Oh Carol

Sussex County Football League, Division 2 – Steyning Town FC v Rustington FC
Thursday, 23rd December 2011, 7.45pm
The Shooting Field
Distance 44 miles, Attendance 276
Some years back, on a frosty analogue morning, I set out for Watford; a lunchtime kick-off, at home to Charlton Athletic. It was a cold winter’s day but the sun shone bright upon the tube carriage windows and my optimism, my optimism was high. As we pulled into the Met station after a long journey, there it was, every football fans’ worst nightmare…“MATCH POSTPONED”. Over two hours wasted. No ticket, no programme, no game, and no hope of finding another to sate my football thirst.
Now, like then, my craving for football was immense. Back then it was all Watford but now I’m branching out, and as with Starbucks I’m beginning to realise that in case of emergency there’s a football club on every corner (if you’ve never studied the back pages in Non League Paper I seriously pity you). With a dearth of Watford home games this past week, non league had to fill my hiatus. Plan A: was the big derby game of Colliers Wood United v Raynes Park Vale… POSTPONED! Plan B: Thursday night and the Sussex County League (it’s not as far as you think)… WRONG DATES published in NLP. Plan C: re-jig the family’s plans so I could get to Steyning Town (wherever that may be?).

The website promised a “Festival of Festive Football” with a star turn from Republic Of Ireland’s U21 Gary Dicker, delicious hot food, roasted chestnuts, full bar, mulled wine, children’s fancy dress prizes, tuck shop, carols, a Christmas raffle, the first ever Steyning Town FC “100 club draw” and much more. The place was rocking. Naturally a few ground-hoppers were dotted about (with the Crowborough Athletic game off, this was the only match on that night) but really this was a local celebration with a huge turnout boosting the usual crowd by 600%.

As the players took to the field, the tannoy blasted out the MotD theme tune, quickly followed by the stirring Nessun Dorma, bringing smiles on faces all around me. This feeling was clearly not lost on the home team either who pushed their superiority throughout the first half. Time after time they had opportunities to go ahead but remarkably it was Rustington took the lead, with their first shot of any kind… Breaking quickly, the ball had found its way to Blues’ Chris Kirkham who chipped delicately over the on rushing keeper. It was completely undeserved. Steyning had shown so much positive forward play that being behind just felt wrong to everyone present. Bowles, Burton, Harris & Pargeter had all greatly impressed though none found the net. When an equaliser did come Darran Beard provided the necessary touch with a great shot from the edge of the box. The confidence this goal bought to the Town was palpable and five minutes later came the play of the game as Tom Bowles won the ball deep in The Reds’ own half and fed Adam Burton. Burton then demonstrated great interplay with James Pargeter and eventually set up the onrushing Bowles for the final shot; had it gone in, this goal would’ve graced any game. Instead the teams trudged off the muddying field for the break still level.
The festivities ramped up again for the interval, the bar was packed, fans were encouraged to approach Mr Dicker for advice and autographs*, and laughter filled the air (these two aren’t connected). There, holding court in the bar was chap I’d seen earlier trying to count the attendance by hand. “220-230… I’m going to try again later”, he joked when I asked. It summed up the night, no details, just delight.
Within five minutes of the restart Steyning had put even bigger smiles on the faces of their adoring fans, friends & family, with two goals in quick succession from Tom Bowles and Adam Burton. It was clearly their night and just what they deserved. Even when James Bennett pulled one back for Rustington it was clear it was merely a consolation (in that weather how the hell was his kit still clean?). The football might not have been the winner but it had been a great night, all night, played in the right spirit both on and off the pitch. The ref had allowed play to run, avoiding the use of cards when conditions got the better of some challenges. The fans healthy donned more club merchandise than premier league tat. And the usual array of ridiculously coloured boots was hidden by the mud.

On the night Steyning Town, the whole town, was the winner in every sense (club, crowd & caboodle). There was the tranquil beauty of the high street, the helpful chip shop owner who’s directions got me to the ground (1st left, 2nd left, 4th left, in case you’re wondering), the young lady that worked the club bar who convinced me it was fine to park in the school car park next to the ground, the cheerful turnstile operator, the folk that turned out to support their club, the squad that worked so hard to reward the crowd, the hard work of the committee members that helped to pull the event off, and most importantly Carol Swain who’s welcoming and enthusiastic manner was clearly behind the night’s successes and even more importantly behind the my attendance at the match. How many other football club chair, men or women, would happily take calls to their private phones and tell you the game was still on?

At the end of the match, to much laughter, the tannoy announced the official attendance, TWENTY-FOUR THOUSAND, EIGHT HUNDRED AND THIRTY-TWO!!! You really had to be there.
(*he’s never played for Watford so I resisted the opportunity)
This entry was posted in 2011-2012, Sussex County Football League and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Oh Carol

  1. Great read, it’s always nice to read and hear about clubs that are the heart and soul of the local community.

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