Pride

Aldershot Senior Cup, Semi-Final – Ashford Town FC v Farnham Town FC
Tuesday, 13th March 2012
Robert Parker Stadium
Distance 10 miles, Attendance 48
For too long now the question “Who do you support?” has been followed by a sadly incredulous “…but they’re not in the premiership!” Now I’m not sure what changed, or even how it happened, but at some point in my lifetime (probably as I took a sabbatical in a far-flung corner) greed took hold of my favourite sport. Yes, finance, size and support, have always had an impact, but now there’s a media-stoked frenzy that dictates if you aren’t one of the chosen few, YOU’VE FAILED. Now we could debate for hours the relative forces behind this upheaval but we’re way past the elephant-in-the-room stage; the current beautiful game is having the life squeezed from within by some rancid Gollum-esque creature that doesn’t want to release its fiscal grip.
Fiscal Gollumitis doesn’t of course change the personalities involved, people are people whatever the decade, but the money will, and has, exaggerated their idiosyncrasies; be it selfish destruction, or adding the Liberace touch to your home. The fiasco at Pompey or Rangers might be all the proof you need, but let’s not pretend we’re just pointing a finger at the “stars” of the game here… without a doubt when Benny and Björn hinted money money money “would be funny” they weren’t staring into the glazed-over eyes, of a brainwashed child of the nineties, whose team has just failed to make champions league places, lost their sunglasses sponsorship deal, and had to watch Paris Fashion Week on TV.
Thankfully I wasn’t born in the nineties, and even more thankfully none of these issues abounded on Tuesday with my first venture to the Aldershot Senior Cup.

The evening had started at home with a little club research, and an online Q&A on the evening’s entertainment with Gareth Coates the genial General Secretary of the host club, and the ever-enthusiastic Russell Grant about his love of Non League Football, Middlesex and the clubs he’s involved with. With Ashford Town I can now count three; he of course devotedly cites the whole county’s FA though did mention there were “half a dozen special ones” (as soon as I can prize the other three out of him planning for the “Grant Hop” can begin). In the club bar an hour later the personal touch continued; having given me a team sheet, Gareth was happy to run through a potted history of the club, and answer any questions I had. To top it all, the excellent cheese roll I consumed had been made by Robert Parker himself, a man who’d just been lauded with, “Without Bob there would be no Ashford Town”.
Reaching pitchside I was greeted by Andy the Photographer before settling down for the FA directed hand-shaking thing. Most of the time this is a meaningless ceremony, tonight however Ashford Town captain, Russell Canderton, received an award to commemorate this his 400th appearance for the club. Players making these milestones will always be special for clubs, fans and players alike. As my hands applauded warmly my mind drifted off to Lloyd Doyley’s impending testimonial, and great testimonials I’ve been to in the past.

The match was an even fought encounter for the first forty-five, with Ashford unable to take advantage of their higher league status. Bar a couple of fruitless corners, the first ten minutes were fought out mainly in the middle of the park with one on target attempt; a long range effort for the Tangerines easily saved by Arjuna Adlam. Harry Knock and Mark Bitmead soon and some nice interplay but again the end product was absent. Then up the other end keeper Paul McCarthy lost the ball after twice dibbling past Farnham striker Craig Smith, but this too was wasted. As the game intensified, the on-pitch shouting increase and appeals came from both teams as the side netting was brushed at either end. “The fullbacks are quiet!” commented a man behind me. “McCarthy isn’t!” retorted a voice in my head. We got to midway through the half and still untidy play, and lenient refereeing, dominated. Then as I started to believe the match might end up with penalties, McCarthy came out, missed the ball, only to see his mistake bettered by at least three Town (Farnham that is) players who failed to net the ball. Next to miss the target was Tangerines Ashley Lodge who fired over, followed soon after by teammate Rob Curtis whose shot went wide of the far post. The shouting continued as strains of “Ash-ford Town, Middle-sex” came from behind the goal (has My Way really been covered more than Tom Hark?). With time staggering towards the break we were treated to more missed chances, passes, and corners, the last of which saw Adlam beat Dan Brown to the ball after Kofi Lockhart-Adams had deftly put him through. It hadn’t been all Ashford; Farnham had played their part, but neither team could produce the form needed when it mattered. Even the obviously talented Lockhart-Adams, Lodge, and Bairoh Conteh had only shown flashes of what they were capable of. No goals were scored, no cards dished out. As the teams trudged off for the inevitable tea cup throwing, I wondered why one Town player wore number 20 which didn’t feature on the team sheet, and which had been referred to as Principal Skinner during the half?

Catching up with (former Saints fans) Andy and his dad at halftime proved my knowledge of this level, maybe more than most, but really I’m still just on the tip of the iceberg, so, having cheekily dropped the 7-1 into the conversation, I made a mental note to concentrate harder on what was about to unfurl.
First of the second half chances came, and went, as Farnham’s Ben Williams’ shot sailed over the bar after they’d been awarded a free kick on the right. Then on 54 minutes Lockhart-Adams broke the duck with a superb left half-volley from just inside the box. Soon after he was again involved but Adlam averted the danger. The game had opened up for the home side, they were beginning to find their feet, and just as quickly Farnham, in desperation, were beginning to take them away from under them. The most severe challenge came when Town’s Luke Whiddett cynically blocked a forward run though no yellow was shown (Andy Theaker clearly wouldn’t be bogged down with additional paperwork come fulltime). The resulting free kick however saw Ashford double their lead. Lodge swept the ball over and Lockhart-Adams headed home. The keeper didn’t stand a chance, again. Going on clear cut chances were few and far between, Lodge and Lockhart-Adams had a hand in most opportunities but both Bitmead and Alex Duffy missed with long range efforts. Just before fulltime, with Farnham desperate to stay in the competition, the game became stretched, leaving both players and the ref off the pace. Eventually Town made a breakthrough and were awarded a deserved penalty which Craig Smith expertly put away low to the right. Sadly for the away side the celebrations lasted only moments, and all hopes of extra time were immediately dashed as substitute Perry Luckins restored Ashford’s lead within a minute of the restart. The final minutes were played out in end-to-end playground fashion when all but the kitchen, and rush-goalie, were thrown into the mix, until the whistle went signalling the end of the fun. Game done, I bid my farewells and thanked Gareth for the club’s hospitality. It had been another enjoyable night where the sport came first.
The following night the fawning media frenzy was back in full swing. The pitch was filled with tanned and tattooed athletes; clad in designer kit, in a fast-paced and equally good cup game. It truth the game is the same as the one at The Robert Parker Stadium, but the differences are stark. Neither Chelsea nor Napoli are champions yet play in the elitist “champions league”. The win through to the quarter final will have netted the Blues (based on 2011 prices) at least £3.5million in prize money, an amount that most of their players will earn in a year. (There is more to it than this but I’ll be bored just typing it out, and really, does any educated mortal care that much any more?).
In total contrast Aldershot Senior Cup has no prize money. Not one penny. The regional FAs in Hampshire have their own cup competitions which teams like Ashford Town (Middlesex) have, thanks to the Mark Butler connection, been invited to enter. The Tangerines have taken the competition seriously this season, using first teamers, and have deservedly made it to the final. Their ground is named after one of their founders, who incidentally makes a mean cheese roll if you’re peckish. Their car park has no tarmac due to green belt restrictions. Their players have fulltime jobs so the cars parked there are rarely this year’s models. The mascot for the night was Billy, whose favourite player is Russell Canderton, his uncle. Prior to kickoff, Canderton’s surprise presentation for his 400th game, didn’t need the permission of TV executives nor sponsors, just a kind word in the ears of match officials and the away team, Farnham Town. And finally when a ball leaves the pitch, Heathrow side, it can cost the club £40 a time. That’s £40 from the £0 they get for getting this far.
On Wednesday, 9th April, at The Recreation Ground (Aldershot Town FC), no doubt cheered on by an enthusiastic Russell Grant, Ashford Town (Middlesex) will walk out against either Badshot Lea or Farnborough in The Final of the Aldershot Senior Cup. The only thing at stake will be pride.

“There are people who have money, and people who are rich.” – Coco Chanel
 
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