The usual Saturday is fairly familiar to the average footy fan. Get up, don the lucky pants, head for the pub/train/pub, maybe have a look round the place you’re visiting and then go to the ground. At least, that’s what we usually do. Don’t you? For the first time in known memory, we did things a little differently.
Rather than surface on Saturday to head for our game, your two intrepid FA Cup freedom fighters attached their other halves to a bootrack, roped in two other friends and headed for a field in Kent to go camping, on a Friday afternoon. The spirit of Ray Mears was invoked, wood was stripped, bivvies constructed from branches and leaves, fire was created with little but two sticks, cooking grates were fashioned from ore we found in the woods, pigs and cattle were flayed to make sausages and burgers, while the ladies popped off down to the stream to catch the raw ingredients for cakes of fish.
Some of that might not be entirely true, roughly speaking from the word ‘ore’. The ladyfolk did make bunting though, we put our tents up and sat around drinking. And we drank a lot of wine. Lah-Di-Dah. So, Saturday, time to go to the game! No, time to cook bacon in the rain! Now football! No. The next staple of camping, a vigorous walk in the country. Onwards. Orchards, sloes, headless rabbits, overgrown footpaths and … ahhhh, nature’s wonderous bounty, there it is, a PUB! Feed and beer.
At 2:15 your two intrepid foxes finally got their urban asses into gear, ran for the car, slid across the bonnet and sped off down the M20. Well, before the speeding bit, we had to carefully (and very slowly) negotiate the rutted exit to the campsite, freshly boggy after rain, which posed more than a little problematic for a 14 year old British-made roadster with a rather low ride height.
We knew where we were staying, we knew the possible nearby fixtures, we knew we could get to one and just about another with the time allotted. We chose the latter. To the Hythe!
We didn’t quite make it and the unmistakeable sound of goal celebration punctured the gunfire as we approached the hugely impressive turnstiles. Doh! Simon, got the camera out, I went running desperately to the toilet. While pissing *sorry* I pondered the times I’d missed goals thanks to being late and then seeing nothing else happen in the game. Probably going to be one of those … *ROAR*. 2-0. AHHHRRGGHH!! Shitening strikes twice! Grand bogs though, classic trough, think Selhurst, long, dark and in need of some bleach. Just how football bogs should be.
We didn’t really want to go to Hythe but not because we didn’t want to be there. We wanted to say hello to the people behind the runners up in last season’s Real FA Cup Team Of The Season but we knew we had to get in and get straight back out again so wouldn’t have time to hang around, shake some hands, congratulate players, which was a shame.
Simon went to get some grub. 2-1! 2-1 to me! The third goal was scored and Simon had a goal back in the missing goals stakes, having his back towards the pitch as the onion bag was thumped. Heh, 15 minutes in and at least one of us had missed all of the goals. Professionals. As well as a goal back for me, Erith & Belvedere had a goal back. I would describe the goals but I didn’t see two of them and the other I now can’t remember for laughing.
Well, yeah, we’d already noted the occasional *bang* and thought someone was hunting in the hills above Hythe. But around this time the gunfire became regular. The regulars didn’t bat an eyelid. Then we heard machine guns? WTF? If this happened at Champion Hill everyone would run for cover but we seemed the only people noticing.
Seven minutes later and the tie was effectively over, 3-1 to Hythe. Erith had shown some resolve after the second, got themselves back into it but slack defending cost them and they looked likely to get battered now.
Then Hythe took their collective feet off, although captain Dave Cook planted his own weighty size 14s right in the back of ‘Deres captain Jamie Wood. What could have been a collision of necessary self-preservation where the bigger man came off better, looked like a rather late and questionable direction-change that took Cook away from Wood’s feet and into his kidneys. Booked, perhaps fortuitously. Either way, a few minutes later Hythe had their winger chopped down ruthlessly and the game threatened to boil over.
It didn’t, the half petered out but the adjacent gunfire went up a notch to ‘machine gun’. My head said ‘MP4′ but my heart knew that Vice City wasn’t real. The half still had room for Cook to score to put Hythe 4-1 up and we entered the bar for some respite. We’d already clocked the bar, up in the gods, on half way, with little balconies to watch the game. We fancied some of that in the second half but bureaucratic beer/pitch-sight football rules prevented it, as did the reservation of the balconies for club dignitaries. Gah, foiled.
But what a great place. A tidy glass cabinet of baubles, a selection of badges and programmes for purchase and the Ryman League fans’ handbook taking frsh pride of place behind the bar at this newly promoted club. The bar’s lofty position gave it the air of our homeland of Champion Hill but it had much more character. We quite liked the idea of staying there but we would only have seen half the pitch from behind the patio doors that stopped general access to the special zone.
The second half brought us out alongside the lino on the far side, he had a shaved head, militaristic gaze, textbook sideways running they teach only at lino school. His motion was so rhythmic he’d made caterpillar tracks all the way down the touchline. Legend. He also had a tattoo. It was clearly football related but we couldn’t make it out for a while. Finally, judicious use of zoom, we got it. It was a bit faded and old, so we forgave him his Traffordness and put it down to a youthful frivolity now deeply regretted in his neutral and officious adulthood.
The second half was one team going through the motions of victory while another team failed to head even the most simple aerial balls. Hythe didn’t look like they wanted to add to their tally but the Deres seemed hell bent on shooting themselves in the foot. They finally did with fifteen minutes to go, 5-1, and, oddly, given the now futile nature of their task, they then upped their game.
The main impetus for Erith was substitute Badar Mohamed, he was darting all over the shop after having come on. The lumpen ineffectiveness of Andy Constable wasn’t helping though. OK, he was frustrated with and at some dire service but moaning at your team mates and ref when you can’t control a ball or look where your flick ons are going makes you look poor.
Mohamed sprung the offside trap and cleverly flicked the ball over Mann for 5-2 and that was about that.
We’ll go back to Hythe one day and ingratiate ourselves, sorry we didn’t this time. Whoever get the new Ryman boys in the next round must look out. They will be facing a well-drilled side who have a potent strike force and a midfield hub of steel (Cook) and class (Barnes). Barnes in particular was our MoM, he had quite a range of passing, some stereotypically nimble feet and an assured confidence that seemed difficult to rattle. And they were always talking to each other, always urging, supporting, always a team. A good team. 5-2 was a fair result but it could have been more.
And the gunfire? We found there’s an MoD base next door but surely, surely, it can’t be like that at every game? Now, back to the campfire and some burnt meat.