Most of my football traveling is done alone, for the prime reason that I can determine my own routine without annoying anybody in the process. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a bit of company now and then, such as my forays with Eagle Bobster to Holland and occasionally Scotland; my business partner Simon to the odd midweek match, and also an old pal called Nick who discovered he had a penchant for grass roots football at Stratford last year.
When I say ‘old’ pal I mean a guy who’s actually about seven years younger than me, who I’ve known since I used to hang around his school gates waiting for him to come out. Cue jokes about young boys. Now that doesn’t sound very politically correct, but our problem is we come from an era when you said it like it was, without worrying that the thought police might feel your collar. I suspect that, despite the veneer, most of the people involved in football aren’t really that “politically correct” even today.
Take the issue of women in football. There’s a perfectly adequate female league in this country. I’ve seen some of it on TV and these girls seem very athletic and not lacking in skill. My own cousin some years back was on Notts County’s books and she would accomplish keepy-uppies with a momentum I could never emulate. For some reason, however, women have begun to infiltrate the male game. Nick and I were at Coventry in February when ‘history’ was made, with the female lineslady taking over in the middle when the appointed ref went lame. She came on to a crescendo of boos from the very ‘politically correct’ crowd.
Having witnessed that – plus a lady lino at Soham last season who had to don a woolly hat to keep the cold at bay – Nick is convinced that at least one of the officials at today’s game will be of the fairer sex. We arrive at the ground about 12.30, just to check that the morning’s steady downpour has not put the match in doubt. A thumbs-up from the forking groundsman gives us heart. We take a stroll into Biggleswade town centre and head for the CAMRA-award-winning Golden Pheasant where we enjoy some excellent microbrews in the comfort of a proper locals pub before heading back out to the Carlsberg Stadium, a relatively new-build on the outskirts of town, in the shadow of the frantic A1.
The stadium consists of a large administration block which hides a substantial main stand on one side of the pitch. Opposite is a kit terrace but elsewhere it’s entirely flat standing. The Sports Bar is accessed from inside the ground and is reasonably spacious, although not well-patronised by today’s measley crowd of under 100. I noticed on the website a picture of the servery containing a hand pump with no pumpclip. I arrive at the bar to find a similar scenario. ‘We do sell beers from different breweries’ assures the young lady manning the bar, but not today presumably. There are some bottles of Old Speckled Hen stood on the back bar and I plump for one of them, sadly at room temperature which I’m afraid – despite the probable protestations of the purists – is not to my taste.
Out at pitch side, Nick has taken an interest in a young boy. He looks like a sixteen-year old version of Art Garfunkel, is clearly a goalkeeper and is training alone. Investigative work reveals that he is indeed the youth team keeper who visitors Bromsgrove Rovers have bought along for the experience. Not even down as a substitute, he spends a lonesome ninety minutes watching from in front of the main stand, probably not enjoying the experience. In the meantime I’m checking out the snack bar, which is advertising veggieburgers. Whooppee! A girl behind me also wants one, but there’s a problem. Her dietary needs preclude bread, and the guy manning the van thinks the burgers are coated in breadcrumbs. She checks out the soup packets instead and finally takes the plunge. And I thought I had problems!
The game kicks off and visitors Bromsgrove – a club in administration and a team perilously close to the bottom of the division – decide to go for broke by attacking from the off. Their lively central striker is giving the ponderous home defence the runaround and a mistake from home keeper Dean Bull sees the rebound netted. This turns out to be Bull’s only misjudgement of the game, his sterling performance thereafter ensuring that his team take the share of the spoils gifted them on 28 minutes by Bromsgrove keeper Karl Lewis – not the sprinter – who ventures too far off his line. Town are lacking in inspiration, which I suppose isn’t surprising given that their most creative player goes by the name of ‘Killer’.
As for Nick, although disappointed by the lack of a female official, he’s moved on from the young goalkeeper and is actively assessing the performance of the lady physios who grace each of the benches. How heartwarming to see someone who truly appreciates the role of women in the men’s game, although I suspect probably not for all the politically correct reasons.
Programme: Given away free at the turnstile which is sadly the only good thing I can say about it. Badly stapled, it falls apart in my hands.
Floodlight pylons: Six
Parakeets: Sadly none
Toilets: To the side of the main stand and in the clubhouse
Club Shop: A portakabin near the turnstile, but closed throughout the afternoon.
Tannoy music: The Blue-Eared Beans or something ….
Players with the quirkiest names (courtesy of Nick): Town’s Peter ‘Boo’ Gatti and Bobby ‘Gotta’ Dance