It’s ugly but it gets you there.

Sussex County Football League Division 1 – Three Bridges FC v Shoreham FC
Saturday, 31st March 2012, 3pm
Jubilee Field Stadium
Distance 28 miles, Attendance 188
In a vain attempt to convince my beleaguered wife of the value in watching football, education is always top of my evidence. Forget the modern statistician’s industry that’ll convince the young and impressionable that a first-half-completed-pass-ratio of greater than 63.25% is vital to winning games, I’m talking “old skool”* education; Geography, History, Languages & Maths.
For thirty odd years I’ve known that Johannes Hermanus Petrus “Jan” Lohman was the first ever exotic player signed by Watford. He came from Sporting Lokeren (full name Koninklijke Sporting Club Lokeren) in Belgium, whose national flag bears all the same colours as Watford’s kit. Lokeren lies in the north of the country near the Dutch border where Jan won national caps at U21 level, which is exactly the number of goals he scored for the Hornets; under 21. The origins of both towns include mention of Roman thoroughfares. Lokeren has Germanic influences. Those Germans moved to England, changed their name to Anglo-Saxons, and were the first to name Watford (in their 1007 “charter”). Later on, Lokeren was promoted to city status by Napoleon Bonaparte, who never made it to Watford, but like Jan was famously a short general in the middle of a field. Napoleon of course got whooped by the Duke of Wellington who had the same first name as the man who first introduced me to Watford… How can she possibly think that’s not educational?
With this in mind I noted with interest before setting out, that I could in fact travel down the Mole Valley, by boat and should be able to get all the way to the ground in Three Bridges (we really don’t have enough team names with numbers in England). Additionally with only two promotion places up for grabs to the Isthmian League** Division 1 South, Three Bridges are battling it out with Rye United and Lancing (whose ground has not passed the grade but could still take up one of the promotion spots). Going into the game Bridges sat five points off the leaders, with two games in hand, and had six first team players out through injury, suspension and holidays. Their opponents for the day, Shoreham’s previous three games totalled 19 goals. This really was the pick of the day in the Sussex County Football League.
With the hand-shakes done, players peeled away, the sky clouded over, and the ref scurried from the pitch muttering something about his whistle. Alarm bells should really have been screaming through the foggy optimism at this point, but supping at my tea I could find nothing but amusement at his awkwardness. For the next two chaotic hours absolutely anything could’ve happened. The pitch at Jubilee Fields is flanked by two small colour coordinated stands a large well-maintained clubhouse, and behind each goal is what one can only describe as the drive-in terracing. The only other time I’ve seen this is at the Albuquerque Sports Stadium which once boasted an area in right field where fans could watch the baseball action from their cars. Only a few Bridges’ fans seemed to have taken up this option; most off the 188 present were instead found around the clubhouse.
Amongst the first ten minutes of scrappy play, a penalty appeal went up from the home team, the air went blue, and I was almost hit by clearances, twice. This is the appeal of non league. Everything is so close. Every argument, foul, mishit, pass, shot, tackle and utterance, it’s so… 3D (TV manufacturers will tell you they can replicate this but they can’t). Next to escape the morass was Shoreham’s Aaron MacMillan who got on the end of a hopeful punt only to shoot wide of the far post. Then Bridges’ Clinton Moore had a full on debate with the linesman over suspected shirt pulling but nothing came of it. We did however get more, and more fouls. The play was so untidy that no player was able to settle on a very hard pitch. Corners came and went. Even when unmarked, Andy Howard headed wide of the target, when the home side really should’ve taken the lead. The swearing continued at every peep of the whistle and every time individuals made mistakes finger-pointing came to the fore. At times it’s was like squabbling children in a sandpit. The more it continued the more the ref made decisional mistakes. Free kicks came to nothing and remarkably in the first 25 minutes only the visiting captain, Alex Jones, found his name in the book.
With so many of their players out there wasn’t much optimism from the home support; looking on the pitch it wasn’t hard to disagree. Three Bridges were desperate for the points but couldn’t find the cohesion to win them, and The Musselmen, even without any calm flair of their own, were determined to upset the home side’s promotion aspirations. It was clear that if a goal was going to come, a mistake would probably cause it. Suddenly, with half an hour gone the score was 1-1, both the result of good fortune. First, in a messy goal mouth, Callum Donaghey clipped over a hopeful ball and Moore rose to send his header out of the keeper’s reach, putting the home side into the lead. Within minutes Shoreham had drawn level. Simon Lehkj in the Bridges only punched the ball out as far as MacMillan whose looping header avoided all on the way. The next major mistake came from Howard leaving the away team to race clear and MacMillan to find Lee Eastman with a low cross which he couldn’t miss.
With neither side taking any further advantage, the tackles got harder, the shots got wilder, and the decision making from many became, well, awful really. None more so than from the ref who, on the stroke of half time, awarded a free kick just in front of us for high kicking (he was correct at this point). The teams retreated and play went to restart, only for the ref to change his mind and, after some lengthy heated debate, and a couple of yellow cards, give the kick free kick to Shoreham instead. Moments later the halftime whistle went but the arguments went on way into the break.

the appalling free kick decision

The game was desperate for some calm and moderation. Thankfully, after the teams re-emerged things improved. It still wasn’t pretty, but small steps… Williams Peauroux’s cross was headed over. Up the other end Eastman almost increased Shoreham’s lead, then Moore headed over, Peauroux and Siao Blackwood had attempts, and then Moore and Donaghey were thwarted by a sterling double save from Jordan Mitchell in the Musselmen goal. It still wasn’t a beautiful match but Three Bridges were beginning to find some advantage. The next shot saw Donaghey hit the apex, and one had to wonder if they’d ever get back into the game. Luck just seemed to be against them, but Shoreham weren’t faring much better. As the match wore on, desperation levels increased with numerous players demanding help from the officials. “Are you going to give me one?” squealed one player (he’ll remain unnamed).
With conversation around me drifting to the hopes and fears for both Brighton and Crawley’s academies, under the greed-riddled EPPP proposals, the teams in front dug hard for another goal. When it came it was third time lucky for Howard, who having caused a conceded goal, and seen his last two headers sail over, found the target with Mitchell stranded in no man’s land; 2-2. When I thought the game couldn’t get any more frenetic both sides went for the winner. With time running out, and more tackles flying in along, and with complaints at officials, and saves and blocks occurring in the Shoreham area, Scott Faber lashed the ball home to cap an extraordinary comeback from Three Bridges.

tea bar - man of the match (?)

I was told just before leaving that Bridges had shown “character and balls” to get the win but I’m not sure. This game could’ve gone either way. We’ve all heard the hype at the top end of the game; how you need to dig out results to win the league, to win games when playing badly. Well, today both sides had bad days. They were so evenly matched in this that neither deserved to lose, but so many mistakes were made that the man of the match award should’ve been given to the tea bar who seem to be the only ones producing consistently good fare.
This was an at times desperately ugly football match but, as the Doyle Dane Bernbach adage goes… right now, if Three Bridges want promotion, ugly might be what it takes to get them there.
(*that’s language they’ll understand, **Ryman League)
This entry was posted in 2011-2012, Sussex County Football League and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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