Christmas comes but once a year and I usually make a point of wearing my flashing ‘Bah Humbug’ hat whenever I can during the festivities. Not that I’m particularly against this annual jamboree of excessive gluttony and inclination to imbibe excessively, it’s just that with all the trimmings, tinsel and other seasonal stuff that bedecks our house, I feel it’s my solemn duty to redress the balance somewhat.
As a not particularly church-going sort of chap (weddings and funerals excepted) this time of year to me means the potential for a few Boxing Day fixture ‘Double-Headers’, given a satisfactory weather prognosis, and I had set my plans on a North-East double involving the Northern League and Berwick Rangers, even going so far as to provisionally book overnight digs. But as the events approached, and with a forecast for mucho frost and the potential for snow, the proverbial cold feet set in. Digs cancelled and plans re-evaluated. Suddenly a day in the United Counties League seemed far more attractive, followed by a trip to London on the Saturday.
Boxing Day dawns with a number of windows open on the iMac, each one linked to an appropriate Twitter feed. The key is Huntingdon Town, scheduled to kick off at 11.30am, after which I have 3 Lincolnshire options. The only fly in the ointment? Approaching snow due around 5.00pm, and I know from past experience that when it snows in that part of the world, not much moves!
But the initial Twitter good news is that the game at Huntingdon is on, so it’s warm-up-the-motor time and then head off down the M1 to the A14 and the 90-minute drive to Cambridgeshire. The club’s new ground is Jubilee Park, which is some way from the town centre, and indeed the railway station. Whilst it is certainly walkable from the latter, I’d want to do it on a Summer’s day. So this time of year is ideal for a car trip.
There’s a spacious car park out front, and the ground is approached down a path through the turnstile and straight into the clubhouse. This is a smart, modern complex with bar (slow to open) and snack hatch, and it’s no surprise the latter is doing a roaring trade in hot drinks and bacon rolls on such a chilly morning. Sadly, the availability of dead pig on bread is of little value to a veggie like me and so I rely on the good old cup-a-soup option to provide some much-needed hot nourishment, whatever the nutritional value. A quick scan of the bar reveals no evidence of either cask beer or any British bottled brews, not that I’d be in a drinking mood as it happens (too concerned with staying warm!)
There’s a lot of chatter therein concerning the second game of the day, and I’d guess that at least a quarter of the attendance is composed of ‘hoppers’, with a Merseyside element much in evidence.
The stadium itself consists of flat standing all round, with the area in front of the clubhouse, behind the goal, proving quite popular. There are two covered, seated kit stands virtually side-by-side down one side towards the corner, with a covered standing area straddling the halfway line. The pitch is flat, although the playing surface looks uneven which becomes apparent as the match progresses. It’s a local ‘derby’ in the United Counties Premier against Eynesbury Rovers, the visitors sitting much lower down the table but arriving on the back of a couple of useful wins following a poor run. Town, with just two wins in the last 9, look to be on a slide.
And that’s the way it pans out, with Rovers far more purposeful in attack and scoring twice just before half time to set the home side a few posers. They never really solve these during a second half which doesn’t scale the heights, and a penno near the end seals the points for the visitors.
And so the dilemma. Do I go up to Lincolnshire for the second game – conscious of the forecast snow risk – or head off home early to beat the elements? Common sense prevails!
The following morning starts like GroundHog Day. The iMac is on, the Twitter feeds are open, and I survey the options. Anything north is out because of all the lying snow and travel problems around Sheffield. London is an option with North Greenford United a Step 4 ‘need’ but it’s notorious for pitch inspection failures, while the possible ‘double’ with Wembley FC seems to have disappeared from the fixtures list! Confirmation when it comes that the North Greenford game is off turns me towards a good-looking fixture in the Hellenic Premier and a definite ‘car’ fixture – Ardley United v Kidlington. And so I set off.
I won’t details all of the transport issues that sees me behind the wheel for five of the next seven hours, but suffice to say that I arrive at Ardley’s ground – the Playing Fields – in time for the match and indeed a pre-match drink. Maybe it’s the cold weather and clogged roads around the ground, which is just a stones’ throw from Junction 10 of the manic M40, but the attendance for such a fixture seems quite low, with the club’s elevated clubhouse virtually empty before the game. A shame really, as they serve a tasty drop of Rebellion IPA from beer-boxes mounted on the bar, and if that doesn’t suit, there are bottles of Hook Norton ales too. Exactly what a football clubhouse should be offering, in stark contrast to Huntingdon the day before.
The ground itself is flat standing, with some wind protection from a row of tall trees down one side. There is a modest seated stand straddling the halfway line on that side, plus a four-step covered kit stand terrace behind one goal. The pitch itself looks reasonable for the time of year, although boasting a substantial end-to-end slope, if not quite to Berwick Rangers levels!
The match itself provides plenty of good entertainment. With Ardley well-placed in the Division, and visiting Kidlington just one off the top, there’s the potential for a classic and although not quite that, the skill level is high with visiting winger Tommy Castle catching the eye. His early strike knocks United back, but they get more into the game and are unlucky not to be level before they are reduced to ten men halfway through the second half. Castle’s second of the game shortly thereafter would seem to seal it, buy United won’t lie down, and having reduced the arrears through hard-working number 9 Rocky Johnson, trade blows with Kidlington to the end, both keepers earning their corn.
And so the long trudge home. Only the two games over two days, but at least the inclement weather hasn’t prevented me from my festive footy fix. It’s back to the house to consume more leftovers, some of the stock of ale bought for me by understanding relatives, and, oh yes, to don the ‘Bah Humbug’ hat once again, just in case anybody mistakenly thinks I’m actually enjoying myself! Merry Christmas and roll on the New Year!
Programmes: Although both bear a cover price, the entrance fee at both grounds seems to include a free prog. Commendable! Both neat and tidy affairs without winning any plaudits, Ardley’s boasting marginally the better content-advertising ratio.
Floodlight pylons: 8 at Huntingdon, 4 at Ardley
Birdlife: Wouldn’t have been surprised to see the odd penguin…
Club shop: Chap selling old progs at Ardley
Toilets: In the foyer of the clubhouse at Huntingon, inside and outside the clubhouse at Ardley
Music the players run out to: Abject silence!
What’s In A Name: With all the mud and slop this time of year I suspect Huntingon’s Medwynter brothers are in their element, although teammate Andrew Buckle might not be able to take the pressure, with Rovers Robert Ducket also opting out….