You’re Welcome!

Combined Counties Premier Division – Colliers Wood United FC v Raynes Park Vale FC
Wednesday, 22nd February 2012, 7.30pm
Wibbandune Sports Ground
Distance 7 miles, Attendance 65 (via secondary head count)
 “I’m up and down the Westway, in an’ out the lights. What a great traffic system – it’s so bright. I can’t think of a better way to spend the night, then speeding around underneath the yellow lights”
Despite the best endeavours Messrs Strummer and Jones, London’s arteries are some of the dullest drives known to mankind. I grew up on the A40. It ferried me between the Home Counties and London; passing Swakeley’s Roundabout, Northolt’s pigmy lights, The Polish War Memorial, The Hoover Building, The Planetarium, and The Euston Underpass in the promise of beer, music and football beyond. I always loved the outcome, but the journey, despite being burnt on my brain, is truly forgettable.
Fast forward to this century and my life has changed. I still favour The Clash, and football, but I’m no longer sightseeing on The Westway. Yes, I’ve been weaned off the A40. I’ve grown up. I’m now a family man, and now I’m running amok on the A3… the Robin Hood Way.
Driving the A3, I’ve passed Wibbandune Sports Ground literally hundreds of times. At 50mph it’s fairly unremarkable, but like many other supporters, as the sight of a football pitch looms into views, heads will turn. There are actually three grounds on the side of the A3 within very easy reach of London but Corinthian Casuals and Guildford City are further out. Down here, deep in the Kingston By-Pass, Colliers Wood United ply their trade*.
The location of course has proved problematic for the club and this game in particular. It’s nice little ground but nestled between A3 drainage and the hill that is Wimbledon Common has its drawbacks. Our rain-sodden January has lead to water-logging, and when the temperatures dropped the pitch froze easily. Three times I’d tried to attend this game. Three times it had been postponed. So much anticipation had been spent on this match that just walking through the gate brought a sense of achievement.
Having dragged myself away from the blackboard listing the teams, entering the bar was like walking through the door at an elderly relative’s. The kettle was already on, and the tea was poured to perfection in an unmatching china mugs (by Sue, as I was later to find out), which I then carried to a waiting comfy chair near the television. In the welcoming atmosphere about me, sat before a heaving trophy cabinet adorned with Chelsea, and Millwall colours, were men of all ages, and the air was thick with the gentle murmuring of the larger football world being put to right. “Alright mate!” welcomed an elderly voice behind me as he his hand landed squarely on my shoulder. We chatted for a while of ensuing derby, and of the rain that afternoon that had threatened to postponed the game for a fourth time (yes, I’ve already reached that weather-discussing age too). Then from the corner of my eye I could see the officials making their way pitch-side so grabbed my mug and wandered out to find a good view for the ensuing action. The pitch had grass but from the muddy areas it was clear it would cut up further. Swapping ends first, Colliers Wood kicked off and were immediately overrun.
For the next 40 minutes the home side were on the back foot. Their first shot on target was a long range effort easily collected by Vale’s Dean Cupit on the half hour, and their second a 42nd minute penalty which Mario Embalo tucked away. Before that Vale, shooting downhill and away from the A3, were so splendid I began to wonder whether the home side had given up attacking for Lent. They should have gone in four or five goals up but thanks to some fine work from Dan Burnett, and the poor sight-setting of the attackers the score stayed close. Early doors (well, its a football blog and all the top pros use that line) William Adou strong run down the right and low cross resulted in the ball being cleared off the line. Then a Peter Hickford volley hit the bar. Adou again went close when through one-on-one but hit his shot wide. It was great entertainment for ten minutes of football. Off the pitch things were looking up too. I’d touched a match ball again (yes, it’s becoming a habit), and enthusiastic conversations behind me were drifting to big teams, in big leagues; that’s right, Shrewsbury and Southend. The Vale forward play was having all the luck and none of it in equal measures. Man of the half, Dave Mosley, was dominating the midfield, and the chances just kept coming. Adou shot wide again when through again on the keeper, Hickford hit the side netting after a break on the left, and a mix up put the ball at Anthony Moulds feet though his shot too went fractionally wide. When the breakthrough did arrive, Moulds was on target with a fine looping header whilst Burnett was stranded in no-man’s land. It was two on 40 minutes as Rob Wilkinson headed powerfully goal-wards after a Cornell McKoy clearance from a corner. Moments later The Wood got their penalty. Vale had been dominant all half. The game should have been theirs already; clean out of sight. Instead the game teetered on the brink at 2-1. For the rest of the night an energetic and even contest followed, with good chances at both ends, but neither team could score again. The Wood’s Nathan Turner hit the side netting, Adou put Moulds through but Burnett saved well, Jimmy Davis tested Cupit from long range, and Sam Meads tried in vain to lead his team to an equaliser. No goals but another great half.

As I wandered back into the night, over the A3, by footbridge, to my waiting car, I stopped to look back to at ground that had been warm and welcoming. A ground where two very local teams had managed to shake hands, before going toe to toe, without trying to kill each other. Where we’d seen a great one-sided first half as The Vale shot towards the green flags, and a great even contest in the second when aiming for the blue (no, I’m not sure of the significance of the different colours corner flags). The players had done their best, and the language both on and off the pitch was even tempered and good natured. Managers had stood, mug in hand, in the dugout. Fouls had occurred with much fuss, resulting “injuries” cured by a squirt of water, and the whistling ref had been drowned out by the noise of passing traffic; “His whistle’s not very good” muttered one fan (the same supporter that had told the linesman he would be keeping an eye on him). Those supporters, staff, officials and groundhoppers had mixed freely both by the pitch and in the club bar. Their total number had been scientifically calculated by simple arithmetic and finger pointing. And fittingly, when the game drew to a close, we witnessed Wood boss Tony Hurrell switch from frustrated ranting to congratulating Lee Dobinson in an calm and even manner. Like the chap who offered to take my mug back to the bar for me, and the old men who’d chatted generously about the line-ups, the scene was clearly fitting for a game between teams that know each other so well.

Back in the car the radio would have me believe that the main sporting news of the night was an apology from the childlike Carlos Tevez, diving by high paid stars, Portsmouth debts, and Basil beating Brian in something called the UCL (which I thought that was a University). Like the marketing barrage at Chelsea it was all actually pretty insignificant. National radio may have missed it but the real football story was a great match played on Robin Hood Way. As Sir Joe once crooned, “I can’t think of a better way to spend the night”.
 (*five Greater London miles from Colliers Wood itself)
This entry was posted in 2011-2012, Combined Counties Football League and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to You’re Welcome!

  1. JM says:

    “Man of the half, Gavin Bolger, was dominating the midfield”

    Gavin Bolger wasn’t playing, was on bench, not as Sub, but in his capacity as club coach. Gavin is currently injured, he says due to a hamstring, but some say it’s down to his swollen stomach!

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