Better late than never. I think I’ve been fortunate over the years, in that most of the fixtures I’ve set out for I’ve managed to see. One or two may not subsequently have gone to plan, and I can recall a few occasions – mainly when I was young and fretful – when I left a match a little too early, but by and large the game of my nightmares, the re-occurring one where I set out early enough, can clearly see the ground, but for whatever reason can’t seem to get there in time, has never quite happened.
Today, as usual, we are on the ball. The father-in-law – henceforth to be known as Mr Notts County – the lad and myself detach ourselves from the New Forest holiday party and take a 40-minute drive through pony country and down the M27 towards the suburbs of Southampton. The waterproof coats we piled into the car boot earlier won’t be needed as the morning’s steady rain turns into wall-to-wall sunshine as we pull into the environs of Portsmouth Road where a local cricket match is in full swing.
A quick look around the ground and we dive into the clubhouse to continue our holiday mood with a pint of something interesting we hope, which turns out to be bottles of Skinner’s Betty Stoggs. Not bad. Then we get the bad news that the visiting Cinderford team is stuck on the A34 somewhere, and the kick-off will be delayed. We also hear that one of the Red Arrows has crashed just down the road, the fate of the pilot unknown. Things move into perspective.
The clubhouse banter turns out to be a highlight of the day, with situation updates regarding Cinderford, the air crash, the test match, Premiership scores, the non-functionality of the clubhouse TV – “Perhaps we should get the Cinderford lads to stop off and buy us a new one for being late” suggests one wag – and the news that we would have to vacate by 4.00 because the cricketers are coming in for their tea, serving to pass the time.
We emerge from the clubhouse at 3.15 just as visiting tracksuits trickle through the side gate and it’s announced that the ref has sanctioned a 3.45 kick off. Even so, the Cinderford team – who you think might just turn up, rip off their tracksuits and get warmed up – spend 15 minutes in the changing rooms, presumably discussing tactics. Couldn’t have done that on the bus, then?
The ref makes a point by marching out with the home team at bang on 3.45, the visitors being still out on the pitch going through warm-up routines. His insistence that they come and join the party is met with no little resistance from the Town coach but we get underway, just 50 minutes beyond scheduled kick-off time.
Mr Notts County settles himself into main stand, a modern low-profile affair, while the lad and I take our customary position behind one goal, where he glances with disdain at the designated ball boy. Mind you, the lad is just turned 13 now, so I suspect the attractions of expending excess energy chasing stray footballs is diminishing a little. He spends most of his time swatting imaginary wasps which he suspects are unfairly targeting him.
After waiting a little longer for our matchday to begin, it would be nice to report a veritable feast of football. Sadly both Sholing and Cinderford, with their 100% starts to the season, proceed to largely cancel each other out in a niggly, error-strewn first half punctuated only by a delightful 20-yarder to put Town into the lead.
Sholing improve after the break and start to dominate but they seem to lack the killer touch and it looks likely to end in defeat until they notch a deserved equaliser in the last quarter of the game. Better late than never I suppose.
Programme: On the turnstile. Not sure of the price as I was paying entry fees in bulk. Mainly histories, pen pics and league charts.
Parakeets: I think the buzzard that was circling the ground was keeping them at bay.
Toilets: By the side of the Snack Bar (nice chips and curry sauce) and behind the clubhouse.
Club Shop: none evident
Players run out to: sighs of relief from patient spectators
Kop choir: no
Visible away fans: 2
What’s in a name: Sholing manager Dave ‘Pampers’ Daiper