief chat about CW’s impending application decision for their own new digs, the wonderfully named Flamingo Park, that they are waiting on the mayor of London’s final word on, “Shame Sadiq isn’t here, to see what a community club we are”.
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