I can’t describe myself as a recluse and I ‘m sure the lifestyle of a hermit wouldn’t be for me, but more often than not I do relish the flexibility that ‘going it alone’ can bring. Answerable to no-one but myself, able to swiftly adapt to changing scenarios, making on-the-spot decisions about where and when to go, and all achieved without pissing anybody else off in the process! What’s not to like?
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a convivial environment – the recent Western Hop was a great chance to catch up with people I don’t often see, like author Nige Tassell of NLP fame, while last week’s footy/beer/music Irish trip with the Aussie was a ‘standout’ weekender culminating in meeting Josh and Jack from the bands Amber Run and Seafret respectively – but it’s always reassuring to have the final say. My mother loves to remind me that I was like that as a kid, leading the ‘gang’ round our patch, and telling them all where we’d be going and what we’d be doing. My reasoning was that a) I was the oldest and biggest, and b) I was the best at organising stuff. That mindset has continued to this day, and has doubtless cost me a few friendships along the way. C’est la Vie.
I can also be a bit of a wind-up merchant, but fortunately I have a hard-core of friends who appreciate that kind of humour, including some who are better at it than me. Others are not so sure and tend to give me a wide berth, to be tolerated in small doses. What, Me Worry?, as Alfred E. Neuman once said….
So today I’m happy to be going solo, and passing through London again. I’m a little unsure of the effect that the anticipated Storm Brian will have on the south east, so I have a number of different scenarios lined up, although my favoured destination is Sittingbourne in the Isthmian Division One South, involving a 2-3 mile walk from the railway station which could leave me wide open to the elements. After much umming and ahhing, undertaken during the consumption of a veggie breakfast wrap at the Shakespeare’s Head, the ‘Spoons establishment in Holborn, I decide that my need to tick off a ‘stray’ Step 4 overrides any fear of getting a thorough soaking, and so I’m on the train to Kent.
I’m not exactly sure how Sittingbourne FC’s move from Bourne Park to Woodstock Park passed me by. Whisper it quietly but while I was whooping and hollering and celebrating the completion of my top 8 levels in the English football pyramid a couple of seasons back, this one was a glaring omission. All the more reason to make an extra effort to put that right today.
Directly outside Sittingbourne station is a pub going under the name of the ‘Fountain of Ale’. Who could resist that, and with a heavy rain shower looking likely, I decide it prudent to pop in for a quick pint to prepare myself for the foot slogging to come. It would appear to be something of a music venue of an evening, with Saturday lunchtime trade restricted to one other person and me. Three cask beers are available on the bar, but the name Harvey’s on any pump clip is my ‘manna from heaven’. In this case it’s the Old, which is tasty enough, if a little ‘first out of the barrel’-ish. The CAMRA discount also helps to limit the financial damage a Southern pint can do to a man’s wallet! Moving off from here I stumble upon the Golden Hope, which is one of the cosier ‘Spoons, consisting of many small rooms, nooks and crannies.
My route then takes me past a couple of other hostelries but I don’t dally, as another heavy rain shower is imminent and I need to make progress out of town, before finally accepting the inevitable and taking refuge under a large tree as I battle to retain control of my brolly. Brian is certainly doing his best! Some of my perambulation is down a short stretch of country road sans footpath, but Woodstock Lane isn’t the busiest of thoroughfares, and I soon encounter the Eden Science Park signs that indicate I am close to my destination, Woodstock Park being virtually opposite that complex.
The first person I meet in the ground is the driver of a minibus which had passed me on the lane. It’s the Sittingbourne Shuttle which picks up from the station and deposits back there after the game. I had been aware of it, but a little confused as to how the payment system operates (see website for details!) Meet in the clubhouse after the game if I’d like a lift back into town, he kindly informs me.
Woodstock Park itself is a tidy affair, with cover on three sides of the ground, clustered around a very well-maintained grass pitch. There’s a sizeable clubhouse with a hand pump serving Shepherd Neame Masterbrew, very drinkable although I suspect it would benefit from a little more throughput. Outside there’s a snack hatch with the ubiquitous chip offering for the non-carnivore, although the home-made (not packet) Leek & Potato Soup at £1.60 is very nourishing indeed.
The home side come into the game on the back of an unbeaten run which has seem them score 17 goals in the previous 7 games, conceding just 1, and none in the last 6 – almost 10 hours of solid defence. That proud record lasts just 7 minutes, the time it takes for lowly visitors Chipstead to find their way to goal, to the abject disappointment of the home custodian. His loyal admirers behind the net sing his praises with an adaption of the ‘he’s one of our own’ chant to ‘he eats what he wants’ in celebration of his ample girth. It’s no exaggeration to compare his pounding up to take a goal kick to that of an approaching dinosaur in Jurassic Park!
The early score means I once again miss out on a Golden Goal prize, my 19 minutes now a long way off. One of the songsters from the Kop choir is already on his way past me to claim his prize. I don’t hold out a lot of hope for my raffle tickets either – another two quid I won’t see again!
There is a dearth of goalmouth action during the game, which only really livens up deep into injury time, when Sittingbourne notch a late equaliser, and there’s just enough time for a goalmouth fracas, which results in a second yellow for a home defender, before the ref blows time on what has been an earnest but undistinguished encounter.
Clear skies and the news that the minibus journey back into town is delayed whilst the regular passengers enjoy a post-match pint provides me with a dilemma. Another 3-mile walk to the station, but allowing me to catch my intended train back into London, or wait for the bus but on the off-chance that I might miss my intended connection. With nobody else to consult I can make my own mind up – the walk it is! Ah the joys of freedom….
Programme: Produced for this and the following mid-week game. A little thin on content. £2 from the turnstile
Toilets: In the clubhouse
Clubshop: A hut and stall near the entrance to the ground. Hats, scarves, etc
Music the players emerge to: A club with their own song! ‘The Brickies, That’s Our Team’, performed by a combo called 3Blokes