Combined Counties Premier Division – Banstead Athletic FC v Guildford City FC
Saturday, 21st January 2012, 3pm
Merland Rise
Distance 10 miles, Attendance 65
It’s a bit like Ruislip isn’t it, Banstead? It’s got that eclectic mix of architecture held together with pebble dash. I used to visit Ruislip a lot. It’s in that mystical land of Middlesex. Hidden in the non-descript streets of Ruislip there was once a house, filled to the rafters with ballroom trophies of all shapes and sizes. The house is still there, but the trophies, along with the inhabitants, have long since been scattered to the four winds (I miss them all). The legacy of this world is an unnerving interest in Strictly Come Dancing and Middlesex, in me.

As we stood before kickoff for a minute’s silence to remember A’s former keeper, John Jackson, I thought of my journeys to Middlesex, and the house. Everything about my day felt like another era; the curved roof of Phoenix Centre next door, being out in the cold, the Routemaster bus in the club car park, the green but uneven pitch, footballers playing a contact sport* and a goalkeeper, like Andy Rankin, wearing plain green shirt and black shorts. The crowd was sparse but the courtesy to this fallen hero was orderly and sincere. The game that followed was anything but.

From kickoff, the action came thick, and fast, and untidy, and undisciplined. The away fans cheered enthusiastically but on the park mistakes littered the play. Nearly ten minutes in it was clear to anyone who’d seen football before, that stopping the game and taking stock would’ve been the best way forward. The ref knew it and wisely stopped to clarify something with his assistant. City’s Dan Moody obviously didn’t, and upon the restart, promptly fell over the ball on the edge of the box. (By the way, what’s the rule on both teams wearing black shorts?). Then Banstead’s Billy Marshall slipped on the left wing, regained balance, turned the defender well and fired the ball across the box but Wes Goggin couldn’t get on the end of it. As he did, the Red Army** sang on impervious to the threat. Next, with the last of the sun fading, Jaydon Gibbs missed an excellent chance for Guildford, and then his teammate Moody shot over. At the other end Marshall head tamely into the keeper’s arms. On either side, there was no cohesion in midfield, and no potency in front of goal. Next came a shoddy back pass from Guildford’s Corey Holder (one of the few players I’d been impressed with thus far) but the onrushing Smith failed to profit from the mistake. Joel Hughes had a good shot saved by A’s keeper Colin Harris and Jack Guilford failed to make the most of the rebound. The frustration was clear for all. As the chances went begging the tackles became stronger… it was only a matter of time before cards would be shown. When they did, City’s Tony Chaplin started dancing with Marshall and handbags began to fly. They were lucky just to receive yellows. Instead it was Ryan Elsey who saw red for a dreadfully late, and high, schoolboy challenge on his marker. With the home team now down to ten men you’d have been forgiven for thinking the game would open up, but it didn’t. Hughes got booked for a late challenge, then missed the second of two quick chances (the first missed by Guilford and/or Guildford). In City’s goal Anthony Hall struggled with high balls though kept Banstead out. On such an exposed ground, the wind was naturally a factor in the mistakes, but the more the challenges came in the more players and management got a touch of Mancini’s and beckoned the ref to wave more cards. Thankfully it never got too out of hand, and with the game still at deadlock we made for the warmth of the bar and a halftime cuppa.
In the bar I was surprised to see so many faces that had clearly not been watching the action outside but had instead been enjoying the warmth, service of the friendly bar staff, and SSN. I kept my opinion to myself. Whilst stirring my coffee, I could hear the away supporters behind chatting about their rivals Windsor who were currently winning 2-0. Then as I went to leave leave the gateman stopped me and asked if I’d got many good photos, and asked what I thought of the sending off as he wasn’t convinced it was deserved. We obviously differed on this but it was easy to leave it amicably and find my way outside again.

The wind had picked up, and a few players were trying to keep warm. “Oi ref, get this game under way its freezing!” implored one. Once the ball was in play it was clear little had changed.  After Banstead’s first failed attack, Hall dropped-kicked the ball straight into the back of one of the retreating players. His second attempt was better. His opposite number, Harris, was soon diving (TJ Hooker style) to retrieve a deflected shot. Both teams were still trying but in the blustery conditions were finding it hard to make headway. Gibbs, Hughes and Heavy all showed some promised early on but with little impact. When Jack Guilford hammered in the first goal for the visitors, after a period of untidy play, the relief was evident.

Jack Guilford fires home the opener

Substitutions began to appear as the home team hoped to get back into the game, and just when you begun to think they might do it, a poor back pass was pounced on by Hughes who easily rounded the keeper and slotted home to put the visitors 2-0 up. Again Harris had no chance. Within a minute though the A’s thought they’d cut back the deficit only for a very late flag to rule it out for offside. Whilst the yellow cards continued to fly Moody missed from a Paul Spencer cross, and Harris tipped over a Ben Rayner free kick. Harris to be fair wasn’t having a bad game; he just got little help from those in front of him.
As the game petered out my mind wandered to who might take credit in what had been a difficult and challenging game. Wes Goggin did well along with Harris, but for top of the table Guildford it had been a team effort. Not a great one, but still a team effort. When their players did shine it was intermittent, though Ben Camara did impress after coming on as sub. The away fans too had contributed to the success. They’d been buoyant from the off, mixing song and humour effortlessly, and even been happy for me to photograph their team sheets. It’s said that the best teams can win even when not playing well (on this performance they are worth 7/10) and if that is so Guildford City can stop worrying about Windsor.

Driving away through pebble dashed streets, with Hubert Bath’s “Out Of The Blue” ringing in my ears I drifted back to Ruislip and ballroom successes…and I began to wonder if the delightful Flavia Cacace ever graced her local team in Guildford. That really would be the icing on the cake for my almost certain visit to their ground this season.
 (*you may remember that’s what football used to be, **not the kind associated with Brezhnev)
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