Like any compulsive collector, an opportunity to maximise a return on your investment has to be too good to miss. I recall once back in the late eighties, whilst working in the West Midlands, managing to fit in three games in 24 hours. Bank Holidays are always a good bet for changes in the infuriatingly uniform 3.00pm kick-off routine, but I’ve been thrawted in recent years by clubs initially advertising early starts but then switching back to mid-afternoon nearer the time.
Not today, though, as I eye up a triple-header in London. There are options, too. I could go for the Horsham YMCA (11.00am) and Burgess Hill (1.00pm) options, with a quick dash up to Merstham for the three o’clock. Leyton (1.00pm) and Redbridge (3.00pm) is a little closer geographically and very tempting but the lack of a nearby 11.00er scuppers that. But I stick with the original plan of a three games in three different divisions day, starting with the early kick off at Walton Casuals.
Despite the early start and the long drive, my stray-ball-chasing son considers it a better bet than spending the day mucking out horses with his mother and settles into the back seat of the motor, where he quickly drops off to sleep for the duration of the voyage. I’ve downloaded some games onto my phone to keep him occupied but this proves unnecessary as he is not to be stirred.
M1 & M25 traffic is light as I use my map-reading skills to reach Waterside Park in Walton on Thames in a tad over two hours. I’ve long since ditched the car’s built-in Sat Nav system, every since its maiden voyage when the accursed woman tried to send me along roads I knew I had no need of. I nevertheless marvel at the owners of tired hatchbacks with a whacking great Garmin strapped to the dashboard, plodding up the motorway on well-trodden routes, to be quietly re-assured that the familiar woodwork facing them at journey’s end is indeed their own front door. Technology, hey, what would we do without it?
As we arrive at the ground, a couple of parakeets wheel overhead, reassuring me that I have reached London, with or without a Garmin. The row of parked up cars tell me that the game is on and we slip through the smart turnstile block into the ground. The stray-ball-chaser is elated to see a mini-pitch complete with micro-goals just inside the turnstile, and is doubtless considering spending the entire match knocking about with the local urchins until he spots the ‘No Ball Games during the Match’ sign which dampens his enthusiasm somewhat.
We head into the cosy Stags Bar where a lack of handpumps is tempered by the sight of bottles of Hobgoblin in the fridge. Unfortunately, the car keys jangling in my pocket mean it’s J20 or nowt today and we move outside in readiness for kick-off. Waterside Park comprises mainly flat-standing with two shallowed covered stands either side of the pitch, and minimal cover behind each goal. The pitch has a slightly undulating look to it, but nonetheless in decent nick given the recent cold weather.
It’s a local derby today against near-neighbours Walton & Hersham, and with the sides battling at opposite ends of the table there’s plenty at stake. The home side – struggling near the bottom – are not to be outclassed by their slicker-passing opponents, and although clear-cut chances are few and far between, they are evenly distributed in a reasonably entertaining first half. After the break it’s settled by two goals from the Casuals leading scorer, Grant, and we are away before the visitors late consolation.
That’s because we’ve got a bit of driving to do to get to our next ground, that of Northwood of the Isthmian Division One North. The fact we do not quite make the kick-off is down to my failure to properly read the map as we end up in a church yard where the ground is supposed to be. I ignore the ball-chaser’s protestations that he can see floodlights over the fence and look for someone to ask. The first – a woman – knows nothing of this football game that I speak of, but the second is an elderly gentleman who is indeed proceeding to this very fixture, having been unaware until late of the early start.
Northwood Park is down a narrow drive that I had passed and discounted earlier. In fact, someone must have run out and stuck up the ‘Northwood FC’ sign that had surely not been there when we previously drove by. I like this ground. There’s a couple of adjoining seated stands down one side, covered terracing on the other, and cover behind the whole of one goal. At the opposite end there’s an unrestricted view of the churchyard we were in earlier. ‘That’s where we were when I saw the floodlights’ affirms the ball-chaser, who deserves a slap for his impudence.
Fortunately, we’ve not missed any goals, but don’t have long to wait as the home team’s lively young strip of a striker, Scott Orphanou, bags the first of his 12-minute hat trick, each one the epitome of the goalscorer’s art.
At half time we adjourn to the clubhouse, which is outside of the ground, to check on the live TV game. The ball-chaser is a Chelsea fan so he needs to see how things are progressing. It gives me the opportunity to eye up the beer situation, but there is nothing of interest behind the bar. I do take my hat off, however, to the person charged with the task of updating the league table peg board on the wall. This work of art has the current Ryman Division One North table, complete with games won drawn and lost, and goals for and against, each figure and letter individually affixed to the board. If you were that chap, you’d be praying for a whole set of goalless draws every saturday!
Back in the ground I purchase the only cheese pastie on view, although there may have been others sold earlier, who knows! Stung by the three goal deficit, visiting Potters Bar battle their way back into the game with two of their own, leaving the home side sweating for the last twenty minutes. But we’re away again, faced with a relatively straightforward drive down to the ground of Uxbridge FC, of the Southern League Division One South.
Their home is actually in Stockley Park on the edge of West Drayton, and a fine looking complex complete with recently-built club house (outside of the ground) and modest, covered stands on all four sides. The afore-mention clubhouse has bottles of Old Speckled Hen, Live TV footy, and features separate pool tables for adults and children, but we are not sure whether the twain shall meet. So we hit the football table where father triumphs over son by nine goals to seven (get in!!)
Todays final game of our threesome is between the mid-table hosts and bottom-but-one AFC Hayes, who are swiftly at a disadvantage when their keeper allows a seemingly-innocuous twenty-five yarder to squirm under his body. To their credit Hayes go on to hold their own in a well-matched contest which might lack a great deal of skill but makes up for it in honest endeavour. Both keepers come up with blinding saves to ensure it goes to the wire, before a second Uxbridge goal seals it. There’s still time for a red card, the visitors’ fiesty number nine despatched for an off-the-ball incident we don’t clearly see, although one of his own men – a Ronaldinho clone – is prostrate close by.
That’s it! Three games in six hours, and the prospect of a two-hour drive home for a curry, although my co-pilot has baked beans on his mind. He’s swiftly asleep, leaving me to jostle for motorway position with all of the Garmin-equipped hatchbacks surrounding me. “What need have I of such a device?’ I declare as I attempt to blank out recent memories of a graveyard in Northwood….
Programmes: Walton – £1.50 on sale at the turnstile. Very smart, litho-printed on gloss art paper. Not too thick but an attractive read nonetheless; Northwood: 50p on sale at the turnstile, a very thin issue as the club half-expected the game to be postponed. Colour copier-printed but no adverts so most of the relevant stuff is in there; Uxbridge – £1.50 from the turnstile. A substantial publication although heavily laden with ads. Copier-printed with poor image reproduction. Cover design leaves a lot to be desired.
Floodlight pylons: Walton & Uxbridge have 8, Northwood with 6
Parakeets: half a dozen flying round Walton before the game, none anywhere thereafter. Intriguingly, my recent post on the Sutton game (December 12th) set off a discussion about parakeets on their club forum!
Toilets, Club Shop, and Tannoy music: Lost me notes and can’t be arsed….
Player with the quirkiest name: Walton’s Troy ‘Tempest’ Ferguson