the real fa cup

Off The Hook

Greenwich Borough 1-0 Chessington & Hook United FA Cup 1st Qualifying Round, Att: 119 Platform four; a man with a Manchester United tattoo on his calf squints as he gazes across the rooftops to the bold bright uprights of the QE II Bridge. A woman with a pram is helped up the stairs. Posters for a Paul Nichols musical – ‘World Premiere in Dartford’. A half-let shopping centre, indistinct market stalls and teens lounging outside Cash Converters. A cackle of laughter and cloud of cigarette smoke from the alley beside The Wat Tyler Inn. A toddler in a full Chelsea kit. The heavily barred windows of a social club. ‘Welcome to the Nut House’ on the door of an Edwardian semi.  Faded posters for long missing pets. A man washes a car. This is Dartford. It isn’t Greenwich. I’ve lived in Greenwich Borough for two years. And whilst I have, Greenwich Borough have lived in Dartford. This is their fifth season in exile, and as they enjoy the sumptuous surroundings of the ecologically sound and aesthetically pleasing Princes Park, there seems little indication of any wish to return home. The ground they share is evidently not their only resource, they’ve got Gary Alexander, formerly of Orient, Millwall and Brentford in midfield. “£350 a week I’ve heard” a bloke at a Meridian VP game told me. Borough’s opponents today are Chessington & Hook; neither a firm of solicitors, nor a gum-shoe detective duo, but a team from the Combined Counties League on the other side of London. “Since my last report we’ve gone FA Cup competition mad”, says manager Ian Jenkins in the programme, but that madness doesn’t appear to have caught on publically. A crowd of 119 rattles around the ground, at least three quarters of which have travelled with the visitors. “I really must have a good view granddad” says a young boy as he goes past, tugging at the arm of a man who’s face already suggests he’s regretting the excursion. The first half soon settles into the pattern of the game; niggly throughout – all soft fouls and hard appeals. Darren Woods, Chessington & Hook’s manager, stands in his technical area barking at everything and anything, like an over-protective dog at a garden gate. Next to him a tracksuited man with a notepad, continually points and gestures in silence, as if signing the manager’s bollockings for the deaf. On the sparsely populated terrace opposite, two young children play with toy cars and a woman sits reading a Georgette Heyer novel. A man uses a programme to shield his eyes, possibly from the sun, possibly from the high energy nothingness taking place in front of him. The half’s one decent chance falls to the hosts; the diminutive Lewis Wood, who scored all five of Greenwich’s goals in the previous round, breaks clean through and attempts to lob Ian Hewitt in the visitors’ goal. However, Wood doesn’t seem to have accounted for the keeper being much taller than he, and it’s easily saved. Whilst Greenwich try to work it forward, the visitors’ tactic of attack is a long diagonal ball into space for left winger Ade Oketoki to sprint on to. It doesn’t really pay off, neither the first time, nor the fifth. One of the Greenwich centre-halves, brow already covered in sweat, watches the ball go out for a throw-in and roll twenty yards up the line. “Fuck it, you can get that Frankie,” he says to the full-back with a deep breath. This, it transpires, is Gary Borrowdale, once of Palace and QPR. If I hadn’t checked his name, I’d never have known. He does little of note all game, and so I’m genuinely shocked to find he had a pro contract as recently as last season. Among the visiting support is a group of lads from a Chessington youth team. Pausing from his yells at the pitch, Woods turns and tells them to go and stand behind the goal and “get in the ‘keeper’s earhole. Make sure you lot get on his case.” Greenwich ‘keeper Craig Holloway once sat on the bench for Arsenal in the Mestalla, now he’s having his accent mocked by a gaggle of Surrey teenagers who’ve taken advantage of a six-for-one E4 special at their local barbers. The kids hang around for a couple of “Woooah, you’re shit ahhh”s before skulking back to the seats bored. The game’s main flashpoint comes after half an hour when Chessington’s Ryan Hughes puts in a daft high challenge for a bouncing ball and receives a retaliatory kick out from Gary Alexander. In the technical area Woods explodes. “How’s that a stamp?” he yells, syntax twisted in rage. He corrects himself to snap “How’s the stamp?! How’s the stamp?!” over and over, “We all saw that!” It appears however the officials did not, neither player gets the card they deserve, Woods appeals everything and anything else for the rest of the half with tiresome myopic persistence. “Handball!” he yells for a ball that hits a defender’s arse. “How’s the push?!” he barks when Borrowdale nudges James Flack after the Chessington full-back had left a foot up. “Oi lino how’s that not a booking?!” he fumes after a minor push in midfield. Finally the referee does us all a favour by calmly walking over to ask him to put a sock in it. At half-time, as a mark of just how 0-0 the game is, Chessington & Hook’s subs spend ten minutes blasting shots at goal. Only one goes in and five times I have to abandon my chips to throw back errant efforts. The visitors start the second half brighter but fail to trouble Holloway. A driven daisy cutter from Reiss Powell, brings an optimistic “Get in!” from an old fella in a cap, but it is easily gathered by the Greenwich ‘keeper. Ahmed Hussain is a constant noise in midfield always demanding the ball, but rarely doing anything with it other than slowing play as he looks for a killer pass over the top. Inevitably his mouth makes a more significant contribution to the game – he’s booked for dissent after a forceful tackle on the edge of the Chessington area is correctly adjudged a foul by referee. Though the official is having a good game on the whole, each decision he makes is met with an increasingly vocal reaction from the visitors’ players and support. And by way of the increasing dissent comes the game’s only goal, whilst Chessington appeal for a handball on halfway Borough get on with things, neat play from Danny Phillips and Wood ending with a cut-back across goal turned in by Paul Vines. “Pauly… love you son!” yells someone on the home bench. Chessington push for an equaliser, but manage little of note other than wayward long range efforts and set-pieces into the box, all of which pick out Alexander, using all his experience to be in exactly the right place, and the right time and time again. The visitors’ frustration summed up on one free-kick when Hussain, standing over the ball, shouts “There’s no point me trying to pick you out, they’ve got six players back”. Whilst Chessington press, their keeper Ian Hewitt keeps them in the game, first with a great one-handed diving stop to parry a long-range effort from Vines, and then as he’s off his line smartly to block from Billy Bennett. Greenwich make a couple of changes; Phillips, who has the voice of a child, goes off to a chorus of high-pitched mimicry from a group of lads in the stand, whilst Joe Vines comes on in defence primarily it seems to bollock the assistant referee for his own positional failings. Twice he gives the poor official hell when the wavy Borough back-line has played visiting forwards comfortably onside. “Keep up with play!” he yells whilst trying to get back into position, the irony probably lost on him. As Chessington continue to huff and puff, Holloway shouts instructions; “Get up! Squeeze up!” “Shut up!” interjects a booming voice from the seats. But it isn’t to be for the visitors and Greenwich hold out for the win. “You lucky reds! Lucky lucky!” intones the old fella in the cap, but with Greenwich having created the better chances it’s hard to agree. The players warm down on the field, a woman puts her novel back in her carrier bag, and the crowd files out to wait for the bus back round the M25. Words & Pictures: Glen Wilson. Glen is Editor of Doncaster Rovers fanzine Popular Stand and can be found here on Twitter. Phil Annets 1st Qualifyinng Round Review

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