Biggleswade United – Saturday January 2nd 2016 (667)

'Sky Sports pundit bemoans the fact his two new friends just miss out on qualification for the U23 team...'

‘Sky Sports pundit bemoans the fact his two new chums just miss out on the qualification criteria  for the U23 team…’

I’m getting to be a lot fonder of Twitter!

Like many blokes of my era, I’ve watched this creeping social-media-isation with reserved suspicion, viewing with some disdain the sheep-like mentality of those that blindly follow trends, for instance that backpacker route to Thailand, when there are all those other worthy countries that could be visited. Yes I can do ‘sniffy’ when I want!

I have a presence on Facebook but it’s mainly to keep in touch with a particular set of old friends, and I’m not one to post a picture of my breakfast, or some nice-looking tree or whatever. That’s also why I haven’t been on Twitter. But I’m beginning to appreciate its value to me, and to those people – and primarily football organisations – that are.

Which explains why Aussie Jack and myself are out on this dismal January morning, trundling along on a steam-hauled ‘mince pie special’ on the Nene Valley Railway, eschewing the view outside whilst poring over a tick list of Step 5 & 6 football matches scheduled within the immediate vicinity, and surfing the appropriate club Twitter feeds in an attempt to determine which matches are off and, more importantly, any games definitely on.

By the time we depart the railway the choice has shrunk considerably, as pitch inspections throw up their inevitable thumbs down outcome, and it is only when we stop for some lunch at the Chequered Skipper in Ashton – home of the World Conker Championships no less – that our decision is made.

To be fair, we’ve not had too bad an outcome to our Christmas schedule. Aside from the match at Stotfold on December 22nd being called off ten minutes before kick-off – the Mallards floating in the goalmouth should have alerted us to this possibility – we’ve managed to strike lucky everywhere we’ve been, the only real heart-stopper being at Newport on the Isle of Wight, where we watched as the local referee went straight to the dodgy area near the corner flag before eventually confirming that a bag of strategically dumped sawdust should do the trick.

Today we decide that Biggleswade United in the Spartan South Midlands Premier looks the best bet. Their Twitter feed conveys a level of certainty that, barring a downpour of monsoon proportions, we’ll get to see a game, and so we set off down the A1. I must say at this point that there are still clubs not using Twitter, and some of those that do seem to think reports of the Christmas party should take precedence over a match day prognosis. Shame on you!

We arrive at Biggleswade around 1.45 and with the turnstiles not yet open, we head for the cosy clubhouse which is awash with youngsters, who are here to provide mascot support for the players, and who have apparently played on the pitch during the morning. We make the acquaintance of the lady who writes out the team sheet who tells us that the drainage at Second Meadow is excellent and games are very rarely called off – hoppers looking for a match please note!

This club is on the up, and the clubhouse is buzzing. The Director of Football here is none other than Sky Sports pundit and author Guillem Balagué, who has bought in some Spanish coaches (such as former Middlesborough striker Gaizka Mendieta) and a Mediterranean mentality to the game – for instance, there is no longer a Reserve side, it being replaced by an Under 23 team as part of the youth development process.

Just as importantly (!) there’s real ale on the bar in the form of the IPA from local brewery Greene King, and we are able to order Cheese & Onion pasties for our half time snack. There’s quite a few boxes being ticked here….

The clubhouse is outside the ground, which is entered from the car park. The pitch has a slope, with hard standing all around, there being some protection from the elements in the form of a small covered terrace straddling the halfway line on one side, and a larger covered stand with three rows of bucket seats opposite where, given the inclement weather today, most of the 300+ strong crowd congregate. A number of fellow hoppers (we were referred to as ‘Grounders’ at Stotfold, a term which seemed to find favour with at least one Lord of the Hop) are also in attendance as this turns out to be one of only a handful of games taking place in this part of the world.

The match itself is against second-placed AFC Dunstable and the pitch stands up to something of a soaking later in the first half. It’s a tetchy affair with not a lot of shots on goal, possession of the ball appearing to be the tricky bit. It looks like a nailed-on goalless draw until a home attacker is upended a minute from time and the ref points to the spot. There follows a good five minutes of general argie-bargey, with much abuse of officials, fellow players and considerable gamesmanship by the visiting keeper and his defensive cohorts before the kick is finally despatched. Even then the kick-off is delayed whilst more abuse is directed at anyone who cares to listen and many who wouldn’t, and there are some individuals clearly with scores to settle as the final whistle blows, well after 5.00pm! What entertainment, although possibly not a great example to the members of the Under-9s team present. Their mums are not too impressed either.

We set off for home with Aussie Jack sweating on the prospects of his game for the following day taking place. He will find out in due course. Most likely via Twitter.

Programme: £1.50 from the turnstile. Cover outer section produced every month, with match day inner. Confusingly, today’s programme has a November outer!

Floodlight pylons: 4

Birdlife: Nice weather for ducks

Clubshop: Badges at the bar

Toilets: None in the ground, use those in the clubhouse

Music the players emerge to: Fatboy Slim – Right Here Right Now

Kop choir: Some in the covered standing area burst into song near the end

Away fans: Not a lot for any to shout about. One mouthy individual at the end.

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