I wonder if your average footballer actually gets a great deal of pleasure from performing on the pitch. Yes I know that quite a lot of the better players doubtless get their kicks by counting the cash rolling in, but what about your lower league participant, the guys in the Isthmian and Southern Leagues, probably getting a few bob for their pains nowadays, but hardly a great enticement on a night such as tonight.
For as I sit in the smart clubhouse bar at Wodson Park, Ware, surveying the rain tipping down in buckets on what is already a saturated playing surface, I see the players ‘warming’ up and getting thoroughly soaked before a ball is even kicked in anger and I wonder, ‘Why do they REALLY do it?” Is there a chance that they actually derive some measure of pleasure from knowing they’ve provided us – the fans – with an enjoyable spectacle.
Pleasure is a word I don’t get to use very often in polite conversation, although I’m at tonight’s game just a day after saying goodbye to the latest in a long line of family pets, this one – a particularly agreeable 3-year-old ginger tabby that the kids had christened Pumpkin – having failed to survive an encounter with a local resident’s car. I can never think of anything new to say at times like that, so I use my stock phrase about the cat having ‘got as much pleasure from us as he gave us in return’. Pleasure really should be a two-way thing, after all, unless you’re heavily into torture…
Which brings me back to tonight’s game. I don’t know if the game is ever close to being called off – others in the area are – but the teams and officials are greeted by a surface more akin to a ploughing match than a decent game of footy. There’s a distinct soundtrack of ‘splosh splosh squelch’ as they get ready for this mid-table Isthmian League encounter between Ware and local-ish rivals Brentwood Town.
As usual I’ve managed to combine a bit of business with ‘pleasure’ (that word again) and after visiting a local brewery – a potential new customer – I travel 20 miles or so further south and arrive at Ware with a good two hours to spare before kick-off. The stadium forms part of a large sports complex on the northern edge of this Hertfordshire town, almost next to the frantic A10. As you pull into the car park an imposing building directly in front of you sports the legend ‘Wodson Park’ but don’t be fooled, as this is presumably a leisure centre, judging by the number of track-suit clad porkers shambling in and out. No, the Wodson Park home of Ware FC is to the left and, although slightly more modest, is nevertheless an impressive modern facility for a Level 8 football club.
There’s a main stand straddling the halfway line, and a long covered terrace on the opposite side of the pitch. The rest of the ground is uncovered, but benefits from raised steps behind each goal and elsewhere. To the side of the main stand is a bar and catering complex. The bar is split into two – the bigger half partitioned off, probably for the players and officials to use after the game – but there’s enough room in the other side to cater for a crowd the size it is on this damp night. The fancy new beer engine for cask Greene King IPA is in place, but the plastic glass draped over the top doesn’t look hopeful. An enquiry confirms that there is none to be had today so I settle for a bottle of lucozade and suffer Eastenders on the TV.
I’m a tad peckish but have to plump for chips from the snack bar, this being the only non-meaty thing on offer. I enquire about a bread roll to pad the meal out a bit, and am given one buckshee – there’s a bonus as I am a bit short on the pennies tonight after my foray to the Emirates last Saturday.
Despite the rain, the game kicks off and both teams set their stall out with a lone striker. Despite the players having to plough through the sticky mud, commendably there’s an awareness that it will have to be a running – rather than a passing – game tonight and we are subsequently treated to a high level of physical exertion as the game switches from end to end. I feel the visitors are more dominant, but as half time approaches the defences have generally managed to cope and chances have been few but equally apportioned. Then just before the break Ware nose in front and for the early part of the second half they look like increasing that lead. Slowly but surely, however, Brentwood regain the initiative and win it with three strikes – one a penno – in the last 25 minutes.
The mud-caked players trudge off and look forward to that warm, soapy bath. Ah, there’s the pleasure! But what’s in it for us? Women’s football anyone? Hey, I’m a child of the 50s, being a sexist pig is still one of life’s little pleasures….
Programme: Just inside the turnstile. £1.50. Nicely presented. Lots of Isthmian website stuff but not a bad read.
Floodlight pylons: 8
Parakeets: Weather more suited to ducks
Toilets: Some in the bar
Tannoy music: All quiet
Clubshop: none evident
Players with the quirkiest names: Ware’s Matt ‘Betty’ Turpin and Brentwood’s Darren ‘Last Chance’ Blewitt