Never work with animals

FA Cup, Preliminary Round (replay) – Egham Town FC v Merstham FC
Tuesday, 6th September 2011, 7.45pm
The Runnymede Stadium
Distance 12 miles, Attendance 63
I love midweek cup matches, under the floodlights. They’re just so special to football. Liverpool’s European games in the late 70s can stir even the most reserved of fans, though David Fairclough’s winner against St Etienne would never have had the same impact in the daylight. Growing up we all knew Liverpool, they were the true kings of Europe, but at Watford we had a magician in Graham Taylor, who could turn even the drabbest Tuesday night into a festival of epic proportions. Southampton 7-1, Hull 4-0, Wrexham 2-0, Kaiserslautern 3-0, even the novelty games against the likes of Vancouver Whitecaps. I loved them all. I can never relive those nights but I can read about them in Lionel Birnie’s brilliant “The 100 Greatest Watford Wins”. Keeping our feet on the floor, we should remember the wonder of these games is not just a trick of the light, it IS the lights; they hone your senses, intensify the noise from the crowd, and make adults skip through the streets like children as the ground comes into view. Driving to Egham I thought of those nights and wondered what was to come.
Now I don’t claim to be an expert though I’ve seen enough to appreciate it. Football at this level is just as intoxicating, and there are others, others who share a passion for this end of The Cup; @therealfacup, @NonLeagueFooty@MagyarSteve, @DrBillyo and @GrahamYapp all spring to mind. Unlike no other, The FA Cup just draws people together. Whatever the bloated premier league might have you believe, The FA Cup IS the finest competition in the world.
Though the evening bought me no souvenir ticket, it did bring 5 goals, some lovely cloud formations, and a chance meeting with an extraordinary, yet modest, ground -hopper. We spent the second half chatting about football, work, players we’d met, and we both missed the third Merstham goal. But more of that later. The Runnymede Stadium has a large car park (something I’m finding a very welcome sight on my travels), covered areas on all sides of the ground, a nice tea bar, and some beautiful antique turnstiles. To fast-forward the game, it reads 0-0, HT, 0-1, 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, 2-3, FT. But this doesn’t tell the whole story. It was  a hard fought contest, with some tasty tackles flying in, and the language from the Merstham bench was to say the least, animated. I’m told Merstham had upped their game from the first match. They were slightly the better on the night but Egham also had chances to level the game. The telling goal came as a result of cruel deflection, not that Graham or I would know. We were too busy acquainting ourselves with Charlie, the Merstham mascot, and the first/only dog in team colours I’ve ever met at a game. Missing a goal whilst in the toilet is considered lucky by some, some fans even offer to go again to help the team, but I, I missed a goal just for a cute shot.

In Graham Yapp’s report of the game he wrote of me “…I have no doubt we will cross paths on another hop sometime!” – I’m beginning to think he might be right.
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