FA Cup Semi Final (day) – Hendon FC v Kingstonian FC
Thursday, 14th April 2012, 3pm
Vale Farm (Wembley FC)
Distance 14 miles, Attendance 224
…striding purposefully up the Harrow Road, one soon realises where Google Maps falls down. Wembley Stadium to Wembley FC: forty-six minutes walk it claimed. Let me tell you, in a car I can accelerate a damn sight quicker than the google boys, and on foot even the fattest of us can move it like Maurizio Damilano when it’s five to kick-off.
Of course my journey was hampered by Saturday shoppers, bus queues, and inebriated scousers (of both happy and sad varieties), but, save the manners drummed into me as a child, there was no stopping me. Passing free local delivery and any bag for a pound, wondering what I’d left behind as sirens screamed in the opposite direction, my feet pounded hard on lose paving stones, snaking up a never ending gradient that our online friends had seemingly failed to notice. I couldn’t be late, I couldn’t be late, turn right, down an alley, I couldn’t be late, between the cars, I cou… THERE!
Waving my semi-final ticket I gained reduced entry, but it took all my powers of persuasion to relieve the amiable turnstile operator of his (and the very last) programme. Stepping into the stadium by the corner flag I grabbed my camera just in time to snap the referee whistling the start. I’d made it. Soaking up the view; the tidy tea bar and shop to my immediate left, a spartan patio area and tunnel to my right, the main stand across the pitch, and dotted about like monolithic centurions guarding the playing surface, huge towers of breeze blocks (we’ll address those later). As Hendon were awarded the first free kick on three minutes, I was wondering how many others might follow from Wembley Stadium. Sadly (with a quick headcount) the answer was none. Standing in their station queues for hours on end… they’d regret it. Moments later, during a flurry at the other end, the ball struck the Hendon cross bar. End to the end from the off; this was unquestionably better than the semi final match had just finished. When Saheed Sankoh smashed Kingstonian ahead on eight minutes, I knew I made the right decision to dash over from the big arched thing. This was the main event. Within a minute Hendon were level. Darren Currie did the hard work, releasing Isaiah Rankin who sent a low ball into the box for Carl McCluskey to sweep home. I loved it, the crowd loved it. One-all and barely ten minutes played; surely it was now a question of how many.
The game seemed even but The Greens were having some good chances. Rankin’s strong run down the right provided Scott Shulton with an opening but his shot, on twenty minutes, was just wide smacking the bar and bouncing back into play. Next up Shulton forced a great save from Rob Tolfrey. There were more shots wide; more punches clear and many more narrow escapes. Both goalmouths saw their share of the action but the home side edged the half and rightfully went in ahead (with possession at least).
Touring the ground at halftime I was reminded of Eli Wallach staring Yul Brynner in the eye and exclaiming: “I see you have built some new walls.” The changes were all around. Asking a fan of the plans of the build he told me he was totally unaware. None of it was Hendon’s he exclaimed. They’d almost gone bust just building the tea bar and shop, he went on. The recent Budweiser funding is clearly having an impact on Wembley FC’s Vale Farm though I struggle to see how it was deemed safe for supporters with all that stuff lying about; breeze blocks, sacks of sand, cement mixers, there were building materials everywhere; littering the stands, terraces and covered areas. I also wanted to ask about El Tel turning up here, in this league, but the sniggering remarks from both sets of supporters during the match illustrated it clearly wasn’t taken that seriously.
As the gentle tones of Angel Of The Morning dimmed, the second half kicked off with a flurry, again with Hendon having the best of the play. First Shulton shot just wide of the apex. Twenty minutes in Rankin blasted over. For Kingstonian the game meant little save pride. Hendon though still had a shot at the play-offs and came across as the more determined, but the chances were few and far between. In the middle the ref seemed unusually busy considering the action going on about him. Some players complained but really it was a fairly even tempered game. Shulton again scooped the ball wide and the arrival of substitution half hour had little impact on the course of the game. Thinking the game would meander away to a draw, Hendon keeper Berkley Laurencin launched a hopeful punt up field, Jerome Federico controlled and moved the ball on to Rankin, whose low cross found an energetic number 14. The crowd cheered, the boy next to me danced with joy, but I just struggled to know who had scored. “What’s his name?” I enquired of the dancing boy. “Jack Th…th…th…” came the response. Immediately I though he meant a relative of Damon, but I could see from his puzzled face it wasn’t worth clarifying.
Having been in the faceless hugeness of Wembley, it was great to be able to soak up the individuality of Vale Farm with all its uniqueness (and building site charm). The smells of the tea bar, the conversation and laughter that mixed with shouts from the dugouts. Where I heard no mention of The horserace, and on a pitch (allegedly the same dimensions as the national stadium down the road) saw a winning goal that RAF Wing Commander Charles Reep, and Graham Taylor, would’ve been completely proud of. This was football, free of the tense atmosphere that filled the closing stages of the semi final, where down to earth Hendon were genial hosts, and their shop housed some wonderful treasures.
Getting back on the tube at North Wembley I stared first at the alarming arrivals board, then at the fresh paint, and the huge arch in the distance. I wondered of the preparations for London 2012, and how I might find my Cup Final ticket. Starting the season I’d thought the Olympics would see my first trip to the new Wembley, but then starting the season I also had no idea I’d be drawn to the FA Cup, or see two games in one day where the second was located in a building site. Arriving in Wembley Central both blue and red fans from the 2008 City of Cultural were still queuing for trains home… THREE HOURS after their final whistle. We British might like standing in lines, but, you really have to question why anyone would chose that over a truly great, and entertaining, Isthmian League Premier Division match. Looking into their faces I knew I’d seen, and won, the double.
football treasures are visible, if you’re prepared to look for them…