Step Seven(th Heaven)

Surrey Elite Intermediate League – Weston Green Sports FC v Claygate & Ditton FC
Monday, 27th August 2012, 11am
Weston Green Sports Ground
Distance 1 mile, Attendance 2 (for kick-off), 5 (by halftime)
STEP SEVEN IS EVERYWHERE!!! screamed the announcer – whipping the flag-waving crowd into a frenzy – as the tunnel-forming cheerleaders and fireworks danced to Carnaval de Paris. To the LeechTV timekeeper’s signal each emerging player preened his hair in the pitch side mirror, checked the angle and hue of their sock tape, compared boot sponsorship with the next man and looked menacingly to camera, before running towards to adoring public all fist-clenching. Deep in the flesh-pressing Directors Box, the new owners knew they, and they alone, had created this spectacle for everyone…. “C’MONNN!!!”
Meanwhile at Weston Green Sports Ground the home side trotted from wooden changing room, stretched like a yawning Bagpuss, tapped a ball to and fro, and waited for the ref’s whistle. Staring across the pitch I recognised none of them but I knew the game, and that was enough.
The linesman was happy for me to stand on the touchline (“probably won’t get down that far”), and one chap was kind enough to let me photograph one of the team sheets (“the other one’s in the car”).
It wasn’t long before the heavy tackles were flying in. Nor was it long before the ball landed in the blackberry bushes and even less time before there was a definite handball in the Claygate & Ditton penalty area. “It looked good to me.” I offered, catching the linesman’s eye. “Well the ref’s not give it!” he replied (this must be the accountability that sofa-sore pundits are always demanding). Moments after, the visitors had a goal disallowed for a foul on the defender. I’d missed it, but a chap from the home bench was kind enough to verbally stand in for the flashy big screen replay. The next disallowed goal I saw. Weston Green’s Jake Worsford impressively beat three before pulling the ball back, to be hit home, but it had already crossed the line.
Also having impressive games this half was the greens’ number 5, Jimmy Anscombe, along with both keepers and the Claygate & Ditton’s (let’s call them The Navy as that’s what they were wearing) number 15 Charlie Something, who comfortably had the measure of the attackers. Whilst there were end-to-end positives, there was also tired legs, inconsistent playing and officiating, and biased complaining from anyone with a voice left. For a nil-nil forty-five it was fairly entertaining but, going in for a cuppa I was sure the game would open up more with greater tiredness.

In the second period Weston Green’s Robert Preece was first to set his sights but the ball just missed the target. Then home sub (wearing their old kit’s number 2 but probably listed as number 12) James Fernee headed straight at the keeper when a perfect free-kick came over. With an hour gone the floodgates finally opened. A handball was acknowledged in the away area and Marc Farr calmly slotted home from the spot. “What did we talk about at halftime?” yelled the visiting coach across from the dugout before turning for a quick kick-about with his kids. When his number 9 went down, moments later, in the box and nothing was given his words were even stronger, though in a very familiar scene he then apologise to his kids for his language.

Soon seven great minutes saw The Greens have a fine shot saved, then The Navy’s (?) number 1 (an outfielder who was actually number 12) narrowly miss, Fernee scored at the second attempt after a great block by the Claygate & Ditton stopper, and finally a foul by Anscombe on the visiting number 9 (it’s a shame I didn’t get both team sheets) resulted in a penalty, put away by the victim and bringing some parity to the score line.
The next few minutes bought something less impressive which I’ll struggle to explain but, here goes… in a Navy attack Anscombe got injured but a foul wasn’t given, the ball was cleared, crossing the halfway line. Play continues but the ref eventually blows up to check the defender is ok. Anscombe then gets up without treatment, and the ref signals the ball be returned to the Greens’ keeper at the restart. Obediently Claygate & Ditton’s defender hits the ball up field only for his team mate (number 11) to catch it. The home side then appeal en masse for handball but the ref gives nothing and insists the ball makes it to the keeper for e free-kick, who when it reaches him fails to place the ball and instead takes a drop kick… play on.
Once the dust had settled the visitors had another goal disallowed (accurately) for offside against both number 4 and number 10. The Weston Green sub Fernee goes off injured, his keeper makes a stunning point blank save and both sides have a few last ditch pot shots in a vain attempt at changing the 2-1 score line. The match ended with wonderfully amusing running commentary from the visiting keeper – with the linesman laughing along – on how Weston green were going to time waste the final five minutes… really you had to be there.
There was no glitz or glamour, no floodlights, and no fireworks, but deep down this was the same equally entertaining game that is played by the big-name “star” players. We saw the same amount of players and the same amount of action, and the same skills (albeit not as consistently). Two home players wore number 2, and two away players wore number 1. We overheard in-the-know fans on the touchline, saw a player called “Nasher”, and saw more goals than three-quarters of the premier league’s games managed on Saturday.

       

         
Ten levels below the self-proclaimed “best league in the world”, out of sight of the chuckling pundits, and far from the media men’s clutches and the sweaty palm-wringing of the moneymen, lies a level of football so underrated that your average sports fan wouldn’t know it existed… and I feel for them, but, as the girl’s tattoo read, C’est la vie.
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