“Come to an FA cup game,” I urge my girlfriend, Mary, remembering my last outing spent laughing with a crowd of mates in the sun with a bunch of oddballs in the crowd and a half-time meat raffle to look forward to at Bishops Cleeve. I find a game a few miles from home, within cycling distance. Wingate & Finchley vs Redbridge will be Mary’s first experience of FA cup action and, thankfully, as we leave the house the sun is shining.
Fast forward two hours and we’re huddled together, our inappropriately-clothed bodies whipped by wind, cold and rain, our legs throbbing in pain after cycling up the mini-mountain that is Highgate hill and we’re completely friendless. ‘er indoors’ is outdoors and she’d much rather be indoors. She’s not happy. “Is there somewhere I can go inside?” Um, no, sorry. “Do they do hot drinks?” At half-time, yes. “When’s that?” In 35 minutes. (Audible hurumph).
“We’re here now so we might as well enjoy it,” I say, silently praying that the rain holds off for our five-mile cycle home.
As we arrive, a little late, early pressure from Redbridge sees a free kick turned onto the post by the WAF keeper. WAF’s manager isn’t happy. “This is f-in embarrassing,” he yells. Suitably admonished, WAF take control and under the direction of impressive no.10 ‘Lenny’, dominate possession, fashioning a number of chances. Only heroic Redbridge defending keeps the hosts out. Soon though, the tables turn. A crafted ball over the WAF defence sees Redbridge’s right winger pick up possession, play the ball into the danger zone for James Robinson to slide it home.
Half-time comes and the cup upset (Redbridge are a league below Wingate & Finchley) is truly on. Mary, not caring two hoots, races for the club lounge, demanding a cuppa and shelter from the elements. The mood lightens. The sight of a young man in ill-fitting suit gamely attempting to sell WAF merchandise lifts the spirit. A pair of dole-eyed, yet vaguely menacing dogs patrol the bar. “It’s not like this at The Emirates,” I explain.
With some gentle persuasion, we take our seats for the second half. And it’s not long before the visitors increase their lead, a spilled shot from the WAF keeper leading to a simple tap-in for Dan Trenkel. WAF respond with a treble substitution, something that I, in 30 years of football-watching, have never seen live. Typical that I should wait so long for such a feat and Mary witnesses it in her first game. “Are you going to eat that apple or shall I?” she questions, urgently. Finally, the game, the home side and Mary are put out of their misery as Ben Bradbury tucks away a penalty with 10 minutes remaining.
The game is over, the cup upset complete. The cold and rain remains though and for Mary, there’s only one question left to be asked …”Do they do mint tea, d’you think?”