the real fa cup

What A Spectacle!

Hampton & Richmond Borough 4-2 Ashford Town (Middx)
FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round 2013/14

It rained a lot on Friday night in the south-west of London, actually a hell of a lot from what I could make out. First the good news, not known for any DIY skills my previous days attempt to fix some guttering I now deemed successful. But rain is bad news for football fans in London TW12, well at least for those who venture out to watch their local club, Hampton and Richmond Borough (excuse me if I drop the ‘and Richmond Borough’ from now on). Thus the real discussion among fans early Saturday morning was not whether they would overcome local rivals Ashford Town Middlesex (I’ll be dropping the ‘Middlesex’ as well, didn’t the other Ashford Town become a United a few years ago now?) but if the game would go ahead.

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You see, Beveree Stadium is not known for successful drainage. In recent years many a game has been lost to the elements and one already this season, in August! There was good news released on Hampton’s website early in the morning though, that the pitch didn’t even need an inspection and the game was on. The faithful breathed a sigh of relief.

The Real FA Cup has been to Hampton before some years back when Alan Devonshire was manager, the club then knocking on the door of the Conference. Since Devonshire moved on to Braintree Town fortunes have dipped somewhat, a relegation to the Ryman Premier and a poor start to this season with only the single victory and a couple of draws.

With Ashford’s early season form even less impressive on paper (the one win but no draws at one step lower) there was little to suggest this was going to be a game worthy of anything more than a listed result in the Non-League Paper on Sunday. The close proximity of two Middlesex clubs maybe added a bit of edge along with a few players having links to both sides – not that unusual in non-league football though. Hampton v Ashford seemed like just another FA cup tie.

Beveree Stadium is a tidy little suburban ground in an affluent area. It’s surrounded by trees, something I suspect they’d love on Test Match Special. I didn’t arrive early enough for a pint in the pleasant Hampton clubhouse, Hammonds, which is handily placed inside the turnstiles. Instead I made do with a coffee which I could at least sip from the terraces. Thanks to the ridiculous FA rules of no alcohol alongside the pitch for cup ties those with alcohol would this week be confined to the bar.

I tried to consider what had possibly changed inside the ground since this websites last visit. There’s a relatively new stand alongside the main one which has a somewhat temporarily permanent look about it, something to do with increasing the number of seats in the ground for a Conference requirement I seem to recall.

A more recent addition, the opposite end to Hammonds now has a roof (also looking a bit temporary) and for this season an electronic scoreboard perched on top. This, as far as I am aware, is quite unusual for a team entering the FA Cup at this stage. It only seems to do the scores though. There are several other fields I’ve yet to investigate properly but so far they just remain at zero.

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The game started as expected of two teams struggling for form and confidence. Within minutes of each other a shot at either end cleared the crossbar by at least the height of another goal and into the trees overhead. As a Beveree semi-regular I can say that Hampton lined up 4-4-2 rather than this season’s more familiar 4-3-3 (also known as 4-5-1 or 4-3-2-1, you know, the one where the lone striker gets isolated). This had been tried out with some success, in shape at least, for the twenty or so minutes before their Tuesday night league game had been abandoned – an unfortunate injury rather than flooding.

On balance, though, Ashford had the better of the first twenty minutes and scored the first goal from a corner that was converted in some manner by their central defender Harry Roberts. This seemed to wake Hampton up somewhat, especially striker Joel Ledgister, who looks like a player who operates on confidence. After running off some sort of injury to his leg, at one point he looked like he might be a candidate for coming off, he started to come into the game. One particular run through the rather flat and one-paced Ashford back four brought him close to an equaliser, drawing a save from Paul McCarthy. Head up, from then on he was the focal point of Hampton attacks.

On a side note, I noticed one of the linesman was wearing glasses. This struck me as unusual. Maybe it’s not but if there are plenty of bespectacled officials out there, most of them have passed me by.

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There was an understandable small crush around the bar at half-time and then a personally unsuccessful attempt at necking a decent pint of Doom Bar in order to get back out to the terraces before the second half kicked off. So this is what I know of Ashford’s second goal. The first noise I heard as I walked back outside was the ball hitting some part of the woodwork, the second an appreciative murmur from the Hampton fans that did see it alongside the Ashford cheers. Which suggests it was a cracker. It was a 40 yard free-kick courtesy of Mark Bitmead according to some accounts.

I almost missed Hampton’s initial reply as I was trying to work out if the fan standing in the doorway to Hammonds drinking a pint with one hand inside the bar while smoking from the other hand outside was breaking any rules or not. But I looked up to see Ledgister head goalwards to drag Hampton back into the game. 2-1 then. An unexpected pleasure, it was pulsating stuff now with Ashford still prepared to attack but the balance had clearly started to shift.

Now was the time for Hampton to play their, ahem, joker in the shape of the nifty Jordan Rocastle who’s fast becoming a Hampton ‘supersub’. Within minutes he’d smashed a shot onto the bar but it was Ledgister again who got the equaliser with another header.

Predictably the ‘supersub’ put Hampton ahead with a curler into the right hand corner. With Ashford now at sixes and sevens chasing the game, Ledgister claimed his hat-trick converting a saved shot from Rocastle, who on another day may have claimed one himself.

As the understandably disappointed Ashford Town fans started to drift away in injury time, the bespectacled linesman gave a somewhat contentious decision Hampton’s way. And then it happened, to be honest I’d been hoping for it since I first noted his eye-wear. One of their supporters, with no apparent sense of sarcasm, shouted as he walked passed, ‘You need bloody glasses mate’. Game over.

Words & Pictures: Matt Allard, a wandering Bee and (his own words) ‘very part time motocross journalist’.

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