Two Men In Search Of The Beautiful Game continue their non-league odyssey, this time heading for Barnet for a FA Cup clash with Stockport. 

Words by Daniel Magner. Photographs by Tom Sparks

Tom never sings show tunes, especially from Annie. Tom never insists on an in depth conversation about the scent of the miniature Yankee Candle car air freshener and why it’s called Red Raspberry, when there are no other colour raspberries. It is soon quite apparent that the absence of my normal companion is going to be more telling than I thought, and as it stands, his stand in is being, well frankly a bit annoying.

BARNET PI’m pretty sure it’s the exhilaration of just having dropped off our daughter at my Mums and the idea of a whole five or six hours without our demanding one year old, which has just dawned on Rachel, my other half, as to why she is acting a bit loopy. In between the never ending stream of comments about raspberries, she mocks me, joking about how nice the “sky” and “clouds” are, in preparation of my usual flowery blog opening, that she will ultimately have to proof read.

Although the weather is changeable, flitting from bright sun to rain, it’s not worth the grief, expanding on how calmly the dense white cumulus float by, so I’ll leave it at that. The fender bender on the way to today’s ground, somewhat aggravates me, the slowly moving and then redirected traffic frustrating, but that pales into insignificance, compared to what the man who has wrapped his BMW around the central reservation, must be going through.

The drive to The Hive the relatively new home of Barnet FC (BFC), that is not in fact in Barnet, but is in Harrow, is no more than twenty minutes from home. A journey that is littered with an almost supernatural amount of signs from the football gods.

I refuse to accept that the amber and black scarf wearing BFC fans around the corner from my Mums house were a mere coincidence. You can’t tell me that once past the electronic billboard and the large orange sign at the entrance to The Hive, that it means nothing that the car we park behind has DAN in the number plate and a small blue Stockport County FC (SC) scarf, BFC’s opponents, is hanging in the back window.

It must be some kind of sign from the football Gods, there is surely some significance in that ten years ago, Rachel and I on one of our very first dates, yes I know, I don’t hold out any stops, was at Underhill, to see exactly this same fixture, albeit in the league then and not the FA Cup and that was the Football League, not the National League.

Oh how the fortunes of both clubs have changed in the past ten years.

Underhill was one of the good ones, nestled among semi detached houses, with crumbling concrete terracing, bright orange railings and of course it’s famous sloping pitch. A place I spent many an afternoon and evening, whenever Spurs were away, enjoying a match for a £1. Getting off the bus at the Odeon, walking under the railway bridge and down the alleyway next to the pub.

Like I said a lot has changed in the past decade, I’m bigger, hairier and now have two children and both teams positions in the football pyramid has taken a significant nose dive. BFC fairing perhaps a little better. Tom and I were here in 2015 when they gained promotion back to League Two, however that didn’t last for long, relegated last season, meaning they are back where they started, non league once more. SC find themselves even lower down the ladder than BFC, their fall from grace, probably a lot more dramatic than that of the home teams.

Climbing out of the car, behind us numerous games of kids football are taking place on the artificial pitches, before us the black and orange build by numbers stadium, named no doubt by some bright marketing executive, because of BFC’s nickname being the bees. I’m all for progress, but it’s not a patch on Underhill.

IMG_20181202_134521_5Wearing her blue SC scarf, the very one her parents gave us each, the first time I met them, to be clear we were going to a SC home game that weekend too, they don’t just hand out random pieces of club merchandise and although I have a strong affinity for BFC, the signs are just too strong, I’m very much in the County camp today.

There is little character to The Hive, it’s all very municipal, feels a lot like a council built sports centre. From the outside the most interesting thing is the man carrying what looks like a stuffed border collie in a Father Christmas hat.

Outside the club shop, I indulge Rachel, just as I do Tom. Both of them sharing the need to procure one piece of football tat per game, we are stopped by a BFC fan, drawn towards Rachel’s scarf, who asks her quietly,

“How many will you bring?”

The home fan does not wait around for long, and although Rachel doesn’t have the exact figures to hand, it is clear by the abundance of coaches lined up at one end of the ground, what seems like a shops worth of retro SC shirts on show and the slurred chants of the group of three lads who just passed us “Edgeley, Edgeley” it’s going to be a lot or as the BFC supporter puts it, “more than us”.

Inside the shop her keyring or as she calls it, her “objet d’art” is secured, as is a pin for Tom. As we wait to pay, it’s hard not to eavesdrop on the conversation taking place behind us, I say conversation, more of a monologue, from a man venting about the fact that BFC no longer sell a programme. They have joined the ever growing list of online only, much to the disgust of the person behind us who is getting quite agitated, “I don’t want digital”.

Also in the shop wearing a Father Christmas hat, is not the border collie, but perhaps BFC’s most famous fan ‘Village’. White beard and all, he poses for a picture with a young home fan, before firmly shaking my hand and recalling our previous encounter, under the narrow railway arch on Zampa outside The Den.

“Knew there was something wrong with her” he says, not best pleased to hear it will be the away end we will be sitting in today. I shrug my shoulders, that decision was made for me about thirty years ago when Rachel was born. He is also the second person to use the phrase “more than us” when discussing what apparently is going to be quite the gulf between the home and travelling support.

If Tom thought I had a thing for flags, Village has made his obsession for them a lifestyle choice. The national flags plus a few other curiosities, line the long wooden fence outside the shop, where they flap and billow, in a stiff December breeze.

As I’m driving, and it’s only one o’clock in the afternoon and I have to be in some kind of reasonable
state to be a parent later on today, its coffee for me and not beer. I’m not talking about anything pretentious, I’m more than happy with some brown water with plenty of milk sugar in, all served up in a white polystyrene cup. I wouldn’t in a million years expect to be offered hazelnut syrup, Kenyan roast or for it to come in a seasonally appropriate designed cup.

A Starbucks, what at first glance looked like a gleaming chrome filled bar, is a Starbucks. It’s not until I see the green and white mermaid on one corner of the ground, do I realise that I’m about to get a venti latte, from a Starbucks, attached to a football ground. Like I said, a lot has changed.

Waiting for Rachel outside, not wanting an encounter with one of the door staff, yes a Starbucks at a football ground with bouncers, I have my third encounter with a BFC fan, perhaps their second most well known one, Matthew of the YouTube channel LoudmouthBFC. He in his Deadpool hoodie and shorts, and completes the hat trick of “more than us”, he doesn’t use that phrase exactly, as the other two had, but the sentiment is the same.

IMG_20181202_135016_1“We’ll be the away team” he says despondently, “always have been since leaving flipping Underhill” he adds. Today’s game at The Hive is not the only coming together between two titans of the game in the north of the capital, there is a little matter of the North London derby happening too, which I’m doing my best to record and not find out the score. I think Matthew is both impressed and baffled by the fact I’m “missing Spurs and Arsenal for this”. “Oh wow” he replies when I confirm I am with a sheepish nod of my head.

What is it with us trains and football grounds at the moment? They seem synonymous with our recent outings, today is no different, standing by the turnstiles of the Stand ‘66, the standalone bank of black and orange seats, it’s hard to ignore the constant rumblings of the nearby Northern line trains, I say nearby, they’re practically part of the ground.

Through the turnstile, past a man in a long black coat and top hat, a camera crew and member of the Stockport band the Blossoms, the pub which they are named after, Rachel will without fail point out whenever we are up in her neck of the woods, is a sign that “thanks” the SFC fans for making the “380 mile round trip”, and coming through the double glazed doors of what is actually a bar and not a high street coffee chain, is a sound challenging the tube train for being the loudest thing in the vicinity.

Perhaps on reflection the idea of selling a day on the beach bucket sized double pints on special offer, will maybe go down as an error. Not because people are pissed and out of control, not because anyone is get lairy looking for trouble, but because the limited amount of furniture that is dotted about the ‘66 Bar, might not make it to the end of the day intact.

Currently at the far end of the long hall, which has a large picture of an agonised looking Geoff Hurst on the wall, is a boiling, heaving group of SC fans who are going headlong into chant four or five, and that’s just in the short time we’ve been here. Chairs held aloft, the sound of a drum emanates from somewhere within the crowd, its electric.

This way to the match, reads the black lettering on the wall. Having edged past the friendly moshpit of still singing fans, the pile of furniture being nervously guarded by a steward, and doing my best to avoid the man whirling his scarf above his head or to bump into the gent ticking off a few Mancunian stereotypes, in his bucket hat and parka jacket, floating around to the beat of the drum, in his own world, pint in one hand the other in the air, the bright light of the outside takes a moment to adjust to, and things just get, in the words of John Motson, “better and better and better”.

Flags, flags, flags and more flags, only one continues the theme of nations from around the world outside, a small Uruguay one, a nod to SC legend Danny Bergara, the rest are very much all in honour of SC. “What a fucking atmosphere”, says one supporter emerging behind me, and he’s not wrong. Having eventually got in and minus the pop star, the man in the top hat, spins his blue and white rattle, much to the delight of one BFC steward, “not seen one of them in a while”.

Bunches of blue balloons bob above the heads of the fans, who have already and still with a fair old few still inside, done a good job in packing almost the entire stand. The seats fenced off with red and white tape, become the perfect place to drape one of the many flags. The juxtaposition between the home end, quite, not even half full and the bustling away end, is striking.

The appearance of the BFC mascot, a giant bee is followed by a torrent of boos, “you can’t boo the bee” says Rachel disapprovingly. This scalding of her fellow fans though does not last for long and she is soon back on weather watch, the similarities between her and Tom increasing by the hour.

“Oh I’m turning into Tom” she says when it dawns on her too.

Jim Gannon’s appearance, SC’s manager, near the mouth of the tunnel, takes the attention off the large wandering insect for a moment, as some people surge towards him for the chance of a photo. The bees attempt to ingratiate himself to the away fans with a round of applause in their direction, backfires. “Who are ya, who are ya” they sing, his large felt face, unresponsive to the barrage.

P1020428The departure of the SC team, jogging past the away end, gets almost everyone on their feet, balloons are frantically waved and a chorus of “blue army” serenades them.

Turning as he walks up the touchline, in his National League sky blue coat, Jim Gannon, raises his hands above his head and applauds the fans singing his name, “Jimmy Gannon’s blue and white army”. Not far behind him, the two sets of players appear from the orange tunnel, to the backing track, which I thought was a joke, a case of the wrong CD being put in, the last time we were here, but it turns out BFC actually walkout to, Sweet Child of Mine by Guns & Roses.

Thankfully the volume of the SC fans drown out the hair metal classic, with a song of their own to the tune of The Lion Sleeps Tonight, “we’re the County, the mighty County, we always win away”. Everyone to a man is singing, clapping, some like the man behind me, pumps his fist to the rhythm of the song.

The final actions of the bee is to high five each member of the BFC team, before performing a few stretches as the teams line up to shake hands.

Before kick off the ground is tinged with sadness, a moment of reflection for the home fans who had
lost one of their own, who died in the week before the match. Some SC supporters “shhh” the others as the teams gather around the centre circle, ensuring silence, to make sure the moment is well respected. However instead of a minutes silence, it’s a minutes applause, which is well observed by both sets of fans.

The tail end of one my all time favourite football chants, accompanies the kick off “at Edgeley Park our greatest pride, is the scarf my father wore”, which is then followed by an earth moving roar, with scarves held above heads, the drum at maximum and numerous shouts of “come on County” flooding forwards.

On a near loop, the drum drives the SC fans as they sing their managers name once more, “Jimmy Gannon’s blue and white army” and with no bee to heckle, they take the opportunity to reel off a long song sheet of chants about the state of the BFC attendance, “you’re supposed to be at home”, “shit ground no fans”, “what’s it like to see a crowd” they ask, before the ultimate insult to any home team, “shall we sing a song for you?”.

Small kids on the back row, stand precariously on the folding seats to ensure a better view above the clapping hands and scarves. “You’ve got to be having a fucking laugh” shouts one fan, at the sight of a BFC player going down on the edge of the SC box. The visiting player is booked for foul and there the slight hush as the BFC free kick is lined up, taken, and whistles just wide.

There are plenty of sarcastic jeers as it does so, but they are nervous ones too. It was close, and with only four minutes on the LED scoreboard to our left, it’s been a slightly shaky start by the Hatters.

The lull in singing and drumming is only for as long as it takes the free kick to be taken and it’s soon back up to speed athe noise when SC fizz a dangerous looking ball across the BFC box.

It’s taken a back post header and one of their players executing the perfect knee slide celebration to coax the first bit of noise from the home fans. The SC supporters efforts, “blue army” does not dip for a moment as their team go a goal behind. The orange nought on the scoreboard flicks to a one alongside BFC’s name. “Come on lads”, shout a few fans between songs, “1 – 0 and you still don’t sing”.

P1020426The SC players seemingly haven’t let the goal dent their confidence either and are looking for a quick reply, minutes after the restart they are back on the attack. “Come on County, come on County” sing the SC fans, whose support of their team so far has been faultless. Their next song is to the tune of the Dambuster Theme and is just one of many different chants they will belt out today.

Somewhere else that can suffer from a lack of atmosphere, Wembley Stadium’s arch is visible over the squat terracing opposite, that on inspection contains a couple of handfuls of BFC fans congregated around a drum secured to the brushed steel railings along with a few small flags.

A short stop in play, allows a downed SC player to be treated, he returns to the pitch with the full Terry Butcher head gear and not long after the SC defence is a bit slow to respond to the BFC player on the edge of their box, who is given far too much time to get a shot off.

SC have been far from out of the running in the first quarter of an hour, despite being a goal behind, but there is a feeling they are going to have to really be at their very best to get anything from today and at the moment they are just a bit off the pace. A smatter of grumbling infiltrates the crowd. Not much, just enough to be noticeable, but not enough to interrupt the as of yet never ending singing, “hello, hello we are the County boys”.

“Ahhh” gasps the SC fans as their free kick goes close, just shy of twenty minutes gone at the beginning of a brief purple patch for the visitors. The Hive still devoid of any home noise, one SC fan suggests that his “local library is livelier than this”, another fans replies his “local library” has been “shutdown”.

The SC player just can’t control the ball in the BFC box and the opportunity of a shot on goal goes begging, “come on County” shout the SC fans, as they craft their clearest chance of an equaliser. Minutes later and another goal bound shot is deflected and sent looping up and into the BFC keepers arms, who is in action again once more not long after. Clutching onto a curled angled SC shot from the edge of the box.

It’s been all SC since they went behind, it’s been all the SC fans since the doors opened around 12:30, “olla, olla, olla County” they sing before being caught in a near hypnotic trance of “blue army”

The disapproving shake of Rachel’s head, is not something anyone wants to see I can tell you. The venomous shouts of “cheating bastard” from the fan behind us mean all but the same, but there’s something about the look in her eyes, that makes it far worse.

If I had been the BFC player who just committed the most blatant of dives, near the edge of the SC box, who should have been booked, but wasn’t, the referee just simply waving at him to get up. I would rather have a large man from the North West call me a “bastard” one hundred times, then be subjected to her mean wobbling head.

It has taken almost half an hour before we hear the BFC fans for the first time, “come on Barnet” they chant, which gets a much louder, “weeeehhh”, then a few lines of “we forgot that you were here”.

Having been unable to make the most of their time in and around the BFC box, it’s now the home teams turn to go close. Again with a header, a point black range one at that, which the keeper is able somehow to fist clear. A coming together between two opposing players, the BFC one a pony tailed man mountain and the much shorter, follically challenged SC one, almost results in a flare up. The fans around us are far from pleased with the Khal Drogo lookalikes antics, “you dirty southern bastard”.

The groans and grumbles among the SC fans are increasing, they have had plenty of possession, plenty of chances to get the ball into good positions, but their passing has been poor. The man directly behind me, has boiled down all his dissatisfaction into a single word, “shite”, that he blurts out after every failed move and for the first time the SC fans have fallen quiet’ish which allows me for the first time to actually hear the BFC drum, and not just see the young man hitting it.

P1020421The wind has changed direction and is now blowing in our face, the respite in singing means I start to notice the passing tube trains again and Rachel’s face is scrunched right up at the, as she puts it, “load of nothingness” currently happening on the pitch. Going into the last ten minutes of the half and the match has all but fizzled out and cruelly the most entertaining thing is a BFC child fan playing ball boy. He takes a tumble retrieving the ball from the stand, and gets a “wehhh” for his troubles, the same one people give in a pub when someone drops a glass, but he is quickly back on his feet, and is applauded as he skips back to his seat.

“Ohhh” gasp the SC supporters, who are jolted into life, when a hopeful looking volley form the edge of the BFC box, slams into a defender. With just over five minutes to play, the slow trickle towards the bar and refreshments starts. A lady passing down the front in a rainbow jacket jogs people into making the decision, stay until the whistle or head off now.

Another BFC chant, the same as before, “come on Barnet” is given short shrift by the still much, much louder SC fans, “come on County”. Rachel unlike Tom, is still in her seat, despite deciding she will be going “full Tom today”. She has “bought something”, “moaned about the weather” and now it’s just a case of getting something to eat. “Chips” will be her food of choice, but she won’t be moving until the referee says so.

The lady in the rainbow jacket and anyone else who had gone in search of a double pint, would have missed BFC nearly scoring their second. A waist height ball across the box, falls to a lunging BFC forward, who makes contact with it, but his shot flies over, and he ends up in a heap, just short of the goal line, tangled with the neon green wearing SC keeper.

Instead of chastising their players for conceding the chance, they celebrate their keepers heroics, who is currently looking a little worse for ware, to the tune of a bit of Madness, “in the middle of our goal Hinchcliffe.

A slide rule pass into the BFC box looks to be getting SC somewhere, the chop from the forward inside his marker looks to be getting them even closer. The robust but fair BFC challenge stops any inkling of danger, “defending like beasts” says Rachel, puffing out her cheeks.

“Three additional minutes of added time” says the velvet smooth voice of the BFC stadium announcer, and as Rachel puts it, it’s “not much considering” the stoppages there have been. Once more I can hear the dull thumps of the BFC drum, but it is soon muted by ones mans violent exclamation of his dislike of the referee, “you’re a fucking wanker” he bellows, confirming to a neighbour if it wasn’t clear, “I hate him”.

SC control added on time, much like they have controlled long periods of the game since going behind. A smart exchange on the edge of the BFC box, ultimately breaks down, pretty much summing up their attacking form so far today, just not clicking when it matters.

The players depart, almost to the same level of rapturous acclaim as they had received when they arrived. Lousy pop music, replaces the signing of the travelling SC fans. The stand pretty much empties, including Rachel who in the finest Tom tradition is off in search of food. Those who’ve stayed behind take the chance to rest and take a seat, except for the man in the long black coat, who’s scruffy white hair pokes out from under his top hat. With his back to the pitch, he jabs his finger towards the home fans, with a look on his face like he is delivering a Churchillian speech.

A couple of kids given the freedom of the away end, break out into a little scrap, until what I imagine was a stern shout from a grown up, that puts an end to it, so they just floss instead. The voice over the PA wishes those in attendance a happy Hanukkah and Villages Norwegian BFC fan, who he was talking to the shop, before us, gets a shout out.

IMG_20181202_140938I check the score of the North London derby and Spurs are 2 – 1 ahead. If SC could grab a couple of goals in the second half, then it could turn into a pretty splendid day.

It’s boos for the Barnet players as they reemerge to what I think is some Daft Punk and the stand is only half full, Rachel still MIA as the game restarts. The drum is back at it, there are the odd shouts of “come on County”, however with little more than a minute on the clock, not many SC fans witness the early dangerous SC cross that is cleared for a corner.

SC look to have picked up where they left off, BFC also seem determined to throw their weight around in the penalty area at set pieces, the jostling around the home keeper, catches the attention of the referee. The SC fans claim for a penalty, but the ref just has a word with the players involved and waves on the corner taker to get on with it.

“Took you forty eight minutes” laughs a SC supporter at the sound of the BFC drum. As has happened all day so far at the slightest bit of home noise, it is quickly mocked by the away fans, their go to loop of “blue white army” is soon doing the rounds again.

The home fans largest on mass chant, “come on Barnet” follows them going close once again to a second goal. An excellent cross into the box, is matched by the leaping header, which thankfully for the SC fans is bettered by the one handed save of their keeper who keeps them in the game. Around me, a mass exhale from the SC fans, sounds like a giant fart, running through each and every one of their heads is not ‘did I just make a noise with my mouth that sounded like a fart, but, ‘we got away with that one’.

As the clock ticks, the tensions grows, and not because Rachel only returned with a packet of crisps, explaining the queue for the food was too long, but because the longer the game goes on, the less likely SC look like they are going to score and there is a feeling the game is getting away from them.

For the record Tom would have stayed in the queue, even if it was only “hot dogs, burgers or cold baguettes” and “no chips” on offer. Starbucks and baguettes, so overwhelmingly North London. Rachel tries to change the subject, doing her best to deflect my displeasure, I really fancied pinching some of her chips, suggesting that the queue was “full of kids” because people send them to “do their bidding” and I’m to ask Tom if this is the case at other matches.

Both teams are sloppy, but the fact the BFC drum is slowly becoming ever more present, means the party atmosphere of an hour ago is slowly waning, and a few more people are sitting now. SC apply some good pressure on the ball in the BFC box, but it just doesn’t pay off. The fans still singing, “SUFC”, still have plenty of energy to give the man in charge some stick, “you’re not fit to referee” but the players on the pitch are just not able to replicate the efforts of the fans off it.

The lure of the double pints has become too much for one SC fan who is bundled out by the police just a couple of minutes shy of sixty. Two minutes later and a mistake in the SC defence sees BFC back in possession just outside of their SC box. The home player jinks his way through the SC back line and lets free a fierce rising shot that is just tipped over. The rock steady beat of Madness fills the stand again, “in the middle of our goal Hinchcliffe”.

On the hour mark its all SC but its growing tenser by the minute, the inflection in the fans voices changes from one of support, to one of mild desperation, “come on County”. The worldly voiced stadium announcer, introduces a BFC substitute, which prompts some fans to ask, “who are ya, who are ya?”.

“I thought that was in” cries one SFC his face in his hands turning away from the sight of the poked chance that went inches the wrong side of the post. Going close stokes the fires within the SC fans “I O County, County I O” they sing. “You wouldn’t know there were any Barnet fans here” says Rachel nodding towards the BFC supporters, “remember last time they were very polite” she recalls from our visit to Underhill in the home end, “they only clapped”.

IMG_20181202_141745The situation though has not changed, because despite the lion’s share of possession, BFC look threatening on every attack.

I can literally feel the beat of the SFC drum in my chest, the guys standing on the back seats, hanging on to whatever they can, mostly the fine black netting that lines the roof to prevent the pigeons taking roost, squirm and react to every pass. “Jammy bastard” says Mr Shite, mixing it up a bit. What looks like might be a stroke of luck, in the BFC area, just won’t see the ball fall right for the SC forward, and the moment passes.

A quarter of an hour to go and the SC fans are now the quietest they have been all day. There are the odd shouts, “come on boys” but all the intensity of earlier has slipped away, the BFC drum now even more frequent. On the pitch and BFC are sat right back, happy now to counterattack, while SC are throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the home defence. BFC’s chances on goal have been few and far between, but when they get them, they just look that little bit more composed.

BFC are not only content with setting up camp in their half, but with still over ten minutes left are more than happy to waste as much time possible, at every opportunity, “cheating bastard” scowls one SC fan, the BFC keeper the main arbiter of the lollygagging.

SC continue to go close, ish, half chances you might say, getting in the right position but then fluffling their lines. Skipping into the box, the player makes enough room for himself to shoot, but there always seems to be a “beast” in orange to block the shot. The bandaged headed defender goes close with a back post header, but its wide, “go again” demands one fan.

“Fucking shite” says Mr Shite, almost returning back to his catchphrase, “he should get that on a t shirt” whispers Rachel. BFC’s keeper is taking the piss, the drummer rattles off a native American style beat as he goes through one of his overly long goal kick routines.

Down the front and the space between the seats and the barrier, marked with yellow hatching has slowly filled with fans, wanting to get that bit closer to the action. The other side of the shiny black railings more police appear in yellow high vis and hats, to bolster their defences.

Into the final ten minutes, and “great ball” says one nearby fan, sees SC momentarily look like they are on to something, but again an all orange “beast” hoofs it clear. SC still have all of the ball, BFC are still happy to not move much further forward than the edge of their box, SC just can’t make it count.
The home fans sing, which gets the customary “wheyyyy” and “we forgot that you were here”. Spurs are also losing 4 – 2 now, as Rachel puts it, it’s “not a good day for either of us”.

Heads slowly but surely start to lift and the sea of standing fans has been restored, with less than five minutes left to play, there is a resurgence among the SC fans, spurred on perhaps by the home supports attempt at a song, which is quickly blown out of the water, “Jimmy Gannon’s blue and white army”.

The SC fans contest everything, “how can we see it, but you can’t, tosser” shouts one, as the away fans just don’t feel like they are getting the rub of the green. The SC fans continue to will on the player, BFC have erected a big orange wall and the ref, who again in the eyes of the SC fans has made a mistake, gets a deafening song of his very own, “the referees a wankers”.

IMG_20181202_140235One last SC push, while their team go in search of an equaliser or in BFC case they try to cling on to their lead, fans of each team or as Rachel points out, “children” gesture and posture, trying to emulate a bygone era, with lots of chest slapping and pointing outside at each other, but considering the vast distance between them, not to mention all the police, it’s embarrassing.

A single piece of a bright orange seat spins through the air slowly, finding a home on top of the net as more and more police pile on to the edge of the pitch, the hatched area down below almost overflowing and the fans are so angered by the BFC time wasting, it’s getting a bit toxic.

I can’t be sure, but what might be the most blatant case of time wasting by a team there has ever been, forces a SC player to climb over the railings and into the stands to retrieve the ball. A ball when it’s in play they are very rarely out of possession of, but the goal just doesn’t look like its coming.

In the seconds before the final whistle, the glimmer of a single tin foil FA Cup catches my eye among the BFC fans, much larger than the one in the SC end that looked more like an egg cup. The big cheer that follows shortly after the game is over, almost doesn’t sound real, like its happening a lot further away than it is.

“We love you Stockport we do” sing the SC fans, as the forlorn players, the look of missing out on the third round and a glamour tie, against one of the big boys as they say, visible across each and every one.

A scarf is tossed towards them, and I can smell it before I see it, someone has let off a blue smoke bomb, sending wispy blue tendrils up in to the sky. Some players breech the gap in the police line to talk to the fans pressed up against the railings and its then things take a very Iceland 2016 turn, as players and supporters join each other in a thunder clap.

The BFC players huddle at the far end of the pitch, a single flag from their fans is hung over the railings. The acrid smell of the smoke bomb now permeates everything. The SC players sit in what was the BFC six yard box, dwelling on the defeat, before a coach slowly but surely starts to pick them back up to their feet. The vast majority of fans are still yet to move, still singing and clapping, the name of their manager once more not far from their lips.

It would be slightly remiss of me to ignore what happened on the way our. What I believe was triggered by some goading by BFC fans, turned into a bottle being chucked at the BFC manager and ended with people being pushed, shoved and hit with batons by the police. Accusations that “all cops are bastards” by one fan seemed unfair, admittedly the polices response did seem a little heavy handed, but it takes two to tango, and there were SC fans more than up for ruck.

My day ends with me shuffling back towards the car, half deaf from the banger someone let off, half deaf from Rachel’s squeal in response to it and someone half hanging out the passenger window of a passing car singing at me, “Hagrid, give us a wave, Hagrid, Hagrid give us a wave”.

IMG_20181202_160027_3“A lesson in going sideways” is Rachel’s rather scathing assessment of SC’s performance, she is also equally harsh about the BFC celebrations on the final whistle, “its like they put 10p in the fan meter”. I am at this point, staring at my phone and the final result from Spurs vs Arsenal, waiting for the traffic to subside, and a deluge of Whatsapp messages from Tom, ogling the mountain of Domino’s pizza making their way I would think to the victors dressing room.

Despite the result, and the silliness at the end, today only bolstered my affection for SC and its supporters. The pride and passion they display, out singing the home fans, travelling all this way for a frankly inconvenient two o’clock kick off on a Sunday, which is only for the benefit of the TV producers and nobody else, is stirring stuff. “Do it for the fans” shouted one SFC supporters towards the end, today the players couldn’t do it, but that never stopped them backing them.

A sleeping giant, a fan base that deserves more, and as I said last time we saw them, my SFC scarf, alongside my Spurs one, is the only one that hangs in my house.

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