Friday, 26 September 2008

Arundel FC

A very quick post this morning as it is currently 'all go' with my FA Cup book, which was published a little over a week ago. It has been a busy few days for me, which started with a photo shoot at Pease Pottage FC (I still maintain I have a face for the radio), a five minute slot on BBC London Radio's 'The Non-League Football Show' on Monday evening and a few newspaper interviews; tomorrow we have the official book launch at Dartford FC before their FA Cup game with Hampton & Richmond Borough. Details are available on my 'Wick To Wembley' blog that can be accessed from the menu on the right. Andy Warhol's expression "fifteen minutes of fame" feels quite apt at the moment. Crazy really, considering I've simply been along to watch a few football games, something that millions around the world do day in, day out.

Back to the FA Vase; I am only three games and two rounds in and already thoroughly enchanted by the competition. As mentioned previously, the draws have been extremely kind, ensuring that I get to visit the scenic county of Sussex at least three times. Both Oakwood and Hassocks have fallen by the wayside, and Chertsey Town's next trip out into the county will be to Arundel on Saturday 4th October.

I have been to the town before, but never to the ground. Arundel FC play at Mill Road and, once again, I have been told many times that the picturesque setting is impressive. The ground has both Arundel castle and the River Arun as a backdrop. I can't wait.

Arundel FC, nicknamed The Mullets after the local mullet fishing trade, was founded in 1889 and joined the Sussex County League in 1949. They currently play in League Division One, alongside Oakwood, Hassocks and (coincidentally) Wick, with whom my FA Cup venture last season began. In terms of honours, they have been Sussex County League champions three times (1958, 1959 and 1987) and also won the League Challenge Cup in 1987. Last season in the League they finished a credible 3rd and also chalked up an impressive FA Vase win in the First Round Proper, a 5-0 mauling of Hythe Town.

Arundel's best season in the FA Vase was in 2002-03 when they reached the 4th Round Proper with wins over Hassocks, AFC Wallingford, Erith Town and Whitehawk before succumbing to Bridlington Town.

I'm keen to learn a lot more about the club; well over a hundred years old, I'm guessing it must be one of the oldest clubs in Sussex. It is certainly about time I pay a visit.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Game 3: Hassocks 2, Chertsey Town 3 (aet)

Second Round Qualifying ~ Saturday 20th September 2008
Venue: The Beacon, Hassocks, Sussex
Attendance: 110

Distance travelled: 103 miles

The Beacon has left an impression on me, and I have no doubt in my mind that it will be a very long lasting impression. The view from the ground is alluring, with the South Downs ridge visible beyond the South Fields, with the outline of the Jack and Jill windmills focusing the eye on the point where the ridge meets the sky. It is a lovely view, and on a gloriously sunny September afternoon the scene was quite simply intoxicating.

Once again, we were treated to another excellent advert for the non League game with an enthralling encounter than ended with a one goal margin of victory for Chertsey Town. The winning goal in extra-time came as a huge relief for the away team and their supporters, in a game that they should really have killed off in the early stages of the tie. Hassocks maybe felt that they had done enough to resist the Chertsey onslaught and, with defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, were no doubt dejected at the outcome.

Our welcome to this part of Sussex was first class; I travelled with my son and fellow footy addicts Mackem, PB and Posh Mate, all wedged into my tiny motor. If any of you followed my adventures in last season's FA Cup, these names will ring many bells and my mates, more used to the surroundings of The Stadium of Light, Loftus Road or London Road, were keen to sample FA Vase football. Manning the turnstile upon our arrival was the Hassocks' Vice Chairman and General Secretary David Knight and the Youth Team General Secretary Dave John, and I later met Paul Elphick as he was writing out the teams on the Hassocks FC whiteboard. Paul's other duties include producing the programme, tannoy announcing and serving at the bar. We were made to feel extremely welcome at Hassocks and I for one learnt a lot about the club; a very friendly club indeed.

The ground boasts an impressive new clubhouse, built using monies raised by the club and donated by an anonymous benefactor. It is an impressive building, something that the club is understandably proud of. Whist the clubhouse is grand, by contrast the seating behind one goal is wonderfully quirky; a single park bench with room enough for four. Perched up on top of a bank, it is both unusual and tricky to get up to.

The game was a cracker; five goals (that's a total of sixteen in three FA Vase games already for me) played out on an uneven pitch. The surface has been re-laid over the summer after new drainage had been installed, and the pitch hadn't quite 'settled in'. In truth, it seemed to affect Chertsey the most, but the rugged turf failed to spoil what was a great Cup tie.

The five goal scoring sequence went like this. Cherstey Town took a 22nd minute lead from a Leon Johnson free kick, which went in off the post (see photo left). Hassocks equalised quarter of an hour later with an own goal, Wayne Noad applying the finishing touch into his own net after a melee in the box. All square at half-time. The home side took a 2-1 lead on 70 minutes when James Laing tucked away a close range header, and seemed to be heading through to the next round before the Chertsey substitute (and assistant manager) Kevin Cooper slipped the ball beyond Jack Simpson in the Hassocks goal with only a few minutes of normal time remaining. The tie was settled in extra-time with a fine goal on 117 minutes from Chertsey's Marcus Moody following a fine interchange involving Noad and Paul Brooker.

But the goals were only a small part of the story, and as in the previous two FA Vase games that I have seen so far, it was Brooker who quickly became the topic of discussion on the touchlines. Chertsey Town could so easily have scored close on double figures in this game, the number of clear chances they had. Many fell to Brooker; at the end of the game I had a brief chat with Spencer Day, the Chertsey manager, and I mentioned that Brooker should have had a hat-trick. "More like six!" was Day's reaction and I couldn't disagree. Brooker's numerous efforts, including several one-on-ones with the keeper, either whistled past the post, grazed the bar or drifted agonisingly wide. My guess is that he probably knew before half-time it just wasn't going to be his day.

Hassocks really struggled to keep up with the visitors from Surrey and there was a notable gap in standard on the pitch. Hassocks players do not take a single penny in wage whereas Chertsey players are reasonably well paid for this level and Chertsey are considered to be a 'rich' club. Nothing should be taken away from the home team's efforts in repelling attack after attack, but Chertsey failed to capitalise. Buoyed by almost total control of proceedings, the visitor's frequent raids were always heavy in numbers. This proved to be their undoing, and the two Hassocks' goals were a result of Chertsey committing too many men forward in an almost gung-ho fashion.

But Hassocks, against all odds, found themselves in front approaching the end of the game, and the frustration amongst the Chertsey staff and travelling support was almost unbearable to witness; the players seemed to become increasingly burdened by expectation as the minutes ticked by. Their late equaliser was greeted with huge sighs of relief but also by equally huge groans of disappointment from the Hassocks support. In the end Hassocks were denied a remarkable, if unlikely, victory.

In the interlude between the end of normal time and the start of extra-time, the Chertsey players received an almighty ear-bashing from their gaffer. I'm sure everyone in the crowd was left in no doubt as to what was being said. It was also quite clear, once extra-time got underway, that both teams were physically exhausted; but it was Chertsey - no doubt with their manager's words ringing in their ears - who found that little bit extra to seal the win in the dying minutes. As the shadows on the pitch lengthened, it was Moody's winner that sent Chertsey into the First Round Proper and set up another trip to Sussex. Heartbreak then for Hassocks; Arundel await Chertsey.

So what a great game and a marvellous day made even better by wonderful hosts. As we left Hassocks yesterday, with a huge ochre sun in the sky, I felt a tad rueful that there would be no more Vase trips to The Beacon this season. What a great spot to watch a bit of footy; I must resolve to go back one day.

Click [here] to see a fine selection of photos from the game by Chertsey Town photographer Andrew Pearson.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Jack and Jill

'Hassocks' is such a fantastic name. For me it has almost a Scottish feel to it and the word alone conjures up images of rolling hills, lochs, kilts, cabers, eagles and salmon fishing. I'm no doubt confusing the name with some famous town from Scotland, and I really should look up which. But it is a great name, nonetheless. For the trip tomorrow, I have a car load - five of us will be travelling down to the South Downs - and I think partly the description of the ground and partly the name of the club (and village) has enticed some of my football friends into paying a visit.

I have it on good authority that 'The Beacon', home of Hassocks FC, occupies a picturesque spot in Sussex. It is overlooked up on the Downs by two famous landmarks, the 'Jack and Jill' windmills. Hassocks FC have played here since 1992 and the ground is close to the small village of Clayton. Nicknamed 'The Robins' they are another Sussex County League Division One team; they joined the County League in 1981 and since have won the Division Three (1991-92) and were runners-up in Division Two (1994-95). Hassocks have reached the 2nd Round Proper of the FA Vase on two occasions and in 2005-06 they had their best ever FA Cup campaign, eventually losing in the 2nd Qualifying Round to Dulwich Hamlet.

This season, they have played six League games, winning only once. In this season's FA Cup they lost at the first time of asking, going down 1-0 to Shoreham. Whilst Chertsey Town were seeing off Oakwood in the First Round Qualifying of the FA Vase, Hassocks overcame fellow Sussex County side Three Bridges, winning 4-3 after extra-time.

Hassocks FC remain a totally amateur club; I am told that none of the players are paid for their services. I am intrigued about my visit tomorrow and I am very keen to meet some of the club committee and understand a little about how the club has steadily progressed through the non League ranks whilst maintaining their amateur status. I have already had a friendly response from the secretary at the club (David Knight) and the programme editor (Paul Elphick) and the club has a strong reputation of being one of the friendliest in the county.

As for the game tomorrow? Too close to call I think. Chertsey Town came very close to going out to Oakwood, just up the road from Hassocks, and their two encounters in the last round ought to have demonstrated (to Chertsey) the strength of football in Sussex. If I were a betting man I would go for the draw. If any of you fancy a flutter, avoid the draw.

In the process of writing this piece, I have learnt that a hassock is actually a floor cushion but the village name Hassocks is believed to have been taken from tufts of 'hassocky' grass in the surrounding fields. Now, what other football blog could give you such quality trivia? It's just a good job that the village didn't develop over the years surrounded by fields of bullrushes.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Hassocks in Sussex

The draw for the first three rounds of this season's FA Vase were all made at the same time so I have known that I would be spending at least three Autumn Saturdays in the county of Sussex. After starting my journey at Oakwood in the First Round Qualifying, the draw deemed that winners of the Oakwood v Chertsey Town tie (and therefore me) would be off next to either Hassocks or Three Bridges, both Sussex County League teams. Hassocks won a gripping tie 4-3 (after extra-time) to set up a Second Round Qualifying tie next Saturday against my local club. Both Hassocks and Chertsey Town already know that the winners will face a trip to Arundel, another Sussex outfit, in the Third Round Qualifying.

I am extremely pleased with these draws. My friend David Bauckham has been involved in, and associated with, Sussex football for a long time; primarily with Eastbourne Borough but also, through his love for the local game, county football in general. His passion has manifested itself in his excellent Nomad Online website, the directory for non League football in Sussex. Last season he also produced a wonderful book, along with Terry Buckman, entitled 'A Season Of Sussex Soccer' which is well worth a read. So for me to spend the early rounds of the FA Vase in Sussex is a real coincidence but no less of a treat. By all accounts, Hassocks and Arundel have grounds in two of the most picturesque settings in the county and I'm looking forward with great interest to visiting both.

I am doing this FA Vase venture this season for a number of reasons. One is to get me along to watch more non League football. Following the FA Cup last season was a fantastic experience, but the real joy for me was the involvement I had with non League clubs in the earlier rounds. I also want to understand what the FA Vase means to clubs these days, and what it means to their fans. The phrase 'glory hunter' may spring to some minds; someone who starts with a team he supports but then simply watches the winning team all the way to the Final, supporting different teams along the way? Well, no, far from it. As I did last season in the FA Cup, I attend all games as a 'neutral' and show no allegiances. I cannot even lay claim to be a bona fide supporter of Chertsey Town; they are indeed my local club, down at the bottom of my lane, but I have seen them only a handful of times in the eleven years I have lived in the town. In essence, this is me trying to better my own understanding of the FA Vase and football at this level and, consequently, share some of it with you. Plus, of course, you can't beat the thrill of a journey into the unknown. There is probably no more appropriate a place to start than in county football.

But first things first; a trip to Hassocks awaits me this time next week. Sussex bound once again; I now just need to find out exactly where in the county I will be headed.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Game 2: Chertsey Town 3, Oakwood 2

First Round Qualifying Replay ~ Tuesday 9th September 2008
Venue: Alwyns Lane, Chertsey, Surrey
Attendance: 69

Distance travelled: a stone's throw

I would have been the guy at the 1966 World Cup Final who left in disgust when Wolfgang Weber poked Germany level in the closing minutes of normal time. When Kennedy was shot I would have been the chap who was in a shop in downtown Dallas trying to buy more camera film. As the RMS Titanic went down I would be the one at the bar still waiting for the waiter to bring me some ice. Whilst Neil Alden Armstrong took "one giant leap for mankind", I'd be the one person on this planet watching 'On The Buses' on the other channel. I miss things. In Tuesday night's game at Chertsey, I missed the home team's vital equaliser against Oakwood. When I say I missed it, I was completely oblivious to it, so much so that at the final whistle I had settled down for extra-time whilst the rest of the crowd filed out of Alwyns Lane and headed home for a cocoa and an early night.

My excuse was I was in the bar talking to Andy Pearson. Andy epitomises the type of person that clubs at this level rely on to survive; on Tuesday night he was manning the bar. On matchdays he also takes the photographs. He maintains and updates the recently revamped Chertsey Town website. Plus undoubtedly many more duties. Along with the other committee members, he is part of the lifeblood of the club. I once again bumped into Chris Gay, the club secretary. Whilst juggling an array of jobs at the club, Chris also produces the match programme. This he does from an upstairs room at home, from start to finish including all the printing. It is testament to his dedication that he managed to get a programme out at all for Tuesday's replay; there was so little time between games and he did so at the expense of a great deal of candle wax. And he still found time to speak to the FA who ran a couple of mini-reports on Chertsey Town in the
FA Vase section of their website.

So the goal I actually missed came at the very start of the second half. Chertsey Town had gone in at the break trailing 2-1 and they equalised in the 46th minute with a goal from Paul Brooker. With such a small crowd there was no huge cheer; merely a muted applause which simply alerted me to the fact that the game had restarted. Chertsey had won a corner, perhaps? You may recall I 'missed' three goals in the first game down in Sussex, but at least I was pitch side on that occasion, and I was keeping up with the score. But on Tuesday, when Lee O'Leary scored a fine goal on the hour mark, it proved to be Chertsey's winner. In my own little world however, I thought it had levelled the game at 2-2. At the final whistle, I was rather bemused by the celebrations of the home support. Having never witnessed so much joy at the realisation of an extra 30 minutes play, particularly on a cold and damp evening, I embarrassingly had to ask what the final score was. 3-2 to Chertsey. Oops. Yes, I know...what a prat.

This was another entertaining game. Oakwood, maybe a little aggrieved after the events at Tinsley Lane on Saturday, started well and seemed particularly fired-up. Chertsey by comparison were very quiet, both on and off the pitch; Spencer Day, the Chertsey manager, was out of the country and the coaching staff on the bench were all rather subdued. Ten minutes into the game, the visitors took the lead. Chertsey were caught over-elaborating on the edge of the Oakwood box; a long ball forward carried the Chertsey back line and Jack McNab for Oakwood was left in a sprint for the ball with two defenders. To the amazement of the home fans, he won the race and, from just outside the Chertsey box, fired a crisp low shot across the front of Dave Tidy and into the goalkeeper's bottom right-hand corner. A very well taken effort.

Chertsey's early play was sloppy and they squandered too much possession. Oakwood took the game to the home side, and Chertsey resorted to hitting on the break. This opened things up somewhat, and the game became stretched very early on. Chertsey had a chance to equalise on 30 minutes but Glen Fitzroy pulled off a great save to deny the Chertsey forward Robert Ursell. However, one minute later Paul Brooker got his first of the night when he drilled in a fine effort from just outside the area. Brooker, who had been sent off at Oakwood, went on to have a very good game. His experience at this level - he has played for Reading, Fulham and Brentford - made the difference on the night as he controlled midfield.

Despite Brooker's performance, Chertsey were still making a number of unforced errors and ten minutes before the interval Oakwood were back in front. McNab bagged his second with a guided header following a deep cross from Gary Bidwell.

Thus to half-time and the missed goal. I had stepped into the clubhouse to catch up with Andy. In the process of doing so, I noticed there was a small queue just inside the entrance. Never one to resist joining a queue, I soon found out that a charming elderly lady, confined to a small and cramped 'kitchen', was making fresh teas and coffees. Sold in proper mugs as well. Probably the finest mug of coffee I have ever had at a football ground. No plastic taste, real milk, no cheap powdered brown dust. The perfect caffeine fix.

Brooker's equaliser, by all accounts, was a well worked move that resulted in him chipping the visiting keeper. At 2-2, I made my way to the main stand in the misguided belief that Chertsey were still losing. In the early exchanges (with the obvious exception of the goal) there was little to separate the two teams. The game was still fairly open, but neither side kept hold of the ball long enough to mount any serious threat. Maybe Saturday's energy sapping contest was starting to take its toll. On a number of occasions, the match ball left the confines of the small ground as clearances evaded the surrounding fences. A few local lads did a good job retrieving them, but the loss of balls is always a concern at this level. In this match, I was told that there were only four match balls; at one stage in the game there were only two on the touchline plus one "stuck up a tree". These things are important.

Chertsey's winner on about 60 minutes followed a spell in which they had started to control midfield. Passes made were far simpler and the team worked well as a unit; a number of neat passes culminated in Brooker slipping the ball through to O'Leary whose shot was blocked only for him to pick up the rebound and turn smartly to smash the ball into the roof of the net. Chertsey were still not home and dry; the goal seem to inject more urgency into Oakwood. Once again, it was the long ball that caused Chertsey the biggest headache and Oakwood went close a couple of times in the dying moments.

In the end, Chertsey hung on to claim victory. A relief for the home side who now advance into the Second Round Qualifying and pocket £800 in prize money. Over two games, this had been a thoroughly enjoyable tie with plenty of action and eleven goals. It's a shame I missed four of them.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Game 1: Oakwood 3, Chertsey Town 3

First Round Qualifying ~ Saturday 6th September 2008
Venue: Tinsley Lane, Oakwood, Sussex
Attendance: 65

Distance travelled: 70 miles

If the rest of the FA Vase has as much incident as this game, then I'm already totally convinced that I made the right decision in opting to follow this season's competition. I've been watching the beautiful game far longer than I care to remember and, up until today, I thought I had seen it all. My football viewing over the years has been littered with classic never-to-be-forgotten games and mind-numbingly awful ones. I've seen breathtaking goals and comical own-goals; appalling refereeing decisions; shocking tackles; slapstick comedy and acts of great sportsmanship; and much, much more. But yesterday's game, on a patch of green hidden away round the back of Crawley, was something else and it ended in a manner that I am still struggling to fathom.

The game finished 3-3, after the visitors had led 3-0 with only 5 minutes on the clock; certainly plenty to write about there. But the major talking point - one of many - arrived at the conclusion of proceedings. Played out in torrential rain (interspersed with a few dry spells) the game ended in something close to farce. The referee abandoned the game, but did so after he had blown the full-time whistle on 90 minutes.

But I need to explain more than merely that. Please bear with me.

Yesterday morning, as I was preparing to set off to Tinsley Lane, home of Oakwood, I had doubts that the game would go ahead. Most of the country was being lashed with heavy rain and equally heavy winds, and I could see that many FA Vase games were falling victim to our British summer climate. I had been told that the Oakwood pitch wasn't the best and was prone to a touch of waterlogging. Keen not to make a wasted journey, I checked a few times before I left. In the course of doing so, I noticed that on the FA website a number of the FA Vase ties were annotated with a brief description of how they would be completed, should they be level at 90 minutes. Some simply said "extra-time if level at 90 minutes" whilst others had "extra-time and kicks from the penalty spot if level after 90 minutes". The majority of ties had no additional notes whatsoever, including the Oakwood v Chertsey Town encounter.

This confused me somewhat (I know, I know - not difficult, before you say anything). My understanding was that all games, if level at 90 minutes, would go straight to a replay. And that if the replayed game was level at 90 minutes, extra-time and possibly penalties would follow. Well, I was wrong (again). Upon arrival at Oakwood, I met Chris Gay, the Chertsey Town club secretary. I mentioned this in passing, and he said that the majority of the games would go to a replay if the match is drawn at full-time. However, clubs have the option to make other arrangements, as long as both clubs agree before kick-off and the FA are informed. I had never heard of this before, but it certainly explained what I had read on the FA website. Naturally, I asked Chris what the arrangements were for this, the Oakwood v Chertsey Town tie. The agreement was that extra-time would be played, but no penalties. You learn something new everyday.

5 minutes into the game, the idea of extra-time could not have been further from my mind as Chertsey bolted into a 3-0 lead. Playing down the slope and with the wind and rain behind them, I envisaged a rout. But to Oakwood's immense credit, they fought back to 3-3 in the second period. At the final whistle, both teams gathered on the (by now) very heavy, rain-sodden pitch, huddled around their respective coaching staff, preparing for an additional 30 minutes of FA Vase action. As I took the opportunity to answer the call of nature and head for the clubhouse, one could sense amongst the small crowd a little uncertainty as to whether the game had actually finished or not; some perhaps didn't realise that extra-time had been agreed between the two clubs; the matchday programme carried no clues. But as I reached for the loo door, I heard someone exclaim that the referee had called the game off.

Eh?? Surely not?

With a quick about-turn and back out onto the touchline, both sets of players were indeed trooping off the pitch, in various states of bemusement/bewilderment/emotion* (*delete as appropriate). Some Oakwood players had surrounded the ref and were pretty animated (the home team by the latter stages of the game were in the ascendancy) but there was generally a degree of confusion amongst players, club officials and fans from both sides; what was going on?

The beauty of watching football at this level is the sense that you are 'right in there', amongst all the action. Not quite on the pitch, but the next best thing. And in the immediate aftermath that followed, I certainly felt this. Players and club officials, and even some fans, continued to question the referee. Was it really abandoned or had the game simply ended at 90 minutes? Thoughts amongst all concerned quickly turned to the 'replay'. If the game had been abandoned, would the second game take place at Oakwood? Would it be a trip back to Sussex again for me? If the ref had simply halted proceedings at 90 minutes (was he unaware of the agreement to play extra-time?), then should the replay be at Chertsey? Too many questions for me; I was starting to feel faint.

Both club secretaries, with utmost professionalism, were on the case immediately. Chris produced a well-thumbed copy of the FA's rules whilst the Oakwood secretary was on the phone to speak to the FA.

After about ten minutes, in which time I managed to have a brief chat with the Chertsey Town manager Spencer Day (who was still unhappy about some of the referee's decisions during the game itself, let alone the ultimate decision to call the game off), news filtered through from the FA that the second game would be played on Tuesday (9th September) at Chertsey. Oakwood were understandably not happy with that. It didn't really make much sense to me either, particularly as the referee was saying he had indeed "abandoned the game due to a waterlogged pitch". But by this stage, I was losing my sanity and would barely have blinked if Fabio Capello had wandered down Tinsley Lane to ask me if I fancied a game Saturday evening. Well, maybe I would have, but you get my drift.

Roll the clock forward twenty four hours, as I write this on Sunday afternoon, I am still no nearer understanding where I will be off to on Tuesday evening. The official websites of both Oakwood and Chertsey Town are describing the next match as a 'replay' to be played at Chertsey Town. The non League press have also called the next encounter a 'replay' and have the venue for the tie listed as Oakwood. The FA website (normally the last to respond) hasn't even got the game listed in their fixtures.

Amazing scenes at the end of the game, something I've never seen before, let alone felt part of. In all honesty, the events on the pitch during the game were quickly pushed to the back of my mind. With some reflection, the footballing action was just as enthralling and it was a real surprise that the game ended level.

I arrived at the ground down a single-track lane. A most hospitable youth wearing a red Oakwood tracksuit (who, it later transpired, was the son of the Oakwood manager) greeted me at the gates and explained that it was £5 to get in. I assumed that this was the Car Park fee, but it turned out this was the cost for entry to the game, including the programme. I parked behind the goal and could have comfortably watched the game from inside the car.

What of the match? I can tell you now that the first Chertsey goal was scored within a minute of the kick-off, by Leon Johnson. I can also tell you that two more were scored for the visitors by the prolific John Pomroy before barely 5 minutes had elapsed. What I cannot tell you, with any degree of accuracy, is what these goals were like. For the first goal I only saw the net ripple; I was in the middle of taking a photo. And the next two goals were scored as I was getting some details from Chris about the first goal. By all accounts, the first was a gift courtesy of a misplaced back-header from an Oakwood defender, whereas the other two were the result of some neat approach play which resulted in decent crosses (one from the left, one from the right) which were both well converted. I won't give up my day job.

The rain, which had started at the kick-off, increased in intensity throughout the first 45 minutes. Chertsey Town players were marginally quicker to every ball, particularly in midfield. This, combined with the awful conditions, provided a recipe for mistimed tackles. Tempers frayed on more than one occasion and a little before the half-hour mark, the experienced Chertsey midfielder Paul Brooker was sent off following two quick-fire yellows; one for a push, the other for a trip. This proved to be the turning point of the game. The expected rout of the Sussex side did not materialise, and Oakwood hung on to half-time.

The Chertsey keeper Jimmy was the centre of attention in the second half, but for all the wrong reasons. Oakwood scored quickly after the restart; with 46 minutes on the clock, Jack McNab sent in a looping shot, possibly deflected, which left Jimmy rooted to the spot and he could only watch as the ball floated high over his right shoulder into the net. The goal seemed to galvanise Oakwood and from this point they began to make the extra man count. 'The Oaks' piled on the pressure down the slope and on 58 minutes reduced the arrears yet again. Jimmy made a hash of trying to punch a ball clear and managed only to squirt the ball forward a few yards. The ball was returned towards goal and after a number of deflections and wild attempts to clear a Chertsey defender on the line made a solid connection only to watch in dismay as his clearance rebounded into the net off the back of Scot Bidwell's head. The Oakwood number 5 didn't know much about the goal, but he claimed it.

From thereon in, it was nearly all Oakwood. Chertsey resorted to hitting their hosts on the break, but as the pitch got heavier and the rain continued, running with the ball proved more and more difficult. Chertsey were visibly tiring. With a sense of inevitability, Oakwood equalised with five minutes remaining. Oakwood got beyond the Chertsey defence, and with the ball holding up on the pitch, Jimmy rushed from his goal and upended an Oakwood striker as he advanced into the penalty area. Pat Massaro stepped up to convert the spot-kick and against all my earlier expectations the game was level at 3-3. By now the conditions really had the upper hand and players from both sides were struggling to play any decent football; the game drew to its conclusion amidst a flurry of water splashes and spectacularly long sliding tackles.

So to that final whistle and those bizarre scenes. Good grief, what a game. What a conclusion. What an afternoon. I think I need a lie down. To think we will have to do it all again on Tuesday night. I'm just not sure where.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Off To Tinsley Lane

Tinsley Lane is the home of Oakwood FC and is notoriously difficult to find. My sense of direction is appalling at the best of times so the chances of me finding the ground for this, the first FA Vase game of my 'Chasing The Vase' venture, are slim. So much so, this season's plan may fizzle to nothing before it is properly ignited.

But of course I'll find the ground, how hard can it be, even for a simpleton? I'm actually quite excited about my trip down to Sussex tomorrow, to take in Oakwood v Chertsey Town in the First Round Qualifying (the FA's official description). If you have stumbled upon this site by chance in search of news about Keegan, Curbishley, Manchester City, or other football news stories of the day, you are excused for thinking that 'excited' is perhaps too strong a description to use in relation to a game that will attract a crowd of around 30. Oakwood's League games so far this season have been attended by between 19 and 47 paying customers. The old joke about announcing crowd changes to the teams flashes across my mind. But I am excited, and if you read any of by FA Cup blog last season, you will understand why. If you didn't, please join me for this season.

Oakwood have had a fairly innocuous start to their 2008-09 Sussex County League Division One campaign, and sit only six places off the bottom with four points from five games. Bizarrely, all five of those League games have been played at home; in fact, their first away League fixture is not until September 20th. This is something I certainly have not come across in the game before. What was the fixture committee thinking? Answers on a postcard?

Formed in 1962 (many years before I was born) Oakwood are a relatively new club and have been playing Sussex County football since 1984, one year after they moved into their current Tinsley Lane home. Located near Crawley, the club started out in life as a school team. Pupils from St Wilfreds School founded the club as an escape from the predominant school sport of rugby. Club honours include winning the Sussex County League Division Three (1984-85) and Division Two (2005-06) and runners-up in the Sussex Senior Cup (1993).

Oakwood FC is a Step 5 club in the English football pyramid, as are Chertsey Town. So one would expect an even contest tomorrow, but Chertsey (as I mentioned last week) are off to a flyer this season. However, after I built up their chances for 2008-09 following their marvellous start, Chertsey went and lost 2-1 to Sittingbourne in the FA Cup on Sunday and dropped their first League points with a Tuesday night 1-1 home draw with Bookham. The FA Cup result was rather disappointing with a last-gasp winner (only 10 seconds left on the clock) eliminating the Surrey club at the same stage of the competition as last year, and defeated by the same opponents to boot. Another strange fact is that the game down in Kent on Sunday was Chertsey's first competitive Sunday game; this for a club founded in 1890. I find that fact rather refreshing in this day and age when the 3pm Saturday kick-off is less and less the norm. A feather in the caps of all the traditionalists. Confidence is still high at the club though, and in the FA Vase there is a feeling that they could progress some way. That's the 'kiss of death' then from me; pucker up.

But with a Wembley Cup Final in May the ultimate target, Oakwood will undoubtedly want to have a say in matters. So off in the direction of Crawley tomorrow, another location I don't recall ever visiting before. A small ground to look forward to, an entrance fee that won't break the bank and an opportunity to meet some of the locals; 'grassroots' football in every sense of the word. The forecast is for heavy rain, strong winds and poor visibility, which won't help me trying to find Tinsley Lane. Although I have been given some very good advice on how to get to the ground by a number of readers. Apparently, just turn left at the postbox. How easy is that?