Combined Counties Premier Division – Sandhurst Town FC v Guernsey FC
Tuesday, 25th September 2012, 7.45pm
Distance 27 miles, Attendance 160
In search of some of the goals that Sky won’t be showing in their “EVERY GOAL MATTERS” (best to imagine the XFactor shouty bloke saying this) season, the other evening I spent some very worthwhile hours (a view not supported by my lovely wife) trawling through the week’s Non League fixtures and drew up a most wanted list; my most wanted that is, not theirs (Sky don’t really do Non League after all). Here’s how it went:
Step 1: Pick five teams not visited before with interesting ground, mascot, nicknames, players and/or opponents. Make sure that no more than one fixture is selected from any one competition.
Step 2: Using a combination of a compass, grid references and triangulation (or Google Maps for the sat-nav generation) place teams in distance order, with closest first and furthest last.
Step 3: Try to find 5-sided dice (at this point I wished I’d picked six teams) or one with a total number of sides that are a multiple of five.
Step 4: Assign sides of the dice to the five teams (in my case a ten-sided dice where 1 & 6 are for team 1, 2 & 7 team 2, 3 & 8 team 3, 4 & 9 team 4, and finally 5 & 10 team 5 – that’s not too confusing is it?), then roll the dice in a first-to-five race. Once a team has been rolled five times its game over.
Step 5: Place teams in rank/result order and wait for the weather and traffic reports to decide the fate of each, in the stated order.
The resulting order:
1. Sandhurst Town v Guernsey (Combined Counties, Premier Division)
2. Tooting & Mitcham v Maidstone United (Isthmian League, Division 1 South)
3. Harefield United v South Park (FA Cup 2QR, replay)
4. Alton Town v Downton (Wessex League, Premier Division)
5. Havant & Waterlooville v Weston super Mare (Conference South)
Public opinion might at this juncture suggest that I need to get out more; however an exercise like this is far more likely to employ one’s brain and far more worthwhile than watching MotD (and it kept me away from the chores).
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Affording me chance to see both a new ground and the Guernsey Green (think Dutch Orange with a different hue) thankfully both the weather and the M3 traffic were forecast to go in my favour, so off I set for the Berkshire countryside and the home of the Royal Military Academy. An hour later, walking through the gates to see a camera perched atop the dugouts, at first I feared my taunting of televised football coming back to haunt me. Thankfully this one belonged to GFCTV rather than one of the overbearing (inter)nationals.
Looking about the ground that The Fizzers only inhabited relatively recently – surrounded by colour co-ordinated structures – the teams were warming up on a fine looking pitch. Nearby men donning their finest 70s regalia fretting over waterlogged pitches and cancellation of the previous night’s Youth match, but to me everything seemed perfectly in order. Two teams, two goals, regulation pitch… At the far end was the club house, to the right dugouts and to the left a small stand. Aside officials, refreshment, a ball and a hat full of goals, what more could we want for an evening’s entertainment?
The fixture had been advertised in every outlet known to mankind, including the match day programme as a7.30pm kick-off, but the gateman insisted it would be 7.45pm so (not being one to argue) I grabbed a cuppa and – camera in hand – went for a customary lap of honour. At the far end of the pitch, Guernsey were going about their pre-match rituals with total professionalism and almost reverential calm; near the clubhouse Salv Diprima was putting some fizz into the home team with an intriguing version of Ring O’ Roses which left me confused and heading for the clubhouse.
Inside familiar green and groundhopping faces were plentiful; sadly the team sheets were not. Kindly Mark Le Tissier allowed me to photograph theirs but it would be some time before I’d complete the set. Rushing out to find a space behind the near goal I was just in time to see teams line up, shake hands, toss and kick off… with, a, flurry.
Whilst the nearby conversation of Guernsey and Step 5 was rather pedestrian, for the opening ten minutes Sandhurst Town were rampant. The Guernsey rearguard were unusually at sixes and sevens, meanwhile Sandhurst’s seven along with nine, ten and eleven, were tearing them apart. First up Miles Jones redirected a fine cross just over the bar. “WELL LEFT DIGAR!” came an ironic cry to the helpless keeper. Then Matthew Day thumped in a low cross but Jones’ diving heading went over too. Despite the odd Lions foray, attack after attack was coming my way. More shots were fired wide, corners wasted, last ditch clearances hoofed away, and Paul De Garis had to dive brilliantly to prevent an own goal as Alex Le Prevost’s deflected header came soaring towards him. I’d been told it would be close but I wasn’t expecting this.
Suddenly there were two deadly sucker-punches, the tide began to turn, and we were treated to some fantastic open play which swept us through to halftime. In the middle of this the action, tackles became reckless, a back pass afforded Matt Loaring a crack at the post, hopeful punts were driven in from afar, and we were treated to two stunning saves that would grace any level of football. First Sandhurst’s Ashley West tipped wide Ryan Zico Black’s drive, then immediately De Garis dived low to keep out Robert Mitchell. The final act of the half saw Jamie Daltrey – latching onto another soft back pass – chip just wide of the Guernsey post. Whatever the score line it was hard to imagine anyone there would have been disappointed watching such evenly contested athleticism.
At the interval – whilst some tucked into Guernsey Gâche – fans queued at length for something warm to sate the increasing cold. Outside I was toughing it out in manly fashion (under four layers, a winter coat, a hat and with gloves waiting in the wings) waiting for the action to restart.
Whilst the second period predictably wouldn’t match the first it was still a praise-worthy encounter with good ball control and team play. As subs entered the field of play the noisy Lions fans joined us behind the goal. Ross Allen was first in the hunt but his shot was tipped round the Fizzers’ post, and soon hammered a low cross through the home penalty area as songs rang out about being donkeys or toad (no, me neither). Up the other end chances were fewer, but when Guernsey attacked the linesman made sure – with lethargic flagging – that no changes would ever reach the score line.
By the end my hands were, for the first time this season, cold but still I left heartened by the evening. They’d been pleasant exchanges with total strangers, meetings with green expats and The Omering Boys, seen two great kits, and made a mental compliment (if that’s possible?) that the Guernsey team managed to colour co-ordinate both their sock tape AND their boots. Furthermore both teams had done their utmost to win and both could’ve taken the three points. The Sandhurst pacey front line could’ve sealed the game very early on but Guernsey rode their luck. When play got testy only the fans complained; players encouragingly patted themselves down and professionally got on with the game. Wonderfully I also overheard talk of youngsters developing at both clubs but, best of all I’d seen two goals; two goals showing both skill and flair. Two goals, that really mattered, not to me, or Sky TV, but to fans and staff of two aspiring clubs of the Combined Counties Premier Division.
The first after a Ross Allen cut-back hammered home by Angus Mackay, then moments later as West spilled a Simon Geall shot, Matt Loaring nipped in to tuck the ball home. They alone were worth enduring the cold for.