Football is most definitely a game of contrasts. That’s especially true concerning playing styles, comparing – say – the unattractive but admittedly effective approach of the Wimbledon team of the Eighties with the present day multi-passing Barcelona. Not that the Catalans particularly covered themselves in glory on Tuesday night, displaying the kind of play-acting not seen on these shores – at that level anyway – for some years. If that’s what Spanish domestic football is all about they can keep it.
As a latter-day football nomad, I get to experience the contrasts of the game largely denied to the one-club fan. For instance, last Saturday the lad and I were at Stamford Bridge, where despite the soggy conditions more than 41,000 people enjoyed some entertaining action – and a Torres goal – as Chelsea sought to rein in Manchester United’s lead at the top of the Premier League table. Tonight we’ll be amongst a couple of hundred souls as another title-hunting team 8 steps below that level look to finally catch the league leaders of their particular competition.
Coalville Town need the three points to draw level on points – and ahead on goal difference – with Tipton Town at the top of the Midland Football Alliance, and on the penultimate matchday of their league season, we’re all at the Coppice Colliery ground of mid-table Heath Hayes. It’s a modest affair with flat standing all round and three covered areas, all different in their own right, down one side. The Town players will see the contrast in this as they prepare to run-out at Wembley in ten days time, having reached the FA Vase Final in a spectacular season for the Leicestershire club.
We take the precaution of checking in at the ground to buy programmes – with foresight as it turns out – before retiring back down the road to the Five Ways Inn for a welcoming pint of Pedigree. Heath Hayes FC doesn’t have a clubhouse, so the Five Ways effectively serves this purpose. Back in the ground at the snack bar – a vegetarian’s hell – who should we bump into but the Father-in-Law, in the company of his brother Garth, who works for Sven at Leicester as a chief scout. In his line of work you get to experience as many contrasts as a groundhopper. He was at Feyenoord’s De Kuip on Sunday having been despatched to watch a player, and the coming Saturday will be at Portman Road running the rule over future opponents. Tonight he’s slumming it with us at Level 9.
Heath Hayes have had a reasonable season themselves, having won far more than they have lost, and they are in the match for the first thirty minutes, despite rarely threatening the Coalville goal. But once Town nose in front and then add a second just before the break, you can count the number of home attacks on one finger. Having seen Coalville for the second time in consecutive weeks, I’m still finding it hard to figure out why they are so effective. Aside from constant goal threat Jerome Murdock up front, they appear just a very workmanlike side who happen to make very few individual errors. Obviously the secret to their success.
Their defence does wobble a little early in the second half as Heath Hayes try to huff and puff but a fine strike by Murdock on 55 settles the nerves and a penalty fifteen from the end puts the gloss on it, despite a late concession. Coalville go top, it’s off to Alvechurch to most probably clinch the title on Saturday, and then it’s Wembley the week after.
And tonight is very likely my last new ground of the season. I had contemplated following Coalville to Alvechurch this Saturday, or else Tipton’s home game with Friar Lane. With celebrations or commiserations inevitable at both venues it’s a tough decision. So I make life easy for myself by opting to take the lad to Forest for the possible play-off clincher with Scunthorpe. With my annual trip to Berwick the following Saturday, and Wembley with Coalville a day later, I think my season of contrasts will be just about complete. Who knows, I could yet be back at Wembley for the Championship play-off final. Stranger things have happened…
Programme: Allegedly only 15 produced (I bought two). £1 on the gate. Statistic heavy but not unattractive.
Floodlight pylons: 8
Parakeets: After seeing a few whizzing over Hyde Park last weekend I have high hopes, but none have winged it this far north
Tannoy music: No
Club shop: Not even a Club-house
Toilets: Near the snack bar. Quaint (see picture above)
Player with the quirkiest name: I could find nothing inspiring!