Sucking heartily on life's half-time oranges

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Kerry Goes To The NON-Non-League

My first Saturday off since the summer! And I made the most of it by not going to my own team's home game (a rather vital one against bottom of the table Chesterfield, with whom we were equal on points; we got a last-minute winner to haul us to... oh, second bottom still) but my REAL local team, a mile away from my familial homes: Holmer Green FC, whom my Dad has been supporting for a few years, having shunned the groaning excesses, rabid egos and coruscating glamour of lower League football. So I thought I should, for old times' sake (we watched Wycombe together for 15 years), see what all the fuss was about.
I had to do a crash-course in the below-Conference Leagues on the way, negotiating the complex world of Evo-Stick, Ryman, Cherry-Red Records Combined Counties League (my favourite) and HG's own, the Molten Spartan South Midlands Football League Premier Division, into which they re-ascended after last year's relegation. This means they are a Step 5 team: 5th level down from the Conference, and I think 9 actual tables as there are countless Premier and Division One Leagues... erk!. They're currently sitting unpretty at the bottom of the table, with only 12 points to leaders Royston's 48.

I have to say, the ground - Airedale Park, right opposite my primary school - was even more brilliantly lowdown than I'd anticipated. Step 5 teams have to have covered terraces, so the south-end stand has recently undergone some renovations, ahem:
Here's the seated side, the Don Want Stand, named after their twinkly-eyed septuagenarian ex-groundkeeper who is addicted to the club, and was for most of the match trying to help get one of the match balls down from a refusenik tree with ladders and javelin poles.
Step 5 teams also have to formally announce the teams, so the ex-chairman, clad in green and white scarf, brought on his battery-powered mini-amp and mic and took us through the line-up. And by us, I mean Dad and I, the only supporters present when the teams ran out, rather unnervingly. It did fill up, with a whole 20 or so others trickling in casually as the game progressed.

Holmer Green faced the broad-shouldered Dunstable Town (not, confusingly AFC Dunstable, who are 3rd), who frankly ran HG ragged in the first half, and, both fitter and hungrier, were 4-0 up at half-time, though without the understated heroics of Nick Hancox in goal it could have been 10. Used to MOTD's glossy and lean thoroughbreds, galloping around all gold-toothed and whinnying, it was quite a shock to see both the wobbly-thighed goalkeeper,and the quite resoundingly ample striker Sean Christie gallumphing around up front, rather ineffectually dare I say. In fact the only player who looked lively was the main striker, the stolidly-named Andy Shed.
The second half brought a bit more spark, with HGFC at least neutralising the visitors for a spell. Then a decisive substitution saw Gary Lines' abortive meanderings replaced by the Emile Heskey of the club, a lazily nonchalant Danny Boateng, who managed to score a hat-trick, including a penalty. Dunstable had scored one more too, but a 5-3 scoreline is much more respectable, though the old gents around me (all three of them) still grumbled their way through it, as is the football fans' wont - Andy went to Chelsea to hear the fans carp their way through a 3-0 victory over Valencia this week.

Stamford Bridge and Airedale Park: rather alien worlds in so many ways. Defender Tom Alabaster advertises his own carpentry company in the programme. There was a distinct lack of arrogance, aggression and nasty tackling (well, there weren't many tackles at all, to be honest); a lack of pretension and a lovely nearness to the action (I watched most of the second half from the touchline, watching the ball rattle around alarmingly and enjoying the robust language of all players - frankly, they all need to wash their slatternly mouths out), with the teams clattering muddily between us on our way to the tea hatch at half time. The proper tea, along with real home-made sausagey hot dogs, was dished up by the manager's wife and daughter, the only other females in the near vicinity. There was a bizarre reserve to the HG fans which makes Wycombe's sometime sotto voces seem cacophonous - you really wouldn't have known at any point just by listening, that they'd scored any goals, as NO-ONE clapped or cheered at all! I couldn't help whooping mildly here and there just to add a bit of atmosphere, to the huge embarrassment of Father.

The away fans were, it has to be said, a little rowdy, banging the corrugated iron roof and tumbling down the slope in front of them in excitement after a backpass claim. They even SANG, once. Here they are, meddlesome lot:
I had a pretty great time for my fiver. I can see why Dad comes: it's why anyone goes to any game of football in the end, once you strip away the sponsorship (HGFC are sponsored on the shirts though, by - YES! - Country Bunches), the ludicrous salaries and the slavering media: to see a bunch of sweaty chaps scrap over a ball and hope for the sugar rush of a goal. And, at times (at least when I could ignore the  pain in my utterly benumbed toes) really quite romantic: players steaming about under a low winter sun on a frost-tinged pitch, lusty expletives and hot breath billowing from their mouths. If I'm not careful, I'll be daubing my face in green and white and chanting... well, I'll invent some chants!