the real fa cup

What Does Nancy Know?

If you spend your days complaining that “no-one supports their local team any more” then it stands to reason that you really ought to visit your own local side once in a while.

My local team is Dulwich Hamlet and, as is documented widely on this website, I have attended Champion Hill on a reasonably regular basis (although sadly, not this season as yet) in the last 3 years since moving to Brixton. The next closest ground is that of Tooting & Mitcham United, assuming you don’t count Crystal Palace. And I don’t. So, having allowed the other half of The Real FA Cup to run off for the weekend to spend his time jollying with fellow football bloggers at the seaside, I boarded the train to Mitcham to see if Tooting could repeat their thrilling exploits of last season. A 5-0 defeat at Stockport County ended The Terror’s FA Cup run last season but this season there was to be no upsets and no joy.

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Tooting’s Imperial Fields stadium came well recommended and I was not disappointed to find a proper stadium, albeit attached to a Nu-Gym called The Hub. A spattering of picnic tables in the open space at the side of the pitch enabled me to gather my things and finish my lunch just in time for kick off. I furiously scribbled down the two teams as they were read out on the bone-shatteringly loud tannoy system (which had until that point been pumping out deafening dance music) and was curious to find that Staines were fielding a man whose name sounded like Walcott. My decision to allow my brother use of my season ticket at Arsenal for the day appeared to have caused a rupture in the space-time continuum and the diminutive superstar had clearly recovered from injury and somehow found himself turning out for the Blue Square South side rather than his regular paymasters.

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As it turned out, this particular member of the Walcott dynasty was actually Jacob, signed on loan from Reading just over a week previously, but his impact on the game would turn out to be at least comparable to that of his slightly more famous cousin’s recent performances in an Arsenal shirt.

I had, of course, seen Tooting fairly recently when they beat Canvey Island 2-0 away from home and I was very impressed with what I saw that day. Virtually their entire playing staff (and management) has changed over the summer due to the ever-present issue of dwindling funds which football clubs around the country find themselves struggling to deal with, but an organised defensive unit won the day in Essex and they would need to be at their best here against a confident Staines side from a division further up the ladder.DSC_0052.JPG

Despite a very even opening to the game, however, it was Staines that scored first when a move down Tooting’s right hand side left Henry appealing for a foul rather than playing to the whistle, forcing the entire defence across the pitch and allowing midfielder Andre Scarlett to slot home unmarked from the right hand side. The elderly gentleman next to me had been regularly relaying information about the match to his son using his mobile phone and he immediately passed on the disappointing news, bemoaning the left back’s positioning.

The game was reasonably well balanced but Staines had the look of a side who had the opposition where they wanted them and their 4-3-3 formation was forcing Tooting’s more numerous midfield of 4 to help out in defence, all too often leading to Tooting breakaways lacking support further up the pitch. Striker Rob Howarth was struggling to control the ball well enough to keep possession for his team on the odd occasion when it did reach him and shots on goal were at a premium. By half time, the home side had only created one chance of note when a Williams shot from distance was parried into the path of Waldren by the Staines keeper but he was flagged offside and his subsequent shot was saved anyway.

It took me some time to make a decision as to where to watch the second half from – I had settled on a more elevated view from behind one of the two goals but which one? On the one hand, it would be great to be at the end at which any upset might occur but on the other, it really didn’t look like there was going to be any such upset. So I plumped for the end which by now was inhabited by the yellow and blue clad Staines fans and it turned out to be the right choice.

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Ten minutes into the 2nd half, Tooting captain Waldren was once more flagged offside as he ran onto a through ball but his disappointment was greater this time as he’d managed to put the ball into the back of the net and his mood was not improved 7 minutes later when a defensive disaster at the other end handed Staines a second goal that no-one could have expected to come in such a way.

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After a Staines winger found himself free on the left hand side,  he crossed for Walcott in the centre. His shot was blocked from close range by Hassan Nyang who had the simple task of fetching the slowly bouncing ball and taking it to safety. However he managed to stumble into it and shin it into his own net from 5 yards. Nyang was furious with himself and rightly so – there was no danger whatsoever until his untimely intervention. The goal appears to have been credited to Walcott in the end – possibly to save Nyang’s blushes as he had a good two or three touches before it hit the back of the net.

At 2-0, Tooting decided something needed to be done but, despite their efforts, they failed to get back into the game; Wells saved a Howarth shot after a precise through ball and a goalmouth scramble at a corner was thrashed over. Nothing was going right for those in stripes, Nyang in particular whose game got progressively worse after his catastrophic mistake and minutes later the contest was, to all intents and purposes, finished when Walcott chested the ball down and buried it in the Tooting net to make it 3-0 with 15 minutes to go.

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Tooting gave themselves – or rather Staines gave them – a tiny sliver of a chance at a late rally when Staines defender Orlu managed to score an own goal of his own on a most peculiar afternoon of football but I must admit that I missed this one as it was around this time that the repeated text messages informing me of West Bromwich Albion goals at The Emirates Stadium started coming in thick and fast from my unfortunate brother.

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I had been joined on the terrace by Chris Nee from Two Footed Tackle, who had begun his long trip home once the 3rd goal had gone in and he was just in time to see a Walcott classic; the younger, slightly larger-eared version of Theo volleying neatly over Butler for his hat-trick, capping a superb performance.

So no giant killings for Tooting this year and who knows how far Staines can go, especially with their well-connected new star, Walcott – a man who at one point appeared in Wikipedia back in 2008, only to be deleted by someone who calls themselves Nancy who thought that when the article was written “the writer did not include enough information to establish the the significance of the subject”. A few more performances like this and I think Nancy will have to reconsider.

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