It’s quite a while since I last travelled down to London for an evening game. Save for the odd cup match at Stamford Bridge with my son, I don’t think I’ve accrued a mid-week ‘tick’ in the South East for some time. I had a bit of a flurry two or three years back when I discovered National Express were charging as little as £1 each way, which made economic sense even if I didn’t get to bed until about 3 in the morning, but now my list of Step 4 clubs ‘to-do’ in the Home Counties is down to single figures, the attraction is not so great.
Having said that, when the chance arises to scratch another one off the list, I’m happy to take it. As you’ll recall, my Chelsea-supporting son is now of an age when he can go to the game with his mate and without his dad; the transport problem remains, however, but I can turn that to my advantage by escorting him as far as Victoria station, then heading off in a different direction. And having told him he can go to the Maribor Champions League fixture on a Tuesday night, I’m then looking around for non-league options. There are several matches at Step 5 within striking distance but my best Step 4 hope is an FA Trophy replay. With Hanwell losing at Dereham on Saturday, my saviour comes in the guise of East Grinstead Town’s draw at Walton Casuals.
And so it goes that, having ensured my lad knows what he’s doing, I take the hour-long rail journey to the depths of West Sussex, gradually shedding commuters as we go through every one-horse conurbation on the way. The route from East Grinstead station to the East Court home of the town’s football club is a little winding and is best accomplished with a map, or a personal SatNav. Even a couple of hundred yards from the ground, inadequate signage sends me up a hill to an ambulance station where the staff point out the error of my navigating. So then it’s back down to an unlit lane cursed with invisible speed bumps until I emerge into the club’s car park.
Tonight’s attendance is poor, as might befit a match between two sides currently 23rd and 24th respectively in the Isthmian Div 1 South table, and following the goalless draw between the two teams the previous Saturday – so hardly pointers to a must-see encounter. The stadium is very smartly maintained, and features a large clubhouse complex behind one goal, an elevated stand built on top of a grass bank, with an area of covered terrace virtually adjacent. In between is a snack bar offering the ubiquitous chip. The bar has no cask ale, but is selling a bottled beer from Harveys of Lewes, an 3.8% bitter called Blue Label. It’s not the brewery’s finest product, but it serves to ‘wet the whistle’.
It’s a windy night, Hurricane Gonzalo having passed through earlier in the day, but the playing surface is protected by a thick curtain of trees which serves to make the evening quite pleasant.
When the game starts it appears that only one side – the visitors, Walton Casuals – have turned up, and their tricky forwards make decisive inroads into the home defence, quickly going one up and having enough chances to be three or four in front at the break. But they make up for their profligacy in the second half by continuing the one-way traffic and goals subsequently follow at regular intervals until they stop at six, while kindly letting Town notch a late consolation. Entertainment indeed for the neutral, not so funny for the home supporters.
Back at Victoria my son has also had the pleasure of a goal-fest and can he come to the next midweek game? All of a sudden the prospect seems quite an attractive one.
Programme: £2 at the turnstile. Nice shiny cover and well-designed layout. 28 pages but more than half are adverts.
Floodlight pylons: 6
Birdlife: Despite the trees not an owl hoot in evidence
Toilets: In a block behind the goal
Club Shop: A display of merchandise in the clubhouse, so presumably available at the bar
Music the players run out to: None
Kop choir: No
Away fans: A small number
What’s in a Name? I’m guessing Town’s Matthew Geard is getting used to crowd abuse. Presumably Casuals’ Simon Medley is the one who sings in the showers