Sunday, 5 October 2008

Game 4: Arundel 1, Chertsey Town 0

First Round Proper ~ Saturday 4th October 2008
Venue: Mill Road, Arundel, Sussex
Attendance: 75

Distance travelled: 103 miles

On the A283 yesterday, roughly equal distance between Petworth and Pulborough, I was thumped on the left arm by my travelling companion Mackem. I could hardly blame her; I had tempted fate so recklessly that physical abuse seemed the most justified form of punishment. Moments earlier I had said two things. Firstly, that I had seen enough of Chertsey Town this season and had been sufficiently impressed to believe that they could go some way in this season's FA Vase. Secondly, that we had been treated to numerous goals so far (an average of 5.33 goals per game to be precise) and I was confident that we were in for another scoring fest. So what happens? A solitary goal in a pretty dull encounter sees Arundel advance to the Second Round Proper at the expense of Chertsey. In a kind of uncomfortable way I feel strangely responsible for the turn of events at Mill Road and, as if the pain of a heavily bruised arm is not enough, I now find it difficult to look directly into the eyes of any of the Chertsey fans or club officials.

Not to say that Arundel did not deserve their victory. The home team fought for every single ball and played a pressing game for the full ninety minutes. This made life tough for Chertsey and it resulted in a match without much to separate the teams in terms of possession or clear-cut chances. From the off, this was always going to be a close affair. The weather was in marked contrast to the glorious sunshine we had experienced down at Hassocks only two weeks ago; intermittent heavy showers on a cold windy day. Summer had suddenly turned into winter skipping a season and these were not the most ideal conditions for good football. Throw into the blustery mix a whistle-happy and at times over-zealous referee and the game coughed, stuttered, stalled and eventually dissolved into a bitty spectacle.

Not to say, yet again, that I did not enjoy my day. Despite the bruised arm, we arrived in the charming West Sussex town of Arundel in plenty of time. The ground sits at one end of a pay-and-display car park that is used by visitors to the grand Norman castle. I used this car park many years ago whilst visiting the town's attractions and I must confess I never realised that hidden away in one corner is the entrance to Arundel FC. The ground is another gem, mainly because of its surroundings; the castle on one side and the River Arun on the other. Some of the trees around the ground were starting to turn and even on this most overcast of days the radiance of the setting could still be appreciated.

The nature of the game itself means that my match report is rather stunted. In terms of action there is not a great deal to talk about. I am trying very hard to resist the temptation to focus on the performance of the referee; six yellow cards were shown in a game that deserved only one at most. The referee seemed ever so young and particularly nervous before the start, and he favoured applying the letter of the law rather than a degree of common sense in what were tricky conditions underfoot. Of course it is easy to criticise the man in the middle; it is certainly a job I could not do. The FA's 'Respect the Referee' campaign is something I fully endorse and with that in mind I will reign in my comments. Suffice to say he didn't help the game flow.

Arundel started brightly, immediately shutting down the game in the middle of the park and preventing Chertsey from playing with any width. Both teams cancelled each other out in the opening quarter of the game; we had to wait 20 minutes before the first real chance arrived. From a free kick, Chertsey's John Pomroy sweetly struck a shot that cannoned of the foot of the post. Arundel, who continued to press the space extremely well, had their first chance five minutes later when a rising effort from James Crane crazed the bar. The home team then took the game to Chertsey and with the game opening up a little the visitors from Surrey became increasingly stretched at the back. On 32 minutes, it was yet another set piece that almost paid dividends when Arundel's Dave Walker fired in a shot from a free kick which once more hit the bar.

With ten minutes of the half remaining there was a nasty looking collision between the new Chertsey Town keeper Paul Smith and Arundel's Walker. It looked like a 50/50 challenge that both were entitled to go for and play was held up for some time whilst they received attention. After the incident, the half petered out to an uneventful conclusion.

Just under five minutes into the second half, Arundel had the ball in the net. The 'goal' was disallowed for deliberate handball but the referee, who had perhaps ran out of yellow cards after a first half flurry, decided not to take any action against the offending Arundel player. It was becoming increasingly obvious that opportunities to score would only arrive courtesy of dead ball situations. Chertsey had a couple of free kicks in quick succession on the hour mark; both were wasted as the Arundel defensive wall stood firm. The only goal of the game finally arrived on 71 minutes; Mike Huckett stepped up for Arundel to send a free kick smartly around the Chertsey wall. Deadlock broken.

The attempts from Chertsey to inject some urgency into proceedings with a couple of substitutions failed to bear fruit. Arundel defended well and never really looked likely to concede once they had their noses in front. The Chertsey goalkeeper was once again involved in a collision with an Arundel striker, almost identical to the incident in the first half and the hold up in play contributed to the already staccato tempo. The game ended with a sickeningly loud clash of elbow on head which left an Arundel player in need of treatment for some time. It was a clumsy challenge from a Chertsey player borne out of desperation and frustration. The bumbling challenge kind of summed up the game and the referee showed leniency; it was ironic that it was only incident in the game that deserved a card of some colour.

I have to say the funniest moment of the day occurred before the game had started. One of the referee's assistants was a young lady. Whilst the teams were lining up to enter the playing field, the lady in black was the last to appear from the changing rooms, in need of some privacy perhaps. As she made her way to the front of the players to join her fellow officials she burst out laughing and said to the ref: "Did you hear that? One of the players said I've got a fat bum." Cue a great deal of laughter from the other officials and the players and all credit to her as she could barely stop chortling herself.

We had met the Arundel Chairman, Mr Bob Marchant, before the game; Mackem and I shared part of the small covered terrace with him in the first half. Another welcoming host it was good to see the Chairman out there with the fans, trading banter and encouraging his team. He explained to me that Arundel, when it comes to attracting paying customers, face stiff competition from a whole host of local clubs from Littlehampton Town to Wick and Bognor Regis Town to Worthing United. Yesterday's low turnout must have been slightly disappointing.

So it is goodbye to Chertsey Town. It will be sad to part company with them. To Chris, Steve, Andy, Ted, Derek and all the other club officials and fans, I wish you well for the remainder of the season; I will be down at Alwyns Lane for a few more games before the end of this season's League campaign. In the meantime, I will be spending a least one more game in the FA Vase in the company of 'The Mullets' of Arundel. As I write this, I know not where I will be watching the next tie. The draw for the Second Round Proper is on Monday 6th October and the tie will not take place until early November; quite a few weeks to wait. Plenty of time for my arm to heal.

Photo Gallery 1 [more of my shots]
Photo Gallery 2 [courtesy of Andrew Pearson]

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