I’ve never really been what you would call a gambling man – in fact I can still recall the name of the only horse I ever won any money on – but when on a family holiday I have become accustomed to the father-in-law frequently disappearing into any convenient bookies to make his latest, modest investment. Granted I do like a flutter on the Euromillions whenever the jackpot goes over £100m, as I then consider it worth winning enough to invest in some of my football fantasies, like a new stadium in Darlington, a couple of stands for Barrow Town, and a pitch levelling exercise at Shielfield Park.
So far the jackpot has eluded me, but as we set off on our latest family vacation, this year to Suffolk, I can still but dream.
As per usual, having booked this vacation a year ago, I’ve taken a flyer on there being some footy available at new grounds in the vicinity and with an Isthman Premier game at Leiston lined up for Bank Holiday Monday, today I’ve been rewarded with an FA Cup Preliminary Round game at Needham Market, who are taking on Gorleston of the Eastern Counties Premier, a step lower down the ladder.
We set out from our base near Halesworth with my son assigned to map reading duties and despite the odd hiccup arrive at the ground in time for a beer. Set in a residential area, ‘Bloomfields’ is dominated by a sizeable modern clubhouse which features a large TV and a bar football table, for which there is no charge. Strangely, no-one (except my son) seems to want to use it. There’s no beer on handpump but there are bottles of Shepherd Neame Spitfire and Hall & Woodhouse Fursty Ferret in the fridge, and Bishops Tipple on the back bar. On a warm sunny day, the chilled Fursty Ferret certainly hits the spot.
A note on pricing. Entry into the ground is £8 for adults which is the high side of normal for step 4, but I think charging a 14-year old boy a Fiver is a bit steep and hardly conducive to encouraging the local youth to attend matches.
The ground itself consists of a modest but tidy main stand on one side of the halfway line on one side, with two low, shallow covered stands on the other, one with seats. Behind one goal are a couple of unusual covered shelters, handy if it rains but with no elevation if someone is stood in front of you.
Like his grandfather, my son is showing a worrying tendency to like a gamble, and when the Golden Goal ticket man does the rounds, he’s volunteering my cash without question. He draws minute 16 which means for the first quarter of an hour of the game he’s pleading for the ball not to go into the net, something of a change from his normal demeanour. As usual we are stood behind the goal, so that he can field any stray balls that might enter our airspace, and it’s clear from the start that my earnest hope that the result is a draw – meaning a replay at Gorleston (and another new ground) on Tuesday night – might be somewhat forlorn. The home team go on the attack and only my son’s earnest pleading is keeping the ball out of the net, that is until just after the quarter hour mark when a Needham player rifles home.
The big question now is …. How many minutes? The answer duly arrives – 17. The lad is crestfallen. But wait, the tannoy announcer brings some good cheer. Those with tickets for 16 and 18 minutes get a consolation prize. The lad is round the touchline like a hare, collects his reward – the fiver I paid for him to get in – and pausing just briefly to share the good news with his grandpa in the stands, rejoins me in time to see goal number two hit the Gorleston net. This game won’t be ending in a draw.
Grandpa is pursuing his own mission. His brother being a chief scout at a Championship club, he keeps a lower league eye out for young promising footballers and is disappointed that a Gorleston teenager isn’t playing. The stand-out player is Hubbard, the Needham Market no10, at least 6ft 4 and dominant up front. He nets three, lays on another and looks the biz. He’s in the Army and is of indeterminate age. Grandpa makes a mental note. I suspect the Gorleston defenders are sick of the sights of the home no10 as they trudge back to the centre circle on a regular basis. They are generally out of the depth but managed to net a couple, the first a gift and the second a well-worked effort. But by then the home side have notched six, could have had another five save for excellent work by the visiting custodian, and are out of sight.
Back at the digs after the game, we catch an episode of some dodgy Ant & Dec pension fund filler called Red or Black where some poor chap thinks he’s won half a million, then is told he hasn’t, then suddenly he has again. It reminds me of that Golden Goal incident with my son today, a very similar scenario with one important difference, apart from the sums involved – the guy on TV didn’t get to do half a lap of the pitch to celebrate collecting his prize – the icing on the cake!
Programme: £1.50 from a table inside the turnstile. Quite a bit in it but very heavy on borrowed statistics.
Floodlight pylons: 6
Parakeets: probably deterred by the distant rumble of thunder.
Toilets: at one end near the corner flag
Club Shop: none
Music the players run out to: nothing
What’s in a name? Wonder if Needham’s Darcy De’ath is the life and soul of the home dressing room. I believe Aaron Condon is rated as very nearly a reliable stopper