With no discernible difference to anyone’s sunlight, twice a year we – The Great British Peoples – screw up the sleeping patterns of animals and young children. Granted we’ve been warned never to work with either however, once their waking hours are up the swanny, there’s precious little chance ours won’t be seriously challenged too.
Every six months we go through the same rigmarole, and every six months – citing everything from farmers to flatulence – from a murky crevice in the campus bowels, up pops a researcher, ready to enthusiastically illuminate us mere mortals as to why we should cease with such archaic practices. And at moments like these, with lightening reflexes, I resume my utter dismay in these Dr Badhair Labcoats of Blandtown Polyversity.
Have they nothing better to do? Have they not noticed the tragic decline of this island’s agricultural industry anyway? Does it really matter if we have BST or not? Will cows produce less milk? Do they really think we’re stupid enough to believe the sun shines for longer if we spend missing hour changing the bloody clock on the microwave? And of all the lame-arsed excuses they come up with for not continuing with British Summer Time, why the hell can’t they appear learned on its impact on sport and its fans?
One week we’re basking in the late summer’s sun whilst local heroes hoof the ball skyward, and the next, darkness and all the forces it attracts have squatted smugly over our enjoyment. Suddenly gloves and yellow balls are out, Bovril is the tipple of choice, and those photos of stunning sunsets behind the main stand have been replaced with floodlights in the gloom and blurred wingers running the line.
Faced with such with such challenges, the intrepid fan has two options; stay in The Shire pretending to enjoy Miss Marple or, scan the fixture lists for strange destinations this side of the of Mordor, where pitches won’t have flooded. Once opting for the latter, this traveller maps out intricate journeys of wonder, in all directions, with preferred destinations cushioned with safety nets, and then I wait for the weather (or my wife) to jeopardise them.
Eight games to go and see; three plans to make them be… Traffic and weather can make them fall, but one wife doth rule them all.
Eventually setting off, the crisp cold bit through the vents as the car warmed up. Whilst Lao Tzu’s journey started with a single step, all three of mine began with the same three turnings by when both my mind, and the chosen direction, had to be set. Berkshire, Hampshire or Sussex? That was the question randomly racing through my mind as 5 Live droned on in the background.
With a learner driver sat blocking my way to the left, and time ticking away, the decision was made. I swung my chariot right, past reservoirs and palaces I headed; away from the bright lights of welcoming taverns as explosions rained down the clear night sky; away from the ever watching Eye.
With the dark powers distracted by the League of Extraordinary Champion Claims, using stealth and cunning, I headed out of the city, west to the land of the Hamps. Whilst news from the front line told of waterlogged cancelations, the quiet streets afforded swift passage past safety nets and roadworks; round the borough of Farn and along the road to Crookham where, in a quiet tree-lined clearing ample parking was to be found, beside a bar and turnstile, where kindly locals nodded appreciatively as I asked for admittance.
Inside the forest glade, the air stood calm as trees blocked out the seasonal rockets; surveying the area, the only noise came as acorns crunched underfoot. A well maintained stand dwarfed its neighbouring tea bar in all but the friendly service. Opposite dugouts stood alone, whilst at either end of the sloping pitch, covered terrace of scaffolding and iron stood firm as players finished their preparations. I’d arrive just in time…
Southern League, Division 1 South & West
Fleet Town FC v Yate Town FC
Tuesday, 5th November 2013, 7.45pm
Entrance £9, Programme £1
Distance 46 miles, Attendance “we’ll call it 75”
Fleet had first kick though only after Yate changed ends and… from that point on it was, as the parlance goes, backs to the wall stuff for home side. On two minutes Martin Horsell’s long clearance was misjudged by the defence and Lewis Haldane sprinted clear and side footed Ryan Pryce. 0-1 Yate. Though shooting up hill, for Fleet it was seemingly all downhill from there on in.
On four minutes, a failed clearance afforded Haldane his brace. 0-2. “SWITCH ON!” yelled Horsell as Fleet cross the halfway line. “Shoot. Somebody shoot!” came the desperate cry from the young boy at the front of the stand but, back down the other end a clumsy challenge was executed to the left of the box.
The ref pointed goalwards, the wall stood tall and up stepped Jake Cox. Four quick paces… whack. The ball curled low round the wall and passed the outstretched Pryce. 0-3. “Look at the defending” bemoaned the man to my right. What could I say, it was totally outclassed. I asked the girl at the tea bar if this was usual – the three goals in thirty minutes – but “standing in” she apologetically didn’t know. Glancing back to the game I overheard a well dressed man mutter under his breath. “Not going well is it.” The elderly lady he’d addressed, who’d earlier proudly told me she was Fleet, replied optimistically “It’ll all change in the second half.” On the pitch her Fleet clearly weren’t so confident.
First Haldane put on the best move of the game with James Harmer and Jake Jackson. It came to nothing, as did another Cox free kick but, Jackson was out jumping his marker every single time and, team mates all over the park were always quicker to the challenge. Demonstrating this superbly, a fine interception in midfield directly lead to a fierce drive from the edge of the box; Haldane’s hat-trick and Yate’s fourth. 0-4.
Despite the odd yellow card, Yate were totally dominant and behind them, Horsell was impressively commanding; anything that got through was his and, with the domino pizza medallions seemingly weighing heavy round the necks of Fleet – up the other end – Joe Chandler rose highest headed home a free-kick minutes from the break. 0-5.
During the break, in the lovely bar, I stared at the smallest club shop I’d ever seen, wondering if tonight would be the one I’d see the elusive ten goals but, the overbearing commentary of The Dark Games was too much. Turning away, I headed back to the cold night just in time to see the players re-emerging.
Whilst not a total turnabout, the next 45 proved that one old lady knew far better than me and, by the time the final whistle went the score was just six nil. There are many who would see this as a disaster but in truth, the spirit shown by the home side throughout this untidy second period was admirable; it epitomised Fleet motto perfectly.
Amongst the many missed chances, the only goal came after numerous substitutions and the wonderful admission of “Andy Sinton used to be our manager and we were still shit.” Being a stranger to these parts I of course, had also not immune to some scrutiny. “Is it still 5-0?” came a question just after the restart from a man with a carrier bag. “Only just” I replied. “Are you a Watford fan?” “Yes” “Do you know Charlie?” “No, sorry I don’t.” “He’s a Watford fan” “Well there’s a few of us” I added helpfully hoping this interrogation would end. “Are you a groundhopper?” “I like to watch football, yes.” “Charlie’s a groundhopper…” with my fingers crossed, I stuck my head in my bovril and stared out to the pitch.
After the defender failed to block the sliced shot, Harmer collected it out wide and one swift move, turned and cured the ball into the far corner. By the side of me, the same boy was still yelling “have a shot” at regular intervals, but the contest was well and truly over. The goal of the game was the lethal shot and Fleet were slain.