the real fa cup

The Football Virgin – Margate 1 K’s 1

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Pre-Amble
As far as we can ascertain, pretty much everyone who visits this site has a deep, ingrained love of football, regularly goes to games and watches a ludicrous amount of football on the box. In age range, I would say it goes from mid 20s to about 50 but that’s a guess based only on comments and people we know who follow us.

Do  you ever wonder what it would be like if you had got to this stage in your life without ever having been to a game? Would the stuff on this site bemuse you, would you find it unfathomable, would you even appreciate the nuances of watching a Premier League game or one much lower down into the amateur section of the pyramid?

Of the games we’ve seen so far this season, Cray’s was the first at which we’d heard a terrace song but that was brief. In the others there have been insufficient fans there to even get much of a cheer when a goal was scored. As these sort of games are not generally televised to saturation you’d be forgiven for thinking that all games were like the ones you see on telly. You know, the ones with almost indecipherable, organised shouting, huge banks of homogenised fans on all four sides of the ground, men in suits standing next to the pitch gesticulating wildly, massive branding all over the screen and much younger men in tracksuits sitting calmly in a glass hut. The game itself is everything and some people in a studio sit around talking about it, before, after and during the spectacle.

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We (actual thereallife ‘we’, not the realfacup ‘we’) were off for a weekend staying with friends in Ramsgate but, thanks to last minute plan changes it looked like I was going to be going to the match on my own, which was less appealing.  Simon, restricted to London due to unforeseen circumstances, was off to Tooting & Mitcham .v. Staines also on his tod.

This game became more appealing again when I found out fellow blogger Stuart from theballisround was heading there, another blogger I had not met, Jamie Cutteridge, was also going and local ‘face’ Jeremy Jacobs would be on hand for all important background. So, all was good again and I’d hoped to get into town about 1ish to breathe in the sea air and size up the mood.

However, Saturday morning didn’t quite go to plan, which meant I didn’t get near the pinnacle of Thanet until 2pm. But, it became clear that one of our hosts for our weekend away actually wanted to come along to the game. This was odd because I knew he had little interest in football but, as we were driving to the game, it got even odder, although at the time I didn’t even think about it. Andrew revealed that he’d actually never been to a football match before!

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The potential importance of this comment didn’t really register because it’s entirely normal for someone with little interest in the game, who grew up by the sea nowhere near to a half decent league side, to have not been to a game before. I’m not a luddite ladsmag caricature, football is not that important or all-encompassing. Thanet is an island, really, and the closest league side is Gillingham and, with all due respect to the Gills, they struggle to attract young fans from Gillingham so are going to struggle to attract an indifferent ones 50 miles away.

We can all remember our first match, can’t we? I realise now, I’m struggling. It wasn’t Ipswich, I can remember the first Ipswich game. It might have been my dad’s side, Southend? No. I went to Southend games but possibly later. It was more likely Shrewsbury, a Brum side, or maybe Swansea?  It could even have been Hereford .v. Leicester, oooh, in the FA Cup 30+ years ago. That explains a lot. Aye, I remember the Bull being paraded round the pitch but nothing from the other games.

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But, yeah, I was about to go to a match with someone who’d never been to a match before and I was glossing over this novel fact as if it was an everyday occurrence. Of course, it is in fact every weekend that someone who has never been to a match decides to go. It wasn’t normal for me though, I’d never been to a football match with a football virgin before. I should have made an effort.

We both negotiated the gloriously roomy turnstiles like a couple of old hands – at minute 1 Andrew is already getting a distortedly opulent view of football grounds. The executive turnstiles here will bring a gasp of shock if  you ever have to squeeze into Champion Hill or are herded through a cattle gate at Selhurst Park.

We both purchased a programme, I out of necessity Andrew out of novelty, and we were relieved of £2 for a glossy and informative guide just the right side of substantial but, hell, it was infinitely better than the vacuous catalogues of ads you get higher up. Then we got accosted by some charity chuggers. This was not signing your life away for a regular donation, this was a MEAT RAFFLE and I’m a sucker for meat, raffles and raffled meat, as is Andrew, who by now must have imagined that every time you go to football you can win dinner for a year!

We had a pint in the club bar, this is what you do at non-league grounds, it’s sociable, all fans together in what is usually a cosy room covered with interesting club memorabilia and Jeff Stelling primed for action. Again, Andrew has been spoiled, at the top end you get herded into a vast queue of people waiting at a soul-less bar to be served expensive watery piss by sullen teenagers. Although Margate’s bar is let down by its lack of decent ale, there was the novelty of Tuborg on tap.  I scanned the bar for our inside man, couldn’t see him, and for Stuart who, with his major Danish connections, I assumed would be quaffing the exotic tap Tuborg to his heart’s content. Couldn’t see him either.

THE GAME
My initial thought, these days, is to instantly find the location round the pitch which provides the best photo, so we walked around the far side of the ground to get to the end without a terrace or stand that looked back towards the main stands. The seated side stand was embossed with notice of a seating tax. “£1 For Seats”. This is not uncommon at grounds with few seats, they are at a premium. We walked down the back of the stand to take up a place near the far corner and when we turned round noticed the same embossed notice at the other end of the side stand but this one said “£2”. Baffling.

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It wasn’t until the 20th minute that I casually enquired if Andrew was enjoying his first match. He was intrigued rather than experiencing what you might call excitement or enjoyment.  To be fair, I wasn’t particularly enjoying what had up to then been a rather turgid, scrappy, wind-affected affair that signified two teams who’d played each other recently and were being cagey.

Before all that, I’d tried to take photos, we’d nattered about stuff and the ‘keeper, Sandi Toksvig, was a massive, permanently shrugging presence in the Margate goal. But, for now, the excitement was provided by a child throwing a brick into a pile of sand behind us. Repeatedly. Kids have notoriously difficult attention spans but it looked fun and we both wanted to join in.

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But then the only three real things of note in the first half occurred. A Margate corner swung over, it was headed across goal and Jamie Pinnock touched it past the keeper. 1-0. Kingstonian immediately broke down the left and, as the ball was worked towards the middle of the pitch, Matt Gray fizzed a shot that struck the foot of the post and was cleared. About thirty seconds later Kingstonian got the ball back and a very similar move was this time finished not with a shot but a ball through to the Boys Own-named Bobby Traynor to equalise. 1-1.

The game then drifted back into obscurity and with the confident wisdom of a sage advising a young pretender, I casually but sarcastically observed that was it and we might as well go. I had predicted 1-1 and Andrew drifted off to the sand pile to take a phone call. As he did so, a chirpy ‘alright?’ flew over my blindside shoulder. Two bloggers at the same game standing next to each, this could cause a rip in the space time continuum of football blogging. We were careful not to cross camera sight lines for fear of unleashing unknown terror on Margate. Maybe Dreamland would creak into life and all the ghouls from the ghost train would look up, break free from their dingy cell and wreak havoc on Hartsdown Park. Well, it would have livened up 43 minutes of the first half.

Then I remembered there was another blogger in the crowd and, as a K’s fan, Jamie Cutteridge had already advised me he was behind the goal we were nearest to. Having looked at his Twitter avatar, I could not make out what he looked like and so the possibility of a Ghostbusters-like 3 blog stream was avoided. FAIL 1.

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Having had a scout round the bar, peered into the forbidden zone and looked along the seats, I hadn’t been able to locate Jeremy Jacobs who had promised an interview. Stuart hadn’t found him either. Half time came and so we went to search in the bar. We found Tuborg again but no local celebrities. As he isn’t listed on the Margate website as a club official we didn’t think asking would get us anywhere, he later told us it would’ve. FAIL 2.

In the second half we stayed outside the bar entrance, behind Margate’s goal, next to the assembled ranks of the K’s support. I’ll give them their dues, they gave Andrew a small taste of what football supporters are like and what you can expect at most games. They provided the first proper 45 minutes of songs we’d heard this season, were in good voice throughout and even brought a big flag. It was also the largest crowd we’d seen this season by some distance (448).

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To the other side of us were a small pocket of Gate fans and there was banter to be had. This was good, a decent atmosphere, and we were right in the middle of it. In larger grounds, of course, the football virgin would only hear what was said within about 6 feet of him/her, here you can hear almost everything.

The second half took 10 minutes to really get going but was much more engaging, although I have to admit that by then my attention was drifting. A small sign indicated abusive language would be met with one warning, a steward duly obliged by delivering one to a fan to our left. It wasn’t really abusive and the steward was clearly joking. On the sidelines behind the dugouts a Ks sub was peering through the away changing room, appearing to try to flick the window shut on one of his team mates. As he was doing this I notice an subtle piece of graffiti on the adjoining wall, a moomin type thing was looking on with wide shocked eyes.

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The crowd was egged on by both teams actually trying to win it and both almost succeeedinh.  It was end to end at times and both sides had chances to edge ahead.  Margate had a goal disallowed, we think for offside, but the fans at our end celebrated the goal until their K’s counterparts noisily and facetiously advised them it was not the case.  The Northerners were having their moments too and hit the bar, perfectly captured by yours truly, from a great dipping effort from Lee Hall.

After the ostentatiously named Gomez Dali came on for Kingstonian his ungainly style caused both ‘Gate and his own team problems. His first touch was erratic and  his equally ostentatious fancy-Dan orange boots caused one wag to repeatedly berate him every time he miscontrolled. Not satisfied with the boots gags the catch phrase comedian then shouted “stick your boots on yer head” when one of Dali’s headers went awry. Oh how we laughed. But, all back to Kingstonian for a Monday night replay.

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You’ll note I haven’t commented on whether Andrew would have seen a ‘better’ footballing game if his first game had been in the Premier League but it’s too difficult to do so and is entirely relative for the reasons outlined above. It’s too easy to be generic but I’ve seen some pitiful games in the Premier League and, thought not the best game, I wouldn’t say this was anywhere near as bad. I’ve also seen much better though, so I’ll leave it at that.

But, had our football virgin liked his first taste of football? He was indifferent. I don’t think he’ll be heading back to Hartsdown Park in a hurry, although he did enjoy the banter he just isn’t a football guy and neither Margate nor Kingstonian changed his mind. From watching some fayre in the Old Jug, we had to retire to the Brown Jug, in Broadstairs. My second favourite pub in the world.

Replay at Kingsmeadow, Norbiton tonight!!

Right, I’m off to try and find the time to finally spak to Mr Jacobs!
Visit the Kingstonian and Margate sites for their version of events and have a look at Stu’s nostalgic look at Margate, replete with grand photos.

3 Comments
  1. The elusive Mr Jacobs!

  2. Just reading that has got me slightly more interested in the beautiful game at local level, it could grow on me like an abstract Jazz album!

    • Margate FC as ‘Spiritual Unity’ by Albert Ayler? Next game I go to by myself I shall watch while listening to abstract jazz, will report findings.
      Damon.

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