Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Game 5: Banstead Atheltic 1, Arundel 2 (aet)

Second Round Proper ~ Saturday 15th November 2008
Venue: Merland Rise, Tadworth, Surrey
Attendance: 62

Distance travelled: 49 miles

I'm glad I don't bet too much on the outcome of football matches. Saturday's enthralling encounter at Merland Rise is the type of game that crops up every once in a while. The sort of game where the odds are so heavily stacked in the favour of one team that, surely, there could only ever be one outcome; but events then unfold to prove that there is no such thing as a 'certainty' in football. Something we have all known for a long time, but every now and again a gentle reminder does no harm.

The contrary recent fortunes for both these clubs had led me to believe that it was going to be a tough afternoon for the home side. Arundel went into Saturday's FA Vase game on the back of eight straight wins in a row; Banstead Athletic had lost all bar one of their first team players in the wake of Dave Leworthy's resignation as manager. Before a ball had even been kicked, I was fairly confident that I could predict the outcome. Twenty minutes into the game I had seen nothing to suggest that my confidence was misplaced; I feared that Banstead would be comprehensively played off the park and were heading for what is known in the trade as a 'tonking'.

As it turned out, Arundel ultimately left this part of Surrey with a win, a place in the Third Round Proper and nice cheque for £1200 courtesy of the FA. But it was far from as straightforward as I had envisaged. In the end, it would be fair to say that they pipped Banstead on the line by a short head, but needed extra-time to do so. The fact that this was a great game was due, in no small part, to the turn of events on the pitch that saw Banstead still in the game right at the death. It would also be fair to say, if I had put my money where my mouth was, I would have lost my house, my car and probably the shirt on my back.

Banstead struggled to get into the game in the first half. From the off Arundel completely dominated possession, and the makeshift Banstead team, still getting to know each other after being assembled in a matter of weeks, failed to string more than a couple of passes together. 'The Mullets' from Sussex looked stronger, quicker and far more composed on the ball than their hosts; they squandered a number of scoring opportunities and a half-time scoreline of 3- or 4-nil in their favour would not have been flattering.

Arundel had the ball in the net after only 4 minutes, but the 'goal' was disallowed. Moments later they won a corner from which Josh Biggs shot wide from only a few yards. Arundel controlled the early exchanges, which were also typified by strong, firm challenges from both teams. This was an important game for either side, and both sets of players were keen to make their presence felt. The referee however failed to enter into the spirit of the occasion and spent much of the first half with his whistle to his lips; not for the first time on this FA Vase run the man in the middle quickly became the centre of attention, but for all the wrong reasons. A shout of "look at me, I've got the whistle" from one spectator quite aptly summed up the feelings of the crowd.

Arundel carried on bossing the game right up to half-time, seemingly unaffected by the referee’s frequent interventions. On 20 minutes, they had a shot cleared off the line, on the half-hour mark a second 'goal' disallowed and 38 minutes in Biggs blazed over the bar when it seemed easier to score. In amongst the Arundel chances I lost count of the number of yellow cards issued; at one stage I believe it was Banstead with five bookings and Arundel with two.

In a not particularly dirty game, the referee set a dangerous precedent with an early Banstead booking - Scott Murphy was shown a yellow for a strong challenge on the edge of his own area after only 17 minutes - and he then proceeded to reach for his pocket with gay abandon. Some of the bookings were unfortunately for dissent; the most memorable was Banstead's Russell Townsend, who repeatedly swore at the ref after the award of a free-kick to Arundel. To give the referee some credit, he gave Townsend plenty of opportunity to walk away; the referee, more than once, made it quite clear to Townsend that he would tolerate no more swearing: "Swear at me one more time, and I'll book you". Cue torrent of abuse from Townsend. "This is your last chance" replied the ref. "F*** off" said Townsend. He only had himself to blame.

Against all the odds the teams went in goalless, no doubt much to the relief of the Banstead players and officials. When I say "went in", the players left the pitch to find themselves locked out of the changing rooms and spent a few minutes queuing in the cold waiting for a key to be found. In what was a rather comical incident (in a sad sort of way), it crossed my mind to take a photo of the bemused teams to post here. I thought better of it, and scurried off to the warmth of the clubhouse.

Or should I say boardroom, which is where we were invited to at half-time. I attended the game with PB and our welcome at Merland Rise was first class. We had started the day by taking a tortuous route to Banstead's ground by way of Hampton Court, Hinchley Wood, Chessington, Ewell, Cheam, and Sutton. We were not lost, but were on the quest to visit PB's Mum, which turned out to be a wise move as the prize on offer at the end of the circuitous meander through Surrey suburbia took the form of a fresh pot of coffee and a pork pie. In my humble opinion, there is nothing finer than a pre-match pastry, as many of my friends can testify. Therein lays a completely different, and not at all interesting, story.

Before the kick-off, we had met the new Banstead manager Graeme Banyard who was genuinely pleased to talk to us. We were introduced to committee member Eddy Adams, who kindly escorted us (at half-time) to Banstead's boardroom, resplendent in its display of trophies and pennants, allowing us to meet some of the officials. A splendid cuppa in one hand and a digestive in the other, we got to meet Terry Parmenter (Banstead's secretary). The unconditional hospitality was a real bonus for us and we both learnt a little more about the club. It was also nice to once again meet the Arundel chairman, Bob Marchant; having now spoken to a number of officials from most of the teams that I have so far encountered on this FA Vase run, it is crystal clear just what this competition means to teams at this level. The FA Vase is important.

Back to the game, and the second half began how it had ended, with Arundel having won a free-kick, a corner and had a chance to score (Matt Huckett heading over) all within 10 minutes of the re-start. But then, just as it seemed that Banstead were simply buying time against a tide of inevitability, the game somehow changed. I'm not really sure what happened; maybe Banstead had received a real grilling at half-time? Perhaps Arundel took their collective feet of the gas? Possibly the Banstead players had found some self-belief? Whatever the reason, the home team started to string some passes together, keep hold of the ball and against all odds began to grind their way back into the game. It was more than obvious that this shocked the Arundel players; you could hear their frustration as they realised that their total dominance for a large chunk of the game may not actually yield anything. On the hour mark Banstead produced a good move down the right that culminated with a shot which went the wrong side of the post by a matter of inches. A couple of minutes later, Alex Bryant in the Arundel goal fumbled a cross out for a Banstead corner. Arundel were now rattled, and Banstead's confidence was on the up.

And so, rather ironically, it was somewhat against the run of the second half play that Arundel took the lead. Matt Axell sent in a testing cross from the left onto the head of Mike Huckett (Matt's brother) at the far post to put the visitors 1-0 up after 65 minutes. Before the goal, Arundel had brought on Richard Ghent, a speedy winger who started to give the Banstead left back a torrid time. Following the goal, Arundel routed most of their play through Ghent and once again, I was sure that Arundel would add to their lead and win comfortably.

Cue the Banstead equaliser on 75 minutes. After a scramble in the Arundel box, Louis Hollingsworth reacted quickest to turn the ball beyond the visiting keeper. The game had turned again, and now Banstead were pushing for the winner. The Arundel players were by now urging each other to "calm down" as their controlled style of play had seemingly deserted them. As both teams tired, the last fifteen minutes was a joy to watch as vast amounts of space opened up across the pitch and either team could have snatched a winner in an end-to-end finish to the game. Banstead came closest with five minutes remaining when Luke Edghill forced a marvellous save from Bryant.

But 1-1 it remained at full-time, so spilling the tie into extra-time. Banstead had the first chance to take the lead in this period when Jason Hannington struck a wonderful effort from 30 yards out, arrowed towards the top corner of the goal. Somehow Bryant produced another fantastic save to turn the ball around the post. Just as it looked like Banstead might now take the game, it was Arundel who regained the lead. On 98 minutes, Howard Neighbour scored a fine goal, thumping the ball into the roof of the net from short range. Banstead still had time to equalise and forced a number of corners but, in the end, they came up short. Their frustration at facing an exit from the competition boiled over in a frenetic last few moments of the game, with Lee Matthews receiving a second yellow and then Jason Haniff two quick bookings in the space of a minute. The tie for Banstead, now reduced to nine men, was over.

Wow. All of this for a £5 entry fee. A great game; great hospitality from Banstead Athletic and another great afternoon in the company of non League football. We rounded off our first ever visit to Merland Rise with a quick drink in the boardroom, a brief chat with Graeme Banyard about his plans for Banstead for the rest of the season and then off and away from the ground feeling very happy that we had been part of another chapter in this season's FA Vase story.

One thing is for sure; I'm already looking forward to the Third Round Proper in December and wherever the draw takes me, I'll certainly be there. You can bet on it.

Photo Gallery 1 [more of my shots]
Photo Gallery 2 [courtesy of Simon Roe, Copyright © Simon Roe 2008]

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