the real fa cup

Is This The Way To Armadillo?

IMG_2966.jpgArlesey 1-0 Dulwich (FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round)

All you want from a trip out to the football championship is a good natter, a few pints and maybe a spot of lunch.  The first two are easily acquired, the latter is something of a problem if you happen to be in Arlesey. With a captive audience near the station, the Old Oak could make hay while the chips fry but, instead, they roll out sandwiches at the frightening rate of one an hour.

“Can I get a lasagne, cheese salad sandwich and a chicken burger please?” Barman: “Well, the kitchen’s a bit  busy, can you come back in about 30 minutes?” *Glances around pub at the dozen or so people quietly quaffing lager* “Errr, OK”. 30 minutes later – “Can I get a lasagne, cheese salad sandwich and a chicken burger please?” Barman: “Well, the kitchen’s a bit  busy, can you come back in about 20-30 minutes?” *Glances around pub at the ten or so people quietly quaffing lager* “Errr, OK”…

So, back to the nicely appointed garden to while away 20-30 minutes talking to Volkskranz journalist Patrick van IJzendoorn, London correspondent for the Dutch national and on a pilgrimage of his own in this year’s old jug. Insert a Dutch journalist to the mix of ale and see who your favourite footballers are.  Fortunately, mine happens to be Dutch. And indeed the second and third. Well, maybe not quite, but very close. Patrick was convinced by those two (Muhren & Thijssen) less so about the number one (Martijn Reuser). But he let it go.  He was less convinced by Andy’s choice, I can;t even remember the name, but we all wondered at the £15million price tag he put on Tom Ince.  No, we couldn’t believe our ears either, we put it down to sun and alcohol. Simon’s love/hate relationship with Marc Overmars trying to beat his defender three times before actually crossing the ball was more collectively felt.

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But, he we were in Arlesey. It’s a little out of the way, a little too new-build to be a village.  It would be easy to be unkind about it because it’s tiny, distant satellite of an equally unglamourous commuter town.  But, we won’t.  Given it’s size it would also be easy to be unkind about the underwhelming crowd of 156 for a 2nd Qualifying Round game.  But we won’t, because it was probably most of the village.

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But, more than that, it would be most unkind to be anything other than positive about this trust-owned community club with great facilites who are punching above their logical weight, especially when they were one of last season’s non league FA Cup successes. Getting to the first round proper for the first time in their history, they beat Forest Green Rovers and Hampton & Richmond Borough along the way but were unfortunate to come up against fellow non leaguers, Salisbury in the propers, where they lost 3-1.

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So, it was actually good, Arlesey is good. But, it was also great to see 30 or so Hamlet fans make the fairly lengthy journey out to Bedfordshire to the tidy Armadillo stadium.  Seriously, watching football would be so much nicer if all non league sides below the various Blue Squares used this little gem as a blue-print.  It’s too easy and inexpensive to have seats/terraces at pitch level but three sides of this country-set ground have at least some elevation and is a cross between Hamlet’s own Champion Hill and a mini Dripping Pan, replete with miniature ‘Jungle’.  And some fine chips, too.  The only difference between Arlesey and their more illustrious Sussex terrace-a-like, was the lack of Harveys, which is, however, another similarity between Champion Hill and the Armadillo.

Hamlet, we thought, were likely to be up against it here.  A level above in the pyramid, at the right end of that league, some recent FA Cup pedigree and having home advantage, Arlesey were definite favourites.  So, we were puzzled and disappointed that serial defence-unlockers Ellis Green and Erhun Oztumer didn’t start.  Err?  What?  Well, Gavin Rose Knows Best, doesn’t he?  He did, far from being overawed, Dulwich were competing, possibly the better footballing side for good spells of the half without creating too many gilt edged chances.

IMG_2969.JPG Kevin ‘OMG!’ James toiled but was well-marshalled by another solid defence. Ditto Wilson-Dennis.  But, as the half wore on, Arlesey sprung the offside trap, top scorer Drew Roberts rounded the keeper and firmly shot towards goal. The ball rose, it rose some more and it rose to bar-height, where it thumped the centre and bounced back out to safety as the name “Ronnie Rosenthal” instantly flashed through the minds of everyone in the ground.

Derisory laughs echoed from one end [guilty] as the player held his head at the other . The remaining three sides of the ground buckled under anguished groans. That glaring miss means we’ve seen as many misses of the season as we have seen cup shocks in our 4 or 5 years on therealfacup trail.

Half time was 0-0, the half having been pretty even. Neater play and perhaps slightly more possession from Hamlet, more chances for Arlesey, who aside from the ‘Ronnie’ also had one cleared off the line after some penalty area pinball.

Half time chips and burger – £4, 7/10, very much not bad. Club bar – a plethora of signed Dave Kitson shirts (former Arlesey player, is the ginger whinger), a Slovan Bratislava crest (looked like it may have been a beer tray on a wall) and a beautifully crafted dart cabinet complete with club crest, 6/10.

The second half brought a chance to stand on the jungle.  Brrrr … first half sun had given way to a grey, cloudy chill. But it was a great vantage point from which to listen to Nathan Abbey be repeatedly sarcasmed (not a word, we know) by the travelling fans for his furious ‘FACE THE BALL’ shouts in the first half.

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Erhun and Ellis joined the fray but, bar a lively first 10 minutes on the pitch, neither were granted with sufficient ball time to do any damage.  Once again, as well, in the final third, the understanding between Dulwich’s attacking unit isn’t quite there yet but it does look very promising.

Too often, clever through balls or lay-offs weren’t spotted soon enough by team mates but Dulwich still looked good for a draw. Just as I tweeted as much with injury time dwindling, the Roberts redeemed himself with a hotly disputed finish and, ultimately, the winner.

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Hamlet’s coach Junior Kadi was given a talking to after a bat-eared lino drew the ref’s attention to some choice words he’d spoken. Kadi took the subsequent talking to as carte blanche to tell the ref exactly what he thought and got sent to the stands.  We couldn’t see what the issue was or whether there was a genuine infringement but it may just have been the emotional response to a goal that was a little harsh on Hamlet’s defence.

There was sufficient time for James to (again) not quite get on the end of a through ball and then to blaze a snap-shot half-chance into the jungle when we all hoped he’d hit the target.  Another earlyish exit for Hamlet at the hands of higher opposition but this year they can hold their heads significantly higher than after last year’s dismal thrashing by Sutton United.

If you want some lunch, don’t go to the Old Oak.  If you want to see some nice football in a splendid little arena with a lovely club house, show yourself the way to the Armadillo.

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