In an ideal world we’d all be happy in our jobs. Indeed, to ensure that I spent the rest of my working life in abject bliss, I said goodbye to full-time employment more than twenty years ago in the absurd belief that, if I worked for myself, I could take every other day off and spend it down the pub. Sadly, it hasn’t quite worked out like that, but it does give me the freedom to plan my week accordingly and take in half-days like today, where I can get an afternoon bargain bus down to London, and back out again to get home at an ungodly hour… and all for £3.
National Express has been hawking their £1 tickets around for some weeks, and providing you’re not wanting to travel at weekends, it’s a great way to take in an Isthmian League midweek game, weather permitting of course.
So I drive into Loughborough and catch my old friend, the venerable 440, which winds its way to Victoria Coach Station via Milton Keynes, where unfortunately a couple of travellers decide to alight to stock up on chocolate, unbeknown to the driver who has his head stuck in the cargo hold. As he remounts the bus and makes to drive off, I shout to tell him that he’s two punters short. “That’s their problem,” he loudly trumpets and the coach continues on its way, with the coats and bags of the unfortunates still spread across the seats behind me. Our driver friend – clearly happy in his work – proceeds to cut up several irate motorists along the motorway before falling out with a driving instructor and his nervous protege as we attempt to enter Golders Green bus station. The language is colourful. As we arrive at Victoria, the male passenger left at Milton Keynes has somehow managed to reach London before us and I suspect that tension is mounting. I head for the peace and quiet of the rail station.
Burgess Hill – or rather Wivelsfield rail station – is my destination tonight. “I don’t get many requests for that one,” confesses the ticketman. I am happy in the knowledge that I may have brightened up his working day. It’s pouring with rain but the walk from the rail station to Leyland Park, the ground of Isthmian League Division One South side Burgess Hill Town, takes barely ten minutes. Set at the back of a small housing development, the floodlights jolly up what is a grim night sky and I am relieved to reach the sanctuary of the clubhouse bar, which is rather aptly named ‘The Bar’.
I had earlier deduced from the club website that there would be cask ale on tap, and although disappointed to see just the one handpump, I am heartened to find it dispensing Harvey’s Best Bitter from Lewes, arguably the finest ‘traditional’ bitter in the land (along with Castle Rock’s Hemlock Bitter). I feel compelled to try a couple – it would be rude not to. There are also bottles of Arundel ASB in the fridge. The bar itself is fairly small, dominated by a pool table and with barely 20 seats. There appears to be a larger, relatively under-populated lounge adjacent, but this is restricted to club officials and anybody they deem to invite in. I go in search of food but strangely, despite a sign pointing me in the direction of the corner flag, there is none to be had. Methinks the burger van has failed to show.
Leyland Park is an attractive ground bordered on two sides by huge trees, of a species I cannot identify. All around the ground is uncovered flat standing, but virtually everybody eschews the rain-soaked open air and settles into the sizeable seated main stand which runs most of the length of one side. The option of plastic glasses in the clubhouse means that anyone fancying a pint in the stands can do so, and there’s a fair few supping away.
Despite the elements, both Burgess Hill and their visitors Godalming Town contrive to put on a lively contest, trading numerous attacks and a goal each in a stirring first half. Despite a messy start to the second, the game quickly resumes as a contest and is decided by two strikes in the fourth quarter of the game, which give Burgess Hill the points and up to fifth in the table. Both sets of players appear to have been relishing the night’s challenge, which is reflected in the quality of the game.
Fortunately, my National Express driver home is a different animal. I recognise him from last season and although he has had his moments, I doubt he’s the sort to ditch anybody miles from where they want to be. Just to be on the safe side, however, I buy my chocolate before getting on the bus.
Programme: £2 from a stall inside the gates. Nice glossy cover and although containing lots of non-club-specific stuff is a reasonable read
Floodlight pylons: 4
Parakeets: Probably sheltering in those big trees
Tannoy music: Something unrecognisable as the teams run out
Club Shop: A hut behind the goal but not open
Toilets: In the bar or in a block behind the goal
Player with the quirkiest name: Godalming’s Glenn ‘The Knife’ Stanley