Just a couple of times in my life have I had to deal with builders. The easy bit is agreeing the price and arranging a starting date. What happens thereafter is the frustrating part. I suppose they are just like other business people, very loath to turn down more work, even though they have plenty on. Which is why both the building projects I’d commissioned them for ran well over time, because of the many days when nothing much happened. A classic example of that was when I extended my current house back in 2005, and the otherwise-occupied contractor sent his lad to dig some footing trenches. On one particular day we’d been out, and got back to find very little evidence of progress. It transpired that, once we were safely round the corner, said lad had just curled up in the wheelbarrow and slept for much of the day.
At least the extension finally did get finished. And the reason I drag this up is that I am headed today to one of the handful of football grounds where building issues have been much in evidence.
But first I have a mission to fulfil, having been in London since the previous evening, but feeling the need to hit the sack early following a gruelling day judging at a beer competition. My overnight digs are out-of-season students accommodation near London Bridge, now dominated by the massive new tourist attraction, the Shard. The breakfast in the student canteen tastes of cardboard, with the coffee not a lot better, so I am in need of an early pint. I find it in Borough Market, in a place called the Rake, which opens at 10.00am. Basically a small, one-roomed pub, there is an outside area covered with an awning, where there’s a gravity stillage set up. All the real ales today are from the West Country, and one of the guys in charge explains that they don’t have any regular cask beers, but change their offerings depending on what region their next delivery comes from.
I choose a Bristol Beer Factory West Coast Red, a powerful ruby ale, followed by a Bath Dark Side, which curiously is also available as a keg beer, at £1 a pint more – would you go for that? The pub also has a fine selection of craft ciders and continental draught and bottled beers. The clientele today is a mix of overseas tourists and a couple of stag groups, one member of whom takes to swigging Westmalle Dubbel from a bottle – heathen! Not a bad pub though, and one I intend to return to. But at midday I complete my mission to revisit the Market Porter, one of my favourite London pubs, and usually incredibly busy, unless you can catch it early doors. I only have time for one, and I go for a W J King Chestnut Brown Ale, a very flavoursome ‘traditional’ beer that goes down a treat.
Back at London Bridge station I catch the train out to Abbey Wood station, which passes Charlton Athletic’s Valley stadium en route. At Abbey Wood I pause to buy a cheese & onion samosa (that’s a new one on me) before the 25-minute walk to the Bayliss Avenue home of Thamesmead Town, the ground I’d previously referred to as suffering building problems. The current clubhouse is outside the ground, and is marking time until the new place is finished. There’s no evidence of any cask or craft bottled beer, and the half of Amstel I partake of is pretty murky (a line-cleaning issue without doubt) so I just sip it as I watch a weird TV game which is supposed to be live, but suffers so many re-buffering issues that it’s clearly not THAT live. Nobody else watching seems to think this is unusual, so I suspect it’s a feature of this particular clubhouse TV set-up.
Before entering the clubhouse, I’d approached the turnstile, where a club official was keen to point out ‘there’s nothing in here mate’ in terms of pre-match interest, not even a snack bar, so I investigate the one in the bar which is selling chips but not much else for the veggie. Fortunately I’m still full of cardboard from earlier. When I do eventually venture into the ground, the half-built new main stand looks impressive, but is elusively fenced off. A local tells me it’s been like that for a couple of years, with two contractors having failed to finish the assignment, for whatever reason. There’s hope that further progress might be made on it soon, at which point first-class facilities including a spanking new clubhouse and 3G community pitch will come into play, and the old building will say hello to the bulldozer. Until then, watch this space.
Today’s game is an FA Trophy tie between the home side, Thamesmead Town of the Isthmian Div 1 North, and Premier Division rivals Cray Wanderers. The two teams met last week in the FA Cup, with Cray taking the spoils, so the game represents an early resumption of hostilities. It’s one of those matches with very little crowd noise, lots of on-pitch shouting, and not much real quality. The first half is a pretty even affair, which looks likely to end scoreless until a harsh handball decision offers the visitors a penalty lifeline which they gleefully take. A local tells the referee in no uncertain terms of the crassness of his decision as the teams leave the pitch, the one time in the game when somebody in the crowd of just 40 shows any kind of passion.
The second half ebbs and flows a little more but chances are at a premium, the best being when a home forward – looking suspiciously offside – does the decent thing after rounding the keeper and plonks the ball wide. And so it ends 0-1. As I pass the unfinished new main stand on the way out I glance across and just for a minute I think I see somebody flaked out in a wheelbarrow. That’s a good sign, at least the project WILL get finished….eventually!
Programme: £1 at the gate. 24-page loose-leaf photocopied insert inside an 8-page stapled glossy outer filled with adverts. Much of the content gleaned from the Isthmian website, it would appear.
Floodlight pylons: 4
Parakeets: I think I heard one but none visible.
Toilets: a decaying wooden shack behind one goal, next to the ‘kit’ stand that serves as the main stand pending the completion of building work.
Club Shop: No
Music the players run out to: none
Kip choir: Just the agitated bloke behind the goal.
Away fans: Enough to unfurl a flag behind the goal Cray are attacking.
What’s in a name? Wanderers’ Michael ‘The Taylor’ Power. Presumably Town’s Ryan Flack gets most of the crap when things take a turn for the worse.