Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game continue their non-league odyssey, this time out venturing to Hitchin’s Top Field complete with the aroma of ‘lovely onions’.
Words by Daniel Magner. Photographs by Tom Sparks
All is far from rosey in Toms household. It’s all smiles on the outside, but behind closed doors him and his now fiancee, are like the waring couple from Father Ted. This festive time of year, is causing no end of “arguments” he tells me, only last night they had one about “brussel sprouts”.
With Tom and his other half Charlotte hosting this year, her parents coming to them on the 25th, there is a considerable amount of pressure on both their shoulders, and the strain is starting to show. Should they or shouldn’t they have the Marmite of Christmas lunch on offer, and if they do, who is going to cook them? Tom thinks the single chef approach is the best one, Charlotte reckons that it should be more of a collaborative effort.
What to cook is not his only concern, but also what to get his soon to be Mother and Father in law for under the tree, is causing Tom sleepless nights. The fact Charlotte’s Dad has got Tom the same “bottle of bourbon” for the last ten years and Charlotte’s Mum got him a gold hairband and a Christmas jumper that not only didn’t fit, but also said “well hung” on it last year, I question if they like him at all, and why is he bothering, but he feels it’s necessary to impress this close to their upcoming wedding.
Between some quite excellent Christmas light displays and the groans of the planes taking off and landing at Luton airport, on the way to tonight’s ground, we discuss the perils of shopping at Westfield, and that Tom has already had a “burger and chips” so he is in a bit of quandary about what he will eat tonight.
Minutes away from Top Field, home of Hitchin Town FC (HT), Tom produces his maroon Arsenal FC snood, and repeatedly caresses the gold embroidered club badge on it, before putting it on. His eagerness to ensure I see him do it, I’m sure has something to do with that tonight is the night of the second North London derby, in as many weeks.
Underfoot the ground in the car park is rough and uneven. Nearby only half the floodlights that surround the pitch are on, not yet showing off Top Field in all its glory. The yellow and green portacabin Canary Corner club shop, isn’t open, and the refreshment huts hatch is closed, however there is some activity beyond. It’s side door is open, and wafting out among the steam from the hotplates is an overpowering smell of “lovely” onions, says a salivating Tom.
Cosy and compact, The Canary Club the HT clubhouse is well occupied. It’s not exactly cold, nothing close to our aborted last outing, where there were shards of ice in the goal mouth, but Tom is still bemoaning that he should have “warm long johns”, especially after investing something like 50 in some fleece lined, Edmund Hillary type gear, that he hasn’t bothered to wear.
What looks like a conservatory from the outside, with its large white UPVC windows, inside it’s positively sparking, be it the well decorated tree, sitting in front of the club memorabilia covered wall or the long line of silverware on a shelf above the bar, below which faux green holly tinsel hangs.
You can tell how committed someone is to their hobby of choice, be it darts, bowling or fishing, when they have their own kit. The main focus of the room, the snooker table, is surrounded by table tops covered in the black cue cases of those playing. We weave our way through the crowd, Tom heading straight to the bar, me to a table at the back, all while a bit of UB40, drifts out from the sound system.
Tom is not only delighted it’s “warm” in the bar, but also that its “nice and cheap”. The dartboard to our left is getting no attention, but it does spur Tom into telling me how much he wants to go and watch darts one day, although I’m not sure his motivation is his love of the game, but the obligatory amount of booze you have to drink to apparently enjoy it.
Meat raffle is back on!!, reads the poster over my left shoulder, Tom reading it out to me, is like music to my ears. Having seen multiple signs already around the ground and above the door of the bar advertising the 50/50, the people of HT are clearly of a similar mindset to me, the only downside of the Meat Raffle, is that you have to go to the local butchers to get a ticket. So sadly I won’t be in the hat for a rib of beef or a string of twelve chipolatas, but there will certainly be some gambling of one type or another to enjoy tonight.
“I’ve got a 100% record today, played four games, lost them all” proclaims the loser of the latest game of snooker. Tom also has his own announcement, informing me due to his “late lunch” he will be eating at “half time” and not before. Returning back to his phone, and with the North London Derby very much on both of our minds, he tells me the Arsenal line up is “quite strong”.
Nestled among an old man sipping at a pint of ale and another old gent studying his match day programme, between handfuls of crisps, all while the ever so slightly odd playlist continues, the song that follows a bit of Frankie Valli is off the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, Tom and I discuss one of this time of years biggest questions, tinsel.
Hate it, I reply bluntly, when Tom asks if I’m a fan, he is in the same camp as me, however his other half is very much pro the tacky tree decorations, another source of a recent falling out and I start to wonder why these two have decided to get married in August.
The arrival of the lady selling 50/50 tickets at our table not only allows me to satisfy my itch for another day, but halts Toms attempt to sing along to Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You, that has just started to play. Having noticed the lady in her dark apron wandering around the room, Tom laughs that I like some Pavlovian Dog, “get my money out” before I even “know what it is” for. Checking to see the Spurs line up, Kane is on the bench, but it’s still a relatively solid starting eleven, Tom tests my nerves, “sold out” he says, forcing me to look up.
“Too easy” he says sniggering. I’m glad to report she was far from sold out and was more than happy to accept my 2. Despite his best efforts, suggesting we instead should stay in the bar and watch the game at the Emirates, our drinks are done, I’ve secured my tickets, it’s time to head back outside.
Although the door is closed, we are reliably informed that the club shop is now open, Tom rubs his hands in anticipation of what is potentially on the other side of the green door. There is no programme for one, I’m to get that from the “shed by the turnstiles” I’m informed, however there is a fine selection of all sorts of football tat, that one would expect, as well as a small confectionery corner, including 50p bags of sweets that make me think of childhood visits to Highbury and has Tom very excited.
Want to share? I ask him, “no” he replies candidly, so we each choose a white paper bag of our own. Tom having already purchased a pin, it’s time to find the “shed”.
In much better nick than the dilapidated turnstiles, the “shed”, with a man stooped in its low doorway, much like the lady selling the 50\50 tickets is more than gracious when it comes to taking my money, in exchange of a very glossy, all colour copy of the Canaries, which has some considerable heft.
No digital here, I say to Tom, who doesn’t really care, however the white haired man with his brown satchel selling the 50/50 tickets does, and is clearly someone who knows where I’m coming from and gives me a knowing smile.
The constant sound of the nearby road, takes nothing away from Top Field, which is really one of the best non league grounds going. The stark bank of concrete terracing behind one goal, the long sections of narrow wooden steps along the whole length of one side of the pitch, and the single storey corrugated iron roofed main stand with its mismatch of benches and different coloured seats, with the clubs name emblazoned across the front in the club’s colours, make it quite unique and unlike any other ground we’ve encountered.
Both teams are out, neither keeper is able to warm up in the goal mouth as they have been roped off, in an attempt to preserve them, after all the recent rain. The St Ives Town (IV) coach is putting his players through some particularly aggressive drills, both teams find themselves at the wrong end of the table, so he does his best to motivate his players for the test ahead, “we can fucking win this”
Whereas the music in the clubhouse was an eclectic mix of old classics and wedding reception staples, in the ground its very music from a bad 90’s school disco. Those in the queue for the refreshment stand, which is doing good business, are able to enjoy a bit of the Shapeshifters, Lolas Theme, while I try and work out where the big HT flag that was hanging behind one goal has gone.
“I love this song” says Tom, as he does every time we hear Freed From Desire, by Gala, a song that when I come to think of it, we hear quite regularly. Singing quietly to himself, “nah, nah, nah” Tom is in somewhat of his own world, which he is snapped out of by the young voice over the PA, who is offering up some advice to those whose visit tonight, might be their “first time at Top Field”.
Return Of The Mac by the old police taser himself, Mark Morrison, serenades the teams as they head back inside. Talking of coppers, we bump into ex bobby and Watford match day YouTuber Paul Muzzy, suitable wrapped up in a large puffer jacket, about to tuck into his dinner. “How’s the burger?” asks Tom, moments after shaking Paul’s hand. His food clearly untouched, Paul informs him he’s “not had any yet”, Tom obviously keen to get the low down, insists he is to “let him know”, as soon as he has.
Such is the proximity to the changing rooms, which are just the other side of the thin wall at the back of the stand the violent buzz to let the teams know it’s game time, can be heard as clear as anything. In a slight detour from the musical theme, A-ha’s Take On Me, now circulates around the ground, and sitting quietly in the stand, is Matt, one of HT’s media team, his green and yellow scarf tucked into his jacket, nose deep in a book, who before I started talking to him was enjoying his “day off”.
He’s “confident” about HT’s chances of grabbing a win, the home side coming into tonight’s game off the back of “three wins in the league” and “hopefully” they will “make it four”. The presence of all their “attacking players” who are in “good form”, makes him think that victory will be theirs, before their “Boxing Day clash” against “local rivals Biggleswade”.
The second jarring jolt of the buzzer, it feels a while after since the first one, fails once more to dislodge either team. Moments from the supposed kick off time, the not inconsiderable crowd, who are mostly gathered in the corner of the ground around the burger bar, wait for the players, and the toss, before making a move.
All eyes are fixed on the tiny tunnel at the centre of the main stand, which is probably little more than one overweight blogger wide, the players nowhere to be seen. The third buzz, more prolonged and therefore even more harsh than the first two, finally stirs the teams. Shortly after the roar of one of them can be heard, and slowly but surely the two sets of players start to arrive.
“If you’ve just arrived, here are your teams again” says the cool voiced PA, a very young looking red headed man, trapped within a tiny square fish tank. To say the tunnel is cramped is an understatement, the “unit” of a referee as Tom dubbed him during the warm up, barely fits. Standing on the side lines, arms crossed and leaning on the railing, Tom points out one HT sub, “Alfie Cue” as the PA has just confirmed. A player who we saw playing for Leatherhead, against HT in their recent FA Cup contest, who was quite excellent that day, despite being on the losing team, who is now turning out for the home side.
Two substitutes, including Cue, look on baffled, at the sound of the mini meltdown playing out over the speakers, as the young man, manning the PA, struggles with the notion it is him sponsoring the match tonight. “Thanks Dad” he says, struggling for the right words, having just drawn his name from the Secret Santa envelope. “Yellows, Yellows” shout a couple of kids on the concrete steps and Tom is concerned that the “big crowd near the burger bar” is a sign of things to come, “hope they’re not queueing for food”. He can rest easy, they’re not, they’re are still waiting on the outcome of the toss, which is still yet to happen.
As a sign of things to come, the toss does eventually take place, but it seems to take an age, and I’m sure we are now well past the 19:45 kick off time. There are more shouts from the kids to our left, “come on Yellows” and from the players on the pitch as they prepare to start, “come on boys”. There are a few black and white scarf wearing IV fans dotted about, although their team are playing in a vivid Netherlands World Cup 2010 shade kit this evening, “Netherlands Vs 90’s Norwich” says Tom in the latest round of ‘Kits That Look Like Other Kits, who have taken up position along from the few chanting HT kinds, on the uncovered steps.
The rest of the crowd, much to Tom’s relief, have shifted away from the burger bar, and now occupy the long swathes of wooden steps.
It’s a quick going from both teams, making up for the tardy start. IV are on the front foot early on, a close offside which draws an “oohhhhh” from the crowd around us, shows their intention and that they have listened to their hostile coach.
We are not the only ones in attendance who are keen to keep abreast of what’s going on in N7. Staring at the chair next to him, the man a couple of rows behind us, is watching the North London derby on his phone. “By far the greatest team the world has ever seen” can clearly be heard through its tiny speakers. Being sung by who I assume are the Spurs fans, as no Arsenal supporter surely thinks that is the case about their little South London club.
“Heads” cries Tom, half out of his seat, trying to protect me from the ball flying our way. I flinch, the ball thankfully missing me as it hurtles into the stand, but it was a close call, showering me in mud as it passed me.
I like it when the joy of the person doing the PA is clear through their announcements. There’s nothing worse than a monotone bore, I want to hear all the highs and lows of the ninety minutes in their voice, flooding over the airwaves. Tonight from within his small glass fronted box, the ecstasy of being the person who gets to tell us HT have just gone in front, is more than apparent. “Michael Cain” the scorer, who has just put in the rebound following a low long range driven shot, that the keeper could only parry and Cain was Johnny on the spot to slot home.
IV respond quickly following the restart, getting the ball out wide, they whip it into the box, but the extremely shouty HT keeper all in purple is able to claim it.
Although we’ve had a goal and what felt like a positive start by both teams, the game has not really had the chance to get going, in great part down to the referee, who as Tom puts it, is “very blowy”. One IV player is so irate at him giving a foul against them, he is only able to yell a frustrated “no”, which gets a “calm down” from someone around us, sadly missing what I thought was the mandatory Harry Enfield Scouse accent.
A good bit of wing play once again sees IV on the attack, the wide player leaving his marker for dead, allows him the time to get a good cross into the box. Coolly and under reasonable pressure the HT defender wins the ball and plays it out from the back very calmly, “he’s done well there” comments one home fan quite rightly.
“Again” sighs Tom, when the referee gives a foul against IV, who he is growing increasingly unpopular with, when as Tom points out, “it looked like a very good challenge”. I didn’t see it, I must be honest. I’ve removed the bag of sweets from my coat pocket and have decided to investigate. Some of these you’re having, I tell Tom. Jelly beans, eggs to name a few are just not my cup of tea, “it’s called a mixed bag” tuts Tom.
Constantly looking at his phone, now with the volume down, the fan behind us would have just about been able to hear the muffled shout from one IV fans, “come on you Ives”, but would have missed the Pickford esq looking IV keeper rushing well out of his goal to claim a ball almost on the halfway line. Assuming he hadn’t looked up to watch the game he was actually at for a moment, he would have seen Spurs go one nil up. I’m almost certain that the scorer here’s surname being Cain, although spelt differently from Spurs and England legend, and I don’t use that word lightly, Harry Kane, I’m sure it was a sign from the football Gods.
Tom tries his best to downplay that his team have gone behind, while I repeatedly pump my fist in his face, “might have chips and curry sauce” he tells me.
IV’s propensity to stray offside, is starting to wear thin with their fans, “every time” one fan grumbles, “why can’t this geezer see the fucking line”. The early promise of what I thought was going to be a goal fest, has yet to materialise. In fact not much of note has happened in the fifteen minutes since, and Tom is a little scathing of the visiting team, “they’re not very good”.
I’m not sure if its intentional, but the man next to us, tapping his foot, with what sounds like a petty cash amount of change in his pocket, is almost creating his own genre of music, that only momentarily stops at the sight of one HT player letting fly a dipping shot from outside the box, that looks like its creeping in, but in the end is saved.
It’s all HT, their fans are clapping them on, however despite their dominance, their keeper is still really angry. A bit like an episode of Soccer Saturday, the man watching the Arsenal Vs Spurs game, Tottenham fans shouldn’t “get too excited”, because “Arsenal should have scored two”.
is giving a near running commentary, suggesting that despite their lead,
The home side keep coming forward, “get in the box” demands one fan of the players, as another dangerous ball is sent into the box. IV are getting into promising positions, but are lacking composure, “weyyyyy” go the crowd, when a good opportunity is wasted and sent well over. “Oh you complete donkey” shouts the man behind us, not towards the IV player responsible for the miss, but towards Spurs’s Sissoko, who apparently has just missed a sitter.
“Someone’s gotta follow it in” moans the IV throw in taker, who as one person points out is trying to take a leaf out the “Rory Delap” book of chucking far, but as Tom says, he has no right to blame his teammates for not getting on the end of them, as they are “shit”.
Every time IV get the ball, it’s passed out wide, nine times out of ten towards their number 11 running the touch line in front of us. “We’ve got to be a bit sharper” says one IV player, when another attempt to find him goes awry.
A huge shout for a HT pen around the thirty minute mark is turned down, and one HT player is perplexed, glaring at the linesman, he can’t believe that he didn’t give it. “Blowy, blowy” groans Tom as the referee stifles play again, with the overuse of his whistle.
“How is that possible?” asks the most vocal of the nearby IV supporters, when instead of side footing the ball into the back of the HT net from the edge of the six yard box following a corner, the player manages to put it wide. The loose ball is tossed back into the box, and this time an IV shot is cleared off the line. They go again, not once, but twice, two goal bound shouts, one a real cracker are blocked and then they have their own shout for a penalty waved away.
“You know when it’s not your night” laughs the IV fan to himself, wracked with despair at his team’s apparent bad luck.
Tom has grown weary at the sight of the repeatedly bad throw ins, “don’t give it to him” he mumbles, as the man who is insisting on taking them, but is not very good at them, is given another chance. “Yes you can throw it far, but it’s not powerful enough”, gripes Tom, “Delaps” were “powerful and direct” the IV players just aren’t.
A crunching midfield tackle that leaves an IV player down injured gets the kind of sympathetic response, one has become accustomed to watching football, “get up you powder puff”. One IV supporter as you can imagine, is a bit more bit more sensitive, “could have broken his ankle”.
Not quite overtaking the “thanks Dad” comment as my personal highlight of the evening, but giving it a good run for its money, the totally failed attempt at a bicycle kick by one IV player, who lands in an embarrassed heap on the floor, comes a close second.
Anxiously looking over towards the source of tonight’s food, Tom is slowly getting closer and closer to the edge of this seat, in preparation of getting his food on. “I’m off”, he blurts out, on his feet with his back half turned to me.
Five minutes to go and HT send a shot just wide, which triggers a few claps and shouts of “come on Hitchin” from the crowd. The half comes to an end with each team guilty of just lumping the ball about and the notion that throw ins are never taken from the right place is reinforced less than five feet away from me.
“No further” says the linesman to an IV player, who then takes a good five or six steps up the touch line without any repercussions.
Watching the referee being asked to make the 50/50 draw on the edge of the pitch, from a small yellow cloth bag, is a sight I’ve never seen before, and I’m maybe unlikely to see again, but it makes me think it should be a practise all clubs are made to observe. The simple action of asking him to pick, makes it a completely impartial process, and removes my long standing feeling that they are all clearly fixed, as I never win them.
Moments later, after the PA has remembered its “evening” and not “”afternoon”, what I thought was a watertight theory, is blown right out the water. Even with the referee picking the winning numbers, I won’t be the recipient of the “62.50” either by the sound of it, will any of the people around me, who all let out a simultaneous “arghhhhhh”.
“Beat the rush” says a happy Tom, returning at the back end of the long procession of people making the half time end swap, with a polystyrene tray loaded with a burger and chips swimming in gravy. “Run out of curry sauce” he explains, forced to shout a bit over the words of, Rhythm Of The Night. Spurs are still winning, and Tom still tries to make out he doesn’t care, but he is very quiet, much quieter than normal.
One of those making the change of ends, a young HT fan clutching a hot water bottle, catches Toms attention, her preparedness very impressive. The sound of the buzzer rings out again and IV, a little slow to respond get a shout from the referee to hurry up. The PA informs us of the HT changes at the break, Alfie Cue is on for the second half and as the teams appear, Tom rolls his snood up over his face, food done, thinking I’m sure about the hot water bottle.
Two minutes gone and we are almost treated to the most spectacular of goals, a mazey run from one HT player sees him evade what looks like almost the entire IV team, making it all the way into the box, he shapes up to shoot, only for the ball to be taken off him right at the last, by an IV player who clearly has no desire for the sake of the spectators, to let him continue and therefore letting us witness a bit of a wonder goal.
The referee continues to make no friends, “has he given a foul?” wonders Tom, the man in charges style is so relaxed, that he blows his whistle so late after the event, it’s hard to know what’s going on, “very odd ref” ads Tom, “the unit” in the middle, is somewhat in his own universe, as he sauntered around the pitch
HT squander the chance to double their lead, “blimey” says a fan as the header from a free kick goes wide. Toms burger having suitable settled, he’s now onto “dessert”, but only once he’s located it, “don’t know where the sweets are” he says frisking himself, “found them” he declares in delight when he does. Not as concerned as I was about the possibility of getting a jelly bean, his mantra is “grab a handful, chuck them in”. He, unlike me, enjoys the strange soft crunch of a jelly bean, as he puts it, “its all sugar”.
“Oh my word” gasps an IV fan, not because he found an all too rare cola bottle among all the bananas and what look like toadstools, but because from point blank range, his team have just rattled the crossbar with a header, when in his opinion they really should have just drawn the game level, “thats bad” he says.
Getting probably as large a round of applause as the goal did or maybe even larger, the save the HT keeper just pulled off, is right out the top draw, the first of his heroics tonight, he somehow managed to cross the entire goal, making it just in time to somehow stop the low shot, that some IV players were already celebrating, but now, like the crowd are in shock, that he saved it.
Not, I’m sure, the impact he would have wanted to make since coming on, but Alfie Cue just very, very nearly killed a small child behind the goal, with his sliced shot, veering off target and into the crowd. HT have had it far from all their own way since the restart. IV look a much better side and HT
almost give IV the easiest way back into the game, making a mistake at the back, that almost punishes them.
“Record the series” says Tom on the phone to Charlotte, who is trawling through the TV guide trying her best to find the League Cup highlights. Wishful thinking I suggest, with his team still a goal behind, but he remains positive, preparing for the “next round”, he tells me.
The dark figures that line the back wall of the covered terracing opposite join in the goading of the referee, whose decisions continue to baffle. “Embarrassing” shouts one, Tom just puffs out his cheeks in bemusement, “he’s all over the place”. The volume of the sarcastic “wehhhh’s” is a good indicator of how well respected he is. The IV players are close to meltdown, which is very entertaining for the home fans, who just laugh at the fuming visiting players.
I know he heard me when I told him Spurs have now doubled their lead, both of us unaware of just how a marvellously Dele Alli did it. Instead he points out a man “smoking a pipe” and tells me how much he loved his latest handful of sweets, “Ohhh that’s a nice one, peach flavour”.
Twenty five minutes gone and IV’s latest attempt to get back in the game is wild to say the least, a volley from almost the edge of the box, falls just short of clearing the tall naked trees behind the goal. HT then go close themselves, as the game swings from end to end. “Make it count” shouts one fan, as a cross field pass finds a player unmarked on the wing and his first time hooked cross, almost reaches its intended target, but is cleared.
Soon back in possession, after one IV players hashed attempt at a clearance and only a couple of steps into the box, an HT forward is bundled over by the defender trying to make up for his previous indiscretion and for the first time tonight, without any hesitation, the referee points at the spot. I’m not sure there is one IV player on the pitch, whose hands aren’t clamped across their face or to the back of their head in despair.
Before the spot kick is taken, the taker hovering over the ball, the players lined up on the edge of the box, one IV player is booked for dissent. When it is taken, towards the goal that the large HT flag that disappeared now hangs, the HT forward can’t convert. “Yessssss” cries an IV fan in the stand, his team are still in it.
Despite the missed penalty, Tom is of the opinion that IV are still going to “equalise”, he reckons HT are riding their luck just that bit too hard, and IV currently look the most likely of the two to score. However no one is going to be able to even get close to scoring, until the referee gets his act together. “Come on ref, we wanna go home today” says one home fan, as he takes an eternity to book someone.
With a quarter of an hour left, we are treated to our second penalty of the match. “What an idiot” says Tom, not very impressed with the HT defender who fluffed his “header” and then just like the IV player who in an attempt to make up for his previous mistake, gave away a penalty, the HT player has done the same thing. “Owes the keeper a pint for that” says Tom, as the second resounding “yesss” reverberates around Top Field, the man between the sticks for HT has not only pulled off the save, but in doing so has confirmed his position as a local legend.
The amount of shouting from all corners, including the bench is increasing by the second, most of it, if not all of it is aimed at the referee, “this is getting ridiculous ref” shouts one fan after another odd call. One IV coach is close to losing it with his players, “stop giving cheap free kicks away”.
With ten minutes left, HT break out from their own half, outnumbering IV at the back, their fans will them on, “come on Hitchin” the chance to get that all important second is surely now, but they rush it, and the linesman raises his flag for offside. Both benches berate their players, HT’s for going too soon, IV’s for getting caught out on the counterattack.
“Ohh funny bean” grimaces Tom, as his chuck it all in his gob technique has failed him and he has encountered an “iffy sweet”. HT at a push look like maybe they might score again, their most recent effort on goal is on target, but it’s not very powerful and the latest ball to head our way does not deposit mud on me, but the sound of it crashing on the roof of the stand is starting to make me twitchy.
An injury to the HT keeper, thankfully not a serious one, allows each team to convene around their respective dugouts for a pow wow. The keeper is soon back on his feet and fit to play on, and an IV player does his best to inspire his team mates, “keep going, come on”. The HT manager prowling his technical area wants more from this players, “liven up”.
Tom’s eagerness to be ball boy nearly results in an injury, worried it was going to damage his “pretty face” he was grateful that it’s unpredictable spin took it away from him, and not towards the money maker. With not long left at the Emirates, my latest check of the score, results in a very unconvincing “well done” from him, which I don’t believe for a minute.
“Off, off, off” demand the HT fans after a brash tackle from a IV player on the far side of the pitch. “Already booked” comments one supporter, another adds that he “has got to go”. Considering this referees performance so far, it’s no great surprise that the player only receives a talking to and it didn’t even look like a stern one, which does not go down very well, “embarrassing” snarls one fan, so incensed that he takes to his feet. Another goes full Game Of Thrones, repeating “shame, shame”.
In a promising position, one HT supporters urges his team to “make it count” but the free kick is well over, and it turns out the abuse going the referees way, for not sending off the IV player was on pause, “you bottled it ref” heckles the same fan, back on his feet again.
“Did they forget to make a substitution” ponders Tom, when IV in the dying minutes, decide now is as good a time as any to roll the dice and make two changes. The barrage aimed at the referee is still on going, this time its an IV fan, who is so animated, that one HT fan tells him to, “sit down”.
The departing Paul Muzzy, asks if we are “avoiding the North London derby result” which I gleefully tell him we are not. IV then have a succession of uneventful corners, as the added on time board is prepared, a flashing green four shows we’ve a little more left of this game, which neither Tom or a fan behind us, can work out how they came to that number, “four minutes” says Tom confused, the man behind us can only blurt out “four” in a mild state of shock.
HT are now exclusively heading to the corners, not risking giving up the all important three points. When they win a corner, there is no one in the box, and they just end up passing it about amongst themselves. A rare attack, sees a rapid HT forward win the leg race with the IV defence, only for his shot to be saved one on one. “Keep going” says one supporter, but unless its towards the corner, they don’t look like they’re are going to be going anywhere else.
There are shouts from a group of kids around the mouth of tunnel of “we want another one” but they better not hold their breath. The announcement of the “Morrisons man of the match” gets a laugh from the announcer, telling us that it was him who picked the keeper to be the recipient of a bottle of fizz. This goes down well with the kids, “wehhhh” they all shout, before belting out the man of the moments very own song, “we love you MJ we do”
In a mild case of shithousery, Queens, Another One Bites the Dust plays, as the players shake hands and HT quickly form a tight huddle on the pitch, for some words from the boss. The kids around the tunnel, who have crept onto the pitch, try to grab a picture with the Man Of The Match, before he poses with the beaming PA announcer and his prize.
With the result at the Emirates confirmed, Tottenham into a semi final with Chelsea, Tom pretends he is actually happy they are “out”, the Caribou Cup seemingly an unwanted distraction for his high fliers.
Leaving the ground, a ground that is worth the trip here alone, regardless of the match, the result or the weather, it’s special, the kids are stealing a last few selfies with the HT players and the HT manager suggests to us that we should come to their next match, thanks to our “100% record”, but trust me we have had a similar situation in the past where other teams think we are good luck charms, and it didn’t end well, I’m deeply concerned about something a passing comment Tom just made:
“Long way to come from St Ives” he said, concerned about the away teams long drive back home tonight, having spent the whole evening thinking IV had shclepped up from Devon for this evenings match.
Give me strength.
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