Stags the way I like it.

FA Cup, 1st Round Proper (replay) – Slough Town FC v Mansfield Town FC
Tuesday, 13th November 2012, 7.45pm
Holloways Park (Beaconsfield SYCOB FC)
Distance 30 miles, Attendance 1597
As this teenager sat – in annual devotion – watching the build-up to The FA Cup Final, remote control airplanes duelled overhead as former stars were interviewed on the pitch. Distant towns, deck in club colours, butchers windows screaming “COME ON YOU REDS!!!”, and foyers of team hotels where reporters tried to eke out the last word of today’s managers. And there on MY screen, wandering up the Oxford Road two familiar figures. Not the glitterati, but school friends – “CRONIES” as Mr Atkinson would’ve yelled across the playing fields – Messrs Blackburn and Brace, ambling about until the cameras caught them. I’ve no idea if it was planned but, the close proximity of The Bull Hotel in Gerrards Cross (then always one of the team hotels) meant abusing the media attention was easy as The Cup came to our doorstep, every year.
From South Bucks my safe haven I could only imagine what football meant to other adolescents but, to me The FA Cup Final was utterly magical. It’s not like we had a single team capable of getting close to the hallowed turf but – thanks to the Metropolitan Line – Wembley was on our doorstep; Slough… Slough was somewhere else.

Racking my brains to establish the origins of the childhood myth – which any reasonable historian could probably dispel –  I’ll just hold my hands up and admit I grew up believing, that “my” South Bucks world had pushed Slough out.
Originally recorded as Slo, Sloo – and somewhat exotically named Le Slowe – before getting its own “Urban Sanitary District”, the staging post of Slough has a mottled history from which many listed buildings still remain. The downturn in its appearance – if not fortunes – seems to have arrived with the development of a motor repair depot for the WWI armed forces in the west of the town. This became a flourishing industrial estate which along with the town was duly bombed during WWII. The resulting rebuild and housing development – to cope with Londoners moving from the war-torn city – like many places in the 40s and 50s was not the most picturesque.
When I was born Slough somehow straddled Bucks and the mythical Middlesex borders; by my seventh birthday it had mysteriously been shifted into Royal Berkshire, with a protective oxbow county boundary keeping the then drab satellite-town out of my pretty county. Why? I have no idea.
Whatever my adolescent misconceptions, as the replay fixtures were announced, Slough Town was the only match I was heading for. After a fantastic goalless draw away to Conference side Mansfield Town, Slough became the lowest placed team still in the world’s greatest cup competition, and well, we all want a cup upset don’t we.
No longer playing “across the border” but boarding temporarily with Beaconsfield SYCOB (no, I haven’t looked it up yet), supporters parked up (as instructed) at the service station across the road, then (not as instructed) strolled across the main road for the game.
Floodlights – like hypnotic guiding stars – lit our path through along the dark lane beside the ground, before we entered the car park so packed that cars would be lucky to prise themselves out of. There in the distance stood a bar, a burger van, and lovely warming turnstiles; the gateway to cup football heaven with commemorative tickets, programmes, and golden goals tickets (which Steve spent the first 36 minutes ignoring, then 6 minutes fretting over, and finally three minutes later mildly irritated by).
Given the play in the first half, when The Stags took the lead deep into first half stoppage time  it felt not a little disappointing. The home fans in the crowded stadium had cheered their heroes on throughout the end-to-end action-packed half. It had started with Slough’s own version of the solar eclipse (if Australia can have one so can we), followed by my brother Cliff – soon after the floodlights came back on – being hit by a stray ball during the warm-up (so one huge positive at least).
With chants behind us of “We’re not sitting down”, we witnessed Mansfield show nothing for their three division superiority and both sides missing a few chances. There was a dubious drop ball debate, Slough had a goal ruled out for offside, substitutions were forced on the home team, a lino got some abuse, and the Rebels’ keeper James Warrington made a stunning triple save bringing the biggest cheer of the night thus far. It hadn’t been a spectacular 45 but, Exodus Geohaghon’s flicked header* also hadn’t put the game beyond the Rebels’ reach.
Once the break was over it was clear the home team felt this optimism too. Dominic Rhone, Ollie Burgess, and Dave Deeney were turning the screw up front, whilst further back captain Dave Woozley was a rock. The more time went on the more shots headed our way, and the closer they got to The Stags goal.
The breakthrough deservedly came thirty minutes in. Stuart Swift whacked over a free-kick, striking Shane Redmond’s crossbar, and Nathan Bowden-Haase was first to react as the ball rebounded, heading it into the vacant net. As the bedlam died down, wonderfully optimistic chants of WEM-BER-LEY struck up from Rebels’ faithful. Slough dominated the rest of the half, narrowly missing a few chances without finding the winner. Up the other end some last minute pinball denied Mansfield success too.

Missing all the announcements of the crackly tannoy, we held our places behind the goal, waited the third round of team talks to finish, and then the action resumed. Entering extra time the game maintained its intensity, though chances likes the players pace became laboured. Ed Smith had a fine shot blocked for the home side, Burgess’ diving header whistled just wide, whilst up the other end Matt Rhead was making a handful of himself for Mansfield though, John Dempster being dismissed for violent conduct severely hampered the Stags chances and gave us hope of the upset we so wanted. In the second period sub Sean Sonner livened the flagging home attack, and Anthony Howell dramatically missed an open goal for the visitors.
So whilst we found ourselves “treated” to penalties (UP THE WRONG BLOODY END, Mr D’Urso); photographers Andy & Simon treated themselves to the best view in the house, from the centre circle. They went as followed… scored low left, scored high left, scored low centre, saved low left, scored low right, skied high and over, scored and Mansfield were through.
The Rebels had given a great account of themselves; done their league, division, club and fans proud, and I had rooted for Slough throughout (I hadn’t see that coming).
Following the crowds back to the service station, I wondered how the town I’d once looked over the county border at had managed to lose, despite dominating for long periods. I wondered again why Redmond had chosen 23 for a squad number, why we don’t see top division stewards wearing club scarves anymore, whether it is possible for a stray ball to hit land on the M40, and what a tragedy it was that – in the next round – Wimbledon would have to play the worst thing about both football and the county I grew up in.
Standing in the services’ food hall, coffee in hand, I watched as fans of both sides made the most of the facilities before heading home. It was a shame about the result but it had been a great night. A great cup match with a great chance of an upset, a great opportunity to meet up with an old school friend again, and a wonderfully great reminder of the part tonight’s match sponsor has played in FA Cup history.
On a final note, the sight of Stags’ fans – with or without novelty hats – reminded me what it meant to win graciously (a rare sight higher up the pyramid), and so I wish them success in the next round.

(*At some point every football fan has left a match believing what they saw to be true, and in this game I am no different. Mistaken identity is one thing but, from our view behind the important goal – ten yards to the side of the left post – I could’ve sworn Geohaghon scored from a fortunate flick-on which then cleared Warrington’s reach. As it turned out – and as others on the other side of the goal have pointed out – Woozley got the final touch making it an own goal. Does this matter? Should I alter my report? Is it fair on Woozley who’d had such a fine game for the Rebels? Like every aspect of this beautiful game, opinions will always differ…)
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6 Responses to Stags the way I like it.

  1. Richard Epton says:

    Excellent report,especially as I was listening to the penno’s under the duvet!

  2. Matt says:

    It was Swift’s free kick and Bowden-Haase’s headed goal. And the Mansfield goal was an own goal from Woozley. Apart from that, good stuff. Enjoyable read.

    • putajumperon says:

      thanks for the feedback… In the heat of the moment, with unfamiliar faces, on a busy terrace… note taking can be a problem. I’ll make the relevant changes. (still not convinced about the own goal).

  3. Bell Whiff says:

    Good report but a bit biased don’t you think ? We had a few one on ones, a few cleared off the line and the Slough keeper played a blinder. Slough played well but were a bit fortunate that it went to pens. Good luck for the rest of the season though. Nice ground and good fans.

  4. Steve says:

    To clear up a couple of your questions:
    Slough actually was shifted into Berkshire in the 1974 local government reorganisation, although the football ground at Wexham Park remained over the border in Bucks.
    SYCOB stands for Slough Youth Centre Old Boys, a club that merged with Beaconsfield United a few years back.

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