A week of non-league football: Kevin Anderson on M25 chaos, Gegenpressing at the Oval and sausage '˜n' chips on Tommy
It is a bleak Tuesday night at Priory Lane, and the irony is not lost on Borough fans: the finest all-weather pitch in the county, but no opponents to play on it. FA Trophy visitors Leiston's travel plans have gone hopelessly wrong, and the evening's action is wiped out.
The final verdict actually comes painfully slowly. At 6.45, after an hour’s worth of calls and messages, the Suffolk club’s coach is still at Thurrock, north of the Dartford crossing, and the driver is only just completing his mandatory break. With traffic still as cloying as a jar of treacle, Leiston simply will not make the South Coast before 9.00pm.
There is head-scratching, consulting of rule-books, and even a proposal from one wag that we assemble a random group of supporters, stewards and groundsmen, pull on an old set of kit and call ourselves Leiston Casuals. But that idea doesn’t make it past grinning - and equally frustrated - referee Paul Kelly. Nope - sensible football fans need to know when they are beaten.
Football fan and sensible do not always belong in the same sentence. There is something defeatist, almost shameful, about getting yourself all geared up for Tuesday night football, and then shuffling home without seeing a single ball kicked. Heck, you’re all layered up with scarves and sweaters - and so you simply find the next best option. The Saffrons or the Oval?
Princes Park is closer, and the Senior Cup confrontation is intriguing: seven divisions separate Langney Wanderers and League Two Crawley Town. And so, not half an hour later, the Wanderers crowd is significantly boosted with red-and-black scarves. By now there is ice on the breath, and a misty-murky shroud is closing in. The pitch looks rock-hard and local wisdom suggests that Crawley might not fancy it.
There is something of the Jurgen Klopp about Wanderers manager Andy Goodchild, and not just the glasses. Six foot something and animatedly pacing the touchline, Andy booms out his instructions to the troops. He dips occasionally into the manager’s Book of Handy Clichés (no offence, Andy, we journalists have our own version too).
“Different gear, Crabby, different gear!” is the glowing endorsement Langney’s Nathan after a blistering run late in the game that very nearly brings the scoreline to 2-3. “Press high!” he urges his battling midfield; but understandably, they are just a yard or two short of Klopp’s Liverpool, and the Gegenpressing is not quite achieved.
On the night, Wanderers are magnificent. They close down determinedly and string together intelligent moves against professional opponents. If they had taken better advantage of some tempting set-pieces, they might have sprung a surprise, but the scoreline is no disgrace, and at the final whistle the Tall One is slapping the backs of his players as generously as any German Scouser. We are frozen, but satisfied, and we’ve had our fix of football.
But finally and briefly, back to the Lane - oh, and suddenly what’s this on the Leiston FC Twitter feed? Not a compliment to the opposing manager, surely? “Hats off to Tommy Widdrington, Eastbourne manager has treated Alan Crane to sausage and chips, fair play to a decent manager”. Evidently Mr Crane, who had travelled independently, had finally puttered into the Priory Lane car park well after 8.00pm, blissfully unaware that the match was off. It was reminiscent of the classic Likely Lads episode which readers of a certain vintage will recall, when Terry and Bob spent a whole evening avoiding the news of England’s result in Bulgaria (or somewhere)
Now then, poor Alan, weary, famished and satnav-befuddled, took a minute to grasp the awful truth that his Heroes were still stuck on the M25, and that he would fail to see a ball kicked in anger. Could he face an equally hungry four hours home? Succour was at hand: our Tommy, man of steel but heart of gold, stepped in, stumped up and ordered a plate of Priory Lane’s finest sausage and chips with lashings of brown sauce, and the epic journey of the Leiston One had not been entirely in vain.
Anyway it could have been worse. He could have frozen his toes off at the Oval....