Now and again I pause to consider what I’ll do with all my spare time when I retire. That day doesn’t seem an awful long way away, provided that the government stops moving the finishing line further back. I’m actually looking forward to free bus journeys and subsidised rail fare, as it should save me a penny or three on my football excursions. So maybe it’s pre-ordained that 300 grounds & counting becomes 600, 700 and on to a thousand. Or maybe I’ll just sit in the pub all day and grow old disgracefully.
I’m reminded of this looming scenario as I walk the streets of Eastbourne, one of the south coast seaside towns where the average age of the population is 92 and sitting on park benches is the biggest participant sport. Which is probably being a little unfair to Eastbourne. I arrive in the town via the early morning 440 from Loughborough and a cheap return rail ticket from Victoria. In between the two legs of my journey, I re-acquaint myself with the Willow Walk, a Wetherspoons veggie brekkie, and a couple of beers featured in their latest beer festival. Full marks to this pub for daring to have FOUR dark beers on pump, when most places these days are falling over themselves to foist a glut of citrussy ‘golden’ beers (aargh!) on us.
On arrival in Eastbourne I walk past the Saffrons sporting complex and take a 20-minute stroll to the suburb village of Meads, wherein lies the Good Beer Guide listed Ship. It looks pretty downtrodden from the outside, but inside it’s what I call a ‘wife’s’ pub. Carpets, plush seating, lots of fake foliage, and a £20 per head three courser menu. I settle for a pint of Beachy Head Original – nice traditional bitter beer though not in pristine condition – and a bag of nuts.
Back into town and my walk round the Saffrons cricket pitch takes me to the clubhouse which is the centre of this sporting site that incorporates several hockey pitches, bowling greens, and the home of Eastbourne Town FC. The clubhouse is heaving with freshly-showered young ladies, most notably of the Worthing Hockey team. Live footy is on the TV, there’s handpumped Harvey’s Best on the bar, and the snack hatch has pasta bake on the menu. Someone pinch me and wake me up!
Eastbourne Town’s stadium is a reasonably well-developed set-up, featuring an all-seater stand behind one goal, three-step raised terracing behind the other, and more raised terracing running the length of one side, with a small portion of it under cover. The snack bar in one corner is lacking the repertoire of the clubhouse, sadly, and chips are the only thing on offer for the likes of me. A whole load of park benches litter the ground, as you might expect in Eastbourne.
Town’s visitors today are Walton Casuals, managed by former Palace (& Forest) retiree Neil Shipperley, who’s as wide as he is tall these days – a younger version of Larry Lloyd. Both teams are just off the play-off pace and I’m not sure what kind of spectacle to expect. Sadly, it’s a woeful one. There’s no shortage of effort but very little cohesive teamwork on show, and efforts on goal are minimal. I record in my notebook that the first shot worthy of its name takes place on 70 minutes. That’s as good as it gets. The Casuals right back, a 19-year-old student called Joe Kelly, lightens the gloom with some stirring runs, but his team mates are too busy bickering amongst themselves to take advantage.
So maybe it won’t be a ‘given’ that my ‘golden’ years are spent watching footy, especially if they keep serving me up dire matches like this one. I might have a look around and see what else grabs my attention. Ladies hockey, anyone?
Programme: £1 from the turnstile. Quite chunky with a fair bit for statto’s
Floodlight pylons: 4
Parakeets: Sadly none. Quite a few shitehawks, unsurprisingly
Club shop: No
Toilets: right behind the goal
Tannoy music: none
Players with the quirkiest names: Eastbourne’s Mo ‘Chicken’ Koroma and Sam ‘Krusty’ Crabb (for all you Spongebob fans…), and Walton’s Michael ‘Alwight?’ Barima …