My first visit to Victoria Park in many years coincided with the hottest October day on record. I tentatively stepped out of the front door wearing shorts, pretty certain some kind of law was being broken.
People probably wore shorts to the hosts’ 2-1 Extra Preliminary Round win at Hamworthy United in August and it’s fair to say one would not have expected both the shorts and Poppies’ cup run to last this long. For a club with such a long history- the club has been going since 1875 (24 years before noisy neighbours AFC Bournemouth came into existence)- they have only been this far in the Cup twice before, and never further.
As somebody brought up watching teams like Poppies in the Wessex League I relish visits to characterful grounds. Victoria Park, nestled in the Bournemouth suburbs, has an ancient main stand, cars parked behind one goal and back garden gates which- hilariously- allow their owners access to the ground.
In gloriously amateurish style the bar staff serve up clingfilmed rolls that can be washed down by cans of Guinness (served in Bulmers glasses, naturally). Charming, in a small-time English way. WAGS perched on plastic chairs added to the general school fete vibe of the afternoon.
My match highlight was a tenth minute off-the-ball incident. Referee Derek Eaton whistled frantically and waved his arms at the bench as if something pretty serious had happened. The home physio rushed on with a blue bib in his hand and headed to where the ref was stood. He then bent down to remove a pile of dog mess from the pitch.
The fact that it took the man in black ten minutes to spot those droppings on the bobbly lawn was a pretty accurate reflection on the quality of the game. Unsurprisingly, Conference South side Truro made all the early running. Les Afful, nearly small enough to run through the legs of the home defence, was at the centre of a lot of good build up play on the flanks. Truro were unable to deliver decent final balls, giving goalkeeper Max Frampton a quiet afternoon.
Derek Eaton had a good game and was certainly taking no nonsense, waving away moans about non-existent fouls time after time. Any ref who sternly barks ‘Shut up, four. Keeper – button it.’ is worthy of praise in my book. Maybe Eaton could teach his Premier League counterparts a thing or two about staying in control of those disrespectful multi-millionaire brats.
Both teams’ number tens went desperately close to snatching late winners. First former AFC Bournemouth man Fawzi Saadi- the Zinedine Zidane of the Wessex League- raced in behind the City defence only to roll the ball wide of the far post after having drawn the keeper. Then Andrew Watkins’ inventive chip left Frampton a mere spectator as it glided over his head before bouncing off the top of the crossbar.
Ultimately, both goalkeepers were little more than spectators as neither side put forward a particularly strong case for progressing to the next round. On this showing Poppies can head to the replay in Cornwall knowing they are in with a decent chance of causing an upset.
All photos and words courtesy Andy Lloyd Williams
Andy writes for Hayters sports agency and Artrocker magazine. His first book, Robin van Persie – The Biography, is available here.