My two kids, both nearing the end of their two years in Sixth Form College, seem to have little idea of what they want to do next. Coming as I do from a generation where all the boys were itching to be train drivers and all the girls nurses, that seems a strange notion.
On reflection, by the time I was looking for a career I’d gone off that train driver idea and was seeking a position as a Junior Reporter with a newspaper. A lack of qualifications foiled that plan but I have managed to go full circle of sorts, in that I now publish magazines for a living.
But the kids? Nothing. I feel a ‘wake up call’ a-coming!
I’ve always needed a sense of ambition. Even at mundane moments in my employment history, I’ve got myself through by setting targets on a weekly, often daily, basis. It was the same when I took up the cudgels of football ground collecting back in 2004. Not for me the scattergun approach of taking in as many ‘cow field’ ground hops as I could muster. I wanted to do ‘proper’ grounds, and although branching out to Steps 5 and 6 in recent years, my original target was down to and including Step 4, incorporating the top 8 levels of English football.
Back in 2004 that looked a tall order. But today, as I travel down to London, heading for Dorking Wanderers on a freezing cold November morning, I am finally on the cusp of realising that ambition.
Earlier in the week I had made contact with Rob Cavallini, programme editor at DWFC, asking whether I might get a mention in the match-day prog. I don’t normally do ‘vanity’ but as I deemed this a special occasion – at least for me anyway – I thought it might also be of interest to the club. Rob immediately agreed and invited me to contribute a piece which I am looking forward to seeing.
As I set out there’s sleety rain in the air, and it’s certainly damp in the capital as I yomp from St Pancras to Victoria via a Wetherspoons brekkie and a pint of Hackney Best Bitter (nice and fruity) in the Lord Moon of the Mall. The city is alive with tourists, clearly not letting the recent atrocities in Paris affect their attitude to life.
My train arrives in Dorking to sunny – if decidedly chilly – weather and I make my way to the rear of the Denbies Wine Estate on the outskirts of town, whereby resides the Surrey Hills Brewery. They don’t have a bar as such but you can buy any amount, from a pint to drink in, up to polypins to take away. I sample an excellent drop of Albury Ruby (4.6%), essentially a Black(ish) IPA, whilst tagging onto the back end of a brewery tour where, by all accounts, the fee includes free pints of the four core beers – best leave your car at home for this one! By the time I depart they are under siege, with two tour parties swollen by a large group of be-suited wedding guests, looking for a decent beer before attending a reception in the main building.
It’s just a short walk from here to the Westhumble home of Dorking Wanderers. The club has made great strides since being established in 1999, multiple promotions taking them from the Fourth Division of the West Sussex League right up to this, their debut season in Isthmian Division One South, where they are already amongst the front runners.
Westhumble has to boast one of the most scenic settings in non-league, despite the busy A24 running close by, and the railway line at the rear. Looking across the pitch from the main stand, there are stunning views of Box Hill, which at this time of year boasts the contrasts of the green conifers and the golden leaves of the deciduous trees. The ground itself has been constructed with its rural location in mind, all buildings either built of – or clad in – wood, with anything metal painted green.
I’m met at the gates by Jeremy, the vice-chairman, who having established my identity (me fawning over my feature in the programme being the give-away) promptly refunds my entry fee, and points me in the direction of his colleague Les, who furnishes me with a club pin badge and directs me to the bar. The clubhouse bar is small but cosy and features TV football, plus bottles of London Pride and Doombar (with the option of room temperature or chilled). Would be nice to see some local beer on sale, chaps, maybe Surrey Hills or even Dorking Brewery?
There’s something bubbling away nicely in the kitchen but it appears to be a Shepherd’s Pie, doubtless destined for the players and officials. Otherwise it’s the usual burgers and hot dogs.
There are two seated stands adjacent to each other, the front of one of them curiously sitting proud of the other, slightly affecting the view. Behind one goal is a ‘kit’ covered terrace which is home to the Whitstable Kop choir for the day.
Despite the freezing temperatures, a good crowd of over 100 has turned out, with many kids to the fore. There are also a few shouting for visiting Whitstable Town who, sitting rock bottom of the table, need all the support they can get. For much of the first half they are on the back foot as the home team continually probe, looking for a way through, occasionally testing the visiting keeper.
After the break Town realise they are still in the match, and look like they might get something from their more frequent forays upfield, but two quick goals from Wanderers in the last 20 minutes decide the destination of the points.
So my ambition has been fulfilled. Every club in the top 8 levels that has its own ground, I’ve been there! So what now, retirement? Not likely, every club in the top 10 levels, anybody? Hopefully by the time I have achieved that, both my kids will have embarked on a career – here’s hoping…..
Programme: £2 at the gate. Nice cover and superb article by up-and-coming guest writer!
Floodlight pylons: 4
Birdlife: Just the odd parakeet amongst a general predominance of seagulls
Club Shop: Scarves, hats and badges on sale at the bar
Toilets: A single cubicle behind the clubhouse. Others apparently over by the changing rooms.
Music the players emerge to: The Wanderer by Status Quo
Kop choir: No
Away fans: seven behind the goal, singing Oyster-themed songs for most of the match. A particular disdain for Herne Bay, which I presume is the big rivalry in that part of Kent