the real fa cup

Sparkle

IMG_0482.JPGPlay Off Semi Final.
Ryman League Division 1 North.

We need to extend therealfacup gene pool a little, there is a certain circularity about recent games that needs to be addressed. Had we been to Summers Lane before? Yup. Had we seen Wingate & Finchley play in the last few weeks? Affirmitive. Well, next season we seek out new grounds, for now we head to N***h London.

Last time we did see W&F they were shutting their gate in the face of our adopted Dulwich Hamlet in the Championship Manager Cup final. Today, probably a bigger game, they fought for the right to play in another game to see if they could win that one and get promoted to a higher league. Akk, it’s play-off season!

IMG_0486.JPGIt’s already been quite a year for W&F. As well as the Championship Manager Cup, they have a London Senior Cup final in the pending file for next Tuesday and they came a creditable 3rd in Ryman League Division 1 North. They’ve received plaudits for their ground. It’s well kept, the vaguely art-deco stand is a joy, although oddly removed from the pitch for a non-league ground  thanks to it adjoining the rugby club stand next door. The other covered stands are solid and tidy and all of this overlooks a playing surface in very decent nick for the time of the season.

In truth this was a fall-back game, we were intending to head south to Bognor to watch the aforementioned Hamlet in the Southern version of the right to be in a final to get to the promised land of Carshalton Athletic and the Hope public house. While we were sporadically (actually quite regularly) distracted with Tweets of Hamlet mightily upsetting the odds, this game was not only a goal fest but also introduced us to the wonderful world of the Harlow Ultras. What a fine bunch of chaps.

IMG_0488.jpgUltras – ‘a type of sports fan known for their fanatical support and elaborate displays’, tick. ‘… the use of flares’, … errrr … kind of. ‘…displaying of banners at football stadiums’, tick. “… predominantly European followers of football teams”, well, Harlow is definitely in bloody Europe isn’t it, so, tick! But, more than anything, as Pilz & Wolki-Schumacher said in their study of ‘new developments in supporters behaviour’, “What all … ultras seem to have in common is simply their desire to support their club or team while enjoying the experience”, HUGE TICK for Harlow.

Having changed ownership, chairmanship, managership and playership more times than Portsmouth in the last 3 years or so, the Harlow chaps could be forgiven for being a sombre lot, especially as they finished bottom of the league last year. Intrinsically linked with Harlow’s mega employer, Pitney Bowes, the club are now sponsored by the mailing giant who live at the back of, and give the name to, one end of their ground. In fact, the Pitney Bowes name even appears in a Harlow terrace song, which must make them unique among football club sponsors.

IMG_0487.JPGIt’s amazing what a few good months and a tidy brand of football can do for a club. As soon as the whistler whistled, the small pocket of 50 or so fans with a big red flag tied to the fence started singing. And singing. Their boys started the brightest too and with just five on the clock, ‘Gate’s keeper Bobby Smith was out smartly to parry a shot from a brilliant through–ball, brilliantly block the rebound and then foil an attempted chip. Great triple save. That was it for goal action for the half until a horrendous foul up between the liability that was Leo Roget and the keeper presented Leon Smith with a clear ooportunity. He broke clear of the shambles before effectively passing back to the keeper he’d just accidentally beaten a second beforehand.

Despite the lack of goal action, the game was engaging, with Wingate happy to play on the break like they did in the first half against Dulwich in last month’s league cup final. At times they had to soak up some pressure, most of it applied by Harlow’s impressive Getro Kilapi, who was Makelele-ing his way through an impressive first half, and the snappy box-to-box-er Leon Lalite. At other times Wingate’s breaks produced short but regular spells of pressure. Leon Smith was giving Leo Roget a fearful talking to every time he got the ball – although the mini-mohawked striker certainly had his shoot-wildly-and-fail-to-pass boots on in the first half. Half time, 0-0.

DSC00995.JPGThroughout most of the game we stayed in the end stand while home and way fans swapped ends with their teams. One thing we noticed in the first half was the ‘policing’ of fans. Having heard the odd borderline moment on our last visit to Summers Lane, it was good to see the senior stewards and officials keeping an eye on the hot-headed youngsters. They got given a good bit of rope but whenever anyone appeared to have had too much tartrazine, a wise old head gently leant over and had a quiet word to make sure they didn’t do or say anything stupid. Top marks to W&F for this, it definitely helped to give the game an almost entirely joyful and banterful game.

A meeting with Yasser and a pint of ale later we headed back to the same end to sample the Harlow experience. The second half appeared to be a more lively affair, although I couldn’t tell whether that was because of the relentless bouncing and singing we were in the midst of, or whether the game had genuinely speeded up and was more stretched and open.

They had a great song about centre back Laurie Stewart, something about how the fans were jealous of his prowess, feared that their wives and girlfriends all wanted to sleep with him and how they were jealous of his beautiful ginger hair. Then Wingate went and scored. Leon had put his shooting boots on at half time and they slipped the ball under the keeper into the corner of the net. The Wingate youth team players/stewards standing in front of the Harlow fans went bonkers, with some justification but their momentum took them a little further than they thought. A senior steward came over and sent them to the stands out of harms way. Highly amusing interlude. 1-0 Wingate.

IMG_0497.JPGWingate then seemed to sit back and a defensive cock up allowed the brilliant Kilapi to acrobatically level from inside the box. The goal led to some significant spells of Hawks pressure, buoyed by the relentless noise made by the very few, but Wingate continued to look very dangerous on the break. Roget had improved on his first half show but Smith was a handful.

The light was now very dim and I turned round to comment to Yasser and The Mysterious Tangerine (we still await part 3 of his opus) about the Harlow fans lifting the team only to see a small bright fire behind, then another, then another, then another … MY GOD, FLARES! At a Ryman League game! On closer inspection through the smoke I realised they were just many coloured sparklers. Genius. I was taken, perhaps with inappropriate irony, back to Berlin’s Olympiastadion in February, albeit on a significantly smaller scale. This was joyous.

A ball boy mix up resulted in two balls on the pitch. One Harlow wag started up a brief “Two balls, no ‘skins” song which, aside from being incredibly quick off the mark, was probably just about the right side of acceptable, although somewhere shy of passing the Jim ‘Nick Nick’ Davidson 1970s material test.

03052011885.jpgThe final ten minutes or so was relentless Harlow pressure. A series of corners brought the best out of Bobby Smith and his defence, with balls claimed under the bar, tipped over them or deflected round the posts. Wingate held on and extra time was due. Yasser started to worry he would never get home. The Wingate stewards ushered each set of fans down opposite sides of the ground to change ends.

Extra time continued in much the same vein of Harlow attack but a breakaway five minutes in effectively ended the game. The pacy Smith broke clear, was met on the edge of the area by the ballad-slow Roget, flicked the ball up over him, repeated the trick when the defender was mid turn, did it again to put him on his arse and then slotted the ball past the keeper. Roget’s night had reached its nadir. 2-1 to Wingate.

We knew Wingate could defend and break, this appeared to be the end of the game. Just two minutes later, it was, when laird cleverly lobbed the keeper with not much room to aim for. 3-1 Wingate. The fans traipsed to the other end again and we spent the last five minutes with the now happy and boisterous young Wingate fraternity who sang “we’ve got our stand back” with an air of quiet respect for their rowdy opponents. We also reserve the song of the night for Wingate’s MILF effort to tea-lady Julia, who absolutely loved it.

IMG_0506.JPGHarlow got picked off again before getting a consolation and the final 4-2 scoreline was harsh on them because they had played the better and prettier football for the purist but, it has to be said, W&F are a tidy defensive unit with a good keeper, disciplined and speedy in attack (not necessarily long ball) and are going to be a very difficult proposition for Brentwood in the final at The Harry Abrahams Stadium on Saturday.

The final word needs to go to both clubs.  Both sets of fans, although mostly Harlow’s, deserve nod for creating an atmosphere unusual in a crowd of 350, and making us forget at least slightly that we were missing one of the most surprising results in Dulwich Hamlet’s recent history. Both clubs deserve credit for the conduct of their players and Wingate & Finchley deserve a back-slap for the kind of personal policing not possible at much larger grounds.

Final Score: Wingate & Finchley 4 – 2 Harlow Town (aet)

Ryman League Division 1 North Play Off Final – Wingate & Finchley v Brentwood Town
Ryman League Division 1 South Play Off Final – Leatherhead v Dulwich Hamlet

Both games Saturday 7th May @3pm. Probably a tenner, although given Wingate’s usual price is £8 and they hoofed it up to £10 for the semi, maybe it’ll go up another 25% and be £12.50? Who knows?

*Cheers to The Mysterious Tangerine for additional photos.

3 Comments
  1. Was at the game one of the ultras doing some videoing, check out the link to Youtube. One point you missed was the half time penalty shootout between the opposing supporters

  2. Excellent report.

    Julia is in fact the chairman’s wife and mother of one of the youth team players making all the noise, which made the chant all the more amusing.

    As for the half-time penalty shoot out, the less said the better. Wingate contrived to miss every sngle one, handing a 2-0 win to the men from Essex.

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