England C v Czech Republic U21
Tuesday, 19th November 2013, 6pm
Kingfield Stadium (Woking FC)
Entrance free, Programme £1
Distance 14 miles, Attendance 2153
Rather than be dragged down by The Man, I floated headlong through Tuesday, whisked along on a magic carpet usually reserved for the weekends.
I’d risen far too early. Like a dog catching the scent, the mere hint of a startling announcement instantly hauling me from my slumber. This was not the day to be debating “what is our fate?” This new potential exhilaration only served to add spice, to the anticipation that any match day brings. Mentally running through the day – somewhat distractedly – I had twelve hours to the early kick-off; half a day of clock-watching, green tea fuelled activity, followed by another trip to the physio (yes, the hand still needs attention) and then, freedom.
There are two things I’m not; a Kingfield regular (my choice tonight) or a smart car fanatic (wife’s choice some time back) but, in order to be the former, tonight the latter was essential. Speeding off – relatively speaking – I cursed the useless satnav as we headed through the rush hour traffic towards Surrey. Whilst the radio droned on about the reeaalllly important A team, I worried about the impact that the C team crowd size might have on the limited parking opportunities near the ground.
Squashed into infeasibly tight space, I leapt from my chariot into the cold night air then, sorry to leave Peter Allen’s dry tone, I scuttled off towards the floodlit sky.
“PROGRAMMES, ONLY A POUND… thank you sir.” Stuffing it in my bag, I turned towards the turnstiles. “That’ll be no pounds please” came the voice to my right as the adjoining hand thrust a commemorative ticket through the grill. Up in the press area, men in padded coats claimed scout-like importance in their quest for team sheets and seats behind the dugouts; joining the queue I could think of nothing worse. Sitting down, in this bloody cold??? This was not the temperature for grand conversations with a dignitary (if only they could catch their eye) me and my heavily wrapped body needed Bovril and a terrace to stamp feet on.
As kick-off neared and greetings with familiar faces subsided – having got my team shot – I sheltered from the piercing cold in the disabled area (er, broken fingers…), staring out to pitch, whilst putting the world to right with an amiable local steward. He had plenty to say on his, and Martin Tyler’s, Woking side, the unsegregated ground with it edifice at one end – built to satisfy “third division ground-grading” which was sadly never needed – and surprisingly kind words for tenants Hayes & Yeading and their loyal fans.
Out on the pitch, the talking was just as cordial as the two sides cagily probed for an opening. England had kicked off proceedings, taken 15-or-so good passes but then, lost possession from the first optimistic punt up field. The Czechs in reply – those that weren’t under blankets on bench – offered a little more cut on the attack but “our” defensive five stood firm. Then suddenly, without any demonstration of dominance, the deadlock was quickly broken. James Armson’s close range effort was blocked and within seconds Michael Krmencik had sped away before, coolly slotting past James Belshaw. I hadn’t missed it but, it would have been easy to do so.
Again England pushed on, looking to warm both the keeper and the fans. Going forward, Elliott Frear was causing havoc down the left and Matthew Pearson, controlling the play in midfield, was opening up holes only for James Norwood, Andre Gray and himself to squander. Before me, girlfriends chatted with subs, probably wondering the same as me, who’s the commanding centre back?
Jamie Turley was in fine form at both ends and whilst his heading was off target, defensively he matched each attacker for pace and strength. As I was debating whether the A team could do with him in Brazil, others demonstrated slightly less poise. The first two fouls came in quick succession and whilst neither was awful – resulting in a freekick-a-piece – both left a visiting player on the floor. Terry Butcher would be proud, I mused before Pearson was bundled over on the edge of the box.
The distant young crowd got excited, the ref wave his whistle, set the wall and, peeped. Keanu Marsh-Brown took a run-up, Gray tapped the ball short and, deflating all expectancy, Brown fired over, leaving the kindly steward muttering something about his car in the firing line. The announcer was having car worries of his own. First a white Kia, then a Black BMW and before he could announce the VW “blocking someone in”, I realised I hadn’t a clue what the smart car number plate was.
Hoping I wouldn’t have to remember, the Czechs were again pressing towards to big stand. The break was drawing close and despite the score, neither side had the upper hand. On average, shots on target were thin on the ground; well, England’s were very thin and the Czech’s were marginally thicker. What the visitors did have was deadly accuracy when needed. With seconds left Krmencik fed Lucas Stratil and the ball hit the back of the net.
Uncertain how England could be two behind, I went in search of a view of neighbouring Westfield FC, via a stroll down the usually segregated-off away side. Figuring premier league fans were either eyeing up the Wembley arch or, couldn’t take the cold, it was pleasant to see represented in the crowd; (sorry to those I missed) Barnet, Godalming, Halifax, Luton, Salisbury, Westfield and plenty of Woking. Back in February young Turks flocked from the capital; sadly tonight there weren’t many Czechs but then, back to the view, two other things came to mind; in Non League terms that stand is bloody high and from the bracing top, one can see bugger all at night.
Wandering back to the Bovril supply, the teams had already kicked off so I tried a few viewing positions (all standing). I’d already wondered why post-tapping goalies couldn’t help the linos out as they go through their rituals, now behind the other goal, I found the anger of a few over a late challenge, that Terry Butcher would also been proud of, somewhat bemusing. Ok studs were showing, but Angus McDonald was fine AND this is/was meant to be a friendly.
As the big taunts of the small stand died down, the little screams from the big end got more pronounced. First call of excitement was the substitutes; cheering Barnet and Woking fans alike, I was not so amused at the removal of Turley and Pearson. When Mitchell Walker came on for Belshaw, Walker’s own personal fan club looked thrilled beyond words. Nothing personal but, this didn’t affect me.
Once the sub-frenzy subsided, Fraser Franks ably took over Turley’s armband and continued his solid performance and thankfully, England began to turn the screw. More and more possession came their way and with it, the chances on goal increased. The Czechs on the other hand played well on the break but were literally outnumbered. Behind them, Jiri Pavlenka was still playing so well it could only take a special effort to beat his Black Knight like determination.
With ten minutes to go, Pavlenka was still winning the battle; good attacking had seen five shots blocked before Norwood hit the side netting. Then, as I was scratching my head at the announced attendance, the near post header that broke the duck was just too precise and wonderful. Frear swept in a perfect freekick as Franks ghosted from his marker. Moments later, an almost repeat performance brought excited wails from the far end but, sadly no goal.
Along with junior supporter volume, the game was building to a crescendo. Frear’s effort was saved, McDonald headed wide and when Dan Fitchett was hauled down in the box, Norwood’s strike make the comeback complete.
Rushing back to the car for warmth – still convince Ali G might be behind the Respect campaign – after such a great Non League showing, I was slightly miffed neither Knaphill or Sheerwater could provide fans with an evening double. That aside, the radio was all football, national football at that, so I stayed tuned hoping for a summary of the great game we’d just seen. By the time I turned off the engine, forty minutes later, not an England C word had passed the commentators lips, nor was it picked up in the morning’s print. Of course the names of the C team won’t ever set the world alight but once again, everything they did delighted those who had braved the elements.
My morning had been thrilled by five pythons whilst the night was clearly reserved for three lions. It’s not about age, or the glamour; it’s not about the ticket price or the location. For me, the chance to really see something completely different, really live, will always be the draw. To take the chance to C others like these perform, to the best of their ability; surely that is the meaning of life.
(now, has anyone got a couple of python tickets they don’t want?)