The Fellowship of The Cup

FA Cup, 1st Round Proper (replay) – Aldershot Town FC v Maidenhead Untied FC
Tuesday, 22nd November 2011, 7.45pm
The EBB Stadium (or Recreation Ground to the luddites)
Distance 27 miles, Attendance 2181
Ground hopping, I’ve come to realise, can be a quite a solitary pastime. Of course there are others out there, somewhere, but we all have our own schedule, our own “to do lists”. My thoroughly pleasant FA Cup journey has clearly been testament to this. (I know my brother came to Burnham with me but let’s be honest he’s much younger than me and like many adolescents very impressionable). But last night there was irrefutable proof that I’m not alone.
As I walked into The Garden Gate pub in darkest Aldershot, there, huddled in a corner, deliberating the football world*, tonight’s game, and of course beer were; the Two Unfortunates, two halves of The Real FA Cup, and an Audacious Chip. Kindred spirits: they come in many forms, but it’s clear there was a shared love of football* that one finds in those able to identify with the less successful teams. In our group Arsenal, Blackpool, Hull, Ipswich, Reading, and Watford were represented, who periodically, as we know, can all be a bit rubbish. (Before you start, the Arsenal, despite the pretty tippy-tappy nonsense still perform the odd defensive hoof, and at the time of writing have no trophies to show for the past six years either). This love of the underdog was not to be lost on tonight’s game either as, after a drink, we were heading for the away terrace. Agreed this is a bit harsh on Aldershot Town who since I first saw them in the 70s have gone through an extraordinarily successful and praiseworthy journey of their own, but in this game they were the big fish. And besides, one of our number had a Maidenhead scarf and he wasn’t afraid to use it.

The extraordinarily long walk around the stadium (which any reasonable landscape gardener could shorten) meant we missed kick-off, but once in the ground it was a pleasure being amongst fans of the Berkshire giants. Compared with most League teams they clearly have a finer array of songs which echoed superbly under the cavernous barn-like roof. On The Shots site’s map of the stadium it really didn’t do the architecture justice. Why do teams persist with the North, South, East and West Stands??? I mean wouldn’t every fan rather sit in The Clock End, The Kop or The Dominoes Pizza Stand. Back to the pitch and the ineptitude in front of both goals meant this was never going to be a high scoring encounter. Time after time, shots were scuffed, parries were made, and last ditch interventions were well last ditch. The goals when they did come were missed by most of us. When the first went in I was completely distracted photographing The Shots’ mascot, who from a distance could’ve been a lizard or a parrot. Sadly none of the other six seemed able to tell me what had happened either. All I know is Alex Rodman scored in the goal furthest away, and it was probably fair as Aldershot were clearly the better side. Aldershot were in fact the better side all night long, and towards the end seemed to be coasting. Still it was a great evening watching two very likeable teams, either of which I’d have been happy to see in the next round. It was also made a pleasant change to see a couple former Watford players plying their trade on a winning team. Multiple award-winning Player Of The Year & captain, Ben Herd, was marvellous for the home team and could’ve even scored on a couple of occasions. Dean Holdsworth on the other hand was far less energetic, on the bench… I wonder if David is equally stationary at Mansfield Town. The second goal was from a low cross from the right met by a close range diving header from Luke Guttridge. At this point every fan in the ground probably knew it was game over, but with halftime not yet signalled confidence remained intact.

For the second half the 261 away fans sang throughout, taunting the home support and willing their team on in what proved to be a fruitless 45. Then on the way out I overheard one Magpies fan adamantly state that they’d “reach Round 3 next season” (by which I’m sure he meant 3rd Round Proper… never mind!). In that one phrase the optimism of deluded football fans the length and breadth of the country was summed up, because, deep down we all love The Cup, and all think that someday our team WILL win. And that’s when I knew there were so many more like our magnificent seven than I could ever meet on one night.

Drawing this to a close, its good coming back to a proper ground, with lovely chips, helpful staff and a relaxed atmosphere. Next round I’ll be rooting all the way for an Aldershot win at Hillsborough. Well they are the underdogs, now.
(*both Pre AND Post 1992)
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